Jackpot! Wild Devil Sighted at Last in Tasmania's Serengeti
13 March 2018 | Narawntapu National Park, Northern Tasmania
Alison and Geoff, sunny and warm(ish)
Photo shows an inquisitive devil caught by our capture camera last night at Narawntapu NP
Trying to spot Australian mammals can be quite frustrating, as most of them are nocturnal. In the past we have spent hours with a torch scouring the bush at night with little success, even when the tracks in the sand reveal the richness of little bush creatures.
Australia's birds, by contrast, are highly visible and often extremely noisy, with the prize for garrulous squawking going to the cockatoos!
Yellow tailed black cockatoos share the top audio ratings with sulphur crested cockatoos, corellas and kookaburras! Cockatoos just seem to yahoo their way through life!
Bottoms up! At the other end of the avian ocker scale are the superb fairy wrens. Here a male in fading breeding blue has a discussion with one of his duller hued harem.
Here at Narawntapu, touted by Parks and Widlife as 'Tasmania's Serengeti', mobs of grey kangaroos appear first in the late afternoon on the grassy paddocks left over from when the area was farmed pre 1970. Then the first wallabies appear, tentatively. Even smaller pademelons pop into the open. Brush tailed possums descend from their tree top homes just after dark. The wombats have all sadly died from tick born mange here, but what about the huge diversity of smaller mammals: dunnnarts, bettongs and potoroos, antechinus, gliders and little possums, bandicoots, quolls, devils and others?
Easy days for this mob of forester kangaroos on the Spring Lawn paddock at Narawntapu
Male forester. Narawntapu's large population of the three larger macropods - roos, wallabies and pademelons - is why the 'Serengeti' tag has been used
We bought a cheap ($150) infra red camera while in Burnie which is normally used for surveillance. It works for elusive widlife, too. Strapped to a tree near a track in the Banksia bush it was triggered 40 times last night, with pademelons, bettongs, possums, a quoll and devil caught as they wandered to and fro.
The devil actually returned three times and seemed to be very curious about the camera. We suspect it actually climbed and gave it a nudge at some point!
Brush tailed possum, roaming in the gloaming
Pademelons - if pademelons are wannabe wallabies, bettongs are miniature pademelons! There are 50 odd species of roo like macropods in Australia and 20 more in New Guinea
Eastern spotted quoll
The same devil (?) triggered this capture camera photo a day later
The real Serengeti in Northern Tanzania, sad to say, is the last place anywhere on the planet like it. Nowhere we have been that uses its name as a parallel (Yellowstone's Lamar Valley for example) can really quite compare with that huge expanse of grassland and savannah, with its massive numbers and diverse range of megafauna. We can only hope that the sometimes corrupt government of Tanzania and its impoverished people realise just how precious their Serengeti is.
We have spent three very enjoyable days in this little national park. Tomorrow we head back to Devonport and take the night ferry to Melbourne.
Meanwhile, the fourth tropical cyclone in our part of the world, TC Linda, is now heading for the Fraser Island coast and Brisbane, but looks as if it will recurve and disintegrate before doing any damage.
Autumn on the North Coast of Tasmania
07 March 2018 | Burnie, Tasmania
Alison and Geoff, fine and warm
Photo shows a young Tasmanian devil at Cradle Mountain's captive breeding programme. More about the devils later in the blog.
We are in Burnie, a small city on the North coast of Tasmania. It coyly calls itself "The City of Makers", perhaps because it is a basically an industrial port on the Bass Strait coast. It serves the huge gum plantation timber industry that sprawls across the northern part of the island, fringing the threatened Tarkine wilderness, which lies in the North West corner. It used to make paper in the big pulp and paper mill, but that's now defunct and the city seems to be making less and shippping out more raw logs and wood chip.
The best thing about Burnie is its penguin colony. These are little (blue) penguins, the same species as our Tutukaka ones, but with an Aussie twist. It was discovered a couple of years ago that the Australian subspecies forms large breeding colonies (the Burnie colony is upward of 200 birds in the breeding season), while the NZ penguins breed by themselves in scattered pairs. Oddly, the little blues that live on the central east coast of the South Island are descendants of Aussie ancestors, hence the large colony at Oamaru.
The Burnie city council has done a good job protecting the city's easily seen colony from potential dangers and allows free access to visitors behind a fence. 30 Burnie residents take turns to monitor the penguins and give free talks at dusk when they pop out of the water to return to their nests. Magic!
Little blue penguin at Burnie This little guy /girl (?) is a full grown adult, and is sill moulting. Each adult takes 2 weeks to feed up out at sea after chicks have fledged. Then they come on land to moult and stay in their burrows for 2 weeks using up their fat reserves and getting mighty hungry and itchy!
We spent a week or so on the high, cold plateau around Cradle Mountain after puffing up several steep hills. Cradle Mountain / Lake St. Clair National Park forms part of Tasmania's world heritage listed western wilderness area, together with the unprotected Tarkine, the Franklin Wild Rivers National Park and the South West National Park. We did quite a bit of walking around cradle Mountain, but temperatures plummeted to just above freezing during the nights and it was uncomfortably cold.
Cradle Mountain from Dove Lake
Cradle Mt and the Obelisk on the plateau
Tassie's hill of hills?
After staying two nights at the Cradle Mountain campground we aborted our idea of climbing the mountain of the same name. The thought of another night of almost freezing temperatures in the tent sent us scuttling back to the relative warmth of the coast!
Before heading down, as we hadn't yet seen a Tasmania devil in the wild, we visited a breeding centre for this iconic Tasmanian species. It is part of the Tasmanian Government's Insurance Population Programme to safeguard a DFTD free population of devils for the future.It seems that despite their name they are not hunters, but scavenge off the flesh of marsupials killed by the smaller quoll, which is extremely aggressive and can kill a wallaby. In the early days the blood curdling screeches of these really quite docile marsupials led early settlers to name it the Tasmanian Devil.
2 young devils at the breeding centre. Frequent biting around each other's mouth and face allows the cancer to spread quickly, unfortunately.
On the way down from the plateau we at last spotted two elusive platypuses in a pond at Waratah, right next to the town's campground. The campground even provided a couple of seats and a sign saying "Platypus viewing area." The day we saw the platypus we also saw echidnas scuttling their way across the buttongrass plains on the plateau, which meant we saw both Australia's monotreme (egg laying mammals) species in the same day!
Platypus at Waratah
Echidna on the buttongrass plains
We are wrapping up our Tassie tiki tour in the next few days before crossing over to Melbourne on the night ferry next week. We have nearly clocked up 1,000 km on the bikes, but have 700 or so still to cycle between Warrnambool in western Victoria and Adelaide. A report in the U.K. Guardian
reckons all this puffing and huffing is doing us some good, but the trouble is we start going down hill again once back on the boat!
It's definitely Autumn here in Tasmania, but the tropics are still active. The third dangerous cyclone of the season, TC Hola, is barreling its cat 4 way down the slot between New Cal.'s Loyalty Islands
and Vanuatu. The last two cyclones have actually caused more damage in NZ than the islands to the North apart from Tonga's Tongatapu. We have booked flights back to Noumea and the boat on 10th April.
Autumn mist at the Waratah council campground
All A-Gog in Tiger Country
02 March 2018 | Gowrie Park, Northern Tasmnania
Alison and Geoff, cool and cloudy
After puffing up over the Gog Range and whizzing down the other side we thought we had landed in Paradise, but we hadn't... the little settlement of the same name was over another bloody uncycleable hill!
We are in Northern Tasmania, 35 km short of Cradle Mountain in Tiger country, or that's what some of the tourist blurbs have been saying. Of course the chance of seeing one of the long extinct Tasmanian tigers is about as likely as coming across a moa in Fiordland!
No, not the extinct Tasmanian tiger, but a model of a Tasmanian devil outside a wildlife enclosure on the way to Mole Creek.
We've been pedalling for days since we were on the East Coast. We haven't seen any cyclists for a long time, except for the Warm Showers hosts in Launceston and Westbury we stayed with (Warm Thanks to our Warm Showers hosts, Vicky in Launceston and Jen and Pete in Westbury!). Maybe it's the hills, some of which have been quite serious. In fact, we have actually had to push the bikes twice now, once across Launceston, Tasmania's second largest city, more a navigational mistake than anything else, but today while crossing the Gog range from the Meander Valley we had to push the bikes twice.
The landscape from St Helens West has been very similar to East Gippsland in Victoria, rolling hills with gum forest in between farmland. The rivers are all platypus habitat, but we have only glimpsed one shy platypus in a river pond at Scottsdale, but we have seen quite a few echidnas. We've tried to encourage them to waddle into the bush as there is already too much road kill on Tassie roads.
One of many echidnas on the A3. Get away from the road, you silly bugger!
We've now rejoined the tourist circuit, as Cradle Mountain is on the tick list of places for tourists to visit, but between St Helens and here there has just been a smattering of little Aussie towns and villages and very few tourists. Many of these small rural Aussie towns have very good accommodation options, as the rural councils attempt to lure grey nomads to linger and spend their money, to keep the towns from dying. Council run campgrounds are green, free, donation only, or cheap with toilets, water, rubbish bins and space to pitch a tent.
We met up with Tim and Nanette, out on the nomad run from Pt Sorell near Devonport, by a platypus pool at the council run campsite at Scottsdale. Tim and Nanette sailed at the same time as us in the Sail Indonesia rally in 2008 from Darwin to Malaysia. They dropped in to see us in Tutukaka in 2016.
We've been using Warm Showers a bit more, too. For anyone who is depressed and distressed at the way America appears to have slipped into an abyss of late, Warm Showers, an American invention, should warm the cockles of your heart. It's like couchsurfing for those determined not to be couch potatoes, or basic AirBnB for free. It's free accommodation, a space for a tent or a bed, for touring cyclists, provided by touring cyclists. We are theoretically hosts in Tutukaka, courtesy of Saraoni, although Saraoni is now in New Cal. Warm Showers is now all over the world, having expanded from its U.S. base. WarmShowers hosts are all avid cyclists, love to yak about adventures and often share meals and a bottle of booze.
Avid touring cyclist Vicki's backyard vege plot in Launceston was our warm Showers campsite for the night.
We are heading up to Cradle Mountain/Lake St Clair National Park tomorrow, then to the west coast at Strahan on Macquarie Harbour before backtracking to Devonport, mid March.
Wombles and Wombats on the East Tassie Coast
18 February 2018 | Bicheno, Tasmania
Alison and Geoff, cold and cloudy!
Gotcha! Caught a big, fat possum in the act red-handed, attempting a break and enter with his mate, a less well endowed accomplice, at Freycinet National Park.
We've now topped 400 km and numerous evocatively named hills since leaving Hobart and our $50 bikes and us are still in good condition. We are in Bicheno, a small coastal town on the East Tasmanian Coast. We have spent several days in Freycinet National Park, beneath the boulder strewn Hazzards, and Maria Island NP, half way between the Freycinet and Tasman peninsulas.
One of Tassie's evocatively named hills
In both parks we have had lovely campsites, courtesy of Tasmanian National Parks. At Freycinet, it cost $13 a night, right on the beach, with the view across to the Hazzards and plenty of space between us and the next site. Ditto on Maria Island. These government run sites are far better than any of the commercial campgrounds we have had to endure, mainly because we are dependent on charging up our camping computers while we tap for our tucker on this Tassie tiki tour. It's common to pay $30 to $35 for a smidgeon of space per night stuck between the campervans and caravans in a privately run site, but there aren't enough of the government ones.
Wombats are outnumbered hundreds to one in Tasmania by wombles* and other humans, but can be found in abundance on lovely Maria Island, just off the Triabunna coast. Maria has had a chequered history. It was for eons a peaceful place, with the indigenous NueNue people sharing the island with plentiful wildlife. Then the Brits turned up, shared their germs with the locals, slaughtered whales, seals and any NueNue left, then used the island for storing convicts.
Wombats thrive on Maria Island
Echidna on the Bishop & Clerk trail. Echidnas are one of two species of egg laying mammals. Hope to see the other (the platypus) later this week around Derby or Scottsdale.
Later it became farmed, but once it was realized that it wasn't economically sustainable it became a national park and a refuge for wildlife threatened elsewhere in Tasmania. Flinders Island wombats, Forester kangaroos and Cape Barren geese were released to join the possums, bandicoots, pademelons and wallabies already on the island. Because of the grazing land available, all these grass eaters did very well. Every late afternoon the paddocks overflow with hordes of wombats, like cute, furry lawnmowers, with little legs and koala like faces. A little later, wallabies, pademelons (even smaller wallabies) and the rest of the nocturnal marsupial menagerie emerge from the scrub for a feed.
Cape Barren goose on Maria Island
In 2012, the Tasmanian devil population was in such bad shape because of DFTD that a very select group of captive born devils was brought to the island, in what was a first in marsupial predator release. No-one knew whether the devils, without any knowledge of living in the wild, would prosper, but they did. So much so that the surplus are now captured and released in parts of the country where devils have been lost to the cancer.
A newly released devil encounters kangaroos for the first time - pic taken from the NP info video on Maria Island.We heard but didn't see any devils while on the island.
We stayed for two nights on Maria in the expansive campground, saw lots of animals, including echidnas and a big tiger snake, and climbed the rocky heights of Bishop and Clerk on a lovely, calm, warm day. The weather changed drastically on the day we took the ferry back. It blew 50 knots and more across from the mainland and it was a bit touch and go whether the ferry would make it out of the little Maria Island wharf without dragging onto the beach.
Meanwhile in the tropics, TC Gita roared across Tongatapu, destroying the Met. Service building, the hospital and many houses, skirted the bottom of the Lau Group, then rolled past the bottom of Vanuatu and headed to New Cal. The authorities put the ports on first cyclone alert, Saraoni was reportedly tied down with hawsers to cyclone chains, but in the end only Ile des Pins got a whopping. Gita is now headed for Cook Strait.
We are headed further north towards St Helens, then turn westwards through Scottsdale and Launceston towards the huge bulk of wilderness in the west of Tasmania - the Tarkine, Cradle Mountain and Franklin Wild Rivers National Parks. We expect to be crossing Bass Strait on the ferry on or around 20th March and then head west from Warrnambool towards Adelaide, bikes permitting.
The wind is blowing straight from Antarctica at the moment and it's bloody freezing. Roll on the last of summer!
