Tonga is Cruising Heaven

View from one Tonga anchorageAfter the regatta ended, we finally left the bay outside Neiafu and started cruising to different anchorages. It was a real delight, not only because of the geography, but also because of the many boats visiting here with other cruisers who we’ve come to know during our passages to this point. The Vava’u group of islands is perfect for cruising. There are many islands with lots of anchoring areas near white sand, cocount-lined, beaches. A variety of snorkeling areas with many interesting things to do under water: caves, some places with very colorful lively coral, interesting fish, or just interesting underwater terrain. And, the water in most places is ultra clear. Often, when we dove down deep, we could hear the whales singing. They seemed quite close, but in reality may have been a mile ore more away. The anchorages are often secluded with little or no people living nearby.

In one anchorage, there’s a place called the “coral garden”. It has the largest variety of live coral I have seen since Fakarava. There weren’t as many large fish though – probably due to locals over fishing the area. In fact, we haven’t seen any shark (probably all killed for shark fin soup), or any fish larger than 3 feet. But, we found huge breeding areas for clown fish. In one place there were 40 or more clown fish of every size in a large area of sea anemone. Jack on Anthem spotted a large octopus under one coral rock. It was amazing watching the octopus change colors to camouflage himself! Here’s a collage of photos from the underwater scene (click for a larger view):

Coral Garden Collage of photos

There was a giant banyan tree near one of our anchorages, and the kids on some of the boats told other kids. We soon had an anchorage full of kid boats and they all went there to climb the tree. Even the adults were up in the tree (including both Karen and I!). We also did hiking and found perfect secluded beaches and wild papaya fruit growing in the forest.

Giant Banyan tree

There are two famous caves we visited in the cliffs of the island. The first was called Swallow Cave which is big enough to drive your dinghy inside. In fact, there were four dinghies inside and everyone snorkeling around inside this one cave. Graffitti had been painted on the walls (mostly the names of tourists or locals), stalagtites, bats on the ceiling, and ultra-clear water being lit by rays of sunlight coming through the entrance to the cave into the 60 foot deep water inside the cave.

We also visited another cave called Mariner’s Cave. This cave’s entrance is about 8-15 feet underwater. Then you have to go about 20 feet back to get into the inside which has a 30 foot ceiling above the water. There was enough light from the entrance to see inside without a flashlight (at least in the afternoon). Even the pre-teenage boating kids were mostly able to make it into the cave. Karen and I both visited the cave. We had read that in swelly conditions it can get misty because the cave air gets compressed by the pressure change, but when we went there was no swell. (A special thanks to Ruth of s/v Kamaya for the cave pictures – we forgot our camera).

Pictures from Swallow Cave in Tonga

We also took out the Video Ray and did some exploring and took video of the kids playing around in the water. We were able to spot some clown fish with the VideoRay and some nice looking coral not far from where we had Tahina parked in a shallow anchorage.

The other nice thing about Tonga is that there is often just enough breeze to have nice sailing between each anchorage. Karen and I enjoyed a nice sail on Monday back to the main town. We heard our friends on a boat called “North Fork” would be arriving from American Samoa. They were bringing some mail which included an unexpired version of our vessel document from the Coast Guard (which had just expired a few days ago). We had last seen Mark and Dana in Cartagena, Colombia. They had gone back to the states after leaving their boat in Panama so they could get married. Since they ended up about 3 months behind everyone, it took them a while to catch up to us. They came over to Tahina last night and we had dinner and played games while catching up on their travels.

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