19/05/2012, South Minerva Reef
We made it to South Minerva. The fishing is s..t but ...we're dining on seven big Pacific lobsters - feeding ourselves and three other boats :-). Off to North Minerva on Monday, depart for Levuka on Tuesday.
Dave and crew
A very excited Dave and crew of Brett, John and Jo, departed Auckland for Fiji, via Minerva Reef, on Thursday May 10th.
Unfortunately on Thursday night they sustained some damage to the chart plotter as a result of an uncontrolled gybe, and had to return to New Zealand waters. They arrived in Opua, Bay of Islands, on Friday afternoon.
The great news is that they were all repaired and rested by 6pm Saturday evening. They cleared Customs and farewelled New Zealand waters on Sunday morning. The conditions weren't the best for heading north but at 6pm last night they were east of North Cape, heading True north at 7 knots, and all was well on board. Phew!
We arrived in the Vavau'us on Sunday after a brisk ride up, where Dave and I saw lots of whales but thankfully a little way off - as if we were to hit them at 7-10 knots we would be in trouble! We also "almost caught" another marlin - smaller this time - and a mahi-mahi. Dave got the mahi-mahi right up near to the boat after a good fight but it got away at the last moment, while the marlin we could see but it broke the line. It may have been to do with my helming - its a challenge to stall the boat in 20-25 knots, with a swell and chop, but not to stall it too much so that the fish catches up with us, so then to gather a little speed again and steer at 180 degrees to the direction the fish takes. I am definitely an apprentice :-).
Since then we have been anchored off a little beach and village on the island of Kapa with our "neighbours" Relapse and Ruby-June. We did all our administration on Monday (clearing customs for Vavau'u and extending our visa (its hard to imagine we have been in Tonga for 5 weeks now!).
Lots to explore up here and we hope to do that seriously from today - so more to tell soon. Our new crew join us on September 3rd and then we will be here in Vava,u until September 10 - so we can watch the Tonga V NZ game on the 9th and then weather-allowing we will head to Fiji on the 10th to begin to explore the 320 islands (and we will watch the rest of the cup from there).
Since I last wrote I have also swum with a mother whale and her calf - an incredible experience - however she didn't put up with us for long and we have since learnt a lot more about whale watching and so hope to have more time to observe these majestic creatures, next time. We were also invited to a feast in a small village (100 people) in the Haapais which was a real privilige. It was to celebrate the opening of their refurbished community hall, paid for in exchange for their conservation of the nearby reef. They did the traditional dancing, food, prayers and speeches.
The people here in Tonga and fantastic it is easy to see why they are called the friendly islands. Some of the places we have visited in the Haapai Group look like they have not changed the way of life much from a 100 years ago, with the exception of the outboard motor and nylon fishing nets, and - sadly - plastic bags.
Besides these more major events, the days just seem to slip by - we have no trouble filling them in with chores, swimming, exploring nearby islands and eating :-) - for example our breakfast is a green coconut each (drink [we also enjoy it with white rum - our own fresh malibu]) - Dave has become a very adept coconut gatherer, opener and then polisher (for coconut bowls), then pawpaw and lemon juice, then banana with muesli and fresh yoghurt (I wish I had discovered Easi-yo years ago!, followed by freshly ground coffee and toast (local bread - we have yet to make our own).
I mentioned "chores". Riada II is going really well. Dave often has things to fix or repair but nothing major and nothing he can't sort out with ease and while he does that I do our "housework", look after our (now daily) communications, "weather-forecasting" etc.. We can confirm working is over rated for anyone working and wondering if they shouldn't be.
Okay, I'd better go as we are off to do some fishing and hopefully to explore nearby Swallows Cave - an underwater cave.
Carolyn and Dave
Guess what today Dave swam with whales - it was amazing. We tracked a mother and her calf for quite some time in the dinghy and then Dave slid overboard while I was on camera duty (my turn next time :-)). We also saw two huge turtles.
We are at the eastern Hapais - at an island on the "Barrier Reef" called Uiha. We hope to go and find more painted lobsters tomorrow at a nearby island and catch some more mahi mahi en route - we have "only" had tuna lately. We will be here for a few days - using it as a base while we explore the area - and will then probably head north to the Vavau'us.
Carolyn and Dave
The highlights of the last month would have to be...Duff Reef and the islands of Makogai, Ovalau and nearby Naigani.
Duff Reef is 20nm north of Vanua Balavu, which is in the Lau Group (and is where we went by horseback to watch the RWC final!) and is a turtle breeding spot, with them laying at new moon/high tide - and our timing was perfect. Its a teeny weeny sandy cay on a huge reef and we arrived to find the cay surrounded by huge turtles - males there to mate and females to mate and then lay their batches of eggs - all at least 30 years old which is when they become fertile, (although from the size of the tracks the females left to their nest a Fisheries expert we met felt they may have been 80-100 years old).