On the ferry approaching Maria Island
View towards Triabunna from Bishop & Clerk
Wineglass Bay in Freycinet NP
• Wombles: the affectionate (?) term given to pensioners when we worked on the big, red London double deckers, inspired by an inane kids' TV programme. Active wombles on the move are called grey nomads in Oz and a little rudely old farts in caravan parks!
Old Mates Abound Along the Two-Wheeler Tassie Tiki Tour
10 February 2018 | Richmond, Tasmania
Alison and Geoff, cool after rain
Photo shows a galah, one of several species of cockatoos in Tasmania, this one in a southern suburb of Hobart with his (or her) mates.
We are camped in the village of Richmond, an oldy-worldy, arty-farty place, 25 km from Hobart where the middle class of Tasmania's capital like to spend the weekend, buying trinkets and jew jaws and eat and drink. Given a few more hundred years of history it could almost be an English village, although the screaming Aussie slang coming from the flocks of sulphur crested cockatoos flying overhead would give the game away.
We came back through Hobart after a diversion south east to Bruny Island, the long extended island that protects the D'Entrecasteaux Channel and have met up with, or are yet to meet up with, some old mates, both human and non-human.
Bruny Island is reached by a short ferry ride from Kettering, where there is a large marina. The island is almost cut in half, but just connected by the "Neck," a 5 km long isthmus between white sandy beaches. Along the way and in amongst the gum forests and coast we have seen and heard kookaburras, cockatoos, parrots, lorikeets, wallabies, pademelons and a few echidnas. Unfortunately, many of our old friends were squashed flat on the roads, a fate that falls to far too much Australian wildlife.
Bennett's wallabies at Adventure Bay, Bruny, many of which end up as road kill
Not so squashed flat were the human buddies. Most extraordinary was the sudden appearance of two people we haven't seen since Rebak marina in Malaysia, circa 2009. Gus and Gaby of SV Pampero hailed us as we were pedalling back to the ferry on Bruny. How they recognized us 2 old puffing fogeys on our overloaded $50 bikes in the middle of nowhere is a mystery!
We first met these two on the Arnhem Land Coast when Gus came over with a bottle of red wine after hearing us bleat on the radio that we couldn't find any alcohol in any of the remote Aboriginal settlements for Geoff's birthday.
"Hey, Saraoni": Gus and Gaby, SV Pampero: a surprising encounter at Great Bay, Bruny
We had already stayed a night at circumnavigator Kerry and her two kids' place in Mt Nelson, Hobart where they have swallowed the anchor, at least for a while.
We also met up with Jo and Arnold from Adelaide on a mission to replace their old boat "Just Jane", last seen with them in Finike, Turkey, in April 2011. Not coincidentally, Just Jane was also the name we gave to a charismatic two toed sloth that lived near the La Playita marina on the Balboa side of the Panama Canal. Jo and Arnie completed their circumnavigation quite quickly and are now looking for a smaller, more modern yacht, perhaps to sail into the Pacific again.
And then there are others in and around the Apple Isle: Tim and Nanette near Devonport, who sailed on two separate boats to SE Asia at the same time we did, Paddy and Carolyn on their way to Tasmania from Sydney on Kristianne, who completed their circumnavigation at the end of 2016.
From here we continue our hilly, windy route to the East Coast. Maria Island National Park, on the island of the same name, just off the town of Triabunna, apparently has hoards of wombats and a healthy population of Tasmanian Devils who are dying elsewhere from devil facial tumour disease, a nasty cancerous growth, which is passed from devil to devil when they bite each other.
Tasmanian drivers are pretty thick on the island's narrow roads, but have been very courteous, with only the odd bad tempered hoot. There are quite a few touring cyclists here and cycling generally is quite popular. Hobart has an excellent intra city cycling track and there are frequent signs to motorists to keep at least 1 metre away from cyclists on the highway when passing, not an easy task on these roads.
We're keeping an eye on cyclone development in the SW Pacific. The first cyclone of the season, TC Fehi, was born not far from Koumac on Grande Terre the very day we flew out of New Cal.(!), but stayed relatively tame until it hit NZ's South Island. TC Gita has just swept through the Samoas and no-one knows quite what it is going to do next apart from intensify. Here in Tasmania, the weather makes its cyclical temperate gyrations, from warm to hot northerlies before a cooling front. The East of Tasmania is surprisingly dry, but we have just had a thunderstorm roll through to deliver rain and cooler temperatures, good for cycling up all those steep Tassie hills.
Bruny Island beach near the Neck
Bruny's east coast
Fluted Cape, South Bruny National Park
Tassie's answer to the pohutukawa: a bloodwood tree in flower
The Neck and Mt Wellington on the Tasmanian mainland in the distance from Fluted Cape
The Light of the Slivery Moon
01 February 2018 | Snug Bay, Tasmania
Alison and Geoff, cold SW airstream
Photo sequence of the total lunar eclipse last night from Hobart. The moon was particularly large because it was at perigee (a super moon), a blue moon because it was the second full moon of the month and the blood reddish colour only appeared as it went into eclipse.
Ẃe're in SE Tasmania, about 30 km south of Hobart at a place called Snug Bay at the top end of the D'Entrecasteaux Channel opposite Bruny Island, where we are heading soon.
We've bought 2 new bikes for $50 each ☺ and a new tent, so are as overloaded as ever. We left Saraoni coincidentally just as cat 1 cyclone Fehi was born just off shore from the NW end of Grande Terre, the first cyclone in the SW Pacific this season. Tassie had been sweltering in the mid 30s before we arrived, but by the next day the temp.had dropped dramatically. It even snowed in the CBD briefly! The remains of Fehi have just landed on the South Island.
The new bikes in Hobart's Elizabeth St Mall between wintry showers
The sky cleared on the night of the super blue blood red moon and we were treated to a fantastic view of the lunar eclipse as it went from a 'sliver' of shadow to a full reddish eclipse from Mt Nelson where we were staying with a yachtie friend.
Kerry and kids, circumnavigators now living on Mt Nelson in Hobart.
The Derwent at Hobart
25 January 2018 | Port Ouenghi, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, hot and humid
The once abandoned Casy Island dog, Moose, died not long after we saw him in bad condition just before Christmas (see end of older blog post
). South African yachties on catamaran Impi have produced a very nice tribute
to a remarkable dog, worth watching. The YouTube is a bit gooey in places but otherwise very well done.
Meanwhile we are getting ready to fly to Hobart next Monday, coincidentally just as the first really nasty tropical depression of the cyclone season slides down the west coast of Grande Terre. The forecast is for 60-100 mm of rain and up to 45 knots just as we head to the airport. Great! Hobart is showing 39C max. on Sunday, then 16 on Monday! Topsy turvy land.
Le Grand Tour de la Grande Terre
19 January 2018 | Port Ouenghi, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, calm, cloudy and wet
Photo shows the two bikes loaded to the gunwales, baguettes, computers, solar panel and all, by a village store in Voh.
We are back on the boat in Ouenghi after a 600km 11 day trip around Grande Terre (Big Land / Vanua Levu). It got cut short a little early as the South Pacific Convergence Zone (SPCZ) has at last decided to shift southwards towards its more usual summer position. This has brought intermittent thunderstorms, heavy rain and humid weather, not perfect for cycling and camping, let alone keeping up with work on our 2 little camping computers!
Our tour took in the west coast highway up to Koumac, then over the mountainous end of Grande Terre and then down the east coast to the village of Hienghene, where we caught the bus back to Boulouparis, the nearest village to Ouenghi. ($US 14 for a 300 km / 5 hr journey with the bikes and all the bike / camping clobber included!).
The west and east coasts are like chalk and cheese. The west is dominated by the Caldoches, Caledonian born French and their beef ranches with nickel mining in the north. The lifestyle is more rural Aussie than French (Fraussie?), with akubra hats, rodeos, utes and small functional towns every 50 km or so. There's little in between, apart from the background of New Caledonia's central mountain range and patches of niaouli
, the same (Melaleuca
) paperbark tree that Aussies call 'tea tree'. Each town is more a village than a town, with a Mairie (town hall), a church, a shop or two, a gendarmerie (cop shop), school and a garage.
West Coast: the church in Poya
West Coast scenery
West Coast: Please slow down, there are kids around!
West Coast: the Koniambo mine (nickel) conveyor belt near Kone
West Coast: Chasseloup Bay, near Voh
West Coast: signs to Kanak clan land
For the first week we were getting up at the crack of dawn while it was still cool. By 8, it was already hot. By 10 it was bloody hot and by 12 sweltering. The highway was fine, if narrow, and as we got steadily further north, people got friendlier, with almost every passing vehicle giving us a wave, a hoot, thumbs up and a grin. They probably only rarely saw touring cyclists and we didn't even see anyone on a bike at all, anywhere!
After Koumac, near the top end of Grande Terre, the weather showed signs of changing, 6 weeks late, with daily afternoon downpours. We made it over the very hilly top to the east coast where it was even wetter, but not all the time.
The east coast is Kanak land and much more like Vanuatu or anywhere else in the Pacific. The little coast road wound its way between steep mountains which plunged straight into the sea and the sea itself, with scattered hamlets, some with Kanak style round thatched huts. New Cal's most beautiful and luxuriant scenery is along the north east coast between Poindimie and Pouebo, especially the Mt Panie area, with dozens of cascading waterfalls and lovely, clear streams racing down to white sand coral beaches and the calm eastern lagoon.
East Coast: campsite on Diaoue clan land
East Coast: Diaoue hut with satellite dish!
East Coast: cascade on the slopes of Mt Panie
East Coast: typical coastal scenery
East Coast: the mouth of the Ouaieme river. It was this river mouth (see end of blog) we walked out of in late 1979 after 3 days lost in the hinterland. Funnily enough even though we remember most of the trip well, we couldn't recall the ferry or the mouth itself. Maybe we were too hungry to notice!
East Coast: ferry (bac) across the Ouaieme
East Coast: Alison cooling off
East Coast: the 'Chicken' (La Poule) and rocks at Hienghene
We now have just over a week before flying to Hobart on our Tassie trip, which may be extended through to Adelaide if time permits. We have almost too much work to do before leaving, but never mind, the money always seems to flow out as fast as it comes in! The boat now has to be cleared and readied for the 2 most dangerous months of the cyclone season while we are away.
What's Happened to La Niña?
04 January 2018 | Ouenghi marina, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, calm and hot, blue skies
Storm down south, but nothing in the tropics...yet!
Tied up in Ouenghi marina getting ready for a 10 day (or so) cycle ride and again wondering what has happened to the La Niña weather. While chaos has come to NZ
in the shape of yet another summer storm, there is no sign of anything in the tropics on our side of the Pacific, not even up towards the Solomons and PNG. And yet La Niña increases the temperature of the ocean water, above the trend due to climate change. Can't get too complacent, as there may be a late surge in disturbances like last year. Cyclone Cook went right over Ouenghi in April last year with 120 knot winds, so hoping there won't be 2 in a row!
Following the Red and White Stripes Through the Land of the Kaori and the Kagu
01 January 2018 | Port Ouenghi, Bouloupari, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, hot and calm
Photo shows the typical red and white striped balise (sign) of the French GR.
We rarely sit still for long and as we have decided to stay in New Caledonia until May, basically for the cyclone season, this has given us the chance to do some short and longer treks. We started first with the 830 metre Mont Dore near to Noumea and then we climbed Mont Mou to a similar height and Pic Nga in Isle de Pins. We then decided that the multi day GR NC 1 (Grand Randonee or "Great Walk"), covering more than 70 km, just fitted in nicely with our hiking intentions. Even though we have been to New Caledonia a few times before, we have kept mainly to the coast, (with one memorable exception ** see below) so have stuck to short walks only.
We thought that the most difficult part would be getting to the start of the walk and getting back at the end. Both proved to be far easier than the actual walk in the end.
We hopped off the Yate bus at the entrance to the Riviere Bleue provincial park and walked 2.5 km with loaded packs to cover the 4 to 5 day hike.
We always carry a tent, even if shelters or huts are available enroute, just in case they are full. The first night we camped at the park entrance station. We were allowed to camp anywhere, so the first night was spent near the refuge (hut), so we had access to water and loos. We had a nice night with a loud dawn chorus reminding us to get up early to avoid the summer heat. We couldn't pay our $2 park fee until the office opened at 7 am, which was 2 hours after dawn.
Once on the way, the 1st obstacle was a 500 m. hill over 5 km, which took us to the park's main car park. This is where all visitors must leave their cars and either walk, cycle or take the shuttle minibus to various places in the park. It was a bit of a hot slog but quite doable and we were happy to gulp down a few litres of spring water at the bottom. We crossed Riviere Blanche and took the old mining road up over another hill into the Riviere Bleue valley. That's where our next camping spot was for the night.
Riviere Blanche from a maquis covered hill top
We were quite alone, apart from the cagou, an endemic, almost flightless bird with no known similarities to any other bird except a species in Central America! Cagous are NC's national emblem. They are endangered, but predator control in the park has seen a growth in numbers.
One of 3 cagou (kagu) seen near Riviere Bleue, a bird the size of a large chicken. It behaves like a weka, but looks like nothing we have ever seen before!
The river water temperature was just right for a cool dip, so that's what we did.
Camp on the bank of Riviere Bleue
The next day after being awaken by the dawn chorus we packed up and walked to the end of the unsealed road into the dense rainforest where ancient kaori (same genus as the NZ kauri and others on various Pacific islands) could be found in abundance. One (le kaori geant) has its own track and info. and is estimated to be around 1,000 years old. Quite a specimen, about half the size of Tane Mahuta in Northland, NZ.
Le Kaori Geant near Riviere Bleue, probably the largest surviving kauri in New Cal.
Trouble with the track started brewing once we left the unsealed road and were greeted by what one would call a series of jagged stepping stones which we had to guide our feet around. We were wondering what had happened to the "great walk". This continued for a couple of hours until we headed on to the river crossing, which fortunately was only knee deep due to lack of rain.
The Riviere Bleue looking mellow near Pont Germain
Corne du Diable Deuxieme (The Second Horn of the Devil!) is totally dangerous and untenable in heavy rain. After sitting by the river for a while after walking for at least 8 hours, Geoff nipped up the track to see if he could find the park refuge (hut). He found it within 5 minutes, so we filled our 5 litre water container and decided to use our rather thin camping mats on the hard wooden floor in the hut as there were no soft camping spots. As well as a fire extinguisher it had a mountain radio installation powered by solar panels. Guess the lack of mobile reception accounts for this.
