Tag Archives: Be and Be

Ile Des Pins –New Caledonia

The sail down from Ouvea towards the Iles Des Pins can be a difficult one. With the sea running from the SE and the wind regularly set from there as well, it can be a long beat. PJ of Stormy Monday had suggested that rather than going straight for the island, we should run on to the main island, go inside the reef and take our time in the sheltered water exploring the rarely used anchorages on the E side of the island. It made sense so we initially headed for  about  two thirds of the way down the island. As we cleared Ouvea, we found that the wind was from a wonderfully unexpected ENE direction so we hardened up and aimed further S to take advantage of it.

The next morning found us inside the reef in flat sheltered water and we pushed motor sailed SE the last few miles to Pass de Tare and anchorage described to us as a cyclone hole. We went in and found ourselves in a wonderfully sheltered bay, completely surrounded by forest. Wolfi and Cathi were in just before us having pushed a bit harder upwind. With a good muddy bottom, we anchored in 40’.

We spent a day looking around and met a delightful Frenchman who had been given permission from the locals to convert a small patch of one of the islands into a vegetable  garden. Once a violinist in Paris, we had found his way to New Caledonia and had never left. He does some trading with the locals and enjoys his life parked up in the bay.

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We moved on early the next morning escorted out of the pass by a couple of dolphin for the short jump to Iles Des Pins. There are a couple of routes into the huge sheltered nature park and we chose to head for Bay de Gadji which is on the N of the island. With only 15miles from Bay de Tare, it didn’t take us long but we had time to catch a King Mackerel. Finally, a fish with white flaky meat!

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We arrived to find Nigel on Varaiki leading a group of Rally boats off, all ducks in a row,  towards the narrow pass to the main town on S side of the island,  Hannah was disappointed to see her friends charge off but as we pointed out, Rally fleets are normally a bit more focused on moving on and are running to a timetable, something we have always tried not to do!

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We parked up for the first night at  a v sheltered anchorage in about 25’ of water just on the W side of the channel outside Bay de Gadji. The next morning having recce’d the route, we moved 500m E into the far shallower Bay de Gadji in 10’ of water into the whitest sand we had seen since the Bahamas. What a place! Lou has posted on Facebook that this is her favourite anchorage of the whole trip and it is difficult to argue with her. A huge area of sheltered water with great holding, oh so white sand and for the first few days at least little wind  meaning that Skylark looked as if she was floating on air, the water so flat and clear.

The original plan was to stay for a couple of days but we just loved it here. Joined by Be and Be and Plastik Plankton we had a great time being surrounded by beauty.

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Geoff decided he needed some time away from it all and took himself off on his paddleboard. He didn’t need to go far to find peace! I rather liked his style.

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We had a period of fantastic calm and beautiful sunsets. These are my two favourites. I’m quite proud of them considering they were taken on our little compact.

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Of course, as always with Hannah involved there was a continued drive for sleepovers and after several, we managed to get rid of the whole problem by suggesting a camping exhibition to one of the islands. The suggestion was joyously taken up by the smalls and we had a great time finding wood enough for the fire, selecting the right trees for the hammocks and then agreeing who would be sleeping with who.

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The view from the campsite was pretty impressive.

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Of course the adults couldn’t simply desert the kids so we got to visit, feed and water and hang out at the camp, at least until the kids told us it was time for us to leave them on their own.

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With one girl in each hammock, there was a minimum of strife. Shelby, smart girl she is, decided to enjoy the relative peace of Be and Be without her siblings!

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After rousing the kids out early after a few days ashore, we moved around to Kuto, the village in the main bay on the S side of the island where the ferry comes in. The ladies were disappointed again by the lack of fresh product available in the shop (singular). When pushed the shopkeeper said there might be fresh coming in by ferry a few days hence but it wouldn’t last long. I find it amazing that the service from Noumea to the outer islands is so poorly operated. With a fast foot ferry operating a couple of times a day, there must be opportunity for someone to spark. At the moment the only people who get reasonable service amd access to the plentiful produce of the main island are the hotels who ship in their own.

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We operated a taxi service in and out of the dock as you aren’t allowed to tie up to the ferry dock or the passenger dock (reserved for cruise liners) and we weren’t happy leaving the boat on the beach. It worked well and we all got to run about. Hannah did a good job as Dinghy Captain.

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The bay at Kuna has Dugongs in it. We kept a good look out for them but all we saw was the very occasional glimpse of a dark shape as it rolled underwater. We even tried a engine off drift through where we though we had seen a couple but with no success. Similar to Manatee, the big difference is the tail which looks like a Whales rather than the spade the Manatee has.

We climbed N’Ga, the highest hill on the island which overlooks the bay. Hannah had to hauled up the last little bit. Hot, bothered and without Eleanor to motivate her, she was not a happy chappy Smile 

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At 262m, N’Ga isn’t that high but the views are spectacular. With a 360 visage, you can certainly see why the island has its name. Interestingly, the island was originally a penal island and was used by the French to get rid of inconvenient political prisoners for a brief period in the mid 19C. It is a lot nicer than the hell hole of Devil’s Island, made famous in the film Papillion, but it proved to be too expensive to maintain.

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We needed to move on and see a bit more before we left Skylark. There is a huge amount to explore at the S end of New Cal and we could have spent weeks exploring. We looked and discussed, asked opinions, researched online and eventually decided that the weather was settled enough to go for one of the less visited small islands W of Ile Des Pins. Be and Be headed off to pick up family coming out to see them from home. Plastik Plankton and Skylark headed towards our final stop before handing her over, the island of Ua.

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The Island of Tanna – Vanuatu

We had a last hurrah in Fiji at Vuda Point Marina where we had to go to book out from the country. Why the Immigration and Customs staff are based there rather than the somewhat bigger Port Denarau where all the super yachts are, I really don’t know. However, it necessitated us moving the 5 miles across the bay where we got the chance to meet up with Be and Be, languishing in Vuda Point still waiting for the parts to fix their sail drives, broken all the way back in Viani Bay. The kids hung out and had a good time and we said our goodbyes to Peta and Geoff. We are hoping that they will be fixed in time for us all to have a last blast together in New Caledonia. Fingers crossed that the repairs work out.

We made a rather tedious passage across from Fiji to Vanuatu, a distance of about 450miles as the crow flies. The first 36hrs were wild and racy and we charged along. However we fell into a hole and slopped along before the wind turned to our nose and we had to beat. I’m afraid I got v bored and decided to turn on the get there juice. We motored in the last 20 miles to arrive in daylight rather than wait until the next morning.  Tika and Time Bandit had screamed across and both were in over a day ahead of us but handily were able to confirm route in and anchorage. Oh to be 10’ longer and that fast…….

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We had a strange time trying to spot land as we beat up towards Tanna. We could see the island of Futuna, a rarely visited island some 30 miles E of Tanna from a huge distance away, over 50miles but Tanna itself remained obscured until we were 20 miles away.

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We decided that the dragon we saw in the clouds, coming directly from the volcano on Tanna must have had something to do with it!

The Island of Tanna - Vanuatu

We had received permission to enter Vanuatu at Port Resolution on the island of Tanna, not a entry port but the closest anchorage to the famously active Mt Yasur, the most accessible volcano in the world. Although Customs and Immigration Officers will come across the island to book people in (with a significant additional cost), we got permission from Customs HQ at Port Vila, the capital, to simply enjoy our stay and formally book in once we reached Port Vila. We were charged a $50 unnamed entry port fee once we reached Efate. I’ll write more on this issue in our next blog post on Port Vila.

Tanna in the local dialect translates as “earth”. So the story goes, when Capt Cook arrived on the island he lifted up a handful of earth from the ground and asked what it was. Confused, rather than tell him the island name (what I think he was after) the locals said “tanna”. So the island was named on Capt Cooks chart and so it has stayed.

