23 May 2020 | Scarborough Marina, Redcliffe, Queensland
10 May 2020 | Scarborough marina, Redcliffe, Brsbane, Queensland
07 April 2020 | Westin Hotel, Brisbane, Queensland
28 March 2020 | Paihia, Bay of Islands, NZ
24 March 2020 | Paihia, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
06 March 2020 | Waitangi, Bay of Islands, NZ
25 January 2020 | Scarborough marina, Redcliffe Peninsula, Queensland
16 January 2020 | Christchurch
22 December 2019 | Christchurch, New Zealand
16 December 2019 | Christchurch, Canterbury, NZ
28 November 2019 | Christchurch, SI, New Zealand
19 November 2019 | Picton, Marlborough, NZ
04 November 2019 | Collingwood, Tasman, South Island, NZ
04 November 2019 | Collingwood, Tasman, South Island, NZ
29 October 2019 | Nelson, South Island, NZ
22 October 2019 | Christchurch, Te Waka o Māui, New Zealand
15 October 2019 | Scarborough, Queensland
05 October 2019 | Scarborough marina, near Brisbane, Australia
16 August 2019 | Southport Spit, Gold Coast, Australia
06 August 2019 | South Stradbroke Island, Gold Coast, Queensland
Day 7- Landfall in Sight and a Circumnavigation Complete
26 November 2015 | Off the Ninepin, the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Alison and Geoff
Just passing Cape Wiwiki and Tikitiki Island (photo above -the rock usually called the Ninepin) at the entrance to the Bay of Islands and have passed our departure point 9 years and 3 months ago. Low cloud obscures the land after a sunny day. We are hanging up 39 flags and a number of hats for the countries we visited.
This trip from North Minerva has not been disrupted with unfavourable winds and the unusually long high pressure system has kept the winds in the South East to North East direction so we have actually kept to our anticipated arrival time in New Zealand, at least from North Minerva. We are not shivering either as it's about 24° C.
The New Zealand Air Force Orion flew over earlier this morning. We are not exactly sure why yachts are monitored as they are unlikely to be illegal immigrants. They fly at a very low level so that they can view the boat name then they call up on the VHF. After a few minutes we worked out that were quite a large number of yachts close by judging by the chat from the Orion.
It's difficult to know how to react when a challenge like this has been completed. We hope to start the next challenge on foot maybe walk the whole length of NZ. We'll see.
Day 6 - Under the Light of the Silvery Moon
25 November 2015 | 107 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
It is our last night at sea on this particular perambulation of the planet. Fittingly, a beautiful, silvery, full moon has just risen above the eastern horizon, obscuring Orion, but not the Southern Cross which has progressively risen higher in the sky as we have progressed further south. It is cool at night, but warm in the daytime, maybe because it has been so calm.
Today has been like the last few days at sea, 5 - 10 knots from an easterly quadrant. We have had full sail up as usual and the Nanni has been gobbling diesel, but who cares at this stage? We still have over 200 litres left and with 40,000 miles under our belt we are happy to complete the last 100 miles or so without dawdling.
Our twice daily SSB net - "the magnet" is now dwindling fast. Our last little group of 8 boats out of approximately 70 odd that have shared the net this year are the stragglers to NZ. Paje is now in, Wapiti has arrived in Moreton Bay in Queensland and we Minervans are next.
Still out there is a boat being delivered to Cairns by veteran magnetter, Bill, who has left his own boat in Guatemala to help a widowed friend get her boat back home. He is going non-stop now between Pago Pago and Cairns, a distance of over 2,000 nm, dodging the deep tropic's first rumblings of the cyclone season. He is expected to arrive 2 weeks after us, all being well.
The VHF has been heard crackle into life for the first time today - we passed a yacht on our port beam, but there was no contact. Another yacht called Eagles Wings made contact 20 miles behind us, trying to contact the British boat, Macushla, who we first met in the San Blas. Mark and Sue are dawdling a little and don't expect to be in Opua until Saturday morning, just before the next front pays a visit.
Will this really be Saraoni's last night out at sea? What will we be doing once we arrive in NZ? For the first time we are neither bound by a job, nor by the circumnavigation, so the absence of certainty is especially enticing!
Saraoni, although a bit tatty and worn around the edges, is basically in good shape and has proved its worth as an ocean going boat. Maybe we'll make a trip to the islands in a year or two or three. And then there are the bits of NZ we want to scramble over, Alaska, another trip to Southern Africa and Oz is just across the ditch. The possibilities are endless, even if our active lives are not.
