Australia! We’ve bloody made it! We sailed into Newcastle just as a front hit us but it wasn’t a biggie, not the nicest way to get back home but we were so excited about arriving safely we didn’t care!

A few have asked why Newcastle? Why not Sydney? Two reasons. First is that Sydney isn’t really set up to handle small craft returning to Australia. They deal with the big boys over there really.

Secondly we joined the Port2Port rally which meant we got a free week at the lovely Newcastle Cruising Yacht Club and a lot of support for bringing our boat into Australia. As we needed to pay tax and import fees this was actually a big deal. It can be a long and frustrating task that but the rally organisers have worked with Border Control to make the process very simple.


Australia gets quite a bad rap when it comes to visiting boats. Maybe things were bad in the past but we couldn’t have been made to feel more welcome. That’s not to say they weren’t thorough, they went over every inch of the boat, but they were generally interested in our trip and very professional.

So. We’re back! What’s next? Well we’ve always wanted to sail under the Sydney harbour bridge to mark the end of our trip so we need to get down the coast for that. We also need to sell poor Interlude which we have very mixed feelings about. She’s been such an amazing boat that’s got us safely 2/3 around the world but the reality is we’re pretty broke now and need to sell her and get back to work. We’ll hopefully find her a nice buyer who’ll enjoy her as much as we have but it’s going to be hard to hand over those keys.

First though we’re going to just relax and celebrate having all the major crossings behind us. Coastal passages can of course have their fair share of challenges but if anything does happen you’re always going to be in radio range, and swimming range if you can outrun the sharks!

New Caledonia to Australia – Last ocean crossing!

Our last ocean crossing! It still blows me away every time I look at a globe and see how far we’ve come. It also blows me away how quickly almost two years off work has gone!

For whatever reason the last crossing had always taken a backseat on this journey. It was just something that would happen and then we’d be back in Australia. Turns out (of course) the trip can be pretty major with fronts hammering you this way and that.

As we wanted to head directly to Newcastle, which is about 60miles north of Sydney, to clear into Australia the chances of making it across without a major system smacking us was quite unlikely.

We’ve never really enjoyed the large offshore passages if we’re totally honest. Some people love them but for us they always follow the same pattern…

4-5 days before setting off: Stressing about weather forecasts (which normally change every few hours as you’re looking so far in advance). Talking with others who are thinking of leaving and getting more stressed and confused.

1-2 days before setting off: Feeling completely unsure about your decision to go. Thinking what if… What if we stay another week? What if we can’t go fast enough and that 40knot front catches us?

First day out there: What was that noise? I hope we’ll be ok. What the hell are we doing out here and seriously- what the HELL is that noise? Everything is just heightened I think. You’re picking up sounds and vibrations that are perfectly normal and getting nervous about them.

During the passage: Are we there yet? Are we there yet? There’s another book read (if you’re lucky and reading is even a possibility). Are we there yet?

1-2 days before arrival: Feelings of excitement. Hard to describe if you haven’t done a big passage but tend to focus on weird material things your brain seems to be missing. ‘I can’t wait for a good coffee, burger, glass of wine, buy that new thing I probably don’t really need, etc.’

Day of arrival: Sense of achievement of making it over, but also worrying that you don’t stuff it up coming into the marina. Once tied up and safe, an overwhelmingly sense of how tired you are but want to push on and celebrate anyhow!

1-2 days after arrival: Telling everyone how easy that passage was and thinking you’re an idiot for worrying about it at all.

Of course we try to arm ourselves, we look at as much info we can, we use a weather router who gives us a detailed go, don’t go, report. I think I’d rather be worried but over prepared than carefree but caught out when it comes to this stuff.

The first 24 hours we knew were going to be tough and they were. 30+ knots. Horrible sea state that never let the boat, or us, settle. Rain. Not nice. We had the boat setup well though and, as always, she performed amazingly.

Our router said to keep pushing South and sure enough after 24 sloppy hours we popped out of the system into lovely conditions! The middle part of the passage was perfect. Flat seas. 12-16 knot winds. Sunny skies by day and stunningly bright stars by night. Give me a lot of time to think about this trip and all we’ll seen and done. Who we’ve met and the highs, and sometimes lows, that sailing around a good chunk of the Earth provides.

It’s going to be interesting in a few months to see how we both feel back on land. I know we’re going to miss the freedom of it all but doing a trip like this takes so much planning, thought, and energy, it’s going to be a relief to be done with it as well. Short term I’m just going to be content with feeling we’re all safe. Helen, myself, and Interlude. I’m not going to miss that… that constant fear, which ranges from mostly background noise to extreme panic. It accompanies you everywhere and while we’ve been extremely lucky on this journey, it’ll be good to leave that side of it at the docks.

After a few days of good winds they dropped for 24 hours forcing us to run under engine which we hate. Not only were we under engine but the crazy current systems around Australia were pushing back against us at almost two knots. Something we said Oz? Oh well, at least the sunsets were nice while we slowly made our way home.


