Tag Archives: Seals

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

The route we had originally wanted to use, around the East coast of the South island has been closed since the Kiakoura earthquake. In the meantime the only way to get to Kiakoura, is to head SSW from Blenheim and then cut back across a mountain pas E to get to the coast. What was an hour and a half trip takes six. It is ironic to think our first experience away from the civilisation of Blenheim was a small town, famous and rich for harnessing the Earth’s power and its hot volcanic springs when our original destination had been damaged by that same but this time, spastically unregulated power.

Hanmer Springs lies on the cross country route to Kiakoura and became came our first stopping point on our journey down the East coast. Although it adds on many hours and miles in distance it  did mean that we got to drive through some spectacular countryside as we crossed the mountains.

Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura

We had organised to meet Gill and Alasdair there. Surrounded by mountains, the view from the campsite was fantastic. The natural hot springs have been well developed into a great open air spa area with numerous small pools, spa tubs as well as a couple of large pools too. Of course there are slides as well and the kids had a great time going up and down, generally very loudly enjoying the hot water, less so standing in the cold wind queuing. Alasdair and I were required by the girls to join in the action and I’m afraid to say we probably were the biggest kids there. The ladies decided to refrain and stayed in the sanctuary of the pools. The water temperature ranges from 34-42C. We spent most of the day there are we would strongly recommend it, with kids or not. It is worth spending the extra $10 for the slide pass. If you are a member of the Top 10 camping organisation, you can claim discounts and a free re entry pass too – worth it if you want to leave and get lunch back at the campsite or in town.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

With our next destination, Christchurch, being the third leg of a triangle, we decided to stay in Hanmer Springs, leave the tents where they were and drove to Kiakoura for a days road trip instead. The road was mainly clear but obviously damaged by the recent quake and there were many points where building work was ongoing. It took us about an hour and a half to do the 100km trip.

 Hot Springs and Kiakoura

The town itself showed little obvious damage beyond the old theatre on the sea front that had barriers up around it. However, looking a little closer a lot of the shops were closed, with little white notices up saying they had failed building inspections and were closed until rebuilt/fixed. The shop below was luckier and was open for business. The trouble is, with the road to the N and the ferry closed, the only way to get to Kiakoura is by an out of the way route adding 5-6hrs to the journey time. The road, vital for its prosperity, will take something in the order of 18mths to be fixed. The town is hurting as it is not getting its annual fix of tourists either staying in the town or at least stopping for lunch or dinner on the way through to Christchurch a couple of hours to the S. One of the shop owners I talked to has written this summer season out and is just hopeful of getting a decent year next to be able to survive. The NZ government is helping local businesses with wages, securing jobs for an as yet unspecified period which has been well received but it is survival money and nothing more.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

As our kids found (and I include Gill in that number) the school playground was a cracker. We arrived in time for the morning Saturday market in the park in front of the school. Whilst the grown ups went around the few stalls there buying some fantastic chutney in the progress, the kids had a good time, hooting and howling around the play park.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

It is on the seafront you can really notice the difference to the landscape.  There are parts of the local coastline that have been raised 5m or in old money, 15 feet! It is a staggeringly number. Vast areas of the until recently fertile fishery grounds along the coast have been destroyed due to this upheaval. There is a real worry that it will take a long time for the local fish and crustacean stocks to repopulate in decent numbers, a real source of income for the town. The biggest difference post quake is the colour of the water in the bay, said one of the local artists. It is now a far lighter blue indicating the bed has been raised there too. The pier at the S end of the bay used to be in the water. It will never see sea again.

Hot Springs and Kiakoura

There is a good walk from the S edge of town that takes you down and along the coast, allowing you to walk along a cliff route returning by the shore line through huge numbers of nesting seagulls and seals. It took us a couple of hours. The views across the various bays were great. We kept to the paths and the noisy fledglings gulls were oblivious to us. The seals simply ignored us. You are allowed to snorkel and dive from the shore and I think it would be fascinating to do so. It is a long walk in and out though so perhaps snorkelling would be best. Take a wetsuit. The water temp isn’t up to much.

P1060493Hot Springs and Kiakoura


Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura

We took the cross country road back across to Hanmer Springs again. As an impressive reminder of the power of the Earth, we saw this distorted road marking just short of one road bridge which had been destroyed in the quake, some 30 miles from Kiakoura. The road has been moved just a few inches and the damage to the bridge had destroyed it. Just what it was like to sit/cower through the big one lifting you and the Earth around you several metres doesn’t bear thinking about……

A bit terrifying, if I say so myself.