Navionics’ mapping appears to be a problem yet again in Vanuatu. Port Resolution, a major bay on the SE corner of Tanna doesn’t even show up as an anchorage. Thankfully I had bought the Rocket Guide to Vanuatu (a quite excellent publication which I wholeheartedly recommend) which had lots of details and handily, some waypoints that would get me in to the bay. We dropped in about 20’on to hard black sand. Great holding. We were a little surprised to find the bay full of other yachts. However, as we were in the process of dropping the hook, many of them were upping sticks and heading out. The yachts were from the Island Cruising Association Rally from NZ and having had their short stop in Tanna were off again heading N. By the next day they had all gone and it was far more peaceful. The locals mainly fished in the bay and no one used anything else other than a traditional dug out canoe from a single tree with outrigger. We did some trading with a couple of them. Biscuits (cookies), matches and cooking oil were traded for local fruit and veg.

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The bay initially had a NW wind blowing, bringing ash from the volcano down in to the anchorage. We had been told if the volcano was active this could be dangerous, hot ash not going well with fibreglass hulls but all we got was a very fine black power in great quantity. We tried to keep up with the cleaning but it was wasted effort. Note – even a month after our visit to Tanna, we are still washing off black volcanic dust from the deck daily. Pernickety stuff!

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The bay is well sheltered from any wind other than a NE when a sharp sea can set in. The advice is to leave quickly if the wind sets there. Volcanic activity is evident around the bay as well with smoke vents and small hot water springs pouring into the bay on its W side. There is the “Yacht Club” on the E side of the bay where you can arrange trips to local villages, eating out and of course a visit to the volcano. Park your dinghy on the rocky beach by the fishing boats and walk up the hill to the club. The view is lovely and they sell beer! It has a few huts with basic amenities (that doesn’t include lights after dark!) which can be rented. When we were there there was a Australian group of  volunteer dentists and medics staying there. They come in twice a year to treat the locals. They said that if there were problems, all they could do is extractions as there was no way they could do any follow up treatments. Thankfully the generally dental standard of the locals is pretty good, mainly they think because the diet is a traditional one with low sugar content.

After a day of the NW rubbish we had to beat into to reach Tanna, the wind relented and changed back to the more normal SE trade. It was good to meet up with Stop Work Order again who arrived the morning after we did who had a passage much like our own – sloppy and not that quick. Of course the girls were soon in contact and Jaiya, Truly and Hannah were soon as thick as thieves, added to with the arrival of another kids boat, Fluenta with the Shaw family on board.

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The main reason to visit Tanna is the volcano of Mt Yasur. Tika, having arrived 24hrs before us had already liaised with the locals and had arranged for Time Bandit, Tika and ourselves to visit the volcano together. Stop Work Order joined us which led to a bit of fun in the transport.  4+4+5+2 seemed a squeeze for one vehicle and we were promised a second car. Of course it didn’t turn up. I’m sure it wasn’t legal but we all piled in. The big adults went inside and the rest of us clambered in to the cage on the back, holding on for dear life!

The dirt roads on Tanna are a lane and a half (at best) track and are covered by volcanic ash. It made for a dusty and exhilarating bumpy ride for the 20km to the park entrance.  Some of the trees we saw were magnificent, huge banyan type affairs that the locals revere.

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Once we were at the entrance to the park we were welcomed with flowers and then a demonstration of local dancing. These days a trip to the volcano is very commercialised and not cheap. It cost us $60US for the transport and then about another $100US a head for the volcano itself.

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After the short presentation and welcome, we jumped back into the vehicles for the 10min ride up on to the volcanic plain beside the volcano itself. Sadly we didn’t know about the bizarrely placed post box and as there was nowhere to buy either cards or stamps we didn’t get to send Shona, a fan of exotically posted cards, one to remember!

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Mt Yasur itself is fantastic. You arrive about a couple of hours before sunset and troop up under the careful supervision of a bunch of locals. They decided to tighten things up after a tourist got squished by falling debris a few years ago. Health and Safety isn’t a high priority in Vanuatu but they are trying. Active volcanic activity is measured on a sliding scale between 1-5 with anything over 2 being cause for serious concern. We visited when the activity was at 2 which is the highest the authorities will now allow people to approach the caldera. Even so, the initial position we were taken to by the guides became a little dangerous as falling magma from the eruptions, occurring every few minutes, started to land 50m in front of us and we were moved to a new position further to the NW of the caldera. There are no rails or paths to follow as you troop around the edge. Just guidance to stay back a little from it and not to fall in! With more instructions to “Keep looking up and no running” if there was a big explosion ringing in our ears we kept a careful eye on where the wind was and where the fallout was at each mini eruption.

In the daylight, the volcano is mainly to do with bangs and huge billowing clouds of sulphurous smelling nastiness.

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As the sun sets, what was impressive becomes extraordinary as the three different magma tubes feeding into the caldera become very evident. The power of the volcano (in a relative quiet mode) is belittling and you can understand why the locals thought that the volcano speaks with the voice of the Gods. The bangs are bloody noisy. The power of even a small eruption is scary.

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Here is one of the bigger bangs we had.

We were allowed a little more than an hour at the top before being shepherded back to the vehicles and the dusty ride back towards the anchorage.

We had arranged for a meal at one of the locals houses. Sally, the lady in question served us all and another family just in that day for a total of 26 of us sitting down. It was the largest gathering she had ever had. We fed very well for the grand total price of 800vatu a head – about $8. Excellent value for a selection of local dishes, lots of fish and a papaya and banana pudding.

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The three year old dude below is Ben of Fluenta. He decided that dark specs were required and carried the 70’s look off with aplomb. Marvel, take note. A Spiderman of the future!

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Having had four days around the bay and lots of interaction between the four kids’ boats, we headed out a couple of hours after Tiki who were heading straight for Ambrym for the festival due to start there a few days later. Sadly we didn’t get to see the pod of Humpback Whales they saw playing at the entrance to the bay. We just haven’t had the luck.

This was to be the last sail for Eleanor as she would be leaving the boat to return to the UK to start senior school. The wind was kind and we reached N overnight towards Efate, the main island of Vanuatu. Stop Work Order charged past us looking good with the volcano in the background.

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Visitors from Home–The Turnballs are in town (Pt 2)

Fiona, Emma and the kids caught the ferry back to Musket Cove, raided the hotel of their things and returned to us the following day. We had a lovely three days exploring the reefs close to the boat.

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It was a delight having smalls on board again, particularly those that think cleaning and tidying up is fun. Evie took a little more time to get the hang of a big pair of binos! Our thanks to the excellent Evie for all her help.

The ladies and Henry went on a snorkel with the resort at the Sandbar, the closest dive site to Musket Cove on the inside of the reef, which they said was pretty good. Fiona had had to point out to the management that advertising free activities and then trying to charge for them wasn’t on. It didn’t take her long to having them backing down!

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Henry, Emma, Louise and I went out to explore the Sunflower Reef at the atoll pass entrance to Malolo which was excellent. In somewhat rougher conditions a couple of days later with Skylark unable to anchor, Emma and I tried a dive there on the way back in to Port Denarau which was average at best until we came upon a turtle resting on the bottom. We sat and watched each other for a couple of minutes before it effortlessly swam off. Just beautiful. Sadly, for once I hadn’t taken my Gopro so no photographic evidence.

The local paper had announced that the Nadi Rgby Club were to host a match against a team from Suva and we headed back to Nadi excitedly to watch it.   Henry and I were a little surprised and a bit annoyed to find the stadium filled with teenage marching bands, a Miss Nadi competition in full swing and a wonderfully colourful Hari Krishna group going great guns at one end of the park.

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The match had been switched to Suva so the local Bula Festival, a week long event, could be held in the grounds. We went to the fair ground to make up for it and the kids went on dangerous looking rides that UK H&S people would have fits about and ate lots of sugary mess instead.

