Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Mt Talau

Sure is nice not to be rolling! This harbour is so deep and sheltered that even though the breeze finds its way through it, there is no swell. So after a great night sleep, we were out exploring the town of Neiafu. A kingdom of 170 islands, of which 134 are inhabited, and 101,000 people, Tonga has been independent since the mid 70s. The combination of high volcanic and low coral forms gives them a geology all of their own. But this is a very unstable area of the Pacific. There are volcanic
islands below the surface of the sea that still erupt regularly and islands that magically rise and sink periodically. Makes for interesting navigation! There are three groups of islands, the Vava'u group that we landed in, the Ha'apai group which is mostly reefs and coral atolls in the center and further south, the capital of Nuku'alofa is in the Tongatapu group. It is apparent that the best cruising and anchorages is in the Vava'u group. We managed to talk the Moorings charter base into selling
us a copy of the guide they provide to their customers, listing all the special places to explore. Places like the Swallows Cave where you can take the dinghy in to find a large cavern full of swallows. And Barnacle Beach where the traditional Tonga feast is held, complete with Kava ceremony. And then for the more adventuresome, there is Mariners Cave which has some challenges! There is no anchorage near it so someone has to drop you off or keep the engine running while you go over the side and
dive down, find the opening , then proceed to swim about 20 feet underwater, always looking up for the opening, to emerge in what sounds like a magical cavern! We'll see whether we get to attempt that one! And of course, coral gardens and pristine beaches etc etc....I know, sounds pretty boring but hey, it's a hard life out here!
Meanwhile back to town, the new King was coronated recently and arrives in Vava'u this weekend for various ceremonies. So lots of cleaning and painting going on and the brass band seems to be practising around the clock! The people really are genuinely welcoming and it's not hard to see why they have been called the 'friendly islands'. Added to this is a layer of relatively new commerce, mostly New Zealanders, Aussies, and some Americans, and one Austrian baker, most of which is welcome to cruisers
but I suspect it has driven the economy up. For instance, bars and restaurants have prices not that different from back home which is incongruent here! If you go to the local market, you can find produce and crafts very reasonably priced and today we found where the fishermen sell their catch and bought a nice red snapper for 7 Pa'anga which is about $4Cdn.
So needing exercise, today we did a short hike up Mt Talau. It was only about 2km out of town but a most scenic walk through parts of the village where the Tongan people live. Wild pigs and chickens ran around everywhere, then a fairly steep trail on mostly coral with ropes in places to pull yourself up to several paths radiating from the top of the hill to give views in all directions of the islands. There were banded Iguanas and geckos as well as various birds but we only heard them and could
not spot them. It was a good hike and we got some lazy muscles working again.
#1 son arrives Saturday with our mail which will also be welcome!

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