Tonga – The Ha’apai group

Accept our apologies. We have been super slack at posting updates.

It’s hard to believe that we have been in Tonga for seven weeks already. Five of these have been spent in the beautiful  Ha’apai group of isands.

We are really enjoying this island group. It is a slow paced lifestyle, with picture postcard tropical islands and crystal clear aquamarine waters.

Leaving Tongatapu

After leaving Pangaimotu, our anchorage in Tongatapu, we set off before sunrise to start our sail north. We had pretty light winds, so it was engines on for most of the way. Tonga is well know for the humpback whales that stop by its islands every year from late July to early September to breed and give birth. So imagine our surprise when we spotted a ‘blow’ off our port side. Surely it couldn’t  be whales already ? It was only the 10th June, but on closer inspection , it seemed that it was.  We only saw them from afar but it looked like a mum and a juvenile.  How exciting. High fives were exchanged amongst the crew and we sailed on. An hour later we saw another blow. This time much closer to the boat. Yet another mum and baby! They came much closer to us , with baby spy -hopping to see us and mum giving us a wave of her tail. Two very happy sailors.

 Our first stop was going to be at Kelefesia island. We had heard that is could be a pretty  challenging entry to the lagoon, as it is surrounded by ‘blind rollers’. These are waves that look smooth on one side but are breaking on the other. Scary stuff!  We approached in fairly light winds and also had some handy waypoints from fellow cruisers. At one point it looked like we were heading straight for the reef and the breaking seas and we almost lost our nerve, but as we got closer we could see the lagoon area tucked in behind, so we went for it. ( I think the expression is “drive it like you stole it”😎)

Once inside it was  magical. The anchorage is tiny, with room for maybe 3 boats, but on this occasion there was just us and one other. A truly beautiful spot and I’m very glad we didn’t miss it.

Next morning,  we had a visit from Ese, who seems to be the sole occupant of the island. He had just come back from catching some octopus and called by for a chat.  He attracts the octopus by dipping a a small palm frond in the water and when they come for a look he plucks them out of the water. Personally, we prefer them alive and in the water…..

the Eastern reefs and Islands

Weather dictated that we could only spend one night here and so after lunch we moved to Telekitonga.  This was reputed to be another beautiful anchorage, but the roll and swell were awful. This was made slightly better by the fact that a pod of spinner dolphins greeted us as we dropped anchor, however we spent a mostly sleepless night and couldn’t wait to up anchor and move on early next morning.

Uonokuhahaki Island was next on our radar. The weather forecast was 15 knots from the NE. Not perfect for the direction we were going, but not too bad. However, an hour into the trip we spotted black clouds looming in towards us. Thinking it was just a passing squall, we dropped our sails and prepared for it to pass over.   As the clouds rolled towards us the wind picked up instantly to 35 knots and swung around 180 degrees to blow from behind us. Even with no sails up it was pushing us along at 5 knots!

We assumed it would blow through quickly, but after 4 hours it had showed no sign of abating. The wind was a steady 35-40 knots and the seas were building up rapidly. Before long we were experiencing two -three metre swells. Still, a following sea is  better than bashing into it but our concern was what was up ahead.  In order to get to our next anchorage, we had no option but to make a 90 degree turn to avoid the coral reefs which are abundant in this part of the world. This put the wind and seas on our beam.😜 For the next three house we had 35 knot winds and 3 metres seas hitting us side on. Not fun, but certainly character building.

(It turned out that we had sailed into a large un-forecast storm front . It was explained by a local weather guru why it was being seen as only light winds in the usual weather models.  The Link is here for anyone  interested. We also found out afterwards that the same storm had wreaked havoc in the anchorage at Pangaimotu, causing  boats to drag anchors and anchors to foul other cruisers chains and props. Maybe we were better off at sea! )

Needless to say, DT handled it much better then we did, but we were very glad to finally drop anchor in the shelter of Uonokuhahaki Island .

And what a stunning place it was. Archetypal South Pacific  -white sand , swaying palm trees and turquoise waters. It is uninhabited and joined by a sandy cay to the smaller Uonukuhihifo Island ;  And as a bonus ,we were the only boat in the bay!  It was still very  windy, but the island offered excellent protection from the swell and DT sat on a flat calm sea. Just beautiful. We spent three days here, swimming, collecting coconuts and  exploring the island before another wind change dictated that we move on.

Next stop  Uoleva Island, which held  the added advantage of us meeting up  with our friends on ‘Citation’ and ‘Evergreen’