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Friday, September 26, 2014

Tantalising Tonga

Life in Tonga is fairly relaxed; it didn’t take us long to figure that out. One morning we headed to the market in Neiafu, Vava’u, at 7am hoping for fresh produce but it wasn’t to be – hardly anyone was there.   Tongans are not early risers it seems.  We went back at lunchtime and while the fruit and vegetables were all on display, there weren’t too many vendors and those who were there were snoozing.  So, realising we were on Tongan Time, we slowed down too!


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We explored the town of Neiafu and its surrounds on foot and by bicycle – our last rides on our trusty folding bikes.   There was no room for them for the final leg to New Zealand and no need for them once we are home so we sold them.  It was sad to see them go as we’ve covered many hundreds of miles on them in dozens of countries but they both went to good homes.  The Bandit garage (the twin cabin) has now resumed its function as a twin cabin… we plan to use it on the trip home as it’s the most comfortable place to sleep.

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 We loved our time in the Vava’u islands.  It was a great catch up time as cruisers we’d met as far away as Lanzarote sailed into Tonga.   There were many wonderful happy hour get togethers and pot luck dinners on the beach.  Highlight was meeting up with fellow Marlborough sailors Pete McLean and Richard Batchelor.   Pete bought Jungle in the UK and we first met up in Olbia in Sardinia in 2010 and again the following year in Corsica.  Sharing an anchorage in the Vava’u islands on a perfect day was an unexpected bonus.


The best thing about the Vava’u group is the distances are all short – only an hour or so between anchorages.   We’ve had some lovely walks ashore with the outer islands offering great views of the Pacific Ocean.   We’ve also continued to have some wonderful whale experiences seeing them up close most days. Not a lot more to say about this wonderful piece of Pacific paradise so will let the pictures do the talking.



Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Hanging with the whales in Vava’u

Arriving in the Vava’u group of islands in northern Tonga was very special.  We’re now only 1000miles from home and this is the last country we plan to visit on what has been a wonderful eight year Bandit adventure.   And it seems as if we’ve picked yet another piece of paradise to spend our last few weeks in.


 Check in was a breeze with quietly spoken and polite officials.  The sleepy village of Neiafu was a sheer delight to visit with its New Zealand style cafes (great flat whites) and fantastic fruit and vege market.  It was the first time we’d seen such good veges since Galapagos.    Many of the locals (both men and women) wear the traditional dress of ta’ovala – a mat made from finely woven pandanus leaf mat.  The mat is tied around the waist over a long black vala (skirt) and looks incredibly stiff, prickly and uncomfortable but locals assured us they soften with age. 



We spent three days in Neiafu, enjoying village life and catching up with internet, doing laundry, provisioning and watching rugby on tv – a bonus.   Then we headed to nearby Port Maurelle - a stunning anchorage with sandy white beaches and clear water.  Fellow cruisers had organised a pot luck dinner on the beach – in fact we ended up having three pot lucks on the beach here.  We also enjoyed walks to the local villages and chatting to the locals.  It’s been an incredibly social time here in Vava’u as fellow cruisers arrive here from all over the Pacific. We’ve met up with old friends, made new friends and met many of those who’d previously just been a “voice” on our Isabella or Bora Bora radio nets.



While anchored in Port Maurelle we were treated to a wonderful spectacle as three whales – a bull, a mum and her baby - played just behind the boats.   For the next hour we watched as the snorkellers with an official whale watch tour were treated to a fantastic experience being within touching distance of the three whales.  As onlookers we had a pretty amazing show. 


We never tired of watching the whales play and we are seeing them nearly every day.  As this is a birthing ground for young whales, they spend their time here learning new tricks – so there is lots of breaching (jumping out of the water), spy hopping (sticking their head up vertically), tail slapping and rolling around.   Generally it’s just like seeing a kid playing in the water. Our best experience was on our way to Vaka’eitu anchorage  when we saw a mother and baby just ahead.   We hove to and watched as the baby did all of the above – just a few metres away – as the photos show. If you’re bored with whales – switch off now!


We’ve contemplated swimming with the whales – several other cruisers have and say it’s a wonderful experience.  Three things are putting us off – the price ($300pp) and the weather…it’s been windy and cool since we arrived and the whale watch boats are open and out for an entire day.  Also – quite a few people lately haven’t been able to get in the water with the whales.  Fellow cruisers had a wonderful time when the whales swam right up to their anchored boat and they jumped in the water with them.   We’re hoping that perhaps the same will happen to us.  For now, we’re just enjoying seeing whales at close quarters every day.