Tag Archives: Swallow’s Cave

Treasures of Tonga

**STOP PRESS:: I have to introduce an extra special TREASURE OF TONGA here.

Tonga has been amazing. We have been here for over 3 months and it has been lovely to just relax and enjoy the country, without having the 3 month time frame that we had to rush through the vast expanse of French Polynesia.

The distances between the lovely, diverse island groups of the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands was mind boggling, but we have enjoyed Tonga at a far more leisurely pace. We arrived at the beginning of August and much of the first month was spent organising the annual vaccinations for our dogs, which proved quite a challenge! Huge thanks to everyone who assisted!

For the rest of our time here we have been discovering many of Tonga’s treasures.

Tonga is famous for the whale swimming charters that operate between July and October when the whales migrate here from the Antarctic to breed.

As we made our way through the islands around to the port of entry at Neiafu, Vava’u on August 3rd we saw more whales in just a few hours than we saw in 4 years in the Caribbean! We also saw more bait balls than we’ve since since Walvis Bay in Namibia!!


Vava’u is a delightful cruising ground in the northern part of Tonga, consisting of the larger main island in the north and a number of smaller islands to the south. The beauty of Vava’u is that you can be right in town amongst all the action or you can sail just a few miles away and find a wide range of anchorages, many of which are deserted and have lovely isolated beaches, fascinating caves, including Swallow’s Cave and Mariner’s Cave, plenty of bird calls and the ever present whales (July – October).

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The Moorings Yacht Charter company have produced a guide to all the anchorages around Vava’u. There are 42 listed and even now I believe we have only visited about 22 of them! Some are only day anchorages and not recommended in bad weather, but there is a huge choice and despite hundreds of cruisers coming through Tonga during the height of the season it is possible to hide away, especially if you venture further south to the Ha’apai group of islands.

We have done another post here on our time in the Ha’apai, but please also enjoy the various photos that we have shared on our Amarula Sail Facebook page

Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga General Ha’apai photos

Pangai  Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga

Uoleva island Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga 

Whales in Ha’apai  Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga

Snorkellling and diving in Ha’apai

Mango island, Ha’apai, Tonga

Nomuka Island, Ha’apai

Ha’afeva island, Ha’apai, Tonga 

The main harbour at Neiafu is deep and well sheltered with a number of moorings available for rent in front of the town.

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The check in process in Vava’u involves going alongside a big concrete dock with a large overhang, which regularly catches yachts out when they get caught under it during the rise and fall of the tide. You have to be very vigilant with the position of your fenders; even so we still sustained minor damage from the experience.

Provisioning here is significantly less sophisticated than in French Polynesia, however there is a fresh food market, which has a reasonable supply of good quality, delicious fruit and vegetables, as long as you’re happy with whatever is in season on the day you visit.

The main grocery stores are Chinese run (and limited), so the best strategy is ‘take it while you can get it’ as it may well not be there next time you visit. But after years in Dar es Salaam, we feel quite at home with all this! In fact it takes us back to our early days there when the grocery store was a 20 foot container with the usual staples like flour, powdered milk, rice, beans and, if you’re lucky, a fridge with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and maybe even some cheese and butter. As yet, we haven’t found ‘butcheries’ like we had in Dar, where the ‘black’ meat hung and was attacked by an ax-wielding butcher when you asked for a kilo or 2 of beef (the black was flies!).

You can easily see why Vava’u attracts entrepreneurs from around the world. It has a friendly, laid-back vibe with plenty of bars and restaurants to meet up with other cruisers, expats, locals and tourists. There is a very helpful morning cruisers net on the radio at 8.30am on VHF Ch 26, which is run by the various business owners to share information about the weather, promote their businesses along with local events, and answer any questions. And if you prefer to get away from it all, there are numerous island hideaways to set up your eco-lodge, Coconut oil production plant or whale swim charter business.

After provisioning and sorting out local sim cards we spent the first couple of weeks exploring the various anchorages around Vava’u. Having anchored at Mala, Port Maurelle, and Nuku, we went across to Vaka’eitu, expecting to spend one night, then move further south to Ovalou.

