Haapai Group, Tonga
On Saturday morning we move from Foa to Pangai with the idea to get out check in at custums done.
On the way out passing through the reef channel of Foa we have a better visibility than coming in the previous day. To our great surprise we see that the day before we had almost gone over a boomy following the waypoints described in the Sailing bird guide.
Shortly after in Pangai we also find out that the opening hours as described in the guide are not really up to date any more. Of course as everything else also customs is closed on a Saturday morning..
Not in the best of our moods decide that a beer in the Mariners Cafe should help. Unfortunately the local Tongan beers are not really according to my taste, so the pleasure was only half.
Beautiful endless beach in Uoleva
But we have a nice chat with Magda who recommends to us that we should go to Uoleva, which is one island further south for the weekend and that’s what we did.
One hour later we are anchored in the north anchorage of Uoleva, having the view on a few miles long lonely beach all for ourselves.
We immediately check out the island and take our first walk around the southern end. That already takes us two hours.
The next day we “attack” the rest of the island and we take another 3.5 hours of walking through sometimes pretty deep sand with quite a fierce pace. As a result we both have aching mussels the next day, but I am happy about finally getting some exercise.
Also the reefs around the anchorages in Uoleva have some good snorkeling spots, it just requires a bit endurance to check out the area and find the nice places.
After a short visit back to Pangai we go south again to anchor in front of Tatafa where we also find quite a nice snorkeling ground .
Uiha – hit by a cyclone
Also we visit the village of Uiha.
The people are friendly, but rather reserved.
We arrive at the village together with a fishing boat and shortly after we see a man carrying a turtle into a garden. We do not assume that it will be kept as a pet..
At the first house where I see somebody I ask for fruit and a girl gets a bag of mangos for us.
At least a few fresh vitamins apart from the last cabbage and carrots… They don’t seem to want anything in exchange, so I give them some aftershave as a present.
The women are weaving the waist mats and I ask them how long they need for one. “Two months” is the answer and I am very impressed!
Wandering through the village we see the church that appeared in the guidebook as “freshly painted”.
To us it rather appears like “freshly hit by a cyclone”… Also then we realize that all the neat huts in the neat gardens are of the same type of rapid construction houses, probably installed after the last larger storm going through here.
Our next anchorage is between Uonukuhihifo and Uonukuhahaki, two islands that are connected by a high sand bridge that stays dry even in high water.
When Dan and Christie from the Te Poe Rava told us about this place especially the nearby Ladd reef Christie’s eyes lit up enthusiastically, so it is clear that we have to see the place.
We go out the 1.5 miles with the dinghy localizing the reef with the help of the GPS on my phone (our handheld GPS is broken..). I put my snorkel gear on, get into the water and just make “aahh, but that is awesome! An interesting rock formation full with corals and sea life, I even see some Tunas, a larger shark far away and a sleeping nurse shark just in a cave below us. With the dinghy in the tow we drift snorkel over the reef 3 times and promise ourselves to do it as a dive the next day.
Getting prepared for the trip to New Zealand
Unfortunately the next day is grey and rainy and the forecast doesn’t promise much better for the coming days. We feel lonesome after almost 8 days having all anchorages by ourselves and need company, so we move back to Uoleva, where in the meantime up to 15 yachts with some good friends are anchored.
We spend the next days in getting ready for the trip to New Zealand (checking the mast, cleaning the hull, cooking for a few days..) and the next evenings together with our friends.
The weather window is not exactly as we have learned it should be with a high of 1032 mbar in the Tasman sea, but according to the New Zealand weather guru Bob it still is a possible slot to go. So finally we decide to leave for the Minerva reef together with our friends from Loupan and Vega.
Approaching Minerva Reef
Our sailing to Minerva is excellent, we seem to fly over the clam seas on the Tongan platform, the max recorded speed on this trip being 13 knots.
After a bit more than two days we arrive close to the reef and while it is easily noticeable during the day, it is impossible to be seen on the radar even from only 0.5 mile away!!!
The entrance is easy and we see Nautilus anchoring right next to the reef entrance. “They must have been diving” I think and check out with Ian how their dive was. We are immediately convinced, put our anchor down, take out our dive gear and 30 minutes later we descend down the edge of the wall on the outer side of the pass.