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With the imminent arrival of Natalia and kids, we took Fiona and Emma back to the hotel they had occasionally utilised. We spent their last couple of days with us around Nadi. There was an expedition down to the sand dunes at the Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park where boogie boards were deployed to surf the dunes. We splashed out and got the hotel transport down to it for $180 return for all of us. It took about an hour and a half to get there and it was well worth it for the fun the kids had. Some were more successful than others in sliding down the slope. Dips in the sea were required to remove sand from the unmentionables.

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Henry had an assignment to have a photo of himself reading a book at an exotic location. We thought that sitting on the back deck of the $45m, 150’ long super yacht “Skade”, rather fitted the bill and wouldn’t be beaten by anyone else in his class!

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For our final meal with Fiona and Emma, we went had a run ashore at the Rhum Ba and rather took over the place with Be and Be, Fata Morgana, Invictus, Natalia and the kids and the Sangvind kids all joining in for a great night.  The pizza went down well as did the caffeine laced cocktails so loved by Peta and Geoff. We managed to have a good chat with Tobi about our next destination the Yasawa Islands and Vanuatu. Sadly we wouldn’t be seeing Invictus for the great kids get together planned later in the month as they would be heading to Vanuatu. 

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It had been great fun to catch up and to be able so show Fiona and Emma that our lifestyle is rather good fun.  We will miss especially the smalls of Stella (pint sized smiley trouble!) and Evie (The Skippers’s little helper/limpet) but we are looking forward to catching up with everyone, including our new friends, Emma and Evie back in the UK. Won’t be long!

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A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We decided to return to the Paradise Resort at the S end of Taveuni for a day or so of being spoilt before Shena and Kinsley were to head home. After the quiet of The Laus it was nice to be able to sit by the pool, relax with a beer and just do nothing.  The kids of course were a little more energetic, playing in the pool and cliff jumping.

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The ladies worked on the tan and enjoyed trying the cocktails. Kinsley asked to go up the mast and I obliged. She took some good photos, even having time for some classy selfies!A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

Having asked about getting up to the Waitavala Natural Rock Waterslide, close to Somosomo, a famous attraction of the island, we were dissuaded from using the resort transport at $100+ a head for the visit. We were also told that the lack of rain meant they weren’t worth visiting them. I’m glad we decided to ignore the advise!

We moved the boat up to Somosomo, the main town on the W side of Taveuni and anchored just to the N of the river mouth in about 25’. We used the well stocked supermarket there and found (eventually) where we could buy bread. [As an aside, this anchorage was where Belinda of Free Spirit, visiting a few days later, was followed by an adult 4-5m Tiger Shark. She was lucky. She thought the villagers shouting out to her as she took a swim to cool down were simply being friendly. There was an intake of breathe when she was approached by a couple the next morning where they explained why they had been trying to get her notice!]

The ladies dinghied ashore and caught a taxi, who for the grand total of $6 took the whole party to the start of the walk up to the naturally formed waterslide. The walk takes you past Fiji’s prison and onward up into the forest. It was great fun. The younger ones fired down with little hassle and no problems.

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The older generation (whose with hips!) had a few more problems with the bumps and Shena came down with bruises on her unmentionables to remind her of how much fun she had had!

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The trip was rounded off back in Somosomo with a great meal. Cheap and with huge portions, the Indian on the balcony (can’t remember its name) gets recommended.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

To ease Shena and Kinsley’s trip to the airport we moved up to an anchorage at Matei, a couple of km S from where they needed to go and Shena got to see in one last Fijian dawn. A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We need not have worried about being there two hours before to book in. The airport has a hatch which is the cafe and a desk where you hand your luggage in. Check in was simple and the taxi driver we were with announced that we may as well wait somewhere better than the airport, the airport man said ok and we headed off for a last repast and tomfoolery at a cafe overlooking Matei bay, where we were anchored. A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We had great fun with Kinsley and Shena and it has been wonderful to be able to catch up with both of them. We like to thank Kinsley in particular for the advise and chats she had with Eleanor. It is wonderful to meet a young teen with no hang ups at all! All we need to do next is work out where we will next meet up. USA or the UK? Both are possible.

With the boat feeling empty again, we moved down to Viani Bay where I had arranged when we were all the way back in Nuie, for my ScubaPro regulator to be serviced by Fiji Dive Academy, the first time I’d found someone competent in the Pacific to do so. Viani Bay is a safe anchorage, wonderfully protected by Taveuni just to its E which stops the clouds and weather dead. The bay is inside a world famous dive site called Rainbow Reef, particularly known for its soft coral.  We met up with our friends Be and Be and Invictus. The anchorage is deep, rarely less than 20m and is covered with bommies. When we came to leave, all three of us had wrapped and each had to do the “dance of the bommies” in an attempt to unwrap. They both got lucky and came free. I had to dive to 20m to get the anchor point out from under an old lump of coral. It was completely jammed. If I hadn’t been able to dive and alone, we would have been in a world of hurt.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

Most of the dives are wall or drift dives as the current in the Somosomo Pass can run up to 4kts, making dive selection times important. However there is a good selection of shallower dives on the inside for learners to practise on too.

The Fiji Dive Academy is a new venture between partners Marina and Jone. Jone, originally from Taveuni went to Germany to train up as a dive instructor, where he met Marina, at that time a keen diver. After they got together, they decided to return to Fiji and set up a school with the aim of teaching and training locals. After the normal fight with officialdom they got their commercial license and set up the school in Viani Bay. Now with some basic buildings set up and the shop really taking shape, they are progressing to building living accommodation for divers to stay with them and are slowly clearing the ground, planting grasses to prettify everything. It should look fantastic once it is all finished.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

I’d also recommended the Fiji Dive Academy to Be and Be who had at least one budding diver in Shelby on board after her try outs with me in Bora Bora. As it was, by the time they arrived, we found that EVERYONE on board had decided they wanted to give it a go! Jake, still a little young got to do a bubblemaker dive with Marina. He will need to wait a couple of years before he can take his Junior Open Water. Peta did her OW and Shelby, Harry and Evie did their JOW.

One of the disadvantages of just being an Open Water (OW) diver is that you are limited to a depth of 18m. A lot of the better dives are to be found at greater depths, Rainbow Reef included. Fine if you are diving by yourself when you can ignore the PADI rules but you are limited as soon as you dive with a school who need to see your qualification card for insurance purposes.  I’d thought about doing the Advanced Open Water (AOW) course done to allow me to get trained properly to do deeper dives. Geoff decided he may as well get in on the act and we both signed up for the course. Shelby was allowed to do a zero to hero and join us too but was limited to 21m for her deep dive due to her age. I did think about letting Eleanor do it too but the age limit of 12 snookered us. It will have to wait until she is back in the UK. Geoff and I also decided to get qualified as a deep diver specialist. This lifted our dive permissions from 30 to 40m. Our qualifying dive to the Great White Wall, one of the best soft coral walls in the world at 35m+ was fantastic. Although severely damaged by Cyclone Winston a couple of years ago, it was great to see the regrowth of healthy white and yellow banks of soft coral.

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We dived for a week and the Rainbow Reef lived up to its world class reputation. Magnificant. Mixed in with the course were dives with the famous Jack, a retired dive master who will take you to the local dive sites for the princely sum of  $20 a diver. Good value if you have your own equipment. Eleanor and I did a couple of dives with the Be and Be crowd. It was great fun to see all the newly qualified smalls swimming together, all intensely interested in everything around them – some of the time. Upside down skills and winding up siblings were practised too. We visited the Cabbage Patch, an amazing coral growth and then the Fish Factory, good but of less interest than the Cabbage Patch.

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We had an evening at the dive school with all the boaties, divers and lots of locals, together enjoying a great range of food, kava and music with a big fire blazing close by. Marina and Jone have been organising one party a week and it is a nice way for everyone to come together. I hope they continue it as the school develops and builds. It was a good evening.

