New Zealand Road Trip
27 March 2017 | Opua
Jane warm and sunny
New Zealand might be a small nation of only 4.5 million people, but in our hearts she is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. Our month road trip, down to Queenstown in the South Island and back to Opua in the North, was a wonderful reminder of the diversity of the islands. The two main islands are of similar size, where over one third of the population live in Auckland in the north island. Auckland is the largest Polynesian city in the world and is also known as “the city of sails”. It has more boats per capita than anywhere else in the world. Only one third of New Zealanders live in the quieter South Island where Russell was born. He grew up in Timaru which is on the east coast of the South Island.
A third of New Zealand is also made up of protected parkland and marine reserves. The country is made up of spectacular landscapes with vast mountain ranges, steaming volcanoes and sweeping coastlines. The first settlers were the Maori and recently Maori has been declared one of New Zealand's official languages, with immersion in schools and tertiary sectors. Many places throughout the country also have dual English and Maori names. Russell has been brought up with the language, but I find it very difficult to remember all the local names like: Whangarei (wh is pronounced f) and Piahia (pronounced Pie he a). I love the way that the Maori heritage is embraced and how nowadays it has undergone revitalization.
We were very fortunate on our trip to be able to catch up, and stay with, a lot of family and friends. Everyone spoilt us rotten and we are now like Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. I can’t get into my jeans any longer; which was a bit of a give away ☺. It is certainly time to get fit and healthy, but hard with family now on board for a few weeks. All the socialising, eating yummy treats and Kiwi pies, not to mention the exquisite wines that New Zealand grows, all to sample. Life was tough, as you can imagine.
We stopped a few times on our way south to Wellington. One of the highlights was seeing Russell’s 98 year old Uncle; Jack who stayed with us a couple of times while we lived in London. A wonderful character who we also managed to spend time with on our return north. Wellington, the Capital City, is at the bottom of the North Island and is the southernmost capital city in the word. From there we caught the ferry to Picton, across the Cook Strait. The distance is only 22 km, but it took about three and a half hours. Thankfully the ferry was very luxurious even though a tad expensive.
Picton is where I first learnt to sail a “big” boat. Russell’s parents Eddie and Gypsy used to spend six months every year based out of Picton, sailing the beautiful Marlborough Sounds. They have a lot to answer for, as I quickly fell in love with the lifestyle, making it my future dream. The sleepy town has become quite the tourist attraction and it was delightful to spend some time there.
We would have driven down the east coast, but with the recent earthquake in Kaikoura (Edwin and Iva were there the day before it happened) the coast road is still closed. So we went to Nelson and then down through the central part of the island to get to Christchurch. It was a stunning drive through the forests and National parks.
In Christchurch we had a fabulous reunion with three cruising couples, all of whom we had met in Turkey. Lots of tall stories and memories were shared. A special evening, we look forward to another when we return in November.
We managed to spend two weekends in Timaru, staying with our dear friends Grant and Mary. Lots of family stuff to do and we picked up Gypsy for her final trip down to Queenstown and back. She was quieter then normal, being in a small box, but it was great having her with us and we had a lot of fun together. See the picture of Dansey’s Pass with her on the table ☺ We stopped in Wanaka on our way south, where Edwin and Iva spent last season working (and enjoying the snowboarding) and where they are returning to again this June.
We went to Queenstown via Lake Tekapo and Lake Pukaki, two of my favourite lakes in the world. The turquoise colour of the water is quite breathtaking. Whilst in Queenstown we stayed with our best man, Foxy and his partner Jacqui. Sadly Queenstown has become quite the tourist trap, but we enjoyed time in Arrowtown nearby and up the Remarkables where Foxy spends most days in the winter ski-ing. Then it was time to return north going east across the ranges and Dansey’s Pass to Oamaru, on the coast, and back to Timaru. There was the wine and salmon festival in Twizel; plus a friend’s band playing in the evening so we had a rather social weekend before saying goodbye to Russell’s home. We will go back in November to pack up the last of the families’ heritage for shipping to Vancouver, including Russell’s car (see picture).
Arthur’s Pass is a mountain range where Russell used to race at Craigieburn when he was a teenager. So another memory lane to drive through to get to the west coast, which was wet and windy, as seems to be the norm. It was probably the only time we had inclement weather on our trip, most days were warm and mostly sunny. The Pancake Rocks at Punakaiki were certainly worth visiting and the coastline was spectacular. Our next stop was Nelson where we decided to invest in some property. It is a beautiful area at the top of the south island, noted for being the sunniest city in New Zealand. The housing market is heating up and rentals are high, so it seemed rude not to buy a house; especially as Russell had been left some money that we wanted to keep in NZ. It was a crazy three days, checking out various areas, properties and narrowing down what would work for us. We are now the proud owners of a lovely three bedroomed house on a double mature lot in Stoke, just south of Nelson city. It is only a few blocks from the town and schools and should rent easily. Eventually we would like to renovate and maybe put another property on the site, but that is another project that we will put on the back burner.
