Daily Ramblings - Saturday through Monday, October 18th - 27th

We are sorry to be delinquent in posting our journal.  We’ve just been having too much fun!

At 1:00 AM on Saturday we were greeted by Derek (our Tongan agent and soon to become good friend) upon our arrival in Nuku’alofa and settled in at the Sea View Hotel – a guest house run by German Franz and his vivacious wife, Gudrun.  Our Saturday was spent touring Tongatapu: viewing blowholes; acreages of tapioca, taro, yams, coconuts, papaya and other tropical fruits and vegetables; and, of course, the local market.

Tonga is the only monarchy in the South Pacific and the only island nation never colonized – if you ignore the missionaries who succeeded in making it the most Christian nation on Earth.  In fact, the merging of religion and culture is so complete that you can be arrested if you are found engaging in any robust activity at all on a Sunday.  Everything closes including air flights, restaurants – you name it.  Our boat arrived on Saturday afternoon and the crew was admonished to stop washing her down for the salt water, as it was Sunday and the Captain would be arrested!

Unlike many Polynesian countries, Tonga’s 120,000 population is still 98% native Tongan – but more Tongans live in Australia, New Zealand and America than in Tonga.  The greatest contributor to the Tongan economy is overseas Tongans sending back money to their families – an average of $2,000 per year per person. The average annual income for a Tongan is only $3,600 – but every male is given a parcel of land at age 16 so subsistence living is still a significant part of daily life.

King George Tupou V turned over governing responsibility to the Prime Minister this July and Parliamentary elections will be held in 2010.  This follows riots and protesting over the last few years.  Derek’s wife, Sue, manages Air New Zealand’s Tonga operations and is fascinating with stories of befriending the Royal family.

Before continuing with reports of our activities I should mention we have determined to extend our stay a couple weeks longer than originally planned – not only for the beauty of the place and the friendliness of the people – but Tonga is the home of the fattest population of all nations on Earth and Martha’s cooking is continuing to be of concern.  We are feeling at home!

Monday we welcomed the arrival of four couples Tom was privileged to work with at Pure Fishing: Tom and Nancy McClernon, Den and Peg Stulc, Mike and Jan Brenny and Brian (Mac) and Marlene McDonald. 

After two days of fishing and whale watching around Tongatapu we motored all night to Vava’u.  What a delightful surprise.  Vava’u is a collection of dozens of islands with beautiful beaches, incredible snorkeling and diving, and great fishing and whale watching.  The village is a collection of local restaurants, pubs and shops amongst the local markets.  The sail yachters have discovered Vava’u as an ideal mooring – central to the Cook Islands, Fiji, New Zealand, and New Caledonia.  As a result amenities are available without disruption to the charm of the native Tongan culture.  Surprisingly few motor yachts visit Vava’u.  And our arrival is at the end of the season as the sail boats are rapidly departing to avoid the upcoming cyclone season.  We have been well received. 

Everyone who fished shared in our success with Wahoo, Mahi Mahi, Yellowfin Tuna, and Skip Jack.  As hard as we tried, we only hooked up with a Marlin once, and that was on light tackle.  The Marlin won, spooling Cam’s reel as she dove hundreds of feet.

By the way, the “Love Me Tender” Grady White (Canyon 33) has proven to be absolutely superb.  It is functional in every way and a delight to fish and dive out of.  And the Yamaha engines (twin 350’s) have been flawless – not one issue after thousands of miles of use.  While acknowledging products, we should mention the Abu Garcia Revo reels have been put through torture and held up exceptionally well…as have all Berkley lines - as would be expected!

The diving is incredible.  Going down 60 feet we discovered underwater caves.  The coral gardens and tropical fish are beyond explanation.

And we visited the only botanical garden in Tonga.  It was educational to learn about many of the plants and their symbiotic relationships with one another…as well as the natural health/wellness uses of the native plants.  The tour included an introduction to the handicraft of producing tapas, making coconut milk, natural dyes, and the consumption of Kava.

By Friday we were ready to chill, so we settled on an amazing beach to take it easy, snorkel, view coral through the clear canoe, and fish for reef fish. We even gave Martha the night off and dined at the Dancing Rooster – a restaurant owned by a Swiss gentleman who visited Vava’u and never left.  His lobster is terrific and prolific – Jan’s plate was served with seven tails!

After viewing whales on Saturday we were invited to the Princess’s villa for a banquet of local foods including suckling pig, wonderful music and a traditional Tongan dance performance by local school children.  It is a memory to treasure.  Sitting on the deck over looking the harbor of Vava’u, the sun setting to the melodic Tongan music and the local folks treating us to a feast of the best food we have experienced (off the boat) the entire adventure.  

Our new friend Gray has been a marvelous resource here in Vava’u, introducing us to local people, providing services and leading us on our pub crawl.

We were sad to bid farewell to our guests early Monday morning as they caught flight to Nuku’alofa – beginning their journeys home.  It is incredible to be able to experience Tonga – even more amazing to be able to share the experience with special friends.