Where is Tonga?
31 August 2009 | Hunga Island, Vava'u Group, Kingdom of Tonga
Tonga does not market itself as a tourist destination, but there sure are plenty of them here. This region offers the best whale encounters on the planet. Many US friends have asked me, "Where IS Tonga?" It's northeast of New Zealand and due east of Fiji, smack dab in the middle of South Pacific heaven. There's 171 islands to explore, but only 36 of them are inhabited, total population in the Kingdom of Tonga is 102,000. There's 4 archipelagoes, Niua (we already visited them in the last blog), Vava'u (vah-VAH-oo), Haapai, and Tongatapu. The Vava'u group have fjord like cliffs. Haapai is known for their beaches and Tongatapu consists of flat coral islands. Upon arrival into Neiafu Harbor, Vava'u, we were stunned at the number of cruising boats bobbing on moorings. There's 75 moorings and almost every single one was occupied, fortunately, with many of our sailing pals. Boom, we were off and running! Kathy on s/v Lovesong was celebrating her birthday and Zen was invited. Next night it was Jet on s/v Bravado with a girls-only party. Elizabeth on s/v Honeymoon was celebrating. After that, it was Alan on s/v Lovesong hitting the big 5-0. You get the drift. Seven nights straight of birthdays, restaurants, fund-raisers and cooking classes. Yes, that last part is accurate. Krista, Annie (s/v Trio), me and Cammi took an authentic Southern Indian cooking class given by Tess, the owner of Crow's Nest Café and Bakery. All of you who know me are smiling, smelling the spices, and feeling the love! I was in bliss for 5 hours in Tess' kitchen, feeling like the Food Network had nothin' on us! All the family members and spouses joined at 6:00p and consumed our mouth-wateringly good meal. Zen's motto is still "All about Food". Tonight, in an outer island, Zen held an Asian buffet with s/v Dosia, Flashback and Brickhouse. Not a drop was left. The social scene of Neiafu is really something special. The local business owners, mostly foreigners who are employing the Tongans, welcome tourists like long lost family members. Lisa and Ben gave us a discount for renting their 4-wheel-drive karts. It was the best adventurous island tour we've ever taken. You gotta see the video of Cole driving through the bush on this unit! Sandy and Kathy open their restaurant, The Giggling Whale (or as Tommy fondly calls it: The Laughing Cow) for every sailor's birthday, making delicious meals and keeping the doors open and the music playing until the last pirate stumbles to their dinghy. Tess and Steve from Crow's Nest keep handing me cinnamon rolls for the kids. We are going to soon sink Zen. The socializing also includes kids, kids and more kids! There are 3 other kid-boats here (Bravado, Lovesong and MonkeyFeet with more coming) and our children, upon finishing their schoolwork, start hailing pals on the VHF and planning their calendar. Local ex-pat kids are also thrown into the mix and blend with the melee. Soon, everyone is overwhelmed, rushed, stuffed and overbooked. No worries, there's 60 islands to explore outside of Neiafu. On Saturday, we cut the cord, drop the mooring and make the sail to Hunga Island. It's a blast. We take terrific video of s/v Dosia who sails with us. Only 90 minutes from the hubbub of Neiafu is this totally tranquil quiet lagoon. To enter, Zen negotiates a pass that is no more than 50 feet wide and 10 feet deep. But once inside, the water goes flat, the coral heads are seen clearly with help from the sun and anchoring amongst pals is what she likes to do best.