We celebrated my fiftieth birthday (18th October) in the Vava'u Group of Tonga. I was a little concerned that we may not be able to get ashore as the wind gusted through a gap between Mafana and Ofu Islands and we were anchored quite far out from the landing beach on Ofu. However, Chris has had plenty of rowing practice in heavy winds, so we visited the manicured little village in Ofu that morning. It was lovely walking on the newly mown grass path hugging the shoreline, occasionally peaking into open houses where up to six ladies sat on the floor weaving pandanus mats. They work as a co-operative to make the large floor mats for sale or use in their own homes. These can take up to a week to complete. In one hut, a little girl, Peta, was threading coconut fibre through sweet scented frangipani flowers to make leis. She gave one to her grandmother, who insisted upon giving it to me. They gave another to Chris but he is not a lei kind of guy, so I ended up with both around my neck and the perfume was divine.
We explored a well trodden path behind the village which led to coconut and pandanus plantations. The trail was covered with ripe mangoes falling from the many trees along the way. We picked the good ones to eat as we walked, peeling back the skin with our teeth, sweet juice dribbling down our faces. Mangoes are my favourite fruit so it was like mana from heaven. There were several types of trees bearing fruit of distinct flavour and we decided we would gather a bunch on the return trek, leaving markers close to our favourite trees. But we got turned around somewhere and looped back into the village along a different trail. We had to back track to gather the fruit from some of the closer trees.
After a glass of wine, lunch and snooze on board Ladybug, we sailed downwind to the back harbour of Neiafu. Due to an extensive reef nearer the town, we anchored on a 4 fathom (24ft) shelf across the bay in the northeast corner. This meant that Chris had to row half a mile to take me out for a nice meal. His biceps are bulging these days! We chose the Aquarium Cafe which serves very tasty pizza and has a great atmosphere. A local music group played Tongan melodies on guitar, ukelele and banjo, fuelled by the mellow effects of kava. Brad and Gloria from Kindred Spirit bought me a glass of red wine to go with my brownie and ice-cream dessert. It was a perfect ending to a great birthday!