Let the Wind Be Your Guide: The Top Charter Sailing Vacations

Tonga: South Pacific Paradise

Tonga's Vava'u Islands in the South Pacific offer a unique opportunity to experience tropical sailing at its best. The people are friendly, there is plenty to do ashore, the trade-wind sailing is magnificent, and the snorkeling and diving are beyond compare.
The islands are a scenic mixture of the Bahamas and the Virgins, but with a profusion of shallow coral reefs and fine white beaches. You'll find yourself sailing in the last independent monarchy in the Pacific, still largely untouched by modern civilization. The missionary influence here is very strong, and the islanders observe the Sabbath with Victorian rigor.

The highest islands are in the north and west, offering plenty of deep-water anchorages and an ever-changing vista of cliffs, beaches, and sheltered coves. The people live in small clusters of huts among extensive copra plantations. Sail to the east to view the great coral reefs that protect Vava'u. Inside the reef, you sail among tiny islets capped with a few palm trees and surrounded with gleaming white beaches. Many visitors spend their nights in the sheltered anchorages to the north and west, then sail down to the reef during the day for snorkeling and beach-combing.
Take a couple of days to get used to local conditions before sailing eastward into shallower water. The Fanua Tapu Passage takes you to the heart of the reefs, an easy trip provided you have a rising tide under you and high sun to see the shallows. Spend a night at nearby Makave village, and visit the Ofu village, a marvelous example of the Tongan lifestyle, with the thatched huts laid out around a gently curving beach where fishermen mend their nets.
You can spend a fascinating day sailing the 10-mile passage inside the chain of reefs and islands to Maninita. You will need a local guide to anchor at Maninita. He will eyeball you into a small, sandy cove surrounded by coral heads and a beach. Alternatively, head over to Euakafa five miles away, a higher island where you can tramp over a 300-foot summit plateau and get some exercise. The more ambitious charterer can sail to Hunga Lagoon on the western island of Ava Pulepulekai. The entrance is narrow, and should only be attempted on a high tide.
Vava'u is one of the few charter areas where you can still experience tropical sailing as it was in the Caribbean before the days of package tours and large charter fleets. Visit soon before the word gets out.
Practically Speaking
This is a small cruising ground that inspires confidence. If you can sail the Virgins, you can charter here. All that's needed is some expertise with eyeball navigation through reefs and in shallow water. Anchoring presents few problems, and you can always check your set with a pair of goggles and a snorkel. You can charter anytime, but January through March is the hurricane season, and best avoided.


Paul McMenamin is the author, editor, and photo director of the original Ultimate Adventure Sourcebook.

Published: 1 Feb 2001 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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