We set ourselves up to overnight on the cay - cooking our dinner on an open fire - but we weren't lucky enough to see a turtle laying before we decided we were too cold at 1am. However we saw one leaving the cay in the early morning so they must have waited for us to leave :-)
Early the next day we sailed back to the truly gorgeous "Bay of Islands" at Vanua Balavu to rest up, before heading off the next day on a 24 hour sail to Makogai.
Makogai is a marine reserve, plus a turtle and clam breeding/sanctuary area all of which means the coral outcrops and reefs are teeming with fish. We certainly could have stayed for days more, as it was we had 5 days there. Makogai was also the leper colony for the South Pacific for 60 odd years and is a Fiji heritage site - all in all a very special island.
One day we walked to the other side of the island and on the way we found numerous ruins - especially of the quarters, cooking facilities, temples (Indian) and halls for the staff who worked at the 5000-strong leper colony.
The other days we filled with lots of snorkelling - often finding HUGE clams, swimming with turtles, being special guests at a meke performed by the children of the village, BBQs and pot luck dinners on shore with a 79-year old German man sailing single-handed and two other boats whom we are now sailing around with (one family is from Canada, the other from Alaska and both are thinking they will head for New Zealand with us).
From Makogai we all sailed to Levuka, Ovalau. Levuka is the old capital and another heritage site. It is truly a lovely, historic town. We spent two days exploring the town and having the best curries since our first full day in Fiji, in Lambasa :-)
Then we discovered the little island of Naigani, which looked just ike all the brochure shots - where the water was like being in a swimming pool and the sand golden.
We reluctantly left Naigani to travel through Bligh Water to make our way to Lautoka and to prepare to collect Dave's boys and their friend Chris - which we were very excited about.
As much as it was wonderful to be in Lautoka again for me, it had been so nice being away from civilization and commercial city/towns. Dave made sure I helmed us into Lautoka harbour so that I could see all the familiar land marks again for the first time.
We took a taxi ride to my old school and house, we had lunch at the old social club - the Northern Club - and afterwards we wandered around the shops - including meeting a older shop owner who remembered my Dad and shopped till we dropped at the teeming market, rounding the day off by having a great curry meal. Then we picked up Dave's son Liam and friend Chris in Nadi last Friday and we haven't stopped since - and then Dave's older son Matt joined us at Waya Island in the Yasawas on Wednesday and the pace picked up just a little bit more.
We had one night at Malololailai/Musket Cove and then on to Wayasewa - one of the first islands in the Yasawas - where we have spent most of our time in the Yasawas as we met a very generous Fijian man who took us all out for several fantastic dives. He also took us all for a daylong tramp over to the other side of Wayasewa where we saw amazing vistas and rock formations.
Two days ago we left Wayasewa and headed for Nanuya Balavu where we had hoped to swim with manta rays, but the season had finished, and then yesterday we came onto Soso Bay and village. Last night we went in to do sevusevu - the kava ceremony we have done when we arrive at
every village - and to have a village tour.
Liam leaves Fiji tomorrow morning and that means our time here is almost over!
We aren't sure of our ETD from Fiji and ETA New Zealand just yet - we need to make it back to Lautoka, consider the weather reports, clear customs and immigration, provision etc. However, you can be sure that we will see you soon! Lots of love, Carolyn and Dave
When I last "wrote" we were about to cross the Somosomo strait from Vanua Levu to Qamea Island (near Taveuni). Qamea harbour is an ideal anchorage - a "hurricane hole" in fact and we have since been back twice - their are four local villages and they have all been extremely welcoming - even opening up their homes to us to watch the rugby and providing us with free water as well as produce from their gardens. We have also befriended a young Indian man (Vijen) and his family - he is the caretaker for the nearby American property and the only Indian family on the island (hence he can speak fluent Fijian) - and he has been very kind to us (more later).
When we first came to Qamea we were still the RRR Cruising Club. Our "Squadron Leader" Mark knew the area well and took us to a beautiful nearby island, Matagi for a day-trip where there was stunning snorkelling and Dave speared us a snapper-like fish for dinner - our first reef fish in Fiji. Dave also discovered a Danish-owned 3,500 acre plantation on the Taveuni coast immediately opposite Qamea where we were able to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from their commercial garden - very very useful!
The next morning we sailed to Rabi Island (said Rambi) where the Banabans live - the people displaced from Ocean (Banaban) Island by guano (for New Zealand and Australian fertiliser). We spent most of our first day there in Catherine Bay visiting the nearby village, sharing green coconuts with them and watching a dance practice, in return taking them some pens, books and clothes. They are very proud of their heritage but have very little and no means of earning money other than selling fish or food to each other. They have been unsuccessful at getting any ongoing benefit from those who displaced them (British/Kiwis). Despite this they would give us the shirt off their backs.
