Posted by: catamarantwooceans | August 10, 2010

Niuatoputapu – Tonga

3.8.10 – Tuesday – We left Asau at 0830 and motored along the coast; No wind! Near the north western tip of the island we were treated to a brief dolphin appearance and then some humpback whales, perhaps a mother and her calf. As the day progressed the wind came as forecasted, less than 15 knots, mainly 10 – 12. Nothing much happened during the night, the only excitement being a vessel with strong white light during Meir’s watch.

4.8.10 – Wednesday – Or is it? We are approaching Tonga, and this country – although phisically east of the international dateline – is one day ahead. So we change our watches and log to show:

5.8.10 – Thursday – Light winds before sunrise but we are in no rush. A reef and shoal on the electronic chart worry me some, so it’s better to pass them with good light. When that comes around a conical shape looms ahead. A new island sprang out of the shoal? No… It’s just Tafahi, adjacent to Niuatoputapu visible at 20 miles plus.


From the distance I can see four yachts inside. Didn’t expect so many. Approaching the entrance I feel a little tense. It is very narrow and one can never  be sure whether the  markers shown on the chart will be there at all. Getting close we see two large poles clearly marking the channel and further on some more signs to follow. It’s almost 2 pm and the sun is high, making it possible to read the bottom.  Once we are clear of all obstacles we head towards the area where all the yachts are (herd mentality) and drop anchor near “Carpe Vita”. Mike and Mary are off the boat but we will surely meet them later.

We dinghy to one of the yachts, “Compass Rose”, to ask about the local entry procedures. They say that since another yacht arrived before us the authorities were notified and will probably show up on the wharf in a white van.  It doen’t take long for them to appear and I rush with the dinghy to bring them aboard. Three ladies: Health department, Immigration and Quarantine and a young guy representing Customs. Forms are filled, passports stamped, payments deffered for tommorow to give us a chance to go to the bank and change to the local Paanga.

Right after I take them ashore, Mary and Mike show up and are invited on board. They are already a week here and got to know some local people. There is a couple – Sia and Niko – who befriend cruisers and organize “Pot-lucks” in their home. They also have a small shop and can get fruit and veg. We’ll go there the next day. It is from Mike and Mary that we learn for the first time about Niuatoputapu being hit hard by the Tsunami of September 2009. More about that tomorrow.

6.8.10 – Friday – We started the day with a dose of maintenance. The Racor fuel prefilter on the port engine is leaking awfully. We find out that an area of the filter element casing has corroded and probably a tiny hole hides in there. I do not have a spare on board and the reason is that when I did have them they got rusty in their original plastic wrappers.  We cover the infected area with epoxy hoping it will seal it and stop the leak. We’ll see tomorrow.

Then it is time to go to the villages (there are three of them) to change money, pay our dues and look around. M&M are also on their way ashore so they take us to meet Sia and Niko. Sia is all smiles and is very welcoming. Niko looks a bit under the weather for some reason.



We are advised that another Pot luck is planned for tonight.” Come at 5 pm, bring some food and your own drinks” We’ll bring the fish we caught. I ask Niko:”Is there anything else I can bring you?” Fishing gear is what he wants the most and especially a trolling lure. I promise to bring some and we go on our way.

Now that we know about the Tsunami damage we can understand what we see around us. Many houses are in disrepair and some families still live in tents. We hitch a ride in a truck which drops us at the village where all the government offices and the bank are located. We change money, 2 Pa’anga for the U.S Dollar, pay the entry fees – 100 P. for Health, 25 for Quarantine and 3.45 for Customs. The Health lady offers me a small booklet about the Tsunami. “How much is it?” “22 Pa’anga” “Who gets the money? The village?” “No, the lady who wrote it”. Although outrageously expensive I buy it. Back on the boat we both read the firsthand account of some of the island’s people.

Here is a short summary of it: At 7 am an earth-quake was felt. The people here are accustomed to tremors but this was different because of its long duration – 10 minutes. About ten minutes later the water receded in the lagoon followed by a series of three incoming waves. The first was small one, the second at least 6 feet (some fishermen thought it was 15 feet) and the third about 30 feet high. This wave slammed 900 meters in land at some locations, sweeping and ruining everything in its way. 9 lives were lost and several people were injured. The island lost all its communication with the outside world and it was lucky that a Yachtie with a satellite phone was able to alert the Tongan government. They had to clear debris from the airport’s runway to enable planes to land and evacuate the wounded, necessary because the only medic on the island was (and still is) a practical nurse.

This happened almost a year ago. There are 895 people living on the island and the number is going down because people are leaving for the bigger islands. They have no electricity unless they have their own generators. Sia and Niko have a V.H.F radio connected to their car battery. A supply ship is supposed to come every month but sometimes skips a visit. Today we saw it come in, creating a festival atmosphere around the wharf.

supply ship

While some work is being done on the island’s main road I could see no real effort by the central government to better the life of the inhabitants I really hope I’m wrong here!