After a very slow day the winds picked up, the current turned favourable, and away we went.

500 miles, 400, 300… The features of the seabed were interesting on the chart as we sailed over huge underwater mountains shooting up from depths 5000m to 400m below us.

We kept up a good pace with the mighty EAC system helping us then all of a sudden we were on our last night, and oh what a lovely bunch of tricks Australia had in store for us.

We had high winds give way to double troughs, electrical clouds chipped in barking lighting, dark squally clouds raced towards us, then stopped and turned away thinking better of it. Cold fronts advanced. Warm ones retreated. Now I personally have no idea what half of that means but the conditions kept our wind dial truly happy as it danced around in all directions at random speeds ranging from 2-22 knots. Our weather guy summed the madness up well I thought saying something along the lines of…

‘So all in all an interesting days weather lies ahead, although it could be much worse. In July a similar front hit Newcastle with 60knot winds, although tomorrow this seems unlikely.’ We debated his definition of ‘unlikely’ for longer than I care to reveal. :/


Also overnight that strange phnominom ‘land smell’ kicked in. After a week at sea the sudden smell of a new country as you draw near is powerful. Of course after a few hours it just becomes part of the norm but that first waft can be striking. Australia, I’m sure you’re dying to know, has a lovely scent, very earthy and inviting. Compared to some countries that will rename nameless, Oz smelt great!

Helen raised the Q flag once last time, a job I’m sure she’ll miss, as we approached land. It’s always exciting to see land but this was something very special.


As we pulled into the Marina in Newcastle and it really did hit us. We’d made it. We were home and safe! Almost 24,000 miles under our belt. Almost 2 years of sailing a big slice of the Earth. Cue celebrations you might think? Nope Customs wouldn’t let us off the dock until tomorrow and we were desperate for sleep. Rock and roll!

New Caledonia

Getting to New Caledonia was a bit of a race. The usual trio set off together; Whale and the Bird, Pied-a-Mer and ourselves.

Pied-a-Mer set off early and, after a tussle with a mooring line, got off to a good start. They also took the closest passage through the reef, giving them a better sailing angle. Damn it!

We, along with Whale and the Bird, decided to retrace our track through the lower Malolo pass, figuring if we’d made it in that way in the dark, coming back out that way in daylight would be a piece of cake – and for us it was. However the seas were churning like the inside of a witches cauldron and it really made us realise how crazy it was coming in that way in the dark. Oh well as they say ‘He who dares wins’.

We were just congratulating ourselves on exiting the pass when I looked back and saw Whale and the Bird hoisting their sail. That mean’t one of two things: either the race really was on or something had gone wrong. Simon got on the blower and found out their engine was leaking coolant and so they would be sailing the rest of the way out of the pass. We swiftly made some space as they shot past us, leaving us for dead. Luckily the wind was in the right direction to sail out of the pass and they were able to fix the leak, and so all was good in the hood. It must of been a bit hairy for them and we can totally sympathise after similar incidents.

The rest of the day passed without any drama. We saw another two sailboats on AIS – it’s always nice to know there are others around.

The following day as is was getting dark, one of the other boats, ‘Amazing Grace’, called up Whale and the Bird to ask them ‘what their intentions were’. Well as you’d expect they were planning to continue on the same course that we had been since leaving the pass – straight along the rhumb line towards New Caledonia. However Amazing Grace didn’t like this idea and wanted them to leave more room. Onboard Interlude we thought this was a bit rude, seeing as there was a five-mile gap between us and Whale and the Bird we were unsure why they would be unable to sail their four-meter boat between us.

Their complaint? There was plenty of sea around so why did they need to be so close to him. Pete put it politely when he told them that they’d ‘just sailed in the middle of three boats travelling together’. Amazing Grace? More like Amazing Disgrace!

Funny thing is he was travelling much faster than us and was gone before we knew it. Ahh well there’s never enough entertainment in the middle of an ocean!

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From there on in it was just the usual sailing, ocean, sky and a few little triangles on the horizon marking our friends in the distance. For some reason we pulled ahead, so eventually even the sails disappeared leaving just us and the birds for company. We still stayed in radio range and as always it was good to chat.

We were trying to time the Havannah pass during daylight hours. We figured we’d pushed our luck with the reefs at night and really didn’t want to tempt fate. Luckily we arrived in the early hours of the morning which mean’t that we could get through the pass at slack tide, at dawn which we’d calculated to be 5am.

Unfortunately we’d caught up with our ‘friends’ Amazing Grace and the boat they were travelling with Amandla as they were sailing at a lower speed. We heard them chatting and they said they would be going through the pass at 7am boat time. Whatever the heck that means.

As we wanted to pass through earlier, we called them up to let them know what our intentions were. Simon asked when they would be going through (7am) and what they meant by boat time (the time on their boat). Doh! He informed them that we were planning on going earlier to which he simply grunted. Joy!

So I put on our engine and forged ahead while Simon went to get some shut-eye. Next thing I know they’d increased their speed, obviously tanking their engines now and were cutting us off at the pass! Quite literally!

