Vava’u Ventures

Having a birthday on a Sunday in Tonga means no swimming, no paddling, no drinking, no fun, just rest. But we did have a much appreciated visit from Emma and Owen off Dulcinea, a kiwi boat, bearing gifts of pineapple lumps. They arrived in the lull of a five day patch of bad weather. We spent the rest of the day lazing and cuddling – not sure if cuddling was on the list of what not to do.

Working on the front deck

Working on the front deck

The following evening Thomas took me to a local restaurant. We’d scooted over a reef to Ha’apai Beach Resort before another shower was about to open down on us. As we ran into the open aired restaurant we dodged the warning droplets of what was about to come. For the next three and a half hours we chatted to NZ helicopter pilots who’d been commissioned to support telecommunication teams erecting a tower on a nearby extinct volcano, enjoying a spectacular freshly made meal, under the roar of a monsoonal type downpour.

I made myself a bath out of the kayak and had a cooling spinal bath on the front deck.

I made myself a bath out of the kayak and had a cooling spinal bath on the front deck.

We couldn’t even see the anchor lights of the yachts in the harbour, let alone hear the other side of the conversation. We prepared ourselves to rent a room for the night as the task of returning to the boat seemed like embarking on a perilous journey but we averted that when we made a quick dash back to the boat during a lull in the onslaught. Sometimes even going out to dinner is an adventure when you live on a boat. We were delighted with the level of our water tanks as we had unfastened the opening letting the water roll in off the decks. All in all, it was a nice birthday outing.

Making the most of a rare bit of sunshine in our week of bad weather as we waited it out in Pangai

Making the most of a rare bit of sunshine in our week of bad weather as we waited it out in Pangai

We’d hunkered down in behind a reef close to the Pangai airport for a week as we waited out the bad weather. Our patience ran out and we decided to make the most of the wind shifting from the north to the east to make our day long passage to the next group of islands. Wanting to leave our reef infested nest in daylight, we waited until we had a bit of sunshine to reveal the danger patches. Qi loves a close reach and soon we were sailing along at high speeds under a full suite of sails. We made in nicely into our anchorage in the Vava’u group just before sunset. We’d had an incredibly fast sail and were relieved to finally be in the sailing Mecca of Tonga.

An 'arrival' rainbow in Vava'u. we were hoping for clear skies - but this was a beautiful welcome anyway

An ‘arrival’ rainbow in Vava’u. we were hoping for clear skies – but this was a beautiful welcome anyway

Desperate for fresh produce, we made our way to the town the next day. Delighted by the range of fruits and veg, I stocked up and enjoyed making a menu plan in my head that would finally have some nutritional value. Other than the fruit given to us in the Ha’apai group, our produce net was rather bare. The capital of this area, Neiafu, had appeared to have gone through a bit of a facelift since our visit in 2014 with the construction of a large white hotel positioned on the water front. This area is the starting point for many tourists coming to Tonga.

Our friend's drone took this shot of us in Hunga Lagoon

Our friend’s drone took this shot of us in Hunga Lagoon

The islands are different to the lower two island groups with these been formed from the rising of the seabed during ancient rumblings of the Earth’s crust. Caves and tropical jungle adorn rugged grey islands with an occasional white sandy beach to add contrast to nature’s masterpiece. However, land formation isn’t just a pre-historical occurrence in Tonga with the latest addition of an island appearing just off to the west in January of this year. Certain locations in the ocean between here and Fiji are considered dangerous waters due to the volcanic activity in the area. Tsunami evacuation procedures are clearly spelt out as various points around the islands. The layback life style of the Tongans reflects the locals ease with living in such a vulnerable environment. We chose to adopt their attitude.

Team Med from Monash University joined us for a day out.

Team Med from Monash University joined us for a day out.

We met up with Team Med, a group of young Australians from Monash University volunteering in the town, and offered to take them out for a sail. They enthusiastically accepted and we had all six of them out for a day of sailing, paddling, snorkelling, kayaking and swimming. We took them to Port Maurelle, an idyllic palm tree lined bay with a white beach stretching across its rim on the shore. It was great to chat and hear the dreams and aspirations of this group of substantial young men and women. We returned to Neiafu under sail in the evening and the day was declared a welcome relief to their routine.

The ladies from the Peace Corp. We had a beautiful three day sail with them.

The ladies from the Peace Corp. We had a beautiful three day sail with them.

During a visit to one of the local cafes we met a group of young Americans chatting over their beverages. I inquired about their reason for visiting Tonga and they announced that they were teachers. Needing to complete the final four in a sequence of six English as another language lessons, I asked if any of them had TESOL qualifications so they could observe me. Peggy, a young east coast girl told me that she did and added that she would be happy to supervise my lessons. As a grateful gesture I offered a sail amongst the islands. It so happened that her two friends who taught in Tongatapu were arriving to spend a week with her and she asked if they could accompany her. We found out that they were a part of the American Peace Corp and enjoyed hearing all about their adventures and responsibilities. They are doing amazing things in the islands from setting up libraries so there are on-going resources for education to teaching English directly in the classrooms. We ended up taking them out for three days.

Sea Runner in Port Maurelle

Sea Runner in Port Maurelle

The first of our days was spent enjoying the waters of Port Maurelle – gotta love that bay. Then we moved to an anchorage where we could access the Coral Gardens. The process for accessing the gardens is a little complicated. We needed to assess the conditions of the sea and the tide level to ensure a safe crossing of the reef to get to the deep side. Several sets of large breakers were coming through and then there was approximately 2 minutes of slack water. I took the kayak over to support the group as they snorkelled. Only Thomas and Melissa made it over between the breakers. After a bit of a snorkel I decided to return to the other side after delivering some fins to Melissa over the reef. I was getting a bit cocky crossing the reef and took a bit longer than I should have to return to the shallow side. A large set of waves came through and caught me mid-journey.

Coral Gardens. It was worth the trip.

Coral Gardens. It was worth the trip.

Our kayak is terrible in a surf and I quickly realised that this wasn’t going to end nicely. The kayak slid sideways and then rolled in the white water. I stretched out flat to ride the surface as I was washed overboard to avoid getting cut to pieces on the reef. Thankful for swapping the fins for Melissa’s reef shoes, I found my footing on the rough reef and stood my ground as the next few breakers washed over me, relatively unscathed. I noticed the blue snorkel that Melissa had also given me, floating under the water and reached for it while I was hanging on to the paddle. Triumphant on its retrieval after several attempts between breakers, my heart sank as I looked to the end of the paddle to see that it was no longer attached to the kayak and the kayak was floating about 3 metres away. I madly lunged towards it then realised that my desperation was an exaggeration as the break between the sets had arrived and so I could casually retrieve it.

Swimming in Mariner's Cave the first time.

Swimming in Mariner’s Cave the first time.

Being no stranger to danger we decided to take the ladies to Mariners Cave where you swim under a 4 metre wide cliff to reach inside. Once again, the tide is important and we aimed to go on low tide to lessen the distance of having to swim down to the entrance. We had an outgoing tide but it was only half way down. We had previously gone on a low tide and figured on that occasion that it wasn’t too hard and we could manage. Peggy asked to borrow my fins for the activity and I agreed with slight doubt niggling me and tried to evaluate what this meant. I hadn’t done any deep water swimming just with bare feet since I was a kid at the Jim Gardner pool in Ipswich. Still my lungs are pretty good after diving on the bottom of the boat so often so I didn’t give it much more thought. Thomas stood by with Qi and Melissa, Peggy and I swam over to find the entrance. I took a big breath and headed down there. I found it difficult to go deep enough and scooted along the roof of the tunnel clawing myself inwards. The entrance slopes up for quite away and as my lungs were nearly bursting, I was horrified to see the surface of water way above where I expected it to be. I’m not sure if it was an optical illusion or the water level was actually higher inside the cave. A kicked madly to reach the surface and gasped for breath in the musty air of the cavern. There I waited. I wandered how I would be able to return without fins and thought that the tunnel may be a bit too much of a challenge for our visitors. There I waited. No sign of the others. I relaxed and focused on the magical blue light sifting in through the water and the mouth of the cave lighting up the sparse stalagmites. I waited. Finally I decided that they weren’t going to be coming through. I took big gulps of the tainted but precious air and returned to the world. It was much easier going back.

