November 9 & a few other visits, 2005
Nuku'alofa is the capital and center of Tonga. Here is where one finds government offices, historical landmarks, military installations, tourist attractions, and shopping. However, this is not a big city by western standards. There are cars and paved roads, but there are no stop lights or even stop signs.
We did not go out to any of the tourist attractions, although many of them are reportedly quite interesting. There are blowholes on the south shore, many caves to explore, and tombs of ancient kings. There is also a Tongan National Center which displays artifacts of Tonga's history - including tapa and weavings - but we did not make it there.
There is a small harbor - Faua Harbor - in which cruising boats are welcome to tie up stern-to, but we opted not to. The bottom is soft mud, and we didn't like the idea of caking our ground tackle in mud just before leaving on our week-long passage to New Zealand - stinky! Also, there are rats running around the harbor, and we try to discourage uninvited guests whenever possible. So we anchored outside the harbor while we checked in - a quick and easy process - then left town for a more remote anchorage. But we made a few trips to town, and we learned a bit about it and enjoyed our time there.
Approximately 20,000 years ago, the Ha'apai volcano of Tofua - about 90 miles to the north - erupted, and it covered Nuku'alofa (as well as many other islands) with a thick layer of ash. This has developed in to a rich and fertile soil in which much grows. Consequently, Nuku'alofa grows a wealth of fruits and vegetables (they, too, have fruit bats here). There is a wonderful produce market with more variety than we have seen in many months, and the prices were remarkably low.
While shopping in Nuku'alofa we found a larger variety of products than we have seen since the Samoas. Shopping in most of Tonga has been extremely limited. We found excellent food at Friends Cafe, and there are a few ice cream shops (so Bud is a happy camper). Although there are a few bakeries, they produce the same boring bread we have found throughout Tonga. At least we can buy it for only 70 seniti here (the equivalent of about 39 cents in U.S. currency).
We also found internet access through which we were able to take care of a few business-related chores. One of those chores was paying for our domain name and web hosting for another year. Heaven forbid that this literary jewel might be removed from cyberspace for lack of payment!
Duty-free fuel is available inside Faua Harbor, but there are two substantial obstacles to clear. First, you must be inside the harbor, and, as already mentioned, we really didn't want to go in. Second, you can purchase it duty-free only after you have checked out, but you need to order it in advance, so you need to plan at least a few days ahead - sometimes difficult in these rapidly changing weather conditions. We calculated that we needed 120 liters, and although we would probably save close to $100 pa'anga by buying duty-free, it just was not worth the hassle. We paid a bit more, but it was delivered to our boat while at anchor. Money well spent.
Then we spent the rest of our time in Tongatapu waiting - waiting for a weather window to head south to New Zealand. Although we have become marginally competent at reading local weather charts, we are quite perplexed by the interactions between northbound polar air masses that mix with tropical and sub-tropical systems between here and New Zealand. So we ordered a voyage forecast from Bob McDavitt - New Zealand's weather guru. We will use the info we get from Bob to plan our departure. We have completed our few minor chores, so now we wait.