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We also had a round of socials on a variety of boats. Swiftsure, Blowing Bubbles and Free Spirit all hosted huge numbers on board. The standard of music was very high with Carl and his ukulele leading the way. He even managed to find time to give the kids a lesson too – very kind.

We also tried to keep up on that education thing. The kids visited the primary school, right next door to the dive school and were welcomed for the day. The school asked for any assistance we could give and we made a small donation to aid them buy equipment. If you were going to the bay, reference books and teaching material would go down well too. Harry made a name for himself by being his normal, hugely enthusiastic self and his dancing skills!

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Although I could have happily mortgaged my soul to be able to continue diving with Marina and Jone, we had to move on. With Morag and Alice coming in a little over a weeks time, we needed to start moving towards Nadi on the W side of the main island, Viti Levu.

We said our goodbyes to Marina and Jone and moved with Be and Be and Invictus to Paradise Resort for one last night of fun there. We arrived to find dolphin in the anchorage and the news that two humpback had been through the anchorage the night before. Hannah and I jumped in for her very first dive.

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Her enthusiasm to get in was admirable. Once she had worked out how to clear her ears effectively, she had great fun. We sat at around 6m and watched the sea life go by. She came up with a big smile on her face and we have another one set to do her JOW before we return to the UK.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

We timed it well. The resort does a Fijian night once a week and we had arrived just in time to join in. The food is prepared traditionally in a earth oven and is fantastic. The whole affair is made a spectacle.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

The locals put on a dance show with most of the dancers being the kids of the staff which leads to lots of staff participation. I got the feeling that they were enjoying it at least as much as the “guests”! To finish us off, we were invited to drink kava with the team.

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to NadiA return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

I rather think I overindulged, partly because I was asked to take the Chief’s position which meant that I got to call the start of the next round (a graceful nod in my direction and instruction on the words of command). Whilst most people got a half cup, I seemed to get loaded up. The beer chasers probably didn’t help either…….. Peta and I were amongst the last to leave and I’m afraid we carried on the motion until the small hours on Skylark. A great, fun night even if we did suffer for it the next morning.

We headed off planning to make the pass through the reef at before last light and then sail down to Nadi overnight. As soon as we cleared the shelter on the S tip of Taveuni, I knew we were in trouble. The wind grew to 25+kts and we were getting side swiped by a southerly swell. It would have been an interesting sail if we had had the main working but under genoa alone, it was just painful trying not to get knocked off course. As the wind went past 30kts, I decided discretion is the better part of valour and we aborted the run W to put into the anchorage at the Jacque Cousteau resort for a sheltered night of sleep.

The next morning after having a quick visit from Ding, we stuck our nose out again but the wind had not eased and the seas had grown. After one of the shortest discussions Lou and I have had in passage selection and for once in total agreement (S- “this is crap”, L – “yes, really crap”)  we turned tail again and headed back into the shelter of Savusavu.

It meant that we needed to reorganise Morag’s flights to move her up to us but better that than have to waste the few days we would have to wait until the weather abated enough for a safe passage.

Ah well, Savusavu is not a bad place to be. Time for a bit of restocking

A return to Paradise, diving in Viani Bay and an aborted sail to Nadi

P1100464

Vanua Balavu

The overnight sail from Fulaga was an easy one with us running or broad reaching in 20-25kts true from the SSE. Sheltered behind the reef from the Pacific seas running in at Fiji, all we experienced was the fetch inside the reef. It wasn’t more than 1.5m until we got quite close to Vanua Balavu when it increased to about 2m.

Sadly during the night, although we had a preventer set, Skylark gybed a couple of times. At first light, we noticed damage to the cars. All three of the old cars I didn’t change when we damaged the old sail S of Haiti had broken, being pulled off the mast. We quickly dropped the main and went on with a reefed genoa only. We won’t be using the main until we can get replacements. Hopefully something else for Morag to bring out if we can organise in time. Don’t worry, Morag. They are small!

Vanua Balavu

I choose to enter Vanua Balavu by the pass on its W side, the Andivanthi Passage. I had read in the Fiji Compendium that the charts were inaccurate again and punched some waypoints in to the chart plotter to help me. Just as well that I did. Although we had good light and I had expert eyes in Lou and Shena forward, I hadn’t realise that in this day and age the charts could be so inaccurate. I worked out they were off set at 066mag and with a distance of 0.424Nm. WTF, Navionics?

We got through the pass without issue, dodging a couple of big bommies as we did. I wouldn’t go near it without good light as it is narrow and you do have to wind a bit.  We went across the deep bay to the village of  Daliconi  and anchored at 17 13.210S 178 57.992W in about 25’ on rock and sand. Shena admired the airstrip just to the S of the village. Must be a fun landing set at that angle! One of only three islands in the Laus with an airstrip, Vanua Balava merits two flights a week.

Vanua Balavu

Dalaconi is a neat village in the midst of rebuilding itself having been hit very badly by Cyclone Winston, the first cat 5 beast to hit Fiji, in 2015. It devastated large parts of Fiji and killed over 40. Communications to Vanua Balava were cut off for four days. After a quick sevusevu ceremony (the Chief was away) we were free to proceed. Note that the village no longer asks for a $30 fee per head for access to the island (as detailed in the Fiji Compendium). If you would like to make a contribution, it is gratefully received and noted in the visitors book. I think that the village has had to change its tune having lost out to the privately owned “yacht club” on the N side of the island which had also been giving sevusevu ceremonies. It had only 37 yachts in 2016 turn up to see them. We were told that two large rallies were currently parked up on the N side of the island, some 40 yachts, none of whom were visiting the village.  New ways; old ways. Old ways losing out……

We decided to move around to the Bay of Islands, a couple of miles W from Daliconi. When I saw the route I had to use, I decided to take things very slow. There is a post marking the reef to the W of Yaniahaloa island which you need to find and go round. All the posts we saw (some are missing, including all the reef entrance markers for our entry and exit) are damaged and are either rusted and at an angle or stumps.

The posts take some spotting, even if you know they should be there.  In the end I just used the plotter as a chart and ignored my trace showing me wandering over the reefs and islands, taking base bearings from the chart and using my wonderful Steiner binos with integrated compass to find my way. Interesting times.

Once you have got through an internal reef and into the channel that takes you up to the pillars, the scenery is lovely. There is still a fair amount of reef beneath the steep sided hills that line your route and shelter you from the prevailing wind but mid channel there is plenty of water. We spotted some tucked away beaches that if you had time would be great fun to kayak in to to explore.

A small piller at the edge of the channel

After about a mile, you reach the entrance to the tight route through the pillars to the Bay of Islands

Lou watching out as we weave through the pillers

Vanua Balavu

Although concentrated in to a small area (no more than 1x1km), the pillars are spectacular, a mini version of the James Bond set for “The Man with the Golden Gun” in Thailand. Tightly packed together there is one safe route and we motored through Ships Sound and Shoal Pass carefully. We went over an unmarked bommie showing just 5’ of water at about 17 10.509S 179 00.897W. The water visibility is not good in the channel and even with a high sun, we didn’t see the rock until we were on it. Keep left in the channel, close to the island, to miss it.

Vanua Balavu

After wandering around trying to find a suitable anchorage in the deep water of the bay, we parked up on the edge of the channel at 17 10.661S 179 01.082W  on sand in 15’just behind a small reef between two of the islets. It meant we got a good breeze through the boat and we hoped this would keep the bugs away. We needn’t have worried. For once, no mosquitos.

We spent a two days here. The kids got to have fun in the rubber ring Julia and John of Mary Ann II had given us. Unfortunately Eleanor bounced out and smacked herself hard at speed but she survived. Shena and Hannah went off exploring and found a shallow patch between two of the pillars to laze around at.