Looking out from the inside of swallow's cave

Looking out from the inside of swallow’s cave

They apologised as after several attempts the task became too daunting for them. I agreed. Melissa said she would go in if I went in again. I kindly declined the offer. I decided that the cave was better attempted at a low or rising tide. We visited the Swallow’s cave where we could swim in on the surface. Here, all the ladies took advantage of the acoustics and belted out a song from the Little Mermaid. They sounded amazing and Thomas could hear it over the chugging of the engine as he stood by this cave as well. This cave was much more spectacular than Mariner’s Cave anyway. Schools of fish swam in the depths and the formations were much more impressive.

The crew of Persuasion inside the Swallow's Cave

The crew of Persuasion inside the Swallow’s Cave

Amongst all of this adventure, we have met some wonderful people. The crew of the boat Sea Runner is here in Tonga delivering health care and repairing electrical and technical equipment in schools. We had a wonderful campfire with them on the beach in Port Maurelle where we played the drums, danced and chatted.

There are a number of inspirational people giving up their time and holidays to do amazing work in the islands here. Kudos to them. We have been glad to meet them and support them by sharing wonderful times with them and giving them new experiences. I look forward to my lessons next week with Peggy in her little village on the other side of the island. Lots More Pics below

Selfie in mariner's cave

Selfie in mariner’s cave

 

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Qi sailing into Neiafu, The capital of the Vava'u Group

Qi sailing into Neiafu, The capital of the Vava’u Group

Paddle boarding into the sunset in Pangai

Paddle boarding into the sunset in Pangai

Kinnsy, Me'lissa and Peggy from the American Peace Corp. Doing a great job for world peace.

Kinsey, Me’lissa and Peggy from the American Peace Corp. Doing a great job for world peace.

The crew of Sea Runner giving us a wave.

The crew of Sea Runner giving us a wave.

And she said, "Never in my life did I think I would go sailing!" and here she is steering the boat.

And she said, “Never in my life did I think I would go sailing!” and here she is steering the boat.

Swimming in Mariner's Cave

Swimming in Mariner’s Cave

Thomas enjoying Swallow's Cave

Thomas enjoying Swallow’s Cave

Swimming in Mariner's Cave. Thomas went in and out several times the week before

Swimming in Mariner’s Cave. Thomas went in and out several times the week before

 

 

 

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Island Time Again

We left Nuku’alofa expecting good winds for a northerly sail and we weren’t disappointed. We had one of our quickest and consistent sails ever. Qi was making the most of her freshly painted underside and tuned rig.

The captain and Qi both in fine form

The captain and Qi both in fine form

We arrived at our destination of Numuka, over 60 nautical miles away, in under 9 hours. We anchored between two small islands with a reef protecting each entrance to the pass. After settling in among 3 other yachts, I paddled ashore to explore the closest island while the Captain had a nap. A fishing camp was set up with drying racks made out of driftwood. In the other direction, half-way along the beach, was an old yacht’s mast doubling as a flag pole to mark the designated position for a future yacht club. Thomas had read that this was a prison island back when his 1993 cruising guide was written. “Fancy doing time here,” he’d wondered out loud, “More likely you’d pay a small fortune to stay in this paradise”.

Good to get back into exploring and hiking

Good to get back into exploring and hiking

We later found out that it was no longer commissioned as a penal colony and besides an old hermit running some pigs and cows, the island was mainly uninhabited. An Australian had leased half of the island from the crown-prince- the owner, (only the royal family can actually own the land here), to build a yacht club – hence the flag pole.

We took the dingy to the far island of Numuka to explore the village and meet the inhabitants. Here we met the wife of an Australian guy whom we’d met on Tongatapu. She directed us to her place as she said it was a nice hike. She and her daughter were off to do art at the local primary school. We caught up with her husband working on a large RIB and learned about their island resort offering swimming with the whales, hiking the nearby volcano island, paddle boarding and snorkelling the caves and reefs. Their teenage children appeared happy in their island paradise. The village itself was small but we couldn’t find the local shop. It must have been disguised as an ordinary house.

Even in this tiny village, the church is substantial

Even in this tiny village, the church is substantial

Once back at the boat we went snorkelling towards the other island and then walked the old penal colony and visited the hermit who requested some sugar from us. We had plenty to share as I rarely use it. Thomas made the delivery. We later found out that the crew on another boat nearby watched and announced that it looked like we were doing the ‘sugar run’. They too had had the same request and we smiled as they relayed this story to us later. These people need to make the most of the rare visitors that come their way.

Another brisk sail took us to the next island of Haafeva where we decided to attend a church service with some other cruisers, we’d heard the singing was a real treat. The amazing unaccompanied singing echoed through the small wooden building. Afterwards, we were promptly invited to lunch at a local’s house. The makeshift outdoor kitchen and dining room was very basic and it was humbling to think of the family’s generosity.

Mama loved to sit on the porch with her cruiser friends. She regularly invites people into her home

Mama loved to sit on the porch with her cruiser friends. She regularly invites people into her home

I tried hard to explain that I was vegetarian but I couldn’t get the message across. The dish was served with generous helpings on an exotic concoction of corned beef, spicy chicken with the local spinach – pele mixed in. There was my fork dug into the corn beef. I tried to work out how to get it out but without napkins to wipe it on I decided just to eat the vegetables of manioc and breadfruit with my fingers. Thankfully, we had been served watermelon beside the meal and I ate this with enthusiasm to demonstrate my appreciation. Nothing went to waste as the waiting family of boys gladly devoured the remaining cuisine.

This church on the island had a real bell. The church we went to used a dive tank as the bell - sounded quite musical.

This church on the island had a real bell. The church we went to used a dive tank as the bell – sounded quite musical.

No expectation of payment was made but the family asked kindly if we had any movies, perfume, fishing gear and rope. Peter, the son, collected papaya for us to take back to the boat. Thomas was talking to him about fishing when he explained how his boat had many holes and he couldn’t go out at the moment. He asked if we had anything we could fix it with. We told him that we would be there the next day with something.

Peter and his brother came to the boat for a visit and I collected some of the items requested. The other cruisers who had gone to lunch supplied the perfume and some more fishing gear. The following day as Thomas and I repaired his boat with fibreglass and epoxy, Peter’s eyes grew wider and wider. He had everything he needed now to supply the family with fresh fish. The whole family was very appreciative. We were given more papaya, a unique type of local banana and some shallots. We felt very content with the exchange of good will and were delighted with our cultural exchange.

The Captain and Peter - good mates

The Captain and Peter – good mates

Our next island hop required skilled navigation between reefs and islands while negotiating squalls. Thomas became extremely frustrated with the changes in wind direction and speed because he was hauling sails in and out to keep the boat at a safe speed. Our destination was Pangai,  but we saw a nice bay about 5 nm south of the capital of the scattered island group and decided to rest up in there.

Qi at anchor off Uoleva. This island was girt by sandy beaches

Qi at anchor off Uoleva. This island was girt by sandy beaches

It was on the island of Uoleva which ended up being an absolute delight. Five different resorts around the beaches co-exist and are well spread out to give everyone enough space. The centre of the island was thick jungle. There wasn’t a village so there were no shops to stock up with provisions. I was running out of lettuce and tomatoes. Thomas had a snooze while I paddled ashore to meet the inhabitants.

Firstly, I met Craig, a South African at the Uoleva Yacht Club. He’d just had a big crate arrive and had gear spread out everywhere. We had a nice chat but he told me he was too busy for customers that evening as he didn’t have the place looking at its best.

Maree showing me the funeral mat she's been weaving - just in case someone in the family dies she explained. Funerals cost a lot of money in Tonga because people fly in from all over the world to attend and you must feed and house them for the duration of their stay.

Maree showing me the funeral mat she’s been weaving – just in case someone in the family dies she explained. Funerals cost a lot of money in Tonga because people fly in from all over the world to attend and you must feed and house them for the duration of their stay.

