6th and last Report for  2005:        

Tonga  to New Zealand

(October 13 - December 12)







Shortly after dropping off Markus in Neiafu and waving good by as the taxi drove off to the little airport, we also weighed anchor for a last day of sailing through the Vava'u Group. We, that was now four of us, as Jo and Noel had joined us to spend the next two weeks on board of Taniwani, while Endelig was entertaining visiting friends from Australia.





For our last day in Vava'u we had a plan: First we wanted to stop at Swallows Cave one more time, so that Beate could see it and enjoy snorkeling in the cave and along the chasm. Jo and Noel went along, while Harald let Taniwani drift outside the cave. This also allowed for a real nice photo of Taniwani, looking out from the cave.




Our next planned stop was at Mariners Cave, which has an underwater entry and cannot be seen from the boat. We had looked for it before, but now had exact coordinates that allowed us to finally locate it. This time Beate was guarding Taniwani, while the rest dove into the cave. The cave has two entrances one at 6m depth the other at about 12m. Taking the upper entrance it is a short dive and once inside the light flooding in looks fantastic.


Our final stop for the last night in Vava'u was to be suitable for an early morning start down to the next group. We chose the already well known #32 (Euakafa Island) as it is already in the right direction and we thought we would have a clear channel out of the mace of little islands and reefs. At least on all charts it looked ok, and while the charts were all off position by a third of a mile, once corrected for that, we had not found any problems sailing the group extensively for over a month.




With Endelig's nice crew on board, life on Taniwani was more comfortable than ever. Jo and Noel cooked excellent dinners, helped to run the ship and were nice and entertaining company. No wonder Henry wanted them back badly for the trip to New Zealand.


Together with Endelig we left the anchorage at first light, and after half an hour the sun was up and we were sailing nicely, close reaching under full Genoa and main. We had sailed about four miles when somebody noted that the sounder showed 30m where it was supposed to be 100m. The depth kept dropping and we furled our sails away as quick as we could, then moved on slowly under engine. We held our breath as depth went down to 7m - luckily that was it and after a mile we were in deep water again, set sails again and moved on towards the first good anchorage in the Ha'apai Group - some 60 miles away. We cross checked our position and found all the visible reefs and motus on the radar to be exactly where they should be. There is a 7m shoal on the chart about half a mile away, so that one may have been charted wrong or we just found a new one.





Tonga is a really narrow and lengthy archipelago stretching along the western rim of the 10,000m deep Tonga Trench for a length of about 330 miles. It's all volcanic and still changing. The northernmost group is really just two small islands called Niuatoputapu, and it is closer to Samoa than to Vava'u, the next Tonga island group to the south. Therefore only the boats that come from Samoa, typically visit it and we have heard it is a nice stop on the way.


So usually people speak of the Ha'apai Group as the middle group. It is stretched out over some 60 miles and consists of many islands and reefs. Unlike the Vava'u Group there are no real all weather anchorages and one might have to move depending on the wind. The weather is by no means as stable as say in the Caribbean and while a south easterly trade is the most frequent, it can change quickly as tropical depressions build up out of nowhere in the South Pacific Convergence Zone, and these are hard if not impossible to forecast.







Our passage from Vava'u to Ha'apai was swift, but with the quite typical south easterly wind, we had to sail relatively close hauled for a good part of the trip. All the many weeks in Vava'u we didn't catch any fish, but now speeding south, luck was with us again and soon we had a nice 6kg Dorada for dinner. Already before 2 pm we dropped the hook at the anchorage of Ha'ano where it took us two tries to find decent holding.


With our nice catch, it was off course Taniwani to invite for dinner but with the small difference that we didn't have to do anything to make it happen, now that we were enjoying the decadent life style of sailing with crew.


Our plan was to stay for the next day, and besides checking out the island, do two scuba diving trips in the vicinity. Now with our compressor working again and with Noels dive equipment in addition, we were able to go three at a time and the idea was for Noel to go twice, first with Jo and Harald and then with Kiki and Henry.




But it didn't work that way. Just twenty minutes into the first dive, Noel, looking for lobsters in various holes was stung in the finger by a lionfish. We had to abort the dive and return to the ship to read up on the dangers and treatment for this poisonous fish and also do the generally suggested initial heat treatment.


Luckily in the group of scorpion fish, the lionfish ranked at the less lethal end of the scale. Still, we all felt more happy if Noel could see a doctor soon. The nearest would be on the next island in Pangai, the main town of the Ha'apai group, some 9 miles around the reefs or maybe seven by dinghy through shallower water. We decided that Tiniwi, our dinghy would be the fastest solution, with an estimated 30 minutes versus one and a half hours by 'big' boat.


