We arrived in the Vava'u group of islands in the kingdom of Tonga, on Saturday morning the 13th June. We had left Niue, 240 miles away, on Wednesday, expecting to arrive on Friday. We made good time in 20 to 30 knot winds and rough seas. When we contacted Vava'u radio they informed us that it was Saturday and customs were closed for the weekend. We had crossed the international date line and lost Friday. We picked up a mooring buoy outside the yacht club and waited until Monday morning. It was very calm in the harbour, a chance to relax and recover from the trip.
Captain Cook visited and named Tonga 'The friendly islands'. Everyone we have met have been very friendly. Checking in was easy, all the officials came to the boat which we took to the main town jetty. There was however an unexpected fee from the health inspector of 100 pa'angas, about $50, which is new. The inspector was embarrassed about it but it wasn't his fault. The yacht club situated at the Mermaid restaurant serves good food at reasonable prices and is decorated with flags and T-shirts donated by passing cruisers. The Blue Water Rally passed through this time last year and left a T-shirt with all the boat names on it. William and I crossed the Atlantic with the rally so it reminded us of our friends. William donated an 'Out on the Blue' T-shirt which we all signed. The market, which is open every day except Sunday, had a very good selection of fresh fruit and vegetables at reasonable prices, plus a selection of local crafts. Livestock is typically free range, chickens and pigs roam everywhere, on the road side, the beach and in people's gardens where they dig everything up. Its not a good place to be a gardener! I don't know how they can tell who owns what. Apparently you put out coconuts in the evening and your chickens come home to roost.
After stocking up we moved to an anchorage off Mala island. There is an hotel here so we went ashore. The place had just reopened and we were made very welcome by the couple running it. Next day we snorkeled in the nearby Japanese garden, the coral is mostly brown due to damage by the previous cyclone but there are lots of species of fish, plus starfish come in bright blue and pale pink. We took the dinghy to Swallows cave. As we entered the cave swallows flew above us. Inside is quite large, however it is somewhat spoiled by local graffiti. I snorkeled, the view downwards was spectacular. The cave is as deep as it is high, with coral columns, stalactites hang from the roof and stalagmites rise from the submerged floor, which is visible through the clear turquoise blue water. Next day we moved to Vaka'eitu on Nua Papu, a very sheltered anchorage and snorkeled at the nearby coral gardens.
We sailed about 8 miles to Pangai Motu for a traditional Tongan feast at Ano beach. We were entertained by the local school dance group, we got the juniors as the seniors were playing rugby. The feast included octopus, raw tuna fish salad, crab salad, chicken or cassava cooked in banana leaves in a ground oven. For desert paw paw, coconut and watermelon. All the serving bowls were natural products such as coconut shells and the table cloth was banana leaves. As a concession to us foreigners, the feast was served on a table and we sat on benches, rather than the traditional cross legged on the ground. Unfortunately the weather became inclement, very wet and windy, well it was the winter solstice on Sunday. Monday morning we recorded winds gusting up to 50 knots, with up to 62 knots reported on the cruiser's net. We were glad we weren't in the main harbour in Vava'u as several boats dragged their moorings and bumped into each other.