I paddled along the beach to a little backpackers. Here I met Maree, a Tongan lady who managed the resort. We had a wonderful chat and she taught me how to make an umu – the Tongan equivalent to a hungi, (although this is almost like a microwave as it only takes an hour to cook instead of the 4-5 hours of a hungi), and showed me her weaving and through the resort. She entranced me with her stories of Tongan family life and tradition. She gave me a pile of passionfruit and wild lemons before I returned to the boat.

Thomas was delighted with the arrival of the passionfruit as it’s one of his favourite connections to a tropical paradise. The following day we returned to the backpackers so I could introduce Thomas to Maree. She promptly gave him a cup of coffee and continued to share her wealth of local knowledge. The crew from another boat joined in and after a good chat and a search for more passionfruit we all headed off through the jungle on a quest to find the windward side of the island. Maree armed Thomas with her machete to pave the way.

The machete welding captain had nothing to fear.

The machete welding captain had nothing to fear.

Trudging through the bush in bare feet armed with what turned out to be a blunt machete was hard work. We’d just about all had a turn of leading the way along various animal made tracks in amongst the undergrowth. The trouble was the tracks shot off in all different directions from numerous coconut groves along the way.

The view at the eastern lagoon was quite beautiful.

The view at the eastern lagoon was quite beautiful.

The view of the island’s reef lined lagoon with its different hues was spectacular and we all decided that the walk was worth it. Thomas swam and we relaxed awhile before deciding on taking the 5 km hike along the beach back to our forms of transport. We wandered quite a way when I noticed that no one was carrying the machete. Thankfully one of the other cruisers enjoyed a jog and he volunteered to return to the spot to retrieve it.

Mutiny is not an option. Owen running back to the group - the new holder of the machete

Mutiny is not an option. Owen running back to the group – the new holder of the machete

A windsurfer shot past us in the lagoon as we enjoyed the firm sand and lively conversations that always exist when cruisers get together. We stopped and chatted to people in two of the other resorts along the way. We met Glen who had hand built his dedicated kite surfing resort along with his wife and a friend. At the next backpackers we met a German family taking their 10 and 16 year olds on a 6 month journey of New Zealand, Tonga and Thailand and Thomas got chatting to ‘Lefty’ a Delaware man dedicating his time between his abstract art work and studying his bible. We thought he was in the right place for both as he showed us his latest brightly coloured masterpiece of a reef fish.

The crew of Dulcinea, Emma and Owen and Owen's dad Bruce joined us on our romp to the other side of the island.

The crew of Dulcinea, Emma and Owen and Owen’s dad Bruce joined us on our romp to the other side of the island.

As supplies were low and bad weather was predicted we moved on to Pangai. Totally disappointed with the lack of fresh vegetables and fruit in the 3 shops in the village, I was shocked back into the reality of only getting perhaps two or three items on a grocery list – and paying exorbitant prices for these. This unfortunately is the reality of cruising in amongst the islands and you learn to survive on what you have available or you move on.  On the positive side, the water tanks will be filled and the café owner sold me a spare pumpkin – pumpkin soup and snuggling in the wet weather with my darling. It will be a lovely birthday.

More pics below.

The dogs and the pigs all hang out together. Here's a pig who thinks he is a dog - could be a movie in that...

The dogs and the pigs all hang out together. Here’s a pig who thinks he is a dog – could be a movie in that…

Thomas took a dip in the lagoon before walking the 5km back to the kayak and paddle board

Thomas took a dip in the lagoon before walking the 5km back to the kayak and paddle board

A fale at Captain Cook's Hideaway - very inexpensive accommodation in the islands

A fale at Captain Cook’s Hideaway – very inexpensive accommodation in the islands

That's what happens in a mutiny eh Captain?

That’s what happens in a mutiny eh Captain?

A kite surfer zoomed past us on the windy side of the island

A kite surfer zoomed past us on the windy side of the island

The kite surfing resort was a little bit more up-market

The kite surfing resort was a little bit more up-market

 

 

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Royal Brush

Having a relatively clear social calendar, we stayed on in Nuku’alofa for the celebrations of the Tongan Queen Mother’s 90th birthday at Big Mamma’s yacht club. Extra furnishings and shade were put in place for the royal appointment. The Tongan Navy boat was commandeered to bring the guests to the island. Unfortunately the Queen Mum was exhausted from her week of celebrations and gave us the brush off.

Qi with the flags over the top for the Royal visit. Four of the five boats at anchor did this.

Qi all dressed up with the flags over the top for the Royal visit. Four of the five boats at anchor did this.

Her daughter Princess Salote Mafile’o Pilolevu Tuita and her husband Lord Tuita were in attendance. I got a friendly ‘hello’ from the princess and her husband shook my hand and told me that it was nice to meet me. That comprised my entire brush with the Tongan royalty.

The Princess of Tonga - in green

The Princess of Tonga – in green

Floral arrangements and extra white table cloths and chair covers gave the impression that Big Mamma had drawn out the big guns. The food was lovingly prepared on over-sized plates and presented to the guests.

The feast on the day

The feast on the day

There was a roasted pig, hams, roasted yams and pele, the Tongan’s spinach type green. Entrée was the Tongan’s style of spiced raw fish in coconut milk and dessert was a coconut and tapioca fried ball soaked in syrup. Needless to say I didn’t eat there. Top ups of Big Mamma’s own rum punch were flowing freely. A Tongan girl-boy was flitting about with a parasol protecting distinguished guests from the harsh sun, looking as though she belonged in some southern plantation at an afternoon tea. Later, after the royal party had returned to the main island, the parasol was discarded as she danced seductively to some traditional tunes. Music, dance and laughter rippled through the club. Tongans know how to party.

Quite a special place on a little island just off shore from the capital of Tonga. Big Mamma's Yacht Club

Quite a special place on a little island just off shore from the capital of Tonga. Big Mamma’s Yacht Club

On our first day in port a taxi driver had fed the crews of the waiting boats with fresh bananas and watermelons. It was his way of offering a Tongan welcome and drumming up business. His offer for an island tour was almost half the price of all the other taxi drivers. He wasn’t greedy. We decided to take him up on this offer and shared with a German couple off the boat Meerbear.

Tongatapu is a relatively small island but the majority of Tonga’s inhabitants resides there. Highlights of the island tour included the landing sites of both Abel Tasman and James Cook. Quite unspectacular after all these years as captains usually choose a quiet easily accessible point of landing. However, the natural features of the island were far more interesting and beautiful to behold. We stopped at a beach carpark and wandered inland about 200m to view a large piece of boulder-sized coral that stood unceremoniously in the middle of a field. Our guide informed us that it had been placed there during a tsunami dated 1200 years before. Once back at the beach, we could see in the reef where it had been broken away.

You wouldn't want to be in the way of a tsunami uprooting this piece of reef

You wouldn’t want to be in the way of a tsunami uprooting this piece of reef

acaveswim

A cool swim in the fresh water stream in the cave.

ablowholegoingoff

A long coastal view of blowholes. Quite spectacular when an enormous wave struck the coast.

Rugged reef protects the south-west coast line and what looks like a natural cathedral organ of spectacular blow holes has been created. A symphony played before us as the swell crashed against the rocks. Further along caves near the coast had been created by underwater streams eroding the limestone away. We had the opportunity to enjoy a freshwater swim in the dark.

Most of the fresh produce is grown here on the main island. The countryside was dotted with small farms of cabbage, taro, bananas, watermelon and papaya. Animals were few and far between. Land is not owned in Tonga, only shared out by the chief of an area. The land is owned by the royal family.

A natural arch near the rugged east coast

A natural arch near the rugged east coast

Our guide described a peaceful and relaxed way of life. Unfortunately, many of the youth have to move away for careers in business, health or education. Demand is low on the island for the amount of talent that they are producing. Tongans are keen travellers and parents wouldn’t hesitate to visit the new country of their children. Family ties are very strong and most families have between 4-7 children. Most of the education is provided by different denominations of the church. Healthcare is free and the cost of living very low. Our guide told us that crime is so low because there is nowhere to hide.

They call this the Pacific Stonehenge. It points towards another single stone with a legend about one of the kings leaning there all the time because he was so fearful of being assassinated. There is a hollow where his head sat.

They call this the Pacific Stonehenge. It points towards another single stone with a legend about one of the kings leaning there all the time because he was so fearful of being assassinated. There is a hollow where his head sat.