It was time to relax in the Abel Tasman National Park, famous for it’s walks and Golden Bay a huge area protected by Farewell Spit where sadly hundreds of whales recently got stranded on the beach. With help 75 were rescued although sadly most died. The area is only a few hours from Nelson and a great place for a weekend getaway.
Back across the strait our route headed across the middle of the north island to Lake Taupo, Lake Rotorua famous for it’s hot springs, and onto Tauranga on the Bay of Plenty. Whilst linking up with friends and family one of my bucket list items was a visit to Hobbiton at Alexander farm near Matamata. The shire was built temporarily for the Lord of the Rings, but when they filmed The Hobbit in 2009 it was decided to make the site a permanent film set. It was a magical day, visiting the thirty-nine Hobbit Holes, with Bag End being the biggest with its huge artificial tree. The mill and double arch bridge, with the Green Dragon Inn in front of the pond reminded me of England. The Inn was great place for a pint and pie at lunchtime; I did not want to leave.
More family to visit in Hamilton, before returning to Auckland for another cruising get together – way too much rum and onto Whangarei for a couple of nights with friends on their Kiwi farm. New Zealand has been put on the map with Lord of the Rings and Tourism, but has always been known for its farming and sheep. Sadly sheep are not profitable nowadays and are being taken over by cattle, with most of the milk going to China. Sadly the cattle, and fertilisers for feed, are destroying the rivers and most are now polluted. The locals are obviously not happy as the rivers were always used for swimming and a place to relax and enjoy. Farming is huge in New Zealand and we have many friends who are or where farmers. Our friends in Tauranga farm hydrangeas. Tree farming is also popular, as are vineyards (I counted 30 in one morning). Then there are all the orchards, even asparagus and avocado farms to enjoy – yum, yum.
New Zealand has recently suffered a pest problem, with stouts and possums being the worst. They are working on getting rid of them within the next ten years. Road kill is a very common sight, especially in the southern island. When I say common, one every few miles and then the hawks have trouble getting out of your way. If that was not bad enough “the invasions” as they call some of the tourists, are hopeless at driving and are causing lots of fatal accidents. There are even arrows on the road to show which side to stay on. Apparently they get their licenses in a simulator.
I have rambled on, but could go on for hours about this beautiful country that we are currently living in. It is time to get back onto the water with family visiting and work to be done. What a road trip we had. Using the link at the top of our sailblog page you can see our pictures; I have added some information to each one. I often find a visual is better than any words, we hope you enjoy. Lastly we can’t thank all of our friends and family who we spent time with, for their kindness and hospitality. They are as follows:
Bryce and Martha s/v Silver Fern in Whangarei, on their lovely kiwi farm that they have built
Jillie and Rodney in Piha, Russell’s sister and always a treat to see
Cathy and Russell s/v Oynas in Halcombe on their farm, we last saw them in the San Blas Islands
Uncle Jack in Levin and Auntie June in Otaki on the south west coast
Athena and Lee in Wellington, our step niece and her new husband
Rick and Jacquelyn in Nelson, Rick helped crew Dick’s boat across the Pacific and we met them in Turkey. Check out www.jacquelynelane.com
Chris and Irene s/v Cutty Hunk, Peter and Cathie s/v Wave Runner and Helen and John s/v Awaroa in Christchurch. If you want an personalised trip around the south island, check out Chris and Irene at www.canterburytrails.co.nz
Mary and Grant in Timaru, a home away from home and fun times with all our friends down there
Suzie and John Ruddenclau in Wanaka, old family friends. I love Suzie’s art work at www.susieruddenklauart.co.nz
Foxy and Jacqui in Queenstown, old friend and best man from UK
The Rose Cottage in Takaka, lovely family and fabulous place to stay, we soon became good friends
Brian, Martin and Nick in Picton. Russell’s cousin and second cousins
Vivienne in Rotorua, an old racing friend of Russells
Joe and Annabel s/v Wrighteau in Tauranga, they have a lovely hydrangea farm. We last saw them in Greece and the boys have a mutual old school friend
John and Robin s/v Panthera in Hamilton, met in Bonifaccio and last saw in Bay of Islands on their new boat
Ross and Jocelyn in Hamilton, Russell’s cousin and family
Phil and Laura s/v Luffi in Auckland, yes we survived another night of rum. Crossed the Pacific together
Bruce and Lesley s/v Midi in Whangarei, old friends from Turkey who we last saw camping a few years ago
Lastly thanks to Chris Ferguson of Summit Realty and Janice Churchman of Central Conveyancing who made buying our new house in Nelson so easy
There are many other friends who we did not manage to see, something to look forward to I suppose in the future. If anyone is up near us we would love to see you, our phone number in NZ is 021 0864 9990 and we will be around until May when we will head back to the Pacific for our last season on Ta-b.
