Thursday, September 26, 2013

Niuatoputapu in Words

When we left Vava’u we said to the kids that from now on we possibly wouldn’t be seeing many boats, and be mostly by ourselves as just about everyone we had talked to was heading to different places to our cruising ideas. What a surprise we got as from the afternoon that we arrived in Niuatoputapu other boats started arriving in the anchorage until we were sharing with 7 other boats and two of those had kids on board. Not only that but both of them had TWINS on board. Having three sets of twins in close proximity in a “normal” population isn’t usual for us let alone a cruising population. This attracted quite a bit of interest and there was even a photo shoot on Division II for the potential of appearing in Cruising World, a sailing magazine based out of the U.S.
On our arrival into Niuatoputapu we had radio contact with Sia, who lives in the village off of the anchorage and is the only one with a VHF radio on the island. She works for the Tourism, Trade and Commerce Department. As we only needed to do our interisland clearance she gave us directions to the Customs and after a rest and some food we headed to shore to do our paperwork. We didn’t want to tie the dinghy to the wharf as it was mostly sharp rocks and we didn’t want to risk damaging the dinghy, so we took it to shore over the reef at what happened to be high tide....more on the later. We started on our walk which we were told was around 3-4 km up the road. As the wind was behind us and we were still quite tired from the passage we were really struggling, but thankfully someone picked us up in their truck and we got to sit in the back much to the delight of the kids and were taken to the customs building. This was great as we would have walked right past it as it was up a small driveway, part of four small buildings (including Police, Bank and Ministry Offices) that was next to the High School and one of the primary schools. It took no time at all to do our clearance, and then we faced the walk back to the dingy, but this was much more pleasant as we had the wind in our faces which helped to cool us down. On our return to the dinghy the tide had gone out some, and there didn’t seem to be anyway we were going to be able to relaunch the dinghy. The tide drop has been less than a metre in most of Tonga and we thought that it would turn soon and we would be able to get back to the boat. As it was we were still only about half tide and after a couple of hours, made the decision to wheel the dinghy down the road and along the wharf and put it back in the water off the ramp at the end of the wharf. I bet the local villagers had a great laugh at our expense!
While we had been waiting under the shade of a tree we were approached by one of the local High School Girls, named Ahi and her youngest sister Sima. We talked for quite a while and learnt many things about the island from Ahi and her family.
The population of the whole Island is just under 800.
This is the first year that they have had a 7th form graduate at the local high school. Prior to this older secondary school children had to go to Vava’u or Tongatapu for education.
The supply ship comes once every three weeks on average, and they have an airport but they don’t get any regular air service.
Women who are expecting a baby have to go on the supply ship to Vava’u or Tongatapu as the Medical Officer is male and not from the Island, therefore will not allow them to have their babies there. There is no hospital to speak of, so if there were complications there would be no way to get help.
There are two primary schools on the Island and one on Tafahi, another smaller island just north.
There are many horses on the Island, both for transport and as a food source. There were also many pigs and chickens, but only two cows and around 5 sheep. We also saw goats on our adventures around the Island.
Weaving is the main source of income for the Island, as tourism, apart from the yachties, is nonexistent. The weaving is sent on the supply ship to Vava’u and Tongatapu and is often made to order from family members in these places. Some of it is also sent to Australia and New Zealand. Often several women are working on the weaving of the large mats, and I imagine that the income from them is shared out among those that have worked on them. The women do the weaving and the men work the plantations and also fish to provide for their families.
While we were there a roading project was in place and they were resealing all the roads and we saw many people, both men and women with high-vis vests on with brooms etc working on the project. I said to someone that this must be a good source of income for the people of the island, but found out that many of the workers, especially the women haven’t been paid yet, and may not be until next year!
Ahi also told us some of the local legends pertaining to prominent land marks around the Island, which was great to link place names with meaning and the stories behind them. The most memorable being the legend of the Samoan Devil stealing the Island out of the middle of Niua’afo (an Island around 200nm west of Niuatoputapu) which was the exact size of the lake now there. The Samoan Devil was trying to get the Island back to Samoa before the sun rise but only got as far as Niuatoputapu when the sun came up and he was spotted by the Tongan Devil, who fought for the Island and told the Samoan Devil to “chop” the lines off of the Island that they were using to pull it, and that is how Tafahi got its name and it means “to chop” in Tongan. It is also said that on a clear day you can see Samoa from Tafahi. We found this slightly unbelievable at first, but when we worked out the distance and thought about the fact you can see Mt. Taranaki from Golden Bay at times, it wasn’t inconceivable, but I don’t know how many clear days you get up here.