Vanua Balavu

The ladies took themselves off and relaxed. I stayed behind and nursed the infected coral cut which I had picked up before Shena and Kinsley arrived. Even after judicious use of rubbing acohol, scrubbing it out and externally applied triple antibiotic cream, it had turned in to a tropical sore on my shin. As we left Fulaga, I swapped to oral antibiotics, Amoxicilana, suggested to us by Mia all the way back in Galapagos as a useful addition to our medical kit. I’m very glad we listened to her. 48hrs later and the sore had stopped weeping pus and looked immeasurably better. I deciding I needed a few more days out of the water to let it heal up.

For the ladies, it was a time of simple pleasures, exploring by kayak, playing in the shallow water and lazily sun bathing.

Vanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua BalavuVanua Balavu

Kinsley’s underwater camera, the same one that Harry from Be and Be has, works well.

Vanua Balavu

Three boat loads of local men came by as the ladies were rinsing off on the back step, calling loudly, waving and smiling as they went by. I think they may have been enjoying the view.

Vanua Balavu

We spent a second day just kicking back and relaxing. Shena reintroduced herself to the pleasures of Nutella and peanut butter mixed on a single spoon…. Best when taken in quantity, it seems!

Nutella and peanut butter

We left to Vanua Balavu to return to Taveuni as Shena and Kinsley had but a few days left and wanted to visit a couple of sites on that island.

Navigation around the island as we went out was a little difficult with the chart plotter and Navionics still wildly inaccurate, never fun with lots of reef around. The waypoints I found in the Fiji Compendium to and through the Quilaquila Pass were spot on again. Hannah cooked dinner, a spag bol, as we heading towards the pass. It meant fun cutting onions up and after some tears, she eventually found a dress state that was kind to her eyes!

Hannah cutting onionsCutting onions 2

The actual Quilaquila Pass itself is reasonably easy as there are two large white leading marks on the shore. It meant I watched backwards adjusting course as we motored through the pass, about 3/4 of a mile in length due to the number of rocks sticking up outside the reef but we were soon back into deep water. With little sea and about 20kts from the SE, we rolled out the genoa and set off W for an overnight passage of about 60Nm back to the Paradise Resort.

Vanua Balavu

Tonga

We sailed the 250 miles or so from Niue in moderate seas and winds in two days. The first 36hrs were running and we managed a few hours up with the parasail but with no moon, overcast and the odd squall, we choose not to run it at night. The last night was under plain sail after the wind went back into the SE and we just had the angle to fill the genoa on a broad run. Pleasant sailing.

We even manage to catch a fish! A lovely big Mahi Mahi threw itself on our hook. It took a bit of time to get it on board but it gave us meat enough to feed Be and Be and us twice, Shane, the Irish solo sailor we last saw in Raiatea and the crew of an Aus boat called Persistent Shift, another Lavezzi. It tasted wonderful cooked in sesame oil and S+P.

Tonga

We reached the Ava Fonua Unga pass on the E side of the Vava’u Group, the northern island group of Tonga and went through the shallow pass without difficulty. We had been warned that our charts might be significantly off but Navionics seemed to roughly accurate. There was a little reef to avoid on the inside but after sailing in the Tuamotus, we were comfortable reading the seas colour and recognising the dangers. It was an easy entrance in the conditions we had. NB. We have found that the charts are generally accurate but there have been some howlers. Most reefs are marked but there are omissions and the depths shown must have been guessed at in places. The call is easy. Travel with a high sun and be suspicious always.

We arrived on Sunday afternoon and anchored in Port Maurelle on the island of Kapa, a lovely bay where the first Spanish sailor put in for shelter and to water back in 1781. There was a spring running down the hill, used by Maurelle and until recently; the locals. With modern plumbing and rain catching tanks being now used, the spring has been left to overgrow and now feeds a swamp. It was great to listen to the songbirds, the first we had heard on the boat for a long time. As dusk fell, the kids got really excited to see huge fruit bats flying overhead, heading back to their roost.

Tonga

Be and Be arrived mid afternoon having had a few problems with their main, some baton cars blowing up on them necessitating a move to the W of the island to find sheltered water to get the main down and sort things out. They have had to order a couple of new cars, thankfully finding replacements in Australia so they should have less problems and wasted time than we did when we broke our cars going in to Cuba in 2015.

On Monday morning, we moved up to Neiafu, the main town and port of entry for the Vava’u Group. We waited a little while at the rough dock shared with the fishing fleet for the Customs, Immigration and Health staff to visit us.

Tonga

We had no problems that couldn’t be settled with a smile, cake and coffee. We were cleared in without issue. I took the chance to run across to “Problems in Paradise?” , the small engineering business in a boat shed beside the dock and was able to get Ian, the excellent mechanic to come and have a look at the genset. Lou ran into town and got some local wonga to pay our entrance fees, then found where the laundry was and whilst I waited for Ian, disappeared to look around.

Tonga

Neiafu is fairly large, containing the majority of the 16000 inhabitants of the Vava’u Group. There are a number of small supermarkets, all seemingly run by the ever present and hard working Chinese, several slightly seedy bars and a couple of banks. The town has a down beaten look and there is not a lot of money evident. The largest building in good nick seems to be a government one, ironically watched over by an enormous derelict colonial house which probably had the same function 50 years ago. There is a good sized mooring field, some run by Moorings and more by Beluga Diving as the depth for anchoring in the bay is a bit too much for most, mainly between 50-75m. Call them on Ch 26 or 09 for a ball.

Tonga

After Ian had come and gone, I walked up to find Lou, Peta and kids settled in in the Tropicana Cafe, washing on at a very good $18Fijian per load for a wash and dry, beers in hand, looking happy. The Tropicana is the main dropping in place for yachties,has good internet, and Greg will accept mail and parcels on your behalf. He can be called on Ch26, the channel which is rebro’d around the whole of the island group. For those needing new films, he has the largest collection of films and series that I have ever seen to exchange. The food is pretty good too. He can supply flags, charts and is a good source of info for your stay in Tonga.

The local currency is the Panga, which exchanges at about $3:£1

We had been told that Tonga was useless for internet, reason enough for us to get all our advance notice paperwork for Fiji in all the way back in Bora Bora. I’d like to announce things have changed massively for the better. We bought a phone sim card for $10 which gave us 2Gb of data. The 3G has been excellent for most of our sailing through the islands and the speed is at least to FP standard, generally much better. There was some free internet at a couple of the cafes but it was far easier (and cheaper) to buy the sim card and then hotspot it. The local provider is Digicel and the shop is found in the middle of town close to the Customs, just up the hill from the market.

We spent two nights on mooring balls, moving to the wall during the day so Ian and I could work on genset. In the end, he did the drilling out and fitting of new stainless steel studs and I did the rebuild, new gasket, replumbing and a change of impellor too. Once everything was back in place, the sound of the genset running sweet and clear of smoke brought a smile to my face. One less thing to worry about.

Shopping proved successful as well. Last year there had been problems with delivery ferries making it up to Vava’u and shopping was difficult. The problem seems to have been fixed and this year there are multiple ferries a week. There is a good selection of fresh, canned and dried food and there is even an excellent deli run by a couple of Canadian settlers who make the best sausages we have tasted in the Pacific. Sorry NZ but your sausages really are crap in comparison….

We watched the arrival of more and more World Arc Rally boats. This rally takes you around the world in about 15mths and we have been managed to be just in front of them since Bora Bora. I talked to one (professional) crew member and his comment was that he was sailing then provisioning then sailing, very occasionally being able to sightsee for a day. I get the sailing bit  – around the world will always be a massive achievement – but I rather think not experiencing the cultural differences of all the places you pass is somewhat missing the point of travelling. Just my opinion, of course.

As the original fleet was more than 30 and it has dropped to 20, I think some folk might just have decided that too. They will be here in Tonga for a few days, then Fiji then Darwin by the end of July to be able to cross to Cape Town in season. We won’t have left Fiji by then!