More royal celebrations were planned for the opening of parliament on the Thursday but our wind for travelling north had arrived and we departed. That wasn’t before we did several loops of the bureaucratic circuit to check out of this island group and obtain paperwork to hand into the next main port.

Qi got her name on the honour board at Big Mamma's Yacht Club

Qi got her name on the honor board at Big Mamma’s Yacht Club

 

ablowhole

We kept waiting for a big wave but of course it didn’t happen for the camera. The waves beforehand were wetting us at this spot and looked amazing.

acarwash

The local carwash was more expensive than back in Australia.

More pics below

A nice cave with so many different features to enjoy

A nice cave with so many different features to enjoy

The captain is back to wearing sunnies being back in the tropics

The captain is back to wearing sunnies being back in the tropics

A huge tapa mat. This takes hours to make.

A huge tapa mat. This takes hours to make. This was taken at Captain Cook’s landing site.

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Rock My Soul

There are quite a few places around the world where I feel safe and at home including Neil and Kathy’s place in Riverside, CA, Dick and Doris’ place, NJ, Finland and Norway with Mel and Annette’s families, Dagmar, Thomas’ sister’s place in Germany, Jennie and Joe’s heritage resort in Ingham, all the homes of my friends on the Gold Coast, of course my mum’s place and that list isn’t complete. It is in these places that I feel loved and accepted for who I am – warts and all, but I now have to add my birth town of Whangarei on that list with the Aunties and Uncles there taking wonderful care of us during our stay. We left port with an abundance of home picked fruits and had a lovely send off at my dear Aunty Hazel’s place.  With our nomadic lifestyle, it’s so important to be able to know that we have these beautiful homes to visit and it’s the people in these places that make each of them a safe haven. We left Whangarei Harbour, past my old home at One Tree Point I was feeling very content rocking gently in my floating habitat with my beautiful Captain. We are off on new adventures and adding more nautical miles with another South Pacific cruise.

My family's old home was on the top of these cliffs. We had many wonderful times at the beach before we left for Australia

My family’s old home was on the top of these cliffs. We had many wonderful times at the beach before we left for Australia

Our final days in New Zealand were a whirl of preparations, last minute shopping, final touches and an extremely large amount of paperwork.  The latter being just one of those things that you need to take care of before you go off line for a while. Good winds sent us swiftly away from the coast of NZ but these were short lived and we found ourselves grasping for any little bit of wind to fill our sails before we turned to using the motor for quite a few days. This was when the ocean was so smooth there was hardly a ripple. With a waxing crescent reflecting across the night waters we rocked gently skimming quickly through the water.

Our peaceful world where we had lulled into a pattern of daily routines and night watches was only disturbed in the last few days by a call from an Orion New Zealand air force plane, identifying us by name and checking on how many ‘souls’ were on board. Big brother or a watchful eye? After viewing a documentary about a huge storm that required lots of cruisers to be rescued by the NZ armed forces, I would rather think that it was a cursory check on our well-being. It wasn’t just Qi who was called though. We found that we were in the middle of a flotilla of about four boats within about a 20 mile radius, something we hadn’t experienced before when we’re out in the middle of the ocean.

An Orion aircraft

An Orion aircraft

Having heard all the contacts that the unseen aircraft carried out, spontaneous communications popped up and new friendships paved. Everyone was heading towards Minerva Reef, an isolated pair of atolls in north-east of NZ. It was time to have a mid-ocean party. We arrived a couple of days later under motor as the winds had completely left us. Thomas and I had time for a kayak and paddle and we entertained some new German contacts made on the way over, Peter and Helga. They were heavily involved in publishing their own work about their journeys and Helga had written a few picture books for children. Right up my alley. We had an enjoyable evening and for the first time in seven days Thomas and I got to sleep in the same bed.

One of the other boats that were around us as we sailed to Minerva with this amazing sunrise behind them.

One of the other boats that were around us as we sailed to Minerva with this amazing sunrise behind them.

Anticipated winds from the south whipped up overnight and we were woken in quite a squall. Thomas got up to check on the anchor but we were fine.

A few of the thirty boats resting up at Minerva. Some were on their way to Fiji and others like us were heading to Tonga.

A few of the thirty boats resting up at Minerva. Some were on their way to Fiji and others like us were heading to Tonga.

Winds still coming from the west meant that it was a great opportunity to make our passage to Tonga first thing in the morning. It took us about half an hour to get the anchor up as it had fouled around a coral head. We carefully manoeuvred to free ourselves and to limit the damage to the bommie. The lagoon was still rough from the storm the night before so Thomas wasn’t keen to dive. After trying to release the anchor for about twenty minutes, the anchor winch stopped working. First option was to look for a blown fuse. This proved to be right action and luckily we had a spare. The spare was in a packet with a $21.95 price tag on it. Not sure which country we bought it in but it was probably the most expensive fuse we’d ever bought although we were grateful for every penny spent at that moment. So our premature departure from Minerva North means that it is still on our to-do list. We were happy to have been in a safe place for the storm and to get a good night’s rest and the idea of resting in the middle of nowhere was quite a treat.

We have arrived safely in Tonga and we’re enjoying the local hospitality and marine life.

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Hitting the Hard Stuff

Unfortunately, a part of the cruising lifestyle is time out on the hardstand – refurbishing, cleaning up and antifouling the bottom. But this time has been the most productive time since leaving Spain nearly four years ago. We greatly appreciated the use of Aunty Jeanne’s car and house while we had the boat hauled out and Aunty Hazel looking after us with fresh garden grapes and vegetables.

The saloon got new squabs, curtains and cushions.

The saloon got new squabs, curtains and cushions.

Aunty Jeanne’s double garage became my ‘sail loft’ as all kinds of canvas and cushion creations occurred. We now have a new back tent and a well repaired main tent, a new dodger to cover the cockpit and new squabs in the saloon and for the seats in the back cabin. The front cabin wasn’t ignored either when an incorrect purchase left me with a huge piece of bronze coloured material. It was transformed into a bedspread and cushions were added for the ‘look’. Quite proud of the way I utilised the $29 old Pfaff sewing machine that I’d picked up off e-bay before leaving Australia. We certainly got our money’s worth.

The front cabin with the revamp. A little wrinkly as we slept there because our cabin was in pieces still.

The front cabin with the revamp. A little wrinkly as we slept there because our cabin was in pieces still.

I’m also very proud of my very talented captain. He didn’t get to do the pretty stuff. He organised and completed lots of dirty work under the water line and above the deck. We had the mast down and all our rigging replaced. That’s something the captain has wanted to do for a long time. Our through-hulls were checked and some replaced and our ‘rudder’ issue is now well and truly fixed with a solid fibre glassing job ruggedizing the area. Bring on the big seas now!

All of Qi's rigging was exchanged so that meant the mast had to come down.

All of Qi’s rigging was exchanged so that meant the mast had to come down.

It’s been a busy and extremely productive six weeks and we’re extremely happy with the result. We left the dock and headed towards a marina where Thomas will stay for a while I head off for a quick visit to Australia before we head off to Fiji in early May. Of course we don’t do anything without a drama and as we were entering the marina I dropped a fender off the side of the boat and so the captain got to practice his manoeuvres retrieving it. Good practice for man-overboard procedures – although it was in calm waters. As the fender drifted quickly to the shallow water we approached it and Thomas called – “We’ve only got one shot at this!” Of course I scooped it up in the first attempt. WHAT A TEAM!!!

The crane came to return Qi's mast to its rightful position.

The crane came to return Qi’s mast to its rightful position.

Time for Aunty Hazel and Uncle Mike to come for a dinner at the boat after they looked after us so well.

Time for Aunty Hazel and Uncle Mike to come for a dinner at the boat after they looked after us so well. Notice that nice new dodger covering us!!

We had to radio ahead for the bridge to open so we could head into the town basin.

We had to radio ahead for the bridge to open so we could head into the town basin.

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Crossing the Ditch

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There were plenty of sail changes and sail tweaking on the crossing. Some at one a.m..

