Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Tonga's New Volcano - Hunga Tonga - Hunga Ha'apai as the locals call it.

We were stuck in Tongatapu waiting for our visa extension. We get 30 days when we check into Tonga so we immediately file for a 4 month extension. Last year we applied and they took our passports and said come back in 3 days. This year they said to come back in 7 days! Ugghhhhh... That was horrible. We didn't want to sit outside of Big Mama's with nothing to do. So Rich said the weather is good to sail to Hunga Tonga and check out the newly formed volcano. I'm in!!!! We are so outta here. We left at 9 AM and arrived at 4:30 PM with enough light to get in and look for a good anchoring location.

The new volcano from above
The morning we left the winds were too low to sail so we motored on the flat rolling sea. The ocean was a mirror reflecting the clouds at our anchorage. Below are some photos as we pulled up the anchor. The ocean rose and fell in a slow rhythm making for a really nice ride. As though there was a large air bed under us pulsing periodically. The drone video below shows it well.

The end of Pangaimotu as we went by.
Drone footage of our nice air ride.

The heavy cloud cover and the flat sea made it hard to tell where the sky meets the water.

Overview of the Area

Approaching the islands they didn't look very exciting because we couldn't see any details.  Just 3 large masses looming in the distance.   But, we did see what we thought was steam rising off the water as seen in the photo on the left.  We thought we would see hot lava erupting and were so excited.  But, as we got closer it was mist coming off some waves breaking on rocks.  Darn....

We spent time exploring all 3 locations, Hunga Tonga Island, the volcano and Hunga Ha'apai Island.  Below the details of each place are described.

Notice the mist on the right.  We thought it was smoke from the volcano!
Hunga Tonga as we rounded it into the bay.
As Rich drove the boat into the bay we were greeted by huge prehistoric birds flying pretty low overhead. It turns out they were frigates. They were pretty interested in us. If we walked on the islands or were out in the dinghy they would fly about 15-20 ft over our heads. Two other species flying about were the Sooty Tern and the Brown Booby! I love the look of the Boobies. More about them later.


Brown Booby
Up close the islands and the volcano were gorgeous. The setting was stunning and it was a treat to be there. It was very peaceful but not quite. The birds were making a heck of a racket. I found an article that says there are 18 species of land and seabirds on these islands.

The best way to see everything is from above. This overhead drone photo really shows the scale of this place and how it is all arranged. The island in the foreground is Hunga Tonga and in the background is Hunga Ha'apai. The volcano formed between them and joining them into one huge land mass. Notice the ridges worn in the volcano on the front and on the backside. And the view of the lagoon in the back. The ocean washed away a portion of the backside flooding it with water forming the lagoon.
The volcano joins 2 islands, Hunga Tonga on the left and Hunga Ha'apai on the right. 
There is a yellow sulfurous looking color in the ocean water that can be seen in the drone photo below.  Not sure what exactly it is but it discolored both our lower sugar scoops after only 1 day!  And they don't sit in the water.  The water occasional will splash up on them.  We weren't sitting in the yellow area either, we were off to the side where it looked blue.  We had to swim in the more yellow area though to get the beach on the far right of the volcano.  It smelt a little weird and the water tasted funny too.  It creeped us out a bit.

The yellow water is to our right quite a ways but there was enough of the substance over where we sat to turn the boat yellow.
Pogeyan at anchor

I love how this shot shows the shape of Hunga Tonga.  The texts explains our walk, which you read about down below.

A little better view of the front and back of the volcano.  Notice the yellow color in the water.

Hunga Tonga Island

This island had tons of visual interests.  Both sides of it were gorgeous, and there is an outcropping of black rocks on the end.  They look small in the photo below next to the huge island but in reality the structures are large.  I've included close up photos that show the details.  I would sit and watch these huge waves come in and break on the black rocks.  It was captivating to watch and I was shocked at how large the waves were.  I don't know what caused them.  They came from the end and also waves were coming from the opposite side from us.  It was interesting to watch the sea birds flying into the mist of the wave as it rolled in and also as it crashed against the rocks.  It may have cooled them off or created nice drafts for them to catch.  Or both!

