We are now anchored off of one of the longest white sandy beaches we have ever seen. Like many of the islands in the Ha'apai Group, it is a low palm studded piece of paradise. We left the village of Pangai this morning (Tuesday), and sailed a few hours to this island. We are sharing the long anchorage with two other sailboats. There are reefs crashing on both ends of this island giving the anchorage some good protection against the swell.
Monday morning we re-anchored closer to town for a shorter dinghy ride to do our clearing in and exploring. We spent much of yesterday walking around the town of Pangai and finally finding the immigration and customs office (not big on signage around here) and did our official clearing into this island group of the Kingdom of Tonga. It was a very simple and friendly process. We stopped into several of the small shops and picked up some bread and eggs. We found the "famous" Mariners' Cafe (it is the place that seems to be the information source for the Ha'apai group and offers internet (slow and expensive), beer, pizza, and burgers. We ended up meeting several other boats there last night for a very fun evening of socializing. Michael did have to dash back to the boat to do his duty as net controller for the Pacific Drifters net at 5:30 pm (local time)...then came back to the gathering. He is dedicated.
A bit about the Ha'apai Group: it covers 110square km of the central waters of the Kingdom of Tonga. Comprised of 62 islands of which 45 are uninhabited. It is one of the places that are just getting discovered and more explored by yachts and tourists. There are not a lot of tourist resorts, hotels or restaurants on the islands and the best way to get around is by private boat. We feel very lucky! The islands are much like the beautiful San Blas Islands of Panama or the South Pacific's Tuamotu group in French Polynesia. The islands are low with sandy beaches, palm trees and many surrounding reefs. Getting around is tricky and you do have to be watchful of all the reefs and corals. Not many of the anchorages have all weather protection, so you always need to have an "escape plan" if the weather changes.
Inhabited for more than 3000 years (based on some archeological finds), the islands also have some interesting historic moments. In 1777, Captain Cook escaped being cooked for a "traditional" feast. The infamous mutiny on the sailing ship "Bounty" occurred offshore in 1789 and Captain Bligh and 18 loyal seamen landed on one of the islands after being set adrift. They narrowly escaped as well (and one didn't). And it was in this island group that Tupou, the King was baptized and converted the Kingdom of Tonga into Christianity. There are many of the old kings buried in the islands.
The attraction of the islands though isn't the history but the natural beauty and undiscovered charm of the many islands. Underwater the snorkeling and diving is reputed to be some of the best around and the island walks and beach exploring looks fabulous. The traditional Tongan way of life remains here and many islands have limited exposure to the outside world. Tongan is spoken and very little English is heard. Electricity on the outer inhabited islands is usually limited to a few hours per day.
This looks to be a wonderful place to explore...and we almost hope that a weather window to NZ takes a while to get here!
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