Nature's majesty and mystery
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 !!
Stop Over Down Under : Part 2
So for the 2nd part of our land-tour we set off for NZ South Island; we were due to fly in to Queenstown but there was a bad storm and after 2 aborted landing attempts we ended up in Christchurch which meant a 5 hour night time cross country road trip! Our 2 week tour included a 4 day walk along the famous Milford Track with the lovely Ken and Lisa (one of the great walks of the world), then a stay in Queenstown and finally Wanaka. Each of them equally spectacular – soaring mountains, dramatic waterfalls, serene glacial blue lakes and views to die for. The guide books don’t lie NZ is truly a visual feast. While in Wanaka we also celebrated a major milestone...Hugh’s 60th.
From South Island NZ to the South Island of Aus, Tasmania, and an incredible 10 day tour with Oyster buddies Sea Flute and Altair and of course our tour organisers, Tiggy and James. In our tour transit we made our way North from Hobart to Barnbougle, staying with the Tiggies very warm-hearted and generous friends. En route we stopped off to do the Bay of Fires walk, hiking along pure white beaches with fiery orange, lichen-laden rocks set against the crystalline blue water...pure magic.
Our next leg – a week in Marlborough exploring the Sounds and the wineries. While in the beautiful Bay of Many Coves we hiked over to Mahana Lodge along the Queen Charlotte Track to meet up with the lovely Leanne ( a former Meteorite) – so amazing to catch up with her and Rhys in such a remote and unlikely place!
For our final trip we headed to Melbourne. Staying in a beautiful converted church with Nicky and Charles (Calliope) we did what everyone in Melbourne does...combined eating (amazing breakfasts) and drinking (lots of great coffee) with sport (the Grand Prix and The AFL Dees Game ).
So now we’re back in Auckland and definitely ready to unpack our suitcases one last time and settle back in to boat life. But we’ve had an amazing 5 months – the people we’ve met have been so warm and friendly and the places we’ve been so eye-wateringly beautiful. Finally a huge, huge thank you to Fiona and Andy Nugent...we are truly indebted to them for their hospitality and generosity and for helping us make the most of our time down under
Stop Over Down Under : Part 1
Following a rather prolonged blog black out here's a round-up of we’ve been up to during our 5 'land-bound' months waiting for the cyclone season to pass.
While Meteorite under went her 10,000 mile FULL service (thank you Mike and Charlie), the 4 of us took a 6 week trip to the UK then set about a 4 month land tour of NZ, Aus and Tasmania.
First up was a lovely Xmas with all the kids, staying in Omaha (NZ North Island) and being royally entertained by our wonderful friends Andy and Fiona. From there we travelled to Lake Taupo and threw ourselves into some traditional adrenalin-filled NZ adventures..whitewater rafting, jet boating, bungy jumping (...Matt, Ellie, Jake!), mountain biking, trekking...and of course a 7 hour pilgrimage to worship NZ demi-God and Hugh's hero Peter Jackson in “the Shires” aka Hobbiton.
Then it was a tearful goodbye to the kids and off to Australia we went....first stop Sydney; 25 years since we were there last and it was even more vibrant, interesting and iconic than we remembered. We lived like locals in Woolloomoolloo and Surry Hills and literally ticked off all the sights. We loved every minute of it – climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge (Hugh/Janice not so much!), seeing an opera at the Opera House, watching a Riot at the Sydney Festival and a film at the most amazing outdoor cinema EVER (see photos!), sipping cocktails at The Iceberg Cafe on Bondi Beach and taking the Manly Ferry to Balmoral...oh and a trek to see the Three Sisters in the Blue Mountains (invisible last time we went). Phew..!!!
All a bit exhausting so next up we headed along the coast to Byron Bay for some chillin’ with the local surfer dudes on the beautiful Belongil Beach ( a 2 minute walk from our Airbnb Beach Hut). Suitably relaxed it was off to Brisbane to watch England v the Aussies at the Gabba in the one dayer..a little tense after the Ashes defeat but ultimately a fine victory, albeit a little disappointing for our hosts The Tiggies!! Our final stop of Part 1 was the fashionable beach resort of Noosa where as well as some seriously good eating, drinking and sunbathing we went on a very cool 4WD excursion along a 40km beach! Then it was back to Fiona and Andy’s Auckland apartment to re-pack for Part 2...what would we have done without them!