Our unexpected crossing of the Tasman Sea has resulted in a new and exciting adventure. Relieved to be returning to our nomadic lifestyle, both Thomas and I have fallen effortlessly back into the luxurious rhythm of cruising. Wondering once again at the thrill of landfall, new horizons and the social interactions with our wandering peers, where prioritising the day’s events becomes uncomplicated; we are once again officially ‘cruisers’.

My big brother, Alec, joined us for the crossing and his enthusiasm for his first ocean voyage added a different aspect to the journey. Every detail of passage life was of interest to him and he adapted quickly to the challenges that he was bombarded with. He enjoyed each sail change, the meal preparation and learning how to sleep whilst been rocked at various levels of compassion by the ocean.

A relatively calm sea and lively wind sent us briskly on our way from Southport, Australia. Eventually, the wind died down and on the third day we were motoring over a glassy lake, affectionately referred to as ‘the ditch’ by Aussies and Kiwis alike. Renowned throughout the world for being a challenging and temperamental body of water, the Tasman Sea isn’t ideally crossed during the Southern Hemisphere’s cyclone season. Finding a weather window had been a challenge in itself. Delighted with the calm conditions, Alec was keen to paddle board in the deepest waters he could find and he urged the Captain to stop the engine. Thomas willingly obliged and we were all soon swimming and paddle boarding around the boat. Having viewed Dead Calm, the Captain cautiously lowered the swim ladder first.

Alec going for a ski behind Qi on the paddle board. There were a lot of 'firsts' happening out there.

Alec going for a ski behind Qi on the paddle board. There were a lot of ‘firsts’ happening out there.

Finding the loose end of the running back stay, Alec secured it onto the back of Qi and skied on the paddle board for quite a distance once we got moving again. Refreshed and ready to continue, Thomas found on the navigation charts that we’d actually only been in 2000 metres of water because we’d been on an unnamed seamount. Fitting the occasion, we proclaimed it to be christened, “The Qi Ski and Recreational Sporting Seamount”.

Alec tried his hand at deep sea fishing but each attempt saw the equipment sadly lacking the task. Firstly, we saw a big mahi mahi angrily leaping as it took off with the first reel and gear. Each of the next three endeavours saw the fish as the winners. I was relieved about dissolving fish hooks and glad that the lack of equipment saw the end of the challenge. We remained a vegetarian boat throughout the passage. Taunted by a large school of tuna, flaunting their rainbow colours, travelling swiftly in unison with the boat for about six hours, Alec planned his revenge once he was near a tackle shop.

A school of tuna swam with us for over six hours.

A school of tuna swam with us for over six hours.

After a calm beginning, our weather guru advised us that we had a front approaching and this front had ripped out trees in Sydney. Thomas responded swiftly to the advice of the intensity of the approaching weather with, “That’s okay. There aren’t any trees out here.” The swell and seas whipped up and we had a small shower of rain. Otherwise it was uneventful. Alec got to experience some big seas and he announced that he was relieved it wasn’t like that when we first left Australia – he might have had time to have second thoughts about the crossing.

Nine days after setting out, we arrived at the Bay of Islands in Northland, New Zealand. Quarantine and immigration was a painless ordeal and we happily went about replenishing our provisions before heading back out in amongst the islands. A brief meeting with my second cousin, Marilyn and her husband, Don, put us on the right track for discovering the beauty that the bay had to offer. They chartered their boat out in the bay and their magnificent catamaran was often in the scenery as we frequented the various anchorages.

Some people may have a sea change or a tree change but our cousins have a "Cool Change" - a magnificent boat self-designed and built. She's a common feature on the horizon in the bay.

Some people may have a sea change or a tree change but our cousins have a “Cool Change” – a magnificent boat self-designed and built. She’s a common feature on the horizon in the bay.

The tranquil beauty of the small islands enticed us to hike and explore. We’d arrived at the beginning of the regions race week and we were given the added bonus of the beauty of colourful spinnakers throughout the bay. We quickly feel in love with the area and vowed we’d return.

After enjoying the spoils of a cruising life for a couple of weeks, Alec decided that it was time to head home. I caught a bus with him to Auckland, leaving the Captain to explore on his own. We caught up with good family friends and I went to visit my son and his family on the western side of Auckland.

Amazing campgrounds on some of the islands give locals a great way to experience the bay.

Amazing campgrounds on some of the islands give locals a great way to experience the bay.

We are now doing the hard yards of cruising with the boat on the hardstand while we are fortunate enough to be housesitting for my aunty. There were lots of maintenance jobs that the Captain hadn’t had a chance to tackle and these are being done to ensure our beautiful home continues to sail safely – into the sunset. more pics below…

Bruddas from a different mudda. Thomas and Alec have so many similar interests. They are good buddies.

Bruddas from a different mudda. Thomas and Alec have so many similar interests. They are good buddies.

And the beautiful destinations continue...

And the beautiful destinations continue…

Loving our lunchtime view

Loving our lunchtime view

Desperate to catch a wave, brother Alec found a small break between some rocks around one of the islands.

Desperate to catch a wave, brother Alec found a small break between some rocks around one of the islands.

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Our hikes have taken us to some historical sites. An old pa site – the traditional Maori fort once stood on these cliffs.

Amazing views on all the hikes keep us gob-smacked at New Zealand's beauty.

Amazing views on all the hikes keep us gob-smacked at New Zealand’s beauty.

 

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Fjordland Frolics

Perfect weather, including a delightful sprinkling of snow, gave Thomas an inaccurate overview of New Zealand’s climate. Even the usual atmospheric gloom of the West Coast was absent. Sunny azure skies gave an enticing backdrop for activities in among the snow crested mountains on the South Island. This meant plenty of hiking and exploring through the wilderness. We made the most of the campervan and and the ‘Freedom Camping’ policy of N.Z.. Each of our overnight camp sites were met with a sense of awe in the morning, with the exception of one which was based near a stream on one side and a dip in the road on the other. Quite noisy with plenty of trucks passing in the night. We counted our blessings though as this was only one out of 15.

You can see by the reflection in the back windows, what sort of scenery we were surrounded by on this roadside stopover.

You can see by the reflection in the back windows, what sort of scenery we were surrounded by on this roadside stopover.

Really, the highlight of our time there was a three day jaunt into Fjordland. Incredible 3 hour hikes taking us to summits and hanging valleys were a unique treat that we hadn’t experienced before. We stayed in the D.O.C. (Dept. of Conservation), camping grounds where the views were spectacular and the neighbours few. The latter wasn’t to do with the lack of tourists. It was mainly to do with the population of sandflies that are attracted to you in the region. Fortunately, it was only if you were standing still and we weren’t still for long.

Lake Marian, in a hanging valley, was reached by climbing through a temperate rainforest onto an alpine ridge. At some stages we climbed vertically through a maze of tree roots to ascend above landslides and river beds.

Mossy steps led us above the tree line

Mossy steps led us above the tree line

Lake Marian sits in the remnants of an old glacier torn valley just above the tree line.

Lake Marian sits in the remnants of an old glacier torn valley just above the tree line.

Key Summit gives you an overview of the valleys of Fjordland. It was a wonderful 3 hour hike.

Key Summit gives you an overview of the valleys of Fjordland. It was a wonderful 3 hour hike.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Countless small roadside walks led us to small treasures along the way. We explored more glaciers, caves and rivers. We probably walked over 100km and drove over 3 000.

This little guy had wandered over towards the car park.

This little guy had wandered over towards the car park.

Unfortunately this science fiction museum was closed when we passed through town. Definitely on my list for next time.

Unfortunately this science fiction museum was closed when we passed through town. Definitely on my list for next time.

We were determined to fit in as many short hikes as possible in our limited time and this worked well until I slipped on some rocks on the beach in the Abel Tasman National Park just five days before flying back to Australia. ‘Rock Climbing’ the hospital accident report declared. An initial diagnosis was sprained right wrist and foot but I was phoned later to be informed that there was a break in the big toe. This called for touring around the north-east coast viewing the seal pups from the van and lazing in Hamner Springs to recoup. More pics below.

The moss covered rocks surrounding the waterfall at the bottom of the track leading up to Lake Marian created a fairy land.

The moss covered rocks surrounding the waterfall at the bottom of the track leading up to Lake Marian created a fairy land.

