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Show MapTonga - October 2005


Sue looking weary after a night of rough weather.


It was a rough ride from Rarotonga to Tonga. The first two days were fine, but then followed six very rolly, bouncy, windy and wet days, culminating in gale-force winds and big seas. Not much fun but it feels lovely when it stops!

We rounded the top of the Vava'u group of islands on the last day of September. As we came into the lee of the islands, the sea smoothed out and life became good again.


On the passage from Rarotonga, we crossed the dateline. Although technically east of 180 degrees, Tonga chose to have the same day as her neighbours in Fiji and New Zealand. For this reason the dateline "bends" around Tonga, making the time here 13 hours ahead of GMT rather than 11 hours behind. Does that make sense?

Anyway, as a result, Wednesday the 28th September 2005 did not exist for us. At midnight on Tues 27/9/05 it moved straight to Thurs 29/9/05. So we have a great alibi for any crimes committed that day!


The anchorage at Port of Refuge Harbour, Neiafu, Tonga.

The anchorage at Neiafu turned out to be a big meeting place for yachts congregating here in preparation for the last leg to either New Zealand or Australia. We met up with many fellow cruisers again, some of whom we hadn't seen since the other side of the Pacific.


Luckily, there is a great waterside restaurant/bar called The Mermaid where we could all get together.... and, if you arrive by boat from overseas, they give you the first beer for free. (All that sailing now has a purpose!)


The Mermaid.

Above: Tom and Noel from Mariah II "gie it laldie" at The Mermaid.

Right: The carved Tiki roof support at The Mermaid being accosted by Tom in his snazzy shirt.




Mele's first time hearing bagpipes live (she's blurred because she jumped back a foot when they started up!).


Tonga turned out to be a busy place for piping too. The day after we arrived, Tom was invited to pipe at a local woman's 50th birthday party. The piping was arranged as a surprise and it was!


Centre-piece of the birthday feast.

Someone at the party was a schoolteacher and so on Monday morning, we found ourselves sitting up in front of 200-300 students where Tom gave a short talk on Scotland and played a couple of tunes. They had all seen "Braveheart", but had never heard the pipes played live before and were very appreciative with loud "oohs" and "ahs" and clapping.

This young man gamely tried the pipes, wrestling with the drones, and causing an uproar amongst his classmates.



Tom piping for the morning assembly at Chanel College.


It was at Mele's birthday party that we first heard the Tongans sing. It was a short hymn by way of a grace before the meal and we were stunned by the beauty of it.

We wanted to hear more and consequently attended services at both the Catholic cathedral and the Methodist church while in Neiafu. The powerful voices and the multiple harmonies were amazing. And all without musical accompaniment too.

Nearly every evening in Neiafu we were serenaded with beautiful voices drifting over the calm waters as the different choirs practised.



The Catholic Cathedral in Neiafu.

Two ladies in typical Tongan dress.


The Kingdom of Tonga is the oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and has never been ruled by foreign powers. As a result of this Tongans still retain many cultural traditions and their everyday dress includes woven pandanus mats called ta'ovalas, tied around their waists.

Both men and women wear these as a sign of loyalty to the king.


Men's ta'ovalas are generally smaller than the ladies'.



Ta'ovalas for formal occasions are bigger than the everyday versions.


We saw the list shown above in a shop window - obviously a policy of "naming and shaming" applies!



A favourite amongst cruisers and locals alike is Victoria's Ifo Bakery. "Ifo" means "yummy" in Tongan - and all her bakery goods were!!



One day we took an organised whale-watching trip, run by Sailing Safaris, who are next door to The Mermaid. We got a discount on the condition that Tom played Amazing Grace in The Mermaid at the end of the day.

Humpback whales migrate every year from their Antarctic feeding grounds to give birth and mate around the South Pacific Islands.

We had doubts about disturbing the whales but the skipper of the boat seemed to know what he was doing, not hounding them but approaching slowly, then stopping. When about 100m away from a female, calf and male escort, he stopped the boat. Surprisingly, they came towards us, obviously nosey by nature! Then we got the chance to go in swimming with them.

In the quiet underwater, the slow powerful movements of these massive animals left us dumbstruck. One of the most amazing experiences of our lives. Could only be bettered by having the male singing, but apparently they don't usually do that while escorting, only when competing with other males. What, no fisticuffs!?

No apology for putting in so many pictures - we thought the whales were fantastic.

The mother and calf humpbacks.
(Thanks to Magda on Gwendolyn for this picture.)



The male escort, blowing.
(Thanks to Magda on Gwendolyn for this picture.)



The male escort, having a look at us...



.... and another look ....




....and a "flypast".




Going down...




The mother and calf.




Notice the huge size of the humpback's side flippers - the mother's right flipper extends beyond her calf.




The male goes straight up to the surface...




... spy-hops ...




... and turns over as he goes back down.



It was a day we'll never forget and an experience we would love to repeat. We've been told that the best time to view humpbacks in Tonga is August - book your tickets now!

Tonga, or the small part of it that we saw, was a fascinating and delightful place. One of the few unspoilt paradises left.



Last view before diving.
(Thanks to Magda on Gwendolyn for this picture.)




Above: The Post Office, Neiafu.

Left: A house in Neiafu.


The Mermaid hosts a dance show every Friday evening so we decided to check out Tongan dancing.

For the first time we saw fire dancing and were very impressed - the young man would make an excellent pipe band drum major - twirling and throwing one stick (mace) up in the air would be easy when he can simultaneously twirl two with fire at each end! He even lay down on the ground and held one stick up by resting the flaming ends on each of the soles of his feet - we've never seen a drum major do that trick either.

Another new tradition to us is that of Fakapale. This is a traditional Tongan way of showing appreciation for a dancer and is performed by the audience during the dance - audience members approach the dancer and stick pa'anga (dollar bills) to her oiled skin, tuck them into her costume or deposit them into a collection basket. If any notes fall off her skin apparently the dancer's virtue is in doubt - no wonder this young lady used nearly a whole bottle of oil!

The donations show support for the show and at the end of the year are divided equally among the dancers for their school fees - secondary school fees in Tonga are usually equivalent to an adult's annual income.

Tongan fire dancing.


All oiled up but not a lot of fakapale yet.

Sunset from The Mermaid.



Sunday best ta'ovala.


It was time for our friends Klaus and Heike on Filia Venti to start heading south for New Zealand. As it may be a long time before we see them again, we had a memorable last meal in Tonga together. But why did Klaus have balloons in his pocket??!!




The two weeks we were there flew past and it was our turn to move on. We checked out with immigration and customs and started towards New Caledonia, just over a thousand miles to the west. As it turned out we ended up in Fiji!

Just before we left, we stopped for a couple of nights in some of the quieter anchorages a few miles southwest of Vava'u, where we visited Swallows Cave, which has a beautiful blue underwater glow inside (it doesn't show up well in photos - you'll have to go and see it for yourself!).

Swallows Cave from outside...



... and from the inside.






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