Category Archives: Tonga & Minerva Reef

The Majestic Cliffs of Kenutu

Our last anchorage in Tonga was a spectacular one!  We picked this remote easterly island based on its location for the upcoming winds.  Plus, we wanted to hit one island on all four sides of Vava’u.  The winning island was Kenutu.  This is a long, pretty flat island with several white, sandy beaches and a thick forest inland.

It can be a bit of a challenge navigating to Kenutu because of all of the reefs.  We had to ensure we had good visibility and updated satellite charts to make it safely, which we did!

Kenutu, Tonga

Kenutu, Tonga

We arrived around 1500 which did not leave us much time to explore before dark descended upon us.  So, we jumped in Sweetie and worked our way through the reefs near shore.  A friend of ours told us that there is a 10-minute walk to the other side so we decided to investigate.

Exploring Kenutu

The path was easy to find as someone put a float in the tree with “trail” hand written on it.  Easy enough.  The first trail we found was truly a 10-minute walk to the other side.  But what we saw shocked us!  The colors were so vibrant!

The rocky cliffs shouted out with bright reds, browns, and greens while the water below had dozens of variation of blues and greens.  I loved watching the waves come up over the table creating a shallow pool.

Another beautiful hillside with more colors.  We found several trails on the east side of Kenutu.  We walked on all of them that we could find.  Each bay was just as beautiful as the last.  One of our walks led us down to sea level where we could witness the blow holes and surf up close and personal (lower photo).

One bay had several blow holes that showed off in a spectacular fashion.  I could have sat here and watched this fierce display of water all day!

It was getting dark and we wanted to explore by dinghy.  We went around the southeast side of the island and found a lovely pass.  But it was too rough and too shallow for us to go through by dinghy.

If we had more time we would have certainly stayed at this Kenutu anchorage longer.  What a beautiful surprise it was to see this island.

The next day we had to pull up the hook and go back to Neiafu to clear out of Tonga.  Super sad as we really did not do the Kingdom justice in 3 weeks.  I would love to come back here and really explore all three archipelagos.

This blog occured in mid-August 2023.  Our blog posts run 8-10 weeks behind actual live events.  In our last blog I share details of Vava’u.

Vava’u, an Island Paradise

The Vava’u group is the most popular island group in Tonga.  It is remote and unspoiled, the waters are crystal clear and have uninhabited islands speckled throughout.  Matt and I could not decide if the Vava’u group reminded us more of the Marquesas in French Polynesia or the Bay of Islands in the Lao group of Fiji.  Either way, they are gorgeous.  

The downfall is the large number of boats that are here!  We had grown accustomed to being the only boat in the anchorage and now, our first anchroage, we share it with 8 other boats!  Small price to pay for a tropical island paradise.

Vava’u Group

The Vava’u group is made up of one main island (Ut’ Vava’u) and 50 smaller islands. The god Maui reached into the sea and pulled up the islands of Vava’u.

Port Maurelle (Anchorage #7)

Our first anchorage is Port Maurelle, also known as anchorage #7.  All of the anchroages in Vava’u have numbers.  Even though it is called a “Port Maurelle” there is no actual port.  Just a beautiful, small, white sandy beach in a small, well protected bay.

Our plan is to only stay the night and then head to the main island to clear in and hide from the big nasty storm thats coming in a few days.  But, we hope to come back here to explore more so stay tuned.

Funny thing…there were a total of 12 boats that ended up anchoring here for the night.  For the first time, in a long time, we were anchored with 4 other American boats and one of those boats was from Austin, TX!  We did not have a chance to talk to them but we will find them again.

There were many rock star boats:  Zepplin, Rhapsody, Rolling Stones, Sally, and Pantera!  How funny is that?

Neaifu – the Main Town

The main town in Vava’u is Neaifu which is where we check in and clear out.  They have the most services and facilities based in this area.  The anchorage is very protected and two companies offer moorings for $20TOP per night.  It is here that we run into a lot of cruisers that we’ve met along the way!  

St. Joseph Cathedral is one of the top 10 churches in the Pacific and it is a work of art!  There are lots of dogs and pigs roaming around freely.  They are skittish, but truly funny to run into as you are shopping.  Neaifu has a pretty decent fresh produce market that is open daily and behind them is a large craft market.

Are We Famous?

We were meeting cruiser friends for dinner (Brian and Sue on Sea Rose whome we met in French Polynesia).  Our table of 4 quickly expanded to a table for 15 during happy hour.  A young couple who sat next to us delightfully screamed “you’re famous” when they met us and learned we were from “Sugar Shack.”  Well now that was funny.  Yes, we do a lot, but I certainly would not say we are famous.  What do we do??