How can we squeeze all we want to do into the years we have left before getting too decrepit to enjoy them?
Day 5 from Minerva to Northland
24 November 2015 | 270 nm to Aotearoa The land of the long white cloud
Alison and Geoff
We are gliding along under clear skies in light but favorable winds. New Zealand is expected to live up to its expectations as the 'The Land of the Long White Cloud' when we make landfall on Friday as the weather gurus say that we will be greeted by light drizzle and overcast conditions.
It could be assumed that the first explorers the Polynesians only found NZ because a white cloud was draped north and south across its interior visible from a considerable distance offshore.
We are expecting to see more birds as we eat up the miles too as quite understandably it's a favorite stopover for migratory birds as well as being home to a number of unique species such as the flightless kiwi and scores of species of seabirds such as gannets, penguins and albatrosses which thrive south of the high pressure weather systems.
There were no mammals present in the days of explorers except marine mammals such as whales, dolphins and seals which fortunately thrive today.
Any four legged creature which has now settled on Aotearoa has been brought over long distances. It's now home to over 60 million sheep and large herds of beef and dairy cattle.
We haven't seen one single ship and there is no fish on the line.
Day 4 from Minerva to Northland
23 November 2015 | 355 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
The day has been much like the last - we are navigating our way across the large, blocking high with its light winds and flat seas. To maintain what we consider a reasonable speed, we are burning diesel, although all 3 main sails are full, too. Without the motor we would limp along at 3 to 4 knots and we would then find ourselves face to face with the "minor" front expected to reach the Opua area late Saturday. We don't trust fronts and would rather see the back of them or in other words, get in the day before!
This is our tenth multiday ocean passage since leaving Curacao last year. It's another remarkable stretch of the Earth's surface where we seem totally alone. We haven't seen another ship or a plane or even a bit of floating rubbish since leaving Tonga, except for North Minerva's lighthouse and the four other yachts that were soon well out of sight as soon as we left the lagoon.
There is little obvious life out here in the heart of the subtropics. We sighted a spinner dolphin yesterday, but it wasn't amused by our presence and we have seen the odd petrel, but nothing else, until what seemed to be a lone, large dolphin of unknown species cruised past half an hour ago.
We also have encountered a 0.5 to 0.7 knot countercurrent which is slowing us down at the moment as well as a long, rolling swell from the south west. We are still on track to reach the Ninepin before dark on Friday, which means a Saturday morning customs, biosecurity and immigration clearance. We have been finishing off our last remaining veges in big evening stews so that there is nothing for biosecurity to take away when they pay a visit. We do have our conch shell, a present from Arkin, the Kuna Indian we befriended in the San Blas. It's supposedly a no-no in NZ because of the fact that conches are being removed at an unsustainable rate world-wide. Fair enough too, but Arkin's message was that blowing the shell each morning would keep "tempests" away. It seems to have worked so far!
Day 3 from Minerva to Northland
22 November 2015 | 494 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
We have been told by all the weather gurus that this is the best week of the cruising season to get south to NZ without encountering any bad weather. So we are now more than half way from Tongatapu and slowly eating up the miles motor sailing as the wind has lightening considerably. We worked out while waiting in Tonga that the earlier yachts had no wind for days and then encountered squalls, unfavorable winds and then uncomfortably strong winds off New Zealand so we added another 80 liters to our reserves meaning that we had enough to motor just about all the way. There is nothing worse than being 100 miles offshore with all the diesel consumed. A Canadian yacht took 16 days to get to NZ because they had headwinds to begin with so motored and then no wind at all so stayed put until the wind sprung up super strong. That's not going to happen to to us.
The next weather info says the light winds are set to continue for another week but we have only 4 days to go.
Day 2 from Minerva to Northland
21 November 2015 | 599 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
All is well on Saraoni. We are bowling along at over 6 knots in an ESE wind with completely clear blue skies and little swell. Yesterday we had good, if boisterous sailing conditions, but the wind slowly backed to the ENE in the night and lightened.
The forecast through to NZ is about as good as it gets and is unlikely to change now as the dominant feature is a large blocking high that will just sit over the passage routes from the islands giving us easterlies, albeit a bit light, then northerlies on the way into the Northland coast.