Family Time Down Under
30 January 2017 | Opua
Warm and Sunny
We hope everyone had a fabulous Christmas and New Year. We spent ours in New South Wales, Australia, and it was certainly the best we have had in years. With so many family; there were fifteen of us for Christmas lunch by the pool, it could not have been better. We partied for two weeks and my best present was everyone’s presence, family time. Both Amy and Edwin were with us, so a very special reunion for both of them with Down Under family after so long. Our niece Tilly hosted us all, her new home being the perfect setting for such a large gathering. It is out in the countryside with lots of birds and animals all around and has a fabulous pool and cabana. Tilly lives there with her two children Taja and Malachi, who are 11 and 15 years old.
We played lots of games over the five days we were there, one of our favourites being a giant Janga that Edwin made. The Poulstons certainly know how to sing, laugh, dance and best of all, how to be very silly. I constantly had a smile on my face. I say that, except for the day that George died. George was one of the colourful King Parrots who would come each morning for food, he was so tame he would often eat from your hand. Sadly a python decided that he would kill him, yes there are nasty beasts in Oz and we woke to the Cockatoos going crazy as the python squeezed poor George to death. We had quite the funeral and then suddenly George appeared, must have been his friend that died. Phew. Thanks to everyone for some of the great pictures that were taken that I have added to this blog.
Russell’s sister Yoga and her husband had us to stay when we were not at Tilly’s and they also have a pool. Pure luxury for sure, the weather was warm and sunny for the whole month we were in Australia - magic. Amy and Edwin were with us and were more than happy to chill out. One day Yoga and I took Amy to the Art Gallery in Brisbane, she and Yoga had a blast together, both being Art lovers. Brisbane has some great architecture and the City library is a stunning it is such a magnificent City. Another day we spent doing Gel artwork together, I might even frame the three I did ☺. Whilst in Australia we managed to catch up with various friends and Russell helped his brother-in-law build a storage area over 3/4 days in the garage/studio area. Yoga has just retired and is looking forward to having more time to paint and teach art in her studio. I’m thrilled for her as I love her artwork.
We returned to Opua with Taja and Malachi who were joining us for a two week holiday on board Ta-b. They had never been boating before. What sponges they were, we could not teach them enough about life at sea. They even learnt new games like Backgammon and some basic French. We had such a fabulous time together, having so much enthusiasm and energy on the boat was a treat. Both are real team players and it was wonderful to get to know them better.
Our first day out we met s/v Tika. They have children so it was fun for the kids to get together. There was the annual cricket match being held on the drying sand spit on the southern tip of Motukiekie Island and Malachi and Taja did us proud by scoring some of the highest points. We then spent the evening on Tika over pot luck dinner and a game called Salad Bowl (a great one for a large group of 15 of us).
The next day the kids, from four different boats, dingy sailed together, swam and played on the trampoline out in the bay. We stayed in Pipi Bay for four days enjoying the snorkelling, fishing and hiking before heading back to Opua and a day in Keri Keri with Tika before they left for Auckland. Then it was back out to explore more of the Bay of Islands anchorages. We spent a delightful evening in Te Uenga Bay where friends Rolly and Consie (s/v Restless who we met in Turkey) live. Before having a BBQ dinner with them we went for a fantastic hike. The views were stunning, just wish we had remembered our cameras, will have to hike again. We lucked out on the way back meeting a great guy called Stephen Dews (an incredible artist and sailor), apparently his pieces sell for 165,000 pounds each. We saw a couple in his studio – breathtaking, just wish Amy had been with us.
We had to head back into Opua when some heavy winds were forecast so took the opportunity to take the kids to the Waitangi Treaty grounds. They loved it, so much Maori history and cultural presentations for them to enjoy. We also took them to Russell as it is such a delightful town heaped in history as well.
Whilst not immersing the two of them in history we were able to take them snorkelling, kayaking, hiking and fishing around various bays in the islands. The weather was kind to us and although a tad cooler than normal for this time of the year we only had one night of rain and heavy winds. The kids even tried wake boarding, but sadly with no success – maybe next time. The board game “Settlers of Catan” became an all out favourite and we were impressed with their tactics, they are already saving up for a board back home. What a great game, would highly recommend if you are into board games.