In 2009 the tsunami from an earthquake off of Samoa hit Niuatoputapu at around 0730. It killed 9 people and wiped out many homes and did a lot of other damage. The 9 people are all buried together outside of the new government buildings, and it still saddens people to talk about the devastation this caused for them and that it also seemed to take time for assistance to reach them. They did get help, with several kinds of new homes provided by different aid agencies, including the NZ navy. Tsunami evacuation plans are now in place and most of the villages have been relocated closer to the base of the hill. There are still people who do live right on the water front though. Many of the vehicles all looked new to us also, and Dan figures they are all post tsunami, though I think you could easily survive without one here. One of the little islands at the anchorage looks really picturesque and I can imagine was lovely pre tsunami but now the whole island is difficult to walk on as it is covered in dead coral and there is only a small beach, and the snorkelling didn’t look too inviting either. The one thing that was great was the whale just off of the reef there, which was easy to observe from the island.
On the Thursday we went on an Island tour with Sia, who took us all on the back of her truck, again to the kids delight, and we stopped at a church hall where local women where weaving, stopped at the one of the local shops, had a walk around a families plantation area and stopped at the fresh water springs for a swim. We then drove around the new villages and stopped at the main Primary School and High School to donate school supplies from the yachties. The school had the newest playground I have ever seen in Tonga, which was donated by New Zealand after the tsunami.
That evening we had planned a pot luck tea at Sia’s home, but unfortunately we had to rain check, and did this on the Friday, which was great. The two cakes were the first thing to disappear I think! Some of us had expressed an interest in walking up the hill, but the local consensus was that it would be too hard without guides, so on the Saturday morning Sia’s two sons guided us on a walk up and across and down the hill. The views were amazing and I have to agree that I don’t think we would have been able to find our own way, as the youngest son had gone ahead and was cutting the path with his machete in places!
On Sunday we had a picnic lunch with Ahi and her brother and sisters on the beach, where we had traditional Tongan food, all made from food available on the island, most of it grown by Ahi’s father. We had bread fruit and taro, Lesi which is papaya cooked, one in the Umu, and one in a pot with onions, Liu, which is the taro leaf cooked with coconut milk and a meat, usually corned beef or fish or chicken and we also had fish and to finish we had banana (hopa) cooked with coconut milk and brown sugar, plus the small cup cakes that Oliver had baked to share. It was all very delicious and after a rest we enjoyed a swim. We were down by the lead lights for the channel entrance and the kids were climbing up them and jumping off into shoulder height water. Unfortunately Rylee decided to dive in and managed to skin his nose on the bottom! He looked rather funny for a few days with a big scab on his nose but was very good about not picking it and it fell off at the end of the week, just leaving a slightly pale area amongst his tan.
Monday was a busy day for us, as everyone was making moves to leave Niuatoputapu to head south to Vava’u, and we had a constant stream of visitors to exchange details, swap photos, have last minute plays etc, and get information about heading to N.Z. and the places to go. It was very pleasant, but very busy and by the end of the day Rylee was feeling unwell. We had been invited to dinner on a friend’s boat, so we still went, but Rylee didn’t last so we had to return home before dessert, and by the following morning all of us had some form of stomach upset. I am not sure whether we picked up a virus, or it was something we had eaten, but it past relatively quickly, though Tuesday was a very quiet day on Division II!
Dan decided that it was a good time to leave Niuatoputapu from the weather files we received and he initially thought Wednesday would be a good day to go, but when he went ashore in the afternoon to check out (despite still being under the weather) he found the buildings all closed up and managed to find someone who said it was a holiday. After this we thought maybe to leave first light on Thursday giving us a recovery day before passage, all day Wednesday to check out and allow us to arrive in Samoa Friday daytime to clear in before the weekend. Unfortunately we discovered that Wednesday on Niuatoputapu is a cultural day and none of the government workers work on this day, so we had to wait until the Thursday morning, and we were not sure if they were going to be at the wharf to clear us at the time we requested or not. In the meantime we went back to Ahi’s home to say our goodbyes, and we were given some weaving that Ahi had done herself of our family tree, which was a truly lovely gift.
Thankfully Customs and Immigration did come to the wharf Thursday morning as arranged and we were heading out the pass 0900, a couple of hours after our preferred leaving time.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Niuatoputapu in Pictures

