Friday, 25 August 2017

Tonga - The Friendly Islands (with a lot of rain)

Hanateli and his botanic garden
Into each life (and ocean passage) a little rain must fall - we had a fair bit of rain back in May in the Marquesas, which came in short intense bursts, but not much since... until we reached Tonga. Our crossing from Niue (just the two of us, as Peter and Sue had left us there) was rough, rolly and windy and wet. We were trying to go slowly so as to arrive in daylight, so had a heavily reefed main and a tiny staysail, but were still rushing along at 8.5-9 knots. Neiafu Bay, in the Vava'u Group of the Kingdom of Tonga, is amazingly sheltered, yet even in there, boats were dragging their anchors and pulling the mooring buoys. After checking in (what a lot of form-filling, which some of you will know I secretly enjoy!), we went ashore to find internet and re-connect with lots of Oyster friends
we hadn't seen since Bora Bora. Many of them had sailed straight from there, missing out on all our wonderful Maupiti/ Mapihaa/ Aitutaki/ Palmerston/ Niue experiences - such a shame, we feel.

We have enjoyed a great tour of the Botanical Gardens at Ene'io, shown around by Haniteli, former Agriculture Minister for Tonga, who started collecting plants when he inherited the land aged 8. The name Ene'io, which means to tickle someone until they say yes, is very appropriate for someone who has managed to extract celebrity and sponsorship funding for his
venture. Hanateli is a charmer who regaled us with stories of Tonga, his life and his garden. He introduced us to his wife Lucy, who works in town at the Ministry for ... well, everything: culture, the environment,  medicine, education. She in turn took us to the hospital eye clinic, and that contact, Mary (Mele in Tongan) has shaped our time in Vava'u so far. The hospital then got in touch itself and through its two clinics in the rural areas, and so to the Town Offices and then to the people by loudhailer to say "come to eye clinic Monday 0830".  So we have run three eye clinics, one in the remote western end of the island where there were about 60 people waiting for our arrival, and have seen about 120 in all.
Thank you present Tonga
We have increased our efficiency dramatically, but it still is particularly rewarding to help people with short sight move 4 or 5 lines down an eye-test chart or see the other side of the road for the first time thanks to our clever eyejuster glasses that can be altered to serve a range of short sight. Charles has tried them, and while he can't read the top line without glasses, he can read to the bottom line with the eyejusters, so they are really a very clever $30 invention. Reading glasses for the older population help them
with their bible reading and sewing. Another Oyster, Meteorite, went east and distributed glasses to over 90 people. That means that we have distributed glasses to 2% of the population of Vava'u of about 12,000. There's a huge need but not all cases are simple. For the more complicated cases (cataracts or diabetic retinopathy) patients have to wait until a surgical team arrives in November. No glasses at all are made in Tonga. All most outsiders know about Tongans is that they are large. That's true, and it means that diabetes is a huge problem and impacts on Tongans' eyesight and health. The islanders are very friendly; one worries that they are suffering from a diminishing gene pool as many younger and smarter emigrate. Agriculture seems vibrant, tourism albeit undeveloped; aid (from
Australia, Japan and China) and remittances are evident.

Rain, rain, rain. One morning the dinghy was full of rainwater to above the paddles - nearly 20cm! Not wanting to trudge too far through the puddles, I ended up at the nearest school to the town centre, a leaky-roofed
Tonga school singing
English-language primary school with 40 children and 4 teachers. The Head, Dorothy, welcomed me in and I read a book about London, introduced Lucky the Pakeman Teddy in his orange lifejacket and listened to enthusiastic singing. Charles and I returned to give them an inflatable globe, on which we were
able to show them what a long way from London we have travelled.

Oyster definitely know how to throw a party. Most of the yachts navigated their way last Friday through shallows and coral reefs to the uninhabited island of Kenutu, on the eastern edge of the Vava'u Group. There, we were treated to a Tongan feast, fire-juggling and Tongan dancing. We stayed on for another day and had a barbecue on the beach.

Oyster beach party
The water here is a beautiful greeny-blue and we found some beautiful snorkelling near Mala, nicknamed the Japanese coral garden. There are also lots of caves, but they need better visibility. We are booked to go swimming with whales again, having found it such an extraordinary experience on Niue.

For now, we are settling in to watch a DVD and hoping for better weather. We've enjoyed The Missing and have lots of ideas of books to read, after a fun session of the OWR Book Club, where we all contributed suggestions. Our next book is Golden Hill, about late 18th century Manhattan.

In a few days we will head to Fiji, about 350NM away, where we'll spend about five weeks. There's lots to see so we have been planning a route and on-shore activities.


  1. Been following your trip all I can is WOW!

  2. ‘I can see clearly now the rain has gone’ by Jimmy Cliff would seem an appropriate anthem for this post! Well done you two.
    Mike Hempstead