Our two weeks together went too fast and life on board has been rather quiet the last few days. We are at anchor at Roberton Island while I write this, although due back at the marina tonight as Ta-b is booked in to be hauled out onto land at the end of this week. We then plan to start our month “walkabout” New Zealand. There are lots of friends and family we are planning to visit and hope to get all the way to Queenstown and back. I will update our blog on our return.
In the meantime, “with much love”, I would like to share one of my favourite quotes from A.A. Milne
Piglet: ’’How do you spell ’love’?’’ Pooh: ‘‘you don’t spell it...you feel it.’’
Tonga to New Zealand
20 December 2016 | Upper Coomera
Jane, warm and sunny
We arrived in Opua, New Zealand on the 1st November after seven and a half days sailing from Tonga. I say sail, however this trip we did use the iron donkey (engine) a couple of times to keep up with the best weather, and to get through some of the "no wind" spots. It sounds like we were lucky, as friends who left on the next weather window had a much tougher trip. What a year of travel. With our beloved Ta-b we have sailed approx. 10,000 miles, and have visited seventeen countries in the Caribbean and the Pacific oceans. Number of islands? Too many to count.
Heading south to New Zealand (our last stop this year) the temperatures fell, and by the time we got to good old Kiwi land we were freezing. It took our bodies a good week to adjust to the cooler climes. Thank goodness we have a heater on board from when we wintered in Turkey, many years ago. Summer however was just around the corner and we were soon enjoying warmer sunny days.
Opua is in the delightful Bay of Islands. Most cruisers checking into New Zealand, from the Pacific, chose to arrive in this northern part of the country. We had no problems with the friendly officials, and were soon greeted by friends who had come up from Auckland and Whangarei to see us. It was certainly an emotional time, even more so as sadly my Mum had died the day before.
There was lots to do on our arrival. I had a trip to England to organise for the whole family, around everyone's commitments. My brother was booked up for several weeks and we had company on board to work around. Iva and Aimee were very understanding, with their two week holiday around the Bay of Islands becaming one. They ended up spending a week on board Ta-b while we were away having a wonderful time exploring the local area.
We also had work to sort out for Ta-b. She will be going up onto the hard (out of the water) in February. We plan to go walkabout all the way down to Queenstown for a month while she is being worked on. Hopefully we will be able to catch up with lots of our old friends on the way there and back. Our dear friends Bryce and Martha, from Wangarei, very kindly lent us their car for a few weeks on our arrival. We now have Edwin and Iva's car which we bought from them when they left. The kids (love calling them that) have been living in Wanaka since May. We had a terrific time with them on board before they departed for Australia mid December.
Our trip to England went well. It was wonderful to see so many friends and family. Mum would have loved the farewell we put on, she was certainly in everyone's hearts throughout the day. Her love will always be with us. I am so blessed to have had such a terrific Mum, what wonderful memories I have. The week was exhausting, with two days travel both ways and only three days in Poole, but it was very special; especially as Edwin and Amy also managed to be with us.
Before we went to England we were able to enjoy some of the All Points Rally. The Rally is put on for all the cruisers arriving from the Pacific and was a great event. By the time it started most of our friends who we had met crossing the Pacific had arrived. So lots of catching up, salty stories and hilarity was shared by all, we are so glad that we managed to participate in some of the events.
Our short trip around the Bay of Islands with Edwin, Iva and Aimee their friend from Vancouver was wonderful. We had some terrific sunny, warm days and a couple of so so ones, when we went fishing around the whole in the wall or visited Russell. Yes there is a delightful town called Russell in the Bay of Islands. Russell holds an important place in New Zealand's history, being the country's first seaport, its first European settlement and New Zealand's first capital in nearby Okiato. The town's streets retain their original layout and names from 1843, and many of its historic buildings can still be visited today. The treaty of Waitangi in 1840, New Zealand's first government was formed just down the road Okiato. We went to the Duke of Marlborough on the waterfront. Established in 1827 and the first licensed hotel in New Zealand. It has lots of character and is a fun place to have lunch.
While in the Bay of Islands we caught four fish, most in a long time. The kids swam with Dolphins who visited our bay one morning, snorkeled, wake boarded and hiked all over the place. It was a terrific holiday together.
We are currently in Australia staying with Russell's sister Yoga and husband on the Gold Coast. We will be spending Christmas with our niece and family near Byron Bay. Both Edwin and Amy will be with us until the 3rd of January when they will fly back to Vancouver together. It will be a very special Christmas with Russell's other sister Jillie and husband also over from Auckland for a week.
We are flying our great niece and nephew back with us for a two-week holiday on board Ta-b in the Bay of Islands. They will be onboard from 12-26 January; so do keep an eye out for us if you are in the area.
