Where are we

Sunday 13 October 2019

So here we are in the archipelago Kingdom of Tonga. (No we're not, we're in New Zealand but I started this so long ago I must get it posted)

Weather here is quite different and more changeable than in the Caribbean.  Like the Caribbean the tradewinds come from the east, but in the Pacific the 'Weather' comes up from the south and travels west.  We've just had an example of this here in Tonga.  The easterly Tradewinds move around to the north, then the west and then the south.  There is a marked difference temperature from the warm Tradewinds to the much cooler winds from the south.  Its all very back to front having only experienced the Northern Hemisphere sailing.

Suwarrow, Northern Cook Islands  - A Real Treasure Islands

 http://www.cookislands.org.uk/suwarrow.html#.XXQiLW5FxRQ A Real Treasure Island

Suwarrow was a 5 day sail from Bora Bora and a three day sail to American Samoa. It is nicely positioned to break up a long passage.  We were glad to stop for a few days as the passage from Bora Bora, though starting out in light winds and 12 hours of motor sailing, it soon picked up.  

The entrance into Suwarow is well charted but that doesn't stop it from looking rather wild in a strong cross wind.  Once behind the main island and the reef, it was an oasis of calm with clear turquoise water and a welcome party of one.  Being the only boat there, meant we had our pick of the anchorage and could take out time choosing the area with the least coral heads and the most white sand.


You don't see much of Suwarrow until you are almost there.  The second photo is looking to the left as we approach the Pass into the calm waters behind the reef.  The anchorage was empty of other boats and our welcome party consisted of one small curious black tip reef shark.


The anchorage when we had it all to ourselves. On shore was the storm proof house and offices for the Rangers set well behind the beach.  The beach area was set up as a communal area with hammocks and swings for cruising yachts to use..

On arrival, Suwarrow rangers come aboard to complete the Customs and Immigration process.  We neglected to radio from the anchorage and got a bit of a telling off by not contacting the Cook Islands for permission to visit and not contacting them via the radio as Tim had gone ashore to clear in.  We had sent numerous emails from Tahiti, the later ones requesting a reply, so we had done our best in that instance but we should have called once at anchor.

Of the two rangers, Harry and John, only Harry came aboard.  He was friendly and a wealth of information.  They might have been a little of sorts when Tim appeared on the island because they were in the process of dealing with the contents of their freezer which had just failed.  They had been stuck in cooking defrosted meat to make it last a little longer.

The loss of a freezer is always a big deal, but in this instance it was an even bigger deal as they bring all their provisions for 6 months and don't expect to see another ship until it comes to take them off the island at the end of the season.  We asked what they needed but they said they'd be fine.  I think we heard that a new (or at least working) freezer was being delivered not long ago.

It's a hard life now but it was even harder when Polynesia was first colonise - Polynesian Culture and Colonisation.

The snorkelling was very satisfying.  The shallow water off the beach in the anchorage was very much a fish nursery.  The coral heads that keep getting mentioned are volcanic stone pillars whose tops have been colonised by corals.  As you approach one, the cloud of tiny fish around it contracts closer and closer to the coral, with the fish getting closer and closer together until they disappear between the branches of the coral.  As you move off they creep out and reverse the process.

Coral heads can make anchoring very difficult and anchor chain can get wrapped around them as the currents and winds change.  We spend a lot of time choosing where to drop the anchor and haven't had any major problems.

The sharks were the smallest we'd seen as well.

The most exciting snorkel was on one of the deeper reefs that was a known Cleaning Station
for manta rays.  We got lucky on our second try and in an area of deep water, a reef rose to within a few metres from the surface. The highest point was a peak that the manta we saw would approach from down current, to hover in the back eddy behind the peak while tiny fish came out to nibble parasites and the like from its skin.  It really was a wonderful experience.

Three days was a short time to spend in Suwarrow but we had packages awaiting in American Samoa and we headed out with the first favourable weather forecast.

Approaching the largest of American Samoan islands, Tutuila, you can just make out the buildings that line the coastal road.  Behind the land directly ahead is Pago Pago Harbour, which is huge and very commercial.