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Soon after we arrived in Vaka’eitu we noticed someone attempting to tow a motor boat from its mooring to the beach….. by canoe! Eric went over to offer some help and soon got chatting with the family on the island. He helped them change the spark plugs, which seemed to fix the problem, only to have the shear pin break. As they needed to go across to another island for some provisions we lent them our dinghy. When they came back we chatted with them a little more and gave them some coffee and sugar as the shop on the other island had sold out. One of the things that all the guidebooks in Polynesia recommend is to visit a church to experience the singing. Our new friends, David and Hika, invited us to join them the next day, but when Eric went ashore to collect them for church the next morning they had asked their daughter Andrea to escort us, as they insisted on making lunch for us as a thank you for our help! With only 5 families living on the neighbouring island it was a small church service, but very pleasant. Andrea said that David & Hika normally attend church, but they wanted to cook for us on this particular day. She added that when all the family are home on Vaka’eitu and go off to church they fill it up as David & Hika have 11 children! They are very proud of their children and they love to share their talents and amazing hospitality with their visitors, which they do when they put on their pig roast feasts. After lunch Andrea showed us the trail across to a beautiful beach on the south side of the island, then we took her snorkelling at the coral gardens on the western part of the island between Vaka’eitu and Nuapapu. After a second night at anchor David came out to ask us to stay for the pig roast feast the next day, as they had a group of Moorings charter guests coming. He also needed to borrow our dinghy again to go for provisions – and collect the pig for the pig roast! So we spent another night there. It was a lovely spot to get some boat work done and we enjoyed visiting with the family in between times. We heard on the VHF radio net that there was no petrol available in town until the ferry arrived on the Thursday. This meant that David couldn’t get to town, so on the Friday morning we gave David, Hika and Andrea a lift into Neiafu and said our farewells, until we meet again.

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Back in Neiafu we caught up with cruising friends and went to the big church service on the Sunday, which was packed. Despite the service being conducted in Tongan, the singing really was quite special! A couple of days in town was enough for us, so we went off again to explore some of the other Vava’u anchorages before heading down to Uoleva island in the Ha’apai group, where we had arranged to meet up with a Kiwi vet, who had agreed to administer our dogs’ annual vaccinations. Link to our Ha’apai post here.

After 3 weeks in Ha’apai, we returned to Vava’u mid-September to catch up with more friends and join in with the Blue Water Regatta, which is held in the first week of October, somewhat inconvenient for me, as I was back on my Sober for October challenge again, so I diligently remained teetotal for the whole event, and indeed for the whole of October!! Oh, and on that note,…… you can STILL sponsor me until the end of November! Thanks to everyone who did sponsor me and also to those who chose to support The Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti (in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew) in support of my efforts. All very much appreciated!

Meanwhile, during September, we enjoyed catching up with more cruising friends and we explored further afield. Those of us lucky enough to have time to spend in Tonga can find even more wonderful treasures over at the east coast anchorages.

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There is quite a tricky pass to get there, but the rewards are well worth the effort. The waypoints for the pass and getting into the lovely anchorage at Kenutu are given in the various cruising guides to Tonga. When we arrived in Kenutu we met up with cruising friends we had first met in various anchorages in French Polynesia. As luck would have it the 3 boats there, SV Kinabalu (Singapore), SV Balvenie (New Zealand) and SV Confidence (Canada) just happened to be having a beach BBQ that evening, so we joined in the fun.

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The Blue Water Regatta (despite my restraint from the odd tipple) in October was a lot of fun with great information for those travelling down to New Zealand for the cyclone season from representatives from NZ ports, businesses and customs in attendance, plus there was a visit to the local primary school, which the NZ ports support and a trip out to collect and destroy crown of thorns starfish organised by VEPA and of course the fun Regatta, which we (Team Quatsino II) ALMOST won! At the prize giving dinner, there was a fabulous local band playing and a great meal put on by the Aquarium restaurant.

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A week after the Regatta Eric flew back to Australia to finally get a chance to catch up with family after way too long and attend to some other matters. Here he is all packed and ready!


With Eric away for the past month, I have been catching up on boat jobs, getting together with friends and making a daily commitment to update this website. So here it is, at last!! But, one thing I am very proud of is that I did up anchor and SAIL Amarula around to Port Maurelle ALL BY MYSELF!! I was tired of sitting waiting in Neiafu and decided to go for it. Amarula is a big boat and I have never actually sailed her alone before, let alone anchor or pick up a mooring! To be honest, I’ve never had to, but it’s a wonderful, liberating feeling knowing that I CAN! Here are a few photos from the lovely anchorage where I have been biding my time waiting for Eric to return, so we can sail on to our next destination, Fiji!