On that note we would like to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas and a happy and healthy New Year. Roll on 2017 it is going to be another goodie ☺
11 November 2016 | Tonga
Jane, warm and sunny
Our last stop before heading for New Zealand was the Kingdom of Tonga. The oldest and last remaining Polynesian monarchy and the only Pacific nation never brought under foreign rule. Tonga has 171 coral and volcanic islands, although only 36 are inhabited. Tonga is one of the few absolute monarchies in the world, and Tongans revere their King. All land is owned by the monarchy and no foreigner can own land. However with approval one can lease land up to 50 years, which thankfully discourages huge hotel development. The king gives Tongans two plots of land, one to live on and one to grow food on.
We started our visit in the archpelago of Vava'u, considered Tonga's sailing center. Our plan was to join the Blue Water Festival, but first we wanted to join friends for a traditional Tongan Feast in one of the anchorages and have a day out together to swim with the Humpback Whales. The anchorages in Vava'u are all numbered as their names are pretty longwinded, so it was at number #16 that David put on an amazing dinner on the beach for us. Tongan's love feasts (they are big people) and a whole pig is roasted over an open fire as the main dish, although there were lots of fish, chicken, beef and vegetable dishes too. It was a wonderful night, shared with a delightful family and other cruisers.
Our day with the whales was also fantastic. The morning was spent trying to swim with a mother and calf, but every time we went in the water she swam away - I think she was teasing us. She would breach, put her tail up, etc.. but in the end we gave up and went in search for another mother and calf. The next ones we found was much more friendly and we had a magical few swims with them. At one stage I thought we were a bit close as it looked like the mum was coming straight at us, but even with her bad eyesight I think she must have seen us and turned away at the last minute. Exhilarating for sure as they are HUGE.
We then went into Neiafu, the capital of Vava'u, situated in a large protected harbour where the rally was being held. Our friend Tony from Tactical Directions had asked us to crew for him in the race being held on the Wednesday. However, sadly by Tuesday I was suffering from a very bad stomach bug. In the end I was sick for 11 days and ended up seeing the Doctor and going on antibiotics. Aparently the local water now has bacteria in it. Quite a few of the cruisers got sick. I was lucky as I have heard that in 2012 there was no Doctor in town and a fellow cruiser died of blood poisoning, that could have been prevented with medical help. So I was not in party mode and in bed for most of the rally. Russ did crew for our friend and they came first which they were thrilled about. Tony won a terrific prize of a free haul out and seven days on the hard, so he was a very happy camper.
Neiafu is a lovely village, with a great market and lots of bars and restaurants. What I found interesting was the Tongan's traditions. The pace is slow, dress is conservative and church, family and friends form the society's core. Tongans wear distintive waistmats, called ta'ovala, wrapped around their waists. They are made from woven pandanus and in Tonga are the equivalent to a coat and tie. We noticed that some schools wear them as part of their uniform over long skirts, for both boys and girls. On formal occasions they are always worn.
Like all of the islanders across the Pacific the Tongans are happy, relaxed and welcoming. They love singing and dancing. Their homes can be very simple as they do not value material wealth. We understand that there is very low crime, we saw no begging and no one goes hungry as there is plenty of food. Family and the community looks after each other. Nearly everyone goes to church and the Sabbath is a sacred day of rest with most places closed.
The sailing around Vava'u is gorgeous. With 42 anchorages to chose from you often have a bay to yourself. You can walk beaches for hours, snorkel some stunning locations, dive or just chill out with friends. Sundowners and pot lucks by a beach fire, became a regular event. A favorite spot for us to snorkel was Swallows Cave. We visited the huge cave by tender in the late afternoon. It was magical with shoals and shoals of small fish, and coloured coral on the walls. The sunlight made the crystal clear water a wonderful turquois blue colour. Quite spectacular.
It was soon time to head south as we wanted to make sure we were ready for a weather window to get to New Zealand. We wanted to visit the Ha'apai group, the Happy Islands as we nicknamed them on our way to Tongatapu to check out. However we decided to stay in transit and just stop off at some of the western islands which are mostly uninhabited. The snorkeling was excellent and the islands stunning. We did visit one island with gifts and we were amazed at how many pigs there were. Like all the islands, pigs wander freely around the town or village, but here there were more pigs than people and some were huge. Apparently they can bite too, so we kept our distance. Sadly there were a lot of mal nourished dogs and puppies, not sure what that was about and did not want to ask. Most islanders do not speak much english and they never say the word "no" so conversation can get interesting.
Getting down to Tongapatu was not easy as the weather turned on us and the wind went south, the direction we were going in. We were told in Vava'u that we could not check out of the Ha'apais, which we have since found out is not true. Could have made our lives a lot easier, but we did enjoy visiting some beautiful anchorages, so all good.
