Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Port Maurelle and Lape Island

Port Maurelle (Mourelle)

Port Maurelle was named after the first European to visit it, Don Francisco Antonio Mourelle of Spain (Lonely Planet:  Tonga, p. 151)

One of my favorite anchorages (as well as other people’s) in the Vava’u group is Port Maurelle, just off Kapa Island. Because it is popular, it can get crowded, but we were fortunate enough to spend two nights there in the company of only six to seven other boats that were well spaced out. 

A typical islet in the Vava'u Group, en route from Hunga to Port Maurelle

On the third night, there was an influx of boats from other, more exposed anchorages that were looking to get out of the wind and swell. Port Maurelle got crowded but still retained its friendly feel.

Anchoring in this bay is difficult, and if you can’t get one of the few moorings, it is best to anchor inside the moorings, where there is enough sand to hold the anchor. The outer edges have only small sand patches, and the bottom is like concrete with only a thin layer of sand over it. If you have enough chain/line, you can anchor in deep water behind the moorings, but since there is coral everywhere, you are probably destroying it if you do that.

In addition to being protected from most weather, the anchorage is very scenic.

Excellent snorkeling can be found on the ledges on both sides of the bay
From Port Maurelle, you can also stage a variety of short, interesting excursions.

Popular trips include visits to nearby Swallow’s Cave and Mariner’s Cave. We only visited Swallow’s Cave. Sadly, the cave (unlike the many caves we saw on Niue) was defiled with local graffiti. Here is a picture of the entrance to Swallow’s Cave in which I cut the graffiti outside of the cave entrance out of the picture. 

Kayakers from S/V Misty in entrance to Swallow's Cave
However, the blurred white smudges on the column inside the cave are also graffiti. These caves are like cathedrals, and it is beyond me why anyone would desecrate them. 

Ceiling of Swallow's Cave
Swallow’s cave is misnamed because the mud nests that line the ceiling of the cave actually belong to white-rumped swiflets not swallows.

Swiftlet nests adorn the ceiling of Swallow's Cave
You can take a kayak or dinghy into Swallow’s Cave or enter by snorkeling. The cave entrance in only partially underwater. 

Shadow's oar dips in

Patrick exiting Swallow's Cave by dinghy:  note the oar and prop near the entrance
Tongans used to hold feasts in this cave for important visitors and, in addition to the water opening, there is a top opening to the cave through which foods were lowered. 

Top opening to Swallow's Cave
Once inside, there are several chambers to explore, but you need a flashlight to explore all but the main chamber.

After having a look around the cave by dinghy, I jumped in for a snorkel. Peering down, I saw limestone columns extending to the dark floor of the cave, 50 to 100 feet below me. It would have been creepy if not for the late afternoon sunlight coming through the cave entrance, which created a shaft of magical blue light in the water. 

Late afternoon sunlight entering Swallow's Cave

Beam of sunlight penetrating through the water to the rocks underneath

In addition to exploring caves, many snorkeling expeditions can be made from Port Maurelle. There is excellent snorkeling along either edge of the anchorage, unlike at some of the other outer anchorages. We also made a dinghy trip to nearby Ava Island, whose west side had some of the most amazing snorkeling of our entire cruise. A steep wall dropping down to the bottom held myriad fish and invertebrates, but most interesting were the pelagic invertebrates I encountered on this exposed island. I will post pictures of these snorkeling expeditions in a separate post.

There are several villages on nearby Kapa Island. We visited the village of Falevai. On the way there, we passed cows, horses, and pigs grazing in the forest and more mangoes ripening on the trees. Falling coconuts were a hazard at the beginning of the footpath, so we had to keep our eyes peeled. 

Wild pig and piglets on Kapa Island

Entering the village of Falevai

As we entered the village with its cluster of homes, we met a woman who waved us over. She told us a little about herself, asked about us, and then invited us to church the next day. We took some pictures of her and her children.

As we walked on, we noticed some interesting trees that we had first seen on Hunga. 

