We almost skipped Vanuatu because of a terrible cyclone that hit here in April. Vanuatu gets hit with more cyclone than any other Pacific nation. We were concerned that we might be a burden on their recovery but the government said please come. They need the tourist income, the major source of income, to help rebuild. We only had 3 weeks we could spend there as we had to be in Australia by mid June, a voyage of 1300 miles.
Vanuatu, formerly called the New Hebrides, was once jointly under the influence of Britain and France. The achieved independence in 1980. Consisting of 80 islands, each with it's own unique customs and personality, the country is a cruisers delight. We hope to return in a year or two and spend a lot more time.
We just realized it has been a year since our last update, time does fly. In the interim we have sailed from NZ to Fiji, flew back to Chicago for 3 and 4 months, and dodged cyclone Pam which just devastated Vanuatu, 450 miles W of us. The end of our 1000 mile voyage from New Zealand was celebrated with our oldest son Jon and grandson JJ joining us for 10 weeks shortly after we arrived in Fiji.
Fiji has a reputation as the friendliest of nations and we can believe it. Of 300+ islands about 100 are populated by 850,000 Fijians, approximately half native Polynesians and half East Indian. The Indians were originally brought here by the British as indentured servants, sort of a politically acceptable form of slavery. Despite several coups over the last 2 decades the people seem to get along well with each other and the government. Last fall Fiji had it's first democratically elected government in more than 2 decades. I think it is mostly the same military people who now are officially the elected government.
Outside the bigger cities the islanders still tend to live by traditional ways. Each village has a chief who is the final arbitrator in community matters. It is a hereditary position. In more remote area visitors, tourists as well as Fijians, are expected to present a give of kava ( a root to make their native drink from ) to the chief's spokesman. If the chief accepts it you are welcomed into the village as part of their community and under their protection. The most traditional villages require the women to have skirts down to the knees, and covered shoulders. Men wear a sula, like a skirt wrap, no hats or sunglasses, and shirts. The chief is always the first person you need to go see. You are also expected to respect the traditions of the culture even if they seem a bit outdated or arbitrary. For some reason it is taboo to touch the top of another persons head. I had to stop myself many times when I went to pat some young child on the head. No one could tell me why that is, must be very tough for the barbers.
Until recently the more remote outer islands were off limits to cruisers. Apparently a few visitors chose to ignore local customs despite being told about them and gravely offended the islanders. After complaints by the chiefs the Lau Group of islands was made off limits for many years. It could take several months to get written government permission to go there and only if an island family invited you in writing. It has opened up again which we were grateful for. These were our favorite areas of Fiji and many places we went had not seen a cruiser in over a decade.
For divers Fiji is known as the soft coral capital of the Pacific. Diving is one of our favorite activities and we were not disappointed. Most of the reefs are in excellent health, unfortunately this is not the situation in much of the Pacific we have cruised.
We liked Fiji so much we changed our plans to sail N for cyclone season last year and stayed here another 6 months. We hate to leave this beautiful place but it is time to move on. We will be heading W through Vanuatu or possible New Caledonia, and N Australia in route to Indonesia and Thailand where we anticipate spending up to a year.
Three years after leaving the US we reached our goal of New Zealand, approximately 10,000 nautical miles from Baltimore. Arriving the first week of November, 2013, after spending 3 months in the island Kingdom of Tonga. Unfortunately our computer crashed and all photo's of French Polynesia and Tonga were lost. I guess we will have to go back!!
New Zealand sits between 35 & 46 degrees S of the Equator, the Southern end as far South as Quebec, Canada is North. The population is approximately 4.5 million Kiwi's mostly living in urban areas. Though the driving distances are short between destinations the times are long do to very narrow and winding roads with hairpin turns. The rural areas are very scenic with small towns scattered through out the country side. Many people say NZ is like the US was in the 1950's. The people are very friendly and most will go out of there way to help you. Chit chatting is a way of life here and you may spend more time talking to a shopkeeper about yourself than you spend time shopping.
NZ is also very geologically active with many thermal areas containing hot water pools, boiling mud pits, semi active volcanoes, geysers, and earthquakes. The topography varies from rolling hills to mountains, glaciers, and fiords.
We based ourselves in Opua, Bay of Islands, in the North and bought a cheap car some camping equipment, and spent 2 months exploring North & South Island. Being so far S of the Equator the weather is cold to us after spending 2 years in the tropics. When the Kiwi's are out swimming at the beach we are usually in long pants and shirts wondering if they are crazy or we are wimps. We are ready to head N to Fiji when cyclone season is over in May.
We hope you enjoy the photo's. We took over a thousand and choosing what to post was difficult, and they do not do justice to the beauty of the country.
