Little Boats On A Big Ocean
03 October 2012 | Niuatoputapu, Tonga 15 56.532'S 173 46.103'W
On Tuesday at 8:00 am, 17 of us from boats in the anchorage here climbed on board two small Tongan boats for the 5 mile trip across to Tafahi Island. My description of the boats would be roughly 18' in length, one with a small cabin enclosure, one without, bench seats (3-4 people across), sturdy wood construction with fiberglass inside and out and a 40 hp outboard motor.
It was a relatively calm day and I was excited to finally be on one of the boats we've seen everywhere in Tonga. Between the light rainfall and occasional sea bath it was a wet ride but fun nonetheless. I'd guess that the swell was 6'+ given that the other boat appeared and disappeared on a regular interval! Both boats were driven by locals (Lolo and Niko) from the island so they were experts at anticipating and negotiating the swell.
The pass through the waves to the beach is about 20' wide at best. Niko remembers when it was created (using dynamite). I can't imagine what they did before since the island is surrounded by reef. The boats are pushed up and rolled off the beach on a rolling road of tree trunks and branches.
Tafahi is a volcanic cone that covers 3.4 sq kilometers and is 656 meters tall. There are 8 families in the village which is accessed from the beach via a concrete staircase of unimaginable length. I should have counted the risers (at least on the way back down)! Check for pictures in another week or so. They have made a few level spots in the village for structures but otherwise it's a pretty lumpy volcanic rock setting.
Frank from 'Elan' and I chose not to make the climb to the top of the peak. He's still healing from a Samoan dog bite on his leg 5 weeks ago and I have a badly sprained little toe from an encounter with an inhospitable stick on the beach last weekend. We were welcomed to the village and invited to make ourselves comfortable in their thatched fale. We did just that and were thoroughly enjoying ourselves in the breeze and shade until Lolo came in and hooked up their tiny TV to watch rugby. They have solar panels and a car battery to power a satellite dish. Pretty funny when you look at it in context with the surroundings. We're talking about a place where they still cook over a fire, have an outdoor bathroom and sleep on a mat on the floor. During a break in the sports action he switched to CNN and after a few segments of drivel on all the crap we sailed away from, I politely excused myself and headed for the beach.
The hikers returned about an hour later and from the looks of them I was glad I hadn't gone and tried to keep up. Brad's photos show a lush tropical forest and the peak totally covered in clouds. No view of Samoa that day. They stopped at one of the village plantations along the way and picked mandarins, papayas, bananas and mangos, along with a big piece of kava root for the feast at Niko and Seea's Wednesday night.
On the trip back the other boat caught a big tuna with a hand line and we saw several whales in the distance. I kept hoping that one would surprise us and surface nearby but no such luck.