They all spoke very good English as Banabans highly value education. To read more about the Banabans, please see the New Zealand National Geographic August 2006 issue [I think the date is]. It would be fair to say we felt very compelled to help them (more later).
After school that night Dave and I had waterborne visitors - from young boys in their father's canoes - curious to see our boat. The ones who came after school Dave mended their canoe paddle and they
then had a race against our two young cruising friends on our paddleboards, then a couple more, older boys, arrived after dinner and were fascinated to watch a movie on board with us.
The next day we motored to another anchorage on Rabi (Albert Cove) where there is fabulous snorkelling and two Banaban families happily subsisting on the food they can grow behind the beach or harvest from the sea. The "RRR cruising club" befriended the families such that they took us to a nearby cove and we climbed precipitous rainforest-covered rock face for two hours to view a very special place - a cave where the paramount Fijian chief used to live, direct his warriors and devour his enemies. It was scary, exhilarating and we felt very honoured all at the same time. In fact we loved it so much we decided to go back again (more later) and before we left we gave them items that will help them harvest from the sea, prepare their food, and build their homes, and Dave gave a wonderful woman of our age called Miriana a spare pair of his glasses and she can now read books again and do fine weaving again!.
The next day we parted company from the two RR's - a very sad day for us all, but we have decided to meet up again next year in July in Darwin (more when we get back :-)). Relapse and Ruby-June headed south for Makogai Island's turtle reserve and then the Yasawas, before leaving Fiji for Vanuatu while we went north east for 3 hours to a place I had been dying to get to - Budd Reef and its nearby islands. We anchored off an uninhbited island (Yavu) with a pristine white beach, and no other humans to be seen - in fact we hadn't seen any since leaving our friends behind.
Despite this we must have been spotted as we soon had a visit from the local chief in his boat and performed sevusevu (kava gifting) with him on board, before going with him to collect green coconuts and crabs (for bait) on the beach. Dave was delighted to hear from him that there were likely to be lobster on the reef nearby and so we got up before dawn the next morning and Dave went for a dive. While the lobster Dave found were too small, it was beautiful at that time of the day and the snorkelling was the best we had seen.
Soon after we reluctantly left to return to Qamea as the next morning Vijen took us across to Taveuni in his boat and then on a tour of beautiful northern Taveuni where we braved the (rock!) waterslide
before his family hosted us for lunch at home in their multi-racial village and made my two favourite curries (which suited them as they forswear meat for the two weeks leading up to Diwali on October 26th) - bean curry and potato curry, served with roti - I was in gastronomic heaven again!
The next day we began our journey back to Savusavu to provision and meet Dave's sister, Sandy. We had an uneventful trip until we hooked a 90kg marlin late in the afternoon! A very exciting battle ensued (my first as the only crew - I was pretty nervous :-)), and afterwards we retraced our course to find an anchorage and village where we could cut up and gift the wonderful meat. Hence we met the Loaloa family - a family of 8 siblings and their children, who have very little but were so hospitable to us; after performing sevusevu they invited us to eat with them and stay the night - and that was before we told them about the fish! Shortly afterwards they witnessed a torchlit carving up on the beach of the biggest fish they had ever seen! Family members were up all night boiling and smoking the fish, and considered us a blessing.
The next day we made it to Savusavu to re-provision, and were delighted to meet Sandy and girls at the airport 24 hours later. We couldn't wait to get away back towards Taveuni/Qamea as they only had 5 full days with us and we wanted to take them back to our favourite places - the north eastern Vanua Levu coast, Rabi Island, Matagi Island and Taveuni. We had a very special time with them, especially at Albert Cove, where we were the special guests at two feasts and Miriana taught us to weave a number of items out of coconut leaves, as well as enjoying the reef, paddleboarding and the idyllic beach. We also went to visit a nearby village's kindergarten where Alice and Michaela performed a Maori song and dance for the children, and the children reciprocated - a special moment. They too fell in love with Matagi Island and reluctantly flew out from Taveuni. Oh and I almost forgot - in the short time they were on board Sandy caught a big tuna,
Michaela a walu and Alice a mahimahi - so we had some very tasty fish dishes :-)....
...and that brings us to our last two days - preparing for and then sailing overnight to the Exploring Isles, Lau Group. After sleeping off our sleep debt, we were delighted to find we are the only yacht in
Fiji's "Bay of Islands" - in fact we could almost swear we were in the Bay of Islands at home, except that the water is 26C, it is uninhabitated, unusual birdsong echoes and when we went for a paddleboard we saw two turtles. So privilged to be here - the Lau Group has only recently been opened up to yachties!
We hope to spend the next two weeks heading south through the group before spending a week heading for familiar territory - Lautoka - where we will meet Dave's boys and friends to explore the Yasawas.
Okay, I must end this epistle; Dave is on dinner using our fabulous farewell gift pressure cooker to prepare a yummy chicken dish and I must go and make a salad.
Carolyn and Dave