Saturday, September 11, 2010

Tonga, at last

Friday, September 3rd
Vava'u is known for it's humpback whales. But we just saw a really big shark swim under the boat as we approached. The ocean is very deep (several thousand feet deep) right up to the entrance.

We arrived in Neiafu, in the Vava'u group of the Kingdom of Tonga, on a mild sunny day. We found a usable spot at the commercial wharf for the formalities: visits by the Health Officer, (he asked if we were healthy), the Quarantine Officer (biosecurity - he examined our fruits and vegetables and took away the garbage), the Immigration Officer and the Customs Officer.

Fortunately, we was advised by a friend to serve coffee and cookies, so we were prepared. It might have been hard for me to catch on to that necessity. Although now we've learned that Tongans just ask for food and drink, so they probably would have asked if I hadn't offered. In fact, the customs officer asked for a whole bottle of wine. OK, whatever, not a problem. We later found that wasn't the usual "fee". They were all very pleasant to work with.

Neiafu is a pleasant, small town with the necessities near the waterfront: the vegetable and crafts market, banks, stores, restaurants and bars, and internet. Yay! Prices are much lower here, so we feel free to eat out a lot. However, the grocery stores are really limited. The harbor is completely protected and very deep. Fortunately, there are many mooring buoys for rent, so that makes it easy.

There was a church near our mooring and we could often hear the choir singing. And hardly any barking dogs. Yay again!, no jetskis, or loud stereos.

The Vava'u Island group has few coral reefs like we've seen in French Polynesia and Suwarrow. The islands are close together and separated by deep passages, not unlike the San Juan or Gulf Islands. It is very humid here, though not very hot. The waves don't build up much. The weather is windy and showery, but usually the showers are so light and short you don't have time to put on a jacket.

Tongans are very conservative and soft spoken and there are many churches. Sundays are special days and no business is allowed (except bars!). Even the Seventh Day Adventists have church on Sunday! Many Tongans speak some English, communications are not too hard. There is a lively expatriat community here that run many restaurants, charter and dive services. Because Tonga wants to have the same dates as Fiji, we skipped a day ahead when we arrived. So Monday night football is on Tuesday. And because there are so many kiwis and aussies, there is rugby on other days. Cricket hasn't been mentioned, so we don't know when they watch that.

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