On arriving in Tongapatu we spent a day checking out, provisioning, topping up with fuel and making water, before we went to the bar for a sundowner to say goodbye to various friends. Quite a few boats had left that day and four others were leaving with us, all of us trying to catch the perfect weather window that was ready for us. We look forward to returning to Tonga next May and spending more time getting to know this fascinating country's culture and again visiting its gorgeous islands. Thanks to Sonrisa, Echo Echo and Russell for some of the pictures that are in the gallery of photos on the right hand side of this site. Enjoy
Cook Islands and Niue
10 October 2016 | Cook Islands and Niue
Jane, warm and sunny
We had some wonderful sailing from the Society Islands to Tonga, about 1,500 nm. As we average about 150 miles per day it took us, yes easy math, about ten days with four stops enroute our best day was 215 nm. We even managed to fly our parasail for a few days. We had a bit of everything, but managed to avoid some nasty squalls and lightening and made some terrific mileage, however our last day out of Tonga was dead calm. The sea was like glass, with no horizon to be seen at night, the stars were reflected into the water and with all the phosphorescence it was magical. However the iron donkey (motor) was put on to get us into Vava'u, as no wind was forecast for five days. Although we were having fun we were impatient to finish the trip.
The Cook Islands are affiliated with New Zealand. The islanders are very proud of their Kiwi passports and many have family living in Auckland, which is only 3.5 hours away from Rarotonga. Russell loved the down-under banter, which he misses, as most people speak English with a strong Kiwi accent although their first language is Cook Island Maori.
New Zealand handles the Cook's foreign affairs and defense, and subsidizes finances. Their flag has 15 white stars in a circle on a blue background. Each star represents one of the islands scattered over a vast area of 750,000 miles. We visited three, although most cruisers only manage to visit one on their way west.
The Cooks are fun-loving people who are very proud of their islands and they make a lot of effort to make sure visitors are well looked after. Like most Polynesians the girls all have long dark hair. They are attractive with a ready smile. We did not notice as many tattoos, although being Maori they are still often seen mainly on the males.
The people are very religious and Sundays are looked upon as a day of rest. Nothing, absolutely nothing, happens on Sundays. It would be highly frowned upon to arrive or depart by boat on the Sabbath. When we were in Aitutaki we went to the oldest church in the Cooks dated 1821 it was a Sunday. The town band with different uniformed groups (including very small children) marched up the main street and accompanied the singing at the beginning of the service, spectacular, especially as the church is known to have the best acoustics in the Cooks. The singing often went back and forth between males and females, young and then old. It was a wonderful experience.
All graves are covered in cement (so bodies can't escape we were told). Although flooding in the rainy season might be more of a reason. We saw a lot of graves in the front yards of homes. Some had flowers, often plastic, and some even had lights on at night. They say they do not need to cremate their dead as they have plenty of land in which they can spend their eternal rest.
The first island we visited was Rarotonga. We had a spectacular display of whales on our arrival at the pass, but sadly were so busy sorting out the boat we did not take pictures. There were a few more off the reef while we were there making their annual migration. Stunning creatures. Rarotonga is the main island of the Cooks and a friend of ours, who we had not seen for 35 years, lives there. It was terrific to link up with Trish after so long, she was great and helped us with a boat part that we had ordered, never an easy job we have found over the years. We had a fun, traditional, down-under BBQ at her delightful beach property and met a lot of Kiwis there who have retired to the island.
Rarotonga is smaller than Salt Spring, but with its Saturday market, music, arts, crafts and laid back feel it felt very similar. Obviously it is a tad warmer than Salt Spring and also has a shallow reef all the way around, giving stunning surf on windy days. We loved the way so many people wore crowns of flowers in their hair, or flowers behind their ears.
Sadly the harbour is not so great. There are plans to build a marina, but we cannot see it happening soon. Getting on and off the boat was a challenge and when we arrived it was pretty rolly, even for a Catamaran. We can understand why it is not visited by many yachties. However we had a great time and are very glad we got to visit such a delightful island.
We went a couple of times to a fantastic curry restaurant near the harbour. In England we used to go once a week and it is something we miss, so we were happy bunnies and ordered enough for left overs. We also enjoyed the local hang out Trader Jacks close by, where they have music at weekends. A highlight was a terrific educational and cultural evening we had at 'Highlands Paradise'. The old lost village is up in the hills. We were picked up, got a tour around the area, had a traditional umu feast and authentic entertainment; which included drumming and dancing as it has changed through the years. If you ever get to Rarotonga we would highly recommend going.