Hot Springs and KiakouraHot Springs and Kiakoura


Having finally received the new bearings for the rudders, we were keen to leave Santa Cruz as quickly as possible. Lou phoned our agent, Irene and an hour later we were stood in front of the Immigration man who cleared us out of Ecuador. We needed to clear out from Santa Cruz as Isabela, although the most obvious island to leave from, 60 miles W of Santa Cruz, doesn’t have any Customs or Immigration facilities. We also got our Zarpe from the Port Captain, allowing us to move to Isabela. It is a bit of a strange system. Officially we have left the country but we have as much time as we really want in Isabela as long as Isabela was on the original Autografo. Some people without agent are given a time limit of just a few days by the Port Captain. We, with the excellent James Hinkle acting for us, Bolivar Pesante’s island representative, are treated a little different, I fear simply because money is seen to be going into someone’s pocket on the island.

We decided to travel overnight and had a tedious motor-sail into about 5kts of wind. It was very very dark with no moon and only the occasional glimpse of stars. We woke to the islands showing the form of a huge  largely sunken caldera with boobies dive bombing around us.



We arrived at Puerto Villamil at 1115hrs, parked up beside Taranga and in front of Jade. The Port Captain’s representative was on board within 10 minutes. After a little bit of confusion, we fed him coffee, James spoke to him on the radio and we promised to bring all the paperwork ashore for James to present to officialdom. James is an American, who, having driven to Ecuador in the 1960’s, became one of the first Darwin Guides and married a local. After raising his family in the USA, he and his wife have retired back to Isabela. They are a lovely couple and of great help to us both here and in helping with some pushing of FEDEX when we were back in Santa Cruz.

A quick word on the anchorage here. Having got used to the surge and roll of San Cristobal and Santa Cruz, it was a delight to anchor in 5m of water in  a wonderfully sheltered bay, protected by low islands and reefs. We have not had more than 10 boats in at any one time.

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It is the best anchorage we have been in for months with no swell at all and even the monohulls sit unmoving beside us. It is also beautifully picturesque.  Strangely, it reminds me strongly of some anchorages in Scotland. It is the only official anchorage that Charlie’s Charts doesn’t have a picture off.  Trying to keep people away?  Maybe.  The other delight is the lack of traffic here.  There are few tourist boats operating here and only the occasional taxi so there is very little wash.

The anchorage is full of life.  Turtles, baby sharks, sea-lions and penguins.  Tiny little things but real penguins.  And Manta Rays.  Great big enormous wonderful Manta Rays.  One we caught a glimpse of, decided to have a tour around the anchorage.  No photos yet but we are still hopeful.

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As with all the islands, you are restricted from doing most things sensible with your boat.  You may snorkel around your boat (but not clean it) but may not go across to the reef to where the iguana and penguins hang out as this is the main snorkel area for the locals to bring the tourists.  If you want to go there, you need to pay.  However, no one seems to bother you if you use a canoe.  There are a couple of beaches ashore by the harbour that you can snorkel off which are well used but full of iguana, turtles and seals.  The main beach which starts at the town and heads W is great.  White sand, good surf and there is a good play park too. Close to the play park and across the road from the Captain’s office are public showers.  The water gets switched on to them around 1700hrs daily for people to rinse off from the beach.  

There is a dinghy dock here so you can get yourself to shore without the need of the rather expensive water taxi ($2 a head each way – for comparison, Santa Cruz was $0.80).  Advise is to make sure you lock everything up and take the fuel hose with you.  Our friends on Tika came back to find theirs had been stolen.  Not impressed.  Make sure you tie up on the inside of the dinghy dock too.  The locals use the dinghies as big fenders as they crash in.  Not real friendly.  Returning to your yacht after night fall is a challenge as there is a reef, rocks and a sandbar between the dock and the anchorage.  Make sure you take a BIG torch to allow you to spot the infrequent buoys marking the safe route and I’d advise having a good look at the route in daylight hours before you try it at night.  Lots of people have either ended up crunching their propellers or running aground. 

The town is a bit sleepy but I love the fact that other than a pompously wide road from the dock which stops short of town, the rest of the roads are either sand  or volcanic gravel.  There is a good selection of restaurants which are reasonably priced, particularly for lunch, and have a great selection of sea foods.


