Monday, July 7, 2014

Vava'u Tonga, June 19 - July 8, 2014

Our return trip from Oregon to Vava’u was long…. but soon we are in the tropics again. We have brought our 13 (almost 14) year old grandson back with us. He will crew with us while we cruise Tonga and then on to Fiji. Mazu looks great upon our return, thanks Larry and Sheri for watching over her.
We are moored by the Ark Gallery in a nice little bay by Tapana Island, known as anchorage number 11, and we are happy to be here to settle back into the cruising life. The big news in Vava’u is “The King is coming!”. There is a weeklong Kingdom wide Wesleyan Church conference and the King and his family will attend. He will also stay for his Birthday Celebration which is held on July 4th. The whole are is buzzing with activity. We catch a taxi into town to witness the Kings arrival. All the school children in school uniforms lined the street to greet the motorcade. I got a picture on him in his car… look close it is the King.
We take off from Tapana Island as we want to show Tyler the great snorkeling and small Tongan villages on some of the nearby islands. Our first stop is Kapa Island. There are several small villages on Kapa Island, one of the larger islands in the Vava’u group. It is here last year where we met a nice boy named William who insisted that we visit his school. I hope to meet up with him again as I have printed a picture that I took of him and his teacher. We dingy to shore and see a few men on the wharf so we ask if it is ok to walk through the village. But as we walk we are not greeted by the usual groups of children the place looks deserted. A man walks by so I show him the pictures I have and ask if the school is open. He tells us that everyone is in Neiafu for the conference, and he is right, the whole village is gone. When we return to the wharf there is a boat there loading up pigs, wood, a stove, and benches, I guess going to the conference. We have learned that to feed the attendees, each village takes a turn in hosting a “table” for a given meal during the conference. This must be Kapa Island turn. (More on this later). I am sorry that I missed seeing William, and for Tyler to visit a Tongan school.
Banyan Tree Family
Our next stop is Vaka’eitu, anchorage number 16, the Banyan Tree Family island. Last year we visited here and were so surprised to find a family living under this large Banyan tree. David and Hinka were so nice and friendly and we cannot wait to see them again. I have brought things from New Zealand and home with them in mind. We soon see them in a boat arrive in the bay on a boat; they have come to invite the boats anchored here to a Tongan feast they are holding the next day (a fund raiser for the small school on near-by Lape island). I give Hinka some pictures I took last year of her and two of their children.
We arrive for the feast along with 4 other boats the food is very good. Tyler eats a lot of everything, so much for my worry of him not eating Tongan food. We have a very pleasant visit with David and his family and the other cruisers there. Later that evening we return so I can give them the items we have for them. I want to thank them for letting us anchor in “their” bay and for welcoming all the cruisers. One of the items I give them is a LUCI solar light, Hinka loves this as now she can weave at night. They reciprocate by giving us some very pretty Tongan handi-crafts including her hand-made woven bookmarks. Before we leave David invites us to the closing feast of the conference in Neiafu, as it is their island along with Lape islands turn to host.
The next day finds us back at Kapa Island. We anchor close to the reef we found last year that was good for snorkeling. We want to give Tyler some more experience before we head to Swallows cave tomorrow. It is a bright sunny day perfect for a snorkel. The reef is pretty good, some live corral and lots of pretty fish.
Swallows Cave
We visited Swallows Cave (actually missed named as the birds who reside here were found to be swifts but the name stuck) last year and were awed by the rock formations, the reefs and gin-clear water. There is a smaller second cave which we found to be just as nice. The shelf has lots of colorful corral and lots of tropical fish to view before the dramatic drop to deep blue water. Unfortunately, have gone a little early to get the full effect of the afternoon sun inside the cave but still, it is lovely.
The Kings Birthday Celebration
June 30th. We are back on a mooring in front of Aquarium CafĂ© in Neiafu. This week will be the end of the church conference (today) and various going ons for the Kings Birthday celebration. Ty and I are going to attend the final feast of the church conference tonight at 10pm. The King is the head of the Wesleyan Church and is here for the conference and then will stay for his Birthday celebration, a first for Vava’u and the town is all decked out.
We arrive early for the feast, and see all the tables are set up. The conference is still going; we can hear the speeches and prayers over the several loud speakers that are set up around the church grounds and the High School yard where the food is served. We walk around looking for David and Hinka and asking where the Lape Island table is but we cannot find it. As we are waiting outside the gate two very nice Tongan women offer to help us. One is a local woman and she knows who David is, she cannot find him but they insist that we sit with them. You choose a table and sit.
