We are currently in Tonga, soaking up the last of the tropical season before we head south to New Zealand; out of the tropics, out of the coming cyclone season, and into the fast approaching summer of the southern hemisphere. All the same, after almost a year in the tropics we're expecting a big temperature drop; so much so that our down duvet was retrieved recently, during a head-sail sail change, from where it lives when not in use. We're both trying to remember where we have stashed our warm clothes; gloves, hats, scant provisioned waterproofs and the thermals I bought ten years ago in New Zealand: The last time I visited during summer. Ready for our trip south.
We still do have a little time to explore this wonderful Kingdom; not often one gets the chance to say that. Only the other day; when clearing in to the Ha'apai group, we sat on regally decorated chairs.
Also enjoying themselves here; whilst thinking of the final step south; seem to be most of the stragglers of the Pacific season. Like us, comparatively young and care free (and un-insured!). Some of the boats we had seen during our time in Polynesia, but never got the chance to say hello to, are here. Others we've met too; new and old friends alike. Couple this with our arrival coinciding with a big fancy dressed Halloween party; perhaps you can imagine how we spent our first few days in these islands.
There was one adventure that the Vava'u group of these islands had to offer, that Ruth was insistent that we should not pass up; Mariners Cave. A cave that can only be accessed by diving under the water through its entrance then bobbing up into a limestone auditorium; illuminated by the rays of the sun reflecting from the sea bed beneath. We found it hard to find as our outdated guide had no waypoints, only a rough description, and our electronic charts of the Vava'u group are quite out.
Ruth thought we were in the right ball park and leapt over the side; with her mask, snorkel and fins. There is no buoy or possible anchorage, so my job was to hover on Impetuous, keeping an eye out upon the swimmer, and collect, when she reappeared. Ruth spent a few moments swimming around the area, locating the underwater hole in the rocks. By the time she had, my stomach had gotten the better of me and I had descended into our own cave upon Impetuous to find something to eat; only for a moment I hasten to add. When I peered out she had gone....
Not surprisingly I was on deck; a little more attentive, when she reappeared. I collected her from the water and innocently asked just where it was she had disappeared to as she had been gone at least 10 minutes. 'The streaks on the rocks, see, just there. Slightly to the left is a huge cave entrance, you can't miss it, its just a short dive under, into the dark!'
I popped up into the auditorium, stalactites hung from the roof of the lime stone cave. But there was not the haunting stillness one can sometimes feel when in such a cave. It was filled with the familiarity of the ocean. The slight swell breaking on the far wall of the cave as one floated around in the warm waters, seemed to prevent me from drifting off in the dark corners of the cave and my mind, where one would expect those vampires to be languishing.
The sunlight shone from below causing the small wavelets to glow with indigo blue hues at times. When a bigger swell from outside entered the cave one's ears would start to pop as the pressure rose; also causing, we think, a moment of fog on top of the waters' surface as the water vapour in the air started to change state as it was compressed. Then the swell would flow back out, and all would revert to normal. Once again one would be mesmerised; staring at the hues of the water and the geology of the caves, as the sun's strength changed outside.
Should you be visiting these islands, don’t miss the chance to go to mariners cave; especially if, unlike us, you have an underwater camera.
Aim for a way-point of 18 41.42 S, 174 04.50 W and look for orange and white streaks on the limestone.
Luckily our friends Tim and Gayathra visited the same cave at a different time and have let us use their photo of Gaya swimming in, to give you an idea of the underwater entrance.