Travel Journey 16 | From Tonga to New Zealand

Bibi Brongers | 17-01-2020

Travel Journey 16 | From Tonga to New Zealand


After a crossing of 1000 nautical miles we enter Vava’u, the northernmost group of islands of Tonga. The rugged rocks remind us of Norway, but the closer we get, the greener it gets. Tropical birds sing their song loudly in the forest that reaches the water.

Several seabirds fly over the water hunting for a nice fish. We also cast the rods fanatically, but unfortunately with less success. Fortunately, the beautiful sailing area full of islands and bays makes everything right. When we are cleared through customs, we therefore decide to drop anchor at an uninhabited island. The island is only inhabited by hundreds of palm trees and pieces of washed-up plastic. Niels and I decide to take action here. We walk around the island and collect in a large bag of plastic for recycling. Then we set off with a homemade cleaver. After a morning of chopping, climbing, sawing and dragging, we have a loot of 150 coconuts in the gangway. We are currently provided with liters of fresh water, the perfect thirst quencher! The self-sufficient life can easily be sustained here.

We decide to recycle the plastic found a few days later. But making a flower pot is not entirely without risks. During the recycling process, the press of the solar oven rolls off the table and hits the ground with a loud thump. We look at the ground with relief. “That just went well!” Niels shouts. But when I look again at my red-lacquered toenails, I see that it just didn’t go well. My toenail is cut in half and blood is crazy. Tjerk comes into action and can fulfill his role as a doctor. The first aid boxes appear and a large syringe is placed in my foot. Then the rest of my nail is cut away, aiii !! The following days I have to sit with my foot up, which is very difficult on the boat. Fortunately the men keep a close eye on me and I am spoiled with kilos of chocolate!

A week later the alarm clock goes early. A marathon of school visits awaits us, we are looking forward to it! A few months ago we already planned a visit to two primary schools and a third is added spontaneously the day before. It feels good to be able to do something here, because on the street it is a very different sight than we were used to in French Polynesia. There is an enormous amount of waste: plastic bottles, empty crisps and candy bags and especially many cans.

We have breakfast quickly and we wonder how many things we have to bring to the side. That will be sailing back and forth twice. On the side a team from the local government is waiting for us. They have an awareness program about waste at primary schools, in which our lesson fits well. They help us fantastic all day!

As soon as we see the school in sight, we see a large group of children waiting for us full of expectation. All children wear a school uniform and the girls have beautiful long braids with ribbons in their hair. We start the lesson with a presentation. Tjerk talks about the journey around the world, Niels about self-sufficient life and I about the problem of waste in the sea. It is great fun to talk to the children about these topics and see how they impress. After the presentation we start working with the shredder and the solar oven. Some children shyly turn the shredder’s wheel, but after some encouragement, a big smile appears cautiously on their faces.

In total we reached around 250 children this day, spread over three schools. We are tired and sail slowly back to the boat with all our gear. We talk afterwards and hope to have inspired many children. Satisfactorily we close the day.

After the activities at the schools it is time to discover the underwater world of Tonga. We unanimously agree that we have seen the most beautiful coral of our trip in the Pacific. The different types of coral compete for a spot on the reef and we see fish in the craziest color combinations, shapes and patterns. In addition, Tonga is known as one of the best places in the world for whale watching. This is the season that humpback whales come to the tropical waters of Tonga to mate. When we see a couple of huge splashes in the morning and meters-high water cannons caused by the whales, we jump on board with sailing friends on the Vagebond. With the whales in the distance we are on the lookout all afternoon. After a day on the road, we finally sail back to the anchorage. But then we see the spray of whales, this time next to the New Nexus! You can feel the tension … Could this be the moment that we go swimming with the whales? While we are moving towards the New Nexus, we are lucky. The whales are coming our way! This is our chance! We jump into the water and swim as fast as we can. I look above the water. In front of me I see the rest, I have to go there. But if I look straight ahead, I see the dorsal fin of the huge animal coming straight at me. Fortunately, Hans calls from the Vagebond which way I have to go and I arrive at the others. When I quickly put my head back under water, two huge whales swim past me. While I absorb the animals and think that it can’t get any better, a mother with her calf appears. The little beast swims in the wake of her mother towards the exit of the pass. When I think they have all swum past and I take a last look down, a whale is coming out of nowhere. He swims right under me. It might save a few meters. What an impressive animal and what a giant tail! My heart is beating in my throat and the whole world seems to stand still for a moment. Breathtaking moments that we will enjoy for a long time.

In addition to all this beauty, Tonga is also dominated by the crossing to New Zealand. An exciting crossing, because once every so many days the area above New Zealand is hit by a storm from the southwest. We prepare the boat extra well and walk through the safety equipment. The weather is the talk of the day. Tactics are discussed and the weather windows are closely monitored. On October 23, the time has come, the decision is being made and we will anchor.

After two days we pass the Minerva Reef; a reef in the middle of the ocean and also a safe anchorage on the way to New Zealand. The weather window still looks good, so we decide to pass our last retreat. We set course to the south and it gets a degree colder every night. Swimming trunks make way for complete sailing suits. Three days later the wind suddenly drops out at night. It is pitch dark and the horizon is regularly lit by lightning flashes. With the electric motor we try to sail away from the storm, but we are steadily overtaken. The voltage on board increases with every flash. We place the navigation iPad and the satellite phone in the oven to prevent damage in the event of an impact. Fortunately it doesn’t come to that!

Then my night watch starts and I am anxiously waiting for the wind to come. The wind picks up to 15 knots around 3 a.m. We sail on with double-sailed mainsail and half-rolled-in genoa, because we received a wind forecast of 26 knots via the satellite telephone. An hour later Tjerk takes over my service. At daybreak the sea is gray and uneasy. A large gray cloud mass rolls in our direction. Within a few seconds the wind increases with great force and the boat is almost flat. Niels shoots outside and immediately starts rolling into the genoa until the size of a handkerchief remains. With gusts of 50 knots and a speed of 8.5 knots, we drift towards the north. After an hour the wind stabilizes to south 30-35 knots with gusts of 40 knots. The sea gets rougher by the hour and when Niels starts his shift, we crash into waves of 4-5 meters. Twice a wave breaks over the boat and we have a few hundred liters of water in the tub. The water turns out not to be drained by the self-dischargers, so we have to empty the tub with the put bucket. This while the sea does its best to fill the tub again and to swing us through the tub.

The rest of the day the boat is steered by hand and as soon as a wave threatens to hit the ship, 20 degrees is sent to go straight over the wave. The boat is fantastic and recovers after every wave and gust. Together we defy the elements.

The wind continues to decrease, until we get from one extreme to the other. For four days we lie in the middle of a high-pressure area without wind and on a mirror-smooth sea. For example, on a relatively short trip of 1100 nautical miles, we suddenly do 16 days. But then we enter the Bay of Islands and the wonderful scent of pine forests meets us. When we are approved by customs, we finally set foot. New Zealand, we made it!