Category Archives: Tonga

From Haapai, Tonga via the Minerva Reef to Opua, New Zealand

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.

Uoleva Haapai Tonga
Uoleva – for us so far the island with the longest walkable beach all around – the sand sometimes is soft and it feels like hiking in deep snow…
Uoleva Haapai Tonga
here our She San in the bay that we have all for us in that moment.
Uoleva Haapai Tonga
…neverending beach only with very few rocks from time to time…
Uoleva Haapai Tonga
also the eastern side is beautiful and surrounded by a large lagune up to the outer reef
Uoleva Haapai Tonga
Evening hours in Uoleva
Haapai Tonga snorkeling
While snorkeling in Uoleva…
Haapai Tonga snorkeling
..we also find some nice living coral..
Haapai Tonga snorkeling
…with the most different forms and consistencies.
Pangai Haapai Tonga
The ferry from the main island arrives in Pangai
Uiha Haapai Tonga
The fishermen come back with their catch of the day
Uiha Haapai Tonga
The “village store” in Uiha gives a good overview of what products are consumed.
Uiha Haapai Tonga
The women take 2 months to complete the weaving of one of these waist mats!
Uiha Haapai Tonga
Dried fish, this time completely without flies!
Uiha Haapai Tonga
The village church must have suffered in the last tropical storm…
Uiha Haapai Tonga
but the village in general is neat and clean and the gardens well kept.
Haapai Tonga Uonukuhihfo
Our next anchorage between Uonukuhahaki and Uonukuhihifo

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 .

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.

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.

The Minerva reef is easily spotted when approaching during the day…
…but even with only half a mile distance we only get a few light spots on the radar!
Duplicat and Nautilus are already anchored inside the pass and have done a great dive outside the 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.

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”.

Minerva diving grey reef sharks
First we are amazed about the group of sharks and I started to count them…
Minerva diving grey reef sharks
… but shortly after the group becomes uncountable…

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…

We move to the southern curve of Minerva in order to get a good protection in the expected “squash zone” winds

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.

Minerva giant clam
Giant clam looking out from the reef
and I am surprised that this little coral can survive without water during the low tides?
while this one at least still has water around.
While She San and our DInghy lie in the clam water behind the reef…
…on the outer side of the reef the waves break and a squall is approaching
Reto enjoying the walk through the water holes over the reef
We underestimate the width of the reef -once on the outer side we realize that we better rush back before the rising tide gets us!


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.

Evening sky on our way to NZ
…and completely different again on the following evening.

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.

In the meantime we have to sleep with the thick duvet, even during the 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.

With the wind on the nose our track is almost more back and forth than forewards…
… and even though the speed is ok, the Value Made Good is rather frustrating.

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.

And just when the wind picks up again we catch a beautiful nice tuna.
We are finishing up the “forebidden” food like fresh veggies and milk products during the last lunch before arriving in Opua.
Land in sight – Reto is hoisting the NZ and Quarantine flags










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.

Opua Quarantine Customs New Zealand
The quarantine dock in Opua – Mike and Katie will soon check us in

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.

Finally the long desired beer and beer burger (and no more lentils for a change…)
Opua New Zealand
the Bay of Opua in the evening sun

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.

Tonga, the last kingdom in the Pacific – we are enjoying Vava’u

Cool, so finally we are here in Tonga. It feels so different from the countries we have been before. Of course, the procedure of checking in that took us more than 4 hours was really an interesting first experience…

Also we finally have crossed the date line as in Niue we still had -12 and in Tonga it is currently UTC +13. As a result the 9th of September didn’t exist for us… In addition, we are “officially on our way home”, since just the day before we have passed the point that is on the other side of our home town Trimmis 😉

Mecki just comes on board of She San in order to hide from the rain – shortly after he gives Reto an Ukulele lesson…
Market Neiafu
The merket in Neiafu, finally buying fruit and vegetables is fun again 😉
Also “our” customs officer get his ration of vitamins in the form of taro leaves…
Neiafu -only a few meter outside the center of town it gets quite rural…
… and everywhere we see hords of young pigs!
The graves of important persons can be identified by their coulorful decoration.