The capital of Pago Pago lines the harbour edge along with enormous fishing boats, small marinas and the tuna cannery.


We had some spectacular rain showers while we were there.  One of administrative buildings in Pago Pago, pronounced Pango Pango, had a fantastic undersea mural.  Tsunami evacuation route signs decorate the coast.


The daily market with everyone selling taro root, breadfruit, coconuts and bananas.  The Saturday market generally has a wider range of produce, some local and some imported.  There were small supermarket and a Costo/Macro type place where we bought Extra Mature Cheddar Cheese.  This is something we don't often get even the Caribbean. The tuna canning factory behind 'Joy of Shamrock Quay' and two young ladies racing Laser dinghies.  A photo from a bus window of a section of the coastal road.

Once we'd collected our packages and topped up our stores we made an over night passage to Samoa, formerly Western Samoa.

We left American Samoa in the late afternoon and arrived the next morning Samoa at the same time as American Samoa, but 1 day ahead.  The International Dateline follows a wobbly path south between the two Samoas and the Cook Islands and the Tonga Archipelago.


A panorama of the anchorage and Larus, with blue sail covers, in Apia Marina.

Our stay in Samoa was going to be relatively short and we had two options. We could stay at anchor for an month or use the marina for a week for about the same price.  As a week was closer to the time we had in mind enjoyed the very reasonable electric and free water on the dock.  We did laundry and rinsed all the salt from Larus.

Many of the Polynesian people of American Samoa and Samoa are related and a ferry service links the islands and there is much to'ing and fro'ing.  While we were in Amercian Samoa, we saw a traditional funeral made up of family from both islands.  The two sides of the family sat on opposite sides of an open space (it happened to be a carpark across from the laundromat).  Small gifts and large woven mats were carried across the open space to the family on the opposite side.  A lady I spoke to in the laundrette said that much of the gift giving is ceremonial and the mats kept and used in future funerals.  One family would come out of the exchange better off but I have no idea how that was decided or calculated.  As the funeral went on, the lady I was speaking to said it was tradition but it did seemed like a lot of work.

The Samoan Cultural Centre was a highlight for me.  Just behind the Tourist Office in Apia is an area reserved for teaching visitors about the traditional Samoan way of life.

I wove a traditional Samoan food bowl and a simple headdress all the while listening to traditional music.

Traditional cooking is men's work as much of the preparation is hard physical work.


Like starting a fire with two bits of wood and a coconut husk, picking coconuts, opening coconuts, grating coconuts, squeezing the cream out of coconuts.

We also saw traditional tattooing which is a family and community affair.  Men's traditional tattoos take 12 days for the 12 parts to be applied.  No one has to have a tattoo, it is a choice.  The process is very painful and although there is no shame in not having one, there is for not completing the full tattoo.  The ink is applied with a tiny funnel on a stick (very like the wax applier for Ukrainian Easter Eggs).  The end of the funnel is sharp and is tapped with a stick to injected it into the skin.  Family members providing support and comfort throughout the process.  The tattooist is a family member and the tradition has been carried on for generations.  We saw a tattooing in progress but you could only sit quietly and watch and absolutely no photos.

More cooking.  Young taro leaves are used for a dish that we have had from a number of local people we met, particularly in Tonga.  The leaves are arranged in the palm of one hand.  A filling of meat, fish or vegetables in placed in the middle and then moistened with coconut milk they are then wrapped in tinfoil.  This probably replaces traditional banana leaves of the like.  The also cook taro root and bread fruit which is served at every meal.  They are the local 'potatoes'.


A fire is built over a pile of round rocks.  When it is ash they, reposition the rocks in a flat layer with banana leaf tongs.  They then pile the food on top, longest cooking on the bottom, and cover it with banana leaves to keep the heat in.  We ate the food cooked at the end of the tour.  It was delicious!

We also saw traditional crafts like wood carving and making 'tapi' cloth from the inner bark of the mulberry tree. This is hard work too and is done by the women.


I think the photos are self explanatory and the blog too big and is starting to behave badly so I will post quickly and get started on a new one.

Photos and blogs to come - Tahiti, Moorea, Raiatea, Bora Bora, more Tonga and New Zealand.  

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