We are on track to arrive at the entrance to the Bay of Islands on Friday 27th, hopefully early enough to allow us to sail past our old haunts in the bay and down the Veronica Channel to the Customs dock before dark.
To those who read this blog, but are not sure how we maintain contact while on an ocean passage, our only email address is email@example.com if you want to say "hi".
Windy start to the dateline
20 November 2015 | 740 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
We left North Minerva reef in gusty ESE winds heading for the dateline. 4 other yachts departed at the same time one of which we can still see. We are expecting the winds to ease a little tonight and further tomorrow as we go almost through the centre of the high pressure system which we meet over the next few days. The wind then lightens still further the weather gurus have said as the tail end of a low pressure system passes to the south of us and another high moves eastwards. Can't hold back too much at this time of year so when the wind lightens we'll proceed under power towards Opua the gateway and customary yacht clearance port for yachts coming from overseas destinstions. The map shows us heading a bit off the track but we will be heading further southwards in the next day or 2.
20 November 2015 | 770 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
Photo shows Saraoni just behind the eastern reef edge in Minerva North before today's blow.
Still behind the reef in the Minerva lagoon. The anticipated trough swept through on cue with winds up to 35 knots + between 2 and 4 pm today. It was the windiest day we have had at anchor since the Evia Channel in Greece when our friend from Bundaberg, Heather, was on board, although there were many days in Spanish waters in Curacao last year when it howled constantly from the East.
Although the trough arrived just after high water, conditions were bearable, if miserable, and only one yacht dragged. That was because they had parked their anchor on the hard packed sand shelf just behind the reef edge with its poor holding qualities. They were able to put more chain out quickly and stop the slide. We had to put our chain and main anchor down before the blow even though our anchor winch has stopped working (on Friday 13th last week!) meaning we have to haul it up by hand tomorrow.
The forecast for our 6 to 7 day passage is very good, almost suspiciously good. According to Gulf Harbour Radio's David Sapiane, the useful weather forecaster who does a sched. every morning, it may be the best passage weather to NZ so far this season! It had better be, as there is now the prospect of the South Pacific's first cyclone forming just North of Fiji in just over a week's time, so we certainly don't want to be hanging around the tropics any longer.
We now have an ETA in Opua of Friday evening or Saturday morning next week.
Bonfire party, fish and awesome sunsets in North Minerva
19 November 2015 | 770 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
The photo shows Greg throwing fuel on the fire.
We are still anchored in North Minerva with 4 other yachts. We can now say that we are probably one of the few people in the world that have swum at Minerva, ate crayfish and lit a bonfire on the tiniest slither of sand exposed at high tide imaginable.
Greg from the Canadian yacht Oceana loaded a dozen or so coconuts still in their husks into his and Kaycee's dinghy and we all timed it to meet at the tiny slither of sand a mile or so away at low tide to not only share yachties stories but a stunning sunset. We also watched Greg dehusk all the coconuts, build a bonfire, light it with the help of some paper, pour gasoline on it and a stunning bonfire lit up the balmy, evening air.
We also watched Mark on the sailing yacht Macushla compete favorably with Greg doing a 3 coconut juggle.
Earlier in the day the NZ Air Force Orion paid a visit to this normally deserted part of the world to do a yacht name and head count on those heading for New Zealand. We believe that both North and South Minerva reef are owned by Tonga and there is an operational lighthouse no doubt making claim to the territory by its very presence and by the country who built it.
The Minerva Sandwich
17 November 2015 | 770 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
Photo above: Not one to hang around watching the weather: young Canadian, Greg, from the catamaran "Oceana" proudly shows off his pile of crayfish caught in the lagoon. British yacht, Macushla, in the background.
We have often heard of the jokes about the "Minerva Yacht Club" the little gatherings of yachts in the lagoon waiting for better weather. This is just another place where "analysis paralysis" can take place, but it is lovely here and a better place to hang around in crappy weather than outside! We are sandwiched by two weather systems, both of them ugly.
The main reason we are still here is a couple of fronts heading this way from New Zealand. The first is what we have nicknamed the "Joana" front after our friends on the 52' Canadian Roberts designed boat who have just arrived in Opua after a 15 day passage from SavuSavu, featured by a 3 day drift in no wind somewhere in the middle and ending with a canter down from North Cape chased by a 35 to 50 knot wind!
