Tonga - The Friendly Isles
The tiny kingdom of Tonga is centrally placed in the South Pacific and is romantically described as the place where time begins. It has managed to avoid most of the media attention focused on its Pacific neighbours; however, the low key holiday destination has all of what an idyllic Pacific paradise should have.
While the Japanese, French and Americans have moved in on much of the Pacific region, the last remaining monarchy in the Pacific has adopted a wait-and-see attitude which has kept the developers at bay.
Tonga is, as they say, for Tongans. With a population of around 98% nationals. A population of some 95,000 live without any five star resorts, shopping malls or freeways and yet no evidence of poverty. In fact Tonga remains one of the most natural, untouched cruising areas of the world, probably because it has been off the beaten tourist track.
Charter World’s Brook Felsenthal advises clients to get there sooner rather than later, as the recent introduction of direct flights will affect the destination with greater tourist numbers driving the change.
On arrival in the capital Nuku’alofa, you will be transferred to the King’s own airline Royal Tongan Airlines which flies to Vava’u Island group to the north.
The flight serves as an excellent orientation to your cruising ground which includes hundreds of tiny atolls, coral reefs and vegetation-topped mountains.
Located slightly south of the equator between latitudes 15 deg south and 23 deg, the island group of Vava’u is perfect for cruising. The collection of 50 islands offers many near-perfect anchorages or encircling white beaches which gives the impression of an island-studded lake.
The total cruising area is by no means large, yet offers plenty of variety for up to 14 days cruising. If you want to go for a long sail, it’s easy to just head out into the blue Pacific and enjoy the sail winds. It is even possible to circumnavigate half the group in one day, reaching the northern tip of the main island where stunning sheer cliffs drop 500 feet to the water’s edge.
All the anchorages are known by numbers (even by the locals). The evening radio schedules sound like a Tattslotto draw with charterers asking “What time is the Tongan feast at number 26?” and “where is the best snorkelling at number 7?”
With virtually no tide and gentle trade winds of between 10 – 15 knots through most of the season, Tonga is the most relaxing charter area in the Pacific. The coral is very visible and easily negotiated with lots of clear water and deep water drop offs.
The on-shore vegetation is similar to a rainforest with flowering bushes, breadfruit, coconut, and mango in a tropical jungle setting. Highlights include a visit to the Reef Garden, a most spectacular reef joining two islands which offer an array of live coral and tropical fish. It is possible to anchor nearby and use your dinghy to move along the reef from one island to the next.
Mariner’s Cave is another highlight – a cavern 50 feet in diameter and accessed only by an underwater tunnel. To enter requires good snorkelling skills. However, if you dive under your yacht successfully, you should not find the 7 feet down and 14 feet across too difficult.
Once inside, you rise to find a green mist which fills the cave, clearing to clean air as the wave action surges spray back and forth.
On Sundays, the surging comes from the throats of inhabitants – the nation sways to the sounds of thousands of harmonious voices and church bells which drift across the water from almost every angle. A visit to the local church is strongly recommended and the Tongans will make you feel more than welcome.
Unless tied to the mast with cotton wool in your ears, the serene singing eventually draws most visiting yachties to at least one session, where you are ushered into the back rows by welcoming Tongans.
Charter World offer a fleet of Monohull bareboats from 33 – 49’ and Catamarans from 38 – 47’ as well as a small selection of crewed yachts.
Those who choose to sail in Tonga will experience unspoilt anchorages, gentle trade winds and genuine warmth from the Tongan people. And there is no better way to experience this paradise than from the deck of a boat.
Whether you choose to take a bareboat or prefer to take a local skipper onboard, one thing will be certain, it will become immediately evident why Captain Cook dubbed Tonga, The Friendly Isles.