We left Nuku’alofa expecting good winds for a northerly sail and we weren’t disappointed. We had one of our quickest and consistent sails ever. Qi was making the most of her freshly painted underside and tuned rig.
We arrived at our destination of Numuka, over 60 nautical miles away, in under 9 hours. We anchored between two small islands with a reef protecting each entrance to the pass. After settling in among 3 other yachts, I paddled ashore to explore the closest island while the Captain had a nap. A fishing camp was set up with drying racks made out of driftwood. In the other direction, half-way along the beach, was an old yacht’s mast doubling as a flag pole to mark the designated position for a future yacht club. Thomas had read that this was a prison island back when his 1993 cruising guide was written. “Fancy doing time here,” he’d wondered out loud, “More likely you’d pay a small fortune to stay in this paradise”.
We later found out that it was no longer commissioned as a penal colony and besides an old hermit running some pigs and cows, the island was mainly uninhabited. An Australian had leased half of the island from the crown-prince- the owner, (only the royal family can actually own the land here), to build a yacht club – hence the flag pole.
We took the dingy to the far island of Numuka to explore the village and meet the inhabitants. Here we met the wife of an Australian guy whom we’d met on Tongatapu. She directed us to her place as she said it was a nice hike. She and her daughter were off to do art at the local primary school. We caught up with her husband working on a large RIB and learned about their island resort offering swimming with the whales, hiking the nearby volcano island, paddle boarding and snorkelling the caves and reefs. Their teenage children appeared happy in their island paradise. The village itself was small but we couldn’t find the local shop. It must have been disguised as an ordinary house.
Once back at the boat we went snorkelling towards the other island and then walked the old penal colony and visited the hermit who requested some sugar from us. We had plenty to share as I rarely use it. Thomas made the delivery. We later found out that the crew on another boat nearby watched and announced that it looked like we were doing the ‘sugar run’. They too had had the same request and we smiled as they relayed this story to us later. These people need to make the most of the rare visitors that come their way.
Another brisk sail took us to the next island of Haafeva where we decided to attend a church service with some other cruisers, we’d heard the singing was a real treat. The amazing unaccompanied singing echoed through the small wooden building. Afterwards, we were promptly invited to lunch at a local’s house. The makeshift outdoor kitchen and dining room was very basic and it was humbling to think of the family’s generosity.
I tried hard to explain that I was vegetarian but I couldn’t get the message across. The dish was served with generous helpings on an exotic concoction of corned beef, spicy chicken with the local spinach – pele mixed in. There was my fork dug into the corn beef. I tried to work out how to get it out but without napkins to wipe it on I decided just to eat the vegetables of manioc and breadfruit with my fingers. Thankfully, we had been served watermelon beside the meal and I ate this with enthusiasm to demonstrate my appreciation. Nothing went to waste as the waiting family of boys gladly devoured the remaining cuisine.
No expectation of payment was made but the family asked kindly if we had any movies, perfume, fishing gear and rope. Peter, the son, collected papaya for us to take back to the boat. Thomas was talking to him about fishing when he explained how his boat had many holes and he couldn’t go out at the moment. He asked if we had anything we could fix it with. We told him that we would be there the next day with something.
Peter and his brother came to the boat for a visit and I collected some of the items requested. The other cruisers who had gone to lunch supplied the perfume and some more fishing gear. The following day as Thomas and I repaired his boat with fibreglass and epoxy, Peter’s eyes grew wider and wider. He had everything he needed now to supply the family with fresh fish. The whole family was very appreciative. We were given more papaya, a unique type of local banana and some shallots. We felt very content with the exchange of good will and were delighted with our cultural exchange.
Our next island hop required skilled navigation between reefs and islands while negotiating squalls. Thomas became extremely frustrated with the changes in wind direction and speed because he was hauling sails in and out to keep the boat at a safe speed. Our destination was Pangai, but we saw a nice bay about 5 nm south of the capital of the scattered island group and decided to rest up in there.
It was on the island of Uoleva which ended up being an absolute delight. Five different resorts around the beaches co-exist and are well spread out to give everyone enough space. The centre of the island was thick jungle. There wasn’t a village so there were no shops to stock up with provisions. I was running out of lettuce and tomatoes. Thomas had a snooze while I paddled ashore to meet the inhabitants.
Firstly, I met Craig, a South African at the Uoleva Yacht Club. He’d just had a big crate arrive and had gear spread out everywhere. We had a nice chat but he told me he was too busy for customers that evening as he didn’t have the place looking at its best.
I paddled along the beach to a little backpackers. Here I met Maree, a Tongan lady who managed the resort. We had a wonderful chat and she taught me how to make an umu – the Tongan equivalent to a hungi, (although this is almost like a microwave as it only takes an hour to cook instead of the 4-5 hours of a hungi), and showed me her weaving and through the resort. She entranced me with her stories of Tongan family life and tradition. She gave me a pile of passionfruit and wild lemons before I returned to the boat.
Thomas was delighted with the arrival of the passionfruit as it’s one of his favourite connections to a tropical paradise. The following day we returned to the backpackers so I could introduce Thomas to Maree. She promptly gave him a cup of coffee and continued to share her wealth of local knowledge. The crew from another boat joined in and after a good chat and a search for more passionfruit we all headed off through the jungle on a quest to find the windward side of the island. Maree armed Thomas with her machete to pave the way.
Trudging through the bush in bare feet armed with what turned out to be a blunt machete was hard work. We’d just about all had a turn of leading the way along various animal made tracks in amongst the undergrowth. The trouble was the tracks shot off in all different directions from numerous coconut groves along the way.
The view of the island’s reef lined lagoon with its different hues was spectacular and we all decided that the walk was worth it. Thomas swam and we relaxed awhile before deciding on taking the 5 km hike along the beach back to our forms of transport. We wandered quite a way when I noticed that no one was carrying the machete. Thankfully one of the other cruisers enjoyed a jog and he volunteered to return to the spot to retrieve it.
A windsurfer shot past us in the lagoon as we enjoyed the firm sand and lively conversations that always exist when cruisers get together. We stopped and chatted to people in two of the other resorts along the way. We met Glen who had hand built his dedicated kite surfing resort along with his wife and a friend. At the next backpackers we met a German family taking their 10 and 16 year olds on a 6 month journey of New Zealand, Tonga and Thailand and Thomas got chatting to ‘Lefty’ a Delaware man dedicating his time between his abstract art work and studying his bible. We thought he was in the right place for both as he showed us his latest brightly coloured masterpiece of a reef fish.
As supplies were low and bad weather was predicted we moved on to Pangai. Totally disappointed with the lack of fresh vegetables and fruit in the 3 shops in the village, I was shocked back into the reality of only getting perhaps two or three items on a grocery list – and paying exorbitant prices for these. This unfortunately is the reality of cruising in amongst the islands and you learn to survive on what you have available or you move on. On the positive side, the water tanks will be filled and the café owner sold me a spare pumpkin – pumpkin soup and snuggling in the wet weather with my darling. It will be a lovely birthday.
More pics below.