Geoff examining the small A frame refuge perched on a ridge above the sometimes dangerous Corne du Diable 2 river crossing
Despite the fact the walk has a spread of small maps and leaflets, sometimes it's best to ignore them. The third day was arduous to say the least. It was comprised of rocks that somehow need to be negotiated, tree roots and steps that were made from blocks of wood and rocks to stop erosion. To add to that was an upward climb from 400m to nearly 1,200m, not forgetting the downs and ups in between. In the maquis areas we saw quite a lot of pitcher plants. New Cal. only has one species of this carnivorous plant that originates from Borneo.
Nepenthes - a pitcher plant (carnivorous), common in the maquis
The ruggedness of the terrain meant we could barely make 1 km an hour. Fortunately, there were plenty of streams along the way, which we needed in the humidity, even though we were under cover in the rainforest for much of the time. We didn't reach the Mine de Soleil refuge at almost 1,200m until more or less dusk and found a nice soft, spongy grassy area to pitch our tent. It was also cool and misty.
Comfy campsite by the 1150m Mine de Soleil refuge. The name comes from a nearby 19th century nickel mine.
We were worrying that night about the standard of the track back to sea level the next day, so we were up at the dawn chorus to tackle the track below us. There were a fair number of rocks to negotiate in the rainforest, but once out of it, it was fairly well contoured down to the bottom of the first valley, which was a drop of 500m. We had to slog it up again to 750 m before finally dropping into the dammed Dumbea Valley - the water source for Noumea.
The Dumbea River downstream of the barrage and end of the GR NC1
The scenery was nice, but the rocks were too hot to even touch! Vehicles aren't allowed up to the barrage
, but we saw a few cyclists and walkers with dogs making their way up to the dam to view its alarmingly low level. There had been no real rain for days, probably weeks. We camped in a free campsite near the locked gate.
After being woken by the dawn chorus, the final half day of 8 km took us through the small horticultural and lifestyle area of the Dumbea Valley. Quite a pleasant area with plenty of trees for birds. Just a couple of km from the bus stop and 5 km or so from our start that morning a young woman stopped and asked us if we wanted a lift. We accepted and she knew we had come from the other end of the trail as she had not only done the walk herself, but has also done a lot of tramping in the South Island of NZ.
It was strange how we started communicating in our somewhat garbled French and her similar English, but after a few minutes she was speaking English almost fluently. Lucky her!!! We always try our French first, but we are most surprised how much people want to show off their English, whether they are in an Asian run store, a bus driver, or a local Kanak at a bus stop.
We just got to Noumea on time to rush to the local Casino supermarket to buy some wine, cheese and baguettes and board the bus for the one hour ride to the tun off to Port Ouenghi Marina. We staggered off the bus and within minutes of walking a local guy stopped and offered us a lift. Port Ouenghi is a lifestyle settlement, 60 km from Noumea. Virtually every home has a fence and a pack of hounds, some of which wag their tails and others who definitely do not!
We guessed the man who picked us up was intrigued about what 2 old people covered in red mud and dust carrying overly heavy backpacks were doing in his neighbourhood. Anyway, amidst smiles, he soon found out. Saraoni was just fine and as we had left the fridge on there was ice cold water in it as a result of solar energy.
After a few days rest and catching up on our backlog of writing tasks we intend on spending 10 days criss crossing the island by cycle.
** Rather fuzzy photos taken of our first "great walk" in New Cal. in 1978. It was the first tramp that we had done together. Typical of that time, we had picked somewhere that had no info. about it. We crossed over from the Tanghene to the Ouaieme river valleys without a map, food or common sense, getting lost, climbing down a huge waterfall and getting very hungry. The area (Mt Panie near Hienghene in the NE of Grande Terre) is now out of bounds because of kauri dieback disease, a fungal disease that is also crippling NZ's well known kauri stands.
The 40 Days of Christmas
25 December 2017 | Port Ouenghi marina, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, hot and calm
Photo of a Moroccan Santa snapped from Saraoni on Christmas day in Agadir, Morocco, 2012.
There has been a lot of soul searching about whether Christmas is worth it in the media recently. Maybe there is every year, but we haven't noticed it as much as this year. Because all of us either endure or enjoy Christmas, whether we like it or not, we thought we might as well add our 5 Pacific francs worth!
What do you do about Christmas when you a) are not a Christian, b) think God is a hoax c) can't stand commercialism, d) have no kids, d) are far away from family or friends, e) are in the southern hemisphere at the hottest time of the year, f) want to get to the shops or get something fixed?
Christmas is sometimes very enjoyable, but at other times it's just a pain in the arse. It's nice to see people giving up their Christmas time
to boost the morale of those at the bottom of the heap, though. It makes up for all the selfish Trumps of this world!
We've done some counting and reckon we have had 40 Christmases together since we first met. The first one was in 1978 in a tent, perched above a small bay in the Coromandel, hidden amongst the manuka. We had bought a chicken to cook in Whitianga, but had no way of cooking it, so ended up swigging our way through a large flagon of red wine instead. Not sure what happened to the chicken.
Some thoughts about those 40 days of Christmas:
• 30 of them we've spent just by ourselves; we have had Christmas with family only three times (in London) and friends 7 times, the most recently with the French /Canadian crew of Arbutus last year.
• We've spent Christmas in 12 different countries;
• The most Christmases have been spent in Australia (10); NZ (9) and PNG (7).
• We spent one Christmas in a cyclone (Thursday Island, 1993)
• The least Christmassy Christmas was spent in Kaş, Turkey, 2009. No sign of a Turkish Santa anywhere! The funny thing was that Saint Nicholas, the Greek guy whose love of kids contributed to the Santa Claus myth, spent almost his entire life in the very next town along the coast
• The most remote Christmas was spent by the Paya River in the Darien Gap, between Colombia and Panama in 1982. We were days away from civilisation in the middle of the jungle. Christmas dinner was a bit skimpy (a handful of nuts and raisins) but we didn't even know it was Christmas! Actually, we didn't even know where we were or whether we would see anyone else ever again!
• The worst Christmas ever was the first of many Christmases we spent in Port Moresby, PNG, in 1988. We had no money, no food and certainly no booze; it was wet and stormy and we were bitten all over by mosquitoes day and night.
The Darien Gap, Christmas 1982!
And as for our Christmas this year, we are in Ouenghi marina. The marina has been busy with French boaties going out to the islands for the Christmas break, but it is quiet today. We were going to go out to an island on the main barrier reef, but the tide was too low in the early morning, so we didn't bother. It's like being on holiday for us here, being able to turn on a water tap and walk ashore whenever we like!
We have drunk all our booze already, except for one bottle of wine, eaten the chicken, and the shops are closed in the nearby village of Boulouparis, so we can't buy any baguettes. Like most days, we have been busy tapping away on the computers making money. Today, it's been a focus on suing U.S. cities for negligence.
The sun is blazing hot in the middle of the day, almost windless, but it cools down nicely at night. Tomorrow we will catch the bus to Parc Riviere Bleue and walk for 4 days through the kaori forest and up through the mountains behind Noumea. If we are lucky, we might see a flightless cagou, the New Caledonian national emblem.
A cagou - there aren't many left - will we see one?
As Christmases go, our 40th is a pretty average one. Happy Christmas everyone!
Saraoni tucked up in Ouenghi marina Christmas Day 2017!
Joyeux Noel to All
21 December 2017 | Ouenghi Marina, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, calm and clear
Joyeux Noel to All
Small Island, Big Fish
19 December 2017 | Isle Ducos, Baie de St Vincent, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, hot and windy
Small Island - Isle Signal. The "signal" is the limestone tower just visible at the right hand end of the island.
The Southern lagoon of New Caledonia stretches for a hundred nautical miles from its southern extremity near the Isle of Pines to La Foa in the North. The lagoon is protected to the west by an almost continuous barrier of coral and to the East the main island of Grande Terre. The barrier recommences further north, south of the town of Koumac, and then encloses the Northern lagoon, much bigger and more remote, a place we hope to explore next year. The east coast also has its own barrier reefs and lagoons, although the barrier is broken and in some places sunk below sea level.
Big fish: a white tipped reef shark, having a nap on the sea bed near Isle Signal.
Within the southern lagoon lie 40 odd vegetated coral islands, each with encircling white coral sand beaches. The islands look a bit on the scruffy side, with dry scrub and trees, no palm trees here! The little cays near Noumea are marine reserves and the government has put in free moorings for use by boats to protect the fringing coral reefs and sea grass beds.
Saraoni just visible beyond Signal's dazzling white sand beach.
We spent 24 hours at Isle Signal yesterday, the umpteenth cay we have been to on this trip. It's called Signal because of the limestone tower that was erected in the nineteenth century. Ships approaching the outer barrier reef could safely enter one of the passes (Dumbea) near Noumea by holding the tower in transect with a hill on the mainland. It was soon replaced by the much higher Amadee lighthouse and ships switched to the Passe de Boulari instead.
What looks like some weird French phallic symbol is Isle Signal's nineteenth century built limestone "signal"!
These marine reserves show just how soon marine life can become prolific with protection, as has happened at Goat Island and the Poor Knights in NZ. It's great to see big fish lurking on the reef edge, coral trout, rock cod, sweetlips, big trevally and the odd shark. It's just a pity that there aren't more reserves like these.
another rock cod, different species
Isle Signal is the breeding home for hundreds of wedge tailed shearwaters, who make burrows all over the sandy soil covered island. Silver gulls have finished nesting already, but seemed to be pretty annoyed at our presence yesterday when we went walkabout. White capped noddy terns and sooty terns were everywhere, getting ready to breed.
Sooty terns in courtship mode
Each of these little islands seems to have a resident pair of ospreys with their young. The islands are also home to hundreds of tricot rayes
, banded sea snakes, which use the islands to warm up in the winter months and breed in season. We've seen only a few of them on this trip, perhaps because of the temperature. They are in the water looking for tiny fish and other tasty tidbits to eat. Click here
to see a tricot raye
, or ketual
i, we saw in the water in Niue last year.
We are now in the huge Baie de St Vincent, 30 miles north of Noumea. It's as big as the Bay of Islands and it has its own islands, too, although it is a bleak and barren sort of place. Port Ouenghi marina is in the extreme north of the bay, but we are the only ones around. Perhaps everyone is getting ready for Christmas? We are planning a 4 day hike on the GR1 in the mountains behind Noumea, then a 10 day circuit of the main island on our new bikes. We've swapped plans (yet again), intending to fly to Hobart at the end of January for two months away from the boat, cycling and walking in Tasmania. We expect to be in the South Island next summer.
Watch this space! Christmas message coming soon!
Prisoners in Paradise
10 December 2017 | Baie de Kuto, Isle des Pins, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, hot and (relatively) calm
Photo above taken from Pic Nga, the highest point on the Isle of Pines. The peninsula shown separates Kuto bay with the yacht anchorage and wharf on the right from equally pretty Kanumera bay on the left. Caledonian pines are the tall trees in the picture.
We are in Kuto Bay at the Isle of Pines, 35 nm south east of the main island of New Caledonia. The weather has been great after the bash down here against the ever present trade wind. Light winds, blue skies and calm seas - couldn't be better!
The island is one of those Caledonian contradictions. In the late nineteenth century when France, like much of Europe, was going through the turmoil associated with the introduction of laissez faire capitalism, with all its negative social consequences, the idea of dumping surplus convicts as well as the uppity revolutionaries involved in the Paris Commune seemed a good one.
New Cal. was just one place in the French overseas empire that seemed a particularly good dumping ground. Thousands of communards were exiled to five separate locations on the Isle of Pines. They weren't expected to participate in hard labour like the hard core convicts (those who'd dared to steal a loaf of bread in some grotty Parisian street) but must have peered out of their cells in disbelief at the scene outside. They were prisoners in paradise! Many of them died, however, during the relatively brief exile period but eventually the survivors were pardoned and they were shipped back to freedom in La Metropole.
2,800 Communards were dumped in these prisons after demanding that France's wealth should be for the "many, not the few". They experienced the flip side of paradise! The few, meanwhile, seem to be doing even better than ever,
at the expense of the many, 150 years later!
The Isle of Pines is one of New Cal.'s gems. This is our fourth visit. We came here first on the ferry from Noumea in 1985 and hiked and camped all along the west coast up to the Bay of Crabs. The island hasn't changed a lot since then. The boulangerie near Kuto has moved a bit up the road; there are more cars and cellphone coverage is good, the roads have been sealed and a few more gites have popped up, but there is very little sign of commercialism here. The Kunies (island kanaks) have gained control over the island in terms of development and besides the swanky Meridien hotel on the east coast, island life is pretty laid back.
Kuto Bay is also the first place we slipped into flying our yellow flag after leaving the Bay of Islands in 2006 at the start of what was to be a 9 and a half year circumnavigation. Check out the photos on this blog entry
. They are very similar to the ones shown below!
We bought two bikes in Noumea as we left our NZ ones behind in Opua, so have been able to ride around the very quiet island road network. People here (nearly all Melanesian) are like anywhere we have been on this trip in the rural Pacific - friendly and seemingly content with life.
We have a few more days of calm weather before it gets windy again. We should be in Ouenghi marina in a week's time, plotting our cyclone season travel plans!
Pic Nga, 228 m high, behind Kuto Bay's anchorage
We're at it again! Can't keep away from bikes! Planning a road trip on them around Grande Terre in Jan. before we fly out.
Ilot Brosse in the background looks just like a hair brush from Pic Nga!
The beach at Ilot Brosse. When we were there today, a tricot raye (sea krait) slithered up the beach while 6 black tipped sharks patrolled the reef flat as the tide came in.
There are still a few traditionally round, thatched Kanak huts left on the island probably with a SUV parked outside!
Sailing pirogue on the beach at Baie St Joseph near Vao
Catholic church at Vao, the sleepy capital of Isle des Pins, which also has the Mairie, 1 shop, a school and not much else!
We Swap Plan Sea for Plan C!
02 December 2017 | Baie d'Orphelinat, Noumea, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, cloudy, 20 knot ESE wind
It's good to have a plan B, whatever you do in life. It's even better to have a plan C, if you can think of one that is practical. Grotty yachties definitely always need a plan B while mooching around in a boat and a plan C helps if you just happen to be afloat in the cyclone season!
With our plan A and plan B looking increasingly dodgy, we've focused on plan C. Plan C is to leave the boat here in New Cal. while we exit stage left, enjoying being as far away from the sea and boats as possible. Through the yachtie grapevine (more specifically, the Mag Net) we learned of a small marina up the west coast that still had spaces left. The marinas here in Noumea are all full to bursting point through the cyclone season and no foreign boats have a chance of getting a berth.
