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

Monday, August 10, 2015

A Little More Niue Whalage

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These guys roam up and down the coast here. This picture was taken from our cockpit while at the town mooring. They have to expend a chunk of energy to get this far out of the water.

niueIMG_1873 And they come down with a big splash. The humpbacks are here generally from July to October (the winter here) to calve and breed, then they head back down to the Antarctic for some summer fun and feeding.

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You are supposed to be able to recognize each whale by its tale fin, but I can’t see any name tag on this one.

niueIMG_1923 We rented mountain bikes to do a little island touring. This photo is taken before it turned into a death march of a ride. Nice, flat somewhat bumpy roads surround the island. So we pedaled to the north end of the island and then across most of the top. This was to take us to a dirt track that would cut through the interior and take us back toward the main city, Alofi. As soon as we got on the dirt road they assigned us each a small squadron of flies. Enough to be really annoying while riding. But nothing like the treatment we got if we tried to stop and rest or grab a drink of water. You would be entirely engulfed in a fly feeding frenzy – not fun.

niueIMG_1919  While still on the coast road we did get to stop a some cool limestone caverns right on the water.

niueIMG_1927 It was a  pretty overcast day, making for good riding, but no blue skies for the photos. This is the Matapa Chasm, one of several around the  island, where fresh water has cut through the limestone leading out to the reef. This was once the bathing place used by Niuean royalty.

niueIMG_1924 For the golfing crowd, here is the Niue driving range. The sign says “REEF DRIVING RANGE, 5 balls $10, hit the flag win a prize”

niueIMG_1945 It looks like the shore is all surrounded by narrow reef, but it is more a shallow limestone shelf that drops off sharply and which is covered with hard corals.

niueIMG_1948 These locals were collecting turban snails off the reef at low tide, hammering them open and saving the meat for soup.

niueIMG_1941 One thing that stands out when you travel around Niue is the number of abandoned houses. In this photo the one on the left is in use, the three on the right are abandoned. After the 2004 cyclone many found it easier to move to New Zealand than to rebuild. This just accelerated the general population decline. Niueans have both Niue and New Zealand citizenship and more live in NZ than in Niue.

niueIMG_1934 Another thing that stands out are the number of graves and their placement. There doesn’t seem to be a graveyard per se. Graves are in the yards of homes, along the roads and in some fairly remote parts. They range from of old, hard to read headstones, to modern etched marble. This one was a little different as the dearly departed had direct access to a TV, stereo and a couple of bottles of liquor.

A correction from an earlier blog: The cruiser rumor mill failed me. Niue is not past the dateline. That doesn’t happen till Tonga. We will head off to Tonga in 4 or 5 days. Right now we are sitting out some bad weather. The mooring field, the only place you  can anchor here, has a two foot swell coming in, which hits the boats on the beam and sends us rolling – making for some pretty uncomfortable nights (and days). We’re hoping this front, likely related to the strong El Nino this year, will pass soon and we’ll get back to sunshine and trade winds!

Paul

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Niue

niueIMG_1737 Approaching Niue from the northeast. The waves have laid down in the partial lee of the island but the winds are still a-blowin’.

Niue is basically a small rock in Polynesia. It is one of the largest upraised coral atolls in the world and one of the smallest countries in the world. The population living on the island is about 1,100 with many other Niueans living in New Zealand. Niue is an independent country in free association with New Zealand. Now I’m not that up on my international law, so I’m not too sure what ‘free association’ means but I’m pretty sure it means they are more than just casually dating. Since our Supreme Court has given corporations the constitutional right of free speech, perhaps soon they will give corporations the right to marry, then New Zealand can make an honest women out of Niue.

 niueIMG_1793 We are moored in deep water on a really well maintained mooring in front of the main town, Alofi. The humpback whales seem to like this indentation on the coast – can’t really call it a bay. They stop by to calve when pregnant or with a little luck get pregnant if they aren’t already. You hear these guys blowing at the surface at night between us and the shore. Pretty cool.

niueIMG_1753 The spinner dolphins also like to cruise through the anchorage in large pods.

niueIMG_1770 Checking out the coast line from the pier

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The Niuean outrigger canoes have a slightly different style from these we saw in French Polynesia. They are shorter and narrow. This is a classic example of one made of local mahogany. The locals are friendly and it is good for Chris and I to start practicing speaking New Zealand.

niueIMG_1803_2 Captain Cook anchored 3 times in Niue near the current mooring field. On his third attempt to land he planted the Brit flag. He got an unfriendly greeting by the natives with red painted teeth. In a less than tourist-friendly slight he named the place ‘Savage Island’. Besides the natives not being happy with him, I’m sure the fact that there are zero decent anchorages on the island played into his plans to exit quickly. In this picture you can see them launching a large fisheries boat from the the main pier with a crane.  The boom to the right of the crane is where we take our dinghies in. Hook them with a harness and haul them out of the water anytime we want to go to shore. The mooring we are on is in 125 feet of water. Anchoring here would be tough. If the winds crank to the west at all, then even the moorings become untenable and the cruising yachts have to take off.

Paul

Monday, August 3, 2015

Nuie

Made it into Nuie this afternoon almost exactly 6 days after we left. Pretty fast trip for a 1,000 miles. Cleared in with customs --- easy. We'll figure out the town tomorrow after a good nights sleep. They say the humpbacks are sleeping in the bay that the moorings are in. Haven't seen one yet -- but we're looking.

Paul


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Nuie's Near

We are about 140 miles away from Nuie tonight. It is cold on watch -- 72*F, or an even colder 22*C. Overcast and the moon hasn't come up yet. As one boat described it on the HF radio, its like being in the English Channel. Except we haven't seen a ship or another cruising boat in almost a 1,000 miles. We've been making really good days sailing, typically 180 miles days. We should make it into Nuie before dark tomorrow. It will be tomorrow our time, but day after tomorrow Nuie time. Nuie is past the dateline which means at some point soon we loose a day. Hope it s not my birthday we loose.

Paul



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Saturday, August 1, 2015

Enroute Nuie

Sunrise has us currently about 50 miles north of Palmerston Island. The sailing has been pretty good and we are going to keep going to Nuie and skip Palmerston. Nuie is about another 420 miles or so. It looks like today will be the first day that we get some blue sky. Its been a fast sail -- we are about 600 miles from where we started. The winds have been well behaved most of the time. They get a little rambuncous for a few hours in the middle of the night. We are mostly cruising along at 7 to 8 kts with some 9's thrown in with the wave pushes. We expect to make Nuie on Monday evening. That would be Monday evening on our time, but we will loose a day heading into Nuie -- some kind of calendar black-hole thing. So we will actually most likely arrive Tuesday evening. Friends there tell us the humpback whales are hanging near the anchorage, so it should give us another opportunity to take lots of pictures of the water with the title 'this is where the whale was'.
Paul


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