31/07/2015, Neiafu, Tonga
After our arrival into Neiafu, the largest town in the Vava'u group of islands, we spent the next 5 nights on a mooring ball in the harbour. The town has plenty to see & do, with lots of Kiwis & Aussies owning businesses here. The local food from all the small restaurants is very cheap & tasty and we've had a great time trying lots of different dishes. On Thursday we waited on the side of the road to see the new King of Tonga drive pass - we waited 4 hours & only got a glimpse of him, but it was fun waiting & talking to all the school kids who lined the streets. Friday afternoons the visiting cruisers have a fun yacht race around the harbour. Steve took PANNIKIN out for a spin, with Richard from PANTHERA & Rob from BREEZE as crew. Us girls kicked back on Panthera with a couple of drinks & cheered the boys on. Sadly they came fourth but had a great time. Into the restaurant called Mango after that for our usual happy hour drinks & a good laugh.
Saturday we headed out of the harbour with Panthera to an anchorage on the island of Nua Papu. The island is beautiful with only one small house residing. When we went ashore to ask the owner if we could have a fire on his beach that night he explained that he was hosting a Tongan feast that night & we were very welcome to come. A number of other boats arrived during the afternoon & we all went ashore around 5pm with a few drinks to watch the suckling pig getting its final rotation over an open fire. There were lots of lovely dishes and great company. Our host David and his wife Hika have 11 children, 5 of which still live on the island with them. The younger girls & a son performed a traditional dance for us & David played the guitar & sang. It was a really lovely night.
Sunday we went for a walk around the island discovering some beautiful little beaches & coves. Just before dark we headed to the beach, made a fire & sat around for a couple of hours. David & Hika joined us for a while & we enjoyed listening to them singing some Tongan hymns, accompanied by Richard's ukulele.
Monday was an extremely blowy day so we headed to another anchorage, Lisa Beach, to hide form the wind. We saw heaps of whales & caught a nice sized tuna on the way which did the 4 of us for lunch. It was a quiet afternoon playing dominoes after that.
Tuesday we had a nice sail to Port Maurelle, an anchorage near the famous Swallows Cave. We had a nice walk on the island, visiting the local village & loving all the baby pigs running around. Steve went to Swallows Cave for a snorkel with Richard & Geri - it's a large cathedral type cave with huge balls of bait fish swimming around. Very spectacular with the afternoon sun shining in, turning the water a lovely turquoise.
Wednesday we headed back to Neiafu & tied up to another mooring ball. Happy hour again at Mango & we booked our swim with the humpback whales for Thursday. An early night in anticipation to the early rise the next day.
We headed out off the dock at 7.30am Thursday morning with Beluga Diving - one whale spotter & two guides to take us into the water with the whales. Only 10 minutes into our trip we discovered 2 adults but they were swimming too fast for us to get into the water. Not long after we came across a mother & calf which we followed at a safe distance until they stopped to rest. Only 4 people at a time are allowed into the water with the guide who takes you to the best spot to view the whales. We got to spend a really long time with them getting back onto the boat each time they moved off. We followed them for quite a while until the whale spotter, Moa, decided we had been with them long enough and it was time to give them a rest. We spent the rest of the time snorkeling over 2 adults which just hung suspended in the water giving us a fantastic view and a good 20 minutes swimming over the top of them. It was an unbelievable experience & very special. We arrived back at the dock at 4pm tired but exhilarated. What a great day.
Yesterday we walked up to the top of Mount Talau to a look out which gave us a fantastic view of the Vava'u island group. It was a steep climb to the top but was worth it. In the afternoon Steve, Richard, Rob & Steven from Blue Pelican took PANNIKIN out for the cruisers race again. It was a close race with the guys being first over the finish line. They were rewarded pizza &beer for their effort! We wandered down the street later on in the evening & came across a local cultural show which we watched for nearly an hour. Lots of lovely traditional dancing & singing. Next we headed to the Bounty Bar which was hosting a fakafefine (a man acting like a woman) performance. It was a great night watching these guys lip sync to all the old music favourites dancing and performing. So many locals were there to support them - absolutely fabulous!!