So I got Simon on deck who was none-too-pleased and as we were trying to figure out what to do another AIS target popped up on screen. This was a tanker heading towards the pass from the North. We didn’t want to play chicken with a tanker so we reduced our speed and pulled over to let it through. Next thing we know the tanker calls up and asks our ‘friends’ to make room. I guess there’s always a bigger bully in the playground.

By the time we all made it through the pass it was well past 5am and possibly past 7am boat time – who’d know? So much for good planning!!  The pass was a bit swirly and choppy but we made it through just fine and were followed closely behind by Whale and the Bird and Pied-a-Mer without drama.

Woohoo! New Caledonia looked stunning!


At the end of a trip like this its always good to find yourself in a cosy marina and fortunately there was a spot available for us. However it was the last one which mean’t our buddy boats were left out in a busy anchorage trying to negotiate a spot between all the moorings. I guess we didn’t realise the prize for this particular race was a marina berth. Amazing Grace and Amandla had just won gold and silver. Even though we’d got bronze it made us feel pretty bad knowing our friends were out there and it was set to get windy. :(

Noumea, New Caledonia

What’s the deal with this marina? They let you come and check in but only with a three-day maximum stay which mean’t that we would be out on our ear with the wind picking up in just a few days. So we checked in as quickly as we could and rushed around to the supermarkets to provision after a week at sea.

IMG_7915After that it was time for some retail therapy. This is the first place in a long time thats had ‘real’ shopping so we decided to make the most of it and bought… well not a lot actually. But it was fun all the same.

New Caledonia is yet another French island and is similar to some of the others we’ve been to like Martinique or French Polynesia but is also really reminiscent of Papeete in Tahiti – which is great because we loved that place.

After three days in the marina we started to worry. Boats came in with stories of 30 knot winds in the anchorages and islands outside. But we kept our heads down and nobody asked us to move. Actually we found out a lot of cruisers had been their for a while and there were plenty of ‘the dog ate my homework’ excuses to stop them moving including wonky engines, missing rudders and injured legs. I won’t name and shame people but you know who you are!!

It was not only windy but cloudy, and rainy from time to time too. This mean’t that instead of sun-baking on the beach and snorkelling in aqua waters of the islands, we spent our time wandering around the town.

Ok not cloudy and rainy all the time…

IMG_7966We eventually made our way into the museum of New Caledonia, a well presented little museum. It was a great summary of all our cultural experiences across the pacific but didn’t really tell us anything new.

Another day we made the long walk down to the beach at Baie des Citrons. It was a pleasant stroll around the harbour side and along the promenade with the usual skinny french belles jogging off their morning croissants.

IMG_7952There’s a lovely town beach full of families basking in the sun but before long it clouded over and everyone headed to the shelter of the bars and restaurants that lined the street. We were only too pleased to find ‘the Three Brasseurs’ bar, our Papeete favourite, and popped in for a special brew.


After that we headed to “le Petite Bistrode” for a delicious meal.

Our favourite lunch place however was l’Annexe. Set in the park, it had an amazing three-course lunch menu that changed daily. So we had to try at least a couple :)


We also found delicious food at another place close to the marina called L’Inedit. We had a charcuterie plate along with plenty of lovely glasses of wine recommended by the super-friendly barman.


After eating and drinking our way around Noumea we were ready to head to the islands and anchorages to chill out, swim and relax. But the weather had other ideas with continuous wind predicted… forever!

We heard about a weather window back to Oz and decided to jump on it. Yet another place where we felt we’d only scrapped the surface of but sometimes you just need to know when to call it quits. There’s no messing with this weather and who knows when we’d get a good weather window like this.

So we made our preparations, more food shopping, more refuelling and the usual run around the local offices to clear out. Once again this turned out to be like the amazing race. We went to immigration. This office only opened 8 until 11am but when we got there they told us they were closed and to come back at 10.30. We mooched around, listened to other cruisers misinformation and then ended back at the door around 10am when a french sailor was trying to make his entrance. Obviously speaking French is a positive and they let him in and he kindly got us a spot too.

Once in the immigration office we found plenty of other checking out too. It’s always a good sign! Once we were released from immigration we headed to the Port Captain’s office and then to customs. On leaving there it rained again, drenching us to the core and making us more determined to leave and yet even more miserable about leaving. But c’est la vie!

Next stop Australia!! Yikes!!


For the first time in a long time we were feeling a bit pressed by time. We spent longer in Tonga then we shoulda waiting for a weather window so we knew that would cut into time reserved for Fiji.

We already knew Fiji was going to be one of those places we barely scratch the surface of. It’s something we’ve obviously faced during this whole trip but some places you can get a good sense of in a limited time, and see a good chunk of what it has to offer, while others you sail away from knowing you didn’t see diddly squat.

So the problem facing us, as Fiji’s so damn large, is where to go? What to see?

