Photos of Tongatapu

Tongatapu, Tonga

Tongatapu is the main island of the Kingdom of Tonga. The capital Nuku'alofa is a busy town with lots of markets and cheap eateries. We spent a winter month exploring this island and its adjacent motus in July 2016.

(50 photos)


Quiet motus

Just north of Tonga’s densely populated main island Tongatapu a barrier reef with a few tiny motus on it extends about 5 nm east and another 5 nm north. Yesterday we took Pitufa up to the south-eastern corner of this reef–just 8 miles as the seagull flies, but we still took 4 hours for this stretch of careful reef navigation (about 12 nm around the reef). The motus here are pretty with fine, golden sand, a dense vegetation, but it seems that (fortunately) hardly anybody comes here. The anchorages are not mentioned in cruising guides, only the motu closest to Nuku’alofa has a tourist resort on it, so we share this quiet corner just with a few birds.

Today we walked around the motu next to our anchorage and it reminded us a lot of the motus in the Tuamotus or Gambier. Sadly the resemblance ends when you look into the water: the coral seems to be mostly dead and the rocks are just covered in a coarse, brown algae that overgrows the reefs once the coral’s dead (or maybe it suffocates coral underneath?). This plant seems to dominate the underwater landscape not only in the Society Islands of French Polynesia, but also here around Tongatapu. We’ve seen hardly any fish so far–the fishermen who sell bags of colourful reef fish (there is no ciguatera here) on the market have to go further and further to find some catch. We haven’t seen any tuna or mahi-mahi at the fishmarket at all (fished empty?). In town there are signs at many buildings (hospital, harbour extension, etc.) that praise ‘the people of Japan’ as sponsors–probably they got fishing rights and a vote at the International Whaling Commission in exchange. We hope tha
t the reefs are in better shape around the other archipelagos of Tonga.

After a period of southerly winds, the breeze has shifted to the East and it’s much warmer, finally it’s pleasant enough to sit in the cockpit without hoodie and socks :-) The water in our 2.5 m shallow anchorage has reached 26°C again (after the chilly 24°C of last week).


Around Tongatapu

During the past two weeks we worked on some small projects on Pitufa, but we also explored the island of Tongatapu. Instead of renting a car we used the convenient, cheap bus system (there’s no schedule, but minibuses have their destination written on the front and you can flag them down anywhere along the road) and hitched rides (we never wait long until a friendly Tongan driver takes us along–often making a detour for us) to get to the sights around Tonga’s main island.

Ath the east cape there’s Ha’amonga’a Maui, according to guides the ‘Stonehenge of the Pacific’, which turned out to be a lot less monumental than expected. On the way back we stopped in Lapaha to see pyramids that mark the grave of a king–nowadays a cemetery with colourfully decorated graves (typically Tongan). Another excursion took us to the Western cape, where two signs mark the ‘Arrival of Christianity’ and ‘Abel Tasman’s landing place’ where the first European explorers arrived. Fisherman took us on their truck a few villages down where a ‘Flying fox reserve’ is marked on the tourist map. We couldn’t find a reserve, but when we looked closer at the trees in the village cemetery the fluffy, cute creatures were hanging on all branches–from afar these fruit eating mammals (related to bats) look like folded up umbrellas ;-)
Another ride took us to the last and most impressive sight of Tongatapu: along the southwestern coast the swell breaks on the terrace-like coral shelf of the coast creating huge waves and countless blowholes that send fountains up to thirty metres.


End of radio silence

We are still bewildered that the new antenna tuner we ordered just last week arrived yesterday without any further delays, complications by customs or paperwork. We ordered the new CG-3000 (EUR 200) directly from CG Antenna (Mr. Wang was very helpful), it was shipped from Shanghai by TNT (EUR 100), and the local TNT agent delivered it directly to the dock in Nuku’alofa. Great service, but it added another EUR 45 (the shipment turned out to be almost as expensive as the tuner…).

I installed it right away and the first radio test was successful. So Pitufa’s involuntary radio silence is over.