Today has been raining & cold, so a quiet day for us. We will probably head out to the anchorages again tomorrow for a couple of days. There is still so much to see here in the Vava'u group!
20/07/2015, Neiafu, Tonga
As you can probably guess, due to lack of blogs, internet in Samoa wasn't all that fast...usually we couldn't even open Google. Also we were having way too much fun to worry about sitting down at the computer.
Samoa has definitely been a real highlight for us. The people are super friendly, very welcoming & accommodating. They really went out of their way to make us feel welcome & wanted on their beautiful islands. Samoan way of life is based on three aspects - family, community & church. This makes it a very harmonious place. A local guy, Tusi, who we became very good friends with, took us on an island tour early in our visit. We went to the Robert Louis Stevenson museum which is his home converted to its original state & very beautiful. The grounds are extensive with beautiful tropical gardens & lawns and if you are game you can walk the hour long track up the mountain above Apia to his grave. We visited lovely waterfalls, villages and of course Salani Surf School on the south coast so Steve could check out the surf. It is owned & run by an Aussie guy & it has some really cute raised bungalows for accommodation & a great little restaurant. Onto then the To Sua ocean trench for a swim. This is a big lava tube by the sea surrounded by lush gardens. You have to climb down a very steep ladder which was a challenging, but it was worth it. It was amazing how much you could feel the surge of the surf as it trickled in under the rock. We finished our day swimming in the 'James Bond pool' on the north coast - a fresh water cave pool right beside the ocean, full of large freshwater fish.
The day before the rugby match we attended a 2 hour show at the Samoa Cultural Village in the middle of Apia. It was a free show & really great, a must see. A first we were shown how a traditional meal was prepared & cooked in hot stone - the meal that 99 percent of the population eats for Sunday lunch. The majority of cooking in Samoa is done by the men. Usually this meal consists of taro, breadfruit, green bananas & baby taro leaves with coconut milk. The taro leaves are made into a cup where then coconut milk is poured. The leaves are then rolled up into a ball & wrapped in a breadfruit leaf & then a banana leaf & placed in the fire. The end result is absolutely beautiful.... looks like creamed spinach, but tastes divine. We were then shown the lost art of making tapa cloth - from peeling bark off the paper mulberry tree to curing & drying of the cloth & finally painting & decorating. Next we were entertained with a traditional dance show & singing. The dancing was very different to French Polynesia. There is no hip movement but carefully placed feet movements with soft hand gestures. The dancers also spend a lot of the time sitting body, knee & floor slapping & clapping hands. While the show was on we sampled the feast the men had prepared earlier. It was all fantastic. Next we visited the fale (house) where traditional tattooing takes place. Two guys were being tattooed & in various stages of having their full body tattoo. Two brothers were doing the tattooing & were being overseen by their father who was one of the few traditional tattoo artists left in Samoa. We were not allowed to sit behind the artists as this is said to block the flow of energy to the artist & stop his creativity & stamina. Three other men helped the artist. They pull & stretch the skin as the artist makes the marks. Family members of the guys getting the work done also sit around him offering encouragement & kind words. The tools are very simple... a long stick which is attached to a 'comb.' The comb varies is width & design and is very sharp. Originally the comb would have been pigs tusk, but is titanium. The comb is placed on the skin & the artist used another branch to tap the stick attached to the comb to make the tattoo. Traditionally, men in Samoa have their left arm from shoulder to elbow tattooed as well has from both hips to knees, including buttocks. The marks are very close together & very intricate. This form of tattooing is very painful & one of the men had tears rolling down his face! Once a Samoan man starts a full body tattoo he is expected to finish - it is a great shame on himself, family & village if he does not complete the full work. Women also have traditional tattoos - from both hips to knees only - but the tattooing is a lot more spread out than the men's. After watching this amazing art for quite a long time we headed to the carving fale which completed our tour. It was well worth the visit & the tour guide gave us valuable knowledge into Samoan life & custom.