When we were in Panama last year, we had been given a copy of the sailing guide Moorings give to their Tonga customers. It has proved to be very helpful. As the water is very deep for the majority of the Vava’u area, Moorings has put in buoys in the safe anchorage spots that they recommend. Although it means less clear anchoring areas, it is protecting the sea bed, so we didn’t feel bad in picking them up when we saw them. They all seem to be in reasonable nick but I’d prefer to be on my own anchor if the wind was blowing in hard.

The sailing reminded me very much of the BVIs but better protected and less civilised. This is not a swept up tourist destination; rather an isolated gem of a cruising ground. Load up when you arrive as there are no other shops and don’t expect the beach bar life of the BVI. The water is wonderfully protected, the scenery is beautiful and there are few people here.

Tonga

We moved around to join Sangvind, last seen at Raiatea at a small island between Mafana and Ofu, where some old friends had taken up residence on an island they have leased. To reach them , we went through through the Fanu Tapu Pass. The pass has no markings anymore (there was supposed to be three of them) and you need to read the reef carefully as you make the last turn to 010Mag. Turn early and you will find yourself dodging bommies. A few miles N, we anchored between Mafana and Ofu in about 25’ of water on a sand bank between two deep patches. We had one night there and moved even further E to the island of Kenutu, at a sheltered anchorage at 18 41.967S 173 55.759W in 20’ of water.

Tonga

A strange rock formation at the S end of the island looked very much like a warship.

Tonga

You need to be a little careful going from the channel to the anchorage for the last half mile E but in good light it should pose no problems. The kids went ashore and camped there for two nights. We got a decent fire going, heating the kids’ food on it and of course, had marshmallows, found in one of the supermarkets.

Camping ashoreTongaTongaTongaTongaTonga

The adults retired. Bliss and quiet on the boats…..

Tonga

At the next island up, Umuna, we explored for a fresh water swimming cave that Sylvia remembered from their last visit to Tonga some ten years ago. After one unsuccessful climb up to 30m cliffs, we moved up one bay and met an Aus couple, Mark and Annie who had built a house on the island and were planning to spend large parts of the year there. The view W from the house was spectacular and they have put in an impressive amount of work to make a garden from the jungle surrounding them. Sadly a tree had fallen across the entrance of the cave which was just behind their house and it was suggested that it was too dangerous to enter.

Tonga

As they had rights for the whole island, they had constructed a walkway through to a decked area on the E side of the island and we explored that too. What a sunrise from there must be like………. The kids of course charmed Annie but the find of a dead rat was infinitely more interesting to them than the views! Our thanks to them for allowing us to wander on their land.

Tonga Tonga

You might remember that my log and depth thing had stopped working due to a immersed and rotten connector between the data cable and the bus. I had attempted to clean it out, drilling out the old screws and wire so we could reconnect it. Geoff, a professional electrician with his own business back in Aus spent some time expertly soldering wire into it before one of the connector male spines maddeningly broke off, frustrating both of us. In the end Geoff hot wired the data cable directly into the bus connector, wrapped it with electrical tape and tied it up in a plastic bag. We switched on and voila! Depth, log, true and apparent wind all back up and showing. Two positive results in two days! My thanks to Geoff for a lesson on electrics. It is always good when someone with the knowledge can show you the way.

After a good time playing Robinson Crusoe, we headed round to meet up with Ben and Lisa, friends of Sylvia and Frans who had invited us all to a party with the Peace Corp staff for the area. Having been abandoned by the kids (“soooo much more fun on Be and Be or Sangvind” ) Lou and I went for a sail – an actual sail – just for the sake of it. We tried to remember the last time we sailed for fun rather than to go somewhere and we think it was in Grenada…… The wind was light and the sea flat. We even enjoyed beating across to the reef pass which we sailed through.

We sailed to Tapana and stopped for lunch, then had another great relaxed sail to Matamaka, the village the Peace Corp are based at. We picked up a mooring ball just off the jetty. Sangvind appeared with another yacht following. As they passed them going the other way, they saw they had kids and invited them to the party too. The Nelly Rose, an X-Boat from NZ had two kids on board, Ollie (9) and Alana (8). They will be sailing Tonga and Fiji this season. Navionics says we picked up on a reef. We were definitely in 30’ of water.

Tonga

The sunset was spectacular.

Tonga

The evening was great fun, sitting outside in the grounds of the Corp’s compound and the music, courtesy of Frans’s guitar playing, was excellent. We slept late the next morning.

We moved so we could be out of sight for the Sabbeth and returned to Port Maurelle, just a couple of miles away with the boys from Sangvind and Evie and Harry from Be and Be (“soooo much more fun on your boat…….” –  there is theme going on here) on board. I gave the kids the collective task of getting us there without hitting anything. Between the four of them they did a good job.

Tonga

Port Maurelle was very busy with lots of the ARC boats in.  We anchored cheeky close to the reef on the S side of the bay in about 9’ of water. Pesto moved around to join us too. We made ourselves at home and created noise! Ten kids playing exuberantly made perhaps more noise than one or two boats liked. I’m afraid I didn’t care.

Tonga

We visited Swallow Cave, set in a cliff a mile from the anchorage. It is large enough to drive the dinghy in with two large water chambers (sadly decorated with lots of graffiti) and another dry that you would have to climb to. We decided not to explore it as we watched a water snake slither over the route we would have had to take. Unfortunately a little bit of tomfoolery on the Be and Be dinghy meant a lost mask overboard. Geoff tried to dive for it but we measured the depth at about 16m, too deep for either of us to get down to comfortably. We went back the next day and dived for it with a tank on.

TongaTonga

We snorkelled outside the cave at a patch of reef. It had a good drop off to about 25m and vis was around 50m, more than we had seen so far in Tonga. There were a small number of reef fish, a few patches of anemones with their resident Orange-finned Anemonefish, the first Barracuda I had seen in  a long time but the coral was very dead.

Tonga

Our last full day was wet as the weather changed. We met a lovely little girl called Paige from a NZ boat up for the season called Ika Moana that day who invited everybody to her boat for her 8th birthday party. Baking was done (cupcakes and Lemon Drizzle cake) and there was a lot of fun involved which included using a spinnaker pole as a swing and an awful lot of screaming. The day ended with some crap US High School Musical that enthralled the kids on Be and Be. I rather think Paige enjoyed herself.

With our need to get to Fiji and with a high projected to sit on us, we decided that we didn’t want to wait and get left with no wind. We wanted to go on Mon 5th but had to stay for the festivities of Independence Day as everything was closed, including all government functions. Leaving Tues 6th meant one more night in Port Maurelle and a final chance to leave gifts for  Dylan and Harry’s impending birthdays. Blackmail and peer pressure not withstanding (Frans – looking at you, bud. Boy, you are good at it!) we decided we had to leave to make sure we reached Fiji before the weekend when the wind was expected to fail.

Tonga has been great fun. It has been lovely to explore it in the company of the kids boats of Be and Be and Sangvind and a surprise to find ourselves in and around more boats than at any time since Nuka Hiva last year. Everyone seems to be on the move again, be it with a rally or as one of the boats appearing from NZ. The season has properly started.

The Vava’u Group of Tonga is a beautiful cruising ground and the best description I can give you is a greener, less civilised BVI. The anchorages are good but often deep, the reefs beautiful (as long as you are careful) and the water flat and protected. It is a magnificent sailing ground. I am surprised there isn’t a bigger cruising fleet here. Saying that, I don’t think I would really want to spend lots of time here. I need the mix of land and sea and Tonga has very little to offer in the way of land based activities and amenities. Perhaps if we had visited the main island group to the S, I’d think differently but the general feel from cruisers I have spoken to is that a couple of weeks here is enough.

Finally, Shena and Kinsley – days to do! Really looking forward to seeing you both.