I heard another version: the government will help only those who will relocate to higher ground. One might say this is justified by fear of another Tsunami on the other hand this is not a frequent event. Look at what happened in Thailand. They did not relocate the people of Phuket and Koh Pi Pi!

At 5 pm we come to Sia and Niko’s place and meet other Yachties. Scot (who used to be an airline pilot in Canada) and Stephanie with their kids, Cory and Maya, 4 and 2 years old respectively.

Cory asks one of the ladies present: ”How old are you?” She says a number. “But how old do you feel?” says the toddler. Helmut and Kerstie, from a German ketch, are on their third visit to the island. They are in this region for the last 10 years, summers in New Zealand and winters in Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu.

Food is is served. Breadfruit, Yam, some fowl that Niko hunted in the hills, “our” fish has been turned into Ota (Oka in Samoa) – raw in coconut milk and onion. Mary baked papaya with some delicious topping. It was fun!

pot luck kitchen

We left a bit early and found out that we missed the musical part: Mary plays the violin accompanied by Mike on a guitar.

7.8.10 – Saturday – First thing in the morning we checked the filter – not leaking! We wanted to go up the hill, 450 feet high, to have a bird eye’s view and stretch our legs. It is recommended that you take a guide for the hike and so we marched into the middle village, where the trail up begins, to look for one. At first glance the village seemed deserted but we spotted a column of smoke rising from one of the yards and went there. A boy in his teens was turning a suckling pig over an open fire and a man in a red shirt was doing some job in the yard.


We presented our need and the man, who turned out to be a local policeman, summoned one of his kids and gave him the job. He also asked me whether I could give him some “Likah” – Liquor. “After a day of hard work I like to have some Rum or Vodka” he said. I promised to arrange something for him.

O’lui is, who is 15 years of age and has unlimited energy, was very happy to leave whatever he did at home and do the hike.


We had to remind him time and again to slow down and take a few stops to allow our legs, hearts and lungs to rest a bit. To us the hill felt more like a mountain, but the trail through the jungle was nice and the view from the top breathtaking.

view from the top

We wanted to descend to the third village where, so we were told, a fountain makes a pool one can swim in. O’lui, in his flip-flops, hurried down the trail, which came to a spot where you had to go down a rock utilizing a tree branch you could only reach by throwing your weight forward and catching it with your hands. Now Meir has a difficulty here, having lost an eye in an accident as a young man. With one eye it is almost impossible to judge distance and here we were required to be Tarzans, jumping from rock to tree! Slowly and carefully we made the two rocky steps.

Going down

“Are there anymore of those or is there a regular trail down?” O’lui took his time answering. After a while he said: ”There is one more place”. He now came to vertical rocky wall and like Spiderman started moving sideways along it, grabbing cracks in the wall with his fingers and standing on small protrusion.  I was looking down at what seemed to be a potential fall of at least 20 meters and the responsible adult in me woke up. “O’lui, stop, come back! We are not going to do this. Is there any other trail into the third village?” O’lui said there was none and so we retracted our steps, climbed the two rocky walls we found so difficult to descend ( climbing is easier than descending) and made our way back to the middle village

When we came to the road to the third village we told the lad he could go back home but he preferred walking on with us. We went on to see the pool and took a refreshing swim. 

Meir in pool

We then stopped at the local shop, which I believe is the only one on the island. Here there was big action since the supply ship brought a lot of stuff for it. A line of men and boys formed a human chain and passed boxes into the store room. The shop itself had a big variety in it, we could even get eggs.

A van was idling near the shop with a man at the wheel. “Are you going to the wharf, by any chance?” “Yes, I can take you there”. The driver was the catholic priest  of three churches, two in Niuatoputapu and one in neighboring Tafahi. He was working hard one Sundays! O’lui, who was paid 20 paanga for his efforts,  elected to continue with us. He was clearly NOT hurrying home! I sent a message to his dad to come to Sia and Niko’s a 1500 for his booze but he never showed up.

We brought Niko a gallon of diesel fuel that leaked from the port engine which he had use for and asked Sia for some bananas and a breadfruit. She surprised me by asking:” Do you have enough gasoline?” I thought she was offering to sell us some and declined saying we had enough. “Could you give us some?” Although we had no more than 10 liters on board, I decided to give them half. We could buy more in Vava’u. Sia took the opportunity to send three boys (hers? Her family’s?) to visit our catamaran. They were happy and when I took them back to the wharf they did not forget to thank me for the gasoline.

Dinner : Prawns in curry and coconut milk.


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