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The Ha’apai Group in Tonga is remote and unforgettable

October 16, 2013

We are lying at anchor off Big Mama Yacht Club on Pangiamotu Island (lat 21 07.5S, long 175 09.7W) in the southernmost island group of Tonga.  We arrive mid-afternoon after a very pleasant sail down from Kelefesia Island.  This is where we will prepare for our crossing to New Zealand while waiting for a decent weather window.

We last posted from Vava’u where we were busy provisioning for our trip south to Ha’apai.  It’s important to take everything you need because Ha’apai is very remote and you can’t count on any services. 

Before leaving Vava’u we headed back out to anchorage number 16 (the Moorings Charter service has all the anchorages number!) where our local friends David and Hika had invited us to a special Sunday service.  David was to give his first service at the Church of Tonga on an adjacent island and there was to be a feast afterwards.  He did a great job and his wife and oldest daughter also played big roles in the service.  After gorging ourselves at the feast we jumped in our dinghy and headed back to Persephone, raised anchor and headed to Neiafu to get fuel and check out of the Vava’u group.

We left Neiafu at 05:30 in the dark and headed south.  We passed whales and turtles while sailing on a perfect beam reach; it doesn’t get much better.  By 16:00 we were anchored off Haano Island in Ha’apai.  In the morning we motored over to the village of Pangai to check into the island group before moving to Uoleva Island.

It looked like rain the next morning so we decided to take advantage of the cooler weather and hike around the island.  It turned into an all-day affair as we looked for shells, took impromptu swims, and ate our picnic lunch.  We enjoyed several days diving the reef next to the anchorage.  The water temperature is definitely cooling and our shorty wetsuits are barely doing the job.

We next moved to Uonukuhahake Island where we met up with our friends Kathy and John on Mystic Moon.  The islands are ringed with sandy beaches that beg to be walked and we certainly did our part.  Each evening we sat in the cockpit and watch the spinner dolphins pass on their way to deep water and their night time feeding.

We next visited Haafeva Island and anchored with a view of two volcanos; one active with smoke spewing out and one inactive.  We enjoyed the villagers and made many new friends.  It was strange when we had lunch with Melenaite and her family and exchange mailing addresses.  We noticed that their last name is Toto and we asked if they knew our dear friend Elizabeth Toto who was a caregiver to Sandie’s parents for years.  Yes, the husband Fania is Elizabeth’s nephew.   How is that for coincidence?

We had been monitoring the weather and knew a storm front was coming so we headed to Oua Island where we anchored inside a lagoon that the charts say is inaccessible.  We were exposed to the wind, but the reefs offered some relief from the waves.  The storm hit right after dinner on a moonless night with winds in the high 30’s and later reports showing 50+ knots.  We stayed awake watching our chart plotter and anchor alarm hoping we would not drag.  We heard a MAYDAY on the radio and listened as My Muse reported dragging onto a reef with 8 people on board.  But no one was in a position to help.  Fortunately, they were washed over the reef with some minor damage and sailed at 6 knots under bare poles to the lee of a nearby island.

It took a couple of days for the seas to calm and we busied ourselves with games and a jigsaw puzzle.  Then we headed over to Nomuka Iki where we met our friends on Bravo.  We dived the reef with them and explored the uninhabited island with a shipwreck  and ruins of an old prison.

We then moved to Kelefesia Island with its white bluffs and turquoise water.  The small anchorage is protected with reefs and breaking “blind rollers” everywhere.  It is quite spectacular.  We met Vili and his family that are the sole inhabitants of the island that was gifted to their family by the King of Tonga.  Vili took us on a tour of the island stopping occasionally for a coconut drink.  He simply lops off the top of a green coconut with his machete and voila, a refreshing drink.

Now we are in the Tongatapa Group preparing for New Zealand.  We don’t yet know when we will leave since weather plays a major role in our departure plans.  But this is likely our last post until we reach Opua on the north end of NZ.

Alien plan on the reef at Uoleva Island Alien plan on the reef at Uoleva Island[/caption]

Reef at Uoleva Island

Reef at Uoleva Island

Reef at Nomuka Iki

Reef at Nomuka Iki

Reef at Nomuka Iki

Reef at Nomuka Iki

Coral at Nomuka Iki

Coral at Nomuka Iki

Pinnacle diving with “Fins-n-Flukes”

Pinnacle diving with “Fins-n-Flukes”

Pencil Urchin at Nomuka Iki

Pencil Urchin at Nomuka Iki

Reef at Nomuka Iki

Reef at Nomuka Iki

Clown Fish in on the Pinnacles

Clown Fish in on the Pinnacles

Reef at Nomuka Iki

Reef at Nomuka Iki

Fan coral at the Pinnacles

Fan coral at the Pinnacles

David and Hika say goodbye after church

David and Hika say goodbye after church

Getting fuel in Neiafu

Getting fuel in Neiafu

Golden Shadow research vessel

Golden Shadow research vessel

Sandie washes produce in preparation for Ha’apai

Sandie washes produce in preparation for Ha’apai

The sun seems bigger out here

The sun seems bigger out here

Uoleva Island

Uoleva Island

Treking around Uoleva Island

Treking around Uoleva Island

Treking Uoleva was an all-day affair

Treking Uoleva was an all-day affair

All bananas ripen at the same time

All bananas ripen at the same time

Low tide spit joins Uonukuhihifo Island with its neighbor

Low tide spit joins Uonukuhihifo Island with its neighbor

Uoleva Island

Uoleva Island

Pig sniffs out tasty crabs buried in the sand

Pig sniffs out tasty crabs buried in the sand

Persephone and Mystic Moon lie at anchor at Uonukuhahake Island

Persephone and Mystic Moon lie at anchor at Uonukuhahake Island

Tofua (left) is an active volcano while Kao (right) is extinct

Tofua (left) is an active volcano while Kao (right) is extinct

Sunday lunch with Ann and her family

Sunday lunch with Ann and her family

Melenaite and Fonia Toto with daughter Fakalua

Melenaite and Fonia Toto with daughter Fakalua

Sandie distributes treats for the kids

Sandie distributes treats for the kids

This is where we weathered the storm (notice the chart shows no entrance)

This is where we weathered the storm (notice the chart shows no entrance)

Ship wreck on Nomuka Iki

Ship wreck on Nomuka Iki

We worked on this puzzle while waiting out the storm

We worked on this puzzle while waiting out the storm

Small but beautiful anchorage at Kelefesia Island

Small but beautiful anchorage at Kelefesia Island

The bluffs on Kelefesia

The bluffs on Kelefesia

Vili and son on Kelefesia

Vili and son on Kelefesia

Small Yellow Fin Tuna went well with wasabi

Small Yellow Fin Tuna went well with wasabi

We arrive at Tongatapu and anchor off Big Mama’s

We arrive at Tongatapu and anchor off Big Mama’s

From → Travel

2 Comments
  1. Dave Wong permalink

    Pretty pictures. Are you gonna be around during Xmas?

    • We will fly in Dec 20 and fly out Jan 20 so we need to get together and have some fine scotch! BTW, I broke out the 30 year old stuff when we arrived NZ.

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