The second is a double whammy, nicknamed the "Rhombus double front", after young Kiwi John Lee's boat Rhombus about to enjoy 2 lots of 35 knot winds this weekend before getting into Whangarei.
The trick with the NZ passage is to time the arrival there on the back end of a high pressure system with northerly winds and not when a front is about to smash its way through Northland. The further north one is, the less you feel the influence of the front. The only problem is that this time there is a third system - a trough that links the remains of the Joana front as it passes to the south of us and a tropical depression in Vanuatu. The trough is forecast to generate a low pressure cell right on top of us here in Minerva. We're in the Minerva Sandwich!
Ho hum. We've seen this all before. We will now be here to Saturday, it seems, but the rest of the passage looks (fingers crossed) much better than anything we've seen up to now. It's time for some summer sailing!
Anchored in the middle of nowhere in the Pacific Ocean.
16 November 2015 | 770 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
Photo shows where we are anchored inside North Minerva's lagoon.
We reached the middle of nowhere, North Minerva reef at midday. A bit freaky being anchored with waves breaking on the reef all around us but plenty of room and there are 4 other yachts here. Not much walking to do as there is a foot of water covering the reef at the moment.
There is some extremely bad weather forecast over New Zealand in the next few days so planning to stay a few days here. When the weather looks good for 6 days we will be off. We are trying to work out if anyone famous has ever been here. We guess it might have been a stopover for the first New Zealanders who allegedly arrived by outriggers with sails from what is now French Polynesia. How they ever managed such an amazing feat is hard to imagine.
The water is beautifully clear but quite cold. Might try a snorkel tomorrow.
A close reach to the middle of nowhere
14 November 2015 | 900 nm to the Bay of Islands
Alison and Geoff
We are less than 150 miles to North Minerva Reef - the circular reef and lagoon and its southern sister provide a place to anchor in surreal conditions literally in the middle of nowhere on route to and from New Zealand. We will probably stop there for a couple of nights to avoid arriving on the Northland coast at the same time as a front.
We have had good sailing since leaving Tonga although a squally trough passed us last night with winds up to 30 knots and bumpy seas. Some of the steeper waves decided to pay a visit on board despite not being invited.
There are a few petrels around but we don't expect to see much bird life until we get on the other side of the high pressure belt.
Our radio net - the West Pacific Magellan net - we have kept going twice a day 7 days a week since Panama has now dwindled as boats make safe landfall in NZ or Oz. We have 7 other boats on the same passage route as us and 2 others nearing North Cape from Fiji, although there are others who do not call in to our net or who have no SSB radio.
Just started the last 1000 miles
13 November 2015 | Nuku'alofa
We weighed up anchor at 10.30am bound for NZ from Nuku'alofa. It's a lovely warm and sunny day.The journey should take 8 days but if there are any evil weather events forecast in the next 2 days we will stop for a while at Minerva reef. Updates will be sent every day.
Falcon, Falcon.....Squid 2, Squid 2
09 November 2015 | Big Mamas, Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Alison and Geoff
Photo shows Silver Fern, aka "Golden Lily," weighing anchor at Big Mama's after a long wait at Tongatapu and eager to complete their 11 year circumnavigation on arrival at Whangarei.
We temporarily renamed our yacht as we departed Faua Harbour in Nuku'alofa. This renaming has become a bit of a fashion in the anchorage off Big Mama's resort as it was when boats cleared out of Vava'u. The reason for this is that yacht crews don't really like officialdom of any kind, particularly when it comes to departing a port on a passage which could be difficult as this one to New Zealand is likely to be.
Mostly yachts tend to disappear quietly unnoticed once the port clearance paper has been received and passports stamped. This time caution is being taken when deciding true departure dates as the weather patterns for the next few days are changeable.
Yachts are supposed to depart within 24 hours of port clearance but at the moment many are holding back just waiting for the right day and right hour so to pretend that they have left some are temporarily changing their yacht's name when talking over the radio - hence we are Squid 2 - at least for a couple of days!
Quite amusing but of course we know who they all are because voice recognition is more important than boat name.
Heading soon for Minerva reef. There has been a slight delay as just at the last minute a water seal on our near new Nanni diesel engine had to be replaced and then worse, the main engine water intake valve seized in the closed position making the engine inoperable. Luckily, we can source a new bronze valve in town and so we should be off early Thursday in the wake of the stampeding fleet from Big Mama's.
