The Tofua was launched on May 22nd 1951 and after fitting out and sea trials she made the long voyage to New Zealand for delivery to her owners - the Union Steamship Company. The Tofua was the second of the company's ships to bear this name. The original had been built in 1908, also by Denny's and had served Union Steamship until 1932. Tofua is in Tonga's Ha'apai island group and is a small caldera rising above the Pacific Ocean. It was near Tofua that Captain William Bligh was removed from the Bounty and commenced the famous 41 day voyage to Timor in an open launch, navigating with only a sextant and pocket watch.
In service the ship worked a circular route starting and ending at Auckland, New Zealand and visiting Suva (Fiji), Nukualofa, Vava'u (Tonga) Niune Island, Pago Pago (American Samoa), Apia (previously British Samoa), Suva (Fiji) then back to Auckland. Thirteen trips could be made each year, barring any unusual circumstances. This service provided by the Tofua and similar vessels was frequently the only regular contact with the smaller islands such as Niue. Other destinations were visited as cargo shipments dictated. The Tofua joined the 1936 built Matua on these services. The Matua was also British built, by Armstrong Whitworth of Newcastle and was powered by Armstrong-Sulzer engines! The passenger arrangements on the Tofua were an improvement on the Matua's, with a spacious lounge and smoking room on the Promenade deck and a dining room that was well spoken of. The ship was not air-conditioned, but relied on the efficient Punkah Louvre forced drought ventilation system to cool the internal spaces. Single, double & three berth cabins were provided. In addition to the regular passenger accommodation the ship could carry up to 200 passengers on short inter-island passages. These passengers were housed on the deck under tents and were required to bring their own bedding and food for the duration of the trip.
Cargo space comprised of five holds and t’ween decks to handle general, cooled and refrigerated cargoes, a major cargo for the Tofua was the local fruit produce of the islands, including bananas, oranges, pineapples and copra, to name but a few. During December 1952 she carried a record 32,269 cases of bananas to Auckland.
The maiden voyage for the Tofua commenced on December 21st 1951 under the command of Captain N.H. Pearson, sailing from Auckland to Suva, Lautoka, Suva, Nuku'alofa, Vavau, Pago Pago, Apia, and Suva.
Durings its lifetime the Tofua provided hydrologic observations in the waters bounded by New Zealand, New Caledonia & Western Samoa, which included the Tropical Convergence phenomenon.
An important occasion in the history of the Tofua occurred during 1967, the coronation year for King Taufa'ahau Tupou IV of Tonga. The Tofua would be the last ship into Nuku'alofa from Auckland before the coronation so it was carrying cargoes critical to the coronation festivities and of great importance that the ship arrived on time. The unusual cargoes on this trip included four large white pigs, contained in crates, being a gift from the government of New Zealand. Coming aboard at Suva and bound for Niue were twenty calves and goats! Livestock could only be accommodated on the foredeck and with a full load of deck passengers headed for the coronation it became a challenge to ensure the best conditions were provided for all the ship's passengers, crew and livestock. At all the important stops except Pago Pago the pigs were temporarily transferred to the quay for a good clean-up before being returned to the Tofua.
In 1973, after twenty two years of service the MV Tofua was put up for sale, her time with Union Steamship was over. She was purchased by Cheung Ming & Co of Hong Kong (registered owner, Khymer Shipping Co, Panama) who renamed her MV Tack Tai. She operated in Asia for another two years, but was sold during July 1975 for scrap, being broken up at Shanghai.
With the retirementment of the Tofua and the Matua a way of life disappeared into the history books as they were not replaced. Time had marched on with commercial air service and containerisation of cargo taking away the bread and butter of these vessels.
Built: William Denny and Brothers of Dumbarton, yard No. 1447
Sailing memories from Captain George P Clarke
Page added September 16th 2010