Early April and we literally blasted out of Auckland on the tail of yet another mini cyclone, the story of New Zealand's summer. After a five month, adventure-packed, stop over we were on our way ready to explore a few of the islands that sit off the east coast of New Zealand before making our way back to Opua.
The islands; Kauai, Great Barrier, etc provide superb shelter in sparsely populated inlets with access to some of the most stunning sub tropical hinterland that we have come across. The hill walks were epic in length, altitude and terrain. We even finished one by wading down a river bed. Rich sea life provides for all. We caught and cooked snapper, enjoyed Barramundi in the friendly yacht clubs and witnessed trawlers unloading huge green mussels and sea urchins. There seems no end to nature’s bounty if properly cared for.
Opua was the gathering point for the Oyster fleet and our departure point to Vanuatu some 1,000 miles North. After the usual parties, boat talk, oh and more boat talk, the weather window arrived, we were off. Yet Nature doesn't always follow the script and produced a bit of everything from benign to big and bouncy, so with some relief we dropped anchor in Port Resolution Harbour on Tanna, one of the many islands that make up Vanuatu, some 6 days later.
Tanna is special, in part through its secluded isolation it has maintained a very strong tribal village culture, the chief rules in all things. Luckily for the few visiting yachties, you are invited to the feast, not as the main course (they last ate someone as recently as 1962!) but to eat, dance and of course drink kava, though don't, it is literally mind numbing!! They are blessed by abundant vegetation. The temperate climate and rich volcanic soil means what you stick in grows. Combined with good fishing and superb beef 'seriously' the diet is healthy and village life is sustainable. They get hit by cyclones but seem to have incredible resilience and with some international aid and all the ropes, fishing gear, clothes, petrol ... we could give them, bounce back and thrive. And nature has given them something very very special, a constantly active yet relatively 'unthreatening ' volcano'.
We jumped in the back of a pick-up with some Oyster mates and as the sun was setting climbed up the black lava sand ridges to stare into the gaping mouth of an active volcano. The guide positioned us away from the direction of the expected eruptions and drew a line in the black gravel with the toe of his boot stating if we cross it we will die! You have to love health and safety. Then suddenly you buckle at the knees, want to run, your body is being assailed by a thunderous boom, and just as you recover tons of molten lava is flung through the gas mists into the air, stunning, incredible. Hotter than hell, projectiles set the night alight. One of life's most amazing and unforgettable experiences a true demonstration of natures awesome power.
It was hard to leave Tanna, its friendly people and beautiful environment but we had to clear into Pt Villa on Efate, catch up with the Oysters and re provision from the 24 hour excellent markets that sell everything from French cheese to chickens!! The families literally stay sleeping under the trestle tables till all is sold!
From Efate we flew to Pentecost Island where the famous land divers do the original bungee jumping, the sort of thing you see in National Geographic and wonder if it's true. Young men, as a right of passage, climb up huge wooden structures, tie vines around their ankles and while the rest of the village stripped to the waist chant ever increasing encouragement, pray then leap into the air to come crashing down onto the slightly softened earth many feet below, the vines hopefully providing some temporary resistance. A painfully, brave, spectacle, it made being taken down the pub by your brother or dad seem somewhat sensible and tame.
We heard later that Vanuatu has the worst record for air safety in the world, our 60 year old plane and even older granny pilot seemed fine if a bit wobbly !!!!
The diving should get a mention as the coral was surprisingly glorious and there aren't many places where you can dive through scuttled US navy ships. Vanuatu's wonderful nature is accessible in such a simple yet refreshing way.
We left Efate in mid May facing a 1,250 mile passage to clear into Mackay in Australia. A fairly fast, yet again bumpy and somewhat relentless journey. Can’t wait for those glorious trade winds, oh and more fish. We arrived May 17th. Now deep in the usual boat repairs we are looking forward to exploring OZ, the Whitsunday Islands and hopefully seeing what else nature has to offer !!