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Friday, September 18, 2015

Niuatoputapu, TONGA: “Very Sacred Coconut” Whirlwind Island Tour

Niuatoputapu TONGA dock dinghy mass;
a sure sign of a cruiser invasion.
    
Shortly after we dropped anchor following our all-night passage to Niuatoputapu (pronounced new-ya toe-poo tah-poo or, more linguistically challenged cruisers refer to it as “New Potato”), Kingdom of Tonga, Sebastian and the rest of the Axiom crew dinghied over.  We first met the Axiom crew in Suwarrow, and then again in American Samoa.








Niuatoputapu TONGA tour:  How many cruisers can you fit
into a pickup truck?  At least twelve.  Sia, Customs agent and
tour guide, at right.


“You want to join us for an island tour?” he asked.  “It’s about to take off with the rest of us cruisers [there were six boats in the anchorage besides ours]; $10 pa’anga* per person.  The Customs agent is giving the tour.”

*Pa’anga is a Tongan dollar or TOP. Current exchange rate at this writing is roughly 2:1, close to $2 pa’anga for every $1 USA.










Shore across from Hunganga island, site of
a former Niuatoputapu, TONGA resort.
Realizing we might not get another chance and if the Customs agent was giving the tour, we were unable to check into Tonga but unlikely to get in trouble to coming ashore if we were tagging along with the Customs agent.  We were tired, but we could always sleep later.















The tour took in the
  • island’s three small villages
  • primary cemetery, where the graves pay tribute to the nine islanders lost to the 2009 tsunami
  • scenic point between Nuiatopotapu and the island Hunganga
  • King’s island palace
  • island’s main store (where Sebastian and two other cruisers bought black caps embroidered in white with a pirate skull and crossbones)
  • lovely freshwater spring
  • plantation visit where bananas, sweet potatoes, taro, coconut, and spinach-like pele leaf were available for anyone interested
  • the airport
  • beautiful white beach on the Northwest side of the island

Rather humble palace for the King of Tonga, on Niuatoputapu,
for his rare visits there.  Many homes were fenced,
though few were topped with barbed wire.
At the tour’s conclusion, Sia let us know “Tomorrow’s church services are at 8 am and 10 am if you’d like to come.  After that, you’re also welcome to join us for uma [a traditional Polynesian smoke-pit cooked meal], $10 per person [not sure if that was $10 pa’anga or USD].”

We appreciated the invite though were non-committal.  As much as we enjoyed the camaraderie and the island tour, we were ready for a Sunday of sleep and intimacy, both of which passage making mucks with.


Rick and Laura of SeaKey delighted the local kids
with balloons and candy.
    
We’ve read rave reviews from cruisers who’ve attended Niuatoputapu church services and umas.   As well, we hear the locals love it when cruisers bring desserts like chocolates, brownies or cake, about the only way those on Niuatoputapu can enjoy them. 

We noticed the cruisers who went when we were there left for the 10 am service and didn’t return until near dark.

We felt we made the correct choice for our energy level at the time. We slipped over to the lagoon’s motu; confident with everyone else in church leisure lunch gathering otherwise, we’d have it to ourselves for a few hours.  We did, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

We regret not hearing the legendary singing of the church service and the friendly umu afterward.  We also recognize we can’t be two places at once, and that Sunday, we needed our own kind of R&R.

Niuatoputapu Tongas picture pretty Northwest shoreline.
Lots of sharp coral underfoot; not a good barefoot beach,
but great for shell hunters.
Location Location
We are currently in Neiafu, Kingdom of TONGA (S18.39.842 W173.58.915).  This was written at our first Tonga island stop, Niuatoputapu (meaning 'Very Sacred Coconut') (S15.56.395 W173.46.125).  Anchor to anchor, we sailed a little over 200 miles, a 2-day 24/7 sail to get to Niuatoputapu from Pago Pago, American Samoa, then another 2-day, 24/7 177 mile sail from Niuatoputapu to Neafu Tonga.

Communication Access
While there was cell phone coverage, there was no wifi in Niuatoputapu, so posts were written awaiting arrival and wifi access in Neiafu, the Vava’u islands of Tonga, 177 nm from Niuatoputapu.

Our wifi access in Tonga will vary.  It’s very expensive and slow, so most likely posts will be set up when we’re in Tonga’s more populated areas.  Once we get to New Zealand in November,

Cruising Progress by the Numbers

As of our start, December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA until our arrival on Sept 16, 2015 in Neiafu, Tonga -- ~9 months, we’ve spent about a third of our time --118 days -- sailing and covered 8,711 nautical miles.  The prior 2 years combined, we sailed 3762 miles.  By the time we arrive in New Zealand in November, less than a year from when we set out, we expect we’ll sail over 10,000 miles this year.  That’s a lot of miles for a boat with a hull speed of 7 knots; we usually sail far slower than that.