Coral Garden at Vaka'eitu
It's hard to imagine that this weekend will already mark three weeks in Tonga. We've spent most of our time soaking in the lazy island pace, enjoying the bountiful fresh vegetables (arugula!), and trying to stay dry as a finger of the South Pacific Convergence Zone has been hovering over the region, keeping us covered in clouds and providing one brilliant lightning storm and over five inches of rain in one night.
We spent a few nights anchored in one of the central islands, Vaka'eitu. It is well protected and comfortable, and home to the most expansive coral garden we've explored since leaving Fakarava. It was slightly treacherous to access: the garden lies just outside a shallow sand bar connecting two small islets, so we anchored the dinghy inside the lagoon, swam over foot-deep coral heads and through the breakers until the water became calm and the vista gave way to a sprawling metropolis of vibrant coral heads populated with town after town of clown fish and trigger fish and surgeon fish.
I'm hoping we'll get the chance to go back, but we may just take Helios to the backside of the island and take turns exploring from the comfort of our swim step.
The highlight of the adventure was the powder blue octopus we found. I saw him out of the corner of my eye as we started to head back through the breakers towards the dinghy. He camouflaged perfectly except for his soft, undulating texture and enormous eyeballs; I only stopped, really, because I couldn't figure out how a such large ball of blue phlegm wound up within the reef—but behold, an octopus! There he was, standing on his tentacles amid the coral, seeming to spy on his fishy neighbors.