With some reluctance we tore ourselves away from friendly, tropical Fiji to face the 1,100 (mainly upwind) miles to New Zealand. They didn't disappoint! Harriet's first and unforgettable ocean passage, fast and furious, banging into large waves with the temperature dropping as we ventured South. And there it was 15,000 miles, half way round the world, New Zealand we had made it. And the celebrations started as each boat arrived, hugs, kisses and congratulations literally on the quay. A kind of unbelievable realism that we, fairly ordinary people, have achieved something quite extraordinary.
And now time to explore New Zealand, Meteorites home for the next five months, starting up North in the Bay of Islands. A stunning area of isolated islands, small villages set in beautiful coves with friendly local cafes providing the most exceptional food and of course the odd local beer (highly praised by Andy) and wines to die for. We explored the coastal paths on foot, the islands by ferry and the bars en mass, great fun.
Tearing ourselves away again for the final 120 miles down the coast, our dream of sailing into Auckland was upon us. We literally did sail in, as our trusty engine 'Perky' decided now was a good time to lose all the coolant, so we patched him up, crossed our fingers, held our breath as he fired up one last time for the last 100 metres to our mooring right in the heart of Auckland. We are here, we have arrived, as our NZ friend Fiona said meeting us on the dock, it's only taken 25 years of invites!! And what a friend her and hubby Andy have been, not only introducing us to Auckland, but lending us their apartment, taking us up to their home in Omaha and even providing a car. Fiona tour guiding us around secluded bays, restful vineyards, coastal walks across stunning countryside and of course the odd exceptional meal, has been an unforgettable introduction to this magical country and we are very grateful.
Meeting old friends has been a bit of a theme, catching up with our dear sailing mate Mickey Reardon, and his lamb BBQ overlooking Auckland was truly memorable and a visit from a great Meteorite Tom Phillips and his growing family, as they travel around NZ was a lovely surprise.
And finally the event to end them all, the Oyster half way round party held at the legendary RNZYC home of the current Americas cup. What a place, what a night, welcomed, well sort of, by a traditional Haka, it was time to reminisce, dance of course, say goodbye sadly to some who are stopping here and just party hard with people who in a very short time have become friends for life. As said in the toast "to places we have visited, extraordinary people we have met, to friends we have made and to us .. sailors ... half way round the world .. we made it."
So Leg 1 is over, we have a break for 5 months while Mike looks after the Mighty Meteorite (thanks for everything Mike!!) and we tour NZ and Australia by land. We will resume sailing adventure and our blog in April 2018! Thanks for reading!!!
Fiji so good they name things twice. 332 islands and 6 weeks to see them. With Hugh’s brother Ian and wife Heather onboard we visited the remote Lau group of islands. Vanua Balavu was destroyed by Hurricane Winston in Feb 16. Most houses have now been rebuilt but the countryside remains bereft of trees and the coconut trees have yet to bear fruit. In Daliconi Village we took ‘Sevusevu’ - in Fijian villages all visitors bring a gift to a welcome ceremony with the village chief and share Kava a relaxing drink.
Daliconi resident Sam sold us cabbages, papaya and homemade bread. He also took us to Lomaloma where we heard how in the hurricane they ran from house to house as the rooves blew off. Sam’s nephew Lenudo guided us on a glorious walk across the island. Needing a ride back our driver siphoned enough fuel from an oil drum to make the journey. Next we anchored in the Bay of Islands. Stunning light blue waters with cupcake islands popping out. Lots of amazing pulsating soft coral.
Sailing north to Taveuni we took a trip. Soni the guide had been up till 3.30am drinking strong Kava and could only lie down on the floor of the minibus and barely speak. At a natural water slide we scrambled up the riverbed, watched locals jump in to the top pool and gush through the rock channel riding the water on their feet to splosh into the bottom pool. We sat down and slid.