Taking a break on the nature trail up the top of Key Summit

Taking a break on the nature trail up the top of Key Summit

A sprinkle of snow didn't deter us from hiking for 3 hours up the Hooker Valley to have a view of the glacier coming off Aoraki/Mt. Cook.

A sprinkle of snow didn’t deter us from hiking for 3 hours up the Hooker Valley to have a view of the glacier coming off Aoraki/Mt. Cook.

Just prior to breaking my big toe and spraining my wrist.

Just prior to breaking my big toe and spraining my wrist.

Thomas in a drift of snow beside Lake Marian.

Thomas in a drift of snow beside Lake Marian.

This reflection at Mirror Lakes on the Fjordland Highway was captivating.

This reflection at Mirror Lakes on the Fjordland Highway was captivating.

Lake Tekapo - one of my favourite places on the planet

Lake Tekapo – one of my favourite places on the planet

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Thai Adventures

Dentist appointments in Thailand meant that an unknown quality was entering our holiday plans. We didn’t know how often I would need to return or in how much pain I would be so we planned to stay fairly close to Bangkok. This ended up being a good plan because yes, I was in a lot of pain and we needed to return after a week to have more work done. This however was not the highlight of my journey but I am indeed impressed with my new smile and the quality of the work that was provided. Such a professional organisation.

Enjoying showing off my new smile

Enjoying showing off my new smile

Once I had my initial appointment we headed north to Khao Yai National Park to the north-east of Bangkok. We were hoping to see wild elephants and maybe a tiger. Unfortunately, neither eventuated but that didn’t take away from the anticipation. We hired a car and stayed just outside the park at a place called, Jungle House. This was a huge establishment with their own elephants. The place was empty because of the season. Things obviously got a bit tough for the locals during these times.

YES! we want to watch out for wild elephants!

YES! we want to watch out for wild elephants!

The second night we went into the park where we could line up different hikes and drive around looking at waterfalls. The only accommodation on offer was a small inexpensive cabin. It was fine except for some rowdy neighbours. The park itself was quite dry due to the lack of rain for the wet season so the waterfalls were a bit on the sorry side. We saw plenty of deer and huge monitors – lizards sleeking through the jungle. Food was a bit of a challenge in the park as Thomas had thought the park information lady had said that the restaurant opened at 6pm but in actual fact it closed then. Thomas was able to get some meaty left-overs from the stalls outside and I ended up with a yoghurt for dinner. Not so bad with a mouth full of hurt still from the dentist.

No signs of the maker but we spotted plenty of evidence that elephants were here

No signs of the maker but we spotted plenty of evidence that elephants were here

The following day we’d lined up a hike to one of the distant waterfalls. Our guide spoke no English other than saying ‘bear’, ‘elephant’, ‘hornbill’. It was a quiet trip. We saw evidence of where bears and elephants had rubbed or clawed the trees and we saw three hornbills fly over us at a distance. It was a nice walk and this particular waterfall was quite nice and was one of the few where you could actually swim. Our guide had to arrange a ride for us back to the information centre and couldn’t help showing off his pride and joy – his gun for a snap shot on the way. Not sure what he thought he would ever have to use it for though.

Our guide was super proud of his gun - we were so unimpressed

Our guide was super proud of his gun – we were so unimpressed

After we left the park we headed through a beautiful valley towards Ayutthaya, the ancient capital of Siam. Leaning with the burdens of time, the ancient ruins were plentiful and were just urging us to explore. However, the scorching heat of the day kept us at bay and we could only have an early morning stroll and we planned an afternoon excursion. In the morning we visited the temples that surrounded the old palace. In the afternoon we took a boat trip that gave us a different perspective of this island city and we were taken to different temples – some currently in use. This ended up being an enjoyable and leisurely option. The dusty heat of the day had given over to cool river breezes and the long shadows provided ample respite from the heat.

This face has been framed by the roots over the centuries.

This face has been framed by the roots over the centuries.

We returned to Bangkok for the second part of my treatment and we headed into Chinatown but didn’t find much action. A tuk tuk driver offered to take us to a large shopping mall that Thomas was keen to see. The mall was cool and lively with plenty of great shops and eating areas. It was like an indoor market rather than a shopping mall and we made some good purchases.

After another hour in the chair, Thomas caught up with me and we headed to the bus station just in time to catch the last ferry-connecting bus to Koh Chang, ‘Elephant Island’. Our accommodation was a basic hut but we did have air conditioning as we thought the extra eight dollars a night was money well spent. The sounds of elephants echoed through the air as the sanctuary was just across the road. I popped in to see them and negotiate a price for a ride. Being low season – they were happy to make offers before I asked. The following day it rained so we just lay around and got a bit of work done on our websites. Considering that we were meant to be in the wet season, we were counting our blessings with the weather. The following day we got to have our elephant ride and I found it incredibly relaxing. We then went for a wander down to the beach and saw a young lady taking up the opportunity of swimming with the baby elephants. The elephant was having so much fun rolling around in the surf that we were roaring with laughter as it got swamped and was diving down under the water. Thomas suggested I try this and I am so glad he talked me into it. It was a most memorable experience.

Swimming with this baby elephant will be a wonderful long-lasting memory

Swimming with this baby elephant will be a wonderful long-lasting memory

The following day we hired a scooter for the incredibly low cost of $8 for the day. We found beautiful spots along the coast line then we explored up in the jungle. We hiked to a sequence of cascades through a property. We had stopped for a swim at one of the lower pools when we saw a young couple scouting upstream with purpose so decided to follow them. We were treated to plenty of waterfalls and challenging rock climbing – just the type of hike that we enjoy. The young couple on the other hand was geocaching. They were having a good time of it.

Plenty of great views as we rode along the east coast of the island

Plenty of great views as we rode along the east coast of the island

 

 

 

We also moved to a more up-class hotel for Thomas’ birthday. Up-class to us doesn’t mean hotel lobbies or in-house entertainment, it means views and beautiful scenery. We were gratified with a room up on the cliff at the Koh Chang Cliff Beach resort. We made the most of the infinity pool and enjoying the fantastic view.

We enjoyed the infinity pool at the Cliff Beach Resort on Koh Chang

We enjoyed the infinity pool at the Cliff Beach Resort on Koh Chang

We returned to Bangkok for our final night in Thailand and resumed our goal of enjoying an evening in Chinatown. We took off on the sky train and made the swap to the subway to get close to the centre of Chinatown. Here we found a bustle of visiting Chinese tourists eating in the street market amongst the neon lights. We weren’t tempted as the odour of seafood was so strong that we just wanted to escape. We ended uptowards familiar territory where our first hotel was and found a nice quiet Thai restaurant far enough away from the rowdy Aussies at a rustic corner bar. We had a peaceful evening before our flight to Germany. More pics below.

A temple in Chinatown - Bangkok

A temple in Chinatown – Bangkok

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The ancient city ruins were wonderful to explore

achinesetelephone

Couldn’t get over this telephone booth in Chinatown

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Thai fishing vessels on Koh Chang

anoldbudda

Different images of the nine lives of Buddha are everywhere through the temples

ahikeinThailand

No, Thomas is not wearing long socks. Any venture into the jungle needed leech proof pullovers.

amonkeys

Monkeys along the road side hopefully greeted us looking for food.

anelephantwalkway

This Elephant walkway was built after seven wild elephants were lost over the nearby waterfall as they tried to rescue a distressed baby elephant.

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Of course no holiday would be complete without a croc. The warning sign was seen after we spotted it.

anoldpalace

One of many towers around the old palace

arelaxingbudda

one of the many huge reclining Buddhas

asaltlick

We watched these salt licks for a while to see wild elephants but no luck.

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Me relaxing in the spa at our posh hotel

aswans

Beautiful swans were on the bed on our arrival


aswimatwaterfall

A visit to a temple as we toured Bangkok

A visit to a temple as we toured Bangkok

awaitforboat awaterfall

A temple in Chinatown - Bangkok

A temple in Chinatown – Bangkok

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Diwali in Fiji

Our sail from Tonga was a lot faster than anticipated so we sneaked into a small atoll to overnight avoiding arriving on the weekend. Fiji is another one of these independent destinations where the fees from yachts has become a substantial form of income for the country. Hence, arriving on the weekend would have incurred double the already exorbitant fees. The atoll ended up being a welcome relief from the ample seas and we got to meet some locals as they came to greet us.