Weaving, seen on the Island Tour
View of the anchorage from our treck up the hill.
View of the Eastern side of Niuatoputapu
TIWNS! 3 sets in 1 anchorage!
Little Sia - Our Island Tour Guides daughter.
Paige looking out over the South Western side of Niuatoputapu.
All the kids at the Pot Luck Tea in Sia's back yard.
Sunsets at Niuatoputapu.

All the boats at anchor.
Rylee with his skinned nose after diving to deep in shallow water!
Books from Whangarei given to a local 3 year old, Sima
Sima with her Mum and Nana

Photo shoot of our hosts for Sunday Lunch and all of us.
Sample of woven mat used for our Sunday picnic lunch.

Last two weeks in Vava'u

After a couple of extra weeks hanging out with our friends in the Ha’apai Group in Tonga it was time for us to move north, back up to the Vava’u Group. We left at 2200 on a Thursday night with a full moon and had a lovely sail with so much light we even had shadows in the cockpit from the moon. We arrived in Vava’u at first light, which was as we had hoped and then tacked our way through the main channel up into Neiafu, where we got onto some internet access, did our interisland customs clearance and stocked up at the market during the day before heading back out to quieter anchorages. We spent another couple of days with our friends on Elcie, even having the fun of rafting up on the Saturday night as it was really settled weather, before they headed on to Fiji. We snorkelled the Coral Garden and Coral Wonder and visited a small island called Lape, which has set up their own small craft and food market. We spent a few days at one of favourite places, a small island called Nuku, where we met a boat with a couple of young boys on board called Galatic. Much time was spent in the water, snorkelling, taking photos and relaxing/playing. Rylee even ran an early morning workout on the beach, where we had to swim or paddle to the beach, go for a small jog then do all the exercises he set out for us. Later that day we headed back into Neiafu for another internet hit and because it was Friday Paige was really keen to enter the Friendly Friday night yacht race, so she went to the race briefing at the local cafe/yacht club and sorted extra crew to join us for the fun. We had light winds but nailed the start, unfortunately our tacks let us down (maybe due to the helmsman’s racing inexperience!) and we came in second. But being a friendly yacht race meant we still had 6 bottles of beer to collect, which Paige, being skipper for the night, duly collected for those of us that were able to drink them.
After another market stock up we headed out the Blue Lagoon, an area surrounded by four islands at the south west of the group. We anchored up in the shallows in front of an island inhabited by goats. Rylee set up a rope swing, and we took an adventurous trip around the island checking out the other beaches. Galatic was also there, so most afternoons were spent playing on the beach. I also managed to do a major clean on the bottom of the boat as when the tide was low I could stand on the bottom which made it much easier to scrub. At the end of the second week it was time to head back to Neiafu to sort paperwork for heading further north. This was very frustrating for Dan as he was told something different by each customs officer he talked to, but we got our coastal clearance to be able to go to Niuatoputapu, which is what we needed. While there we briefly caught up with some friends we hadn’t seen since 2010 and we met some new boat families over these couple of days. It was a real shame to only see them briefly as we were in the process of leaving, but great for the kids all the same to make new friends. We enjoyed Sunday breakfast with Sophia and Cameron who we had met the previous afternoon, had a morning coffee with the Galatic crew before heading up to Niuatoputapu at 1100. We were hoping for a 24 hour passage, as the distance was 170nm but after eating through our food for the past three months, and not being full with fuel or water Division II flew up towards Niuatoputapu at an average of 8.9 knots and we arrived off of the Island at 0500, where we downed sails (we had reefed down during the night to try and slow ourselves down to no avail) and waited until the sky started lightening before entering the lagoon entrance. We dropped anchor at 0730 ready to explore the first new place we had been to this trip so far.

Rafted up with Elcie

Paige underwater.

Fin prints on the beach at Mala - Photo by Rylee.

Starfish at Mala

Our view at Mala
Friendly shrimp at Nuku.
Me getting to know Nemo.
Div II enjoying Nuku - photo by Oliver
Lion fish at Nuku
Local Vaka, some of the competition on the Friday night race.
Me snorkelling Mariners cave, an underwater cave in Vava'u.
Clown Fish @ Nuku
Rylee in his element!

Interspecies fish love!

Oliver and Vila - the market lady that wants to adopt him!
Paige and Line, our local internet provider, thanks for making it easy for us!

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Whale Watching, by Rylee

As soon as you slide into the water it takes a second or two just to realise what you are doing.
Then you notice all the other four people are swimming away, the guide in the front the rest of the people in a line behind her, like a duck and her ducklings.
When the guide spots the Whale or Whales in this case, the guide puts her or his hand in the air [this is when you take out your camera.]
You see it, a dark outline of something BIG. You see the Whales pectoral fin.
A calf under its Mum at the surface, you swim a little closer.
Your Mum grasps your hand as the escort is diving under you.
It looks so close and so far at the same time, its tail went up right under you.
You watch as the Whale swims away.
You look back up at the Mum but they have gone.