Shark food or our shortest dive ever
Wow, what a beautiful wall, we haven’t seen anything like very often! I give Reto signs that he should make pictures and soon after he gives me a sigh in the other direction. “Oh a shark, how nice” I think.
Then I see another one and a third one. When I turn around and start to count I realize that they are many more coming up and I think “Jesus this is like in Fakarava”.
But in contrary to Fakarava where they were used to divers they are quite curious and they all go around us checking us out. Then in addition to the mainly small grey reef sharks a 3 meter large one appears in the crowd. We look at each other and agree to go up.
Sitting safely back in the dinghy Reto tells me with his eyes wide open “one of them was having a bite into my fins, then I already had enough and then this large guy comes in addition!” Well, that is really a bit too much for us, we decide to stay out of the water and a bit disappointed about the short dive we go back to the boat…
Hiding behind the reef in Minerva
We move She San to the most southern spot in Minerva, we feel that the protection there should be best in the upcoming strong southerly winds, although Nautilus, Duplicat and Loupan are already a mile further west in the southwestern corner.
The next day we meet the other crews for a walk on the reef, just before it starts blowing and raining for the rest of the day.
On Thursday morning we think that most of the wind is over, so we move to the others to make some socializing possible.
In the morning all of us sit on Vega discussing the weather forecast and drinking a lot of coffee. In the afternoon all decide to leave and we invite for a sundowner on She San.
Unfortunately the wind picks up from an more southeasterly direction and the night feels rocky like out there in the ocean. Instead of enjoying the last night in the real bed before the longer passage I have to move to our “passage bed” behind the salon table. Well, at least I am well accustomed to a shaking boat when we start off the next day.
Finally the passage to New Zealand
And it is a bit rough in the beginning. With two reefs in the main and another 2 in the genoa we still make between 10 and 12 knots in the beginning, so that I even skip putting the fishing lines out. Who would want to take a fish on board in these conditions?
In my watch in the late afternoon I completely miss crossing over the 180th degree. In order not to get in trouble with Neptune I give him a shot of Metaxa the next day.
After 24 hours the wind is gone and the engine is running. We are in the middle of the high, the sea is flat and the sun is shining. But still it is already pretty cold, for the first time since sailing to the canaries we have taken out our sweaters, warm socks and thermo underwear!!
On the third day we enjoy another good sailing day with winds coming from the north and we go almost 6 knots in average. We know that a trough will pass over us in the middle of the night but in the beginning there is little wind and we only have the 1st reef in the main. Then it comes, like a squall but quite long, and it blows easily 35 knots. I reef the Genua in completely but still we are quite fast.
But of course, immediately after putting the 2nd reef in the main the wind becomes less and less and in the morning we make 4 knots again.
At noon the wind has changed to south, so right on the nose.
The next two days we mainly motor-sail but we hardly make miles in the right direction.
Reto says “ no problem, at least we come around and see some different landscape all the time…”
After 36 hours the wind finally turns to West North West and we can sail straight direction to Opua.
For our last lunch before arriving we finish the last few vegetables, dairy products and also finally the last lentils (after 6 weeks of continuously eating the chick peas and lentils on board…).
In the bay of Islands the water is calm, the sun is shining and with that funny sensation of arriving in a new country we speed towards Opua.
We tighten She San to the Quarantine dock and a few minutes later Mike and Katie from the quarantine office board and check what we have on board.
We have everything well prepared and they are happy. Only our pepper sprays are removed The procedure doesn’t take more that 20 minutes, then we are checked in and allowed to move to the marina.
Our passage from the Minerva reef took 7 days and 7 hours for the 929 miles. All in all it was a very peaceful passage with only the first few hours winds of around 25 knots and 1 hour in the trough with winds of 35 knots.
Celebrating with Burger and Beer
After 2 beer and a large beef burger in the Cruising club we fall into our beds and awake only the next morning.
In our swimmer we measure 16 degrees C and Opua is covered in dense fog – welcome to springtime in NZ. But only an hour later it clears up and the sun is warming again.
The next days we want to check out the area with our mountain bikes and then slowly move on towards Whangarei.