Adding to this dilemma was the fact we needed to get Interlude hauled out for the last time, mostly to clean her bottom and touch up the anti-foul before returning to Oz, plus we always like to know everything under the waterline is working as it should. The anti-foul has been hammered for everyone on this trip that we’ve talked to. I guess we’ve done over 20,000 miles so it’s understandable.

In the end our decision led us to the Western islands of Fiji. This seemed to be the better cruising ground, the reefs were more charted (more on this later) and it’s also meant to be the drier, sunnier side of Fiji (a LOT more on this later).

A lot of boats head to Savu-Savu in the North first and we were a little gutted by missing out on this but we’d read stories of people being stuck there for weeks as the trade winds can zip between the islands holding everyone captive in port and we couldn’t take that risk.

The passage over from Tonga was shared with our buddy boat Whale and the Bird. We had a great sail for once (the Pacific hasn’t been the calm sea everyone claims for any of us traversing it this season). In fact, this passage was so good we were all a little caught out on the final night as we sailed under the bottom of Fiji’s south coast and a 35 knot squall hit us complete with sheets of blinding rain and sudden increases in seas. Of course this had to coincide with us passing through the busy shipping area with tankers flying about all over the place. Good stuff weather Gods! Well played!

The only other drama was halfway over when my life jacket decided to self inflate for no reason at all. Helen’s went off about two days before in a locker but I was wearing mine and it scared the life out of me when it blew up! Not sure why they both went off, maybe the gas canisters only last two years (that’s how old they are) and then go off so you need to renew them?


Fiji is well known for it’s reefs. Everyone has them on their mind and if they don’t they jolly well should. We were heading for Vuda Point marina which is inside a large reef with a smallish channel you have to pass through. Unluckily we hit this pass around midnight and so were faced with staying outside where the seas were still a little unruly or head in during darkness.

Maybe we were crazy but we decided that due to having so many points of reference that lined up we’d head in. To be fair we did do our homework. We had detailed waypoints from a local who sells them to everyone here. Our radar was showing land to be matching up perfectly with the charts, something that didn’t happen in Tonga. And there were leading lights helping us into the pass exactly where they should be.

So with that we blindly turned in. Everything went well and we were patting ourselves on the back when I said to Helen- ‘Quick, check the chart plotter AIS as that thing we thought was a hotel is moving towards us!’. Sure enough that ‘hotel’ was a 161m long shipping container which was now doing a donut in the area just before the channel as we were blocking up the pass. The ‘ferry’ we’d been watching also turned out to be a pilot boat. It confused things even more but we slowly worked out what was happening and kept out of their way as best we could. Once we were clear the tanker finished his 360 and headed out. I hate to think how much we had just cost him in fuel. Sorry pal.

After that bit of entertainment the trip over to the marina, which was about 30 miles away, was a breeze and we arrived at dawn to a lovely sunrise over Fiji and headed into the customs dock to clear in.


Our clearance went without a hitch and after 30 pages of forms we were officially in. Whale and the Bird didn’t fare so well as five customs officers tore their boat apart for three hours looking for all the drugs they must have thought they had on board. Seems it was all because they bought the boat in Mexico. I think it’s more down to how doggy Pete looks, oh well, they never did find the 100kg’s of coke he had hidden in his fenders.


Vuda Point marina was to become our home for the next week. Home’s a great word for it as the people we met were so welcoming we felt like part of the family. We’ve never been to such a friendly marina, amazing place. The actual marina is weird though. It’s a huge bowl that all the boats line up like the minute ticks on a watch face.


The best thing is that the tide is about two meters here and none of the pontoons float so at high tide you’ve got a one-meter jump off the boat and at low a one-meter climb on your hands. It’s not unheard of for people to fall in the drink trying to get on and off their boats and while very unsafe really adds to the quirkiness of the place. Helen didn’t appreciate this particular quirkiness and wore a big bruise from one of the many near misses.

Oh, it’s got a kick-ass bar with the most amazing sunsets as well!

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Vuda also has all the haul out facilities right there in the marina. Compared to Martinique (where she was last taken out of the water) this boat yard is five star. The lift went without a hitch and the work was very professional, and about half the price of what we paid in the Caribbean. And yes, that is one of the workers hitching a ride on our keel – lazy git! 😉


The cost of labour is so cheap we got a guy to give the boat a full polish and wax. If you’re ever in Fiji look no further than Mosses!


Interlude was checked from top to bottom and we found no issues at all which was reassuring. We had an amazing view from where our boat was in the yard. Looking right out over the ocean. Quite good fun living in a treehouse again!


While the paint was drying we took a few trips to the local town of Latouka. The bus ride there was great fun! No windows, no suspension, no worries! Great tunes blasted out of the amazing 20 speaker audio setup onboard, which must have cost as much as the rest of the bus (priorities bro!). All the school kids bounced along to the beats (when they weren’t reaching out the windows to smack branches on trees).


We’d read that Fiji has some problems with how it’s people integrate with each other. There’s a strong Indian presence here and sometimes things blow up. It’s definitely different to Samoa or Tonga where people are so friendly. Here you felt like you were being watched a little and we were told to just be on our guard. It’s a shame but you have to play by the rules when you’re playing in someone else’s backyard.

