Malo Lelei, Tonga
Greeted by a cyclone and blown away by the sailing, charterers revel amid the islands, reefs, and people they encounter in this South Pacific kingdom.
With the tropical sun again blazing, we dove in to swim and snorkel. Coral heads the size of tables covered the bottom, and brilliantly colored schools of fish darted about. We shared the bay that night with just one other boat. Ashore, there wasn’t a light to be seen, and we began in earnest our search for the Southern Cross.
Thursday, we were up early for the morning weather net on VHF Channel 26, then on our way. After a quick snorkel along the sandy beach at the southern end of Kapa, we hoisted sail and pointed the bows north on a near reach bound for the western side of Vava’u, where perpendicular cliffs soar 500 feet above the ocean. In the open waters, a tremendous groundswell sent breakers crashing on the rocks. From there, we bore off and headed first west, then south along the long and rocky coast of Hunga, Tonga’s westernmost island. We surfed down swells as we searched for the pass into the island’s central lagoon.
We nearly missed it, but at the last minute made out the 150-foot-wide opening, marked by a 10-foot-high rock roughly 50 feet from a cliff to the north.
Leaving it to port, as Peggy read from the cruising guide, we surged our way forward under power, hunting in vain for two small floats that supposedly marked a shallow reef. Later, I appreciated that in those tense couple of minutes, she’d neglected to recite the line about never entering with a running sea; by the time she did, we were already in the calm, 100-foot-deep basin.
Apparently, we’d found the channel.
That night, we grabbed a mooring off the closed-for-renovations Ika Lahi Game Fishing Lodge. From there, we had a spectacular view of the The Road.
The Road ascends skyward from the village wharf on the eastern shore of the lagoon. Its concrete roadbed, sidewalks, curbs, and waist-high, dome-capped walls glowed in the late afternoon sun. From our mooring, we guessed it ran 400 or more yards straight up the steep embankment to the village beyond; we couldn’t see it, but we figured it must be impressive given the feat of engineering leading to it. The next morning, when Sue, Dave, and I dinghied ashore to inspect this monument to foreign aid, we were told by the crew of a large, metal workboat that there was an impending funeral for a deceased islander they’d just brought home from the mainland. They encouraged us to visit the village nonetheless.
It was a steep climb. Dave spotted the portable cement mixer that had obviously been used to pour the concrete, making the job seem even more impressive. Soon we were at the summit, where two women dressed in black stood braiding a belt, presumably for someone to wear at the upcoming ceremony. Across from them rested the village’s one car, a minivan, which had to back either up or down The Road because no one had thought to build a wide-enough turnaround at the bottom.
Atop the hill, The Road ended abruptly, and we stepped off into red mud of an amazing consistency. Curious children watched as we strolled a short distance into the village, past a wooden church and homes that had neither windows nor electricity. The few adults we saw were dressed formally, and before circling back, we heard singing from another church that was just out of sight. Once again atop The Road, looking out over the lush green land, the lagoon’s glowing aqua, and the white spume of waves breaking against the Pacific’s deep blue backdrop, Hunga seemed as good a final destination as any, and if we were afforded the opportunity to choose, better than most.