Henry volunteered to be captain Blight and take Tiniwi to Pangai while we would call ahead on the radio to any yachts in Pangai to help get to a doctor quickly. Henry and Noel took off with a print-out chart, a GPS and a handheld compass. The later turned out not to work at all in this southern latitudes. But as an experienced navigator, Henry made it with no trouble and our call was answered immediately by the yacht Iolea, sailed by a nice American cruising couple and at the time anchored in the bay of Pangai. By the time Tiniwi arrived, a Taxi was ready and rushed Noel to the doctor. In the end, there was not much for the doctor to do other than check that Noel had gotten over the worst just fine and to make sure no secondary infection would develop.



We followed with the 'big' boats shortly and this way ended up in Pangai a day earlier than planned.  In Pangai we found many friendly people and kids in their school uniforms who wanted to talk to us and collect a little bit of money for their pending class journey.


In Tonga visiting yachts have to clear in and out with the officials when entering or leaving one of the island groups and the best place to do this in Ha'pai is Pangai. 


The problem is that if you want to leave from the islands in the south, there is no clearing place in the vicinity and you'd have to go back again before you go on. 




But we have heard that the officials in Pangai are quite tolerant and one can usually clear out a few days ahead and then visit the southern Ha'apai places before taking off to Tongatapu.


For that reason we had planned to check in after the weekend, so that we could also check out at the same time with just a few more days in this group. But now that we were early in Pangai, we had no excuse to delay the check-in and so we went to see the very friendly officials. We found them even more tolerant than expected as they checked us out at the same time, allowing us to spend a good week in the group.


During the night at Pangai, the weather changed with a tropical trough developing northeast of Tonga. The wind backed from southeast to northwest and in the morning the rain started poring down. But it wasn't forever and so we moved on to the next island of Uoleva, just 6 miles south.


Our diving sessions went on but the potential divers got fewer and fewer. First Kiki pressed the wrong button and shot to the surface way too fast, dragging Henry along who was clinching onto her legs trying to keep her down. Not a good thing to do, but luckily the depth wasn't so great when it happened. Next Noel developed pain in his ear so that he couldn't come along any more and only Jo and Harald were left to explore the really very pretty underwater world.






Despite very little wind we went on the next day since we wanted to see more places in Ha'pai and promised not to arrive in Nuku Alofa later than Sunday evening. This time we sailed westward across the group of islands to a place called Ha'afeva.





As we were approaching the western island chain and the water started to shoal we suddenly had a big Barracuda on the hook. A mean looking but good tasting fish, yet we were nervous as Barracuda is the one fish most prone to carry the Ciguatera disease. While apparently very uncommon in Tonga we still felt better in giving the fish away and so shortly after dropping the hook, Jo and Noel made for the little village to bring them the fish. These folks off course were happy with it and couldn't understand why we'd give it away.


But this way Jo and Noel had a warm welcome and an opportunity to look around the village.


The anchorage was nice and we just had a short dinghy ride across to the reef to have some very nice snorkeling in and over an old shipwreck.


Nevertheless we moved on through the mace of reefs and little islands to Ou'a, a bit further south. The charts do not show a possibility to anchor there, but the guide books have sketches of an anchorage south of Ou'a that is completely enclosed by reefs, with a very small and winding but marked entry channel from the south.



We found it with no problem, but the anchorage was strange: It felt like anchoring in the middle of the ocean, the small island quite a bit away to the north, covering maybe 30 degrees of the arc around us. The rest is reef that is barely showing at low tide. Yet, it is probably the only anchorage in this group that is reasonably protected from all wind directions.


The next front was passing through and the chop was rough enough that the folks from Endelig had to put on full foul weather gear to come over for a drink. Well, we had to stay put there for another day before we could move on to Nomuka Iki.


Now again the weather was fine for a day and we had a nice spinnaker sail down to Nomuka Iki.


The place was nice and the diving superb. Later in the afternoon hiking along the beach we observed a fishing boat in the shallow water and it took us a while to understand that they were trying to get our attention.



When we got closer it became clear that they wanted us to tow them over to the other island since their outboard engine had failed. So Harald left Beate and Jo exploring the beach and towed the fishing boat over the passage. Once there and after receiving a nice fish for the tow, Harald asked what's wrong with their engine, but they just shrugged their shoulders. "Should I have a look?" - "Yes why not!" 