Personally we never felt any problems while in Latouka. However other cruisers reported that the nearby town of Nadi was pretty full on with locals coming up to them and staying they shouldn’t be there as it wasn’t safe, or saying they should only buy things in local Fijian shops and not Indian stores.

We had a few supplies to get and Latouka delivered. The market is HUGE!


The real reason we were here was to grab a curry though as we’d been told you can get some of the best Indian food in the world from Fiji. After a big search we found a little place full of local Indian people and rolled out of there two hours later after having the best curry we can remember. Sure we couldn’t feel our mouths for the rest of the day but that’s the price you pay! Yum!

The rest of the week was spent relaxing while we waited for our turn to get back in the water. The weather was amazing. Bright sunny days, cool nights. After some of the greyness that seems to be following us across the pacific we soaked up the rays.

Then of course as soon as we wanted to head out to the islands we checked the weather and it looked like being very overcast and wet for the next week. Grrr! So much for the ‘dry’ side of Fiji!

We headed out anyway, over to an area called Musket Cove which is a small yacht club and marina but also linked with the fancy resorts on the island. For a small fee you can become lifelong members of the yacht club. No one was really sure what this meant as you seemed to be able to use everything regardless but we did get these really fancy cards that we’ll treasure for the rest of our lives. Pure quality.IMG_7974The resort was just what the doctor ordered. Long swims in the pool, lazy afternoons walking around the island. It was what we were hoping for and although knowing we’d missed out on other places in Fiji we felt good about of decision to just focus on one small area and enjoy it rather than our normal trick of trying to see as much as possible in a haze.


Whale and Bird and some other of our travel buddies popped over a few days later and we had some good nights out with them at the bar listening to some great old rockers bang out the classics.


From Musket we wanted to head North up through the Yassawa group. The weather was really starting to turn for the worst though and although I’m sure the islands are amazing we’ve been spoilt on this trip by seeing so many that we knew they aren’t that much fun if it’s raining and grey.

We did venture out to Cloud 9 which is just beyond the reef. Talking of reefs there’s a brand new Swan 52’ on it’s side about 300m from here. It smashed into the reef about three weeks ago and sank. No one really knows what happened but we’d heard he’d typed in the wrong waypoints and just sailed straight over the reef – at night!

To us that’s just crazy! You really need someone on the bow around this area at all times. The charts are pretty good but there’s a lot of stuff missed out. And this area is meant to be safer to cruise than say the Lau group to the East. It did make us think how nuts we were coming into the pass at night. There is a big difference between coming into a large shipping channel as we did and playing frogger with reefs like his guy did. Game over.

Cloud 9 was such a cool place, basically a massive floating bar that serves healthy doses of cool drinks and unhealthy doses of amazing pizza. Most of the customers come from the small tour boats that zip over from the mainland but they have a few moorings for yachts. We hung out with a local guy who works there. He told us a bit about Fiji and sadly some of it’s problems, it was great to chat with him and it does seem that the younger generations see the integration issue as less of a problem. Fingers crossed.IMG_7864


After Cloud 9 we snuck back behind the reef at Musket as the wind started to blow. The next day we headed back to Vuda after trying our luck at the other marina in the area which was full and the anchorage that was just too slippery.

The forecast was looking grim as you like. A front was hovering over Fiji and didn’t look like moving on for at least a week. We talked with others and decided to just leave for New Caledonia as the weather was actually way better over there.

So that’s what we did. We cut our time short in Fiji and decided to move on. And it felt horrible.

Back to those feelings of totally missing out on a place. Grr! Oh well. We did, and saw, what we could. We left feeling relaxed and recharged for the final push back to Oz. We met up with friends- including our Galapagos to French Polynesia heroes Matelot who sailed over to Vuda to wish us farewell as they are heading back to New Zealand.


We’re sorry Fiji, we know we never gave you a chance. We loved what we saw and will be back we promise. It’s not you it’s us.


We had light winds blowing us down to Tonga, so much so that by day two we had the motor on. Despite this we felt pretty lucky because with normal trade winds it would have been a much harder trip and we’d have been battling straight into it. We were determined to get into the harbour on the second day, as by day three the trade winds were expected to return with a vengeance – so we were pushing quite hard.

Tonga was always somewhere we’d been looking forward to. When we finally navigated the islands we were not disappointed – it’s stunningly beautiful reminding us of New Zealand or Thailand or somewhere equally lovely.

Neifu harbour is pretty well protected but does have one of the worst dangers we’ve encountered yet. The harbour wall! You have no choice but to tie up to it in order to clear customs. The wall itself goes in and out in a corrugated manner, is covered in spikey shells, nails and all sorts, and it’s topped with an overhanging piece of rough concrete. Nice!

So we put all of our ten fenders down one side, raised them and then raised them again and headed in. Our friends had just left the wall and the customs guys were slinking away but we called them and they reluctantly returned to take our lines. We docked well, coming in gently but still our fenders were two low, we managed to quickly squeeze a few between the guard rails and the concrete and raise them yet higher. This dock was certainly not made for yachts and we’ve heard tales of boats getting stuck under the concrete on a raising tide.

