Tonga – Arrival and exploring Nuku’alofa

Nuku Alofa Dinghy dock

We arrived in Tonga after an 8 day,  1064 nautical mile sailing from Opua, NZ, and made our way to the harbour to clear customs.  We had the option to ‘med-moor’, alongside  the harbour wall. But  we had been warned about the poor holding and also the rats that roamed the area, so we squeezed DT into a spot alongside the wharf, just behind one of the ferries and in front of a local fishing boat.

This turned out to be the most nerve-wracking part of the whole trip – throwing our lines to a couple of random people on the wharf and quickly trying to adjust our fenders so we did not bang off the twisted bits of metal conveniently lining the wharf wall.

Once tied off, it was very easy for customs and immigration to come aboard and clear us in. It was a quick process, taking less than 2 hours. Fees were reasonable too. We paid 100$TOP to the ‘health’ official and then 25$TOP to quarantine for his check and the removal of our rubbish bags. We are not sure if we got lucky, or if it was quicker because we had already emailed and phoned with our ETA. We suspect it was also helped along by a local taxi driver, who not only called the customs office, but ferried the officials  back and forth.

Once we were cleared in we dropped the ‘Q’flag and raised our Tongan flag.  We then had to  work out how to extricate ourselves from our dock. Just as we were ‘discussing’ this,  a taxi pulled onto the wharf and out got Carol, Dennis and Paul, the crew on ‘Evergreen’. They had just been to the markets and were waiting for the water taxi back to Pangaimotu island. We were headed over there, so we offered them a lift and they helped us with the lines – a pretty fair trade, as we had to ‘spring’ the back of the boat off the dock quite far to literally skim the ferry on the way out.  Jo’s attitude of ‘driving it like you stole it’ was in full force and we squeaked past them and back out into the bay.

A fifteen minute motor over the bay had us safely anchored off Pangaimotu Island, just in front of the infamous ‘Big mamas’ resort, which was  looking very much worse for wear after being hit by Cyclone Gita a few months earlier. Renovations were in full swing though, and most importantly, the beer was cold.

Our time in Nuku’alofa was spent catching up on sleep, getting a few boat jobs and running repairs done as well as having a sundowner (or two!) with our cruising buddies.

We topped up our fuel, which here in Tongatapu is a little more involved than just pulling alongside a fuel dock. We had to take our dinghy over the bay into town with our jerry cans. Tie up at the wharf and then get a taxi to the petrol station. Fill jerry cans. Back in the dinghy, syphon into the tanks and then repeat. Not complicated, just time consuming, but hey- who’s in a rush?
Topping up our water tanks is a lot easier, thanks to our portable desalinator. We can even drink beer whilst doing this.

We  visited the local markets on a couple of occasions and stocked up on fruit and veg. The choice wasn’t great, but the stuff we did get was super fresh. We also sampled several iced coffees in the local cafes and got some local SIM cards for our phones – opting to get cards from both TCC and digicel to cover every eventuality.

We repaired our headsail furler after a couple of issues with it on the crossing. (Thanks to Karen from ‘True Companions’ for our spare parts!) and rebalanced / tightened our shrouds.

We wanted to extend our visitors visa until mid August. You are granted 31 days upon arrival but may extend this for up to 6 months for a fee of 69$TOP per person.  Armed with explicit instructions from  Cat on ‘Citation’ who had just been through the process, we gathered our documents and set out to find the China Aid Building. There was a small hitch when we realised that we hadn’t read the instructions that thoroughly as it was 69$TOP per person, per month (and not per application) but we managed to claw together enough cash to get the job done (no credit cards accepted!). Passports were handed over and we were told to come back in 4 days to collect them. Easy peasy. We had plenty of boat jobs to keep us busy.

Tonga has four main island groups, Tongatapu, Ha’apai, Vava’au and Niuatoputapu. A coastal clearance permit is required when moving between island groups served by different customs offices. So we did a ‘domestic checkout’ from Nuku’alofa, which typically took a few hours more than expected, as we kept getting sent to the wrong place to complete the paperwork!

There are 32 boats coming up from NZ on a rally and they have just started to arrive at the anchorage in front of ‘Big Mama’s’, with more due over the next day or two. We prefer to seek out quieter anchorages, so tomorrow we will begin our journey a bit further north with the Ha’apai group being our first stop.

The weather has been a little hit and miss, but we took it as a good omen that today the weather was glorious after a few grey days and we celebrated with our most spectacular Tongan sunset so far!

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