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Bora Bora to Vava’u, Tonga via Suwarrow Atoll


In our last blog post we left you in Bora Bora just over a month ago and from there we sailed to Suwarrow Atoll in the northern Cook Islands. Our plan was to stop off at Mopelia atoll, the westernmost island of French Polynesia, as a number of friends had recommended a visit.

On our way to Mopelia we changed course towards Suwarrow, as we weren’t making good enough time to reach the very narrow pass in daylight, but increased wind speeds and better angles tricked us into heading back towards Mopelia.

Of course, as so often seems to happen in this part of the world, the weather was playing games with us and the wind dropped off again, so we were just too late to make a safe entry through the Mopelia pass after all.

We decided to drop the sails and wait for day light, but once again the weather had other plans and the wind started gusting up to 30 knots, promising an uncomfortable night ahead. After an hour or so we decided to take the wind and continue to Suwarrow. Once again we had a challenging passage varying from no wind to our best winds and boat speeds since leaving Panama! The bad news…. we lost a lovely mahi mahi on day 2, but we were compensated on day 5 when we caught a good sized (10kg) yellow fin tuna. Yay sashimi for lunch!

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During the final day we actually had to slow the boat down to ensure a daylight arrival or risk another night tacking back and forth outside the atoll….. RIMG0988-001

Suwarrow has an interesting history, as the setting of Tom Neale’s book ‘An Island to Oneself’. This Kiwi hermit spent a number of years living here between 1952 and 1977, which led to him write his book. RIMG0991-001

Once he passed away the island was turned into the Cook Islands’ only national park. It is protected and managed by the rangers who base here during the season from June to November. RIMG0992-001

It is a beautiful place, for sure, reminding us a little of Cosmoledo atoll in the Indian Ocean, where we were the base station for a scientific research charter back in 2002. RIMG0993-001

As with any national park, there are rules, however it seems that some of them have been introduced more recently due to various visitors’ irresponsible behaviour. For instance, one of the must do’s for us was to dive the pass. Not only was the weather not conducive, but we were advised by the rangers that it is no longer permitted, as they had been called out on too many occasions in the past to rescue divers who were swept out to sea.

Visitors are not permitted to go ashore on any of the motus (islands) within the atoll, other than the main island where the rangers live and no diving or fishing is permitted within the lagoon. We were keen to explore the lagoon, but with 20+ knot winds and the forecast giving the same conditions for the next few days, we decided to move on to Tonga sooner rather than later. RIMG0994-001

Had it been just the 2 of us we may have waited out the weather, as Suwarrow is a totally isolated island paradise, but with the dogs stuck onboard (not even allowed to join us for a dinghy ride around the anchorage….) we felt too guilty, once again being reminded just how challenging it is to travel with pets in the Pacific!

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The passage to Tonga started out really well with 15 to 20 knot winds from the south east giving us our best boat speeds in some time despite sailing with 2 reefs in the mainsail. We actually slowed the boat down for safety reasons, due to the tear in the mainsail below the second reef, which we still haven’t had an opportunity to repair yet.

By the third day the wind dropped and we used the spinnaker with the mainsail, maintaining a steady 6 – 7 knots for the next 24 hours or so. But, as luck would have it, the wind died, the current turned against us and our final 48 hours was painful! We ended up motoring the last 24 hours! Aaaghhh!!

We entered the Vava’u group via a precarious pass on the east coast just north of Fonua Unga island. RIMG1011-001

On our Navionics chart and OPEN CPN charts the pass looked doable, however as we approached it the wind started to gust again and waves were breaking on the nearby reef causing us some concern as the breaks were right in the supposed pass. When the depths started showing 3 metres under the keel (not the 7++ shown on the charts) we held our breath and hoped for the best! Later when we purchased the Moorings anchorages chart and saw how the pass was depicted on there we would never have attempted it! Reminiscent of our time in the San Blas without the detailed Eric Bahaus charts!

Anyway, here we are in the lovely Vava’u group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga!

We’ve actually been here over 2 weeks! This is our first blog post partly due to poor internet again and the fact that most of the time since we arrived has been spent on working out the logistics of getting the dogs’ annual vaccinations done by the end of next week, an ongoing challenge which we hope to resolve very soon! Finger crossed that it all finally comes together……. !

More to come soon….. in the meantime we hope you enjoy a few photos from Vava’u, Tonga

David & Hika’s delicious pig roast feasts

Exploring the lovely Swallow’s Cave, Vava’u, Tonga

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