We were certainly not comfortable here and tried as best we could to rush through the paperwork, but in some places you just can’t rush things and have to go with the flow. We departed the dock about an hour later and were relieved to pick up a mooring in the anchorage beyond. With health, quarantine and customs completed, we’d only have immigration to do in the morning when the office reopened!Tonga4IMG_7709


The village-sized town of Neifu is friendly and totally geared towards the hundreds of boats that make their way here each year. From French Polynesia to here there are a number of routes you can take but in the end all roads lead to Neifu in Tonga, and you can’t walk down the street for more than a hundred meters without running into someone you know that you’ve met somewhere along the way… the trick is to remember the name, the boat name, and where you last met them!

It also seems that all roads in Neifu lead to Tropicana, an amazing cafe that does internet, laundry, gas refills, bike hires, oh and great breakfasts too! :) After three days and three breakfasts, we’d caught up on internet and it was time to move on – to the anchorages!

Vaka ‘Eitu

First stop was anchorage 16, locally known as Vaka ‘Eitu.  It’s a lovely spot and after a couple of goes we managed to drop our hook in a patch of sand. One thing that is worth noting, however, is that we were in 14 meters of water (not seven as shown on the chart), we went over a sand bar of three meters (not marked on the chart) and sailed around an island (which according to the chart does not even exist). Hmmm things are certainly getting more interesting here.

The next day we went for a dinghy ride tour of the island with our friends. We were keen to walk the trails and maybe visit the resort for a cold beer or spot of lunch. As it turns out, the guides are about as much use as the charts. The resort has closed and because of this the trails have grown over.

The island’s only inhabitants was a family with 11 children!!! The father, Dave, invited us to a hog roast on Saturday which we gladly accepted.


On Friday, however, we decided to explore a bit further afield and left for Hunga. We had a slow sail down there at about three knots, but as we were waiting for high tide to traverse the pass into Hunga lagoon we were in no hurry and it was nice just to tootle along.

Before long we started to see whale plumes in the distance and whale-watching boats everywhere trying to get in on the action. Then a couple of frisky whales appeared not too far off and converging on our course. We kept a close eye on them but as we were kind of stuck between an island and a pair of whales there was not much we could do. We were pretty relieved though as we rounded the island, and could tack away from them. We love to see whales, just not that close up!

With that obstacle expertly avoided we started to concentrate on the next one. The passage into Hunga. We had heard that the passage was 2.2 meters deep at low tide so with a two-meter draft and only and hour and a half before high tide we were pretty confident. But we followed our teachings and I posted myself on the deck for some eye-ball navigation while Simon slowly drove us through. And we got lucky!


The passage was ok but with only 50cm below our keel we got pretty nervous pretty quickly and then right in front of the passage is a reef so you have to take a quick dog-leg to the right. I didn’t know this so that made for a nerve-wracking few minutes of ‘Go right, go right, GO RIGHT’ and ‘Are you sure we can get through here?’.

Anyway we made it through and across the lagoon and picked up a mooring buoy in front of a resort. Phew!

After a quick bite we went ashore to explore and pay for our mooring. The resort was deserted except for two fierce-looking, barking, black guard dogs, that were all too happy to have their ears scratched. We plonked ourselves down on the beach, tried to find some snorkelling and then returned to the boat assuming it would open up later.

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A little later Barry the caretaker arrived by dinghy to tell us we couldn’t use the moorings as the resort was shut and the moorings weren’t maintained. What is it with the charts and info here?!?!

After a nice chat he departed to go and feed the dogs while we dropped our mooring and went in search of a maintained mooring near the village. We picked it up relatively easily – perhaps that was because we were on land (well at least according to our chart plotter).

After all that, it was time for beers and nibbles onboard… again.

Back to Vaka ‘Eitu

Navigating the pass was easier on the way out, for one we knew what we were doing and for two we waited for high tide. The journey back to Vaka ‘Eitu wasn’t as easy, the wind had kicked up and so we had to battle into the waves. Another wet and cold adventure.

Back in Vaka ‘Eitu it was nice and calm. We headed to shore for Dave’s traditional Tongan feast with a hog spit roast. Now this is something I’ve been looking forward for a long time. I must have seen it on a film somewhere and thought it was the epitome of paradise island living.

Not so. When we got there mummy pig and daddy pig were still running around, meters away from baby pig on the spit.


Luckily the views distracted me and the family had made a huge spread of dishes including chicken noodles, potatoes, octopus, mud crab and much, much more. Yummy!

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Neifu again

After a few days in the islands we decided to return to Neifu to take stock and to wait out some strong winds. Everyone else had the same idea and before long all the moorings were taken. It seems like high season here, and chaos reigned as another 15 boats turned up on one day making the customs guys work hard for their money.

It’s a good chance to catch up with friends and there’s lots of events and things to do here. So much so that you can get trapped here day after day and never leave.