One note on money.  There are no ATMs on the island so you will need to load up with cash before you reach here.  The bank is a basic one and for locals to use, not tourists.  Beware also the bars and restaurants with signs up saying that they can take credit cards.  They can but there will be a service charge of 22%!!  They know they have you over a barrel if you haven’t brought cash………

The girls have had an active social life here.  We have had a couple of sleep overs and birthdays too.  Grace and Evie, two UK girls travelling with their parents Adrian and Christine, by land around the world came for a stay.  Evie turned 7 and had a birthday party of pizza and far too much sugar!

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Then, having had Meriel stay (the girl with the interesting choice of headwear) the girls had a return night with her and Nerana, her sister, on Persevere.  They had a couple of film nights there as well, watching on their huge TV – a 60” beast!



Then we continued the surfing education at a birthday party for Arsene off Quatra who turned 10.  Audrey, his mum surprised us with a fantastic birthday feast on the beach.  

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The S end of the island can be explored by bicycle and although the sand tracks are hard work, it is great fun.  We were joined on this trip by Pickles, Gill from Starcharger’s ever present childhood bear, who Hannah carried and introduced to a number of new friends!  Watch out for him in the photos.

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There are tourist trips to The Tunnels (volcanic tubes – now flooded) but you aren’t allowed to snorkel in them and we thought $80 a head was a bit steep.  However, on the bike route we found a tube running down to the sea that we could explore for free.

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We also visited the Wall of Tears, built by political prisoners between 1945-59 as something meaninglessly tedious to do.  The island had a fearsome reputation and many prisoners died here.  The wall is huge. Roughly 10m high, about the same wide and it is about 300m long.


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The climb above the Wall of Tears to the three viewpoints is hot, long but worth it.  We nearly broke the kids!  You get a spectacular view along the S coast of Isabela  and inland to the highlands.  The gentle breeze at that height is a life saver too.


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Having cooked on the bike trip to the Wall of Tears (there is a lot of uphill riding required), we were all ready to cool down.  We visited two gorgeous beaches, Playa del Amor and La Playita, that we shared with more marine Iguanas than we have seen before and an awful lot of land crabs.


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Although there is a “official” flamingo lake, a inland brine affair, the birds don’t like it! We were pointed to a pit near to the Tortoise Sanctuary just N of the town as a better place to go to see these pink marvels. We also saw some lovely little birds showing no fear of us at all.  Twitchers – over to you to name them please.


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Hannah found us a wild Tortoise, a rare find, dozing under a tree whilst she was looking for some shade on the bike ride out and it was still there on our way back to the beaches.  By its size, we think it was about 50 years old.  We also stopped in at the Tortoise Sanctuary to look at the work being down there.  Currently there are about 800 turtles being raised, a mix of the five species of Tortoise present on Isabela.  The great difficulty that the tortoise have is that rats, introduced from ships visiting in the past, eat the eggs and it has become more and more difficult for tortoise to survive to hatching, let alone the first few years.  The Sanctuary raises the tortoise until their size can give them the protection they need.


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We were recommended a good snorkelling site, El Eskro,  by Gem, a London lass working at at the Surf and Bike shop.  However, try and go at low water.  There is too much surf at anything more than half water.  We rented both surf boards and bikes from that shop and were impressed with the price and quality of kit.  A handy map of the area is below. 


We made the boat ready for the crossing with the last of the provisioning done in the small supermarkets here.  The Farmer’s Market, held on a Saturday, was a disappointment with little in the way of offerings and poor quality.  The problem is lack of rain.  Produce just isn’t growing either as large or as plentifully as is the norm.  Hopefully once El Nino has cleared things will improve.

With a significant amount of help from fellow OCC members, Starcharger (Alisdair, Gill, Jane and Alex) we tried but failed to fix the rudders.  After all the palaver of waiting for the rudder bearings, once we dropped the rudders out to be able to get at the bearings, we found that replacing them correctly in alignment was near impossible without lifting Skylark out of the water.  Further, the bottom bearing had been epoxied in and the top actually had a layer of fibreglass over it so even digging them out is a major endeavour.  Foutaine Pajot’s name was taken in vain several times.  In the end, we replaced the rudder and have tightened everything up as much as we could.  There will remain a little movement in the stock and we will just need to monitor it and baby it as necessary until the Marquesas.  We commiserated our failure with an excellent chilli and far too much rum.

We have our Zarpe to allow us to leave 24hrs either side of 9th May and we think we have prepared as much as we can.  We are due light winds for the first couple of days but thereafter we should be in the trades.  All being well our next post should be from The Other Side of the World.