Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Little Vava’u Underwater

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So far the snorkeling in Tonga has only been mediocre but it’s the  best shelling we’ve seen. The water color is an amazing deep blue with almost unlimited visibility in some places. There just aren’t a lot of decent sized fish around. Getting into the water is a little more daunting here as some of the locals say this is the coldest winter in 14 years. With the clear water comes some really stunning underwater colors, like this bright orange coral.

vavauP8270252  There are lots of these dark blue starfish around here.

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There are a couple of interesting caves to dive. This is Chris beginning to exit the Mariners Cave. Exiting is easier than entering. There’s a 20 foot or so tunnel that is maybe 8 or 10 feet underwater that you have to hold your breath and swim through to get into the cave. Since it is fairly dark inside the cave when you are initially swimming in it is hard to judge how much further you need to go- if you come up too soon you’ll bang your head good on the arch.

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Leaving the cave is easier because you can see this bright blue target to swim to. Here Chris is almost out of the tunnel. When you are inside the cave if you take off your mask and watch the ceiling as the waves push in and increase the pressure the atmosphere fogs up. As the wave recedes the fog clears. Kind of spooky.

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We snorkeled another cave called the Swallows Cave. The entrance to this one is big enough to take a dinghy in. It is interesting because it makes a nursery for thousands of small fish.

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This is a bait-ball of small fish that is making this upside down T with the cave entrance in the background.

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With Chris floating through them.

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There is a fair amount of graffiti on the cave walls – both old and new. You can see graffiti from 1882 carved in this pic.

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Staying on the underwater color theme here are some neon blue damselfish and black and white striped humbug dascyllus hovering outside their protective coral patch. At the slightest threat, they dart into their hidey-holes in the coral.

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And a curious anemonefish come out to see who’s passing by.

Paul

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Kingdom of Tonga – Vava’u Group

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Neiafu harbor with lots of cruising boats on moorings

We left Niue just before sunset for a two day, 250-mile sail to Tonga. It was a pretty easy downwind sail with winds that were higher than we expected – 20-25kts. We slowed down the last night so we would arrive in Neiafu,Tonga at a good time in the morning. The customs dock was busy with at least 6 yachts checking-in when we arrived. We took an inside slot against the rough concrete pier (lots of fenders up high) and had a big catamaran rafted onto us. Check-in is friendly, but slow with 4 different officials arriving on the boat at different times, happy to discuss the day and Vava’u once the formalities were out of the way. The Quarantine officer asked us a lot of questions about what food we had onboard – do we have cabbage, eggs, carrots, onions ……  to most of them we answered yes. But, no problem, they didn’t seize any of it. Check–in cost about 128 pa’anga, Tongan dollars, or US$64. That gives us a 30-day visa.

tongaIMG_2325There are four island groups in the Tongan archipelago, 176 islands altogether, 40 inhabited. We’ve arrived in the Vava’u (vah vah oo, with the oo being short) group, which is the main cruising area of Tonga, with lots of anchorages scattered around. There’s also the the capital, Neiafu, the second largest town in all of Tonga. There’s a great vegetable market where we picked up some of these tangerines careful woven into some palm fronds for easy carrying. The first ones were tasty, then the older ones had some pretty interesting orange worms crawling in them – less than appetizing.

We plan to hang in the Kingdom for the next few months and do some island exploring.

Paul 

Friday, August 21, 2015

One More Circumnavigation of Niue

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We rented a car (USD$35/day) so we could hit the some of the highlights of Niue that we missed on our last rental car escapade. Stopping at the Sculpture Pak was not really a highlight. This growing ‘sculpture’ allows anyone to add on a piece of junk – I mean art – who wants to be part of the artistic merit. When I first saw it I thought it was the satellite antenna for the islands Internet connection. The island actually has a fiberoptic cable the circles the island – used for the phone system. Internet for the entire country is an 8mb satellite connection. That slower than most people at home have to their house – and this one connection covers the country.

niueIMG_2209 This is my favorite sculpture – old flip-flops. It’s all in the eye of the beholder

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Early on Saturday morning we stopped at Lakepa for the monthly village fair. Each village hosts once a year and everyone turns out. Lots of food, including donuts and sushi, for breakfast.

niueIMG_2234  We got there too late for Chris to pickup on some livestock. These little guys were already sold. Too bad…

niueIMG_2236 A lot of the booths had coconut crabs out front to compete in the largest coconut crab completion.

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The local dancing was not anything like the sophistication of the Marquesas or Society Islands. But, these kids got into it. Look at the their faces as they belt out some tribal yells.

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Even the youngest can take an impressively threatening stance.

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Some friendly, competitive basket weaving among the women, who can really whip them out in no time.

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The days hiking brought us to through what looks like the badlands of the Togo Chasm. Just barely offshore you can see the white-water a humpback whale enjoying the wind and surf.

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The trail leads over the eroded limestone uplifted reef.  A fall here would be some serious road rash, possibly fatal.

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Its a long ladder down into the chasm itself.

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Some impressive waves crashing onto the shore.

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The clear blue Limu Pools, with Chuck and Laura (off Free Spirit) contemplating going snorkeling.

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Looking straight down through about 6 feet of clear water you can see the ubiquitous banded sea snake. Their bite is very poisonous to humans, but their mouths are so small you’d almost have to spread your fingers and stick your hand in their mouths to get an unfriendly injection.

niueIMG_2191The aptly named Talava Arches.

niueIMG_2313 The last stop on our island circumnavigation (all of about 67 km) was an ancient burial cave, complete with human skull bones in the center.

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Check the bumps on this humpback’s head. He was just hanging out, right off our boat.

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Here are a pair of humpbacks waving Fluke You as we prepared to sail off to Tonga.

Paul