For the record Pete somehow managed to miss this shot, which is maybe why the locals challenged them to a game of killer.


We spent our time getting in some much needed exercise. First up the walk up Mount Apu. It’s an easy stroll over there, followed by some steep, crooked, slippery steps. If you’re thinking of doing this hike remember to bring your rock-climbing gear. Apparently there used to be a rope handrail but some yachty came along and took it for his boat. Bloody yachties!!

The view at the top looking out over Tonga’s islands was fab and worth the climb (so long as you don’t break a leg on the way down).Tonga13 Tonga14The following day we hired bikes to tour the island. It was an up and down ride, and the bikes were probably best described as death traps. We had about five gears between us, the breaks were sticky and I think my handles were taken off a three-year-old’s trike. Anyway we avoided the hogs and dogs, and made friends with the kids. Well actually Simon was shot up by the kids pretending to machine gun him as he rode past while I got high-fives. They know where it’s at!!

Tonga15Our destination was the botanical gardens. Unfortunately by the time we got there we’d missed the tour. So we headed out across the causeway (sporting red and blue crabs) and down to another beach. I must say the rubbish here is terrible!!  There’s big bins everywhere full of empty cans. But then it seems that these are simply thrown in the hedges or on the beach, such a shame.

After a quick mooch around we returned to the cafe at the botanical gardens for lunch. They served fish and chips or fish and chips so we ordered… fish and chips. After that we walked along the beach and had a snooze… until the tide came in and splashed our feet. Then we realised it was time to return to town quick-sharp!

After three or four days we realised it was time to get out and explore the islands again. This time we planned our trip more carefully and booked a few meals before heading out.

Ofu island

We decided to go East and attempt the tricky passage despite all our close encounters recently. Little did we know this would be the closest one yet. The passage to Ofu island is reportedly easy and at least three meters deep at low tide. We know this as it says so on our chart.

How then did our depth sounder go down to ZERO as we went through this channel?! Yes this is not the place to rely on the chart plotter, here eye-ball navigation is king and good luck is your friend. Turns out we should have gone to the left of the reef instead of between two reefs but how a first-timer is to know this from the information out there I’m not sure. Actually the closest you get to good information is Google satellite imagery – how about that?

Anyway we made it safely to the tiny island of Ofu without so much as a graze on the keel, but how we accomplished that I’m not really sure. After a few hours of lazing onboard we saw a familiar blue-hulled boat approaching and were pleased to see our Panama-crossing-friends on Matelot. After a few beers with them, we collected their waypoints for our return passage, and then headed ashore for dinner.

Mandela resort, run by Ben and Lisa, is amazing! Lisa took us on a tour of her small island to see the amazing rooms they have here, the best of which is the tree-house. Tonga16They’ve built this place up slowly and are trying to be as self-sustained as possible. The beach-front restaurant is ultra-relaxing and they prepare the tastiest three-course meal for their guests. An extraordinary place and one that I’d love to come back to. Tonga18Unfortunately the wind started blowing a guster so we had to head back to the boat instead of enjoying the camp-fire on the beach. Boo!

Ark Gallery anchorage

The next day we awoke to some pretty gusty winds. With nice weather we would have been quite confident navigating the passage back, we’d viewed the charts, the pictures and had our trusty waypoints. However with these horrid conditions there would be no room for error, so once again our hearts were heavy. Our other alternative was to stay in the blustery, unprotected anchorage and that didn’t seem like fun either. So we set off.

Stationed at the front of the boat, this time the waves were up and I was hanked on in my life vest with hoodie and long pants. Not what I paid my money for! But it all went smoothly and after 15 mins I was safely tucked back in under the spray hood.

We made it into our next anchorage which wasn’t as protected as we’d hoped, and with all the mooring bouys taken our only option was to anchor at the back in the wind. We tried anchoring a few times but just couldn’t get any hold as it was all coral. Luckily our friend on Four Choices left (maybe it was something we said?) and we grabbed his mooring buoy in relative shelter – nice.Tonga3We visited the Ark Gallery by dinghy to pay our dues and had a snoop around Cherrie’s art gallery. The owners have lived on this floating pontoon for 12 years and Cherrie creates lovely paintings, capturing the local culture and sea-life.Tonga19We took a walk up the road and met up with a farmer building a fence around his field of taro to ward off the pigs. He had a cute dog, here he is…Tonga17We were told there was a path back to the anchorage via the beach but we couldn’t find it, and with the tide coming in we had no choice but to climb a tree to get back to the road.Tonga20That night we caught up with friends and went to Maria’s Paella restaurant (I’m not sure this is the proper name but that’s how everyone refers to it). We had some scrumptious tapas and of course the signature seafood paella which was super yummy too and a reminder of our time back in Spain.Tonga23 Tonga21After that we were delighted when a shower curtain was drawn back to reveal a three-man band, with keyboard player, one of the best harmonica players we’ve ever heard and a slightly weird but amazing vocalist. They seemed a little shocked when the screen went back and kind of came to life like some full-sized wind up toys. No idea how long the poor guys had been hid back there, I think the last booking was a few weeks before, oops.Tonga22The vocalist was really talented but no-one could understand the language in which he sang. Simon thought it was the language of beer which he constantly drank between songs, verses, and sometimes even lines. It wasn’t really necessary to understand him, however, and his passion certainly made up for it. Before the end of the night everyone was either singing, playing the drums, dancing or head-butting the friendly goat that lives in the bar. No kidding!Tonga24After a big night, we snoozed the day away in the beauty of the anchorage.

