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Sunday, October 18, 2015

Tonga's Hunga Lagoon: Snokeling Discoveries & Misadventures


Coral?  Sea anemone? Not quite sure what this was along
Hunga Lagoon’s shallow underwater shore, but found
its delicate waving lacy tendrils beautiful.
Hunga Lagoon is one of the mellowest kayaking spots I’ve been.  It struck me as the perfect place to get more comfortable with my new-to-me kayak.  Plus, I could scope out the snorkeling and other exploration-worthy areas.

















Snake-line sea slugs blended perfectly with Hunga Lagoon’s
sea grass, which they grazed upon.
A few hours off high tide, my kayak was unable to safely navigate into adjacent Blue Lagoon, despite its very shallow draft.  Instead, I cruised the shallow shoreline, where I didn’t see too much capturing my attention.  Visibility in much of the lagoon was not that great.  Not sure if it was due to a silty sand bottom, or plankton.







It’s unusual to see this type of conch-like creature with its opening 
acing up.  I assumed since protective operculum lid was pulled closed,
it was still alive and well.  This one was near our boat in Hunga Lagoon,
in Tonga’s Vava’u group of islands.
I crossed to the opposite side of the lagoon, all the way to Hunga village’s dock.  There were some interesting bommies (coral heads) worth revisiting.  In between the lagoon are some small islands.  I gasped at what appeared to be scores of snakes, apparently resting in the shallows around one of the islands.  Further investigation revealed there were especially long, slender nudiabranchs (sea slugs).  No wonder they were so slug-ish!   Sea grass is prime pastureland for sea slugs. 

In the same area, I also saw some sizeable conch-like mollusks.  Fortunately for the mollusks, we’d recently purchased our fill from the Neiafu produce market (click here to learn about shellfish preparation) and decided it was best to spare those in Hunga Lagoon for locals and reproduction.  Besides, Wayne, the designated conch-cleaner, hates that task.

This is more the position I expect to see these conch-like shells in. 
This one was near Armagh in Hunga Lagoon.


Hunga Lagoon’s false pass as seen from the inside.  Reputedly,
it’s a good snorkel spot, but on this day we deemed
it too rough to snorkel there.
One of the best bommies in Hunga Lagoon is not too many feet off Hunga Haven’s mooring ball – where our friends Patty and Steve of Armagh tied off. The bommie’s about 10 feet tall and wider than that, naturally well sculpted, and populated with a nice array of colorful fish and Tonga’s bright cobalt blue slender sea stars and paisley-patterned plump dusty rose starfish.






The dinghy ride to Hunga Lagoon’s false pass gave us a better view
of Hunga village’s steep road to its town dock.

Good snorkeling bommie near Hunga Haven’s mooring ball,
Hunga Lagoon, Tonga's Vava'u island group.
Of course, Patty and I peacefully explored the bommie in “her backyard” together after getting hammered by wind waves when we’d hoped to snorkel in Blue Lagoon and then again approaching Hunga Lagoon’s false pass.  It took some true determination to get into the water after our bumpy, wind-chilled ride.


Patty pointed out this pink paisley starfish near her boat
in Hunga Lagoon.


Until snorkeling in Tonga, I’d never seen starfish in this color.












No idea what this is, but came across several in Hunga Lagoon.
Know any budding marine biologists willing to enlighten me?



Wayne, in the scenic section outside Hunga Lagoon,
patiently waiting for me to finish snorkeling there.
Surprisingly, the waters outside Hunga Lagoon’s entrance were much clearer than inside the lagoon.
Outside Hunga Lagoon’s outside pass is a veritable rock sculpture garden, sprouting huge mushroom rocks, underwater towers framed by diagonal rays of sunlight, undulating rock and coral and intriguing chasms though not that many fish or much coral.

The highlight? 

Seeing a spotted eagle ray dart into the lagoon, albeit too quick to get a decent photo (click here to see a spotted eagle ray).  Eagle rays are one of my favorite marine animals. I hadn’t seen one since cruising the Bahamas last year.


Rumor has it, Tonga’s Ha’apai Group of islands, next on our cruising circuit,  boasts Tuamotus-like snorkeling.  We’re hoping that’s true, as the Tuamotus was by far the most diverse sea life we’ve seen this cruising season.  Due to high winds and schedule pressure, we did woefully little snorkeling there.  Will we also have time and calm, sunny conditions to explore underwater before heading off to New Zealand?  Dunno….


The neon green colors in this creature were intense.  I’m assuming it’s
some type of coral.   This was outside Hunga Lagoon’s entrance.
Location Location
This post was finalized and posted in Neiafu, TONGA (S18.39.443 W173.58.965) and was inspired at our recent stay in Hunga Lagoon  (S18.42.066 W174.07.551),Tonga’s Vava’u island group, where we’re currently cruising.  By the time this posts, we're hoping weather permits passage to Tonga's Ha'apai group of islands, then outside Nuku'alofa before making way to Minerva Reef then New Zealand.

Cruising Progress by the Numbers
As of our start, December 7th 2014, from Jacksonville FL NAS, USA until our current (October 15, 2015) travels around the Neiafu, Tonga are -- 10 months, we’ve spent about a third of our time --125 days -- sailing and covered ~8,750 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.