For those not familiar with Tongan geography, a very brief primer is in order as we are about to swing through the entire kingdom. The island nation is largely spread north to south in four major island groups: Niuas, Vava'u, Ha'apai, and Tongatapu. The population is roughly 100,000 with most of those living in either Nuka'alofa in Tongatapu or up here in Neiafu in Vava'u. Cruisers can check in and out only in Nuka'alofa and Neiafu. So geography dictates one of two major cruising routes through Tonga. If you are headed for Australia, you come into the Vava'u group and probably never visit any other part of the Kingdom. The Vava'u group features all the cruiser ameneties you need for a nice visit and provisioning stop before you continue on your way to Fiji, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. If, however, you are New Zealand bound, this is your last country before heading in for the monsoon season. You check in to Neiafu, spend a few weeks tasting the Vava'u anchorages, then you make your way south. If you are hardy and the weather is cooperative, you'll taste the pristine and largely unpopulated anchorages of Ha'apai before you head down to Tongatapu. From there, you'll check out of Nuka'alofa, get duty free fuel but no booze (since you won't have time to drink it before arriving in Opua, Auckland or Whangarei), and then hang out until the weather cooperates for the passage south.
Obviously, we are on a very rapid version of the New Zealand bound trajectory. We've lingered in the Vava'u group because this is where all our friends our. Those headed to Oz had lingered as well enjoying last potlucks, sundowners and rugby games before the fleet splits in two. Those headed south are lingering because honestly, there is no point in heading south until the last possible moment. Who wants to arrive in New Zealand while it is still colder than Santa's butt on Christmas morning? We have put off leaving Vava'u until quite literally the last possible moment. In that time, we have had the pleasure of dinner with Catachaos, drinks with Casulo, and diving with Loose Pointer. There really was no reason to leave. Now there is.
We have a hard stop on our time in Tonga since our visas run out Friday. This is good. We need to go south to New Zealand anyway. The visa deadline is just another motivator. We'll head out today or tomorrow and work our way through Ha'apai and on down to Tongatapu. We'll probably only spend a day or two there. Ideally, our cat import permit will have FINALLY arrived. We'll also provision, fuel up, and get set up with others heading to New Zealand. Then I think we'll go almost immediately to Minerva Reef. I've been monitoring conditions out there, and it seems that Minerva has been experiencing a very steady run of good weather. As long as that holds, its several hundred miles closer to New Zealand and a better place to wait for the window south to Auckland. After that, we hold until we see something in the gribs that gives us reason to be optimistic.
We hear many theories on how to do this passage. They range from Two Amigos: "You're going to get hit, so you might as well just go." To Pelagic: "Head for 30S 175E and then hove to until you see a break in the weather and then motor south." To Hipnautical: "Wait in Nuka'alofa till you see the Kiwis pull their anchors and then leave. Follow them." Kiwis say online and in person that every time they do the trip, it is different. It's never fun, it's rarely horrible. While heinous squash zones -can- form with winds in the 60s and 70s, those are actually predictable and usually avoidable. More likely, there will be a day with 30 on the nose, a day with 30 on the beam, and a few days with no wind at all. Since leaving Mexico, we've seen 30 on the nose and on the beam and from behind, we've spent days in 5 meter seas, and we know what all of that looks like. It's not fun, but it's rarely horrible. We will be okay.
For family, it is time to watch the YOTREPS reports again. I will try to post our position at least once a day from here till we arrive at the dock in Auckland. Everybody please send us positive thoughts for fair winds and following seas... and cross all your tingers and foes for the timely arrival of Dulcinea's paperwork.