Suicidal Boobies tackling the wind generator

Suicidal Boobies tackling the wind generator

They were only the second lot of Fijians to greet us as we were inundated by five huge white footed boobies who were fascinated with our wind generator. We had to turn it off as they were acting as though it was a long lost ancestor returning to the devoted and we feared for their safety. The call of the booby is a cross between a honk and a squawk not the gentle chirping one hopes for after a passage at sea. The atoll ended up being a comfortable reprieve from the journey and our visitors gave us an insight of the friendliness that we would be overwhelmed by once we reached the northern island of Vanua Levu.

The staff at the marina entertained us for Diwali

The staff at the marina entertained us for Diwali

Once we reached the second biggest town on the island, Savusavu, we were advised to standby for boarding by the officials. A succession of chatting Fijians arrived full of laughter and good humour and quizzed us with their obligatory routine. They smiled a lot and then handed us the invoices to complete their part of the transaction. They then moved off to the next three boats that arrived. At least six boats checked in that day including our good friends on the German flagged boat, Anke Sophie. With the Quarantine flag removed, we headed off to town. Many smiling faces greeted us with Bula Bula and the small village had a certain hype about it. Decorations were hanging in the windows of the shops along with posters announcing Diwali celebrations. Thomas began salivating at the thought of the cuisine that would be on offer. Stylish homes set up in the hills with panoramic views were surrounded by tropical jungle. The one – street village appeared to have everything a cruiser would need: the fresh food market, an internet cafe, a supermarket, restaurants, hardware, clothing and cheap stuff shops. We smiled.

Crazy little islands along the way

Crazy little islands along the way

Diwali traditionally means seven days of vegetarian meals, or so we were told. Hooray, I’d landed in paradise. We happily checked in for Diwali feasts and tasted the inexpensive fare on offer at the small cafe style restaurants. Fireworks were sounding off around the town before it was even dark. They were taking their festival of light very seriously. The beauty of the Indian women in their exquisite saris was enhanced by the elegant way they greeted us on arrival into their restaurants and shops. We felt like we had tumbled into a cultural whirlpool and our senses were overloaded. Again, we smiled.

The harbour in Savusavu

The harbour in Savusavu

Determined to explore more of this intriguing island we organised a car for the day of the actual celebration. We found a car rental place on a morning stroll. With the public holiday the next day, the young man in the shop told us we could take the car a day early. In fact we could drive away with it immediately. Our planned day was instantly modified to include wheels. In our little four wheel drive we headed along the south coast admiring the private islands and exclusive resorts but it was the natural beauty of this island with its jungles and lagoons of varying hues of blue that really captivated us. We began a mission to find some hot springs but we ended up going across country, utilising the 4wd function and found ourselves on the edge of a huge bay with just one house at the road’s end. A young Indian boy ran out to greet us and directed us back to the main road. We were quick to discover that once you left the one well sealed road you were on a dirt equivalent of a driveway that rapidly deteriorated to a muddy cow track. Thomas’ was in his exploring heaven mode.

Rally driver Thomas

Rally driver Thomas

We headed off early the next day to explore the interior of the island. Picking up a local hitch hiker along the way, another well sealed road took us through the mountains to a national forest. Unfortunately, it was closed and we didn’t get to have the hike we had planned. So we continued on, dropping our passenger off at her small village not far from the national forest entrance. The change in the landscape was traumatic with the coastal jungle disappearing to make way for a dryer more sparse woodland and then into rolling valleys and plains of agricultural land. Mostly sugar cane bordered the road as we crossed sugar cane train tracks and caught glimpses of the northern coast of the island. We rolled into the capital of the island where a few of the shops were open and the locals were out in numbers. After wandering around and making a few purchases we headed off following the map that showed we could do a large loop and return to the south on a different road.

Happy kids along the way.

Happy kids along the way.

The designated road on the google map deteriorated rapidly into two ruts winding through the mountains, crossing rocky streams and passing small farms and villages. On one steep incline we were flagged down by a farmer and his son. They were wanting a lift up the road to their small farm house. He was a kava farmer and tended his mountain farm every few days but usually lived near the main town of the island. He showed us the kava growing and invited us in to try some. Reluctant, actually terrified after reading other cruisers accounts of drinking this ‘muddy peppered’ hallucinagenic, we declined his offer but appreciated his directions to find the main road in the south. We regretted the decision straight away as we didn’t even get a photo of the growing plant and we’d missed out a great opportunity to enjoy some Fijian hospitality. We continued on as the track deteriorated even further. If it hadn’t have been for the farmer’s directions we would have thought that we were on the wrong track.

Amazing soft corals at Namena Reef

Amazing soft corals at Namena Reef

We arrived at the opposite side of the huge bay that we had found the day before. The road improved and we passed villages where people were meeting and chatting. They called out welcoming cheers. As we drove through one village we were swamped by happy giggling children who were super keen to line up for photos. We found a path down to a secluded beach where we shared company with mosquitoes for a quick picnic lunch.

After another few hills we arrived at the south end of the island. We returned to Savusavu where the boat was anchored to find the celebrations in full swing in the yacht club with the local expats. Many retirees find their way to Fiji for the great tropical climate and low cost of living. The Fijians welcome them. We had another wonderful dinner at the restaurant at the marina. Pre-warned about the three local rivalling ‘firework families’ we bunked down to the echoes of rockets and shooting stars. Upon waking at 5a.m. I still heard the occasional explosion although they weren’t as frequent. The family firing the last rocket of the celebration is the winner. Hoorah!

Crazy little starfish that covered the rock pools

Crazy little starfish that covered the rock pools

We headed out to Nemena Reef just south of Savusavu to experience some of the highly acclaimed soft corals and we weren’t disappointed. The colours were so vibrant. I’ve never seen coral so bright and varied. We were anchored in 24m of water which is the deepest we’ve done. With only 70m of chain in total we weren’t using the recommended scope for this depth. So with great care and many different lines and an attached laundry detergent container doubling as a marker buoy, we attached our anchor to another 20m of line. Still not the recommended scope but we felt much better. Unsatisfied with the first procedure, the Captain decided to do it again with added ties onto the knot connecting the rope to the chain. It took us awhile but I’ve learned that Thomas wont rest peacefully unless he’s absolutely content with the anchor so I co-operated in my best deckie manner. It took us nearly another hour but we were both satisfied with the result. After a snorkel out in one of the passes on the outer reef we returned to the boat as a wild wind began to whip up. Within a few hours we were in the midst of a nasty storm. We kept a good watch and our anchor held well. Things were reasonably calm by the time we went to sleep.

A well utilised graveyard at the lepra colony

A well utilised graveyard at the lepra colony

The next morning we headed off to the atoll of Makogai where the remains of an old Leprosy colony had been turned into an agricultural research centre for giant clam and turtle breeding. We gave our offering of kava to the head boss with the idea that he would pass it on to the village chief who lived on the other side of the island. The kava ceremony is very special and the traditions in Fiji can be enforced by law authorities so without hesitation we obliged by making the offering. We learned how to partake in the ceremony and was looking forward to at least one experience with it. I had even sewn some small vests to cover my shoulders and dug out my longer dresses. However our premature departure of Fiji due to the weather left us kava virgins still as the boss of the agricultural centre didn’t complete the ceremony. He showed us around the property and told us about how the old colony functioned. He directed us towards the well utilised grave yard in amongst the jungle. Toads jumped everywhere and were close to landing on my feet. It reminded of my many wet seasons in North Queensland. The weather was dreadful so we decided to move on to Suva and do a few tasks.

