We were both having bad hair days when we took our Tongan flag picture so I thought it would be more interesting to include this grave decoration instead. The Polynesian graves are often very bright and colourful with murals of the deceased. This family must have been patriotic.
The Kingdom of Tonga has four distinct island groups running North to South over around 500 miles. It's population of around 112,000 live largely on the coralline island of Tongatapu to the South with it's administrative capital Nuku'alofa, along with its king. Vava'u to the North has the town of Neiafu, between these two is the geologically varied Ha'apai group . Further north are the Niuatoputapu group which we didn't visit as the anchorages looked tricky and it was out of our way.
The islands are formed along the Tongan plate and Tongan trench boundary so there is a lot of volcanic activity in the area. The western islands are volcanoes created by the Pacific plate subducting under the Australia-India plate at the Tonga trench. The eastern islands are on the Tongan ridge and are largely either low coral limestone islands or sandy cays with a lot of coral reef growing around and between them. We stayed well clear of areas of recent volcanic activity. There are two islands which periodically appear and then are eroded back away by the sea and there are tales of how when a big bubble of gas erupts from the sea bed your boat could fall into the huge hole in the sea it would create!
When we left the Vava'u group we hadn't checked the weather forecast for a while so were surprised to be struggling to find safe anchorages sheltered from the strong Northerly then Westerly winds as a deep low pressure system passed over. Once this had cleared up we were able to check in and move on along this island chain.
On the island of Haafeva where the trees were dripping with mangos, we were set wondering what the pigs might taste like. We couldn't find anyone selling the meat or doing much else. It felt a bit like New Orleans post Mardi Gras; people were wandering around looking a little vacant with bloodshot eyes presumably from too much Kava. The supply boat had recently unloaded and there had been a wedding and birthday parties. Kava is a root vegetable that is cooked up into a drink and taken as a mild narcotic in several Pacific islands. The only trade we could see going on was a fuel hut with a young guy hand pumping from barrels which had been so recently delivered with a queue of skiffs up the beach.
We were sad to miss visiting Tofua; off which the bounty mutiny occurred; where there is an active volcano. I'd been looking forward to the possibility of hacking our way up to the bubbling lava and steaming lake on this unpopulated island. However, our chart showed the island as only a featureless blob and the wind was still blowing out of the West meaning we would have had a hard slog to windward with uncertain chances of protection. The reefs of these islands can be quite sporadic and unpredictable. Our charts turned out to be largely accurate but certainly could not be relied upon so sailing at night was very much out of the question. We'd several times be looking out for a patch of reef to one side or another only to find ourselves suddenly sailing over it; hard to know which way to go at that point as you can't be sure how high it will have grown up.
As we have been hopping between the islands we have used this opportunity to give the whole boat a big clean. When we launched Impetuous last year, we simply loaded up with all our work in progress and took the lot to Clear Lake. When it was time to go, we just piled everything into the boat without too much thought or organisation. We've since been through our cupboards a few times but with the impending inspection by the New Zealand authorities we thought it high time to have a spring clean. The whole process has been quite cathartic; we've thrown out all remaining cardboard together with quite a few cockroaches, treated everywhere to stop them coming back, set aside beans and popcorn to be given away to our Tongan neighbours as they are not allowed in New Zealand; all in all we've gained three empty cupboards! We have used up the last of our varnish giving the mast a couple more coats and started sewing up a new flag.