After a pleasant sail of 650 over 5 days we arrived at an atoll named Sawarrrow in the Northern Cook Islands. One of the most remote places to live in the Pacific. The nearest inhabited islands are many hundreds of miles away. Suwarrow is a designated marine sanctuary and entry and anchoring is restricted to one island. Other islands along the atoll can be visited with a ranger guide if you choose. The 2 rangers living here are dropped off in the early Spring with an 8 months worth of supplies which tend to run low after several months. At the beginning of cyclone season they are picked up and returned home. Their accommodations are modest as is their standard of living. Harry is the chief ranger and Charlie, who cannot read or write is second in command and does the tours for cruisers. The cost of tours is more like a barter arrangement. They have very limited gasoline for the outboard motor so Charlie asks for 2 or 3 gallons per person and a few dollars pocket change. Of course there is no where to spend any money here so he may have a nice kitty when he returns home. As a child his family lived on Suwarrow but moved many years ago. He showed us a tree his father tied him to as a hurricane approached to prevent him from being washed away.
The rangers are extremely friendly and arranged many pot luck dinners. Myself and Mike from Cherokee Rose went fishing with Charlie one day and caught 5 fish which ended up on the BBQ that night. A few days later we toured 7 Sisters, a small motu, and Charlie caught 5 large coconut crabs which we ate the next day. Even though one escaped during the night the 4 left were more than enough to feed 16 hungry cruisers and 2 rangers.
The island is very tranquil, the water clear, and the snorkeling very good. But I think the friendliness of the rangers made it a very special place. They get about 90~100 boats per year and cruisers are only allowed 2 weeks to stay, so off we went to Tonga.
The Society Islands of French Polynesia are the ones most people have heard of. The 3 most famous are Tahiti, Moorea, and Bora Bora, where we are at right now. We also visited the lesser known islands of Huahine, Raiatea, and Tahaa. The changes that have occurred in the 40 years since I was here last have made anything I remembered unrecognizable. But that is ok, they are still beautiful if less remote.
Papeete is the capital and has a population of around 200,000 people. It is the largest city in this part of the Pacific and the center of commerce and government for all of FP. It was an excellent place to reprovision with large supermarkets and numerous marine supply houses. Prices on the other hand are not so nice. Everything is heavily taxed, plus shipping costs, make everything very expensive. A pint of Hagan Das ice cream=$15, gasoline $8/gallon, eggs $6/dozen, cheeseburger $20. Fortunately we knew this ahead of time and had most food we needed on board.
We took part in a regatta from Tahiti to Moorea sponsored by local businesses and an American boating magazine. There was lots of activities for the cruisers, canoe races, coconut husking lessons, watching the women learn the 36 Tahitian ways of tying on their sarong. The final competition for the ukulele contest, dance demonstrations, and much more. Everyone received some sort of prize and the setting was beautiful.
Huahine was the most beautiful island we visited, population around 4000, mostly Tahitian. Unfortunately we had mechanical problems and had to leave earlier than expected to go to Raiatea for repairs.
And finally Bora Bora, Jewel of the Societies, and where the well to do go to vacation. Most of the hotel rooms are bungalows built over the water, with rooms starting at $1000 ( yes a thousand ) per night. That does not include meals, tours, wifi. But I suppose if you can spend a grand a night for a room you don't worry about your meal costs.
We leave in the morning for Suvarow 700 miles NW of here. It is a small atoll and marine sanctuary manned by 2 officials from New Zealand and part of the Cook Islands.
The Tuomotu' s are a string of 76 coral atolls and 2 islands spread over a 1000 mile stretch of ocean in a SE to NW orientation. Atolls form as coral reefs grow around volcanic peaks, the peaks eventually subside over millions of years, and you are left with a "ring" of motu's (small coral islets) around a lagoon. The lagoons are as large as 40 by 14 miles and most have one or more passes into them. The challenge is to enter the passes at slack water ( little or no current ). Current can reach speeds of 8mph or more, and if it is against an opposing wind you can face standing waves as high as 10 feet. A dangerous situation to find yourself in. The shallow reefs are often miles from shore and pose a danger at night and in poor visibility.
As dramatic as the tall beauty of the Marquesas are, the beauty of the flat Tuomotu's lies in the clear blue waters with excellent snorkeling and diving. The highest point of land is barely 10 feet about sea level. When you think of running away to a tropical island the Tuomotu's are the kind of place your mind pictures.
We visited the 3 atolls of Kauehi (population 150), Fakarava (pop. @ 500), and Toau ( pop 9; yes nine!! ) Most of the atolls have at least one family living on them, the smaller ones rarely have visiting yachts stop so you always expect a warm welcome. Being fairly dry with poor soil and brackish ground water not much grows on the motu's. Fakarava had 2 small farms that grew a small variety of fruits and veggies but of poor quality. The more populous atolls will have small cargo ships make deliveries of food and supplies on a theoretically regular schedule. But bad weather can delay arrival for days. On Toau the family had not seen a ship in 6 weeks and their supply of staples were almost gone.