The well worn engine with an ignition that was many times patched and corroded was fixed quickly and so they asked if Harald could also look at another one of their engines. "Tomorrow, I have to pick up the girls from the beach!"


The next day was a rainy day again, but around 10 it cleared up enough to drive to the village and look at the second engine. All of us came along and the girls had some time to stroll around the village and look at the colorful graves, while Harald and Noel tried their luck on the next outboard engine. This one was brand new, unfortunately with a bad ignition coil. So, sadly we could not help other than to explain what to get and how to replace it. 



We were however not so sure to what extend these folks could help themselves, having seen how poorly they understand the engines that are so important to them. Right the same day another boat from the same village went missing and we were asked whether we could look out for them on our way south. We saw that they don't carry a radio, or GPS or enough water, yet it just takes the engine to fail and they drift through the islands or worse, away from them.




We did look, but didn't see them and three days later they were luckily found down at the southern group. 








But otherwise our trip south to the last of the Ha'pai Islands, to Kelefesia was a fine one: Great sailing and we caught a Rainbow-Runner - a  fish we never had seen before, but turned out one of the finest to eat.







Kelefesia turned out to be one of the most beautiful places we have seen on this trip. There is a nice anchorage surrounded by a reef, but it is a bit difficult to find a good spot for the anchor without risking to damage some of the very pretty coral heads. 


Once settled, it is rewarding to just jump over the side into the crystal clear water and instantly be amidst of fantastic coral structures and fish and so we had some great snorkeling tours around the anchorage right after our arrival and before getting the dinghy ready to check out the island.








Not only under water, but also above, this place was lovely. Anchored close to the island of Kelefesia, with its long sand spit, interesting rock structures and long rows of palm trees, we felt placed in the perfect tropical setting.

Once ashore, climbing the little cliff up to the top was easy and opened great views in all directions.





Straight north, the island continued as a bright sand finger, thinning out along its stretch and eventually disappearing into the protecting coral reef.


           To the west, there was the great view across the anchorage, with Taniwani and a few other boats.






To the east we saw a school of tiny fish, just as a dark cloud in the water, trying to look like one real big fish.



And on top of this world you see the old sailing couple enjoying the great view.
















A dug-out outrigger canoe had been washed ashore. It was so small, and we didn't dare to try it in the water without its float on the outrigger. So instead we had a dry-run.


We sure would have spent a few more days in this beautiful place, especially since it was most likely the last nice tropical anchorage for a while, but we had an appointment, delivering Jo and Noel to Nuku Alofa.



The sea was mirror like on the next day with absolutely no wind and we had to motor the 40 miles.  But this way it was possible to spot whales from miles away and we were soon rewarded finding a large group of them.


We were able to drift along with them for over an hour and had whales surfacing left and right of us, or diving under out boat all the time.
Nuku Alofa in the southern group of Tonga, called Tongatapu, is the largest town and also the capital.


Both, the capital and the southern islands don't have a good reputation in the sailing scene and so most people just schedule a short stay to take fuel and clear out of Tonga.


But it isn't that simple, since most of the time one will have to wait for decent wind and weather to sail the 1000 plus miles to New Zealand, so that in the end most boats spend one or two weeks there.
For that reason we had been considering the option to sail back up into the Ha'pai group if it seems likely that we would have to wait for over a week.


But it all came different: First we found Nuku Alofa not that bad. The harbor looks like many of the 3rd world harbors but is quite safe and the town isn't bad at all. Sure, poverty is more obvious than in Vava'u where tourism brings in some more money, but coming with low expectations we found the place quite fine.


When we arrived on Sunday, Henry and Alan from Endelig were ready in the dinghy, to take our lines ashore. In this harbor, one drops the bow anchor well out and then backs up against the main break-water. The lines can only be brought ashore by dinghy, as it shallows and yachts have to stay at least a boat length off. It was also recommended to put rat-guards on the ropes to shore and indeed we saw some rats climbing around the rocks.


Alan, Henry's guest had to catch a flight in New Zealand, so Henry was quite determined to leave by Tuesday, October 25th, given the weather for the trip looked reasonable.



Studying the weather maps and the so called GRIB-files, which show wind predictions for up to 9 days ahead, we concluded that Wednesday would be the best day to leave and give us a quite swift passage south. So, we decided to also do the logistics the next day and get ready to leave Wednesday.

Monday morning we worked through the complicated clearing procedures that took up several hours since we wanted to clear in from Ha'pai, clear out international and obtain duty-free fuel.


