We were told, “Meh, it’s not nice.” “The harbour is dirty, it’s a sess pool.” “You don’t want to go there.” I’m careful to take those kinds of comments too seriously. I have loved some of the grittiest places just for the assault to my senses and for taking me out of my comfort zone. Needless to say, we weren’t sure what to expect from Nuku’alofa (Tongatapu Group). In the end, it was just a busy working town. I liked the harbour: the old rusty fishing boats and the fruit stands on the waterfront with carefully piled tomatoes. Nuku’alofa, was just fine as far as I was concerned. Our friend Aaron had a point, “For most people it’s just not their vision of the South Pacific.” True that, but I don’t mind the variety, the “reality version” of the South Pacific is just as fascinating. I don’t expect sandy beaches and coconut trees at every turn, (although we saw that nearby too).
|Somewhere on the island|
When we first arrived and just before we left, we anchored off Pangaimotu, a little island a mile from the main harbour of Nuku’alofa. That spot was very chill, and “Big Mama’s” was the quintessential South Pacific restaurant, with the rickety plank off a tiny floating dock. The deck was lined with long tables, complete with peeling paint and autographs. Sandy floors and palm fronds completed the décor. The staff was always friendly and helpful and we enjoyed the vibe there. Earle and Anna own the place and offer a wealth of information. Anna is a constant presence. After all, she is Big Mama. One rainy afternoon, I explained to her how to read grib files and told her about our voyage, and she shared the history of Big Mama’s and life in Nuku’alofa with me.
We did med moor in the harbour proper for a few days: Nicole and Aaron, our friends on Bella Star, were already there and it was time for a reunion. This is also where we met Neville and Catherine on Dream Time, a fab pair we are so glad to have gotten to know since. We explored the area with this gang, and had a couple merry nights. We also jumped through the bureaucratic hoops (with ease, I might add). You have to present yourself at immigration, the port authority (only to check out), and customs upon arrival and prior to leaving the country. Everyone is friendly, it helps to thank them for their hospitality and talk about what you liked in Tonga.
|Nuku'alofa: Fun times with Bella Star and Dream Time|
As interesting as the town was, we were happy to return to Pangaimotu before we left Tonga. There was some drama in the harbour when we realized we’d crossed anchors with Dream Time. It got intimate for a while, oh the joys of med mooring in 20 knot winds! Once we anchored by Pangaimotu, the chill vibe prevailed. Well, mostly. We did have one crummy day.
|Taking our stowaway from us, we were happy to|
see it go!
We were busy preparing for the passage and many little things went wrong that day. I’ll admit there were a couple heated “debates”. Ultimately, it all came together, but we both had a pretty grumpy day. One of Rick’s tasks had been to clean and stow the secondary anchor and chain we’d used in the harbour. Both were caked with thick, grey, sticky mud. The anchor was double its weight when we pulled it up. Rick washed it down and dropped the chain, (sans anchor), off the stern for a while to rinse it. Later in the day, he tried to raise the chain. He could barely move it. Uh-oh. The water was not that clear and fairly deep there… He sweated bullets raising that chain, eventually using the manual windlass on the bow… It wasn’t coral, but what was it? We eventually found out. Our chain had wrapped itself around a large (150 pound) traditional style anchor with its own chain. That chain’s links were the size of my fist. I kid you not. (I won’t tell you about the colourful language when the chain skipped on the gypsy and the entire thing ended up on the bottom again. Rick had to pull it all back up again inch by inch.) I felt very sorry for him. Once it was up again we unravelled our chain but we didn’t want to drop the anchor back on the bottom as it could easily foul another boat’s anchor. So we left it dangling off our bow when we decided to indulge in Big Mama’s burgers one last time. Bella Star picked us up in their dinghy. On the way, Aaron placed a beer in Rick’s hand as a well-deserved recompense for a hard day’s work. Everything looked brighter after that. Rick told Earle about the anchor, who then offered to relieve us of our enormous stowaway. Things were much calmer and “normal” after that day.
Departure day: We left under a blanket of grey clouds. Once we were south of Tongatapu, the wind began blowing hard and the seas were confused. It was time to bounce our way south, and rediscover temperate climates and… fast internet? A new chapter is about to begin. But first: Minerva Reef!