We absolutely loved the Vava’u group of islands in Tonga. It is a tailor-made sailing destination. There are hundreds of tiny islands very close together with wonderful and varied anchorages. The sailing between islands is often on flat ocean with a great breeze. When you were tired of out-of-the-way anchorages, you could sail back into the main town of Neiafu in a few hours to stock up, eat out and catch up with friends. To top it all off Vava’u is a calving ground for the humpback whale. The mothers and calves spend their first few months together in these waters. Sightings are pretty much a daily event and it is one of the only places in the world where you are legally allowed to swim with the humpbacks provided you are with a guide. We didn’t spend nearly enough time here and hope to return some day.
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The island formations here result is some very interesting overhanging rock and underwater caves. The most famous being Mariner’s Cave pictured below. You have to know just where to look for it or you’ll never find it. There’s no indication from outside that it’s here as the entrance is an average of six feet below the surface depending on the level of the tide. You just have to take a deep breath, dive down and swim forward into pitch black water with the faith that you won’t swim right into a rock wall and that you’ll pop up inside the cave. Once inside, you can look back and see the entrance as the photos below show. So getting out is a bit easier than getting in.
A little less frightening was the Painted Cave. You just swim right in and then the ceiling opens up over you with colourful walls and interesting formations. This was our first snorkel in Vava’u and we were amazed to be able to hear the humpback whales singing when your head was underwater.
We’re not sure if the item on the left below is a pincushion starfish or not but the name does seem to fit. However, it looks more like an urchin the size of a soccer ball. The sea slug on the right is harvested and shipped to Asia as a food item. Their only defense is to squirt out this gooey spaghetti-like substance when it is picked up and squeezed. Can’t imagine wanting to eat one of these.
Vava’u isn’t what you’d call a beach paradise. Only a few islands have white sand beaches. The majority look like those on the left and the right below. They shoot straight up out of deep blue water creating interesting snorkeling under the overhang.
A common sight in a secluded anchorage was “Daydream” anchored near “Whisper“.
For a shelling enthusiast like Susan, the snorkeling turned up a wealth of lovely shells. Sadly every single one of them was currently in use but all kindly agreed to pose for a photo before we put them back.
There was a tiny little island in Vava’u that had the remains of an abandoned base of some sort on it. Wayne poked around in all the abandoned buildings and climbed the rickety old watch tower to get these photos.
Snorkeling in Vava’u was more about listening to the whales and admiring the beautiful coral than looking at fish but we did see a few good ones such as the shy Nemo clownfish and the very poisonous but gorgeous lionfish on the right.
We had to get the fellow on the left to pose for a photo. The photo on the right shows an example of the sheer deep drop-offs that were common. They provided some fascinating snorkeling.
Every Friday night was race night in the main town of Neiafu. Open to all that dare enter. On the left are our friends on Loon III which is another unpainted aluminum sailboat registered in Edmonton! They’re looking good. If you look closely at the enlarged centre photo, you’ll see the smallest entrant in the race way off to the left. It was Scott and Finn in their small sailing dinghy racing against the big boys. Scott and the boys were a regular sight in the anchorage as they zipped about in their sailing dinghy.
Check out the incredible shell in the centre below. It is large; the size of your palm. I believe it’s a Map Cowrie and it was occupied, of course.
On our last day in Vava’u, the crews of “Whisper” & “Daydream” boarded a local guide boat and went out to swim with the humpback whales. What an experience! Note the wetsuit that Mary’s wearing. The water here was quite chilly compared to what we were used to. Definitely time for the wetsuits.
The most exciting part of the day was getting to swim underwater with the whales. We had a number of close underwater encounters with a mother and calf but sadly our photography of those events didn’t yield anything that looked like a whale. We were, however, treated to an excellent display of above water antics as well where the photos were more successful.
First momma whale scared us to death by leaping completely out of the water (no photo of this unscheduled event). Apparently she was just showing her baby how it’s done as next we were amazed by an endless display of the young one practicing breaching over and over again with boundless energy.
Susan even had a chance to witness a breach while snorkeling. The calf looked like a torpedo heading straight up out of the deep!
Some new and interesting reef fish.
This bright orange sponge caught your attention growing among the beautiful coral.
An area called the Coral Garden offered a truly astounding variety of healthy coral. Just a day or two before we snorkeled here another boater had been surprised by a humpback mother and calf surfacing from the deep canyons just a few feet away. We weren’t so lucky but we could hear the humpback’s song in the water which is very eerie and beautiful.
Other snorkel spots might not have been quite so colourful or jam-packed as the Coral Garden but they were still full of interesting things.
Coral gazing came to an abrupt stop when the antennae of a large lobster were spotted. On the left you see Scott fight a losing battle 15 feet underwater trying to extract said lobster from his hole with just his hands.
Humpback whale sightings were quite common. These shots were taken as we sailed by a humpback mother and calf. It appeared that the mother was waving good-bye in the photo on the right as we sailed away.
We helped Finn from “Whisper” to celebrate his 8th birthday.