Neiafu is the main city of Vavau and it is the starting point for the visiting yacht as it is the port of entry. Entry formalities are pretty painless but there are a few things to keep in mind. When you arrive you are expected to tie up along the main wharf which is not easy in good conditions. It is metal and is notorious for damaging yachts. Us lots of bumpers. When the wind blows up the harbor at more than 15 knots the wind chop makes it dangerous and it is then OK to take a mooring and go ashore by dinghy. Proceed directly to the wharf and be prepared to ferry a customs person to your boat.
When you walk from the dinghy dock at Anna's Cafe to central Neiafu you pass the Catholic Church which is one of the very few architectural high points of the city. In general, Neiafu is dirty and lacking of most modern conveniences but it has character. Pigs run in the street and there is no organized garbage collection. Many Tongans don't speak English and there is no film development. Marine hardware is scarce (except on visiting yachts) but most parts may be airfreighted from New Zealand within a week without too much expense if you can hook up with a local shipment for Bounty Bar or Club Hunga. Marine services are better with Coleman's Marine offering a very capable railway for haulouts and reasonable mechanical services.
The real surprise is Jacaranda Sails which provides full sail services from repair to complete replacement at reasonable prices and good quality. This is good news because this is the first time you will find this since leaving Papeete which is now 1400 miles behind. Sandy and Andy on Jacaranda do an amazing job considering they provide this service from their boat. They do have access the a large work area ashore when they need it. They also rent moorings and are a great source for local knowledge. Don't miss a chat with them.
On the island Kapa we wandered into the village of Otea and met the American Peace Corp volunteer Mildred Schweindler. She told us about her experience Tonga and showed us the garden she helped organize for the village. Her real job was as an English teacher and she was making progress. She was hopeful that 2/3 of her eighth grade class would pass the standardized English test. They may not sound like much but they hadn't had a single student pass for several years.
The anchorages in Vavau are plentiful. A guide created and maintained by Moorings Yacht Charters is the bible for cruising the islands. The guide describes 38 anchorages all over the islands. It also gives some local color and features important sights and activities. The anchorages are are numbered rather than named. Everyone including the locals refer to the anchorages by their numbers.
The title art is from a picture of anchorage #7. The feast below is just around the corner. The Tongan Feast is a staple of local tourism. It is reproduction of the traditional feast organized for big events like weddings or royal visits. The Tongans don't get quite as worked up for a weekly feast but it is an experience and worth doing once. Ask around about the feast that is putting on the best show. At the feast you will see a Tongan lime with yellow flesh. They taste like a slightly sweeter lime and are great in drinks.
We dined at the Mermaid restaurant 3 times. It is owned by a chef from Canada that moved home with his Tongan wife. The food is excellent and inexpensive. They have traditional Tongan dancing on Wednesday and Friday nights. It is next to Anna's Cafe which is the dinghy dock and unofficial hangout of the visiting yachties in Vavau.
Anchorage 16 and the Lighthouse Cafe and Resort are a definite must see. Anchorage 16 is beautiful with good snorkeling on both side of the reef to the west. The Lighthouse Cafe is owned by Austrian born Joseph and his Tongan wife. Joseph was trained in Austria as a master baker and he bakes fresh bread and pastries which you may buy or enjoy as part of a meal at the cafe. The breakfast is a real treat. A continental breakfast includes fresh bread of your choice, fresh fruit, coffee or tea and juice. This and a spectacular view is yours for only 7 pa'angas. You must order the day before on VHF 16.
Much like Niue, Vavau is formed from coral reefs which have risen hundreds of feet above sea level. There are many caves and there are 2 that have fascinated visitors for many years. Swallows Cave is unusual because you enter by boat. The cruisers and chatterers take their dinghies right into the cave. Inside you find stalactites but with a water floor there are no stalagmites. Bats line the ceiling during the day and it is supposed to be a special experience to watch them fly out in the afternoon but we decided to pass on that for now. Mariner's Cave is entered via an underwater passage that is 14 feet long and anywhere from 2 feet to 8 feet underwater depending on the tide. We went at low tide and it was pretty easy to get in. Once inside, you find a large cave lit only by the light coming through the underwater passage. It is beautiful and eerie at the same time. The cave mouth is exposed to the ocean so low swells approach the outer rock face creating pressure on the inside. As the water recedes a fog appears and as it rises the fog quickly vanishes. It is spectacular but it does become hard on the ears.
Anchorage 30 is on the eastern or windward side of the island chain. A hike around the island takes about 2 hours and provides many special views.
In the harbor near Neiafu is the wreck of the copra ship Clan MacWilliam sank in 1927 after catching fire at the wharf. It was moved out to the middle of the harbor before it sank. It rests in 100 feet of water and is a popular dive. I found the visibility lacking and the guide said this was one of the best days he had seen so I would only recommend this dive for those that haven't been on many wreck dives.
Lobsters are plentiful if you know where to look. We didn't but we could buy them at 3 for 10 pa'angas.
It took me some time to recover from my 40th birthday beach party. We had 15 boats anchored in anchorage #5 and over 30 people at the afternoon potluck on the beach. I was drinking something called "Painkillers" from Don on Destiny and I can say that it only killed the pain until the next day. My advanced years didn't get much sympathy from this crowd because we are amongst the youngest cruisers. It couldn't have been a better birthday.