The little marina we will leave Saraoni in while we go walking in the South Island is a bit out of the way, but is very sheltered, surrounded by shallow mud flats and mangroves. Like Port Moselle, as we discovered in 2006 when cyclone Xavier was born in the Southern Solomons, Port Ouenghi has a plan in case a cyclone barrels down the west coast. One did in April this year (the same one
that we were warned about in Whangarei, just after leaving the hard stand.) According to the marina managers, although a lot of trees were damaged nearby, the marina itself experienced quiet conditions. Roger and Sasha, who we first met in the San Blas with sister Sue, have left their Aussie yacht, Edn Bal, on the same pontoon as us.
Now, at least, we can give up all the tedious weather watching, enjoy some time out at the Isle of Pines and do some exploring and walking on Grande Terre before we fly down to NZ at the end of January.
We aim to be back on the boat in April next year and when the safe sailing season begins again in May complete a leisurely circumnavigation of Grande Terre and a side trip to the Loyalties and Vanuatu before looking for a good passage to NZ, preferably earlier rather than later, like we tried to do this year.
Saraoni’s Last Moana?
27 November 2017 | Noumea, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, hot and windy
Pic shows one of Disney's blurbs for the animated film "Moana" released last year. The actors behind the Disneyesque pan Polynesian mythical melodrama come from Hawai'i, Samoa and N.Z. The big moko covered guy, Maui, has been credited with fishing the North Island of N.Z. (Te Ika o Maui) from his waka, the South Island, but maybe that's just a load of Maui bullshit!
We are anchored back in Noumea and planning what was supposed to be the crossing of Saraoni's last moana
(ocean). Our plan was to retire Saraoni to its lovely spot beside the penguin rocks in Tutukaka while we searched for a bigger, more comfortable and faster boat.
We bought Saraoni nearly 20 years ago and wrested it from its Aussie home to share a heap of adventures with us. Saraoni was a solidly built coastal cruiser, with lots of room for what is a relatively small boat. There were over 40 South Coasts built in the 1980s and 1990s and it still remains a well recognised boat model on the NSW and Queensland coast. Saraoni was fitted out by a retired BP worker from Nowra who was almost as cack handed as us. Despite, or perhaps because of, our own admittedly inept efforts, Saraoni's interior has been falling apart almost as fast as we have been trying to keep it intact.
It's time to move on, but we now have a little weather problem, not something unusual in our 31 years of sailing! The Pacific has moved from neutral to a mild La Niña (opposite of El Niño). This has shifted the axis of the stream of high pressure zones southwards, unusually early. That's fine if you are sailing from Tonga, or even eastern Fiji, to NZ, but sailing hell from Noumea, because the winds spiralling out of those highs direct south east winds from the Bay of Islands and even further south right up to New Cal. It's not impossible to make the passage, but you have to contend with sailing into 20 to 25 knots and tacking for nigh on 800 miles.
The last good passage down to NZ across the moana
that separates us was in the third week of October. As the SW Pacific warms up with the start of summer, small lows, troughs and storms are popping up everywhere like land mines surfacing in an old war zone.
We are not the only ones here. Noumea, of course, has hundreds. possibly thousands, of boats on moorings, or in the (relative) security of the city's 3 or 4 marinas. There is also a small fleet of German boats that are waiting to return south together with a sprinkling of other yachts that didn't want to bash south last week and prefer to spend the cyclone season in NZ rather than Oz, because it is relatively easy getting back to the islands again next year.
Some of the hundreds of boats that chance the cyclone season in Noumea. These boats are on moorings in Baie d'Orphelinat
Port Laguerre, an indent 10 miles north of Noumea seen from the slopes of Mont Mou. Just visible is a small mangrove creek, which is a cyclone refuge for Noumea based boats, but it fills up quick!
Baie Maa near Port Laguerre is a perfect refuge when the trade winds are blowing strongly.
We have a choice to confront the cyclone season, officially lasting from 1st December through to the end of April, and just wait for a window to track south so we can leave Saraoni in the penguin pad, or do a long diversion via Oz.
From here to the Queensland coast it's a relatively easy 800 miles downwind, but allowance has to be made for the possibility of summer troughs and storms drifting off the coast on arrival.
From South Queensland we could make our way to Tasmania where we had planned to go hiking anyway early next year, then make our way back across the Tasman to NZ at the end of summer. It's a long shot, as the final trans Tasman crossing may seem one moana
too many! If we come to a grinding halt, Saraoni might just be on the market in the land of its birth!
Phare Amedee - Lonely Sentinel of the Caledonian Barrier Reef
14 November 2017 | Baie d'Orphelinat, Noumea, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, light SE trades
Phare Amedee on the coral island of the same name at dawn
Of all the tiny coral cays that are scattered around the lagoons around New Caledonia, easily the best known is Ilot Amedee. It sits just inside Passe de Boulari, the main pass into the Southern Lagoon if you are heading for Noumea, but what makes it special is the lighthouse on it. It is one of the Southern hemisphere's tallest lighthouses and is very well looked after by the French authorities. It's only open when the tour boat disgorges its load, which it does most days. With 247 steps that climb around and around the twisty staircase the views from the top are amazing!
The other attraction at Amedee is that like many of the cays and patch reefs around Noumea, it's a marine reserve. The coral growth is not that special, but the fish life is very healthy, with a lot of large fish: remoras, emperors, humphead parrot fish, rock cod and the odd white tipped shark. Green turtles at Amedee are extraordinarily tame, like those at Galapagos. They come in close to the beach where there is good growth of sea grass.
We're now back in Noumea to pick up our new $2,000 windlass. We're looking at weather windows down to the Land of the Long White Cloud, but they are not good. The high pressure systems are well into a late summer pattern, unusually south for this time of the year, with east to south east winds all the way down to NZ, with the odd subtropical low making things interesting between New Cal and NZ from time to time. It's easier going from Tonga to NZ and from here to Oz! We'll leave it until the end of November and then have to make a decision as the cyclone season is galloping along towards us!
Saraoni on a mooring at Amedee
The outer barrier and Passe de Boulari from the top of the lighthouse
Noddy terns in a brisk trade wind on the Amedee windward reef edge
Green turtle at Amedee
Prony - Bay of Refuge
07 November 2017 | Taioae Bay, Ouen Island, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, mild NE winds,
Photo shows Saraoni moored just off the Isle Casy jetty in the Baie du Prony.
Few yachties who make it to New Caledonia miss out on at least a few days in the huge bay at the southern end of Grand Terre. Its numerous well protected anchorages and mooring fields allow a refuge when it gets too blustery out in the little islands of the Southern Lagoon. Many yachts tuck in here after a passage from Vila or Lautoka before heading on to Noumea for clearance through Canal Woodin. It's also used when heading to the Isle of Pines, 35 nm away into the trade wind. Swing in to Bonne Anse and wait for the wind to allow you fair passage!
Baie du Prony from Cap Ndua
The view down towards Havannah Pass from Cap Ndua. It's the main entrance point for yachties from Vanuatu and Fiji into the lagoon!
Canal Woodin, between Ouen Island and Grande Terre, is on the West side of Prony.
We've spent a lot of time in Prony in the past, tucked up in Bonne Anse, below the humpback whale observatory near the Cap Ndua Lighthouse, anchored off pretty little Isle Casy or right up in the Carenage. The Carenage is this part of New Cal's only natural cyclone hole, but a fine place to visit in its own right. The GR1 starts here, ambles over scarred, bleak plains and mountains, through the Plaine des Lacs and Parc Riviere Bleue before it ends 6 days later at the back of the Dumbea Valley west of Noumea.
Prony is at first sight an unprepossessing place. The land is totally devoid of human habitation; grim mountains all around look down on a bizarre deforested and scarred landscape. Sitting like a great blot on the landscape, the Goro nickel and cobalt mine, New Cal's biggest, occupies the Rade du Nord Est, but keep one eye closed and you can forget its existence.
The Lac de Yate, behind the headwaters of Prony, is dammed to supply the Yate hydrostation, which supplies Noumea with power. Note the arid, bizarre landscape, so different to anywhere else in the SW Pacific. It's more like the Australian outback!
Prony was the site of one of France's first offshore convict dumping grounds. The old prison, like the other grim prison on Ile du Diable
, the island that Steve McQueen made famous in the film "Papillon" off the coast of French Guiana, is now a tourist attraction, at least for the locals.
Tall, stately Caledonian pines, Araucarias, relatives of Queensland's mighty bunyas, dot the foreshores. The scarred landscape is slowly recovering under maquis miniere
, a diverse scrub zone, with grevilleas
in abundance and honeyeater birds trilling amongst them. Casy's emerging forest has cycads and fig trees with amazing convoluted strangling roots. In the whale season, humpbacks come right into the bay like they do off Vava'u in Tonga.
This part of the Pacific is getting quieter. Many non French yachts have already bashed their way down to N.Z. or wafted over to Queensland. There are still several of us left. We have to pick up a new anchor winch being sent up from Auckland, then look for a weather window to get down south. We'll probably jump off from the isle of Pines,but it might just as well be good old Prony!
Casy island's only resident. Is it Moose, Monsieur le Chien or Brownie?
The legend goes that as the only hotel was being abandoned on Casy twelve years ago now, one of the workers had a puppy called Moose. The puppy kept escaping and swimming back to the island. Its owner got so exasperated he left it there. The now much older dog is still there and has apparently survived on a menu of crabs, fish, beche de mer and anything and everything that boaties bring it. It loves visitors and often takes them round the island's circular walking track. We brought Moose / Brownie some food and topped up his freshwater supply, but he wasn't interested in coming for a walk with us! It was too doggone hot!
Update: On our second visit to Casy, not long before Christmas, the old hotel was being demolished by a team of workers and the wharf out of bounds. Moose was in bad shape and very thirsty. It looked as if he was being shooed away from the hotel ruins and wharf. Not sure what effect that was having on him, but it's a tough life all by yourself on a small island when you are an old dog.
The Caledonian Conundrum
28 October 2017 | Noumea, New Caledonia
Alison and Geoff, hot and dry
Photo shows the Tjibaou Cultural Centre in Noumea. It's named after the 1980s kanak resistance leader, Jean-Claude Tjibaou, who was assassinated in 1989. The centre was meant to showcase kanak culture, as an appeasement gesture after violence had torn New Cal. apart in the mid 1980s. The structures are meant to resemble traditional kanak houses, deliberately incomplete to symbolise the fact that kanak society is in transition.
New Caledonia / Nouvelle Caledonie is one of the Pacific Ocean's and the world's last colonial outposts. It is, at least for now, a sort-of French overseas territory with limited autonomy. With 25% of the world's nickel reserves and 29% of its population ethnic French, there's an understandable reluctance to loosen the grip on La Metropole's apron strings, as well as its handy 25% subsidy. The only stumbling block is the fact that 40% of the population is kanak / indigenous Melanesians and the majority of them don't want to be French.
There's a new referendum next year on independence, but it's easy to see that there's a gulf between the two main communities here. The French, both Caldoches (Caledonian born French) and metros (from the metropole) have the Paciifc's highest standard of living, propped up by the nickel mining industry and French subsidies, while the kanaks, especially the young, have the lowest.
France colonised the territory 160 odd years ago and what happened next followed a familiar pattern. The kanaks lost a lot of their land, disease decimated their population, insurrection was put down, discrimination saw immigrant Polynesians and South East Asians get the majority of the unskilled and semi skilled jobs while the French monopolised the highest paid, managerial and supervisory roles.
The seventies and eighties saw a revival of kanak resistance. Not long after our 1985 and 1987 visits gendarmes were killed and kept hostage, kanak militants were killed, too. Things have calmed down since two accords were signed, the latest in 1998, guaranteeing a move towards independence via a referendum in 2018. France has poured money in to schools and health facilities, but there's still a 40% unemployment rate amongst kanak youth who, like many Maori youth in NZ, are disoriented and feel neither a part of the European world or their traditional past, with inevitable consequences easy to observe around Noumea in the form of almost wall to wall graffitti.
New Caledonia is a beautiful country and we always enjoy visiting it. It's got first world facilities we enjoy, like marine reserves, hiking trails and camping facilities. Our red, EU passports give us "unlimited time" here as long as Brexit is staved off and until Nouvelle Caledonie becomes Kanakie. It will be high on our list for a re visit but it's hard to say what the future holds for this fractured community.
Two of the Tjibaou Cultural Centre's "cases", with a model traditional kanak house in the foreground.
The Noumea peninsula from 800m Mt Dore
Looking South towards Isle Ouen and the Southern lagoon from Mt Dore. New Cal. has some good hiking opportunities, including the 6 day GR1, complete with the familiar red and white GR striped balises
In Port Moselle Marina, Noumea
23 October 2017 | Noumea, Nouvelle-Calédonie,
Alison and Geoff
The last time we were here was 2006 the first port of call on our circumnavigation. Surprisingly not much has changed except there are at least 3 times the number of yachts here preparing for their cyclone holes in NZ or Australia. Nothing seems to stop adventurers on the water growing in numbers despite economic recessions, the rise in global unemployment and credit card debts peope from all walks of life, old people, young people and families continue to take up ocean adventuring.
Nous Sommes Arrivee a Nouvelle-Caledonie
22 October 2017 | Havannah Passage, Grande Terre, Nouvelle-CalÃ©donie
Alison and Geoff
Just passing through the main pass into New Caledonia's Southern Lagoon after a 200 mile passage from Aneityum via the island of Mare in the Loyalty Islands. Lovely weather. 35 nm to Noumea
15 October 2017 | Anelcowhat Bay, Aneityum Island, Southern Vanuatu
Alison and Geoff, windy and wet
Photo shows Anelgowhat Bay, Aneityum
We are anchored in the well protected bay at Anelcowhat, the main village on Vanuatu's most southern island, Aneityum. There are no roads on the island, no vehicles except a single van and wrecks of bulldozers from old logging days. Aneityum is to us a reminder of our many years in Papua New Guinea, at the other end of the chain of Melanesian island nations. Vanuatu, the Solomons and PNG are all quite similar culturally in many ways. Fiji and New Caledonia's indigenous inhabitants are also Melanesian but influenced by Polynesian custom (Fiji anyway) and modern Western lifestyle much more than their Melanesian neighbours.
We were able to check in with immigration and biosecurity officers and supposedly a customs guy is here too, to check on the cruise ship coming in tomorrow. There is also a small bank here (no ATM), two run down schools, three small stores and sim cards (!) for sale, although the internet is only 2G.