Whale Watching, by Oliver

Whale Watching
‘Standby’ yell’s the guide, on went my mask, sticking to my face.
‘ln’ said the guide,
l slide into the pool of tropical water.
The water is alive with whales, remoras’ and little stingy jellyfish too
The whales are enormous
Remoras not so big
It was the jellyfish which gave a big sting
The whales began to sing
Louder, louder, louder still
The noise stopped
Ears stinging, water ringing
Frantic picking at jellyfish in your ear
Call a taxi.
Oh dear, jellyfish ruin everything

Whale Swimming, By Paige

First Swim
When you first slide off the dingy you feel hyped.
You swim forwards.
You see the whales, a mother and calf.
The mother sinks, the calf slowly dives. You see the calf twist away from you, still diving.
It is so cute.
They play together under the water.
Then they swim away.

Best Swim
You slide off the back of the boat and look around knowing you will see nothing but your tour group and guide.
You follow your guide ‘till you see the whales.
Three this time, a mother, calf and an escort.
The escort sits on the bottom, just in sight.
You watch the mother and calf, you don’t know if they are coming closer.
You look back at the escort, still sitting on the bottom.
You look back at the mother and calf, they seem closer.
You look down, the escort is right below you, you think “don’t hit me”.
It doesn’t, it swims to the mother and calf. It talks to them.
They swim away.
You are awed.

a selection of emails home

A Selection of our Adventures as Emailed to Mum.
Our Awesome Day. 26th July.

We had about a week in the Vava'u group in Tonga, catching up with several boats from Nelson and Elcie - the large aluminium catamaran that was being finished in Nelson when we were there with the two girls on it. We came back down to the Ha'apai last Friday, and it wasn't a very pleasant trip at all but we had our friends dog that we needed to get back to them and that was the best day in over a week of unsettled weather up here. We had a lightning storm last Saturday night that went for hours! Most of it was sheet lightening but there was one very large forked lightening that was right behind the boat!! And thunder also. It was like trying to sleep under faulty fluro lights! Since then there have been westerly winds here when the wind is usually from the south east so we have had the challenge of finding safe anchorages with the changed conditions, and have gone to some places thinking they would be good and finding too much coral for us to anchor safely, but did find a spot that didn't look too likely from the charts, but was amazing with great snorkelling and very protected so we spent a couple of nights there and last night moved to the next island as the wind was changing back to South East. That island had a village, and the kids had a lovely afternoon playing with the local children.

Now onto our Awesome Day.
This morning when we woke up to amazing colours in sunrise and then as we were enjoying them we could hear whale noises through the hull of the boat, so we knew they were close. We decided to leave straight after breakfast and as we were getting the sail up we saw the whales just about 100m off of the boat. There were two adults and a baby, so likely a mother, her escort, which is usually her sister and the baby. We spent about half an hour sailing quietly with them and watching them before we headed on south. As we were sailing we saw several other whales, breeching and lob tailing and again some getting quite close to us. We even began to think they were following us at times. We caught two large big eyed tuna also on the sail, which was another great bonus.
Once we were anchored we were filleting the fish and cleaning up. We put some of the scraps over the back, and Rylee spotted a black tipped reef shark, we were only in 3m of water! We had a good time feeding it and its friends when they arrived with all the bits we didn't want to keep. Needless to say, none of us have gone swimming this afternoon! As I am writing this the batter is in the fridge, the sweet potato chips are cooking in the oven and Dan is making coleslaw to go with our fish and chip dinner. There are also great colours in the sunset off of the back of the boat.

Email Sent 12th August.
We have decided to stay another month in Tonga and are as yet undecided about whether or not we will still try and go to Samoa.
There are many reasons why we have chosen to stay longer, but the best one would have to be from the other morning. On the day you were setting off to Perth we were woken at 5am with a couple of whales playing around the boat. We were all asleep and I woke to Dan saying whale and hearing a blow and getting wet through the hatch from the spray!! It was so close to the boat Dan could see it without his glasses in the dark!! We all got up and it played around the boat for about 10 minutes, unfortunately we could only get glimpses of it due to the time of day. But that was VERY cool. We also had to make a decision last week as we would have had to leave where we are then to make it North, and our friends from Elsie had only just arrived in the Ha'apai group, so that also helped us decide to hang out for a little longer.
We have been sharing anchorages with Elsie for the past week and the kids have had a great time. They spent all day on a little island on Saturday making a fort and fishing and playing. They even set up an outdoor restaurant for sunset drinks at the end of the day, which was really cool. We had rain yesterday so have caught lots of water, and Dan has been doing washing this morning while the kids and I did school, went for a snorkel and now they are off playing on the beach while I catch up on the computer, but I am sending this through the sat phone again as we still don't have great internet access. (sigh).
Please let everyone know we are all doing great, our tans are coming along nicely and we are enjoying the sun, sea and surf.