The rugby match at Apia Park was a great day. We wandered down to the park around 12 noon & found ourselves a place to park our butts on 'the hill.' We were in great company while we waited the 3 hours for kick off - Simon & Annabelle from NICHA, Stuart from BREEZE and Howard from DOUBLE TROUBLE. The locals around us provided great entertainment...their excitement & intense loyalty to their team Samoa Manu is infectious. Finally the teams ran onto the park... stirring national anthems were sung & the NZ haka and Samoan siva tau were performed. It was totally fantastic. It was very moving listening to the locals singing their anthem - harmonies & all. The game was played well with constant chants & singing from the Samoan crowd. The All Blacks won by the skin of their teeth, but Samoa Manu were most definitely the better team on the day. After the game we all poured out of the park & we, Stuart & Howard headed straight to the nearest bar for a beer! Alcohol was not served at the game...probably a good thing seeing as though there were so many frenzied fans there! We had a couple of beers & watched as thousands of Manu fans poured out along the street proud of their team & country. Young blokes drove around in cars, horns & music blaring, beers in hand chanting GO MANU until they were hoarse!! Back to the marina then for dinner at a small restaurant near by. What a great day!
To get out of town for a while we headed back east along the northern coast of Upolu to a bay where there was a small surf break. What a lovely place...three waterfalls and a beautiful village tucked into the head of the bay. We had a couple of days chilling here in the peace & quiet then headed back to Apia. We have discovered that Samoa is the land of waterfalls & rainbows!!
Trying local food is always a must for us. Tusi introduced us to kekapao which are just divine. Either steamed or fried, they consist of a light rice flour dough surrounding a savoury beef & onion or pork filling. They look a lot like a large dumpling. We spent a lot of time trying these at different locations just to make sure they were the same and good as the last!! Tusi supplied dinner to us, Breeze & Double Trouble one night too. Very scrummy - stir fried chicken with chinese cabbage & other Samoan yummies!
Finally last week it was time for us to leave Samoa & head to Tonga. There appeared to be a decent weather window around Wednesday for us to check out. After completing all the departure necessities on Tuesday we had a nice sail west along the northern coast to a lovely anchorage near the airport. Tucked behind the reef with a sand bottom it was an ideal place to stop for the night. With the airport so close & the ferry to Savaii nearby we had plenty of entertainment that afternoon as we had a few beers. Wednesday morning we were up early & followed the ferry out of the channel to the end of the island. We were expecting some stronger winds & larger seas but as we got around the end of Upolu & a couple of miles out to sea the conditions were extremely bad. Very big waves & 35 knots plus of wind. It was extremely uncomfortable & a little scary. We did contemplate turning & heading for Fiji but decided to head back to our comfortable, safe anchorage & wait for another weather window.
Thursday went ashore (very naughty seeing as though we had checked out of Samoa) and wandered through the villages hugging the coastline. Very pretty with plenty to see - even pigs running around in their front yards! That afternoon we decided to grab a taxi & head into Apia to grab some more beer (we'd run out!!) & a few groceries. A lovely drive through villages & countryside.
Friday dawned lovely & clear and the grib files showed a perfect weather window to head south on Saturday. We spent the most of the day cleaning down below, polishing fibreglass up top and preparing dinners for our passage to Tonga. Before we knew it, it was beer time and we had been joined in the anchorage by Breeze & Double Trouble. A couple of beers aboard Breeze before an early night.
Saturday we all left the anchorage around 7am. The weather was much more to our liking & we had a great, fast sail all day & night - usually around 8 knots plus. We covered 180 nautical miles in 24 hours - a record for PANNIKIN. Sunday the conditions were much the same until mid afternoon when the wind dropped, as was expected. We alternately motored & sailed the rest of the way to Tonga arriving into Neiafu around 9.30am Monday. NICHA were already tied to the dock so we rafted up against them and BREEZE alongside us. DOUBLE TROUBLE were a little slower & arrived the next morning.