One thing we learnt was how Warriors were rewarded land as appreciation for winning battles and how to this day the land is handed down from one generation to another. No foreigner can buy land in the Cook Islands. What a great idea, it would certainly help the housing market in Vancouver. We were also informed that many of the cook islanders still use every fauna on the islands for medical use. Very effective apparently, we are all for it. Evidently a huge amount of Polynesians left the islands in Vevas (they look like old fashioned Catamarans) in the 13 hundreds. It is thought this was due to fish poisoning. They then came back in the 16 hundreds. The Vevas sailed from all the islands in the Pacific at up to 18 knots, so were very efficient. Sadly fish poisoning is coming back, in fact there are huge problems in the Oceans with worldwide warming. It is a real concern especially for the people who live on these islands.
We hired a bike to explore Rarotonga and ended up buying some wonderful pieces of art and for Russ a hand made Ukulele. One artist was Kay George, her work is online and we hope to buy more. Trish our friend has her work all over her home. We lucked out one night as Laura Collins and the Back Porch Blues Band were on the island. They are from Wellington, but play worldwide. They were fantastic, it was such a treat to find them in the Pacific.
The next island we were fortunate to be able to visit was Aitutaki. Not many boats are able to get through the narrow, shallow pass. We had an interesting entrance as not only is the pass very shallow, but for a Cat it is also very narrow. I was at the helm with only four feet either side of Ta-b with beautiful, but deadly coral ready to potentially do us serious damage. Luckily it was calm, but it made the passes in the Tuamotus seem a doddle in comparison. We were the only boat anchored in the wee harbour and the local kids thought we were their new playground, until they were told to give us a bit more privacy.
The people were super friendly with the health official inviting us to his house for the evening to watch the All Blacks against Argentina. It was a great game, especially the first half.
It is a gorgeous small island with a huge shallow lagoon with lots of beautiful Motus. We went to Honeymoon Motu a couple of times to learn kite boarding, a perfect place for the sport, we learnt a lot and look forward to practicing more in Tonga.
One thing we noticed was that there are no dogs on the island. Apparently the story goes that the Princess was bitten many years ago and so they are now banned.
Our next stop was Palmerston Atoll with its six sandy islets scattered along the coral reef surrounding the large lagoon. It has a unique history. The 60 inhabitants are all descendants of a patriarchal figure, William Marsters, a Lancashire sea captain who settled there with three women in 1862. He fathered 26 children and divided the islands and reefs into sections for each of the three "families" and established strict rules on intermarriage. English is the first language spoken and we heard very little Maori. There is a school for the 23 children with five staff; two who were from the US and are housed in the beautiful schools buildings. There is a clinic, an admin building, and a telecom building, all of which are run and used by one family. Amazing.
Bill's family hosted us. They are descendants of number one wife and own the middle part of the island. A truly beautiful family with delightful kids and a grandmother called Grammy who captured my heart. We spent every day with the family who shared their lives with us and made us delicious lunches. We had a very emotional departure. Grammy cried as she gave us leis of flowers to wear around our necks that she had made. It was hard to give her a final kiss goodbye. Bill was overly generous and we left with enough food to last us a couple of weeks, our numerous gifts to everyone in return could never thank them enough. We would love for Bill to host friends following us; he has one very well maintained mooring buoy only, which he will not accept payment for. He suggests emailing his wife, Metua at firstname.lastname@example.org as they have no VHF radio, but they will come out to greet you if they know an approximate arrival time.
We also saw whales on our arrival, and our first night one came alongside our boat and made a massive noise, yikes, it was amazing as they huge. Humpback whales visit the islands from June to September to calve and can often be seen with their young. There are strict rules about interaction and to be honest we made sure we never went close to any, as when they breach they could sink Ta-b.
We stopped at Niue, known as "The Rock" as it is composed of coral limestone, which rises from the sea in two tiers at 100' and 200' with no surrounding lagoon. It is deep and 20 mooring buoys have been laid for passing yachts, all well maintained by the Niue Yacht Club. The only Yacht Club in the world to have no yachts apparently ☺ A unique way of getting onto land was to hoist your tender, via a crane onto the hard, had its pluses and minuses as the crane was a bit temperamental. However once on terra firma there are many caves, caverns and arches to visit, but no streams or rivers. Therefore the seawater has no sediment and is crystal often with a visibility of 230 feet. It is a small island with only 1,100 inhabitants although at one time apparently there were 45,000 people. The last to leave was after Cyclone Heta in 2004, which caused a lot of damage to the island with waves destroying buildings on top of the cliffs a 100' from the sea.
