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Life is a Dream, Vava'u, Tonga

Written on: Friday August 15th, 2008

The time had come to depart the Ha'apais and sail north to the Vava'u Group of islands.  Beautiful and with an abundance of moorings and safe anchorages, Vava'u sees approximately 500 yachts a year (versus maybe 50 annually in Ha'apais).  So we tied down the dingies and raised the sails!  The wind was our friend on this journey and after sailing overnight, we made it to the idyllic island of Euiki mid day, seemingly always spotting another pod of humpback whales splashing and playing all morning long.  With a breathtaking beach on the leaward side and cliffs windward, this place was chosen by a former Californian resident as the home for the Treasure Island Resort which now occupies its shores.  Traditionally fales dot the beach and a handmade whale-watching boat welcomes you to the common gathering area for a papaya/coconut smoothie or perhaps a local Ikale beer. 

Fortunately for us, Frans and Sylvia knew Mark, the resort owner, from past sailing adventures.  So when we arrived with a freshly caught mahi mahi, he was happy to cook it on his grill and provide all the trimmings for a cut of the meat.  We caught it while trolling a floating lure overnight, and I filleted it out as soon as I woke up.  The meal was extraordinary as we were all eager for some fresh seafood.  An evening bonfire with the resort guests capped off a wonderful day in the tropics!

The next morning Frans went out with the kite surfer and cruised the 25 knot winds for well over an hour.  Jesse and Sylvia stayed on the boat to do some laundry and reading, while Sanna and I took a stroll around the island, without shoes, and learned quickly that volcanic rock absolutely sucks to walk barefoot upon.  With the next destination so close, we were able to set sail that afternoon with the dingies still in the water, using only the jib to propell the vessel forward.

Jesse took the helm as we headed for Pangaimotu.  The anchorage was in a beautiful, protected lagoon surrounded on three sides by eighty foot cliffs full of thick, tropical foliage.  Of course there was the picture postcard white sand beach in the center.   Eagerly jumping into the water, we were rewarded with the first lionfish sighting of the trip.  Spearfishing didn't pan out as well as previous attempts, as the spear simply bounced off the three fish that I hit.  Oh well; it is fun and strangly addicting. 

Directly across the water from our achorage was Tapana Island, a Spanish leased island that is famous for its Thursday evening parties.  Musicians gather to play together, beer and wine flow perpetually, and Maria, the owner, is reportedly one of the best chefs in Tonga.  A late night decision was made and Frans and Jesse decided to check out the festivities, while the rest of us called it an early night on the boat.  Good thing too, as the guys didn't get back til after 3:00am!

The next day was ideal.  Swimming, snorkeling, spear fishing and just plain relaxing on the deck took up most of the day time.  The one event that we did aspire to do was explore Mariner's Cave.  Syl stayed on the boat as the rest of us set off to locate this underwater cavern.  Although a boat was just leaving the area, we were able to identify the cave entrance based upon photographs that were published in a recent sailing magazine article that featured the site.  We all jumped in and tried to take a look underwater to judge the distance that would be needed to make it safely within the cave.  Unfortunately, all we could see was black abyss.  This made us a bit reluctant to attempt the 3m descent, 7m crossing and 3m ascent into the cave, as the article indicated it would be.  If the distances were not correct, it could be a bit challening to make it back out to safety.  Eventually, I volunteered to go first.  Taking a deep breath, I descended into the abyss portion, and after only 1-2 meters, was able to see the inside layer of rock, happily realizing that interior air was well within reach.  I burst into the cavern and witnessed a very cool and very spooky environment.  Stalagtites hung everywhere in the dome shaped opening of rock.  Wanting to share the experience with the others, I swam back out and ensured them that air was easily accessible.  With that we all went inside and had a blast checking it out and taking underwater photos.

The evening continued to improve as we learned that a traditional Tongan feast was being served just a ten minute walk from the beach.  Scurrying over the mass of fallen coconuts and palm fronds, we arrived a few minutes late, but still within plenty of time to take part in this truly amazing spread of delacasies.  Fresh ceviche, cooked yellowfin and snapper, steamed clams in banana leaves, breadfruit, papaya crumble, pineapple goodness and a host of other goodies whose names I never learned ensured that our bellies were full for the short walk back to the dingy.  That evening we sat outside, watching the shooting stars glisten across the sky.  This truly was a dream day in the tropics.

After a brief dip in the pond the following morning, we set sail for Neiafu, the main town in Vava'u.  En route we stopped at Swallow's Cave, and took the dingy inside to explore for a few minutes.  Although not quite as cool as Mariner's Cave, the accessibility is significantly better, and we toured it briefly before heading back on board the Moet.

It was time for me to take the helm, and I giuded the ship to the marina in town.  Of particular interest was a narrow crossing with swirling crosswinds that required three quick tacks in succession.  I was happy to get through them solo, and realized that, perhaps, I am learning a bit about sailing after all.

Neiafu is an interesting place.  There are many expats who have moved here over the last fifteen years, yet the place still maintains a small island feel.  Ben and Lisa, owners of the Aquarium Cafe, motored out to meet us, as they knew S/F from the previous year.  We arrived at their restaurant and had an incredibly fun and festive evening, meeting new people and celebrating Sanna's last night on the boat before returning to London.  One of the businesses that Ben runs is four wheeler tours of the island.  Jesse and I opted to explore the next via these suped-up buggies.  We cruised over roads and trails, and the whole experience made me desparately miss mountain biking!  The entire island was covered and we saw amazing coastlines from perfect vantage points, including what must be the original "batcave"...producing approx 300 giant fruit bats flying all around us!

The next few days we lazed in the sun, explored town, ate fresh fish at the market, and did not much of anything in particular.  I did manage a dive with Ben on a local 400' shipwreck.  It was quite interesting, as few people explore that area, allowing the corals to be pristine and the fish to be curious instead of fearful.  Last night Frans played guitar at the Aquarium and a good time was had by all.  Today we leave for Tapana for one last fiesta before adjourning to the ship to begin the crossing to Vanuatu.  That should take about 10-12 days over the sea; consequently, this will be my last posting for a bit.  Thanks for reading and hope to hear from you all by the time I check in again!


From will raich on Aug 20th, 2008

So cool much love Marias house will be coverd and roofed on Friday and My place has a cieling of aspin T

From Metal on Aug 23rd, 2008

Nige, The start of a beard looks good. Glad to hear you're making the most of the opportunity and having fun. We spent much of July in France and Belgium as well as getting out and about on some of the beaches in the area. France beaches are warmer and nicer than those in the UK. The girls headed back to the U.S. Aug.1 for the first time since Easter. I will head back next Wednesday to see them, hit the big Sheb County fair, see the folks, and catch a night out with Mark as he is visiting his mom before labor day. I leave for 3 days in Paris tomorrow. One is for pleasure and 2 are for work. It's starting to get a bit boring here with the girls in the States even though I've been working pretty hard so I thought an extra day in Paris might be nice. Please let me know wehn you will be in Europe/Paris for your birthday so I can get it in the schedule. In F,S

From Dad on Aug 27th, 2008

Looks like you're having a great time so far! Hope all is well, and am anxious to hear from you again. Also, if you have any idea about when you might be in Viet Nam, let me know. I'm kicking around the idea of meeting you there. Take care and love ya... Dad

From james on Sep 2nd, 2008

wow, dude...great envy is all I can say! amazing photos! can't wait to read/view more.

From Maria on Sep 3rd, 2008

You're my hero! Today is Will's first TaiChi classes in our new studio - he's the teacher!

From Kalie on Nov 25th, 2011

Well I guess I don't have to spend the weekend fguinrig this one out!