The weather for the passage looks like a mixed bag: the good, the bad and the ugly!
The Opua Run - Update Monday 9th November
08 November 2015 | Faua Harbour, Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu, Tonga
Geoff and Alison
Saraoni with French boat Arbutus tied up in Nuku'alofa's small boat harbour
We have cleared customs at Nuku'alofa and expect to depart for NZ on Wednesday this week via Minerva. There are still quite a few boats here in Nuku'alofa, waiting like us for the nasty subtropical low to clear off, unfortunately trailing south west head winds in its wake.
Here in Tonga, the weather has been lovely and calm, but the stream of boats heading to NZ last week encountered various degrees of bother from the outskirts of the low, some tracking way north west of Cape Reinga to avoid it. After a week from Big Mama's some were still 500 miles away from Opua with the prospect of southerly winds all the way through to the Bay of Islands. At least two other boats that departed from Savu Savu in Fiji are now sitting in a complete wind hole half way to NZ without enough diesel to motor more than a day and three more days of no wind! Ocean passage making can be a somewhat masochistic exercise at times!
The weekly update from McDavitt reports that the current El Nino is shaping up to be stronger than the last strongest El Nino in 1997/98, when we were in PNG and droughts were being recorded everywhere in the western Pacific and yachties that year were complaining about the prevalence of south west winds.
Hey, ho. The amount of forecasting available to the modern yachtie is tremendous, but it seems that no forecaster can actually control the weather to make it easier to get from A to B. It seems that humanity's junk that has been expelled into the atmosphere for the last hundred years or so is doing at least part of the controlling, but in an anarchic way and certainly not necessarily helpful!
We won't be the only ones to venture out across the horizon - there will be many others, including several we have been travelling with on an ad hoc basis since Panama and beyond.
Arbutus crew Paul and Sundy get serious about passage preparations!
Watch this space for the thrilling Saraoni finale!
The Opua Run - Update Monday 2nd November
02 November 2015 | Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Geoff and Alison, SE winds, cool
We are still anchored off Big Mama's, now in company with around 14 other boats. Many left just after Big Mama threw a party for the fleet on Saturday and also because their insurance was no longer valid after the beginning of the cyclone season!
Our departure has stalled as it has done so many times in the past because of the vagaries of the weather. A nasty low is expected to pop up right on the rhumb line between Minerva and Northland, followed by strong, or at least annoying, south west winds - the direction we want to go. Not particularly keen on either tacking or using up diesel powering into it we are staying in this nice, comfortable anchorage for a few more days until the weekend when another potential window appears!
In the meantime, an assortment of yachts that we know are arriving from the Ha'apais and Vava'u, so Big Mama's anchorage will fill up again. Perhaps she should throw another party!
The Last Passage
31 October 2015 | Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu, Tonga
Geoff and Alison, strengthening southerly winds
The mysterious Ha'amonga a Maui - a Tongan trilithon
Tomorrow (the first of November) is the first day of the South Pacific cyclone season, although the chance of cyclones is small until later in December or even January. 6 of the boats anchored here at Nuku'alofa have left gamely for Minerva Reef and possibly straight on to New Zealand. Most boats anchored at Big Mama's here in Nuku'alofa will leave tomorrow or the next day or two. Many more are streaming down from Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, hampered by unusually erratic forecasting with lows popping out of the woodwork right where you don't want them to be. Some boats that left Vava'u, expecting to be already celebrating in Opua, have been holed up in North Minerva's lagoon for over a week.
We have pencilled in a Tuesday departure and will track close to Minerva on the route to NZ. Minerva is 2 days away from our anchorage here and if anything looks suspicious we will stop there, even though we would rather keep going on on what should be a 8 to 10 day passage for little Saraoni. We don't cross our outbound departure point until we pass the Ninepin (a well known rock) at the entrance to the Bay of Islands and there we will string up our motley assortment of flags, caps, shirts and anything else we can find to celebrate the end point of our circumnavigation.
We have had time to explore Tonga's most populous island and have experienced the usual lush countryside with its burgeoning smallholdings full of yams, cassava, taro, sweet potato, pele (a type of spinach), bananas, melons, pumpkins, mangos and even carrots. Nuku'alofa's main market is full of food, too, much of it quite cheap. Tongans like to eat and there seems to be no shortage of wholesome food to keep them happy. Each family is allotted around 8 and a half acres to use for themselves to grow food as well as a place in town to build a house.