Friends Fiona and Andy flew into Savusavu and we headed to Rainbow Reef to dive one of the best soft coral sites in the world passing pilot whales and dolphins on the way. ‘The Great White Wall’ a luminescent, snowy wall of soft coral and the eponymous ‘Cabbage Patch’ were highlights but our dives revealed vibrant yellow, orange and purple soft coral, aquarium fish and bull sharks. Onwards to Volivoli this time diving and swimming through caves. Harriet returned to the boat until New Zealand.
38% of the Fijian population are of Indian origin. Lucky for Andy who found an authentic curry house to celebrate his birthday. We donned sari fabric to visit the blindingly colourful Sri Siva Subramaniya Swami Hindu Temple in Nadi with amazing ceiling frescos covering the stories of Lord Shiva. Plates of banana, coconut and flowers were at the entrance ready for worshippers to smash as offerings.
Provisioning throughout this trip has required adaptability. Lemons have been green, orange, round, knarled or just not available. So when we arrived at Port Denerau and found avocados, rocket, beetroot and sherbet yellow lemons there was great excitement and feasting.
The Yasawas group of islands offered plentiful supplies of turquoise sea and sandy beaches. A boat trip which raced through the reefs passing Spinner dolphins enroute to caves featured in the Brooke Shields film Blue Lagoon was fun but the overriding memory was in Somosomo. 3 boats Oyster Reach, Miss Tiggy and Meteorite set off to snorkel the shallow wreck of a WW2 plane on the opposite side of the island. Hugh led the itchy scratchy trek to find the path with motivational talk. Eventually we abandoned in favour of a beach BBQ. The expedition was successfully resumed next morning. The submerged plane was ok but the snorkelling, islands and bay were spectacular. Seagrapes, Rays and Pufferfish tick.
Fijians are warm involving people. Literally everyone greets you with one word ‘Bula’ (boo-la) which means hello and welcome. It feels great to shout Bula!
The Friendly Isles
So to Tonga the 'friendly isles' they stopped eating people in 1906 !! 1,300 miles, six days, usual mix of great following trade and lighter frustrating winds plus one huge Wahoo (fish) and we are here.
Tonga, many islands, few people. Surviving on what it can grow, aid and a little tourism based on the migrating whales.
We are delighted however to break from the norm and welcome Matt as guest editor the following words are therefore mainly his.
“Like most of you, I assume I have been reading the blog, seething with jealousy, updates of sandy beaches, exotic locals, more tan than a leather shop, So I with the kids, Harriet, Ellie and Jake, did something about it and visited. But aren't Tongans big angry rugby players what's this about the Friendly Islands!! After 30 hours, 4 continents, emotional hellos (except Andy) we are here, ready to explore.
Even from the plane we could see just how beautiful these islands are, this continued in the taxi, glorious greens, sandy beaches and pigs so many pigs, Janice loves pigs!!
You quickly realise how important religion and education is. The houses may be a bit run down but the churches and schools are pristine. The different colours uniforms depict the different religions and schools.
An unturndownable invitation to a church showed us why the Friendly Islands. Warm welcome, bursts of song, sense of community, even if all in Tongan which we didn't quite master.
Off to explore and snorkel around the Vava'u islands - paradise. And the 'traditional' beach bar b. After an island wide hunt for wood the fire was set. Something Neanderthal about making fire, discussing it, poking it, but what a fantastic feast under the stars on a deserted beach.
Then the highlight of the trip. Something I don't think any of us will experience any thing close to again, the opportunity to swim with whales.
I assumed they meant watch from a boat, but no!! Once we had spotted a mother and calf it was flippers, snorkels on and over the side we went. It was an incredible sight, emotional, to see a humpbacks, the mother alone was over 20 mts long, swimming, diving, surfacing, with the calf floating around right next to you was something else, words can't really describe it.
Tough act to follow but we certainly tried with a double header of Tongan feasts. The first a school fund raiser, enough food for the 50, the second, the fella had 11 children so the proceeds were for his family, with enough food for 50 so lucky we were 10. The family cooked and really showed us the meaning of Friendly.
The people, the ocean, the landscape, the snorkelling. An absolute unforgettable experience that will take some beating though I expect the parents will give it a good go (the lucky b....... s).
Note from parents, thank you wonderful kids for coming and making this adventure even more special .. special thanks Matt for the blog.
The Meteorite Crew
Debbie, Hugh, Janice and Andy