We were last in these islands when Britain and France were jointly in charge, in one of the world's most bizarre colonial agreements. The Condominium of the New Hebrides, as it was called then, had been depopulated in the nineteenth century by "blackbirders", kidnappers from Australia who took islanders over to Queensland in conditions little more than slavery to work in the sugar cane fields. Disease and despondency followed colonisation. Vanuatu has been independent for thirty years now but it is significantly poorer than its two immediate neighbours (Fiji and New Caledonia).
Island kids arrive on the "bus"
Most of the inhabitants here live in small bush materials houses made of pandanus, timber from the Aneityum forest, coconut palm fronds and grass. It takes 2 or 3 months to build a new house, considerably less burden than for a western would-be house buyer (looking at you, Auckland!). Land is communally as well as individually owned. People mostly live in small scattered hamlets rather than large villages. This is similar to coastal PNG.
Bush materials houses and hamlets, Anelgowhat.
Simple dugout canoe
Everyone has been shyly friendly to us. There are many local languages in Vanuatu, mutually unintelligible, so the government has adopted Bislama, similar to PNG's Tok Pisin, as the national language together with English. Some villagers still speak French but it is disappearing.
Tree side notice about a local promotion in Bislama, Vanuatu's pidgin English national language
Vanuatu is definitely worth visiting again with much more time. We've run out of it and must move on to Noumea in New Caledonia at the end of the week and then start thinking about the 7 day trip down to New Zealand.
Rumble in the Jungle: Girls and their toys!
Gondwana connection: plenty of tree ferns in the Aneityum rainforest together with groves of kauri trees!
Sailing to Vanuatu Day 3
11 October 2017 | South West Pacific Ocean
Alison and Geoff, windy from the south east
Photo shows Aneityum Island a few miles off
Should be off the entrance to Anelghowhat anchorage, Aneityum, tomorrow morning. Varying conditions on this passage from very pleasant sailing to very uncomfortable. Have reefed right down now so that we reach the anchorage in the daylight.
A rusty looking Chinese fishing boat has just passed our stern a mile or two off. Have seen hardly any marine life on this passage so far. Strong winds expected for a few days next week, so will have to decide whether to hang on at Aneityum and then make a beeline for Noumea via Mare in the Loyalties or sail to We on Lifou before the winds start.
It's 120 miles from Aneityum to Mare, 140 to Lifou and 200 to Havannah Pass, the main Eastern entrance to New Caledonia's Southern Lagoon. The closest point between New Caledonia and New Zealand is 765 miles between Isle d'Pins and North Cape, but Australia's Norfolk Island is about half way in case of bad weather.
Sailing to Vanuatu
10 October 2017 | South West Pacific Ocean
Alison and Geoff, south east trades
Photo shows red footed booby successfully getting a free ride on our bow!
200 nm to Aneityum, Vanuatu. Should get to Anelghowhat anchorage, Aneityum, on Friday morning. The island is home to 500 people and cruise ships visit frequently to enjoy the sandy beaches for a day. Some are on cruises from the US coast to Sydney while others do a circuit of the islands and back to Australia. We have been given permission to stop by the Vanuatu authorities. There was a fair bit of rain last night but it's all cleared now. We haven't seen any ships or even fishing boats. Being in the Pacific Rim of Fire who knows we may see a new island pop out of the ocean.
Nice sailing to Vanuatu
10 October 2017 | South West Pacific Ocean
Alison and Geoff
350 nm to Aneityum, Vanuatu. The uncomfortable slop after exiting Navula Pass has ended and we now have great beam sailing conditions in a relatively flat sea with sunny weather. Wind is expected to pick up towards the end of the week. Should get to Anelghowhat anchorage, Aneityum, on Friday morning.
On the way to Vanuatu and New Caledonia
08 October 2017
Alison and Geoff
After a lot of discussion we finally decided to head on to Aneityum, the southernmost island in the Vanuatu chain. It will take 3.5 days so hope to be there on the 13th on my birthday (Alison). Aneityum is also right on the rhumb line for the Loyalty Islands, just East of the main New Caledonian island of Grande Terre. We are heading to New Caledonia eventually and then in a few weeks back to NZ.
This is the month for decisions as yachts and their owners have to decide whether to stay in the tropics for the cyclone season or head south.
With climate change as one of the most talked about subjects who knows whether that's the reason for the last round of Caribbean cyclones but there is this sort of gut reaction that you just don't want to be forced into finding a safe haven in a cyclone because you decided not to move out of the area.
05 October 2017 | Lautoka, Fiji
Alison and Geoff, sunny and very hot
Photo shows Suva's dramatic mountainous skyline across the city
It's been some time since the last post so here goes! We are anchored off the city of Lautoka on the sunny western side of Viti Levu.
We have had some exciting days since we checked into Vuda Point Marina near here, nearly two weeks ago to take on fresh water and stores before leaving for Noumea in New Caledonia, 600 miles away to the west. Most exciting was a small fire that started in Saraoni's engine room. We're not sure how it started but suspect it was a fault in the connection to the MPPT solar controller that controls the charging of our batteries.
Although the fire was small, it sure did a lot of damage! Nearly every single wire in the engine room was shredded by the heat, plus a lot of smoke and black soot. A bloody mess, in fact. We have spent the last week cleaning, painting, buying and fitting new wiring, which in some ways was a good thing as at least we now know what the wires are!
We last posted a blog from Kadavu. Since then, we have sailed up to Fiji's capital, Suva, which like every where else is now a lot bigger and busier since we were last there in 1979. From there we sailed to Beqa (Mbengga), a smaller version of Kadavu and very Fijian. Then a rolly old sail along the exposed southern coast of Viti Levu to Denarau, near Nadi and to Vuda Point where the fire happened. This western side of Viti Levu is quite different to everywhere else in Fiji. There are many more tourists and small and large resorts on the offshore Mamanuca Islands.
Some of Fiji's hotel accommodation leaves something to be desired.
old and new Fiji
Namaka island near Beqa with Viti Levu in the backgrond
We are clearing Customs tomorrow for New Cal., a trip that should take 5 days. There seems to have been a big outflow of boats heading to NZ just in the last week or so. Not sure why as it still seems too early, but maybe it's a reaction to the terrible cyclone season in the Caribbean. Hundreds of yachts got smashed in the BVIs, USVIs and St Maarten amongst other badly damaged islands. Too many yacht and boat owners getting complacent after a spell without too much cyclone activity and leaving their boats in the danger zone. We've done it too, so can't really criticise them.
NZ in the meantime is in the throws of European style delays after the recent general election which has the left and right blocks unable to govern without forming a coalition with a minor populist party that no-one really wants to have as a partner. The joys of MMP!
Kadavu – Island of Parrots, Tree Ferns, Friendly People and Rain
11 September 2017 | Kavala Bay, Kadavu Island, Fiji
Alison and Geoff, drizzly and cloudy
Photo shows the anchorage at Kavala Bay in Kadavu
We have been in and around the island of Kadavu for the last few days. It's Fiji's 3rd largest island, 40 km or so long and home to 10,000 people and a lot of endemic birds like the Kadavu musk parrot. Kadavu is actually pronounced Kandavu, a strange Fijian spelling anomaly (the nearby island of Beqa is pronounced Mbengga!).
Kadavu is very Fiijian. We haven't seen any Indo-Fijians here or any other ethnic group for that matter. The locals call their island "little New Zealand" and it certainly looks a lot like Great Barrier or the Sounds with the misty, bush covered hills. There are tree ferns in their hundreds here and it rains a lot, too! But to us it's a lot more like Papua New Guinea, especially the way people live.
There are 5 villages in the bay we are in (Kavala). All the houses are made of modern materials, but a bit shacky. When Geoff came here in 1973 most of the houses would have been bush materials. There are very few roads. In fact there aren't any around here. There is only one vehicle, a tractor belonging to the secondary school, which looks just like the first government secondary school we taught at in Papua New Guinea, Ihu High School. Even though there aren't any cars or roads, there are quite a few fibreglass banana boats. They have become the "family car" although not every family has one.
The Fijian family car in Kavala Bay
The villages here are served by a once weekly ferry cum cargo boat from Suva, 80 km to the North. There is an airstrip at Vunisea, the island "capital" and the odd store. There's a very good one near where we are anchored. It has a hell of a lot of stuff in it but everything is behind a grill so you can't tell what's for sale. You just have to ask. Of course like just about everywhere in the world these days there is cell phone and internet coverage, courtesy of a tower perched on a nearby hill top.
The Liohana II, Kavala's once a week link with the big smoke.
We did our "sevusevu" ceremony with the chief (turanga) of the nearest village. He is SDA, so doesn't drink kava (yaqona) but still accepted our gift and gave a speech in Fijian. He said he exchanges the yaqona sevusevu gifts he gets from visitors with the principal of the secondary school.
Vunivaivai, the village where we did our sevusevu. The village Methodist church is full to capacity on Sunday but the chief is not Methodist. He's Seventh Day Adventist (SDA) so has to walk several kilometres to his own church or hitch a ride on someone else's boat.
We've also been down to the East end of Kadavu to swim / snorkel the Naigoro Pass - one of the passes through the Astrolabe Lagoon's barrier reef. While in Kavala Bay we've walked for hours along village trails through the bush and looked for some of the island's unique birds - the Kadavu musk parrot which is red green and blue and very noisy and the barking pigeons.
The Kadavu musk parrot
Quiet anchorage near the Naigoro Pass
We are off to Suva, Fiji's capital, tomorrow and are mindful that the sailing season is beginning to fade. We still intend sailing to New Caledonia as the distance to North Cape is less from there than from Fiji, but there is still plenty to see in Fiji. Not for once in our later lives, we've realised we need another life time to see everything we want to see!
Jacindamania.....in New Zealand!
08 September 2017 | Vurulevu Island, Astrolabe Lagoon, Fiji
Alison and Geoff, calm and sunny
Photo: Jacinda Ardern, on the campaign trail.
NZ's turning red at long last, with a green tinge - and a sprinkle of stardust
? We like the colour blue, but only in the sea and sky! It's general election time in NZ with just over two weeks to go. Like other elections around the world, little, faraway NZ has been experiencing a mood for change. NZ Labour's Jacinda Ardern is no Corbyn, or even a Bernie Sanders, but she's a damn sight younger, as well as smart and compassionate.
It's one more manifestation of a sometimes incoherent worldwide generational change
that is chipping away at the legacy of the last 30 years of neo-liberalism. For us, the removal of the 9 year National led coalitions can't come too soon. National is up to its usual dirty tricks campaign, but with MMP in NZ it will be hard to know which way it will go. We hope that when we sail back to NZ, it will have a politically more progressive government, preferably a Labour / Greens coalition.
Onto a less overtly political theme now, we have moved down to Ka(n)davu again. Kadavu is Fiji's 3rd largest island and still has a lot of forest left untouched. We tried to find the mantas again yesterday and this morning, but they weren't obliging us with their presence, although a large eagle ray turned up at the bommie near the top of Vurulevu Island where many fish, including the mantas, go to get themselves a massage and clean up job by the little blue and white cleaner wrasse that hang out there. (check the Tui of Split Rock photo
to see a cleaner wrasse homing in on a moray eel) It's a classic symbiotic win-win situation for the larger fish and the little wrasse. More about Kadavu in the next blog.
Lovely calm weather on the east coast of Kadavu Island near the Naigoro Pass
Blowing Bubbles in the Astrolabe Lagoon
06 September 2017 | Nagara Bay, Ono Island, Fiji
Alison and Geoff, 10-15 kn, warm but cloudy
Photo shows Geoff blowing bubbles at Alacrity Rocks. See - no hands!
We are anchored in Nagara Bay at the top of Ono Island in the Astrolabe Lagoon. It's been blowing hard all night, and the boat has been bouncing around as the wind has swung around to the east from which direction this bay is more exposed to. The anchorages in Fiji are often very deep and here it is 24m. We have a nylon rope down together with a few metres of chain and our smaller anchor, as our ancient sick anchor winch is, well, sick and would probably suffer from a 12v D.C. heart attack if we asked it to haul full chain and anchor up from that depth. We would probably suffer a heart attack if we had to manually do it, too! The nylon warp and the anchor came from our first boat Corsair which we left in Port Moresby (PNG) in 1998. We used it all the time there for exactly the same reason and it's never failed us....yet!
We have been to the top of Ono and near its bottom too over the last few days. The first job, though, was to call in at Nagara Village and pay respects to the chief. He was busy doing village stuff, so we just paid respects to anyone we saw and deposited our offering of yaqona (kava) to an empty committee room. We are going in again tomorrow to check out the church solar panel system and help a villager figure out his. Fijians in their traditional villages have almost everything they need - plenty of land for growing healthy stuff, the sea and all its seafood at their doorstep, the bush and forest for buildings and always close-by family. The rub is that it's not easy to make money without abandoning it all and heading to the town to get a job.
Ono is mostly covered in thick scrub and pine trees which were planted back in the late 70s. There are footpaths through the bush between the island villages and to villagers' farm plots where they grow taro, breadfruit, tapioca (cassava) and anything else they can think of. One steep track winds its way up to one of the highest hills on the island, Qilia, which has a Vodafone tower perched on it, 360m up. It was quite a struggle finding the track and even more of a struggle getting to the top, but the views all around once we got there were fantastic. To the South we could see the length of Kadavu Island, to the north, Beqa and Viti Levu, while close at hand was the full stretch of the Astrolabe lagoons, the barrier reefs and scattering of islands.
View of the Astrolabe Lagoon from Qilia hill on Ono Island
Just to complement the climb we arranged for a dive with Ono based and Fijian managed Mai Dive to take us out to the network of bommies, pinnacles, caves and canyons around Alacrity Pass. The two dives turned out to be the best we've done (not that we've done enough to be expert judges!)with a very professional divemaster in charge. We swam through tunnels and caves and around huge underwater mountains. The photos we took mostly 15 - 20 m down seem to be a pale record of the underwater beauty. The colours are all removed, except blue!
Alison and Maika, the divemaster, heading into the blue.
Alison and Maika swimming through a canyon at Alacrity Rocks
There are manta rays that come close by to where we are anchored and several people we know have jumped into the water to swim with them but we haven't caught up with them yet!
We've been watching the parade of cyclones (hurricanes) in the Atlantic in awe. Another one is forming behind nasty Irma, the one that is battering the Northern Caribbean right now. Is it coincidence that an unprecedented row of severe storms develops in the first year of Donald Chump's presidency, climate change denier in chief?