On our second day in Neiafu a men comes up to our boat – “it’s raining and I will come up and get shelter” he tells me and does so… I leave him with Reto alone and it doesn’t take long that he spots the Ukulele and asks to play. Reto takes his guitar and shortly after learn how they play Ukulele in Tonga 😉

The first thing I really enjoy here is the Market and the choice (and prices) of fruit and vegetables. The tomatoes are still not cheap with approx. US 3.-/kg, but for a few dollars I get Pak Choi, white cabbage and taro leaves to feed us with vegetables for two weeks.

The taro leaves are excellent as a curry just like spinach, but attention, they have to be cooked well, otherwise they are poisonous! Reto at one time accidentally picks one piece and eats it raw, then he has a numb mouth for 2 days and a funny feeling in the stomach…













A bunch of curious kids talk to us while we are taking a break in their village
Tu’anuku, the southernmost village of the island
The Computer Center in Longomapu
and another heap of young pigs
The view from the Mount Talau down to Neiafu
To the left the “harbour” with the dock for clearing in
The sunday church is once again a beautiful event…
…everybody is dressed up festively…
…especially new for us is the waist decaoration and that also the men wear skirts

After a few days of rain we take out the bikes and explore the main island. It feels good to pass by all the friendly people in the villages who great us all with a smile. Also the kids are great, they happily wave at us and when we stop, they come up and introduce themselves.

Then we hide from the rain at a bus stop together with two teenagers. After a small chat they ask us  “you like to eat pig?”. We assume that was an invitation and say “no, thanks”, but we do think that it is quite special, that they have asked us.
























…and even the smallest are earing their best skirt and flowers…

On Sunday morning the church is full with people, everybody in their best dresses.

We quickly realize that the traditional mat around the hips that mainly the men wear is replaced by a sort of waist belt with stripes for the women.

The Polynesian singing is once again amazing, but though we don’t understand a word, the songs sound familiar.














Swallows Cave
The entrance to the Swallows Cave in the north of Kapa island..
Swallows Cave
…the inside is impressive from below and above the water..
Swallows Cave
…and as well as we snorkeling…
…also a huge school of fish enjoy the cave.

Right afterwards we sail the few miles west to the very protected bay called Port Maurelle.

Since the snorkeling there is not very special we check out the north of the neighboring island A’a, but also there most of the coral is dead. Then we head up to the Swallows cave and we enjoy the views above and underneath the water.

The same afternoon we move further west to the anchorage of Vaka’eitu, since from here we can reach many dive or snorkel spots.

diving Vavau
We discover some for us new farns..
diving Vavau
…and dive between some large yellow coral heads…
diving Vavau
…but also many small corals and fish are there to be looked at.
diving Vavau
In the middle of this school of blue fish the clown fish just above the anemone…
diving Vavau
… and in the back another clown 😉 ;-).
diving Vavau
also the violet corals are very pretty
diving Vavau
..or this yellow hat which reminds Reto his swiss military helmet
diving Vavau
I also liked this one but didn’t get the fish to look into the camera…
the south beach of Vaka’eitu with a few of Mounu and Euakafa
the bay of Vaka’eitu with Lape in the back






The next two days we dive the Pagodas, two small reefs in the middle of the channel between Vaka’eitu and Ovaka. There are some spectacular large coral heads and plates and many small things to look at. Unfortunately also here a large part of the coral is dead.

Just a bit north of our anchorage in Vaka’eitu is the Coral Garden. Unfortunately it is necessary to cross over the reef and that is only possible at around high tide and by swimming with quite some effort.

Therefore we are happy every time we make it without injuries through the waves over the reef and don’t even take the Go Pro with us…

But the Coral Garden is worth the effort, we find a lot of colourful corals of different shapes, like the blue and green “romanesco” corals.

































In the bay of Vaka’eitu Hika and David live with their younger kids. The elder sons are in Tongatapu  going to college.

