One of our NauticEd students (Doug) called us today asking where to go on a sailing vacation. In particular, he was asking about Tonga or Tahiti. He had been to the Caribbean plenty of times and was looking for something a little different. He’d heard that we were pretty knowledgeable on this.
Doug was right – we’ve been to both locations and have plenty of advice. So here is a summary of our conversation.
Both places provide a completely different experience.
First Tonga: Tonga, located 250 miles East of Fiji and 1200 miles NNE of New Zealand, in the Pacific, is a wonderful remote experience. The Island you go to for sailing is Vava’ u which is its own archipelago about 150 miles north of the main Tonga capital island of Tongatapu. The yacht charter fleets in Vava’u are small and so there are not many yachts around. Most of the yachts there are world cruisers.
The islands themselves are mostly uninhabited. So your experience is mostly to yourselves and a few whale-watching tourists. There is no reprovisioning in the islands so you have to stock up before you head out, but everything is pretty close so, to drop back mid-week is not a biggy.
The islands are low-lying and close together so there are no great sailing distances you need to do in a day. Rather the days are more spent with a few hours of sailing then exploring, snorkeling, and relaxing on the beaches.
Navigating is not hard but you will be a little challenged. With no distinguishing land features on each island, it is difficult to easily point at an island and immediately know what it is – you have to follow along on the chart as you go. Of course, GPS is the savior of this but you always need to monitor where you are because the reefs are numerous. GPS can be up to 100 feet (30 meters) off from reality so give everything a wide berth. There is about a 6 ft (2 meters) tide. This is usually not an issue except for one lagoon inside Hunga Island whereby you must only enter which has to be done 2 hours either side of high tide.
Marina’s Cave is a must. The entrance is underwater about 10 feet down and the swim is about 30 feet long under the water to the cave to come up in an air pocket. Easy but… not for the faint at heart. At certain lighting conditions, it is pretty spectacular inside. When there is a swell, the pressurizing and de-pressurizing of the cave causes a mist and de-mist oscillating condition inside – freaky.
The humpback whales start arriving around the Vava’u islands late June and early July and there are plenty among the islands by mid-July and into August.
Snorkeling is awesome, as the coral is untouched by pollution or over diving.
The sail over to Kenutu island to the east of the archipelago was through a very difficult patch of reef. But it was worth it to take a hike on the island and see the pacific waves crashing into the island wall.
Plan on a week minimum but a 10-day charter is recommended. There is plenty to do and see and in just one week we ran out of time trying to see it all.
The Tongan people are overly friendly and welcoming. Some of the Villages will put on a Luau if you give advance notice which can be done through the sailing base manager.
The Charter base in Vava’u is Moorings/Sunsail and is operated by my friend Shane Walker – a fellow Kiwi. Shane is a great guy and also runs the local resort there called Tongan Beach Resort. Stay there for a few nights either side of your charter.
Getting there is easy(ish). Fiji Airways now go direct from Fiji to Vava’u twice per week.
Overall – a bareboat yacht charter sailing vacation in Vava’u, Tonga is not to be missed in this lifetime. It is one of the more remote places you can go.
NauticEd staff can book this trip for you and give you advice on the kind of sailing/navigation experience you need. Make an inquiry on this page.
Tahiti: 1200 miles further east of Tonga is French Polynesia, known by many as Tahiti which is the main island of the entire French Polynesia archipelago. The sailing area is more done out of the island of Raiatea. So you fly into Pape’ete (on Tahiti Island) from where ever and then take a puddle jumper 300 miles NW to Raiatea.
With a weeklong sailing venture, you’ll spend 1/2 of the time around Raiatea and the island of Tahaa, a few miles to the north. Both of which lie in the same giant Lagoon area. Then the rest of the time you’ll probably pop 20 miles northwest over to the famous Bora Bora and the stunning Lagoon surrounding the awe-inspiring volcano of Bora Bora.
An absolute highlight on Tahaa was the Coral River. It is a place where the water flows into the Lagoon through the reef. You jump in and float through the reef checking out the most colorful fish and coral you have ever seen. You end up inside the Lagoon then run back along the path to do it all over again. You can see Bora Bora in the background.
But, anywhere throughout the entire week, you will experience many snorkeling spots where the coral and fish are spectacular.
Navigation is easy – but you need to keep a constant watch on where you are. Coral reefs come from 80 feet deep up to 3 feet in a wall. You can easily run aground.
French Polynesia, like most of the world, uses Cardinal Marks for indicating safe water.
But also the locals use sticks to indicate not so safe water.
The sail from Tahaa to Bora Bora is easy and the volcano of Bora Bora becomes really impressive as you close in on it. The Lagoon around Bora Bora produces the most gorgeous water colors. Obviously there are a ton of really nice resorts and restaurants to stop at.
Getting there is easy. There are daily flights to Papeete and onto Raiatea.
In Tahiti, we chartered with Dream Yacht Charter. Overall, the Tahiti experience is also not to be missed in this lifetime. Here is another blog on sailing in Tahiti/French Polynesia
Doug, our student, was asking which one? Which one? Tahiti or Tonga? He has two older teenagers he wants to take. So my answer was both, one trip this year and one next. Bora Bora has brand bragging rights in terms of brand because everyone wants to go to Bora Bora. But, for showing teenagers a place on this planet that is vastly untouched, I suggested the Kingdom of Tonga first.
NauticEd are agents for both Tahiti and Tonga yacht charter locations as well as most other sailing destinations worldwide.
NauticEd is the world’s more advanced sailing education and certification company. Yacht charter companies worldwide accept the NauticEd Bareboat Charter Master Resume and Certification. We specialize in helping people realize their sailing vacation dreams. You can do it!