A Fijian Feast...of Islands
01 September 2017 | Navara Island, Astrolabe Lagoon, Fiji
Alison and Geoff, SSE wind, grey skies
Ovalau, pictured from inside its lagoon, resembles a French Polynesian Island, with rugged volcanic peaks and bush interior.
We are presently on passage from Ovalau to the Astrolabe lagoon. Fiji has so many island groups it's hard to know which to pick, especially as it's easier to go from East to West in the trade winds. We spent several days on Ovalau, the rugged, circular island just east of Fiji's largest island, Viti Levu (means "big Fiji"). The main village on Ovalau is Levuka.
It's a historical place, Fiji's first town and capital and where Chief Cakobau ceded Fiji, whether the inhabitants liked it or not, to Britain in the 1870s. In its heyday, it was a bit like Russell in the Bay of Islands. It was a base for whaling and had a reputation for drunkenness and rowdiness. Now, it's a sometimes busy little backwater with a lot of decaying old buildings. The main road is filled in the mornings with trucks coming from the island villages. Each village has its own truck, with a different coloured tarpaulin and seats inside for the passengers.
Levuka's main (only?) street, a bit on the straggly dog side.
One of Levuka's older buildings. There are plenty more. Unfortunately most are not very well looked after, despite the town being world heritage listed. Definitely could do with some investment from the Fiji Govt.
Not sure whether Cakobau had the authority to do this, but like NZ's Tiriti o Waitangi, it sure led to swift change. Unlike many other British colonies, Fijians at least kept their land.
It's not a good idea to litter in Levuka, but we're not sure if the residents have seen the sign!
Levuka also has a very noisy generator and a massive fish processing factory which employs around 1,000 people. There is a barrier reef almost encircling the island and a narrow lagoon between the reef and the shore. Because of the wind direction we skedaddled round to the sheltered western side of the island and went walking along hot, quiet roads.
Empty anchorage on Ovalau's west coast bay of Buresala, Naigani Island in the distance. Saraoni is there, the little blue blob in the middle of the bay.
Fijians are a friendly lot and it's hard to walk too far before someone will ask you in for a cup of tea or a natter. They all seem to have excellent English, like people in Milne Bay in PNG. When we last came to Fiji, most of the villages still had bush material houses, grass thatched roofs, pandanus and coconut leaf matted walls. They were lovely to look at, but no doubt a worry when the wind howled every cyclone season and they also accumulated a lot of interesting fauna. From what we have gathered there are very few bush material houses now. They are a combination of concrete, timber and corrugated iron. Obviously they cost money, which means finding a way to make the money rather than go out into the grassy hills and bush to find bush materials.
A Tale of Two Tuis
01 September 2017 | Navara Island, Astrolabe Lagoon, Fiji
Alison and Geoff, calm, drizzly
Photo shows the tui (chief) of Split Rock near SavuSavu, a huge moray eel. Small blue cleaner wrasse arriving to clean the tui at top right plus some sea pens attached to the rock.
We finally prised ourselves away from SavuSavu after a tooth emergency, minor colds, plenty of chicken curries and rotis and a long walk on the ridge behind the town. Fiji is quite an archipelago and it's impossible to see everywhere in one short sailing season. We decided to cut through the Lomaiviti Group down to the Astrolabe lagoon south of Suva and north of Kadavu island, then head west round to the western end (the touristy end) of Viti Levu.
Saraoni in Namaka Creek, SavuSavu
First stop was the anchorage off the Cousteau Resort, where we snorkelled and dived on Split Rock, a coral bommie with a crack in it separating two masses of coral. Apart from heaps of friendly (hungry?) sergeant majors and the usual collection of small reef fish, the bommie has a resident moray eel of considerable size - the tui of Split Rock! The eel must have been living there for many years because everyone we know who has snorkelled there has seen the tui.
Crinoid clinging to Split Rock
Next we motored on a flat, calm sea to the Island of Koro. Koro, like all this area, got badly damaged in Cyclone Winston, the category 5 cyclone that hit Fiji in Feb 2016. In Dere Bay, two resorts and 40 odd valagi
cabins and houses were smashed. So were the three villages on that side of the island, although most families have since managed to rebuild. The cabins, on an "exclusive" estate, are abandoned and still mostly in ruins.
Off a Brazilian woman's nice seaside home, there are several giant clams. They were brought here in ceremonial style from the island of Makogai, 25 miles away. One is really big, the "Tui Makogai", as the locals call him and her (clams are hermaphrodite).
Tui Makogai on the right in Dere Bay, Koro
Koro is covered in thick bush on the higher slopes and here we saw several parrots and large pigeons.
Fiji has very few humpbacks compared to Tonga or New Cal., a legacy of the vicious hunting of whales last century. They are recovering in numbers but only very slowly. Although we've only seen one humpback here (near Ovalau) we have seen a few pods of common dolphins, the first since NZ. It's funny how these dolphins love to surf our bow wave, wherever they live in the world. We've seen this species right around the planet!
Common dolphins on the way to Koro
Bong! Bong! Bong! Fiji Gold!
11 August 2017 | SavuSavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji
Alison and Geoff, windy and hot
Photo shows the inlet at SavuSavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji
We are on a mooring buoy in the well sheltered creek in the bustling little town of SavuSavu on the southern coast of Fiji's second largest island, Vanua Levu, (means "big land"). Yachties stay here over the cyclone season and even leave their boats here, but when category 5 cyclone Winston paid a visit last February (2016) nearly every yacht got swept away into the mangroves. SavuSavu has recovered, but the northern Lau islands have not.
I (Geoff) was last here in 1974, so it's not surprising that the little town has grown out of all recognition. It's more like the town of Nadi (western Viti Levu) was like then. No doubt Nadi has grown, too! Apart from the odd cruise ship and the odd dive tourist, the yachties are the only outsiders in SavuSavu, which just gets on doing its own thing. It's sort of the Fiji equivalent of Whangarei and its Town Basin. SavuSavu is half ethnic Fijian, half Indian, about the average for Fiji as a whole. It's a friendly place with lots of smiles and "Bulas" as you walk along the main street.
Even less touristy is the largest town on Vanua Levu, Labasa (pronounced Lambasa). It's connected to SavuSavu by a tar sealed road that winds over spectacular mountains and down to the dry side of the island where the major crop is sugar cane.
Labasa bus station
Sugar cane waiting to be processed in Labasa's mill.
We made a visit to Labasa to buy this and that and popped into the grog pounding factory while there on invitation. Grog, more correctly known as kava, or by its Fijian name, yaqona
, is the powdered root of the Piper methysticum
tree. It used to be only used ceremonially in traditional Fijian villages and still is. Every visitor to one of the more remote villages is expected to take a present of yaqona
(a pile of what looks like sticks) to the chief (turaga
) of the village. This small ceremony is called a sevusevu
and paves the way for a harmonious visit to the village and its territory. The root is pulverised and then mixed with water and poured into a large wooden bowl (a tanoa
) and drunk out of a half coconut shell (a bilo
) accompanied by clapping and a cry of "moce!
." Too many bilos
means smiles turn to giggles, tall tales get sillier, then usually snores start as the yaqona
Bong! Bong! Bong! Fiji Gold for urban use in a Labasa factory.
Where all the grog (kava / yaqona) pounding takes place
Dried yaqona root cuttings in the Labasa market.
Kava drinking has long been a part of urban working class culture, both Fijian and Indian. The powdered kava is mixed up with water in a bucket and then shared around at work or in some dingy room. It looks and tastes like muddy water, but after a few cup fulls it makes you pretty groggy and numb, just the ticket in the old days when a dodgy lot of visitors came visiting!
Bula Vinaka! We are in Fiji!
06 August 2017 | South West Pacific Ocean
Alison and Geoff
Photo above shows the southern cape of the island of Taveuni as we passed it on the way from Tonga.
80 nm to Savusavu. Good sailing the last day and a half, although the swell has been quite jerky at times. Got to the first islands in the Lau just before dark last night. The full moon allowed us to keep an eye on where we were as we rolled past Katafanga, Vanua Balavu, Mango, Kanathea, Yathata and all the other smaller islands, which seem to be a mixture of raised limestone and volcanic islands.
It is a sunny day with mountainous Taveuni and Vanua Levu both clear to the north west.
One of the northern Lau group as we sailed past on the last day of the Tonga Fiji passage
Threading the Needle
05 August 2017 | South West Pacific Ocean
Alison and Geoff
200 nm to Savusavu. Rolly night with swell and wind on the beam. Wind speed up and down with passing clouds. Put engine on at one point but no water pumping through. Checked pipes and restarted. All O.K.!
Will be passing through first of the Lau reefs after dark, then 25 nm threading the needle before clear passage to Taveuni and Savusavu. Will have to slow down on the last stretch so we can arrive at the lighthouse that marks the turning point into Savusavu in the light.
Bye Bye Tonga
03 August 2017 | South West Pacific Ocean
Alison and Geoff
Photo above of the cruising fleet in Refuge Harbour, Vava'u taken from Neiafu
Left Neiafu and Vava'u behind yesterday after clearing customs. Now on route to Savu Savu in Fiji. The distance is about 400 nm, so should take about 3 days. Because of the overtime rates at the weekend on arrival in Fiji, we are timing our arrival off the mooring field on Monday morning. Should be passing some of the Northern Lau islands on the way, an area that remains poorly charted, so must be on guard for navigation.
Expect to have light southerlies at first, then the wind will back to the south east and freshen on Sunday a little.
Lion Fish of Vava'u
28 July 2017 | Neiafu, Vava'u, Tonga
Alison and Geoff, overcast
Photo shows a remarkably bold lion fish under the broken down wharf on little Lotuma island near Neiafu.
We are anchored in the deep channel that leads up to Vava'u's well protected harbour. The weather has turned grotty again, but we have been in the water around the little island we are anchored near. There is always something interesting to see in Tongan waters and there is certainly a bewildering biodiversity amongst the coral fish here, even in an area that doesn't seem that spectacular. 4 large lion fish were nonchalantly terrorising the small sardine shoals under the abandoned military wharf on Lotuma Island. These fish have escaped into the Caribbean where they are not native, causing yet another ecocatastrophe of human origin. Lion fish, like their uglier cousins, the stonefish, have poisonous barbs at the end of their dorsal fins. They only use their venom for defense.
Neiafu, the rambling and rather ramshackle Vava'u "capital" seems busier and more ramshackle than ever, with the number of cars up and signs of 2016's Cyclone Winston damage. There are plenty of yachts here, although the small businessmen who run the small scale tourist businesses here think that trade is down on previous years, courtesy they think of the rotten early sailing season weather.
Neiafu is busier than it was in late 2015, but half of it seems to be looking pretty ramshackle.
One winner here is the Tongan whistler, one of Tonga's few native birds, the male in bright yellow and black, the female more dowdy. Local enthusiasts have rid Mount Talau national park, a small but important breeding refuge, of rats - the main predator of breeding whistlers. They are now heard all round the waterfront bush canopy around Neiafu.
Our slog up from the Ha'apais was somewhat traumatic. Because we had to get here before our visitor permits ran out, we couldn't wait for a south easterly change and had to power into a light northerly and 2 metre swell. The engine cut out at one point and we discovered yet more water in the fuel. The two fuel filters were choked with gunge, yet we had only used fresh, clean fuel from the garage in Nuku'alofa. Luckily, the dirt and water had not reached the injectors so after some filter changes we were able to keep going.
As has been the pattern here in Tonga, our 60 mile trip north was peppered with whale sightings, some close and some further away. It is amazing that up to arriving in Vava'u we have actually seen far more whales than yachts, tourists, or even local fishing boats! There was even a sleepy whale almost in Neiafu when we arrived near dark!
The weather looks good towards the end of next week for a 3 to 4 day 400 nm passage to Fiji via the Northern Lau.
Humbug and reitculated dascyllus using an Acropora outcrop to hide in
Neiafu and Refuge Harbour from Mount Talau
Refuge Harbour sunset in Neiafu with flat topped Mt Talau in distance
Exploring Vava'u's main island by bike was not too energetic!
Having a Whale of a Time at the End of the Ha'apai Chain
23 July 2017 | Nukunamo island, Ha'apai group, Tonga
Alison and Geoff, calm, hot and sunny
Photo shows the beach at the top of Foa in the Northern Haapais.
We are anchored in 10 m of clear, blue water over a white sand bottom near the uninhabited island of Nukunamo, sandwiched between Foa and Ha'ano at the top of the Ha'apai chain.
Uninhabited Nukunamo Island north of Foa
Tonga gets few tourists away from Vava'u, but this is a spot where visitors in small numbers do come and stay, in the two little low key resorts at the top of Foa Island. It gets big visitors from the Antarctic too. This morning we were awakened by a whoosh of air as a huge whale surfaced only metres from the boat. Then two more adult humpbacks joined in the party. They stayed around for hours, surfacing, spouting and impressing us with their sheer size. At one point one of them dived right beneath Saraoni, showing off its bulk in the clear water.
Big visitors this morning while at anchor off Nukunamo
Seeing these magnificent animals in their natural environment is one of the best things about having our own boat. We have often seen dolphins at anchor all around the world and turtles where they have not been eaten out. We have had manta rays around us in the Marquesas and orcas at anchor at Whangarei Heads, but seeing whales so close is a real highlight.
This spot is particularly lovely, especially when it is so calm, which it is right now. Between Nukunamo and Foa, the coral growth is in good shape. The underwater topography is exceptionally varied with grottoes, canyons and huge sand hills. It's also a place where harmless zebra sharks like to visit too. We saw two of these animals sleeping on the sand in the gap between the islands.
Top - Good coral growth just north of Foa. Bottom - Anemone fish in host anemone.
Tomorrow we will have to plod 60 miles up to the Vava'u Group as our visitors' permits expire soon. The weather is expected to be calm for the next 2 days, courtesy of NZ's second terrible winter storm. As usual, the nastier the weather down south, the calmer and sunnier it is up here.
Update - Another whale has appeared just on dusk in the anchorage. It has been leaping right out of the water (breaching) and slapping its tail flukes on the water surface. Not sure why. We have to heave the anchor up in the dark tomorrow so hope we don't bump into a whale before the sun comes up!
The King and I
18 July 2017 | Pangai, Tonga
Alison and Geoff
King Tupou VI of Tonga checks out the dried octopus at a stand at the Ha'apai Royal Ag. Show
Tongans are pretty potty about their royalty, even though there seem to be plenty of royalty and their hangers on and only 100,000 Tongans. The Royal Family has had to relinquish its near dictatorial political control after a series of demonstrations and protests in the early part of this millennium and is basically now a constitutional monarchy. However, out here in the Ha'apai, the King's visit to the Royal Agricultural Show was definitely not to be missed.