Sunday rest

Yesterday the wind turned to the west and will stay like this for a few days and we sailed 6 miles to a motu with an anchorage that gives good shelter from the west. The entrance through the reef into the lagoon off Motu Atata is a bit tricky, but we planned it with the help of SAS planet (satellite pictures) and found a nice, sandy spot.

Atata is a pretty palmfringed island just off the coast of Tongatapu and there’s one small resort in the South where we are anchored and a little village up North. Today is Sunday and we heard singing from the church this morning, but we’re anchored far enough from the motu to be hidden from curious eyes, so we dared to do some laundry, despite the strict rules about Sunday rest ;-)

The westerly wind brought pleasantly warm air with it and for once it’s warm enough to sunbath on deck and go swimming without goose bumps. According to the Tongan homepage men should wear long shorts for swimming and women long shorts and shirts, but out here we can just hop in with swim pants/bikini bottom.


Pan bread

Another simplified recipe is pan bread a la Pitufa:

2 cups of wheat flour
1 cup of rye flour
1,5 cups warm water
1 teaspoon dried yeast
1 teaspoon salt
bread spices (typical Austrian: ground coriander, ground caraway, fennel)

Mix dry ingredients in a bowl, add water, stir well with a spoon (no kneading necessary). Pour the dough into an oiled pan (with a lid), let it rise for 1 hour, put the pan on the stove on a small flame and ‘bake’ the bread for 20 minutes with the lid closed, turn it around and bake another 15 minutes with a small gap in the lid.



Fellow cruisers have been giving us recipes for yoghurt making, offered yoghurt starter cultures, but we always politely refused–it seemed like such a hassle involving either yoghurt making machines, or without such machines the process would take hours, while we’d have to regularly check with a thermometer to keep the temperature at exactly the right degree to keep the bacteria happy and working. We were content just to buy yoghurt from a supermarket from time to time.

In Tonga dairy products are a luxury, there’s milk and butter in the fridges of the (usually Chinese) supermarkets, but no yoghurt or cheese and not even Happy Cow style processed cheese (which we found in every minimarket around the world so far). But at the fourth supermarket we checked we saw a bag with yoghurt starter powder and decided to give it a try.

I hate complicated recipes, always try to simplify them and usually that works. I did the same with the yoghurt and here’s the foolproof recipe a la Pitufa for dairy dummies:

Mix 3 cups of milk (or pour it from the packet if you don’t use powdered milk) and heat it just to the boiling point. Let it cool off to a bit warmer than handwarm, stir in two spoonfuls of yoghurt starter (or yoghurt if you’re lucky enough to have some), pour the mixture into a plastic box, wrap it into a towel and put it into an insolated box or bag together with a hot water bottle. Leave it snug in there for 12 hours–voila the mixture has turned into yoghurt and is ready to hop into the fridge.

No hassle, no gadgets required. I can’t believe I used to buy the expensive stuff in tiny plastic cups (all the senseless rubbish production…).



Nuku Alofa

Tonga as an independent nation cannot rely on subsidies from a colonial mother and walking through the streets of its capital you notice that the country is poorer and less developed than e.g. French Polynesia. This has pleasant side effects for us cruisers: there are stands with local produce everywhere (5 paanga = 2 Euros for a bag of fruit or veg), incredibly cheap eating places (2 Euros for fish and chips or a curry) and minibuses go by every few minutes (there are still enough passengers that don’t own cars…). The city centre is neat and pretty and the suburbs of Nuku Alofa with small houses and gardens in between stretches out over half the width of the low island of Tongatapu.

The Polynesians here speak Tongan (Malo e lelei means hello), they are friendly and helpful to visitors and hitchhiking is easy (e.g. on Sundays or in the evenings, when there are no buses). They dress mainly in dark colours (new and surprising to us after the colourful Tahitian outfits with flowers everywhere), many women wear long, black dresses with ornamental, woven belts. The traditional outfit of the men consists of a dark shirt and a long dark skirt with a lightbrown pandanus mat wrapped around the hips. On Sundays all actvities are forbidden–except visiting the church (once or twice), the Christian religions rule the island strictly.