Officials from Quarantine, Health & Customs boarded us & as usual there was a heap of paperwork to be done. Everyone was very friendly & we had no hassles. After that we were allowed off the boats to walk uptown to the bank & visit Immigration to be stamped in. We purchased a sim card for internet & had a short walk around town. Steve managed to get an appointment with the doctor, who happened to be an Aussie, to get some medication for his gout which has been giving him grief. Back to the boat then & we had a quick motor to grab a mooring ball for the night.
This morning we've been greeted by a lot of rain so we are staying put for the day. We've been in contact with Richard & Geri on PANTHERA who will be heading back here to Neiafu tomorrow and we also had a call from Eddie on PRIORITY who we haven't seen since Mexico. Might be a few beers happening this afternoon!!!!! There are plenty of small restaurants & bars lining the waterfront....it might be a good excuse to get off the boat this afternoon.
05/07/2015, Apia, Samoa
Friday after a big nights sleep we headed out to explore. Apia is the capital of Samoa and is about the size of a large country town in Australia. We were met with big smiles and friendly greetings as we made our way into the town centre. On the way we stopped at an ATM to get some money and the machine promptly ate Steve's card. Bugger! So off to the bank to arrange its return, which happened later in the afternoon. High on our list of things to do was to buy tickets to the rugby game next Wednesday. The All Blacks are playing Samoa in the first Test Match to be held here. It should be big!! The Samoans are flying national and Manu Samoa rugby flags everywhere as they are a very proud rugby nation. There is also a large amount of tourists here for the game-mostly from New Zealand. We could only get general admission tickets so we will be in the crowd. The atmosphere is building already.
We then went to go to the hospital to see a dentist for Ange's tooth ache and was told she had an abscess and it had to come out or root canal therapy. She wasn't happy to have done here so the dentist has given her a few months of antibiotics to get her home and she will do something about it then. We were lucky we had antibiotics on board while we were at sea otherwise Ange would have been in real trouble.
As usual when we get to a new country there are all the domestic jobs that have to be done - washing, grocery shopping etc. These things in a normal situation are normally straight forward but when on a boat and no transport on shore they seem to take all day. Finding a supermarket that sells the things you want is a challenge although here in Samoa there are more products that we are used to as they get supplies from New Zealand and Australia which is nice.
Samoa is the first country since the Caribbean where English is the first language and we are finding it so nice to be able to talk to the locals with ease. It is amazing how small things like that can change the feeling of a country. We are looking forward to doing some more exploring next week. As the Samoans are extremely devout Christians Sunday is a day of rest, so nothing is open & there are very few people about. We will just have a day of relaxing & reading!
Our passage to Samoa started off nicely with 15kts on the beam as we followed DOUBLE TROUBLE out of the pass. The seas were up a bit as the wind had been blowing for a week or more but it wasn't too uncomfortable. We were making good speed, so much so that we overtook DOUBLE TROUBLE within a few hours - very rarely does PANNIKIN overtake another boat! Unfortunately that was the good part of the trip as the wind slowly died off so we had to resort to the motor to keep us moving. We may have been able to keep the sails up if it wasn't for the swell coming from three different directions and making life very uncomfortable as PANNIKIN was tossed from side to side. This lasted for two and a half days before the wind finally came through. But so did the swell and the rain and for the next week we battled seas of 4 to 5 metres, rain and winds of 25 to 35kts with gusts up to 42kts. Life was uncomfortable and very wet to say the least. The wind was coming from the aft quarter & the rain was blowing straight into the cockpit and down the companionway so when we were on watch there was not anywhere to hide to get out of the elements. Getting into a warm bed for three hours has never been so good. Getting up again - not so!
As we approached Samoa the skies cleared and we had a nice sail for a few hours so we madly pulled all the wet gear on deck and tried to dry everything out in the sun.
We were happy to find the anchorage in the harbour to be calm and flat with only one other boat. We dropped the anchor and breathed a sigh of relief. The crossing took us 9 days and is the last major crossing until we sail the Coral Sea to Australia.