Tonga

 

Tonga

Niue

What a fascinating, brilliant place. Niue is the one of the smallest independent countries in the world, the island being roughly 12miles by 8 miles. It is traditionally known as “The Rock of Polynesia”. It is an uplifted coral block  and there is very little reef, it standing proud with cliffs up to 30m high all around the islands perimeter. Life holds on tenuously as the soil is not tremendously fertile but there is an ancient “rain forest” on the W side of the island. Traditional farming requires a seven year rotation for the land to recover. In the last few years,  hydroponics has taken over and there is a large farm producing a good stock of fresh veg and salad crops which keeps the island reasonably stocked. One thing it does has is water with huge subsurface stocks easily accessible.

Niue

Its closest neighbour is Tonga, some 250miles away. Once ruled by its kings, these days Niue uses the administrative services of NZ to allow it to interact with the outside world and the currency is the NZ dollar. It has two flights a week, increased this year from one and it gets resupplied by ship once a month. A Premier and three ministers are the senior political positions and there is a NZ Governor on the island too. Niue

Interestingly enough, we met a previous NZ governor here as well, running a bar and mini-golf course. He came, saw, loved, married and stayed on after his time ran out. There is just something about the island, he said………..

Niue was hit very hard in 2004 by Cyclone Heta. The population before Heta was 2500 but large numbers left the island as it did a great deal of damage. The hospital, set 100m back from the sea and up a 30m cliff was washed away as was the Yacht Club beside it. A large number of houses and businesses were destroyed too. Numbers went as low as 1100. Now, some 13 years later, the population is recovering and is back to about 1900. Numbers in the primary school are at 200 and the High School is about 150. Some kids disappear off to relatives and finish school in NZ. Large numbers of the teenagers disappear to NZ for tertiary education. One I spoke to, reading Law at Auckland, intends to return to the island that she loves in her 30’s, once she has built up a war chest. The lady has a definite plan.

Capt Cook visited Niue and tried to land in 1774 but was beaten off by the locals three times. Cook’s Marines had to fire on the islanders to be able to escape and the named the island Savage Island which stuck until it reverted to Niue. He did, however, in the very short period he was here, “plant” the flag and claim Niue in the name of His Majesty. The next foreigner that visited Nuie was some 60 years later! The local language of Niuem is alive and well and is the primary language taught and used in the school. English is the second language. Christianity was introduced in the 1840s by a returning islander, Peniaminus,  who had spent time in Samoa. We visited his grave which is kept in good order. His birthday is now a national holiday.

Niue

Booking in was easy. We called Niue Radio and then the Yacht Club on Ch16. Niue Radio warned off the Customs and Immigration staff who came down to the dock to clear us in, done with big smiles. We are boat number three here this year. We will pay $34 exit tax per head (under 12s are free) and $15 as a one off charge for rubbish. Later this year the price is due to go up to around about $90 a head (stipulated by the NZ authorities) which I think brings it roughly in line with Cook Island charges, another NZ administrated country. The locals aren’t that happy about it as they are concerned that yachties will simply bypass them. Time will tell.

Niue Yacht Club is the biggest little Yacht Club in the world with a membership that now exceeds the actual population of the island. However, it doesn’t own a boat and the clubhouse is shared with the backpackers lodge as the old one disappeared in Cyclone Heta.  Keith, the Commodore of the Yacht Club (and the OCC PO), assigned us a ball just off the jetty and then came down to say hello. He drove Peta and myself around the town to show us the sites. He is a great source of information as he runs one of the orientation tour businesses here and he can point out the local laundry, reasonable at $25 for 8kg, so much better than FP, car hire, will arrange bread and baguettes, keys for the shower block and pretty much anything else you could need. He helped us throughout our trip, taking the ladies shopping and delivering booze and heavy stuff back to the jetty, getting my dive bottles filled after I had inspected a mooring for him and generally looking after us better than anyone else has done in our whole trip. You could class it as extreme island hospitality and he obviously loves what he does but he goes well beyond what I have ever come across before. Just brilliantly welcoming and helpful. He is a star.

Niue

Membership of the club is a $20 a year if you join in Niue and you get a rather spiffy membership card. The money goes a long way to pay for the excellent moorings the club maintains for visiting yachts. I’m afraid I also indulged in a burgee which I will use with pride once I get back to the UK. Fees for the use of the balls is $20NZ a night. It is a small sum for the security they offer in a place it is simply not possible to anchor at. Pay for them up at the club house, a 10 minute walk S from the jetty through the town. There is free (slow) internet and a good book exchange there too.

Niue

We had been told that the water visibility was pristine and so it is. The mooring ball we were on was in 50’ of water and the bottom was crystal clear. 60m underwater visibility is the norm here and it can be better!

Our first visitor to the boat was one we had not seen before – a sea snake. They are inquisitive creatures and it was happy to come and have a good look at us at the back of the boat before diving for the bottom again. Although they are hideously poisonous, it is v v rare that they ever cause injury or death. The poison glands are set very far back in the jaw which is not big enough to be able to bite us.

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Our first day ashore saw us working our way through the village exploring. The kids took themselves off and explored the coastline caves and beaches around the town.  Lunch was a fantastic roti ($5NZ a pop – wow!) at  the Indian restaurant in the “shopping centre”. The couple that run it are from the Punjab and thought about moving to NZ. Niue proved easier to do and so they ended up here and have stayed, loving it. The public internet is pretty slow other than when sitting outside the IT network shop, a couple of doors up from the Indian. There it is good enough to Skype. If you are a local, you get free internet and have had it free since 2003, the first nation in the world to provide such.  It is slated to become the first organic farming nation as well. Not bad for a wee place with less than 2000 inhabitants. These people work hard and dream large.

There were three kids boats in. Be and Be, who arrived just after us and a day later, Pesto, a HR53 with Alex, Adriana, Paulo and Raquel on board. Of course, the kids went feral and had a great time on Be and Be as the adults met on Skylark for sundowners. The next day, Pesto drove around the  island and after school and some internet, we met up with them for the Thursday happy hour and mini-golf at the Vaiolama Cafe and Bar. The kids took nearly two hours to noisily go round the eighteen holes. The highlight for me was Evie’s hole in one at the 18th!Niue

We also visited the bond store where as yachties,  we were able to stock up on duty free alcohol.The prices were fantastic. Carling Black Label 500ml cans on offer at $1NZ (or 50p) – couldn’t get that in the UK! 1l Bombay Sapphire gin at $40NZ. Wine at $10NZ a bottle. It is, bizarrely considering how remote we are, the lowest priced alcohol in the S Pacific.  Sadly, Fiji is pretty strict with its duty limits so we will not going to be loading up too liberally.

We decided that we needed to hire a car to be able to see around the island. Hitching isn’t done here but cars are remarkably cheap with several fair sized car hire companies on the island touting for business. We paid $60NZ a day for an economy car from Alofi Car Hire opposite the one garage on the island. The car had aircon and we took it initially for two days, quickly extended to three days as we needed to get away from the Alofi on the Sabbath which is taken very seriously here. We had a fantastic time exploring. Perhaps not surprisingly, most of the sites are by the sea.

Keith came to our aid yet again, giving Peta and myself a lift at 0715hrs for the mile and a bit to the car hire company. He then spent 15mins before the garage opened, talking us through all the best sites to see and when to see them, presenting us with a map and tourist booklet, all marked up.

Friday saw us going around the whole island, visiting the main sites on the W side of the island. First stop was a 20minute walk down to Togo Chasm. Exposed to the Trades, the seas crash along the whole E coastline and there is no relief. The old coral has been worn away in to viciously sharp pillars, very hard underfoot. You don’t want to slip walking on it.

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Just around the corner from the forest of ravaged coral trees there is the chasm which you gain by climbing down a steep ladder to the cavern floor. The kids had a great time exploring a cave, 50m through the cliff that led to the sea smashing its way in at this pool.

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The end of the chasm used to be a swimming hole but the entrance was closed up by a cyclone and is now a swamp. It didn’t smell great so we didn’t hang around long.