Tongan Feast Vavau
Preparations for the Tongan Feast at Hika and David’s place in Vaka’eitu – Fred has to turn the pig for some hours…
Tongan Feast Vavau
Hika and David call for the feast, the food is very tasty and there is enough for everyone
Tongan Feast Vavau
Rosemary and Roslyn are showing us the graceful tongan dancing that traditionally the young children start to learn
Fred quickly goes up the coconut palm in order to pick a few drinking nuts for us.

In order to finance that Hika and David make regularly a Tongan feast for the sailors, all including the famous Tongan roasted pig and dance show.

The food is excellent, although the pig is not our favorite dish. I prefer Hika’s chicken curries and the raw fish as well as the Taro leaves dishes. After the meal Rosmary (5) and Roslyn (9) gracefully perform some typical Tongan dances or us, they are lovely.














After almost a week in Vaka’eitu we move on. We would like to check out the dive spots next to Euakafa, but our anchor doesn’t hold.

Mariners cave diving Vavau
We dive in through the entrance of the Mariners Cave…
Mariners cave diving Vavau
…and 13 meter further down we go back out again
…and more and more we get used to diving in caves ;-).

Therefore we move back up next to Kapa island and although the sky is grey we take out our dive stuff in order to dive the Mariners cave. And just as we are on the way to the cave wtih the dinghy the sun comes out and we have an amazing dive in and out of the cave.












The forecast for the following days is strong winds and showers, so we move to Tapana, where we safely hide in the protected bay. But the bad weather and wind doesn’t come on Tuesday, on Wednesday and not on Thursday, but instead Reto is sick and has to stay in bed….

Kenutu Vavau
The west coast of Kenutu is on the outer reef of Vavau
Kenutu Vavau
The little pass between Kenutu und Lolo is supposed to be a good snorkel and dive spot, but with these waves coming in we decide not to try…
Kenutu Vavau
She San all by herself in the anchorage of Kenutu

Only on Friday morning a 4 hour front moves over us, and afterwards the sun is out again. We are happy about it and immediately leave for Kenutu all the way to the east of Vava’u, where we have the anchorage for ourselves.













Blue Water Festival Vavau
The band is not only making good music, but also singing, dancing, and making some show for us
Neiafu Vavau
In the south of Neiafu…
Mala Vavau
…we bike to the beach across from Mala Island – you see the pig family in the left?
Pangaimotu Vavau
well decorated house in Pangaimotu – we learn what can be done with old tires

On Sunday we sail back to Neiafu, plan to get filled up with Diesel and veggies, and sail down to Hapai, the next group to the south.

But again the weather is not in favor, so we wait and join the Blue Water festival, where we get a lot of food, some Tongan cultures and a lot of information about New Zealand.















Blue Water Festival Vavau
The children of the Hosean Christian school great us proudly ..
Blue Water Festival Vavau
…and their moms did an excellent job in making the decoration.
Blue Water Festival Vavau
then everybody sings for us…
Blue Water Festival Vavau
…and dances!
Blue Water Festival Vavau
Our favorite girl is always smiling
Blue Water Festival Vavau
Then the older class is performing their dance…
Blue Water Festival Vavau
…and in the end the whole school is singing with all their hearts 🙂

The highlight is the visit of the Cultural Show and Fest at the Hosean Christian School. Children from Kindergarden to Teenager age sing and dance the typical Tongan dances for us, where mainly the hands are moved. In the end they all together sing for us a farewell song with “we love you and we wish that you stay save during your voyage”.





































Another highlight for me is to finally find out what food I can bring to NZ and what not. Mike form the Whangarei Quaranteen office is there during the festival and answers all our questions, it is great. Reto says for him it is not so great, because instead of the cans containing meet and the frozen fish he has to eat lentils and chickpeas now everyday for several weeks 😉

Then we finally see a good weather for the daysail to Hapai, so we set off to south. Starting at 5 am from Ngau south of Taunga we sail the 60 miles down to Foam where a huge shower goes over us, just after we have passed over the reef into the anchorage. We almost hit a coral head following the waypoints that we found in the guidebook, so from now on we also don’t trust these anymore…

Now we plan to cruise in the Hapai group for some time and when the next good slot to NZ comes up we might as well take it and do that sometimes difficult passage in hopefully good conditions.