Hunga Tonga, the black outcropping on the left end.  We are anchored on the right of it.
Hunga Tonga from the ocean facing side.

One of the huge waves heading to the end of the small black rocks.
One of the birds flying over the wave.  They got right down into it at times.
The huge wave crashing on the end of the rock structure.  The birds were flying in this mist too.

A wave coming from the opposite side and crashing on them.
Same wave running off.
Close up of the rocks a little farther down from the end.
This is where they join the island.

The Volcano

In 2014 a submarine (underwater) volcano erupted and formed this new island that doesn't have a name.  But, the locals call it Hunga Tonga - Hunga Ha 'apai after the two islands it joins.   A new island was formed between 2 existing islands, Hunga Tonga and Hunga Ha 'apai.  More History....?????

The volcano and Hunga Ha'apai island on the right.

We were the only boat there for both days and on our first night enjoyed a lovely sunset.  Before that we dropped the dinghy in the water, took the camera and drove along side the islands and volcano to get some close up shots.  And mainly to inspect how we could get on shore the next day.  The waves breaking on the beach were too rough to take the dinghy ashore so we planned to anchor out and swim in.  We were excited to get to bed and get up to go exploring the next day.
Close up of a portion of the front showing the huge grooves and trenches formed.

Close up of the front towards the middle.
Close Up of the far left end of the volcano where it flattens out.
Sunset at the end of the day. 
After we ate breakfast we jumped in the dinghy for a land excursion.  Our plan was to climb to the top of the volcano and walk along the ridge from one side to the other.  After anchoring the dignghy about 300 ft offshore, we swam into the beach.  Getting out of the water and up the beach was a bit of an adventure with the waves crashing on us.  The beach wasn't sand but small black pebbles.  So you couldn't get a foothold to climb out of the water.  Your feet sank and slid as you attempted to walk.  In addition, there wasn't a gradual slope up out of the water as is typical.  It was a an abrupt drop off into the water so it also made it hard to scramble up that small wall made of pebbles.  

Once on shore we walked along the shoreline of Hunga Tonga then over the large expanse between it and the volcano base.  The shore of Hunga Tonga had large and small chunks of iron that were extremely heavy.  Contrasted with these lighter than air pieces of pumice stone.  They felt like styrofoam!
You can see our dinghy anchored out a couple hundred feet and we swam to shore.
Here is a short video that shows the slippery pebble black beach.  Not your typical white sand beach in Tonga!

Large piece of iron that was extremely heavy.

Rich trying to break the iron chunk apart.

View of the volcano standing on the beach of the island Hunga Tonga. Hunga Ha'apai is the island to the right of the volcan with the green on it.

It looks like a short walk to get from the island over to the base of the volcano but it is actually quite a distance.  We trekked over in the intensely hot sun and tried to climb up to the top on one of the grooves.  Well that didn't work out so well.  The grooves formed deep trenches and the material was a gravel/dirt that was slippery.  So you couldn't climb up the walls at all.  Rich tried to walk up on the top of the grooves but they dead ended part of the way up and he couldn't get over onto the next one without the climbing gear to help. 

It was like walking through a hot desert to get to the volcano base.
Standing at the base looking up the ridges trying to find a way up.

This is an attempt to show how tall the ridges are.  Rich is 6'5".
Here is a short video to give you an idea of the terrain.
After an unsuccessful attempt to get to the top of the volcano we instead walked around to the back of it.  As we rounded the corner we saw the ocean on the windward side of the island.  It was roaring with breaking huge waves on the beach.  A beautiful blue color with the same black pebble beach. 

Continuing on to the back of the volcano we found a lot of bird eggs laying on the ground.  Rich got some drone footage on top of Hunga Tonga that showed Brown Boobies nesting with their babies.  I poked at one of the eggs to see if it was empty or not.  It was stuck in the sand so I kept pushing harder until my finger poked through the shell.  It was filled with the stinkiest goo I have ever smelt.  Disgusting! 
These eggs were laying all around the back side of the volcano.  
The backside of the volcano has some huge cliff like walls too. The material of it is like concrete with aggregate in it. There is a close up photo below. It was pretty tough.

