The overnight sail from Niuatoputapu to the Vavau Island group was a windy one. We set of in the company of friends Jenny and Sasha who had joined us in Niuatoputapu. As we crashed over the waves, we watched them appear and disappear in the big swell which dwarfed their 43 foot boat. By the time we were approaching Vava’u we were down to our storm jib and triple reefed mainsail (as small as our sails go without dropping them completely). Believe it or not this was the best weather window for a two weeks.
We arrived into the Vava’u island group just in time for the Blue Water Festival, a great week of socialising with old friends and new, enjoying local culture and gathering information on New Zealand. Florence didn’t get her much deserved break and was instead entered into the cruisers race where she did us proud against serveral larger and racier boats.
The race was 25 miles and we welcomed David on board as crew, with a le mans start for the skippers, running down the dock and swimming out to Florence we were able to be one of the first few boats on our way and we had the Spinnaker up straight away. This helped us against some of the boats that had interpreted the rules differently and motored for the first mile! We were sailing faster than we can motor anyway. With David’s steady hand on the helm we were able to run around and gybe the spinnaker through the narrow exit channel from Nieafu and move into the lead of the race. Sadly this did not last for long, once the bigger boats were clear of the narrows they set their spinnakers and started catching up. Florence held her own and as we approached the half way point (reaching at 8 knots with the spinnaker) we had only allowed two through and were 3rd on the water.
By now we had a large pack nipping at our heels as we turned for home, sailing up wind we had a fantastic race with them, nip and tuck all the way back through to the finish. To finsh we had to get one person ashore to the bar, so Matt dove overboard and swam in as Amy brought Florence close to the Pontoon. We finshed 4th overall on the water, not bad for a little boat…
The Vava’u island group is a paradise for sailors with over 40 beautiful anchorages to choose from, each an easy short sail away on flat water, protected by the outer islands and reefs. We could have easily spent a month cruising the group but were too late in the season to be hanging around. We settled on a handful of anchorages to explore that allowed access to caves, coral gardens, walks, blow holes and stunning beaches.
Here are a few of our favourate places in the Vava’u group:
Port Maurelle Anchorage and Swallows Cave
Port Maurelle is a lovely sheltered cove 1.5 miles from Swallows Cave, a cave large enough to fit a fishing boat inside. With a gentle breeze and flat water it was a perfect opportunity to put the rig in the dinghy and make an afternoon of sailing down to Swallows Cave and back.
The afternoon light lit the inside of the cave beautifully, a huge shoal of fish were hiding inside and a 3ft sea snake slithered down the rock wall into the water below. Although deadly the snakes mouths are too small to bite anywhere other than the skin between your thumb and forefinger.
Having heard about another cave that can only be accessed by swimming through an underwater tunnel we had to find it. The trouble is that you can only access the entrance to the cave by boat and there is nowhere to anchor/moor close enough to swim to it. Spurred on by the challenge, we piled several friends from the festival onto Florence and set off to find the particular palm tree and white mark on the rock which marked the ellusive underwater entrance to the cave.
Byron was not interested in the swim so kindly took the helm and kept Florence a safe distance from the rocks while the rest of us jumped over the side and swam in. It took a leap of faith to dive then swim underwater through a rock tunnel, into the darkness of the cave, under the promise that there would be air when you popped up within it. We all popped up with huge grins on our faces and the cave was large enough to hold much more than our group of 6.
Vaka’eitu Island and the Coral Gardens
The water in the Vava’u group, although a little chilly was made for awesome snorkeling. Even in area’s without much in the way of live coral we found an abundance of life on closer inpspection. Eels and octopus would creap out of holes when they thought we weren’t looking and tons of fish would peer out from the protection of their rock. The coral gardens near Vaka’eitu are reputed to have some of the best snorkelling in the group so we moved to the anchorage to check them out. Reaching the coral gardens involves swimming over the reef at high tide, and back before the tide drops too far, making it too shallow and dangerous to return. The waves breaking over the reef, make it a challenging swim out and a scetchy swim back but the coral is well worth the effort. The variety and color of the coral was stunning and up there with the best we have seen in the pacific so far.
A short walk through the woods from this anchorage took us to some beautiful deserted beaches.
The anchorage on the far eastern side of the group had been recommended by some friends so we zigzaged our way through the reefs to anchor behind the string of outer islands. Here we met Jim and Lynda on their beautiful boat ‘Bright Moments’ and spent several days with them enjoying spectacular sunsets, walks along the beaches, wooded islands and weather beaten coast often followed by copious amounts of tea and coffee and Lynda’s wonderful cooking. We had such a good time, we decided to cruise down to the Happii’s together, the next island group in Tonga.