Do not under any circumstances check out of Nuka'alofa.
I can not be any more clear than that. Please everyone cruising TAKE NOTES (and forward to NZ bound friends). Check out of Neiafu. Spend a week or two enjoying Ha'apai. Then go directly to New Zealand. Do not pass Nuka'alofa. Do not collect $200. Just go.
We spent all day ALL DAY in various offices trying to get checked out of Nuka'alofa. For our pains, we spent a ridiculous $235 pa'anga to legally leave the country. This is after the $200 some odd we spent getting into it. The largest expense was a port fee for using the rat invested, muddy, and smelly mooring available in the harbor. They charged us $4.36/pa'anga per gross ton -- which unfortunately for us is 31. Most monohulls will pay considerably less because GRT is based on volume rather than weight which is a legacy of the freighting industry. The price is not dependent on the amount of time you spend, however, so I suppose if you parked there for a month, it's a reasonable fee. The HM Customs guy is almost never in his office, and after three visits, we just parked our stubborn bottoms on their bench until the office workers hunted him down. To get duty free fuel we went to -- and I am not exaggerating... I know I usually do so let there be no mistake here -- six separate offices to get the right paperwork, approvals, stamps, signatures, and blessings.
The town itself is outside of normal walking distance being at least 2 km to the west along the water front. Town is an unavoidable journey since it is there you will find the Immigration office. You can take a taxi for $5 each way. There is no Internet available near the boat, and every cafe in town that advertised wireless services was also fronted by a sign that said their wireless was not functional. There is a Dataline Internet store where you can buy incredibly slow access at $1.50/15 minutes on computers that looked like they were 20 years old and whose keyboards should be put out of their misery via the expedient of bathing them in acid.
There are restaurants along the water front, most of which are on the pricey end of the scale. On an upnote, there is a daily fish market just across from the Med moor line as well as opportunistic local farmers who line the street to sell their wares. The veg and fruits available on the water front as well as those available at the large market downtown are considerably more diverse, better quality, and lower priced than those found in Neiafu. The market downtown also supports a diverse number of artisan and craft sellers whose prices are highly competitive and with whom you can bargain vigorously for a last few trinkets and souvenirs. You can find a marvelous bakery across the street from the downtown market. There are many hardware and a variety of food stores downtown. So provisioning is a bit of a shlep, it is easy enough to find what you need and bail into a cab for the trip back to the boat.
There are few interesting places to anchor in the Tongatapu group. None of them are really viable in a big wind or swell. We are having no difficulty, of course, because as of two days ago, the wind engine delivered an enormous layer of fat, wet clouds and then turned off to leave them sitting pleasantly and helpfully over the watermelon fields of Nuka'alofa. The watermelon is thriving and delicious. Our boat needs to be picked up by a giant hand and wrung out like squigy.
21 05.42'S 175 09.38'W Fao, Tongatapu, Kingdom of Tonga
Oct 7 2011 21:45 UTC