There are around 8,000 people living in the scattered islands of this group and most of them must have been in Pangai today. The Showground was heaving in yams, bananas, papaya, fish, clams, goats, pigs, unruly kids and small scruffy dogs. Nearly everybody was dressed in their best clothes, with nicely ironed tupenu
and newly woven tao'vala
. The few palangi
here looked a bit dowdy by comparison.
Each Ha'apai village put on a display of village grown produce or seafood. The displays were massive. Not sure what happened to it all, but a lot was sold or shared out after the show.
After some rather lengthy speeches, the King was led around the grounds where each village had assembled its offering of produce. Then the smartly dressed lads and lasses from the college did their thing with the brass band and the girls dressed in traditional costume performed Tongan dances.
Lads in blue tupenu doing a mock stick fight and girls in costume with delicate hand movements, tapa cloth in abundance, old biddies in black with flowing kiekie, gents with smart tie and tao'vala and bare feet. That's Tonga!
It's hard to know exactly what's traditional and what's introduced in Tonga culturally. It's often a fusion of the two. The country was formed after the three main island groups were brought together by conquest by the Ha'apai King in the early nineteenth century. It never became colonised by a foreign power, but half of the entire Tongan population now live overseas, mostly in N.Z., the U.S. and Australia. The country is kept afloat economically by remittances from relatives living overseas and a significant aid programme.
We're not sure what to think about the Tongans' attitude towards their King and religion. Frankly, it's a bit weird. It's notable though that not one single weapon was on display today, even though the entire Royal Family was parading around quite freely and there was a substantial police presence. No guns or batons. Just smiles and grins. That must be a plus for Tonga!
Perfect Days in the Ha'apais
13 July 2017 | Pangai, Lifuka Island, Tonga
Alison and Geoff, warm, calm and cloudy
Photo shows Saraoni anchored in the wide open bay off Uoleva Island in unusually perfect weather. That's us - the tiny little white blob in the distance! The bay is not exactly crowded!
We're anchored off the little cyclone battered "capital" of the Ha'apai Group, Pangai, after two unusually calm days exploring the islands and their wildlife.
It's not common in the middle of the trade wind season to get calm weather. By calm, we mean less than 5 knots. It's a great time to see marine life and get up close and personal with small islets, of which there are plenty in the Ha'apais.
First stop after a rolly day in Ha'afeva was Uoleva, with its picture perfect white sand beach. We spotted a single turtle and a breaching humpback in the pass between Uoleva and Uiha.
Uoleva's beach must be one of the most stunning in Tonga, especially on a nice day!
Today we pottered up to a tiny motu
called Luahoko. it's a nature reserve with nesting seabirds, mostly noddy terns, with a few boobies, frigates and reef herons. On the way, we kept bumping into humpback whales (well, 12 today!) who seemed to be enjoying life in the tropics as much as us. In ones and twos we watched for hours as they breached, slapped their tails, flipped their huge pectoral fins and made the most extraordinary noises. The males do sing, but these noises were more like rumbling African elephants!
Whales were everywhere west of Lifuka in the Ha'apais, simply enjoying themselves. Also shown here are noddy terns (left, centre), a Luahoko crab (middle) and a young booby (right centre). The islet behind the two whales in the bottom picture is Luahoko, a reserve for breeding seabirds
Kao Island in the Western Ha'apais at sunset from Ha'afeva
The coral around Lifuka is not in the best shape, mostly dead. We've heard that it's because of Cyclone Ian that swept though the Ha'apais in January 2014, but we can't see the sort of damage expected from a cyclone.
The coral is not in good shape, but there is always something to see. Here is a puffer fish, enjoying a parasite clean by cleaner wrasse in the reef at Luahoko.
Damage is certainly apparent everywhere else, on land. Pangai was badly damaged in 2014 by Cyclone Ian, the strongest on record in Tonga. There have been a lot of improvements in infrastructure, even since we were last here. It's a bit like Russian Roulette in the cyclone regions of the tropics, especially with climate change making stronger storms more likely. Who's going to get hit next? The only consolation is that weather forecasting, including cyclone tracking, is much better than it was. That means that communities like the Ha'apais can at least plan ahead and take preparations. Unfortunately, coral reefs can't.
We've heard that King Tupou 6th is coming to Pangai as part of an outer island visit. We were here in 1979 when his dad, King Tāufaʻahau Tupou 4th, came for a visit on his own boat. We had arrived ourselves from Nuku'alofa on a grubby cargo boat that had broken down half way and drifted for hours without engine power. We were told that anyone who wanted could travel back from Pangai on the King's boat for free. Despite the fact that it was low in the water from all the yams and pigs on board, this looked like a smart move, rather than try the cargo boat again. Unfortunately, the only two people who were kicked off the barge that loaded all the hopeful passengers on to the King's boat were us two palangi
We had to camp out on the beach (the one that is now just a stone's throw from where we are anchored!) until they had repaired the grotty old cargo boat! Just as well we have a boat of our own this time around!
Sailing Amongst Giants in a Scattering of Historic Islands
09 July 2017 | Nomuka Iki, Ha'apai group, Tonga
Alison and Geoff, light ESE winds
Photo shows the huge tail fluke of a humpback whale that we saw just before turning into the channel between the Nomuka Islands.
We are anchored off the island of Nomuka Iki (little Nomuka) in the Ha'apai Group of Central Tonga. It's a stone's throw from where Christian Fletcher and an assorted bunch of crew mutinied on the Bounty, threw Bligh and 18 others into the Bounty's largest dory and sailed back to Tahiti. Bligh went on to make an epic open water trip through Fiji and the Torres Strait to Kupang in Timor.
Two years before, he had accompanied Captain James Cook on his last Pacific voyage to this same spot, where the ship stayed for 2 months. Apparently, the islanders were pretty fed up with having to entertain them and plotted their demise. The plot never eventuated and Cook gave the locals the name that stuck later to Tonga - the Friendly Isles! The descendants of these islanders still live, 500 of them, on the larger island of Nomuka across the channel from where we are anchored. The availability of good fresh water and safe anchorage was one of the attractions of this place.
Nomuka Iki is now the site of a bold project by Aussie adventurer and entrepreneur, Don McIntyre. We met Don here in November 2015 when he was just getting the "Royal Nomuka Yacht Club" going, based on his converted trawler "Ice". He is here again with his Chinese partner on his newly acquired Lagoon catamaran with supplies for the next phase of the project on this uninhabited island.
It's a combination yacht club, hotel, bar, training ground for young enthusiastic Tongan sailors in traditional sailing vaka
that will be built on the island, as well as a venue for high school and college marine science using the surrounding pristine coral reefs. It's an ambitious project that has got the approval of the Tongan Crown Prince, Tupoutoʻa ʻUlukalala, who just happens to own the island anyway and has now become the club patron!
Anchorage off the "Royal Nomuka Yacht Club" on Nomuka Iki
We had a benign but long sail up here from Tongatapu. The wind was light and too much from the East but the ominous grey skies that had accompanied the trough that had been hanging about cleared to a clear blue sky and we started seeing humpbacks almost everywhere. Several hundred humpback whales are known to make their way every year to the protected waters of the Ha'apai and Vava'u groups from the Antarctic. They breed here and give birth (a year later) but do not feed here. Once born, the calf has to swim the entire way down to Antarctica using mum's milk before learning to feed on krill.
All the 15 odd whales we saw were slowly making their way North. Most were on their own, but there were some in twos, probably mums with their year old calves, and one group of four. We saw them breaching, tail slapping, spy hopping and just blowing spume in the air as they came up to breathe. It's nice to know that at least they are doing well in a world where it seems that nature is suffering so harshly from humanity's collective greed and myopia.
One other surprising sight was an island off to port we had not seen on our last trip. At first we thought it was a ship, but it was definitely an island with a noticeable volcanic cone. On checking the bearing we discovered it was Tonga's newest island - Hunga Ha'apai - Hunga Tonga. It appeared in late 2015, just after we passed this way. It now joins two smaller islands which are actually the remnants of the rim of a huge volcanic caldera which lies under the sea. The new island arose out of the sea after an eruption.
Image (not ours!) shows the position of the Hunga Ha'apai-Hunga Tonga volcanic island sandwiched between the two original islands of Hunga Ha'apai (to the west) and Hunga Tonga (to the east).
Just 30 miles to the North of us lie two more volcanic islands - the large, but lower Tofua, which is still active - and the smaller, but higher Kao. If the weather is right, we might just make it to Tofua and find a track that is supposed to climb up to the rim of the island's crater in which lies a large crater lake and a steaming vent with lava in it!
Active Tofua on the left, inactive but more volcanic looking Kao on the right with Italian superyacht "Path" passing.
Nuku'alofa Round Up
06 July 2017 | Nuku'alofa, Tonga
Alison and Geoff, cool and windy
Photo shows Pangaimotu, Nuku'alofa's best known yacht anchorage where Big Mama runs a rather ramshackle resort.
We are about to leave the Tongatapu lagoon for the Ha'apais and then Vava'u. In fact, we would have done so already if the wind hadn't freshened from the east. The Tongan chain tends north north east, so the more southerly the wind the better the angle and the more comfortable the sail.
We have been alternating between the anchorage off Pangaimotu Island (Big Mama's) and the town and have spent the last couple of days further north in the lagoon bouncing around off Fafa island and exploring the clear, but windy northern island of Malinoa. All the smaller islands around Tongatapu are motu
- vegetated, flat coral islands. The pattern is repeated further north in the Ha'apai, although the western islands in that group are mountainous, volcanic islands. Only last year, a new island appeared from the surface of the sea. It's done that before and then disappeared again.
We've been snorkelling on a patch reef not far from the port called Mounu, although to be honest the water has been quite cool, cool enough to need a wetsuit. The reef was surprisingly intact, with good coral diversity and plenty of smaller fish species, including anemone fish with their host anemones.
Nuku'alofa has been celebrating the Heilala Festival, an annual event that sort of coincides with the Tongan King's birthday, although he's buggered off to Vava'u this time around. There were a lot of activities that we didn't go and watch, but we did turn up for the Heilala Parade.
This was a Tongan version of "Carnival". It might not have been quite so elaborate or political, but it did show off Tongans exuberance and love of a good time. By the time the parade got started, half of Tongapu was on the sidelines, with the other half taking part in the Parade.
Saraoni anchored off Big Mama's resort on Pangaimotu Island
Approaching the little motu of Malinoa in the far north of Tongatapu's lagoon
Coral in surprisingly good health close to town on Mounu Reef
A black crinoid clings to the reef edge accompanied by an inquisitive damsel fish
Many high schools and colleges in Tonga have their own (male) marching bands complete with very good brass instruments.
The Heilala Parade is a mixture of old and new Tonga
Doing the Chores in Tongatapu
01 July 2017 | Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu, Tonga
Alison and Geoff, cool but sunny
Photo shows the beach at Ha'atafu on the south west coast of Tongatapu.
After the elation of arriving in a new place across the ocean comes a period a bit like doing the dishes. First there is the bureaucratic hurdle to navigate. Health, biosecurity, customs and immigration. All were over in about 20 minutes. It took longer to tie up next to British yacht Tin Tin which was just in from Niue (to the East) and Dutch yacht Vela, which left Minerva at the same time as us.
Then was fresh food to buy - we were out of anything fresh and down to tins. Nuku'alofa has a huge central market in town where you can buy almost anything the island grows and quite a lot it doesn't. Not all of it is cheap, but cheap enough.
The dirty diesel was a bit of a mission, but we pumped the bottom tank dry and let the diesel from it settle, while flushing out the remainder of the crap in the bottom of the tank. We are still not sure how it got in. We hired a car to pick up LPG, diesel, food and enjoyed a respite from chores with a swim on the south coast and a sticky beak at the blowholes and Kolovai Village's fruit bat colonies.
Kolovai's sacred fruit bats (flying foxes)
Impressive blowholes along Tongatapu's southern cliffy coast
Next was the purchase of a relatively short list of spares and bits and pieces for the boat. Nuku'alofa is hardly a huge metropolis, but that makes it easy to find what there is. Tonga's entire population is less than Hamilton or Townsville, although the majority live on the main island of Tongatapu (means sacred south in Tongan).
Last, but not least, was water and washing. Before we had a chance to fill our first jerrycans from behind the fishing club building, the trades piped up a bit and Saraoni started to drag while tied up in the little boat harbour. Just to make our escape that more exciting the engine cut out just as we were trying to wriggle out of the space we were in. One of us had turned off the fuel supply to the engine while fiddling with the filters. Oops. We executed the fastest fuel bleed we have ever done and just managed to get out before Saraoni's bum hit the rocky wall to leeward!
Saraoni still in place in the small boat harbour (Faua) in Nuku'alofa
We are now anchored outside the harbour, all neat and clean and filled with goodies. It's time to enjoy Tonga! Tomorrow we will do a snorkel fest around the reefs and islets within the Tongatapu lagoon and then watch the Heilala festival parade in town before taking off North along the Ha'apai chain, retracing our October/ November 2015 route south. Yachties have reported seeing humpbacks in both the Ha'apais and Vava'u, so we will be keeping a look out.
From Vava'u we will track west through the Northern Lau Group to Savusavu in Fiji then across the top of Viti Levu, exit Fiji from the west and then touch base in Southern Vanuatu before ending this year's cruising in Noumea, New Cal.
Dream Sail to Tonga
26 June 2017 | Nuku'alofa, Tongatapu, Tonga
Alison and Geoff, calm, sunny and warm
Arrived at Nuku'alofa at around mid-day yesterday after a fantastic last day's sail when the swell subsided but the wind backed to the SSE at around 10 -12 knots.
Nuku'alofa much as we left it in 2015 and it's almost as if we hadn't left the little Tongan capital. Wind pleasantly calm for a few days so we are relaxing before moving north towards Vava'u through the Ha'apai chain.
Light winds on the way to Tonga
24 June 2017 | South West Pacific Ocean
Alison and Geoff
Turbulent exit through N Minerva passage yesterday morning. Must have been all the extra water in the lagoon from the previous day's strong winds. Big NE swell but died gradually. Now light S wind so motorsailing towards Tongatapu.
Heard the Orion yesterday calling up a Spanish warship. Can't imagine what that was doing around here! 2 other yachts nearby both were anchored in Minerva. One is the Dutch boat "Vela" and the other the NZ boat "KahuKura".