This is around the backside of the volcano.  It has steep walls too.
Composition of the material.  You could pry the rocks out if they were partially exposed.

And finally the lagoon on the backside.
The volcan abruptly drops off.  Rich is standing in the center and he is 6'5" and you can't even see him!

Hunga Ha'apai Island

For our second day at this location we decided to go explore the other island Hunga Ha'apai.  We took the dinghy around near it looking for the best place to swim to shore.  Nowhere looked easy.  The waves breaking on the beach were pretty large and wicked.  Like on the other island, the shore didn't gradually come down into the sea, there is an abrupt wall of pebbles where the waves are crashing.  This side was a lot rougher than the other side and we probably should have skipped it.  On the swim in, one of the waves rolled Rich knocking his mask and snorkel off.  They were gone, it was all he could do to get out of the wave safely and get out.  And on the way back in the water I got rolled and the exact same thing happened.  I was standing a good 15 ft up on the shore watching the wave pattern trying to time when the gentler ones would come.  About every 12 wave was extreme and one came and knocked me over.  The next one came so fast it sucked me into the water on my butt with both feet dug into the pebbles.  They were so slippery though I couldn't stop myself from being drug forward.  The next wave rolled me, taking my mask and snorkel.  I was gasping trying to get above it for air.  It was terrifying.  That is the scariest event I have experienced in the ocean.  Water was being jammed down my throat and up my nose, I couldn't breath and I was panicking.  I was kicking so hard to swim out away from the shore and the large waves kept coming and pushing back into shore.  I finally made it out far enough that I was out of danger and I just swam to the dinghy so I could go pick Rich up.  He had just started to get in the water and we were pretty far down shore away from the dinghy because we were looking for the smallest breaking waves.  This meant our swim to the dinghy was farther.  And there were huge waves coming off the corner of Hunga Ha'apai that were slowly getting closer to the dinghy.  Rich was yelling at me to start it to make sure I could get away from the waves before they hit the boat.  It was a disaster.  After Rich finally got to the boat and we hauled the anchor up, guess what?  The motor wouldn't start.  Rich had to hurry and get the oars out to row us out of all the wave action.  This was as difficult as swimming in those breakers.  The current and wind were against us so rowing was extremely slow.  We were quite a distance from Pogeyan.  About the entire length of the front of the volcano.  We were at the end of it closest to Hunga Ha'apai and Pogeyan was anchored over at Hunga Tonga.  That was more excitement than we wanted!
We got ashore and left all our snorkel gear in a pile while we hiked.

Standing halfway between the volcano and Hunga Ha'apai.  Looking back to Hunga Tonga, the island in the distance.

We are at the base of the volcano where the ash bleeds over to Hunga Ha'apai.  In the foreground are the ridges of the volcano and on the right is the island we want to get on top of to see baby boobies.
Heading over to the island
The distance over to the island is greater than it appears.
Rich is trying to find a path up to the top to no avail.
We both tried several paths to get to the top but were unsuccessful.  I don't think the birds would have wanted us getting up near their babies anyway.  They were circling above us seeming to tell us to leave. 

But, on the bright side we did have an awesome hike and experience.  We wanted to hike to the top of Hunga HA'apai because that is were the brown boobies had their nests with babies.  Rich took drone video and it looked like it was possible to get up the steep sides to the top.  Nope!  It wasn't happening.  Every path got to a point where it was too steep and high to climb.

We walked around to the edge of the island where enormous waves were breaking.  They were so high we could see them 20-30 ft high over the top of the island.  We wanted to get closer.  As we got over to the end of the island we saw there was a cave that we could go in.  Rich went in and found a path to get out on a ledge where we could watch the waves better.  Below is a short video clip showing both lookouts and what we saw!
The cave!

One of the holes we could look out, there is another one out of the shot on the right.

The view out the other opening.

We stopped to have a snack in the cave and spilt the chips.  We thought they needed more sea salt on them!
Walking out of the cave and looking toward the other island.

To view all the photos from this blog Here.

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