It was with mixed feelings that we pulled in our lines and anchor from Nuku'alofa's FREE harbour. On one hand Tonga was refreshingly gritty, interesting and fun. On the other hand the fact that it was the very end of the season and all the moderate organised people were already tucked up in New Zealand meant that our neighbours for the last week had all been of a certain ilk... Let me just say that it made for some great parties but it was time to have a dry, quiet week at sea.
We'd walked about the wonderful main market with temperance in mind. There's no good in loading up your boat with sumptuous tropical fruits and weird and wonderful root vegetables in order to check in to New Zealand and see the whole lot go into a big plastic sack headed for the incinerator. New Zealand as an agricultural nation has a real 'thing' about keeping out the pests and viruses it feels threatened by. All through the Pacific rumours flew amongst boaters as to the extent of what would be confiscated. Shells, feathers, stones, baskets, seeds, nuts, beans, lentils, rice, coffee, cocoa... what would they take?
It was the second time of our trip so far, that we'd met someone who cared about spices as much as us. After we'd had our 'spice swap' we really needed to confront the elephant in the room. Gaya like us was facing the threat of her hard won and precious collection being confiscated and our discussions turned to hiding places. Innocently in our view; it's not like the threat seemed big... but just the chance that they might decimate our collections meant we were being inventive. Tim finally brought reason to the table 'you're talking high scale smuggling if you hide the methi seeds there!'
In the end I emailed the biosecurity department in New Zealand asking for up to date and specific guidance. We were extremely reassured to hear that many herbs and spices were allowed and others; namely the whole seed variety were subject to inspection. The inferance was that if the inspector had cause for concern they could throw all kinds of things out but that they probably wouldn't. Thus placated we only hid a couple of particularly coveted items just incase we came into contact with an overly zealous inspector.
Even when we were in the Atlantic I'd been thinking about this passage to come. There are many stories about yachts coming to grief on their trip to New Zealand and several boats are lost in her surrounding waters each year. As we got closer, the people we spoke to, who knew, were much more relaxed about the passage. 'Leaving in November or December, it's the best time, it'll be summer when you arrive.' 'I've done it more than twenty times, you'll be fine, don't worry!' So when we set off we were ready for whatever. The forecast seemed like it would be fairly light winds but as we still can't get up to date forecasts at sea yet; we knew this could change as we got near New Zealand and our week old forecast ran out.
We started out Saturday early evening, just clearing Tongatapu by sunset. The breeze was gentle so we were sailing beautifully with all the sails out at around 7knots. The next night the wind got slacker so we discussed the possibility of stopping at Minerva Reefs. We'd not planned to, but a few people had recommended it to us. Intrigued we thought we'd have a look; it was on our way in any case. The wind got up again as we approached but it seemed churlish to miss it so, as we'd arrived at 1am we reefed and carried on for a few hours then sailed back to the pass.
Minerva reefs are two separate coral reef fringed lagoons around 30 miles apart. We entered North Minerva through the unmarked pass just after sunrise, which was obvious by the disturbed waters of the outflowing current. We sailed across the calm lagoon to anchor in the lee of the Reef in the North East corner, had a fry up and then snorkelled out to the reef. The water was markedly cooler and there wasn't much going on. We had the whole place to ourselves,but we didn't need to wait out any weather, it was perfect, so we decided to crack on.
In many ways, even with our restraint in Tonga, the passage was one of almost constant eating as we tried to consume all that we feared might be taken. Meals almost snowballed into each other, as we both expressed the gastronomic concerns we shared over our stocks by cooking and eating them. Breakfast the day we arrived, for example, was left over lamb curry; New Zealand lamb ironically. To compound our worries, it was by far our most successful trip with regard to fishing. The information we had received said no meat. Though we've met plenty of vegetarians who claim fish isn't meat we had our doubts. As it turned out we needn't have worried and we still have a freezer full of fish.
So here we are in the Bay of Islands. Look at our landfall photos; it's just how we both remember New Zealand to be; a thick veil of cloud covering the impressive landscape.
Down with the Tongan flag and up with the Kiwi; woolly hat covers still bad hair...
This was our landfall... can you see what it is yet? It's less than two miles away!