I ran the Poly Mag Net which is the nightly SSB net in French Polynesia for 2.5 years, updated and included a lot of updates on the 4 FP compendiums and Fiji Compendium (I am currently doing the same thing for the Tonga compendium), and am very active in the cruiser WhatsApp groups and Facebook groups.  But she also mentioned something else…

She said, you were quoted in the new Whangarei Marine Brochure.  I said, “what?”  She said in Cafe Tropicana (which is the cruiser hub in Tonga) there are tons of these new Whangarei Marine books and there is a full page with your quote.  Well, that is new. I had to investigate and guess what she is right!  This is with me and Greg Just who owns Cafe Tropicana and is the port officer.  I think it would have been cooler if Sugar Shack were one of the boats in the photo but I can’t micr-manage everything 🙂

Tonga Carving

There are some amazing carvers in Tonga.  They carve pearl shells, wood of all types and bone of all types (including whale, turtle, cow).  I did not take photos of everything because there is just so much and it is hard to pick.  But here are some of my favoriet pearl shell carvings and yes, I purchased the whale tail in the large photo.

Sugar Shack Custom Designed Items

There is this fabulous place called Coffee and Tees in Neaifu that is run by Cindy.  She is incredibly helpful, kind, and eager to please.  She worked with me for a few hours to design our special Sugar Shack shirts, shopping bags, and backpacks!  We sent her our logo and we had everything completed the same day!

Cindy is the blonde and Isa is the brunnette.  The images below are our very own screen prints with our Sugar Shack logo!

The shirts have a design on the front and back.  Matt and I both like understated on the front and the big design on the back.

And some new shopping bags…front and back

Ovaka & Avalau

We dropped the hook at anchorage 39 next to two small islands called Ovaka and Avalau.  Wehn we arrived there were only 3 boats but by the end of the day there were 9 of us.  So many boats.

We took Sweetie to shore and explored the beautiful beaches of both islands. We were pleasantly surprised to discover a trail that led from the beach to the village.  There ae 15 people, 200 pigs, dozens of stray dogs, 2 goats, a few chickens and 2 churches.  

They have a lot of solar here which is very cool.  They have solar at many houses and the lights are solar powered.

One of the churches, the church drum, a very damaged pier and some fishermen.


Avalau is a small uninhabited island.  But what it lacks in size it makes up for in beauty.  

Limestone cliffs, towering palm trees, and soft sandy beaches.

Then this little motu with beautiful birds living onboard – even a boobie.


We had some beautiful sunsets in Vava’u.

This blog occured in early August.  Our blog posts run 8-10 weeks behind actual live events.  In our last blog, we weather the storm at Foa in Ha’apai.

Weathering the Storm at Foa

Another big system was on the forecast and we needed to make a move.  Well, technically we loved the anchorage at Uoleva as it was so incredibly calm and peaceful.  However, we don’t have much time in Tonga and we had to continue moving North.  So, we decided to make a short stop in Lifuka before heading to Foa where we planned to hide from the storm.

Uoleva, where we were anchored, is only 4nm to Lifuka.  It was a super short motor to the “main” island of the Ha’apai group.  This is where we are supposed to clear in and clear out of the Ha’apai group.  So, we came to Lifuka and anchored in front of the main village called Pangai.  It is a super small town with 8 Chinese markets, a small fresh produce area, a hardware store, auto parts store, and a western union.  All of these businesses are within a 5 minute walk of eachother on the main road in the center of “town.”

We stopped by customs first to do our formalities, then checked out the rest of the town. We were able to dispose of our rubbish and we picked up some apples, mandarin oranges, and fresh bread.  I will call this a successful trip!

Here is a great shot of Sugar Shack at the Pangai anchorage in front of the Koa volcano!

Onward to Foa

Going from Lifuka to Foa is only 9nm so it will be another short motor.  The good thing is we can charge the house batteries!  We make our way around the shallow shoals and bommies and sneak into a little anchroage close to shore in 4m of sand.

As you can see, these three islands are pretty close together.

Matt caught a bug of some sort which actually put him down for 3 days.  Usually he can power through his colds but not this one.  Good thing we were at a pretty safe anchorage.  

Passage from Ha’apai to Vava’u

Believe it or not another large system was coming and we needed to move on.  The sail from Foa in Ha’apai to Vava’u is about 55-65nm.  We needed a fairly decent weather window that would not put too much strain on our one poor hard working rudder.  But, we also needed to leave.

The passage was about 67nm and we wanted to arrive during daylight.  We left our little spot on Foa around 0730 and had moderate winds at 10-15kts out of the SE and sucky 2.5-3m waves.  At least the waves were coming in long intervals so it was not a bash or a washer machine ride.  The boat was a little unsteady and had a hard time holding course.  However, considering she only had one rudder we both thought she did pretty darn good!

Here is a photo of the Vava’u group which looks remarkably like the Marquesas in French Polynesia or a blown up Bay of Islands in the Lao group of Fiji.

And a real life photo

We drop the hook at Port Maurelle around 1600 with 3 other boats.  But before night fall another 5 boats showed up making it 9 boats in this anchroage.  We are no longer in the serenity islands of Ha’apai.

Matt and I enjoying a cold frosty drink celebrating our arrival.

This blog post occured the first of August.  Our blog posts run 8-10 weeks behind actual live events.  We explore the Island of walks in our last blog post.