24/06/2014 – A delightful few days in the islands

Last Wednesday we tore ourselves away from wi-fi, cafes and shops of Neiafu and headed off to an anchorage not far away, in search of a suitable reef to snorkel. The water is rather cold here; visiting fishermen are blaming an upwelling of cold water from the depths of the Tonga Trench which runs through the islands in a roughly north/south direction for a very long way south. O.K., it's probably not cold by UK standards, or even most of Europe, but it is colder than we are used to and wetsuits are the order of the day! We saw some rather nice corals and a lot of fish so it was worth the effort of squeezing into my wetsuit, one size too small. Caduceus had followed us in to the bay and we enjoyed sundowners on board their boat. On Thursday we both made our way to Hunga, an island on the western edge of the Vava'u group of islands. There is one narrow, fairly shallow pass in to a large area enclosed by Hunga, Fofoa and a smaller island which are loosely joined together by reefs. The pass has a least depth of 2 metres so we approached near high tide, the least we saw was 1.4 m under the keel. It is also narrow, between a rock and a hard place quite literally. The rock is 2 m diameter rising 3 m and the end of the island to the south is less than 35 m away, it actually looks a lot less. Once through the pass the depth increases tremendously, making anchoring rather a challenge. The problem is to drop the anchor in a suitable depth, lay out lots of chain and hope that the boat won't swing on to the reef when the wind changes direction. Like the Lape island anchorage, we chose this anchorage to hide from the wind which was predicted to back around the compass from east through north and west in the next few days. During the afternoon Caduceus had a visit from someone from the village who paddled out in an outrigger canoe based on a hollowed out tree trunk. This gentleman (Va'acu?) invited us to a dance in the village that evening. It was raising funds for the school, we think to pay for transport for the children to the high schools in Neiafu where there is some form of weekly boarding. As various people danced the audience, sitting on mats around the hall, slipped notes into their necklines! Mostly people were giving 1 or 2 Pa'angas at a time, approximately 35p or 70p. It was suggested that we might like to make a donation so we did, rather more than the going rate. These people have very little compared with us and live mainly as subsistence farmers. On Friday morning Va'acu took us to see his two plantations. The first one was 4 acres of assorted crops: Taro, Cassava, Tapioca, Bananas, all mixed up together and all hand dug. The second one was 4 acres of vanilla which he sells to a local processing company. He explained that the flowers have to be hand pollinated and he employs women and children from the village who, together with his family, will work for a month. One person can pollinate 1200 flowers per day. This man is clearly one of the leaders of the village. His family donated the money to build the concrete road which runs up from the jetty to the village, it is a steep climb and he explained that it is very difficult in the rainy season, I'd imagine it would be almost impossible without the road. He also has a number of pearl oysters at a secret locations and he cultures pearls and makes necklaces, bracelets and earrings. I now own a string of pearls and a pair of earrings featuring coloured pearls, quite reasonably priced. Our final meeting with Va'acu was to exchange a couple of tee shirts and some powdered milk for a bag of passion fruit. He really wanted mens shorts, if possible, but we have none to spare. We moved to the southern end of the anchorage on Saturday and met up with Chez Nous who had been unable to anchor near the village with us the previous afternoon. We took the dinghies over the reef in to the Blue Lagoon at high water but it was rather rough because the Blue Lagoon is open to the easterly winds so we quickly returned to the boats. We enjoyed a sociable pot luck supper on board Caduceus. On Sunday John borrowed Jonathan's long air hose and scrubbed off most of our hull, finishing the job on Monday morning before we left Hunga to return to Neiafu. Leaving Hunga at half tide (rising) was a little nerve wracking but we could accurately follow our track in on the plotter. Least depth 0.6 m below the keel but we were fine. Joyce. The random order of these posts is because we have the originals on two or three different machines and the website decided to accept posts from John's computer but not mine!

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