Cotton tree
They looked like cotton, but they weren’t the low shrubs we are used to seeing in the United States. I asked a local man what they were and he replied, “Cotton.” I was wearing a cotton dress that day and pointed to it as I asked if the villagers made fabric from the cotton. He said they didn’t because they didn’t have the “machine” to make fabric. (I’m not sure if he meant a cotton gin for cleaning the cotton or machines for spinning and weaving the cotton.) The villager told me that the islanders currently only use the cotton (which was soft as lamb’s wool) for pillow stuffing.

We soon came to another cluster of buildings, a cemetery, and a wharf. 

Village wharf with net piles

I wasn’t sure if these belonged to the same village or a different one. Here, we again saw a colorful quilt hanging by a recent grave like we did on Hunga. Back in Neiafu, we asked about this Tongan custom. We were told that Tongans believe the grave is the deceased's home, so they try to make it homey. We were again reminded of the television set we saw sitting on a grave in Niue.

Tongan grave

We did return to the village for church the next day. I will also cover our experience there in a separate post.

Lape Island

We wanted to visit several places in the Lape Island area and because it was more sheltered from the east wind that was blowing at the time, we took a mooring at Lape Island instead of anchoring at neighboring Vaka’eitu.

We spent several days here mostly hanging out on the boat, but making a major snorkeling excursion each day to either “The Coral Garden” or the “Coral Wonder.” These two huge banks, carpeted with some of the most beautiful coral gardens we’ve seen, lie on the outer reefs (west and south, respectively) of the "bay" in which Lape Island is found. Their location and approaches are well described elsewhere (Tonga Cruising Guide, pp. 7-8), and I will cover them in more detail with photos in a separate post on snorkeling in Tonga.  

We also visited the village the first day we arrived at Lape Island to let them know we had taken a mooring. The moorings at Lape Island are on a donation basis, paid directly to the island. Lape is one of islands outside of Neiafu that hosts a Tongan feast for yachties, and their feast is also on a donation basis. The donations paid to the village are being collected at this time to build a floating wharf for the village. The current concrete wharf, also built with donations from cruisers, is almost level with the surface of the water at high tide. One can imagine that in rough weather or cyclone season, waves sweep over and across it making it very dangerous; so it is easy to understand the need for a floating wharf.

We attended the traditional Tongan feast at Lape Island. It was their last feast of the season and was well attended by about 40 cruisers. 

Cruisers enjoying a Tongan feast

Tongan kids having a sand fight on the beach

Cruisers were met by the islanders at the wharf and wreathed with leis upon their arrival. Patrick and I arrived after the village had run out of leis, but Jess on Oyaraugh let me wear hers for part of the evening.

Island welcome
After an aperitif of a drinking coconut while people arrived and socialized, it was time to eat. Before the meal was served, grace was sung and said in Tongan. Small children were served first; then, the rest of us were served. The islanders kindly explained the order of the evening to us in advance, so that we were spared the embarrassment of making any faux pas. 

The feast buffet:  The woman in the purple shirt is carving the roast pig

The feast was served in plates made out of halved banana stalks.

Drinking coconut with dinner plate

I suspect that in a true Tongan feast, people use their fingers to take the food from the banana plates, but we were given plastic-ware rolled in a napkin. Traditional dishes included roast pig, breadfruit, and cumala (sweet potato) baked in an earth oven, fried and raw fish, and a variety of salads. Some of the salads may have been included to satisfy the tastes of cruisers, because they did not all appear to be traditional foods, but I didn’t inquire about each dish. 

P's meal left to right:  sweet and sour vegetables, taro-wrapped corned beef, vegetable salad, green salad, roasted sweet potato, fried fish, roast pork, sweet and sour sweet potato

K's meal left to right:  sweet and sour sweet potato, raw fish salad, fried fish, taro-wrapped corned beef, green salad, roasted sweet potato, roasted breadfruit, roast pork
After dinner, the event organizer and his wife performed a song and dance they had learned while spending time in Samoa. 

Tongan feast organizers and hosts

Then, the donation hat was passed around. 

Getting ready to pass the hat for the floating wharf

Cruisers remained on the beach visiting until well after dark. We met up with several boats we hadn’t seen since Bora Bora and met some new people as well. It was a very enjoyable evening.      

1 comment:

  1. what wonderful descriptions and pics! even if i don't comment on all of them, i'm soaking them up!!