Anchorage 7… or actually Neifu again

We wanted to go to anchorage 7, because from here you can dinghy around to the Swallows Cave, which is supposed to be amazing. But when we got there the anchorage was full of boats and deep. We were pretty sure if the wind changed there would be boats on top of boats so we reluctantly changed our mind and headed back to Neifu.

Although we loved Tonga we were keen to head off to Fiji as time was ticking, however the weather gods had a different plan and the winds just weren’t playing so we had to wait a while. We decided to fill our time rather than clock-watch and so we booked a tour and meal at the Vava’u Villa. We walked over there with our friends from Whale and a Bird.

A Kiwi guy bought this place after he decided to have a lifestyle change following the Earthquake in Queenstown, NZ. He’s making a living from the coconuts and helping out the locals. He uses each and every part of the coconut, which he buys from the locals at 3 cents a pop.FullSizeRender 2The husks are burned to make charcoal, the charcoal is burned to heat water, the white flesh is used for maggot feed which in turn is used for chicken feed, the oil is used for soaps, the milk is used for protein in the pig feed, the water is used as weed killer.

The pigs and chickens are eaten in the restaurant and their guts are fed to the mud crabs, which are also served in the restaurant. The shells of the mud crabs are fed to the chickens. The manure will be used to feed the veggie patch and the gas will be collected and converted to electricity. It really makes your head spin, or perhaps it was the berry cider that we sipped while walking the farm.IMG_7644 After that we were ready for a Tongan feast and some traditional dancing. The lady restaurant owner had given the kitchen over to the local chefs and they cooked up some treats for us. Some of the delights are an acquired taste but there were some amazing flavours too. After that was some traditional dancing… of a sort. The guys wore american baseball caps and when granny came out she showed us her Hawaiian dance. There were some lovely lady dancers though, covered in oil that allowed us to stick dollar notes to her. A bit sleazy in our worlds but here it’s an honour, and certainly explains why the dollar notes here are always a bit sticky.

Hunga again… and the cricket

The next day we’d signed up for cricket! Now usually I avoid cricket like the plague, it’s slow and has funny rules. Anyway we jumped aboard Whalesong for a faster trip to Hunga (we decided not to push our luck with the scary entrance again).  This time we went through the equally scary – small boat entrance at low tide. It was great to see some of our fellow yachties in the harbour and we climbed up to the village.

First up the yachties played while we waited for the Tongan team to arrive. There were many nationalities represented and most of us hadn’t played before so they explained the rules.

We were put into teams and set out onto pitch. My team batted first and we did pretty well for ourselves. Ann from Sofia bowled me some nice balls, and I managed to get in a few runs with my partner Noah, an eight-year-old heavy hitter. I was doing pretty well for myself until Simon caught me out, and caught my wrath as I chased him with a cricket bat. He won’t be doing that again… well not until he caught Ann out from Whale and the Bird. She gave him a beating too.

We were eventually all out for a duck (or some such thing) and it was the other team’s turn. They did a lot better… and Simon took away the title of Top Hitter with 23 runs before he was asked to retire… whatevs!

After that we were served up a really yummy Tongan feast and were serenaded by the lovely local school children (Hunga Hunga Hunga Oi Oi Oi!). FullSizeRenderWe were able to take a sneak peak at the schoolhouse. Although it’s a little basic the walls are plastered in drawings and the alphabet and you could pretty much be in any primary school room in any country.Tonga2After that it was time to get serious at the Tongan’s took to the pitch. The music was turned up and the fielders popped a few additional moves! I’m not sure if this was to put off the other team or just because they were having a good time.

Simon, meanwhile, was not having a good time. As top hitter, he was asked to make up the numbers, so he was padded up and waiting for his time to shine.Tonga1Once on pitch, the Tongans took turns to throw the ball as hard as possible at the white guy. He held is own and got in a few runs. He looked pretty relieved, however, when he was caught out by one of the Tongan players and got his lucky escape with no bones broken.

It turns out I don’t like cricket… I love it! It was such a fun day – thanks to Barry, Craig and friends, the Hunga school and of course the Tongan Cricket team.

Tonga is one of the only countries that are not recognised by the ICC so like them on FaceBook and help them get the recognition they deserve.

Bye, bye Tonga

The next day we reluctantly went back to the wicked dock to clear out. At high tide the dock was a lot less menacing. We were able to raft up with Whale and the Bird while we did our clearance and grabbed a few provisions before heading out to… Fiji!