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Don't Worry, Be Ha'apai!

Written on: Tuesday August 5th, 2008

So the sailing journey has begun.  We started with a short jaunt to an island nearby Tongatapu, called Atata.  It turned out to be a wonderful beginning, as the owners were excellent people and the island was a blast.  We arrived for a swim and snorkel, and had a few beers.  Eventually the karaoke machine made its way into the evening, and a good laugh was had by all.  A late night dingy ride back to the boat left us wanting more. 

So that was what we did: head back to Atata for the day.  As it turned out, there were two shipfulls of military personnel there for the day, so we no longer had the privacy we previously enjoyed.  But it was fun to meet others and play some vball.  The most pominent highlight was wind surfing!  The resort had three set ups that we took out and cruised with all day!  It was sooooo fun, as I hadn't done it in four years.  I actually re-learned all the skills I had originally developed in Maldives, and was quite happy to ride the waves.  The exhausting day was well rewarded by Bruno's (resort owner's) invite to a free fale for the crew (me, Jesse and Sanna).  We eagerly chose our beds in the quiet room and crashed for a good night's sleep.  The next morning we were ready to set off on our sail to the Ha'apais!

The plan was to sail all day and arrive at our island of choice prior to sunset.  The reality was to sail through challenging waters that delayed our arrival a bit, get to our island of choice and realize that there is NO way we can anchor there with the swells we were experiencing.   Plan B was to continue on to the next anchorage, which required an overnight sail monitored by three three-hour shifts.  Sanna went down with seasickness and Silvia was in charge of the kids; this left Jesse, Frans and me to monitor the sea overnight.  All went well and we arrived at Oua Island for our first anchorage in the Ha'apais.

The Ha'apais are the least visited islands in Tonga.  Located between the capital to the south and the more touristy Vava'u Group to the north, this group of islands in between sees few yachts.  Consequently, we had small, uninhabited islands all to ourselves to explore, have picnics, evening bonfires, etc. 

Oua itself does have a village, which we explored one morning.  The children were the first to greet us, and took us all around the village, showing off their fruit trees, pigs and school.  We taught them the time-tested game of "tag", and most seemed to grasp it.  It was quite difficult to catch some of the older boys, as their bare feet are more used to the hard ground than the feet of us "pilanges".  Before leaving the village, we saw a woman carrying two octopus back to her hut.  So of course, I gathered what we had to trade and negotiated a swap for some processed cheese!  Afterwards I cleaned the octopus and we had our first, fresh seafood of the trip. 

We stayed anchored off Oua for two evenings before setting sail farther north to Ha'afeva.  En route we had our first whale encounter!  A pod (?) of humbacks was on a course to intersect us in the distance.  They halted, turned toward us and began following 20 meters behind the boat!  It was so freaking cool!  They are huge and I had an instant feeling of respect for these curious creatures.  Eventually they lost interest and tailed off our port side. 

Arriving at Ha'afeva, we realized that this island is just plain gorgeous!  Although a local village does exist on the south side, we anchored inside a little coral outcropping on the north end of the island.  Immediately jumping in the water to have a look, Frans and I were rewarded with a sighting of an 8' white tip reef shark swimming by to check us out.  We hunted for a while with no success, and were instead content to relax on the boat.  The next day proved more eventful, as Frans was able to break out the kite surfer while Jesse, Sanna and I spearfished.  I blasted a large parrot fish that got away and a drilled a tough wrasse that didn't stick to the spear.  But eventually I did manage to get a medium parrotfish and a pretty large squid!  It was the first time I ever cleaned a squid, but I can safely write now that I am comfortable with doing it again!  It was quite tasty and I felt a sense of primal pride in being able to hunt, clean and cook a meal out of the sea for the entire boat as we enjoyed a fireside picnic on the beach!

From Ha'afeva we sailed up to Lifuka, which is the main island in the Ha'apai group.  We arrived on a Sunday, which meant that everything is closed.  After chatting to locals and walking a mile in the dark, we located a bakery open to enjoy a dinner of fresh bread and butter.  The basics never tasted to good!

We spent the next two days exploring Lifuka.  The sleepy lil' island has a never-ending beach that rivals the stretch in Negril.  The only difference is that this one is vacant!  I only saw three people on it in two days...and they were only there for an hour.  I suppose when you can go there anytime you like, it isn't as much of a novelty. 

Renting bicycles to explore more of the island, we encountered a Aussie-owned resort on the north end.  This is a beautiful, private location that would make any honeymoon couple content.  Our highlight was watching a local dog walk the beach, scaring away any birds that tried to land on 'his' property.  Then he managed to smell a crab burried 18" in the sand and dig it up, simply to play with it for a few minutes.  It was quite possibly the funniest thing I've seen!  Fortunately I'll be able to share it as I had a video camera along.

All in all, the Ha'apais were peaceful and rewarding.  The sailing was easy and the views astonishing.  Evening sunsets melded into a sky of never-ending shooting stars!  Yes, this place is paradise.


From Marty on Aug 13th, 2008

Dude, time for one comment for now - way to suck in the gutt!!!!! ;-)

From Shayna on Aug 13th, 2008

"We shall never cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time." T.S. Eliot

From Chris Schumacher on Aug 13th, 2008

It sounds like you are truly enjoying yourself and your mom is excited about joining you. Enjoy following your journey.