Pacific Reef Heron

I’m sure it’s a surprise to no one that Tonga is amazing. Tonga is a geographically large, sparsely populated kingdom comprised of four island groups running along a north-south axis between Samoa and New Zealand. We’re currently in Vava’u, the cluster of 20-plus, beach-lined, wooded islands second from the equator. Vava’u is a cruiser’s paradise: in addition to having 41 anchorages and many Eden-like islets to explore, there’s a lively town with restaurants, friends, and yacht services never more than a day’s sail away.

And there’s a bonus—the islands in this jelly-fish-shaped group are so tightly packed and encircled by reef that they form a barrier protecting most anchorages and waterways. It’s like sailing on a lake!

We spent two nights anchored off the southwestern shore of Kapa, a central island. We could see one other boat anchored off a neighboring islet, but pretty much had the place to ourselves. The water is indigo deep, but shallows to an inviting teal over the sands connecting the two islands. We spent the days relaxing; I took a lovely swim, acquainting myself with the most abundant, thriving reef fish we've seen since the Tuamotus.

The water is deep and continuous enough that pelagic fish populate the area as well, and Dominic had his first success as a fisherman. He was using a hand-line trolled behind the dinghy and caught a small wahoo. I was heating up the oven for a few loaves of bread anyway, so I covered the fish in breadcrumbs and parmesan and baked it in foil. We had plenty of fresh vegetables for salad, and the meal proved a melodious feast.

Today the winds calmed, and we motored south to Ovalau, a small, completely deserted island with powder-fine white sand and tangles of palm and mulberry trees whose exploration made for thrilling birding. We stalked a trilling, brown, bird the shape of a small robin skittering in the branches, but never got a positive ID. Then we saw a kingfisher squatting in the trees, and spent twenty minutes watching an alliance of heron hunt a school of a thousand bait fish.

And that is where we found the model for this photo—a black heron extending into a graceful landing along the reef.