We arrived at the South Minerva Reef on May 6th. North and South Minerva are atolls about 18 miles apart, set roughly 800 miles from New Zealand, 250NM from Tongatapu and 350NM from Suva, Fiji . The reefs are submerged at high tide but provide a spot to take refuge (and do boat repairs) on the passage north or south. Today, Tonga lays claim to the Minervas, though “ownership’ has been hotly debated between Fiji and Tonga for many years. In the 1970s and 1980s, two groups of Americans tried to lay claim to the reefs but were forced off by Tongan troops.
Discovered in 1818, the reefs became known as Minerva Reefs when a ship called Minerva was wrecked in 1831 on the southern reef. It was not the last ship to be lost on the reef.
Belena, a German catamaran, was anchored as we arrived in the lagoon.
We anchored on the eastern edge of the reef for the best protection. Midnight Sun came in just behind us.
Midnight Sun, Kupere, Sea Spray and Pilgrim were company for several days in the lagoon.
We stayed on the boat for a few days as it was too rough and dangerous to try to lower the outboard onto the dinghy. It was also pretty sloppy at anchor especially at high tide when the waves came over the reef.
After watching other dinghies go ashore one morning, we decided it had calmed down enough to attempt to get the outboard mounted on the dinghy. It was time to explore the reef.
One morning, we were looking at the reef and noticed at large object had washed ashore, not far from the navigation light.
I reported the buoy to Gulf Harbour Radio who passed the message along to NZ MetService. I was asked to send photos when we got to Tongatapu, which I did. Apparently it has been reported to some international buoy organization to try to determine its origin. No plans are in the works to recover it. From recent cruiser reports, it is still on the reef at South Minerva. We hope it stays put as it would be quite a hazard at sea.
Monty, like all visiting cruisers, was on a mission to find some lobsters or “crays” as they are more commonly known here. The correct name is Pronghorn Spiny Lobster. John and Wendy from Midnight Sun thankfully gave Monty a few tips.
Unfortunately, I dared not eat these lobsters as I have had a stomach upset the last three times I did. I can eat East Coast Lobster but something in these South Pacific varieties doesn’t agree with me. Didn’t want to risk getting sick in such an isolated place!
On the calmest clearest day while at the reef, John and Wendy from Midnight Sun suggested a dinghy brigade to a snorkel spot. We dinghied a few miles across the lagoon to the western entrance and dropped anchors in a little nook in the reef.
Monty and I decided it was better to just go for a snorkel near the dinghy. We were not disappointed. Lots of colourful corals and fish.
Our snorkel adventure was cut short when we saw a black tip shark. I was wary after warnings we had had from other cruisers that even black tips can be aggressive in the Minervas, especially when they are in a pack. It was just one shark, but I thought it was better just to get back in the dinghy in any case. Monty was getting cold and joined me in the dinghy. We headed back to Whistler once Midnight Sun made it back to their dinghy. Didn’t want to leave anyone behind.
We were awaiting good conditions for heading north-east to Tonga. Eight days later, the winds eased a bit and went to a slightly more favourable direction. Whistler and Midnight Sun headed out the channel together with Tongatapu as the destination.
We had mixed feelings about leaving South Minerva and wished we could have done more exploring in calmer conditions. There was so much more to see! And we never got to North Minerva Reef!