That morning also "Bob MacDavitt's Weathergram" arrived, a weekly bulletin discussing the weather in the area for the next week. Bob is a well known weather guru in New Zealand who issues this analysis once a week for free to any subscriber. His advice essentially was: "If you want to go from Tonga or Fiji to New Zealand it is now or never!" And it resulted in a mass hysteria in the cruising community. Boats from way further north were rushing south, calling on the radio on how to quickly get fuel and clear in and out.


As soon as we were done in the harbor, we left and went just a mile and a half across to anchor in front of Pangaimotu, a nice little island with a great little pub called "Big Mama Yacht Club". It is a really fine place to spend your last Tonga Dollars, and they are well spent on good food, drinks and ambience. More and more boats gathered there and all wanted to leave the next day, since the latest news from Bob MacDavitt said the weather window wasn't that good, and we should expect south westerly winds near New Zealand in about a week.


With everybody leaving and expecting to travel for seven days we were now reconsidering as well and changed our plan from Wednesday morning to Tuesday afternoon.


Unfortunately a problem with our water-maker popped up in the last minute. The high pressure pump had developed a tiny hole in the cylinder head through which salt water was blasting out at 60 bar! Our tanks were pretty empty at that time and we didn't want to leave with so little water.


But again the fantastic glue from Voss-Chemie called 'Haftstahl' did it and we could start to fill the tanks on Tuesday after lunch. So, most boats were gone when we weighed anchor around 3 pm and started motor-sailing out through the western reef passages.




As forecast, there was not much wind when we started, which was the reason why we originally wanted to wait till Wednesday. So we motor-sailed at low revs into the first night, as did everybody else in the fleet.


This slow progress went on until next morning, when we were passing by Ata Island, a rocky non inviting place and the last land to see until New Zealand.


Soon after that the wind picked up a little bit and we were able to stop the engine and sail on. It turned out we didn't need it any more until arriving in New Zealand and entering the Bay of Islands.


Our first full day at sea, was also Beate's Birthday, which we celebrated in the usual Taniwani manner. The gentle wind that now pushed us along at 7 knots seemed also to be a nice Birthday gift by Neptune - who had been properly bribed with good Whiskey.


We had hoped to celebrate Beate's birthday in the usual manner with all the friends from other boats, somewhere on a tropical beach, but weather and circumstances had decided different. Still it was quite pleasant for Beate to open all the gifts that others had dropped off before our departure and then receive all the birthday wishes and singing via the SSB radio.


The wind also got stronger very slowly and by the afternoon we were sailing at 8 knots or more - unfortunately we were still close hauled.  With the slow start we only did 168 miles that day.


We were sailing through a compression zone between a low northwest of us and a high southwest of us, so the wind increased to 28 knots average the next day.


Already the previous  morning we had noticed that we were sailing next to "3t", our Norwegian friends on a Nicholson 60. They had left an hour before us and we must have caught up a little bit during the night. 


By now we had been sailing within sight for more than two days, which is quite unusual as boats slowly separate not going exactly the same speed.







Over time we had learned that Taniwani is quite a fast boat and we were not surprised that we had soon caught up and overtaken the big bulk of boats that had left Nuku Alofa earlier on Tuesday. Yet, we had not expected to be as fast as the 10 ft longer "3t", but then that is the difference of 15 years in hull design.


The wind kept picking up and we kept shortening sails, but we tried to keep Taniwani under full speed, as this is interestingly more comfortable and we were worried about getting into head winds towards the end of the leg.


Even on "3t" had the handicap, that Eva gets quite seasick and he has to handle the ship alone which is tiring. Also when it got rougher 3t's autopilot kept disengaging and he had to throttle down for some time, so that eventually we lost sight of them.


Already on Beate's birthday we had left behind the tropics and we noticed that it was getting colder and colder every day. After over a year in just bathing suit and T-shirt, this came as a shock.



Soon we were in full oillies and longing back to the days in paradise and by the time we were approaching New Zealand the water temperature had dropped from 29 C to 18 C !


We had strong but good wind for the middle part of the trip and made over 190 miles a day for three days in a row, despite a one knot counter-current.

By Friday afternoon we were back to smooth sailing and on Saturday we had to set our genaker again to keep good speed. Now it seemed we were at least a day faster than what was necessary to arrive before the southwesterly winds would set in. 


Monday morning Beate spotted the strong light of Cape Brett some 30 miles off and after sunrise we could see the whole shore, gray in gray and we felt beamed back to sailing in Ireland.


A last dash into the Bay of Islands and by  9 am we were docked at the Opua customs dock. Just an hour later 3t arrived and we could take their lines and wait for the customs officials to clear our boats into New Zealand.


