Pangaimotu in Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu: The benefits of stopping here
Published: 2014-11-10 00:00:00
Greetings from Canadian yacht A-TRAIN, currently anchored in front of Big Mamma's at Pangaimotu in Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu, Tonga. First, thanks for the hard work you all do to provide the cruising community with so much useful information. We really appreciate it! Second, we would like to offer a current opinion regarding the benefits of stopping here in Nuku'alofa as the final Tongan stop or the first one, depending upon your direction of travel.
Contrary to recent reports we have read and heard via the jungle telegraph that there are very few reasons to stop here, or that it should be avoided altogether, our visit here overthe past two weeks has been awesome.
Anchorage: The anchorage in front of the town harbour is excellent holding in sand and despite 20 kts rather calm with no rolliing at all. The anchorage over at Pangaimotu across the bay is even better in pure sand and today it is blowing in the mid 20's, very comfortable with a slight chop, no rolling and close to shore. We have been making water since arriving without even thinking about the water conditions, it is clean here! The town of Nuku'alfoa and the inner harbour are not filthy and to be avoided, rather we found town as clean or cleaner than Bora Bora, with far less trash blowing around. The harbour is clean save a few plastic bottles in a constant gyre in one corner and the facilities are more than acceptable.
Provisioning and Supplies: Yes it is true, Costco and Walmart have not arrived here but the several grocery stores are quite adequate. However, the fresh fruit and veggie market which takes up about half a block, is indoors and is a shocker after months of remote cruising. Everything from lemons to celery to hot peppers to cilantro and virtually any fresh item you want were there every day and all day. Prices could only be described as cheap! Vendors are no pressure types and happy to help. Many times other items would find their way into our shopping bags as gifts for shopping with them. While the hardware and general department style shopping are certainly more limited than found on the continent's, shopping is not why most of us came way out here to begin with.
Clearance: That said, the towns folk are shy but very freindly and accommodating in every way; clearing in and out was a matter of less than two hours total, which included walking slowly to both Immigration and Customs /Port Authority offices a dozen blocks apart. Friendly, courteous, no need to bring the boat alongside and no hassles at all. A nice experience! You can do it all even quicker via taxi for less than ten local dollars including the waiting times. Cabbies are super nice, shy but very helpful; Mark, is a good cabbie to line up with.
Duty free fuel: (Today it was $1.78 TOP, Tongan Official Panga, about 0.92 Canadian, cheapest you will find for some time) was a simple matter of requesting and completing the form from Customs, walking down to the Total fuel office five minutes from Customs, paying in advance for the amount of fuel you require and arranging a time to be alongside where it is delivered via tanker and pumped aboard. Easy stuff. Three caviats, you need to pay up front for fuel with cash, (easily acquired from two separate ATM's right near Customs); it can be a little challenging to get along side if the East wind is above 18 or so and tanker delivery requires a minimum of 1,000 ltrs. So we obtained the cash, no big deal. Next, as everyone else was doing, we arranged to buddy up with another boat to ensure we had more than 1,000 ltrs, then arranged to help others with shore lines in exchange for same. Easy and the fuel was clean! Much of this was made even easier by the availability of the water taxi provided by Big Mama's Yacht Club and Bar across the harbour at Pangaimotu. The other option is to dinghy across, which is a ten minute ride at speed but with strong winds it just gets a bit too wet to be any fun.
Photo of the owners Earl and Anna (Big Mama), the staff and Russ & Gwen
The owners of Big Mamma's Yacht Club and Bar, Earl and Ana, aka Big Mama, are about as kind a couple as you can find. They are welcoming, and invite you to hang around and enjoy their facilities which are modest but oh so South Pacific, including a safe dinghy dock, great food, (awesome fish and chips!) cold Cruisers Ale, rum punch, wifi, beach, kids park of sorts and a host of services that make the stop really worth while. Kids love it at Big Mama's....where they can run freely through the place, onto the beach and swing from a rope tied to a palm tree and land in the clear blue water! Ana and Earl and staff will do anything to help out yachties!!! Need, jerry jugs of fuel or gasoline, propane, laundry, groceries, water, a good game of darts, Tongan history lessons, help with just about anything, go in and see Earl and he will make it happen. For hauling jugs or propane bottles there and back and filling etc... he charges a very modest fee as with anything else and it is gone and back same day. Not worth even considering doing it yourself. Our propane bottle was about one third full but we decided to top off and received a written receipt with start weight and finish weight and paid only for fuel added, imagine that, no flat fee. Needless to say we are really glad we stopped. Earl and Ana are salt of the earth folks, staff are friendly and will help you with speaking some of basic Tongan conversational phrases, which we used everywhere garnering laughs and smiles and pleasant responses.
All in all a fantastic experience! They really appreciate it that we spend time and some money here, but nowhere did we feel any pressure to buy anything at all. So if you find yourself passing through the area, or even nearby, make the effort to stop in and you will be rewarded with a safe, relaxing stop and kind, welcoming people.
Russ and Gwen Hobbs