Let me explain how our table is set. Each table is about twenty feet long and it is layered with food. Every five feet is a roasted pig. Every two feet is a basket full of cookies, chips, candy and fruit. It is wrapped in cellophane with a stick in the center, taped to the stick like a flag is a 10 pa’anga bill.  We sit for a little while as a speech and a prayer is spoken, then the hosts passes us plates and forks, and they move down the table, pulling out the little flags of money from each basket and place it before us, a gift for us. They then encourage us to eat. In front of me is so much food I do not know where to start, I eat ham, port, taro, bread fruit, sweet potato, cake, we all eat our fill but we do not even make a dent. Our ladies insist that our hosts keep the money and with some laughter and mock refusals they accept it back. As we are eating the hosts come around and open the baskets and then distribute plastic bags, we are expected to take items with us. Our ladies fill our bags insisting that we take our “doggie bags”. Tyler leaves with 2 large bottles of soda, and two bags worth of snacks… And we learn that we have sat at the Lape Island table after all!
For the Kings Birthday there were two parades, one is a “float parade” various business’, community groups and churches have decorated floats and a long parade begins through town. All the high schools seem to have marching bands and in this parade we are treated to three. They do a great job and even do a little fun band and dance routine.
The second parade is the military marching band and troops, from the Tongan army and navy. There also was a French Polynesian Navy boat here and they too marched. It seemed that the whole island was out for this. In the parade ground we hear (we did not make it there) the King rode around in an open vehicle to greet the crowd and for pictures.
Ene’io Botanical Gardens
Anotelie is the owner and curator of this beautiful botanical garden. He was born on this island and in the early 60’s his family was awarded a section of land. Being a boy in the family he was awarded 8 acres. As he explains he grew to love plants and when he went off to school he studied agriculture. He retired as the Minister of Agriculture for Tonga. During his life he acquired more land around his original 8 acres and in the 1970’s began his dream of developing it into the current botanical garden.
Anotelie guides us through the meandering well-kept trails of the garden; it seems he has a story for each plant. He has marked his specimens with placards with the botanical names, common Tongan name and if it is native to Tonga or where it came from. A lot of work has gone into this garden.
His family has also built a small restaurant/bar and gift shop where he sells his vanilla beans and Noni juice. Here you can relax with a meal and a drink in the view of one of the prettiest bays I have seen in Tonga. If your travels take you to Vava’u this would be one of the “must do” tours on your list.  
Whale watching and more snorkeling
We only have a few more days to spend in Vava’u before we head north to Niuatoputapu. We head out of Neiafu to Mala Island. Mala Island is between Utunagake Island and Kapa Island. There is a pretty reef that the guide books say is good for snorkeling.
It is warm and sunny so as soon as we can we get our gear to check out the reef. We are rewarded with one of the best snorkel spots ever. I see several fish I have not seen and interesting, colorful sea anomie (spelling help) type creatures, and several patches of colorful coral. I would put this little gem in my top 10 spots to snorkel. The anchorage is also picture perfect and we enjoy a beautiful sunset, we are so impressed that we decide to stay for another night.
The next day we decide to take a picnic lunch to the nearby beach, while there we watch our friends Steve and Michele of Citrus Tart negotiate the narrow shallow passage, and set anchor near us. We dingy over to say hi and they point out a whale spout close by. Off we go to get a closer look.
Humpback whales migrate from Antarctica to the warm, protected waters of Vava’u to calf and breed. You are sure to see them July through September, and they are just now starting to arrive. Visitors come from around the world for a chance to swim with them, one of the few places in the world where you can. There are several companies who are trained and licensed to take you. It is highly regulated and you are not to swim with them on your own. But drifting by to watch one is fine if you are careful not to pursue them.
We determined its direction and position ourselves to drift down in the same direction. We soon see it (don’t know if it is a boy or girl). In the 15 or so minutes we get several good looks at it. As you see from the pictures (thanks Michele)  it swims very close to us as we get a close up view from our dingy. Wow, what a great way to say goodbye to Vava’u. We will return to Neiafu tomorrow to buy provisions and check out. Next stop Niuatoputapu.

Tapana Island


Wave to the King (yes the King of Tonga is in there)

Tongan Children waiting to greet the King

Kings Birthday Celebration

Sunset at Kapa Island

Mala Island

Mala Island Reef

Ene'io Botanical Gardens

Ovalau Island

Swallows Cave

Buggy Tour

Vaka'eitu Island, David and Hinka (Banyon Tree Family)