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Last Day in Nieafu

Without spoiling it too much I can say it now – we have finally escaped from Nieafu. The last 24 hours has been as packed as ever. Early evening we had a curry evening. Joining us were Charlie, a delivery captain, and Kel & Adriana, a couple who run a local business who we’ve got to know. By 10pm we were all done but not finished. We went ashore for one final Wednesday night at Tonga Bob’s where we met the Bamboozles (Mum included) to watch the Faka Ladies. We had more than a few more beers and wore ourselves out laughing and dancing not returning until well after midnight.

This morning was another familiar Neiafu morning: hot, humid and hung over. That was no excuse not to get busy. I went ashore to clear us out while Helen and Ben cleared up from the night before. Then we returned the electric piano to the Bamboozles as our paths are now unsure to cross in the near term – we had to almost rip Ben off it as he got in his last few tinkles on the ivories. Then Helen and I provisioned for the next 3 weeks as we work our way down to Tongatapu.

As soon as we could we up anchored and headed off to Vaka’eitu where we are now anchored. We were able to sail most of the way in light winds only occasionally using battery power to nudge us through wind shadows.

There are a few boats here – no surprise. But a nice surprise was running into Sympatica who we’ve not seen since we played volley ball together with the Kuna Indians back in the San Blas on the other side of Panama. I’ve over to say hello to Julie and Louis who are their same old selves. We’ve agreed we’re all partied out and will have a quiet night tonight but will be getting together tomorrow.

Neiafu has been a lot of fun but it’s good to be away and off to new adventures. We’ll stay around Vava’u for a few days before heading south to the Ha’apai group of islands where we can hopefully unwind from the past month’s debauchery.

Some good news of a sort regarding our charger. An address in Opua where we will check in the NZ has been agreed for delivery and it will hopefully be there when we arrive. Furthermore Lagoon has thrown in a few extra pieces free of charge which will be helpful.

Karting & Diving

Monday afternoon was our date for karting. Helen had decided to join in and partner with Lucy from Bamboozle letting Lucy do all the driving. With Jamie’s mother along we all set off in three two man karts with our guide on a single seater.

We set off along the streets of Vava’u and headed out of town. Our first stop was the stunning point that Ben and I had found while on scooters a few weeks ago.

Soon we were heading along tracks that Ben and I had not explored and were taken to a few more scenic views, each time having the opportunity to stop and look around. We had been told that the best part of the trip was driving around on a beach but unfortunately for us the gate to the beach was locked. Our guide made up for this by taking us to another island not normally on the trip where we stopped and hiked for a view of the east side of the cluster. We could see the islands of Umuna and Kentuka where we’d visited last week. Fun was had by all. Helen really enjoyed herself as, in her own words, she had a good chance to gossip with Lucy.

In the evening we went ashore to have pizza at Ovava’s. I thanked Laurence, the owner, for his involvement in the evacuation of the guy from infinity as it was he who I’d managed to contact to help get a ride to the hospital. There we met a lot of the regatta organizers as they were celebrating one of their birthday. We had a good evening. We learned a little more about the chap who injured himself the night before. He’s had a lot of stitches in his head but is up and about. There are still concerns about a possible skull injury and apparently a doctor is being flown in from New Zealand to interpret the results.

This morning Ben and I went diving using the two free tickets we’d also won in the regatta. The first dive featured some excellent corals, the second involved some fascinating swims through rocks and caverns. We had a cold spell with lots of rain between dives so the second dive was a little marred by us all getting into the water before we’d really warmed up.

Barnacle Beach

Around mid morning we dinghied ashore to Nuku to explore the island. There wasn’t a great deal to see but we did get to stretch our legs. Back on the boat we hooked up the hookah so we could explore the area in which we are anchored a little better. Ben and I went down shortly before lunch as we were keen to see what fish we could catch deeper than we could free dive. We found an underwater prominantary which appeared particularly abundant at around 70ft. Here we snagged a couple of groupers of a decent size which we took back to the boat where we gutted and bagged them for a later meal.

In the afternoon Helen and I went out, not going quite so deep, to explore the corals. The area is quite abundant with fish of many different species and numbers. Around each coral head was a blaze of colourful fish which made for a pleasant exploration.

After this I popped over to Zephyrus who had anchored nearby to pick up our diesel. It turned out our jerry can, which had held diesel all the way over from the Galapagos, had sprung a leak. Andy offered to replace the can but I declined his offer saying that it must have been faulty and would soon have gone on us. He did have our diesel in a can so I took that and tipped it into our tanks promising to drop off the can later on.

We’d decided to have a ‘Tonga Feast’ that evening as Barnacle Beach was nearby and they have a feast every Saturday evening. On the way there we dropped of the diesel can back at Zephyrus as well as loaning them our phone. We’d had reports of a boat than sunk 110nm to our south and it turned out to be very good friends of theirs. We knew the crew had been rescued but Andy needed to contact them. I’d bought some extra minutes expecting to be talking to the US to fix our charger (which we won’t be doing here now) so they’d have gone to waste any way. Hopefully Andy will have got through.