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With so much to see and visit we whisked around the N coast stopping in at Uluvehi at the N end of the island. The road down to the parking area was overgrown and a little cheeky but the wee cars just managed it. The caves were fantastic and the kids had a great time exploring and climbing them. The grown ups had to look away a couple of times as the young mountain goats with no fear scrambled up some pretty sticky places. Every cave was full of stalagmites and stalactites.

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Leaving the kids to it, the grown ups went for the views instead.

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Our last stop was at Anapala Chasm. This is a fresh water pool at the bottom of a long flight of stairs which the kids all counted loudly as we walked down to them. 155 apparently.  We swam the 40-50m length of the dark, cool pool. Hannah was none too keen in getting in after she had seen a baby water snake hide under a rock in the first pool but (eventually) refused to be left behind. She swam quickly to the other end in water a lot colder than the sea. The locals used to use this site for drinking and bathing water, walking the mile or so from the nearby village to collect what they required each day.

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On the basis that there was (on the European weather model only) a low coming through in three to four days, Pesto decided to head off on Friday morning to reach Tonga before it made it there. Geoff on Be and Be and I thought that the Low would either fail to form or would travel in a direction that shouldn’t bother us. Oh, how optimistic we were.

We continued our explore of the island on Saturday and Sunday. Over the course of the year each main village has a village fair and we were in time for the first of the year at Makefu. We arrived just after 0700hrs to enjoy a full BBQ plate load of food and trifle for breakfast. The fete started with the old and bold praising God and finished with an appearance of Tommy Nee, an local who has made it big in NZ and Polynesia as a pop star, singing about one night stands and snogging. Quite surreal.

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We watched Uma racing (the local name for coconut crabs) and were amazed at the speed the old ladies made a basket in a weaving competition. We watched one old lady with arthritis getting help from her sister to finish off. Great ladies who were very pleased to be attracting so much interest. Evie was presented the basket as a souvenir. Niue

There were throwing competitions, a local spear for the men and coconuts for the ladies, before the dancing which was traditional up to the point that they had decided that the music of Moana, the new Disney film, was good enough to dance traditionally to. It was amusing to watch the older ladies jump up on the stage and stuff money into the dancers costumes. Although there are very different interpretations of that !action in the rest of the world, it is obviously the done thing here. The dancers made a fortune!

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The show finished by 1130hrs and we left, needing to cool down.

Matapa Chasm was the personal bathing pool for the King and royal family back in the day. There is a cold top fresh layer from a spring sitting on the warm sea underneath. Wonderfully refreshing. There was a couple of places at about 8m height to jump in from which required a bit of rock climbing that provided some fun for me.  For the more competent snorkeler you can get out to the sea but you need to be careful as the surge is strong.

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At every tourist hotspot around the coast there are showers. The island has so much water and as tourist numbers are relatively small, they have no difficulty in putting water pumps out to even the more inaccessible site. It is so nice not having to get back in to a car covered in sand and salt. Some of the showers had missing heads but that just proved even more fun for Hannah.

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It is a thirty minute walk down to the Tavara Arches from the car park and well worth it. Once used as a lookout post, now you can clamber down through caves in the rock face to the shore. You need to go at low tide to be able to reach the massive main arch.

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We moved on to Avaiki Cave where we met up with Tommy Nee and the two gigantic backing singers with him in an underground pool. It was nice but just around the corner we reached the main cave which blew us away. Huge and surrounded by stalagmites it is spectacular. Visiting it at low tide meant the pool was flat calm. We climbed and explored right through it, needing torches for a couple of the smaller caves we found right at the back.

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Moving S on the W coast, we stopped at the Hio Cafe that we had driven past on our first explore. It sits above one of the few sand beaches on the island. It does an excellent lunch menu and proper coffee too. The owners must have seen the excellent use of iso containers down in Christchurch town centre as that is what the cafe is too.

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Limu Pools are beautiful. Deep clear water with a small inlet means protected space. There was some coral there and the fish were quite good but the highlight was yet more cliff top jumping in that the kids indulged in. Great fun!

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There was also time for a couple of dives with a firm called Magical Niue for Eleanor, Geoff and myself. We had a really good time with them. Although the water temperature was 26C, it felt noticeably colder than FP, needing 3mm suits rather than rash vests. We did our first dive touring the coral mounts around the mooring field so they could assess Eleanor’s standard. There was an amazing amount of hard fan coral. Not so many fish but we did see the biggest Napolean Wrasse we have ever seen. Huge. Between dives we lucked out. The pod of Spinner Dolphins that live around Niue came across to see us and Eleanor got the privilege of being dragged at the side of the rib, swimming amongst the 30 odd dolphin having fun at the front of the rib. Massive high!

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Our second dive was a visit to one of the caves about 500m S of the mooring field. We swam in to the cliff face maybe 30-40m and then were able to surface inside the cave. After 5 minutes, we came out and had a tour of some of the canyons near the shore. There was a bit of surge and we had to work hard but Eleanor handled it like a champ. When we came up, Eleanor was so excited she went in to motor mouth mode, grinning hugely. The dive master, Ramon, made comment that she was technically the best junior they had seen, which just capped it off for her.

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By Mon, it was obvious that the front would hit us and that we would have a day of NW wind at about 25kts, decreasing and falling S as the Low went by. We ended up having the whole of Tuesday on the boat, unable to get off watching 4-5m seas break over the jetty. Whilst we had been in shelter to the Trades, we were now on a lee shore with a reef a whole 150m behind  us. Niue

We had one alarming moment late afternoon. On hearing a unexpected noise, Eleanor went off to investigate. She came back to announce we were hanging on by one line only. I worked out that the lifting buoy’s line, a floating plastic type, had wrapped around our port line and with the constant surging we were experiencing, had in effect sawn through it. We quickly replaced the damaged line and cut away the lifting float and line to ensure we weren’t caught out a second time.

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We really should have gone around the S end of the island to find relief but Lou was not keen to lose the “security” of our nice mooring. Having dived on several moorings (and had a go at putting new plates on for Keith on one of them), I was satisfied that the lines and fixings were strong enough for what we were in, even if it was uncomfortable. Even so, we stood watch all day and through the night with the engines running so if something did break we could quickly extradite ourselves. The wind eventually moved back in to the SE at 0330hrs on the Wed morning. It was a long 30hrs.

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The seas abated enough by lunchtime to be able to get people ashore. It was still a little adventurous but manageable. Lou was very keen to get to the coffee shop and stop moving!

Geoff and I had a day of fixing boat problems. My genset had started to make smoke and I was pretty sure it was down to the exhaust elbow clogging up. It should have been an easy fix.  Sadly the muppet that had changed my elbow at Grenada Marine had used cheap mild steel hex bolts and as I tried to undo them, they each broke off in turn. They will need to be drilled out. Tonga maybe, more probably Fiji before it is fixed. The other issue was my log and anemometer B&G electronics had decided to fail. My thanks to Geoff for coming across and using his expertise to track down the fault which was a rotten data lead connector causing a short. I got apparent wind back but I’ll need to wait for a new connector before I get depth, boat speed and a true wind speed again.

With the delivery ship due in, the World Arc Rally about to arrive to nab all the moorings and the weather turning favourable, we booked out and planned to leave on Thu 25th May. Perhaps we should have left with Pesto but if we had, we would not have had time to explore Niue as we did. It is a strange mix of island isolation and NZ civilisation. But so worth a visit. Don’t expect beaches but enjoy the fantastic pools, caves and snorkelling around the coast. I’d love to go back during the whale watching season. The whales come in to the bay and are often found of a morning sleeping under yachts. It can be too loud to sleep if they are singing. That would be an experience!

My only real regret was that we could not find time to play a round of golf at the 9 hole course opposite the airport. Great fun, said one man who had played it, although he was a little perturbed by the way the ball would hit a lump of coral  and spring forward an extra 100m! Not easy for club selection.

For those reading in NZ, Niue is on your doorstep and just a 3hr flight away. Go and enjoy but be prepared to go slow. The place is magical.

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