We hired a motorbike one day (there is no local transport) and explored the southern part of the island. We noted that every five hundred yards or so there would be a grave or group of graves, then there were the abandoned buildings everywhere, an interesting history. Another day we went off in a van with friends and checked out the northern part of the island. There is only one resort, which caters mainly to divers, conferences and hikers. The hikes down to the caverns, caves, chasms, pools, etc. were spectacular; it really is a gorgeous island. Moving on was a problem as there was no wind in the forecast for about ten days, so we grabbed a very small window of wind knowing that it would not last long, although it did stay with us most of the way to Tonga and we had an excellent trip just having to motor the last day.
We have put up two gallery postings, as we have so many pictures we wanted to share. Thanks go to fellow cruisers Sonrisa and Echo Echo for their contributions and also Russ as my camera is not working well and my go pro has its limitations. Enjoy
Tahaa to Maupiti
05 September 2016 | Societies
Jane, warm and sunny
From Huahine we crossed to Tahaa and Raiatea, two islands that lie within the same coral reef. This is where one can charter a boat to sail around French Polynesia. The Raiatea marina there is very efficient. We had a small welding job done costing us only $10 and our friends who hauled said the place was excellent and prices fair.
We spent most of our time in Tahaa as there is an incredible coral garden between two motus on the western side. Here the fish ate out of our hands. The yellow butterfly fish especially liked bananas and I managed to get some great footage with my new go pro - such fun. We also visited the pearl farm closeby, fascinating how they make the black pearls, so many different variations - gorgeous. Sadly the weather became overcast and windy, not the best conditions to see the two islands. We would certainly consider chartering a boat one day, as we did not really get to know the two islands.
Our next island was Bora Bora, with its spectacular volcanic peaks surrounded by an extensive lagoon of varied hues of blue. It is known as one of the world's most beautiful islands and we can understand why. Sadly though tourism has taken over and the motus are covered with hotels that seem to spread for miles. Apparently there are approx. 2,500 palm covered rooms over the water. We managed to find a quiet area, but with the winds the water had become murky so snorkeling was left to cleaning Ta-b's hull. Dissappointing, however we did have fun.
The Mai Kai marina has become very popular with cruisers, possibly because of their wonderful happy hour and amazing band that plays on Tuesdays and Fridays. We had a couple of terrific evenings ashore with friends. We also went to the St. Jame's gastro restaurant with another couple for their six course meal with accompanying wines, yummy. A real treat; especially when a Manta Ray entertained us when attracted to the dock lights. At this point I should mention shoes. Over the last six months I have hardly worn shoes, well maybe some flip flops or sandles for going into town. So out came my favourite shoes for going out. To my horror not once, but twice, the second time at a five star restaurant my shoes literally fell apart (see picture of second pair). Luckily our tender was right at the dock where we were seated so I did not have to walk anywhere. Living on board has certainly distroyed my wardrobe, the humidity, salt, rust stains and rotting have taken their toil.
Our last island we feel is the jewel of the Societies - Maupiti. This island of only 1,200 people lies 27 miles northwest of Bora Bora and is the most western of the islands. It is a remnant of a volcanic peak and its highest point at 1,250 feet is near the center of the island. We hiked to the top one day, well the last bit of cliff and rope I gave a miss, but the views from close to the top were magnificient.
We were fortunate that the locals were having a party the Friday we were there. Most of the boats at anchor went and we were treated to memorable evening. The games consisted of opening and emptying coconuts, teams of three, to see who could do the most in five minutes. Three teams, including one with women who did a fantastic job. Another game was husking coconuts. This is what they do for work each day, so they are amazingly efficient. Then there was the weight lifting. Seven guys competing, although they got some of the cruising guys to try to lift the smaller rocks. The locals managed 146 kilos each, well six of them did, incredible. What to do for entertainment instead of watching TV. The buffet was local fair with a dance troupe finishing off with wonderful singers and a band for dancing. So much talent in such a small community, fantastic.
We would have liked to have stayed much longer. The snorkeling was excellent and watching the huge Manta Rays at the cleaning stations near the pass was magnificient, they are such stunning creatures. There was even a fabulous sand spit for kiting, but sadly the wind was not in our favour. A lot of people do not visit Maupiti as the pass has a poor reputation, because in rough conditions it is hazardous to enter. It is a shame as it is a delightful place, very clean, with warm, charming locals who make visitors very welcome. There are a few pensions for tourists and even an airstrip. We can understand the pass having a bad name as we had a very sporty entrance, the wind suddenly came up from the wrong angle, but the pass was luckily still just attainable. We however had a very boring exit, taking the opportunity to leave before the next bad weather came through.
It was sad to leave French Polynesia. A truly stunning location to cruise around. We certainly recommend that our friends following us allow more than one season in the area; which we have now found is possible and well worth the time. We now sail to the Cook Islands where we will no longer have to try to speak French and Polynesian - phew. Looking forward to a new culture to explore and experience.