This week the Heilala festival takes place with a military parade to celebrate the king’s birthday last Monday (a good opportunity to see dignitaries in their best outfits) and the Miss Tonga contest (open to the public, several evenings). We expected some dancing, singing and celebrating going on in town, but apart from the Miss Tonga aspirants doing slow dances with graceful hand movements and a choir in the background there doesn’t seem to be going on a lot.


Pitufa in Tonga

We arrived in Tonga early in the season (at the beginning of July) and are planning to explore the 4 archipelagos (Tongatapu, Haapai, Vavau and the Niuas) thoroughly.


Photos of Niue


In June 2016 we spent a week in Niue. The 'Rock of Polynesia' is a raised atoll and the smallest independent nation of the world, even though it's associated tightly with New Zealand. After 3 years in French Polynesia it was weird to chat with English speaking Polynesians.

(40 photos)


Arrived in Tonga!

Yesterday we reached Nuku Alofa (Tonga’s capital) after a pleasantly eventless passage. During the last night we had to slow down to reach the reef passage in daylight, first we put the main into the second reef, then we rolled up the genoa, then we took the main sail down completely and were still going too fast just under bare poles running in 25 knots of wind… After a passage we are usually quite exhausted, just clean up the boat a bit, get the deck saltfree for Leeloo’s paws, quaff a bottle of sparkling wind and drop into the bunk. This time everything was different: we arrived on a Friday and had to clear in immediately or be confined to the boat until the next working day on Tuesday. So right after dropping the anchor we took the dinghy one mile to the port, asked our way to customs and started filling in forms, but then we were told that we’d have to take Pitufa to the quarantine pier for an inspection afterwards. When the lady from the quarantine office heard that
we had a cat she asked whether we had a cage to confine ‘it’ in. ‘It’ would have to stay in that cage during our visit to Tonga and a vet would have to come daily to inspect the health status. She ignored our protests that according to our info a cat that would not be imported only had to remain on board all the time. What now? Leave for Fiji without further ado?

We dinghied back to Pitufa against a bumpy windsea, arrived soaking wet, lifted the anchor and motored to the harbour and went with the stern to the quarantine pier, where the officials soon showed up. The guy from the health ministry filled in a form in the cockpit (without even ask about our health), the quarantine lady refrained from an inspection, but munched chocolate cookies in the cockpit (she then asked for a bag to take the rest of the cookies back home) and the young man who had accompanied her only gave me an embarrassed smile when I asked whether he was the local vet (yeah, something like that…) and didn’t even want to see the cat and was not interested in further visits… Of course they all cashed in a fee, but we’re still a bit puzzled, why cruisers can’t just fill in the forms at the office, but have to take the boat to the pier, manoeuvring the boat in close quarters in an overtired state to have inspectors aboard who then don’t inspect anything.

Anyway, now we’re legally here and ready for Tonga!


The day that wasn’t there

On the last day of our passage to Tonga we crossed the date line, so one entire day is missing from our log book and our lives. It adds to the confusion we experience living in the South Pacific: Summer is winter, the South is cold and the North warm, ‘Far East Asia’ lies to the West of us, ‘the West’ (US and Europe) is in the East and now on top of everything today is yesterday… When it’s Friday morning here, it’s Thursday evening in Europe (I hope I got that right, correct me if you’re better at this mindboggling concept ;-) )


Sailing towards Tonga

We really enjoyed our stay in Niue, one day we rented bicycles and explored up north, another day we hitched a ride to the northern cape. The coast is dotted with caves and chasms–we are used to snorkel coral heads, this time we walked between them. We would like to stay a bit longer, but looking at the wind forecast for the next few days we decided to leave for Tonga tonight. We should reach Nuku Alofa in 3 days (320 nm).


More photos: Beveridge Reef

Beveridge Reef

On the way from French Polynesia to Niue we stopped for two nights at Beveridge Reef, a submerged atoll without any motus. Being anchored without land in sight turned out to be a special, but bouncy experience.

(15 photos)


At last some photos again: Maupihaa


In May 2016 we spent 3 weeks in the tiny atoll of Maupihaa (only 4 miles long). People from Maupiti come and live here to collect copra, currently 15 people live on the island. The hospitality of the islanders and the bird colonies of the western and northern motus made our last stop in French Polynesia a special experience.

(60 photos)

Older posts «