Thursday, October 22, 2015

Whale swim

One of the biggest attractions in Tonga is the humpback whales.  As we already mentioned, we saw a lot of them in the Ha'apai group (http://www.svgoodasgold.ca/2015/09/this-time-of-year-humpback-whales-have.html).  They come to Tonga to mate and to give birth, there are lots of female humpbacks with their calves.

In Vava'u, there are a number of boats that are allowed to take people out to swim with the humpbacks. They have to follow a number of rules in order to not disturb the whales.  We talked to people who had done it, and they all had rave reviews.  That convinced us that it was worth doing.

We hopped on our tour boat and motored out to find some whales.  It was getting late in the season, but we found a mother and calf.  We went into the water in groups of 4 (plus guide) and had to swim about 100 m (100 yards) to get near the whales (the boat isn't allowed to get too close).

We swam near the whales and saw the mom submerged below us. The baby would come up for a breath near us and head back to mom. WOW!!!  After a while the mom finally came up for a breath. OMG - WOW!! By this time we had been in the water for our allotted time so we went back to the boat and gave other people a turn.

We know people who went during the high season and they got to swim about 7 times.  Due to the time it took us to find the whales, we only went in twice but it was still awesome!

We had good weather the day we went, but thanks to the rain from the previous days there was a lot of silt in the water and visibility wasn't the best for photos.
Baby whale coming up for a breath

Mom and calf heading away from us

Mom swimming with calf


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Cricket

There are lots of ex-pats living in Vava'u.  Some have tried to get the locals interested in cricket.  They are working on a cricket pitch and give lessons.  In order to help drum up some interest, they invite all the visiting yachties to come out for the day.  They do this a couple times per month.

The promise was for a day of cricket, with food available.  The locals were supposed to brings crafts and food for sale. That's what happened two weeks earlier when some friends went.

The night before we went, it started to rain.  In the morning, it was still raining a bit but that didn't deter us and about 30 other cruisers.  It turns out that the Tongan people are a lot smarter than the rest of us, as they knew to stay home as the ground turns to mud.  We arrived to find an empty field, no food, no crafts, But the rain had stopped!

We had traveled an hour to get there, so most people decided to play.
Play ball!


Malcolm decided to take photos and Dina talked with some locals who came out to watch.
Dina talking to some local girls heading home from school

Once the participants decided that the mud didn't hurt, they all had fun.  Little did they know how hard it is to wash out the red dirt, nor did they know that the pigs from the village wander around the cricket pitch and their manure mixes in nicely with the mud.
No comment necessary

Cricket bats are good for knocking mud off

Pig Manure!??!?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Flying Foxes

Our friends, Chuck and Lauri on Free Spirit, had to leave Tonga for Samoa for their “official” wedding (they have had wonderful unofficial weddings in Mexico and Tonga).  We had spent a lot of time with them here in Tonga and were sad to see them go.  We’ll have to meet up with them in 2016!

We wanted to explore the eastern barrier reef islands of the Vava’u group. It is necessary to navigate a narrow channel in the coral to get over there, so few boats head that way. We had waypoints to navigate through the channel and our friends, Alison and Randall on Tregoning, had radioed to say they were already anchored in that area and the pass was no problem, so off we went. 

We anchored at Ofu, near Tregoning, later that afternoon. After spending time in the main harbor and the popular anchorages near town, it was a treat to be anchored in a quieter place. We explored the quiet island and the isolated shores. The next morning we went exploring in our dinghy, “Tubby” along with Alison and Randall in their dinghy.

Along the way, we discovered a good sized colony of Flying Foxes (a large, tropical fruit bat). We had already seen one small Flying Fox up close back on Ha’afeva in the Ha’apai group, but this was much better.  There were several trees just full of the bats hanging there. As we got close, the noise from the dinghy motors bothered them and dozens of them took to the skies. It was so impressive that after some snorkeling we went back to Good as Gold, got out the good camera, and went back to the bats for some photos.
Flying Foxes hanging in trees

Flying Fox soaring

Flying Fox mother with baby clinging on to her belly

Flying Fox coming in for a landing


Alison and Randall began their southward trek to New Zealand and we moved over to one of the easternmost islands of the Vava’u group, Kenutu. We anchored on the west side to be protected from the near constant easterly trade winds. We went ashore and found the path to the eastern side of the island to watch the open ocean crashing on the cliff faces.  It was quiet impressive!
Waves crashing

Monday, October 12, 2015

Caves

Entrance to Swallow's Cave
One of the most interesting places we’ve seen here in Vava’u is Swallow’s Cave. We were anchored nearby with Free Spirit and Sea Note, and were told it is best to go there in the late afternoon when the sun shines into the cave. It was a bit far for our little dinghy, so we grabbed our snorkel gear and hitched a ride with Ray on Sea Note. He’d been before and enjoyed it so much he was going a second time.

