Sunday, January 12, 2014

Vava'u - A Cruisers Paradise

Beautiful Vaka Eitu in Vava'u, Tonga

Okay, okay....I know I'm WAAAAAY behind where we actually are (since it's January as I write this and we arrived in Vava'u way back in September) but I figure some things are better late than never and writing about Vava'u definitely qualifies as one of those......

Where are we again?
We arrived in Vava'u on September 17th after a lovely overnight passage where we took on very little water (phew!).  Vava'u is a collection of islands in the northernmost section of Tonga and is almost completely enclosed by a protective reef - making it an absolute haven for cruisers who are exhausted after completing the majority of the "coconut milk run" in just 4 months.  For those of you from the Pacific Northwest, these islands are amazingly similar to cruising the San Juan's or Gulf Islands - pretty much completely protected with tons of sweet little anchorages to spend the night.  But the good part is it's sunny all the time, rains very little and the water is 75 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit - much better than the Northwest!

Our first stop in Vava'u was Neiafu - the largest town in all of Vava'u and THE place to be if you are cruising.  It's where you catch up with all the people you haven't seen in weeks (or months), have a nice dinner out, take care of those pesky little boat projects and just enjoy being on a mooring ball for a change.

Some of the best watermelon and pineapple EVER!

The Utakalongalu Market in Neiafu, Tonga
Neiafu has a great market with lots of excellent fresh vegetables and fruit.  We ate some of the best pineapples and watermelon we have ever tasted here.  The market also has quite a few craft items such as hand carved jewelry and woven baskets.  The baskets are beautiful and we had a lot of fun making some purchases for ourselves and to give as gifts on our trip home.  I was so enchanted with the baskets that one day I asked one of the vendors (the wonderful Petiola) if she would teach me how to weave them.  She was delighted with my interest and promptly sat me down with all the proper materials and spent 2 hours directing me how to weave.

Petiola selling her beautiful baskets boat to boat!
After returning a few days later to show her my progress Petiola gave me a bunch more materials and praised my work without asking for a single thing in return.  When I purchased some of her baskets (which were extremely good) as a way of saying thank you, she promptly threw in 3 more things for free!  This is a classic example of the Tongan people.  They are incredibly giving - not only with their time, but with anything they have.  I continue to be amazed in our travels by the incredible people we continue to meet.  They seem to have absolutely nothing (by American standards) and yet they will give you what little they do have and think nothing of it.  I continue to be humbled by their kindness, their gifts and their strength.

Neiafu Harbor from Mt. Talau
The Vava'u group is home to around 20,000 people - with about 1/3 of those living in Neiafu and the surrounding villages.  Neiafu is one of the places visiting yachts can check in, which you have to do even if you cleared in at Nuitoputapu (like we did).  According to some websites, as many as 500 yachts like ourselves visit over the winter season - i.e. June to October.  If you look at the image to the left you'll see all those spots in the water are visiting boats - and those are just the ones currently in the harbor!  There are just as many (if not more) our visiting the many beautiful islands of the Vava'u group, where there is diving, hiking and snorkeling galore.

Humpback Whales!
One of the most amazing things about this area is that it serves as one of THE favorite spots for humpback whales to give birth and raise their calfs in protected waters.  The whales are everywhere early in the season and thankfully were still around when we arrived in September.  These whales can grow to be 40-60 feet long and can way up to 40 tons! We were lucky enough to experience a mom and calf playing in the water and it was quite a sight!  While we didn't get a photo of it, we also witnessed the mom do a complete breach (where they come straight up out of the water) just about 50 yards from the boat!  It was one of the most incredible things I've ever seen - it felt like we were watching a National Geographic show, except we were THERE!  Amazing.

The calf slapping it's dorsal fin with mom nearby.

A great visit with Heidi & Byron!
We were super happy to have a visit with our good friends Heidi and Byron - all the way from Seattle.  We did a LOT of fun stuff while they were with us including the Vava'u regatta, maxing and relaxing at anchor, great snorkeling, visiting both Mariner's and Swallows Cave's and hitting a couple of good restaurants to boot.  Sadly the time passed by WAY too quick and before we knew it they had to leave.  We really hope they come to see us again next season (hint, hint)... 

The official Vava'u Hylas Rendezvous - from the left,
Peter, Gene, Brett, Stacey, Paul and Kate!
With so many boats in Neiafu we decided it was a great time to put together a Hylas rendezvous.  There were four Hylas' in the harbor - so after all exchanging tours and lots of Hylas talk, we decided beers were definitely in order!  Not sure what it is about Hylas owners, but we really like every one of the people we met who owned them!

Shortly after arriving we rented a car with our good friends on S/V Anniara and did a tour of the island.  Our tour included many stops, but one of my favorites was the lovely Mt. Talau - which gave us some incredible views of the Vava'u group.  It also exposed us to some really yucky spiders - which kind of freaked me out.  I am NOT a spider fan and these guys were HUGE!  This one looks like it even has a face - can you say nightmares????  Ick!

There are a lot of supposedly paved roads that are not actually paved, so the tour was a bit of an adventure - but we still managed to enjoy ourselves immensely and also successfully searched for and found a geocach (a major hobby of Goran's), even though it has been slightly repositioned.  For those of you that don't know about Geocaching - it is a really cool hobby that is sort of like hunting for treasure.  It takes you to places you've never been in search for hidden objects.  Our friend Goran has made this part of their cruising adventure and we may just be getting the bug too... 

All in all, our time in Vava'u was amazing.  A time to finally slow down and relax - to enjoy our surroundings, to get to know the Tongan people.  We greatly look forward to returning to this area next year to visit with the new friends we've made and spend more time with these incredible people.  Our thoughts and prayers are especially with them as they try to recover from tropical cyclone Ian which passed through this week with winds in excess of 105 knots (with gusts up to 145 knots!).  While the Vava'u group did not suffer too much damage, the majority of homes in the Ha'apai group have been lost.  If you have any interest in helping with the rebuilding there, you can donate to the Tongan Red Cross online at 

On the edge of the world - beautiful Vavu'a