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.

South Minerva on our Navionics Chart.

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.

Here is the old chart.
Monty checking the anchor. We were later warned not to swim as aggressive sharks patrol the reefs, and not just reef sharks!

Belena, a German catamaran, was anchored as we arrived in the lagoon.

Belena, a very fast cat that sails at speeds of 15-20 knots!

We anchored on the eastern edge of the reef for the best protection. Midnight Sun came in just behind us.

Midnight Sun, a boat we knew from Gulf Harbour.

Midnight Sun, Kupere, Sea Spray and Pilgrim were company for several days in the lagoon.

Rainbow over the yachts.
The reef as seen from our boat, submerged at mid to high tide.

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.

Strong NE winds (29 Knots)

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.

The navigation light on the reef
Wading through ankle deep water, we had to watch carefully where we stepped.
Numerous giant clams, sea urchins, starfish and sea cucumbers were creatively surviving the harsh environment on the reef.
Possibly a Night-Wandering Sea Cucumber
The reef at lower tide, still underwater other than some rocks.

One morning, we were looking at the reef and noticed at large object had washed ashore, not far from the navigation light.

This buoy washed up on the reef one morning so we went to check it out.
It was about 15m long and in good condition. The disk behind me is a giant float. Its anchor chain had broken.

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.

The beauties!
The Spiny Lobster misunderstood our invitation to dinner!
On the hunt again!
Lobsters hiding under the rocks. These guys were a bit small so Monty let them be.
Well camouflaged lobsters.
A fine specimen!
Good hunting! Larger ones were over 2kg!
A couple of them didn’t even fit in our largest pot! Monty got creative.
Vacuum sealing some tails for the freezer.
Monty’s lobster and salad lunch

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.

Crew from Pilgrim bringing one “reef walker” back after getting caught in the strong current.
Dinghies were anchored on the edge of the reef. John and Wendy wading carefully.
Wendy walking on the reef in a strong current.

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.

Amazing array of giant clams everywhere!
Numerous healthy coral varieties
Numerous Giant Clams and beautiful corals. How many clams can you count?

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!