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.
When snorkeling here, you swim along coral that lies at most 10 feet below until you come to the edge of the reef; suddenly, the bottom drops into deep, blue emptiness. When I first swam over this lip, I thought I might eat my snorkel.
For the evening, Sunsail had contacted its few off-season charterers to try to come up with the minimum dozen required for a feast. The company was successful, so we spent the afternoon sailing north to an anchorage at the southern tip of Pangaimotu, an island connected to Vava’u by bridge and road. At the Ark Gallery (www.tongavavauholiday.net/ArkGalleryOfVavau.htm), a floating houseboat and shop, we met Sheri Roberts and Larry Schneider, cruisers who left Oregon in 1981 aboard their 1918 Norwegian-built Moli. These days, Sheri paints and runs the gallery, and Larry maintains a dozen storm moorings as well as various boats that have been left in his care for the off-season. Increasingly, Tonga’s relatively protected harbors are becoming a popular alternative to sailing south to New Zealand for cyclone season.
Ashore, with the evening sun still quite hot, Maka and Leslie Latavao arranged the low-slung table for the feast. But first, we were encouraged to visit the local artisans who’d spread blankets on the grass to exhibit their baskets, woodcarvings, tapas, and other handicrafts. The work was magnificent, and several of us readily parted with our Tongan pa’anga in order to take pieces home.