We have also seen the Ha'amonga a Maui - the Stonehenge like trilithon, which was erected by Tonga's 11th Tui (King) in the twelfth century, although no-one is quite sure why or how. The West coast, where south westerly swells from the Southern Ocean meet a limestone wall, were full of dramatic blowholes and the rest of the coastline quietly attractive.
The blowholes on Tongatapu's west coast
Tongatapu, like the other Tongan islands is full of churches of many denominations and posters celebrating the coronation of the new king and queen (July this year). It's a strange place and it's hard to work out what the strong adherence to church and royal family does for the people. Nuku'alofa is quite a busy town compared to what we saw of it now nearly 40 years ago on a trip up from Auckland, but it's hard to imagine how the islands survive without substantial amounts of money sent back from relatives working overseas.
Everywhere in Tongatapu are reminders of the royal couple
Even the Mormons wear tao'valas around their lavalavas in public
Ana Emberson (aka "Big Mama") with the departing yachties on the beach at Pangaimotu Island. Alison centre rear with Indonesian coolie hat on;Geoff on the right with bandaged knee
Sailing South With the Whales Through Tonga's Treasure Islands
24 October 2015 | Tongatapu, Tonga - 1000 nm from Opua
Alison and Geoff
Coral banks near the island of Foa in the Northen Ha'apai group.
We have just anchored at "Big Mama's" - the yachtie hang out at the small island of Pangaimotu off Nuku'alofa, Tonga's capital, on the island of Tongatapu. There are 20 yachts here and a few more in the small boat harbour all waiting for a weather window to sail to NZ. There are many more scattered around the islands to the North of here. Most are sailing out of the cyclone season to NZ with a few staying behind at the new boatyard facility in Vava'u and a few more heading over the Equator to the Marshalls. All boats leaving for Fiji and Australia have already gone.
We have spent several lovely days sailing through the Ha'apai Group between Vava'u and here - one of the nicest cruising grounds we have experienced on our circumnavigation, with a myriad of small coral islands, clear water and reefs. The coral has been in very good condition and we have done a dive through canyons and caves, but the water is quite cold! The Ha'apais look very much like the Tuamotus, but these are not atolls and are much more cyclone prone. Massive damage was done two years ago with Cyclone Ian making a direct hit. Luckily for us the winds and seas have been pleasantly gentle with blue skies and still enough wind to sail between the islands.
Alison swims through an underwater ravine off the island of Ha'ano.
Last night we anchored between the islands of Nomuka Iki and Nomuka. In this exact same spot, the final mutiny on the HMS Bounty took place. Captain Bligh and his fellow officers were cast out into the ship's longboat and from the Ha'apais they eventually made their way to Kupang in what was then Dutch controlled East Indies - a remarkable journey in an open boat. Fletcher Christian and his merry men turned the Bounty into the trade wind and sailed back to the delights of Tahiti.
We have seen several humpback whales in the calm seas while sailing south. The humpbacks are heading South to their feeding grounds in the Antarctic after spending the winter mating and giving birth in the sheltered waters of several favoured parts of the South Pacific. Here in Tonga, whale watching is a lucrative tourist activity between June and early October. Whale watchers can even get into the water and swim with the whales under controlled conditions.
In most cases, the whales are as curious about the humans as the humans are about the whales. Our whales we passed kept their distance but put on a show of breaching and spy hopping. We are not sure what triggers their movement South apart from hunger. Many of the yachts like us are waiting for weather info from well known kiwi weather expert Bob McDavitt aka "metbob". Perhaps the whales are waiting for the go ahead from Bob, too?
The NZ bound fleet at Big Mama's
Bats, Pigs and Underwater Caves
09 October 2015 | Neiafu, Vava'u, Kingdom of Tonga
Alison and Geoff, cloudy and drizzly
Photo shows a ball of bait fish lit up in the afternoon sun in Vava'u's amazing Swallow's Cave.
It was Panama where we saw the last land mammals as none ever managed to reach even the Galápagos Islands. It was in Samoa where we found fruit bats and have discovered noisy colonies of them here in Tonga too. Of course there are plenty of rats, dogs, pigs, cats and cows but they all arrived either as legal passengers on ships or hidden hitchhikers. Fruit bats were presumably explorers seeking new lands and accidentally found themselves on these last two groups of islands. They certainly chose a good spot with its abundance of fruit trees.