The trip from Tonga was 1040 miles and took us 5 days and 18 hours - an average of 180 miles a day.


Opua is New Zealand's northern most port of entry and most boats coming from the South Pacific clear in here.


Somehow we thought it might be a little town, but it really is only a rather small village, with one pub and one general store.


But it has a large and convenient marina, a ship chandler and a very welcoming and nice yacht club. 


For anything more you need to take a cab to Paihia, a little tourist town some 6 km away.


It is also a very scenic walk along the shoreline from Opua to Paihia, but for shopping it is a bit long both ways.


Lacking a hair dresser in Opua, a creative lady offers this service right on the derelict railroad tracks, just behind the marina.


The Bay of Islands is one of the most beautiful shorelines in New Zealand, is well sheltered and has many nice anchorages.


Opua is the furthest into the Bay and about as far as we can go upriver.


Paihia and Russel are just a few miles further out and at opposite sides of the Bay. 

Russel, on the inner side of the outer peninsula is therefore quite remote and hard to reach by car, other than taking the car ferry from Opua.


It features another very nice yacht club, where you can often get a good dinner for a very good price.


Like Paihia, Russel consists mainly of Restaurants and a few tourist shops, but has a very pretty waterfront with historic buildings.



We hung out in Opua for some time and took a rental car for a day to see some of the most northern parts of NZ.


Then we heard that our friends Vivian and Wing were coming to New Zealand for an extended 6 week vacation and so we waited two more days in Opua for them to join us for the trip down south to Whangarei.



This trip south was rather nice with beautiful anchorages like the one pictured in the south of Urupukapuka Island.


We were early in the season and had to share the island mostly with some sheep.


Eventually we left the Bay of Islands and rounded Cape Brett, the one who's light we had seen far out when approaching New Zealand from Tonga.


There is a little island just off that cape and it has a big hole through it, called the hole in the wall. It is quite big and tourist boats come out from Paihia and drive through it. With our tall mast that option was out of the question.









So we sailed on around this pierced island and down shore to Whangamumu Harbour. Which is in fact a very lonely bay without road connection.


But once it had a big whaling station of which not much is left between the fast growing vegetation.


Off course we inspected these remnants thoroughly after anchoring alone in this beautiful and well sheltered bay.


Later, a short hike up the hill revealed a great view down onto the bay and Taniwani.


What a contrast this thinly populated New Zealand is, compared to some of the places in Europe.


The next day was a bit rainy and we sailed down the shore further to Tutukaka, another bay with a little marina and a major base for dive operators who go out to places like the Poor Knights Islands.



We moved on towards Whangarei, our final destination for 2005 and anchored for the night in a little bay, right off the river entrance. We had to wait for the proper tide, as boats like ours can only make it very near high water.


Some others, like "Wetnose" had chosen Gulf Harbor, a huge marina close to Auckland as their final destination.


When we visited there we saw our sister ship "Kalypso" up on the dry, right next to "Wetnose" - What a coincidence, we had not seen another Najad 490 since leaving Portugal! We briefly met owners Judy and John, and it seems our boats might meet next year.



Whangarei, the place we chose to leave Taniwani while visiting home, is quite different, compared to the vast 1000 berth marina of Gulf Harbour.


It is 15 miles up the river, with just a few smaller facilities. The town is provincial, but its small center easy to reach walking off the boat. Especially so if you are moored in the Town Basin Marina.


Based on input from various sources, we had chosen the Riverside Drive Marina, just half a mile downriver, and made reservations already back in September.


Town basin is just a Marina with various types of berths and moorings, but no facilities to take the boat out of the water.


So the small facility at Riverside Drive Marina seemed the best combination.



Many other cruisers had also chosen Whangarei for a longer stay and for living on board it is certainly nicer than the impersonal huge marina at Gulf Harbor.


The world cruising community is no doubt a big part of what makes up Whangarei.



As simple and provincial Whangarei may appear, it does have a notable art community, and if you wish, you can spend a lot of money on some very nice pieces of artwork.


We have not seen a similar level anywhere else in New Zealand.




As easy as down town shops and a major super market are reachable, just walking of the boat, as difficult it gets, when you need to reach the widespread industrial sites and warehouses.


So, most people either buy a cheap car or rent one - and so did we.



On December 12th we flew home from New Zealand, leaving Taniwani on the dry and with a list of work to be done while we were gone. Beginning of February we would be back to tour New Zealand by car and then in early March, Taniwani should be re-launched and head for new adventures.