Next stop was Barnacle Beach for our feast. The first thing we learned that it was bring your own wine which we hadn’t. I had to whizz back to Dignity for a couple of bottles getting back late. There were a few folks there we knew – Jack from Anthem, Evy from Wonderland, the Bamboozles and we got to know Gary and Tiere from Pursuit.

The feast was very well laid out and very, very tasty. There were all sorts of meats, fruits and salads laid out in shells including a small roast pig. We felt quite full. After the food we had four Tongan solo dancers doing their thing. We were then given some time to mingle and chat before the evening was over.

The winds which have been blowing hard for the last 2-3 days have finally subsided. It is quite calm right now. We intend to move closer to Nieafu today before reentering the harbour tomorrow. Ben is quite pleased as Infinity is in town and they’ve already announced a party on Monday night.

Nuku

As a result of a weather system sitting over Tonga the wind stayed above 20 knots and the anchorage we were in lost it’s charm. We therefore decided to tuck in behind Nuku and take shelter from the strong south easterlies and get out of the chop. The sail over was quite bouncy forcing us to put things away which is normally only required if we go out into the ocean when it’s bad.

Ben wanted to cook up the fish he caught for lunch so we decided to snorkel again before lunch to see if we could add to our fare. It was an interesting swim with plenty of colourful coral around the 20-30ft mark. Ben bagged a couple of more fish which I threaded onto a line I’d bought which we took back to the boat, gutted, wrapped in tin foil and cooked along with one from the previous day. All three fish were quite tasty.

Recovering from the night before we all dozed off in the afternoon. Waking later we found the boats that had been here had left and Bamboozle had arrived. They invited us over to dinner which we accepted. We ended up staying until midnight, partly due to the torrential rain and thunder that kept us inside and partly because we were enjoying ourselves too much.

During the course of the day I fleshed out our plans and timetable for getting to New Zealand. We’re going back to Neiafu on Monday where we’ll stay 2-3 days to renew our visas and to use up our prizes from the regatta. We’ll then head out to the anchorages on the SW side of this group for a few days before spending the next 2 weeks or so heading down to Tongatapu where we’ll clear out. The trip down to New Zealand will take anywhere between one to two weeks largely depending on the weather which in turn will affect whether or not we stop at Minerva Reef on the way. We’ll arrive in NZ somewhere around the 20th of November.

Mariner’s Cave / Beach BBQ

Around mid morning Ben and I took the dinghy over to the small island of Luakapa to snorkel as we’d read it was supposed to be pretty good there. The water was certainly clear and it was quite interesting. We’d brought the spear guns just in case there was something worth taking back to eat but there was none of that.

On the way out and on the way back we popped by a few of the boats we knew to invite them to come with us to Mariner’s Cave in the afternoon. It was about 3nm away which is quite far for dinghies. It was recommended to go by boat – perhaps sharing to make it easier. In the end we had quite a few agree to come up – 16 folks in all from Delos, Inspiration Lady, Vagabond, Callypso, Ludmilla, Anthem, Jackster, Imagine & Arctic.

Gary and Jackie from Inspiration Lady were a great help. Not only had they agreed to be the dinghy dock but they also came along just for the ride and social giving us someone to man the boat while everyone got in the water.

At 2pm we had everyone aboard and we motored off to the cave. We found it easily enough as there were two other boats there when we arrived although they left shortly after. Our drop off was a bit far from the cave so we had a bit of a swim to get there. To get into the cave one has to swim down a few feet then along about 12-14 surfacing in a sealed, dark cave. The entrance tunnel was quite large so by going deeper there was no risk of bumping into anything. Inside the cave it is quite amazing. Despite being dark it is well lit from the outside. The surf created changes in pressure that could be felt in the ears. When a partial vacuum was created by the surf going out a mist would form inside the cave momentarily.

There was a second entrance which I’d heard about before. It was about 40 feet down and a little longer – about the limit of what I can do underwater. Forgetting that I’d just done a fairly long swim I went for it. This turned out to be a scary moment as I was gulping for air even when I still had rock over my head. Reaching the surface took forever. I decided to remove my weight belt to help. Just before doing so I realized I shouldn’t do it over the deep water outside of the tunnel exit so I swam over the roof of the tunnel to let it go. In hindsight I could probably have reached the surface in that time. Nevertheless I am here to tell the story but I’ve learned my lesson. The longer underwater stuff can only be done when I’m totally relaxed and not after an exertion. I was soon back in the cave spending a lot longer inside this time with everyone else who were now all inside. Feeling more relaxed I again exited via the lower tunnel finding it a lot easier. Ben also made the exit the same way.

On the way back Ben entertained us by playing on Bamboozle’s piano which we still have. We’d dragged a couple of dinghies out the the cave as a few folks wanted to visit Swallow’s Cave on the way back. We let them go about half way back and headed in.

We agreed to have a beach bonfire/BBQ at 6pm. A few of us went ashore to collect wood while others prepared food. Soon we had quite a crowd ashore and two fires going. We stayed quite late with chatting and some music – mostly furnished by Fergus from Paleides on his hand organ. It was well after midnight before we were finally back aboard. Ben went back to Delos but it looks like he swam back at some point as he’s aboard and there were wet foot prints all over the cabin this morning.