Friday, September 15, 2017

Niuatoputapu, Tonga aka "New Potatoes"

September  7- 9

Sailing through the South Pacific means learning all of the nicknames cruisers have given to reference hard to pronounce places. Niuatoputapu clearly falls into the nickname category and is fondly referred to as New Potatoes.  About 200 miles SW of American Samoa lies Niuatoputapu, Tonga, a tiny speck of an island. We had zero intentions of stopping here but the bilge counter reading “5” and the trickle of water coming in from shaft tube convinced us otherwise. 

Stopping in New Potatoes was an easy way to check into Tonga and was a beautiful spot to explore. Most importantly, we were able to fix our leak.  We had read in the Soggy Paws Tonga Compendium that upon checking in (and exploring around Tonga) women should cover their shoulders and knees. The Tongan people (like their Samoan neighbors) are deeply religious. Dressing to appease the locals doesn’t sounds like a hard task, except when it’s hot, which it almost always is. 

Checking in at New Potatoes used to require an additional check in at Neiafu. This is no longer the case. We were able to hand our clearance form that we received in New Potatoes to the Customs agent in Neiafu without having to complete any other part of the check in process. 

How many officials can one dinghy hold?

Checking in requires a 2 mile walk to the Customs office located near the high school. Once we let the Customs official know we were there to check in, she directed us next door to exchange money in order to pay our fees. There is no ATM on this tiny island, just a man with a shoe box who acts as the islands “bank” and is willing to exchange money. With money in hand, the Customs lady put us in her car for the 2 mile drive back to the boat. An individual from Customs, Immigration and the Health Department are all required to come aboard your vessel to fill out the required paperwork. Even though this is a strict requirement, the officials do not have access to their own boat, so we had to shuttle them out in our little dinghy.  We paid $156 in Pa’anga (but we only received receipts for $125…some of our money went into someone’s pocket) which is the equivalent to $76 USD.

The volcanic island 3 miles away from New Potatoes has 20 inhabitants.

We wish we could have stayed a few more days in Niuatoputapu but Mother Nature had given us the perfect weather window to Neiafu. It was important for us to take this weather window as Neiafu lies almost dead South of Niautoputapu, which 90% of the time would present a very uncomfortable point of sail. If we have learned anything from sailing the South Pacific, it's not to waste a weather window as they're not very often. 

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