Above the water, the cave is probably about 40 feet high, 40 feet wide and goes back about 100 feet from the entrance. Ray drove his dinghy in and tied up to a rocky outcropping inside the cave. Ray told us the water was plenty deep enough, so we put our snorkel gear on and jumped in, not knowing exactly what to expect!


WOW!! The water in the cave is crystal clear, the sunlight is streaming in from the cave entrance and there are thousands of little fish swimming in tight “fish balls” which move around throughout the cave. It is surreal. We spent quite a while swimming in the cave, watching the fish balls moving all around us and exploring the nooks and crannies.


Dina snorkeling above the fish balls

A week later several of us went with David on his boat Anahata, to explore Mariner’s Cave and Swallow’s Cave. The first stop was Mariner’s Cave, which is hard to find because the entrance is about 6 feet under the water. On her second attempt Claudia, from La Belle Epoche, found the cave for us all.

Getting in to Mariner’s Cave is scary the first time. It requires diving down 6 feet and swimming into the pitch black entrance of the cave mouth for about 15 feet until you can surface in the large air pocket inside the cave. David had been there before so he went into the cave and came back several times to show us nervous people that it was no big deal.

Malcolm’s first attempt was aborted when his brain told him that swimming into a dark underwater cave is SCARY! Malcolm and Chuck were ready to forget about this stupid cave when Dina followed David in. Then Chuck said, “Great, now us guys have to do it”. David came back out to lead Malcolm and Chuck in. Dina was left inside laughing about how easy it had actually been. 

There is enough light coming in the cave mouth that we could see how easy the entrance actually was.  As we floated there the surge came in from the ocean outside. Each surge compressed the air inside the cave and created an instantaneous dense fog that quickly dissipated when the surge ebbed. We felt the pressure change with each surge and had to clear our ears as though we were diving. Exiting the cave was easy because we could see where to go and were no longer afraid.

We left Mariner’s Cave and went over to Swallow’s Cave, in time for the late afternoon sun. Most of the people on David’s boat were going to scuba dive in the cave. When we got there, another boat was dropping off some divers. It might have been fun to dive to the bottom of the cave, but with so many divers at the bottom, the fish balls were all hanging out closer to the surface. Those of us snorkeling were completely surrounded by fish balls for another great experience.







Saturday, October 10, 2015

Vava'u, Tonga

We’ve heard that over 500 yachts visit Tonga every year. Most of the sailboats coming across the Pacific will be heading south to New Zealand or Australia by the end of the year. Tonga is well positioned as the place to stop heading west and turn south to get out of the traditional cyclone (hurricane) zone. Tonga is also a great place to spend the winter (April-Oct) if you already have your sailboat in New Zealand.

This means there are a lot of cruisers in Vava’u! It is a bit odd for us, as we have spent the last two months exploring some quiet places. Of course it is great too; we get to catch up with people we have met along the way.

Neiafu Harbour, Vava'u Group

The Vava’u group of islands is a lot more developed than the Ha’apai group. There is a real town here, a bunch of restaurants and some boat services. Happy hour at the Mango CafĂ© is at 4pm and they offer beers for $4 TOP (about $2 USD). Many days here are spent getting some jobs done on the boat, meeting friends at the Mango at 4pm for some beer and then heading to another restaurant for dinner. It is great to catch up with everyone, but it is getting monotonous.

Luckily, there are over 40 anchorages in Vava’u, all within 10 miles of each other. Most of the islands in Vava’u are low hills, with jagged rocks that rise quickly from the water. The scenery reminds us of the Gulf Islands and the San Juan Islands back home, except the pine trees here are interspersed with palm trees. So, after buying some provisions in town, we head out to do some exploring.