After a year in French Polynesia and a lovely but too short visit to Niue, we sailed to Tonga. Only a week after we arrived in Vavau, Tonga, we got stuck! Our starting motor died so while we waited for a replacement, we had a lot of time to explore and enjoy the best of Vavau Tonga.
Vava’u (pronounced va-vuh-ooh) is an island group in The Kingdom of Tonga, and the most popular area of the country for sailing. It consists of 50+ islands, the biggest of which is Utu Vava’u. This is where we spent several weeks on a mooring ball waiting for a new starting motor. On a boat, there’s always something that needs fixing! We maximized our waiting time by seeing the sights and visiting the bars and restaurants, discovering the best of Vavau.
You should know: In Tonga, churches are everywhere and Sunday rules are strict. No working. No tours on the water and no noise aside from singing in church. Fortunately, resorts and bars catering to tourists are open on Sundays, but not much else.
French Polynesia covers a vast area in the South Pacific with 5 island groups spreading over more than 2000 kilometers. People often compare it to the size of Europe. Unlike the wide diversity of land animals in Colombia and Panama, French Polynesia has only a few and they’re primarily domesticated. The real action is in the water. In our year there, we had amazing marine encounters in French Polynesia. This post features our best videos and tips of where to spot marine life from The Marquesas to the Society Islands.
Fun with Marine Animals
One of the highlights of living on a sailboat traveling around the world is getting up close with marine animals. After over four years on board, spotting these animals in their natural habitat still gives us a thrill! Turtles, sharks, and dolphins have been regular sights since the beginning, and rays and whales are more common since we’ve hit the Pacific. The South Pacific, so far, seems more untouched than much of the Caribbean. We love spotting marine life in French Polynesia just as much as everywhere else and here are some highlights.
This may be hard to believe, even to us, but we are commemorating four years living on a sailboat. On December 5th, 2018, Brian, Domino and I moved onboard Sava in Fort Lauderdale, Florida and now we are in French Polynesia, on the same boat!
High Highs and Low Lows
We’ve had some high highs and low lows living on a sailboat. I’ve learned that in nature everything is more extreme. I have felt more awe and joy on the ocean and at anchor than I ever imagined, mostly when interacting with wildlife.
This year alone we experienced noteworthy nature shows. One of the most memorable was being surrounded by hundreds of eagle rays leaping out of the water in Las Perlas, Panama.
We spent a few weeks anchored in Fatu Hiva, French Polynesia, exploring, meeting locals, hanging with other cruisers, and enjoying the marine life. It’s a beautiful island, like all the Marquesas, which is why we plan to return during cyclone season.
Also known as Fatu Iva, it’s the southernmost island of The Marquesas archipelago. It’s a great place to start your entry to French Polynesia after the Pacific crossing, although you can’t check in there. Because we had to check into Nuku Hiva, we made it our final stop before The Tuamotus.
The wildlife in Panama is amazing. In our travels around the country, we saw many monkeys, slews of sloths, and a lot of birds and marine life. Saw? We got close to lots of cool animals. Here’s what we saw and where we saw them.
We saw – and heard – monkeys all over the Caribbean side of Panama. Even in populated areas, we communed with monkeys, like in Bocas del Toro when the howlers were hanging in the trees right next to the road.