With some wind behind us we had a fantastic sail to Beveridge Reef which was our next stop. Beveridge Reef is an undersea mountain that is capped by a coral atoll. It is approximately 4 nm long by 2 nm wide, which encloses a large lagoon. It lies out in the middle of nowhere approximately 150 nm from Niue. The charts only show it as a blob and are actually about 1.5 nm off its actual location. We only had the hand drawn chart that I show here as a guide of what it looks like! But what a fantastic experience! As we approached its northern edge we had three fishing lines out the back and all of a sudden bam! All three had fish on them. Juan started to pull in the shortest one as I was slowing the boat. He got it to the point of bringing it aboard and it jumped off. I started to bring in the port line and didn’t get very far before a shark that was at least 3 meters long made a very spectacular leap out of the water as it took the fish on this line!!! Juan quickly pulled in the last line and we landed a 900mm long yellow tail rainbow runner. J At least we got one…. The next challenge was finding the only entrance to the lagoon so that we could make our way in to anchor. Luckily the coordinates on the hand drawn chart we spot on and we easily found this narrow entrance. Once in with Grant on bomie watch we made our way across the lagoon to the south eastern side where we were told the best anchorage was. This ended up being one of the most secure anchorages we have been in as we were able to anchor in 3 meters with a great sand bottom!
We were the only ones there for two days. What seclusion!! Then on the morning of the third day another two boats joined us and then another two on the fourth day. I think the sharks around here were used to boats feeding them as while we were dropping the anchor 3 sharks started to circle us and then not long for another three. These were grey tip reef sharks and while this species seems the most aggressive of the reef sharks they won’t attack a human. But they are certainly not shy about taking any fish that you catch or spear! In places where these sharks are around we have given up on fishing as we always ended up just feeding the sharks!
The water was crystal clear and the snorkelling was fantastic! Even though we always had a few sharks swimming around us. There was a well-known wreck of a 90 foot fishing trawler which had since disintegrated but still visible under the water as well as a sailing catamaran that we knew of and found and a 50 foot fishing trawler which seemed to be a very new wreck that we hadn’t previously heard about. All these made for interesting snorkelling on top of the beautiful virgin reef.
After four days at Beveridge Reef we sailed on to Niue. Niue is one of the smallest nations in the world and is known for its friendly residents. You can drive a scooter around the entire island/nation in about 2 hours and that is at 50 kph. There is some fantastic ocean scenery to see and since we had a seven to ten day stint of westerlies approaching, we regretfully could only spend a couple of days here or get stuck for possibly another ten days which didn’t suit or schedule since we had heard our next stop, the Vava’u group of Tonga was worth quite a long stay. So we arrived on one day mid-morning, got clearance and oriented ourselves, then had an epic long sightseeing day and cleared out, provisioned and set sail the following day! But the sightseeing was great as there are many chasms, arches and reefs to snorkel on to make this quite a unique experience. In the chasms would be a layer of cold fresh water on top with warm salt water underneath. Heaps of tropical fish to see and where the mixture of the fresh and salt water occurred it caused a shimmering or what seemed to be an out of focus layer between the two.
The island boasted a brand new supermarket that had only just opened two weeks earlier. Before this there were only small shops to buy food at. Even though it was so new we still found that everything in the store was still out of date which is pretty common on the small islands since most only get a supply ship every month to three months. One bonus though was we could buy duty free beer so we stocked up on a few cartons!
Then we were off to Tonga! It was about a four day sail to the northern most group of Tonga the Vava’u group where we cleared in at the port of Neiafu. We had very light winds and ended up motor sailing off and on for about two of those days. We arrived on a Saturday and had to tie up next to a concrete jetty to await clearance. Most islands require you to clear through three separate bodies. Customs, Biosecurity and Health. We managed to clear through customs within about two hours but then proceeded to wait another five hours for Biosecurity and Health. First we were told that they would arrive at 10:30… then 11:30…. Then 2:30…. Then they were here but having lunch… soon it was getting rough against the concrete jetty and they told us to go ahead and get a mooring and come back on Monday…….
Neiafu and the rest of the Vava’u group is a fantastic place! I think Lonely Planet describes it very well when the say “Strung around the fringes of Port of Refuge, surely one of the world’s most photogenic harbours, Neiafu has a dishevelled charm. Home to a slew of decent restaurants and bars along the waterfront, the town itself is ramshackle and rakish (a great place to drink rum and write a novel). Over winter (June to October), with visiting yachties and a steady flow of visitors winging in, the ol' town buzzes with accents and activity.”
On the Saturday night the Refuge which is the epitome of a yachty pub on the water with its own dingy dock and open air restaurant were having an open mic. So we went there for dinner and had a great time partying with the other yachties until the wee hours of the morning for some. The Refuge ended up being our hang out eveytime we returned to Neiafu during our eight day stay in Tonga.
On the Monday we had booked a Swim with the Whales tour. We spent the day in a power boat motoring around the Vava’u group looking for hump back whales to swim with and except for an exception with Brianne whilst we saw heaps of whales, every time we jumped in the water to swim with them the just swam off…. But still a great day and a good introduction to the group giving us ideas as to where we wanted to go.
We spent the remainder of our time in Tonga anchored off various islands going hiking, snorkelling at what was called the Coral Garden and visiting some caves. Mariners Cave was interesting as you needed to dive down about 12 feet and swim around 15 meters to pop up inside the cave where the only light source was what was coming through the water at the entrance. As the waves pushed into the cave you could feel the pressure increase on your ears and the visibility fogged and then cleared with each wave. A very strange phenomenon! We also swam into Swallow Cave which got its name because of the swallows nesting in the cave. This cave had hundreds of thousands of school fish which was cool to dive into.
We could easily have spent another week in Tonga but I have been having trouble with my teeth and needed to go back to Australia to see the dental surgeon. They only have an international flight out of Neiafu once a week and that was already booked up for the next two weeks. Since this would have put a lot of pressure on us making the rendezvous time in Fiji for the crew of the next leg wre decided to regretfully shorten our stay in Tonga and sail on to Fiji. I booked a flight out of Nandi to Brisbane for the Friday afternoon. The timing was going to be tight and the wind was light! We ended up motor sailing for two days and then f
inally got good wind for the last couple of days. Although as a rule I don’t like arriving at new places in the dark, particularly when you have to travel through a pass in a coral reef. Since the main pass through the reef to Lautoka is quite large and well lite we were able to pass through about an hour before sunrise. This got us to the Vuda Point Marina around 09:00. The process is to wait at a mooring ball outside of the marina until the Biosecurity agent comes out to clear you. Once this has happened we were able to go into the entrance of the marina and dock at the customs dock to await customs and health. This took another couple of hours but we were able to clear with everyone and then proceed to our berth in just enough time for me to leave for the airport to catch my flight! There was no time to spare! So now I am writing this from Brisbane. I have gotten my teeth sorted and now am able to catch the same flight as Chris to go back to Fiji. Chris will spend a week with us in Fiji before we depart for Vanuatu.