Tag Archives: Tom Neale

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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