Small colonies of noisy fruit bats hang wherever they can around Vava'u's islands
Pigs with large litters are found wandering at will all over Vava'u
However, we are back to searching for interesting underwater life and discovered the amazing light penetrating Swallows Cave and the array of fish using it for shelter. The Vava'u group of islands is very different from other Pacific islands being an area of raised limestone platforms. Many of the islands are separated by an intricate network of fiord like waterways. The main island is full of food gardens and pigs! The North coast is wild and beautiful, but the main attraction is the number of lovely and secure anchorages.
Photo of Vava'u's North Coast
Meanwhile, the fleet of yachts has separated into those making their final passage to NZ and a few staying here in Tonga for the cyclone season. Some have sailed to Fiji and are making their way to NZ from there. The Oz bound boats have all left, and are intent on making the safety of the East Australian coast before December.
The first few yachts that have left for Opua have had tough conditions with strong southerlies and wild seas. We are not leaving Tonga until a more favourable weather pattern develops!
Neiafu - Tonga's party town!
04 October 2015 | Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga
Alison and Geoff
Photo shows impromptu celebration of Tonga's rugby win over Namibia in the World Cup
We have been in Neiafu in the Vava'u group for a week and it has been exhausting! There are around a hundred boats moored or anchored in Neiafu's very well sheltered Port of Refuge off the little town and around the same number scattered around the many anchorages elsewhere in the Vava'u group. We have met more people we know here than anywhere else we have called in to across the Pacific and everyone has been socializing like mad. The presence of the Whangarei and Opua reps up here in Neiafu has naturally meant a steady stream of opportunities to party.
Neiafu is a little odd as there is a bit of a parallel universe here -Tongans get on with their own complex lives and are involved in all levels of government. Business, especially the tourist business, is run by a motley collection of palangi - Americans, Aussies and Kiwis - who have made this part of the world their home away from home. The two universes rub shoulders seem to interconnect quite amicably and there is no doubt that the tourism sector is an important source of income for Vavau's residents.
Yachties are coming and going, with the majority destined for NZ, at least for the cyclone season, and a few still heading on further to the East Coast of Australia. The discussions about strategy for tackling the last tough stretch of open water to NZ - all 1100 miles of the often turbulent Tasman - have been ongoing and there have been a number of weather and passage seminars which have been very useful.
The first weather window through to the Bay of Islands has opened up this week and those who are keen to get there quickly have already left, but we will take our time through the Haâapai group and Tongatapu and make a final call in at Minerva Reef, 750 miles North East of Opua before we complete our 9 year loop around the planet sometime in November.
Meanwhile, there is much to enjoy here in this slightly potty country. We have been royally entertained by the lads from the local college, splendidly kitted out in lavalavas and taoâvalas, performing superbly with their brass band. Tiny tots, all dressed up in unique and colourful traditional dress, have squirmed and squealed their way through favourite Tongan dance and song routines, egged on by proud, doting mamas.
There have been sausage sizzles, pizza nights, Tongan feasts, tours of vanilla factories, yacht races, regular whale watching and swim with the whales trips, buffet dinners and plenty of beer drunk. Fund raising is going to local charities, schools and the library, as well as week-long free haulouts being offered as prizes by the new, local boatyard and boatyards in the 2 Northland ports of Opua and Whangarei.
Tongans, like Samoans, are rugby mad and are avidly watching the progress of their team in England at the Rugby World Cup. Every time the Tongan team wins (which they did against fellow rugby minnows, Namibia) there is an explosion of celebrations here in Neiafu. We got accidentally caught up in a vibrant Tongan party after Tonga's recent win but strangely it was all female!
Tonga is not a wealthy country, partly because it has never been colonized, and has no ex colonial country like France, Britain or the US to prop it up. Many Tongans, like neighbouring Samoans and Cook Islanders have left their island nation and headed for jobs in NZ, Australia and the U.S. and money they send back to their families is one of the most important money earners for Tonga.
We are hiring a car on Monday to see the rather oddly shaped Vavaâu main island which has intricate waterways, freshwater springs, a botanical garden, a mountain to climb and a cliff top walkway.
Partly because of the internet access here we have stayed perhaps too long in the harbour but will make our way out next week to do a dive, explore caves, coral reefs and Vavau's lovely anchorages before plugging on South.