A fat, hairy pig scampers through a front garden gate, crosses the road without looking and skids into a water logged muddy ditch.
Flower bushes are snuffled by black boar and two wriggly pink piglets play rugby on a lawn.
Mummy pig is on the beach digging for crabs while one of her piglets is being roasted on an open fire.
This is street life Tongan style. I will never eat pigs again; Paul is craving bacon sandwiches!
Since the last blog
We’ve been cruising through the Kingdom of Tonga – the coconut milk run of the South Pacific, comprising 171 coral and volcanic islands on the edge of the Western Hemisphere. Over the last six weeks we’ve managed to visit eleven of them!
These paradise islands are staggered across three groups – the Va’vau group in the north; Ha’apai Islands in the middle and the Tongatapu group in the south.
And being the only Pacific nation to have NEVER been under foreign rule it is unique.
Nine things we learnt …
1 Tongans are incredibly friendly, which is why Captain Cook called them ‘The Friendly Isles’.
2 People live in simple homes – most painted in red and white Tongan colours. There is no begging, no homelessness and no-one goes hungry.
3 They LOVE to host Tongan Feasts and every male citizen is entitled to two plots of land – one to live on and one to grow food on.
4 EVERYBODY goes to church, so we did too. I counted at least 500 people in the congregation of St Joseph’s Cathedral in Neiafu (above). Dressed up to the nines, their singing is angelic and they know all the words without hymn sheets.
And what do they do after church? Nothing. Those are the rules and they applied to us too.
No boating activity, no swimming or swimwear, no working on the boat, no laundry, no flights – the airport is closed.
We went for a walk, everything was shut, we saw no one and slunk back to the boat to read.
5 Dress is conservative. Around town men wear shirts and cover their knees. Women’s knees and shoulders are covered. Clothes are covered with a ‘ta’ovala’ which looks like a piece of woven mat tied with rope. They also wear long dangly belts called ‘kiehie’ over pretty much anything.
6 Money is of little interest. Tourism is very low key and general food shopping (at shops run by the Chinese community), is a game of persistence and luck.
Clothes appear to be sold off washing lines outside houses, along the street and in pop up markets … we didn’t see many actual clothes shops.
7 Kava drinking is a popular local tradition, It’s a soporific root drink, mostly drunk by men … and probably contributes to the general relaxed and lackadaisical approach to life out here!
8 Anchoring is perilous amongst the hidden coral reefs around these low lying islands.
Coral slabs with breaking waves were easy to spot, but the ‘bommies’ – whopping great pinnacle heads just below the surface – required careful eyeball navigation. If the sun goes in you’ve had it. Strong winds and poor visibility gave us plenty of nail biting anchoring moments.
9 Graves are giant celebrations of life. They’re big, bold and everywhere!
Our Top Ten Tonga Takeaways ….
1 We became bush hacking beach bums. The Va’vau and Ha’api group of idyllic islands are in sheltered waters, short distances apart making this a cruisers Robinson Crusoe dream.
We found shells, hacked through bush, had beach fires and snorkelled and dived some pristine underwater sites.
2 We watched Rugby World Cup matches in local bars.
The England vs Argentina match was shown on a small, wall mounted TV while locals grinded away to music played from a laptop and speaker. We were the only westerners and tried to blend into the wall. But – we were spotted. Chairs were brought out and we were plonked into the middle of the dance floor while locals took it in turns to sit next to us for little chats!
3 Pigs outnumber humans in some villages so they build pig platforms for the rubbish.
We were even encouraged to help a staff benefit scheme; to donate our food scraps to a cafe, to give to their staff to feed their pigs!
4 We partied at the Vava’u Blue Water Festival – a week of cruisers activities for sailors New Zealand bound.
We fun raced round some of the islands and won an award for ‘The UK Boat that Exited Brexit‘ … a good prize too … two loads of full service laundry!!
5 We spotted huge humpback whales spouting, breaching and diving.
They travel up from the Antarctic to the warmer waters of Tonga every year to breed and have calves. But we were warned to watch the wake they cause which can dramatically rock the boat.
6 We befriended local wildlife.
We moored next to trees full of fruit bats (flying foxes) that made a right old racket and flew around our heads in the evening.
7 We met some wonderful primary school kids who sang and danced for us.
8 Paul celebrated his 55th birthday on the deserted island of Nomuka-Iki in the Ha’api group.
9 Fishy tales. Paul caught a stunning barred longtom (top) which we released; a tuna and something we didn’t recognise!
10 We hired a 4×4 for just £14/day and discovered …
… a 1,600 tonne lump of coral 100 metres inland, chucked ashore by a powerful tsunami
… 100 blowholes kicking off along the west coast of Tongatapu
… a collapsed sea cave natural bridge
… Tonga’s 1200 AD answer to Stonehenge
… Captain Cooks landing site
… a 400m long network of limestone caves rammed with dripping stalagmites and stalactites
In other news …
WATER We’ve been living off rainwater. It’s a miracle we’ve been healthy and bug free for so long, but it’s chemical free and you can buy it filtered. It tastes great.
FUNNY FOOD Always game for a new health fad I was delighted to discover 100% Noni juice – it tastes bitter and smells like bad stinky cheese! But it’s packed with good stuff and used to treat arthritis, gout, cancer, anti ageing, heart health and fever. I’m bought three bottles.
TOP DIVE We dived the supposedly haunted wreck of the Clan McWilliam, a 6000 ton copra steam ship which sank in 1927. Twenty eight crew and the Captain died. It was pristine and covered in life as if never dived before. The ghosts made us feel very welcome!
So – what now?
We’re bound for north New Zealand.
We’ve stocked up with water, fuel, gas and food. We’ve stowed for sea, done all our checks and have dug out our big sea legs.
Weather willing we’ll sail 280 nautical miles (around 2.5 days) to Minerva Reef, two submerged atolls in the Pacific Ocean south of Tonga and Fiji. Fingers crossed we can anchor there for a few nights for some epic diving.
When the conditions are right we’ll sail 800 nautical miles (around eight days) to New Zealand’s north island.
Then we can officially say we have sailed half way round the world … some 15,000 miles
PS. We’re on the lookout for a raft of pumice stone the size of 20,000 football fields and 15cm thick. It’s floating near us after a recent, Tongan underwater volcanic eruption. It’s heading to Australia and experts say it could help rejuvenate the Great Barrier Reef.
Right, that’s it for now, see you in New Zealand.
Till then you can track our passage across the South Pacific from Tonga to New Zealand on Yellow Brick.