Delicious food at the markets in Suva

Delicious food at the markets in Suva

Upon our arrival in Suva we spotted a familiar boat. That of Cara and Jacob who had been at our wedding on Moorea. We ended up having a great day out with them visiting the Fijian museum and wandering about the town. Cara and I stayed in town and had a bit of girl time in the shops. It was nice to catch up and spend some fun time with them. Suva had a delightful range of vegetarian restaurants including Govindas, which I highly recommend for everyone when you visit there. Suva was a well equipped town but the weather was so poor that we decided to take advantage of a weather window to New Caledonia.more pics

Little soft corals in the pass at Namena Reef

Little soft corals in the pass at Namena Reef

Giant clams

Giant clams

Hot steam was coming off from in between the rocks

Hot steam was coming off from in between the rocks

Farming land in the centre of the island

Farming land in the centre of the island

Beautiful country side

Beautiful country side

Canoes in the Suva museum

Canoes in the Suva museum

 

 

 

 

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Crossing the Line

We’re feeling as though we’ve got our groove back although it’s taken us a bit longer than we anticipated. Our trip from Bora Bora was a quiet gentle sail and we got to cross the international date line. Finally, I am on the same day as Australia. Other than my visits to Oz. This is the first time in three years.

Dressed like a dag for the harsh Tongan sun. That was a wonderful reef behind me. Beautiful corals.

Dressed like a dag for the harsh Tongan sun. That was a wonderful reef behind me. Beautiful corals.

We arrived in Tonga in the middle of the Blue Water Cruisers Festival so have managed to participate in many social activities. First of all we heard about a race but didn’t want to enter Qi as I’d sustained some injuries on my hand on the way from Bora Bora and wasn’t up to adjusting the sails in quick manoeuvres. Thomas got chatting with another skipper who asked us to join him on his boat as his wife had just flown back to France to work and he was single-handling to New Zealand. He had a cruising boat designed by a famous French sailor who races. She was designed for the person who wanted to cruise quickly and boy did she fly. See You Later Alligator came in second in the mono-hulls not far behind a 60ft ketch.

Happy at the helm but give me a wheel any day!

Happy at the helm but give me a wheel any day!

We were only 38ft and probably averaged about 7.2knots the whole course. The skipper, Didere, made her point high up into the wind but we couldn’t quite get around one reef towards the end and we had to put in an extra tack. Annemeike, a visiting tourist from Canada, joined us for the race and steered well for a lot of the course. At one stage the boat went to round up and she called for assistance as she began to fly across the cockpit. As Thomas reached for the tiller to assist her, he also went flying across the cockpit. Didere asked why they didn’t just use the support and pulled a footrest out. This allows the helmsman supports his/her weight as the boat heels so dramatically. This boat was so futuristic that we didn’t even notice half of its features, little lone a tucked up bar that became a vital part of being able to keep the boat under control, (and the crew).

The almost unbeatable team.

The almost unbeatable team.

So we came in third overall after a catamaran flew in between us and the finish line. Our friends Jan and David on Rewa won the race and were pretty darn well pumped about it – David’s words. We had a great evening with a BBQ dinner and Tongan dancers. I was so impressed with the energy that the teenage boys put into their routine. They were backed by a ‘Kava’ band. It was like a cross between a steel band with some traditional drums and a banjo thrown in. So energetic. I felt like dancing too.

These boys had so much energy. They loved performing.

These boys had so much energy. They loved performing.

The girls were so graceful.

The girls were so graceful.

On the following day we had a race back to the main anchorage and the winner was the first boat to bring in a fish to a prearranged restaurant. Our friends Jack and Jan off Anthem won that. Plus our new friends on Lumbaz won a prize when they rocked up with a fish that had been handcrafted by their children. It was a fun event. Didere won lots of prizes including one for having the best boat name. He then went on to win an even bigger prize when he won, ‘worst dressed’ at the pub crawl on Friday night. That prize was a haul out and seven days on the hard stand in a marina in New Zealand. Something he will definitely use. He was so happy. It was a great festival and we got to hang out with friends from the Caribbean and the Pacific.

Took my breath away...

Took my breath away…

Our second big adventure here was to go swimming with the whales. It is one of the only places in the world that you can do this. It was wonderful although the whales are becoming a bit scarce at this time of the year. The best time would be in August. The guides told us that the bays are so thick with them that you could almost walk over them. (Slight exaggeration me thinks). The mother and calf that we spent most of the time with were really playing with us. The mother showed more interest in our group where as the second group of four snorkellers had the calf swimming close to them. The calf would roll around and swim within three or four metres of us and then rub up to its mother. But the baby went within a metre of the other group. The mother had a lot of white on her body with just a black strip down her back. She mainly just hung there in the water while the baby played around her. She was totally chilled and taking it easy. It was great to be able to take the time and really study the way they look. Our guide told us that the mothers can lose up to 15 tons of their average pre-travel weight of 40 tons on this journey. Looking at this mother, you couldn’t see it. She still had an enormous waist line. She was massive and it was incredible that we were there, right beside her. As Tonga is one of the few places in the world that allows this, it was an experience that we will always hold dear. Some conservationists would say they’re crossing the line by organising these tours but I would say it was respectfully done. We are hoping to see plenty more whales as we sail around the Vavau group of islands here in the north of Tonga.

You need to steer clear of this mamma's back end...

You need to steer clear of this mamma’s back end…

Local boat charter companies have made a map where all the anchorages are numbered in the Vavau group. So we are off exploring some of these. We’ve had a terrific snorkel on a reef beyond a small surf. There was a great variety of coral and fish. We saw a fish that we couldn’t identify. At first I thought it was a leaf in the water but then I saw it had an eye, and fins etc. We asked some locals here and they told us it was a leaf fish. Great to see new species. We then moored near a small village and went for a wander around. Pigs ran on the beaches rooting for tasty morsels. There was an abundance of starfish so I’m wondering if that was what they were eating. Not sure. Our mooring cost us 5 USD for the night which went to the local school.

These kids were all smiles - every time you looked at them.

These kids were all smiles – every time you looked at them.

After a 12k hike along the entire length of the island to shake the cobwebs off the old muscles we visited the school. A new young teacher had the two classes as the principal hadn’t shown up on this day. She had only been teaching for two weeks. She was delightful and invited me back later. So I returned after lunch to read books to the children, (the teacher translated for me), play some counting games to help their English and we all enthusiastically sang the Hokey Pokey. Once again to help with their English but this time for naming the parts of the body. They knew the song in Tongan and were quite excited about recognising the tune. I think it got a bit cheeky for the conservative teacher when we got to the bit about putting your backside in and wiggling it all about. The missionaries did a good job here. The Togans are a pious people. atonganpiglet

The teacher, her husband, their toddler and four month old were all staying in what appeared to be the tool shed of the school. I doubt an Australian teacher would tolerate such conditions. She’d come from another island and stays at the school during the week and she and her family return to their home island for the weekends. As she hadn’t received her first pay yet, the parents of the students were feeding them. When I took the class the teacher placed her toddler on her desk and he happily amused himself for the hour or so I was there by playing with a ruler and listening to the stories. He required no individual attention throughout the session. It wasn’t just him that was placid, the whole school had a calm feel about it. It was lovely spending time with these peaceful and content children.

The remainder of our time was doing what we love the most. Visiting remote anchorages and relaxing.

The remainder of our time was doing what we love the most. Visiting remote anchorages and relaxing.

There is a sense of calmness and a relaxed atmosphere over the whole of the Vavu Island group and I doubt that the rest of Tonga is any different. There is still plenty more to see but we are checking out, saying goodbye to all our friends who are heading off to New Zealand or Indonesia and heading for Fiji. Time is getting on and the cyclone season is fast approaching. It will be strange for us to continue on our way without the chance meetings with our cruiser friends that we have enjoyed so much. Only a few will follow in our wake all the way to Australia. More pics…

The fire dancers were entertaining.

The fire dancers were entertaining.

This lovely young Tongan had a gospel tattooed on his arm.

This lovely young Tongan had a gospel tattooed on his arm.

 

I was a source of misinformation because I told Jytte that the entertainment was traditional dancing. She left her guests to come and watch... Well one member of the group DID dress up in a traditional costume to entertain us. Sorry Jytte! (She nearly killed me)

I was a source of misinformation because I told Jytte that the entertainment was traditional dancing. She left her guests to come and watch… Well one member of the group DID dress up in a traditional costume to entertain us. Sorry Jytte! (She nearly killed me)

Mamma was just hanging there chilling out

Mamma was just hanging there chilling out

The owners live and work in this little gallery known as the 'Ark gallery'. We bought a nice print from the artist.

The owners live and work in this little gallery known as the ‘Ark gallery’. We bought a nice print from the artist.

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