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A whale of a time in the Kingdom of Tonga

by David Reid

The Kingdom of Tonga is a wonderful paradise destination in which you seem to step back in time to a far more peaceful and simpler way of life.

As soon as I landed I knew I had entered a far slower and relaxed pace of life which was to continue throughout my trip in Tonga. Forget your mobile and internet! As you descend into Vava'u you will get a taste of your cruising grounds as you fly over the archipelago of islands and secluded bays that you will be sailing to. But it's when you leave the base that the excitement starts to sink in!

On leaving the base and sheltered channel you'll soon enter the open channel which can drop to around 200ft with fantastic clarity that allows visibility up to 100 feet, and the stunning surroundings of the archipelago of islands. You will soon realise why Vava'u is regarded as one of the world's great sailing locations. You will be amazed at the array of stunning turquoise lagoons, fringed by swaying palm trees that shade the fine white coral sand... Robinson Crusoe, eat your heart out! On other islands, sheer limestone cliffs will drop into the deep blue, and within such rocks you will find Swallows Cave and Mariners Cave, the latter you can only access by diving beneath the surface. In both you will enter a cathedral effect, in which you can swim with a myriad of fish sheltering within the hidden waters.

Although there are minimal fixed moorings the base team will mark all of the secluded and sheltered bays that you can drop anchor at. Even in high season, there are so many bays in the sailing grounds, you will never have a problem finding a spot, and if you felt a bit too busy, there is always another bay just "next door".

Day 1

The waters are crystal clear and ideal for snorkelling and swimming as well as kayaking. Our first night we moored up in Port Maurelle along with about another 7 yachts. The serenity was spell bounding as we watched the sun descend and set, casting a warm golden glow over the bay and a dinner of chilled Chardonnay and barbequed Surf'n'Turf local lobster and steak. As the sun set, the stars and Milky Way came out in all their glory and due to the lack of lights was truly amazing, so much so, we went forward and lay on the trampoline of our 444 and star gazed in silence. We all went to bed that night, lulled to sleep by the gentle lapping of water, pinching ourselves to make sure we weren't dreaming!

Day 2

The following morning, after breakfast we hoisted the sails and set off exploring and realised the wonderful thing about the cruising grounds you do not have to travel too far before you arrive at another seclude bay/island. Throughout our trip we were stunned (but happy) to see we were the only yacht in bays, which meant we would have to whole lagoon to ourselves to snorkel, swim and explore. A lot of the islands are fringed with vibrant coral reefs where you can swim with over 100 species of colourful fish, turtles, manta rays, dolphins and giant clams. In one of the lagoons there is a coral reef commonly known as the Japanese Coral Gardens, which a low tide you can walk over and explore the water pools.

Day 3

On our third day we treated ourselves to a simple but stunning lunch on the island of Mounu in which there is a small boutique resort. Words cannot express the beauty that surrounded us as we ate on a salad of locally caught and smoked fish washed down by a chilled NZ sauvignon blanc. However you must pre-book and I would highly recommend you do! And from the veranda during the whale season (Jul - Oct), you may have to luck to view passing humpback whales! Most islands are uninhabited, a few have villages where the locals are a very happy and carefree bunch who are more than happy to show you around and talk to you about their life and history.

As we travelled during Sept we came across on daily basis humpback whales which we could view from the yacht, however, to really experience these magnificent giants I would highly recommend going out with one of the certified whale-swim operators that are based out of Neiafu and a short walk from the base. The humpback whales visit Tonga every year to give birth and mate before returning to the Antarctic. Again you must pre-book well in advance as each boat only carries a maximum of 8 swimmers (2 groups of 4 plus a guide) and I would suggest you either do pre or post charter, or you could go back to the base during your charter. We travelled with Tonga Expeditions - it's a full day trip on the water and we were very fortunate to swim with a mother and month old calf, along with a male escort. Words fail me on the whole experience, but it is something I will cherish for life!

I could go on for ever, but I think best that you take my word for it - you'll have the most amazing sailing experience!

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