Once we had the boat back in order it was time to check in so Steve jumped in the dinghy and went to see the authorities only to find we are not allowed off the boat until they come out and inspect. Steve mentioned to the port authority lady that his wife had a tooth ache and needed to get to a dentist ASAP. She kindly rang the necessary authorities and within half an hour we were called on the radio to pick them up from the marina and ferry them out to PANNIKIN. There were five different Government departments we had to deal with and they were all lovely, happy and helpful people even though they had to come out to us right on their knock off time.
Finally time for a beer and relax watching the sun go down and everything happening onshore!
22/06/2015, Bora Bora
The weather has not been great for water activities with the wind coming from all points and a fair few showers keeping outdoor activities to a minimum. We are however fortunate enough to be here while the local cultural Heiva festival is on. So on Friday night we went to the show ground and watched the traditional singing and dancing (and yes the girls did have grass skirts and coconut shell bras!). Unfortunately the rain ended the show for us before the last group were finished which must have been a big disappointment for the dancers as they train very hard and take the competition very seriously. The festival goes for nearly a month with heaps of sports including outrigger races which is nice eye candy for the girls as most of the guys are pretty fit.
Our visa has expired and now it is time to move on. We have been watching for a good weather
window to head to Samoa. There has been too much or not enough wind forecast so we have decided to just go and take what comes because we don't want to sit around for another week waiting and it still may be no good. The passage is approximately 1200nm which should take 8-10 days all going well. We were going to stop at some of the Cook islands but they have changed their fee structure and now it is expensive to even stop for a few nights so we will just go straight through. There are many things we will miss in French Polynesia. Its beautiful islands and aqua blue waters, the friendly welcoming people, the baguettes. The only thing we won't miss will be the prices as every thing is expensive. Even beer!!!
15/06/2015, Vaitape, Bora Bora
The past few weeks have been filled with highs and lows......
Huahine was the hidden gem of French Polynesia - very pretty & traditional.
We enjoyed our time tied to the town wall of Uturoa at Raiatea while we waited for repairs to be done on our swim ladder. The food from the local vans at night was to die for and cheap!
We drift snorkelled through the beautiful coral gardens of Motu Tautau at the island of Taha'a. The fish life was abundant and very friendly. Big sea anemones were everywhere, each with their own set of clown fish. A big red octopus made an appearance as well.
Unfortunately when we returned to Uturoa to collect our swim ladder last Monday PANNIKIN was boarded & broken into while we were out to dinner with our friends on TAKE TWO, Garry and Kerry. Our computer was stolen, which basically has our whole lives on it, including all our photos & diary from the past two & a half years as well as all our weather prediction programs, boat documents, survey & rigging reports.... to name just a few things. Luckily we had most things backed up onto a hard drive, so we've only lost photos from French Polynesia & we can always copy our blog back onto word from this site. Buying a new laptop has not been a problem, but getting to know Windows 8 in FRENCH has been very difficult & time consuming. Combined with the incredibly slow internet here it has been a hair pulling, expletive yelling process.
We decided to come across to Bora Bora last Wednesday where we have been very lucky to find a great computer man who has changed Windows 8 to English for us & changed the system back to Windows 7 format....so much easier to find our way around now, even with the keyboard being French (apologies for incorrect spelling etc!!!). He has also helped us with downloading our sat phone drivers again & downloaded Open Office - a bit like Microsoft Word. We are still struggling with internet & getting the final downloads we need before heading off to Samoa. That is another problem we now face....we have exactly ONE week left on our visa for French Polynesia & the weather is not being kind for a departure from Bora Bora. Very strong winds have been blowing for the past 3 days & a launch time for Samoa is not looking good for at least the next 7 days. We will approach the Gendarmerie (police) today & explain our situation. Hopefully they will give us a few days to wait for a weather window.
Again on a good note Bora Bora is very beautiful. We've swum with & fed sting rays and reef sharks and will head back to the western side of the island to snorkel over manta rays. The lagoon of Bora Bora is very big and beautiful blue water is everywhere as are over water bungalows. There is a huge amount of hotels here. We climbed a very steep hill yesterday to take some great photos. It is definitely a place to be seen from the air. We've had Happy Hour at Bloody Marys & seen traditional dancing in the town square.
Life is still good....just a little challenging at times!!!