Tonga can wait

Our plan was to depart Bora Bora and head straight for Tonga – with may be a short stop at Niue on the way. A last minute decision to visit Mauputi, described as a gem and Bora Bora 40 years ago, was as an epiphany; a moment in time when it dawned on us (together with a couple of other Oyster boats) that this could be a place that was incredibly rare in our world – an uninterrupted timeless and understated haven. Somewhere not to be missed. Thus, we diverted our course (by very little) and began to traverse the narrow passage from the Pacific Ocean in to the shallow lagoon. James had rung ahead a local pension owner, Camille, considered by yachties to be the “pass expert” and with thumbs up to proceed we slowly made our way forward. Only 75 meters wide with clearly visible coral reefs on either side just below the surface and breaking waves above – no room for mistakes! Once in we have to wait for jus the right weather to exit.

 All around were were surrounded by turquoise waters of varying depth, fringed by beaches and coral reefs overhung with greenery – paradise indeed. The beauty is similar to the much visited Bora Bora but the way of life is starkly different. Anchor dropped and dinghy down, we headed for the centre of town – typically made obvious to the onlooker by a large Catholic church. Right or left? We turned left and walked along the main (and only) street stopping at several local shops advertising “glacé” but which did not have an ice cream to sell…in fact they laughed when we pointed to preferred choice – “no glacé!!” We arrived at a sign to the local boulangerie and took the path to find a friendly French Polynesian woman hanging out of a window who unlocked her shop to let us in and buy a cold drink. There were at least 3 dogs tied up around the designated shop area that barked incessantly until we turned the corner and were out of sight. 

Further on we were joined by 4 ugly, seemingly ownerless, tough looking muts of various breeds, several with chunks of flesh missing. Amused by the fact that they had adopted us, we watched as they rushed around upsetting all the dogs in the neighbourhood, chasing the chickens and generally running amok….until to our horror when they were confronted by a territorial rooster (bad decision) they proceeded to form a killing pack and bring the poor cock to an unceremonious end in a gutter on the side of the road. Spitting out mouthfuls of feathers they preceded us along the road where they caused havoc with oncoming traffic (one was even hit by a scooter) and caused several fights with other local dogs. All the time they checked on us to make sure that we were still “part of the gang” – not happy when we’re boarded the dinghy for our return to the boat.

All over French Polynesia we had commented that, although many of the homes. are quite basic, the gardens are cultivated with pride and are very beautiful. Swathes of hibiscus bow down to the streets curbs and delicious tropical fruits (mangoes, pamplemousse, bread fruit, limes) hang off trees tempting you to pick them…rule of thumb I believe is every tree belongs to a local who often sells them roadside so do not touch! Back yards also act as the family cemetery and it is not uncommon to see shell decorated marble tombs take up most of their land. We did ask one local what happens if the family moves house – he raised an eyebrow and said, “we don’t!”

The island is lorded over by Mt Tiriano and our aim was to climb to the top with the intention of seeing one of the most amazing views to date. We followed a surprisingly well defined track from the main road and climbed up, clinging to tree roots or anything overhanging until to our delight we encountered several well placed ropes for assistance. Huffing and puffing, with cameras at the ready, our sweaty group reached the summit to see this……

Frustratingly, I cut my hand preparing dinner the night before going diving to swim amongst the huge Manta Rays that reside in the warm sandy waters of the lagoon.  Standing in as bag lady I sat in the dinghy in the rain while the others either snorkelled or used a tank of air to sit under water while the huge rays swum over and around them. So gutted to have missed the opportunity (the risk of infection was too high) I was stilled so pleased that James and the others had the chance to see these amazing sea creatures in their own environment. Next time….??

Passage planning complete, and at just the right time and weather conditions, we navigated the pass ready for a 5-6 day journey from Maupiti to Beveridge Reef, recommended  by a fellow Australian, and described as a sunken atoll with incredible marine life.

As we know, plans are meant to change – the wind had died off and we were back to motoring, when we received a radio call from Dave on “Sea Flute” suggesting we visit Palmerston – an atoll that makes up part of the southern Cook Islands group. “It is only 10 degrees out of our way and we may never come back this way again” This ability to be flexible and change course at the last minute has been an important aspect of the rally – if it suits then let’s do it!  A couple of nights sailing and only 20 miles to go, a wind change meant the anchorage at Palmerston was now on a lee shore (for the non nauticals that means that the wind was blowing on to the shore). On top of that, the location of the island’s mooring lines (which also looked dodgy) meant the back of our boat would have only been 50 metres off a coral reef…not ideal for a good nights sleep! So altered course for Beveridge Reef….and once again were defeated by the  weather! Finally after 7 days of pitching and rolling and little sleep we reached Niue but not before James was slapped in the face at 4am by a flying fish (I actually picked the scales off his face) which resulted in a brilliant deflection back into the ocean for the fish and a facial bruise for the skipper.

Niue is amazing – a tiny nation in the middle of the Pacific Ocean with the clearest water (visibility about 300 metres), whales jumping out of the sea to greet you and a happy, friendly population of English speaking, Kiwi accented people, all willing to help and have a chat.  There are no beaches or rivers but stunning chasms and gorges hewn out of the rock face around the island, a grand Yacht Club (NYC) which facilitates the allocation of buoys to visiting yachts and anything else that needs to be sorted and 9 holes of mini golf, the view of which would rival “Pebble Beach”. And that’s just for starters. On arrival at the dock the dinghy had to be hoisted out of the water and parked next to the cars in the car park.  We had our first “flat white” coffee for many months topped off with 2 spectacular dives to view underwater caves and a large number of sea snakes as well as another opportunity to dive with dolphins.

Setting off at 2am we sailed, bounced, rolled our way to Tonga 2 days later – we crossed the international date line sometime in the early hours, missed a day and motored into the spectacular Vava’u group, the northern most islands of Tonga. 


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