I had another bike ride on Vava’u to enable me to see more of the island, this up to Hila ki Tapana lookout to the north of the island, up a steep dirt track past plenty of Taro fields, hot hard work but worthwhile.
I decided to stay on in Neiafu for the Vava’u Blue Water Festival, some of its attraction was that representatives from New Zealand Customs, Opua marina and Whangerai Marine came over to give us cruisers the lowdown on NewZealand, which was very useful. They seem determined to try and make it as easy as possible for yachties to visit NZ and we seemed assured of a good welcome there. There are some restrictions on what you can take to NZ, for example no fruit or vegetables and no plants. They take their biosecurity seriously, they don’t have fruit flies in NZ for instance. I had to so goodbye to my Aloe Vera plant that had been with me since the Canaries, which was a bit of a wrench, but I found a good home for it at the Aquarium cafe.
The festival kicked of with a sausage sizzle at the boatyard, who laid on free sausages and beer. The official opening on the Monday we had a Tongan brass band playing for us- just like a colliery band back home although here the boys and men in the band all wear skirts and then an eve meal. Subsequent days there was a breakfast hosted by Whangarei marine, we visited a primary school where the children put on a show of dancing for us and a Tongan buffet was laid on by the parents, there was a barbecue and party at the Basque tavern, a humpback whale talk and pizza and finally a last night meal .
Festival over, time to move on the the Ha’apai group about 70 miles south so I left early afternoon to be clear of the islands and reefs of the Vava’u group before dark and then an overnight passage to arrive just after first light. There are about 60 islands in this group only about 17 being inhabited, it is not much visited and has very little tourism. I skirted the first islands and anchored at Pangai the main settlement on the island of Lifuka. It is a sleepy little place, not much there and not much going on although it must have been hit by a cyclone in the past so some rebuilding was underway.
It had been my intention to visit a few more of the islands and anchorages here but in the end I decided to give this a miss and head straight for Nuku’alofa on Tongatapu. All the pilot guides suggest you need someone to keep watch on the bow and I think I was feeling the strain of navigating through all the unmarked reefs a bit much on my own.
It was about 107 mile to Nuku’alofa so I left at midday and sailed westwards to clear the islands and reefs before turning south for another overnight passage. I had sort of company for this in the form of another yacht who followed me out, eventually overtook me, but I kept them in sight all night and through the next morning when I eventually lost sight of them in poor visibility and rain of a very grey and cloudy morning when the wind headed me. The entrance to Nuku’alofa is long and although wide encumbered by shallows and reefs but with a distinct lack of markers to help you in. I didn’t enjoy it. I was surprised to pass Dan in “My Dream” on his way out to NZ. I commented that it wasn’t a nice day to be heading out (it was blowing about 20 knots, grey and rainy) but he said he hoped it would get better.
I eventually got in and dropped anchor off the beach of Pangaimotu island. There were a few other boats here that I had seen from time to time on my travels across the Pacific.
Ashore is a beach bar – Big Momma’s Yacht Club which offers a warm welcome.
There is a little ferry to cross to Nuku’alofa itself so I went across for supplies and a look around. It is a bustling busy place lots of shop lots of stalls quite a contrast to Neiafu.
I will stop here a while until there is a suitable weather window to procede to NZ