Of all the places Allora has taken us, North Minerva Reef, is a stand out. The reef literally emerges only 90cm at low tide, and when walking on what feels like the Pacific’s very precipice, we had the surreal sensation that we’d been transported to another world. I urge you to read this article from New Zealand Geographic, which lays out the inherent hazards and contentious history of this fascinating ‘land:’
We, like many others, made a stop at Minerva North, to break up the often difficult passage between Tonga and New Zealand. Most boats poise themselves to try to stop, but the weather conditions have to be right to enter the pass and take the time in ‘pause’ mode as opposed to continuing onward, so we felt lucky to manage 3 days in the fold of the protected lagoon. We weren’t alone, though! The 30 boats at anchor around us were dubbed, ‘The Minerva Yacht Club!’
Woven belted mats, ta’ovala worn over black missionary garb
maze of lifted islands pushed up by the Tongan trench
friendly islands, plotting Cook’s demise
faint volcano in the distance, a perfect cone
further south, the world’s newest island
space alien squid hovering by the swim step
weekly troughs of rain and wind and gray hard scrabble bottoms for the anchor
numbers for the anchorages keep sailors from learning the hard to pronounce names
everything at the Neiafu market is four dollars
fish and chips on a floating barge
God is Alive bar, blasting music across the still water
Ag festival for the King
dead zebra sharks on display,
a temporary binge in the off limits fishing zones
people go crazy to show what they have
soft coral, rocks and canyons, nudibranchs and filefish
lobster, lobster, grab one if you dare
outer islands, Ha’apai, people live simple lives
weaving, fishing, making babies
it’s a long boat ride to the nearest grocery store
power from a solar project paid for by Japan
kids play on the beach
leap from the trees into the sand
make toys of VHS tapes, decorating wood fences with shiny ribbon
sailing the flat water behind the lagoon
hove-to for humpbacks
whales sing as we dive
high pitched songs, deep rumble in your chest
rolly anchorages, whale nursery anchorages, long beach anchorages
coconut heart pancakes!
Sleeping mom’s providing whale-sized nourishment using her Antarctic reserves
tail slapping to keep junior in line
rambunctious males, out for a good time
call mmmhhh mmwwwhmmm whummmmmmh
any whale who’s any whale is here
Tonga’s the place to be, leviathan
no predators, warm water, but no food either
what if humans vacationed the way humpbacks do
on a diet
no Piña coladas, might just put cruise ships out of business
think of the savings in fuel!
We had all 3 kids (and Liam, too) visit over the course of our 3 months cruising around Tonga, so you’ll see some family faces among the locals:
There isn’t much about humpback’s that you can get “used” to
fin and back slipping above the waves
scale inspires awe
flukes waving goodbye, whispering into the drink
surge of whales on the move
juvenile males on a mission
shouldering water ahead of them as they porpoise on the surface
strange knobby heads rushing through the foam
in calmer water, a spy hop, slipping up to peak at YOU
soft blow of a sleeping whale
the sudden totally unexpected wild audacity of a breach
that always always comes out of nowhere
young whale under the stand up paddle board
gripping the camera, ready to go under
calves in the anchorage, sleeping with Mom
arced above her head
curious little ones spy hopping by the stern
or practicing their breaches
flopping, silly half out
then the day they show everyone what they’ve got ~MS
(Rough camera moves, sorry, but the proximity had us sufficiently EXCITED!!!)
We saw this babe working hard on her breaching technique.
Otherworldly hours spent swimming in awe!
Swimming off Allora while Marcus maneuvers to keep us in sight.
Diana spent a day at the school (and several more on the boat) helping them make a mosaic for the school using local materials but also glass from Italy that she keeps squirreled away in the bilges. She donated for a center element, a piece of glass given to her by a mentor in Ravenna. The theme for the month at school was “Love,” so that inspired the design, which was set up so that many kids could work on parts of it at once. Thanks too, to Mike and Katie (s/v Adagio) for jumping in to help. We hung it on the school wall with the assumption that it might outlive the actual building itself. ~MS
Every fisherman dreams about a secret fishing hole somewhere. Someplace no one knows about. No one goes. No one (or hardly anyone) has ever fished. A place where you show up knowing you won’t see a single soul and that the fish have never seen a fly. This dream fishing spot is naturally chock full of fish, too, everywhere you turn.
The Cook Island’s atoll, Penrhyn, might just be that place.
This atoll lays more than 800 miles of open ocean from anywhere. There are no flights. It is visited by just two supply ships a year. The only way to get here is in your own boat, sailing far off of the normal tradewind route. There was a time when expensive flights from the main islands of the Cooks occasionally brought an intrepid fly fishermen from New Zealand, though because there are no hotels or any other tourist infrastructure on Penrhyn the only way to fish these remote flats, even then, was to stay as a guest with the pastor at Te Tautua and have him take you. This apparently did happen at least once. Years ago. Basically, the only people who ever visit, in very, very small numbers are sailors. The intersection of committed bonefishermen and blue-water sailors who can actually get themselves to Penrhyn yields a very tiny slice of humanity. I’d bet there aren’t more than about five of us in the whole world, and that includes our friend Mike, who’s introduction to fly fishing was walking the flats with me in the Gambier and Rangiroa.
The pastor insisted on taking us to his spot, though we had our own dinghy and knew from Google Earth exactly where to go. Wishing to be gracious guests of the island, we accepted the ride. We spotted the first pod of fish even before getting out of the boats and over the next four hours (the limit of the pastor’s desire to stay and harvest noddy bird eggs), I landed at least fifteen bonefish (which is a lot of bonefish), considering the amount of time it takes to land each one and the fact that a fighting ‘kio-kio’ clears the immediate area on the flat of willing fish. Mike caught nearly that many, as well, and we were often doubled up with fish on at the same time.
We fished this singular spot for a couple weeks going back on our own, and it wasn’t always as good as the first day, the tide and the weather have a lot to say about how good the fishing is going to be, but it was always our spot and the fish were always there. They aren’t as big on average as the bonefish in French Polynesia, but Penrhyn is chock full of them.
We pinched ourselves regularly to make sure it was not just a dream. ~MS