Monday, October 28, 2013

Goodbye to Tonga … and the tropics

By Nicole

So guess what I just did, here on the boat in 80-degree weather with sunshine streaming in the portlights and an icy gin and tonic providing moral support. No guesses? Okay, I’ll tell you.

I pulled out my Patagonia long underwear. And not one but three black fleeces. (What? I’m from Seattle. A black fleece is part of the dress code.) I also dug out my puffer jacket, rank with the smell of mildew from being crammed in a bag for, like, 2+ years, my insulated, lobster-claw sailing gloves and a couple dozen of those Little Hottie pocket heater things. <sigh> We’re leaving the tropics for chilly New Zealand in a matter of days.

But before we sail back to so-called temperate waters (you say “temperate,” I say “bloody cold”), here’s a recap of our last tropical days in Tonga’s southern island group, Tongatapu.

We hauled down from Neiafu in brisk 22–28-knot winds, getting tossed around a bit by the rough seas. It was actually a pretty comfortable passage, and after taking a quick trip to the rail after lunch (ahem), I felt surprisingly good for the conditions. The next day found us anchored off lovely Pangiamotu Island, one mile from the busy Nuku’alofa town wharf.

Pangiamotu Island, home of Big Mama’s Yacht Club

Bella Star and My Muse at anchor

Anchor-down beer at Big Mama’s

And a cheeseburger in paradise


Close to a dozen wrecks from past cyclones litter the bay. Which is exactly why we we’re getting out of town!

The bar at Big Mama’s serves up cold beers …

Cruiser Beer – brewed here in Nuku’alofa for the cruisers, not made of the cruisers

I think I want a dart set for Christmas. Graham from My Muse and I went 1 for 1. Rematch!

The bustling capital city of Nuku’alofa sprawls along the waterfront and although it’s a bit dusty around the edges, it’s charming in its own way. The people are super friendly, and the kids love to smile and wave at the foreigners saying, “Hi, palangi!” even though they sometimes say “bye” when they mean “hi.” It’s hard not to like it here.

First floor at the Talamahu market – the largest market we’ve seen since Mexico

It’s watermelon season!

Taro. Lots and lots of taro. (Each of these baskets is woven from one palm frond – cool.)



The day’s fresh produce haul < $10US

One of the fun things about browsing around produce markets is finding new foods to try. When I spotted fresh peanuts, I knew I had to buy them. So novel! At least for me. Well, I can tell you with certainty that people roast peanuts for a reason. Fresh from the vine, they taste exactly the way wet dirt smells – which I like very much as a scent but certainly not as a flavor.

So I roasted them.

Fresh peanuts, just snipped from the vine


Roasted, salted peanuts (still warm from the oven)

Betcha can’t eat just one.

Along the main road leading into town, a wood carver named Wes has a small studio. He carves beautiful sculptures of humpback whales, elaborate fish hooks and traditional war clubs. Most of his work comes from custom projects, and once we met him, we knew we wanted him to carve something for us. Aaron kicked around the idea of a whale or an octopus, but no, that wasn’t quite right. Then it came to him … a pig! He’d have Wes carve the ubiquitous Tongan momma pig.

Aaron poses with the artist and his carved momma pig

It’s perfect! The “lifelike quality” of certain body parts was the source of much giggling. Boys.

Boats are starting to pile up here in Nuku’alofa like cordwood while they wait for an acceptable weather window to head to New Zealand. That’s great, though, because it means lots of fun people to hang out with (like our buddies Kyra and Rick on s/v Nyon). While poking around town with them the other day, we came across the best bar in Tonga. Well, probably.

PA230605Truth in advertising?

Friends on Dream Time organized a trip out to ‘Oholei Beach and Hina Cave for a dinner feast and cultural show … in a cave! Sure it was a bit touristy, but we all had a fantastic time. The Tongan buffet was delicious (I may have had thirds of the ‘oto ika raw fish), and after dinner, we moved into a neighboring cave for the show. With sand under our feet and torches illuminating the limestone walls, we were treated to a performance featuring traditional music, dance and a pretty sweet fire show.

PA240620Kyra and I were super jazzed to eat in a cave.

PA240624Hands up! I’m not sure why exactly Rick and I were doing that.

Fun cave night with the crews of
Dream Time, Nyon and Tohora (and two lovely, sunburned Kiwis)




The 1,100-mile passage to New Zealand isn’t something to take lightly, so while we’ve been having fun, we’ve also been ticking items off the pre-departure check list. One of the things on that list was to go up the mast for an inspection (and going aloft is always a great reason to take some cool pictures).

PA250691Good news! The Lego guys are still in position defending us from lightning.

We were lucky enough to find dock space in the harbor (it’s all who you know)


Nuku’alofa Harbour, with boats med-moored to the breakwater on the right

Don’t get me wrong. Although I’m complaining about the upcoming cold weather and leaving the flip-flop zone of the South Pacific, it’s not all bad. In fact, we’re sailing into summer in New Zealand! I’m super excited to travel the country, meet the people, go wine tasting, visit farmers markets and settle down for a bit. Before we sail off though, we wanted to toast the Kingdom of Tonga and say thanks for two fantastic months. ‘Ofa atu! With love to you.


  1. Have a safe voyage!! I hope it is not too cold for you. You could always come home as we are just going into winter.

  2. Safe journey! Looking forward to hearing about your adventures to and in New Zealand!

  3. Wonderful pictures (as usual) but specially of the fire eaters.

    Safe passage to New Zealand. I'm sending you some points for the Black Box.


    John V.

  4. Beautiful photos, as always, and your smiles in each picture send a little of that tropic goodness through the screen to the room those images are being viewed in. Safe passage making to you, and looking forward to updates as you send them!

  5. I'm a little sad that you're leaving the flip-flop weather, but at least you're sailing into NZ summer! That's fun. Have a good passage, and I look forward to hearing about all your hikes, adventures (and wine tasting) in NZ (I've always wanted to visit).

    And, I love the shots from the mast.

  6. Hi you two,,,, we'll follow you anywhere (via blog :-) Congratulations on your successes and adventures so far.. and bon voyage on your next leg. Thanks for keeping us all in your loop. CJ and Kathy

  7. Pictures you have here specially Pangiamotu Island, home of Big Mama’s Yacht Club, And a cheeseburger in paradise, Close to a dozen wrecks from past cyclones litter the bay. Which is exactly why we we’re getting out of town are awesome.

  8. Pictures you have here specially Pangiamotu Island, home of Big Mama’s Yacht Club, And a cheeseburger in paradise, Close to a dozen wrecks from past cyclones litter the bay. Which is exactly why we we’re getting out of town are awesome.


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