Heard that a Fiji Navy patrol boat steamed down to tiny Tuvana-i-Ra to pick up the survivors of the wrecked "Jungle." Expect to arrive off Nuku'alofa tomorrow sometime.
Drama on the high seas
23 June 2017 | North Minerva Reef
Alison and Geoff
It's been blowing it's top off all day today, up to 40 knots as the front rolled through. Now there is only a light westerly, the least wind we've had for 9 days. Maybe we can sleep tonight without worrying about the boat!
Quite a bit of drama today when a 61 foot yacht called "Jungle," an Oyster, went on a small reef right at the bottom of the Lau group, 150 nm north of us. They set off an epirb and all the boats including us were instructed by RCC in NZ to be ready to give assistance. One of the Magnet boats was actually told to sail to the epirb location, which was a bit of an ask. An Orion was scrambled from Auckland and flew overhead to go and find it. The boat, we discovered later, was definitely wrecked, but the four crew managed to get ashore on the little coral cay only to discover there were 3 Fijians already on the island!
The incident does highlight the problem with using electronic charts for passage planning. Small obstructions don't necessarily show up as they might do on a paper chart. This is the second yacht wreck in the Lau so far this season.
We should be off tomorrow after a long rather boring wait.
Twiddling our thumbs waiting for the back of a front
21 June 2017 | North Minerva Reef
Alison and Geoff
Malo! Photo possibly attached shows Alison exploring a wreck on the reef at Minerva.
The skies have grown thick with grey clouds and the wind is slowly clocking around, as the long anticipated front approaches. We should be able to make an easy 2 day passage to Nuku'alofa starting early Saturday morning. The reason for the delay has been the slow passage of a big fat high (bfh) pressure system passing under us. The tropics always get dirty weather with a bfh, while NZ has been basking in winter sunshine.
The wind actually dropped at low tide yesterday and we were quick to explore the nearby reef and say malo! to a resident moray eel and inspect the wreck of a fishing boat.
We nearly had a disaster this morning as we re-anchored. The dinghy rope wrapped itself around the propellor shaft, stalling the engine. It meant diving below to cut the offending rope free. All in a day's holiday!
It's the Tongan "Malo" and not the Fijian "Bula", by the way. as Minerva is technically a part of Tonga, although Fiji disagrees. Tonga maintains the little light house here, so they get first say!
Back in the middle of nowhere!
19 June 2017 | North Minerva Reef
Alison and Geoff
We're in the same beautiful, clear swimming pool for the same reason as we were in November 2015. North and South Minerva are two coral ringed lagoons 20 miles apart, 350 miles from Fiji, 250 miles from Tonga and 780 from New Zealand. Because they have navigable passes boats can enter and anchor safely, seemingly in the middle of nowhere until bad weather passes or the wind changes.
We are waiting for a trough to pass through on Thursday before sailing on to either Suva or Nuku'alofa in Tonga. We have some dirt and water that has inexplicably contaminated our main diesel tank so are being cautious about our next landfall. It has been blowing 20 knots plus since last Friday, the wind picking up as we approached South Minerva. Luckily we just managed to squeeze through the North Minerva entrance just before dark, but we reckon we could easily have navigated the pass in the dark.
We are anchored 100m off the main reef in 12 m of very clear water. It's been too rough to go exploring so we are looking forward to our final arrival in the islands early next week.
Day 7 on the Fiji Run
16 June 2017 | Tasman
Alison and Geoff
SE wind turned up a bit late but now bucketing along. Hope to get to entrance to N. Minerva lagoon before dark 68 nm from here or it's another 350 nm / 3- days to soggy Suva
Day 5 on the Fiji Run
14 June 2017 | Tasman
Alison and Geoff
Motored all day yesterday into light headwind. Wind change this morning in small squall and cloud. Now SW wind, but too light to be much use for sailing. Expect to have trades return tomorrow with 15 to 20 plus SE all the way to Suva. Looks like nasty Aussie trough has now disappeared so may only spend one night in one of the Minervas and then go straight on to Suva 3 more days sailing. No albatrosses now but saw first booby. Certainly warming up. 25°C right now. Pic is of sunrise yesterday morning.
Day 3 on the Fiji Run
12 June 2017 | Tasman
Alison and Geoff
Nice conditions yesterday with 12 knot se wind and clear sky. Wind now dropped and forecast to clock around to West. Motoring with light headwind at the moment. Have solved fuel problem for the moment by bypassing main keel tank. Have plenty of diesel. Should be outside entrance to N. Minerva by Friday p.m.
Day 2 on the Fiji Run
11 June 2017 | Tasman
Alison and Geoff
Rolling short sea with 15 to 20 knots from astern. Had to deal with dirt and water in fuel and climb mast to disentangle topping lift from radar reflector. First albatrosses seen. 593 nm to Minerva S but may go on to Minerva North if time. Front not due for a week.
Fiji Here We Come!
09 June 2017 | Bay of Islands, NZ
Alison and Geoff, light SW winds
Set off from Opua at 12.00 for Fiji via Minerva. Updates on here and / or YIT (Yachts in Transit). Forecast is for light SW to W winds at first , then through a ridge, SE to ESE winds on the other side of the ridge. Will wait for front tip to pass through in Minerva before going on to Fiji. At present plan A is to sail to SavuSavu. Might change that to Suva when in Minerva.
Better Cold Than Bold?
06 June 2017 | Paihia, Bay of Islands, NZ
Alison and Geoff, light wind, warm and sunny
Saraoni (middle distance) anchored off Paihia this afternoon in warm and brilliant winter sunshine.
The rather pathetic weather windows of the last 2 weeks have come and gone. Yachts that have impatient owners, or those that must leave because of expired visas or customs tax that might have to be paid, have motored for days, bashed against head winds, lost their masts overboard, had their sails ripped or had a jolly good sail and are now in the tropics.
We have made a deadline. If we are not in the islands by 1st July, we are flying off for a circuit of Indonesia. Maybe we are just lazy, but burning diesel for days on end, then encountering headwinds for several days doesn't look like much fun, so we are here for the daily dramas of the UK election campaign plus the associated terror atrocities. Hoping that everybody who wants change gets out and votes the Tories out!
We are in winter weather here in the winterless North, but most days have been surprisingly calm and warm after an early morning crisp start. Tacky little Paihia is now seasonally quiet after the Queens's Birthday holiday rush, but the backpackers are still in shorts and t shirts, the tour boats have been out looking for dolphins and the parasailors strutting their stuff.
Today we have just staggered back after an exhausting walk up along the Oromahoe ridge in the Opua Forest and then back along the coast trail -18 km in all.
Saraoni waiting for its last ocean trip off the Paihia wharf. Tikitiki Rock (the Ninepin) in the distance just to the right of Saraoni is beckoning us on and out!!
There's an old saying "There are old sailors and bold sailors, but no old, bold sailors!"
We think we are in the "cold, old but not very bold" category! Next window North is coming up next Monday, Watch this space!!!
Early winter morning on Saraoni
Yeah, We’re Still Here!
20 May 2017 | Paihia, Bay of Islands ,NZ
Alison and Geoff, cold and blustery
Pic shows the Tasman in fine fettle.
We are anchored off the Paihia wharf with a howling south westerly and not going anywhere until the messy chaos up in the tropics disappears. However, quite a number of boats have now left, even some of the ICA (Island Cruising Association) rally fleet.
We've nicknamed the ICA the INCA (Island Non Cruising Association). The organisers are playing it safe, as mentioned before, but the numbers are haemorrhaging.
The Opua boats have spilt neatly into two. The "gamblers" who have now left or just about to do so and the "wait and see-ers" who don't like playing Russian Roulette with the Tasman. The trick, according to the "gamblers," is to slow down enough to dodge the nasty low rapidly forming just south of Fiji, then Tonga, but move fast enough to dodge the low forming just south of New Caledonia and moving south. Each weather window materialises every time a front moves through down here and that's every 4 to 7 days apart, so we are now looking at the next window in another week's time, which appears at this early stage to be more standard for the season.
Meanwhile we continue to tap away, shovel money into our bank accounts, walk in the woods and paint the deck. This might be the last seafari for Saraoni as we are planning on buying another boat, so we want to make sure it is a relatively comfortable one.
We've been musing over our ocean passages. What's an ocean passage? More than two nights at sea? If that's the criterion, we've completed 31 of them so far. The longest was 23 days and then two 17 day stints. The worst trip we ever did was the first one in July 1987 and that's simply because we had no way of knowing what the weather was. It took 17 days to get from Paihia (right where we are now) to Noumea. Half the time we were close hauled against a north westerly. We also hove-to twice, ran with the wind under bare poles and lay ahull. When we got to Noumea we vowed never to leave, certainly not in a boat! Of course, we did and the next passage was fast, if rough.
We have had three other (very) uncomfortable passages, mostly short ones. and one of those we had to turn back (again poor or nil weather forecasting). As for the number of times we have waited for the weather to allow us to make a passage, we don't even want to think about it!
Why do we crazy yachties do it? The rewards are usually worth it. We've spent less than 6 months in total on all those 31 ocean passages and that's in 30 years of living and cruising on a boat. We've spent far longer working and that's far worse!!
12 May 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
Alison and Geoff, windy, wet and cold!
It may be "yuk!" up in the tropics, as the ICA rally organiser exclaimed this morning, but it was lovely in Opua this morning after the remnants of Donna cleared away, but it's getting colder every time the wind switches to the south after a front.
Dear TC Donna passed over last night and earlier today in reduced form and we bounced around in her rugged wake. Donna's little tropical sister, Ella, is still alive and kicking just North of Fiji. There seems to be some degree of disagreement between Meteo France in Noumea and FijiMet in Nadi about Ella's precise intentions, but we don't think they are good ones. Like Donna though, Ella has at least spared the inhabited islands that were at one point in her path and is now in open sea.
With Oz also sending some more crappy weather our way across the ditch on Tuesday, like most people here we have decided to see what the next weather window will be like on Thursday next week.
The ICA Rally, which is a biennial event involving 25 odd boats, has been cancelled twice so far. John Martin, the very seasoned organiser, told the fleet this morning that he has never seen such crappy May weather in the tropics in 25 years.
John has reason to be cautious. It was the ICA Rally in June 1994 that got pummelled by a weather bomb that originated between Fiji and Vanuatu. Known afterwards as the "Queen's Birthday Storm" because it reached a peak on NZ's version of the Queen's Birthday, it sunk 7 boats and 3 yachties' lives were lost as the fleet of 35 were making their way between Opua and Tonga.
A similar, but not such tragic storm, saw the loss of several more yachts in the June 2005 ICA Rally that was headed to Kadavu in Fiji from Opua.
Weather forecasting and passage planning has got a lot better than it was in 1994 and 2005. Unfortunately, no technological advances have yet done anything to slow or reverse the climate change that is fuelling the increase in more extreme weather events.
The pied shags in this part of the BOI generally tackle small fish like sardines, but this shag came up with a flounder. Quite a struggle getting it down its neck!
There are a lot of traditional craft around the Bay of Islands amongst the plastic fantastics and chunky steel boats. This gaffer was spotted beating down the Veronica Channel against a stiff southerly near Paihia.
Eh? It's Not the Cyclone Season! Go Away!
04 May 2017 | Russell, Bay of Islands, NZ
Alison and Geoff, lovely sunny day, but cool start
Pic shows computer model of severe cyclone Donna just off Lifou in New Cal's Loyalties. Port Vila, in Vanuatu, at least has been spared, but one computer models hows Donna passing right over Noumea.
The stars may be aligning for a weekend departure next week for Minerva reef or direct to Fiji after out of cyclone season cyclone Donna clears out of the bloody way!
Donna has gone to a severe category 5, the most intense May cyclone in the SW Pacific on record. A May cyclone is not unknown, but are mostly cat. 1's. Climate change is nibbling away at each end of the sailing season. Donna is now tracking SSE between New Caledonia and Vanuatu after dithering over the remote Torres Islands for several days.
It is expected to pass close inside Ouvea and the Loyalties then track just East of L'Isle des Pins and weaken. It then joins a frontal system coming our way from Australia and pass through as a nasty storm to the NE of NZ on Thursday.
Most boats here will probably wait for the huge swells to settle down and leave at the weekend. We shall see where the winds blow after that as we would prefer the next high pressure to be above us, giving us at least initially westerly winds, better for making passage to Fiji. Ideally, we want a new high to the NW of us with a central pressure less than 1030. At present it looks like mostly easterlies, better for sailing to New Cal. or Vanuatu.
Meanwhile, as is par for the course in topsy turvy down under land, when the tropics have nasty weather, it is placid down here in NZ. The reverse tends to hold when we have lows blowing through down here. The isobars free up further north and moderate the trade winds in the tropics.
We are anchored off Matauwhi Bay, Russell with lovely weather for one more day.
Update 9th May
Well, it's been a crazy start to the sailing season in the SW Pacific. Now, a new cyclone, Ella, has been named just south of Samoa. It's projected to move SW towards Vanua Levu in Fiji, then towards Suva, cat. 2
Tracking map from Fiji Met for Ella.
Update 10th May
Donna decided to spare the Loyalties and slipped down to the East of them. She has weakened , but the remnants are now forecast to pass right over Opua on Friday morning together with a trough coming over for a visit from the Australian East Coast.
Meanwhile, Ella has intensified to cat 2 with winds gusting to 70 knots. It has made its turn as predicted by Fiji Met to the WSW and is now heading for the Northern Lau. Reports from boats that made it into Tongatapu have reported nasty easterlies there. One boat was sheltering in Minerva with up to 35 from the ENE. Hopefully, Ella will fizzle out and track east soon.
We will probably now wait a few more days to avoid yet another trough passing to the north on Tuesday / Wednesday next week.
In The Wake of the Kuaka
28 April 2017 | Opua, Bay of Islands, NZ
Alison and Geoff, cool nights, warm days
Mist clearing from the Veronica Channel near Opua before a lovely Autumn day
We're hanging round Opua fiddling around with last minute jobs and doing what everyone else is doing - watching the weather! The mist rolled down the Waikare Inlet (the well protected inlet to the east of Opua) so thick a couple of days ago that we were forced to stop and wait for it to burn off, a harbinger of the coming winter. It's not cold here yet, but the nights are getting longer.
Mist rolling down from the Waikare Inlet near Opua
We are following in the wake of the kuaka
(bar tailed godwits), thousands of which have already left for Alaska where they breed. They fly here in one fell swoop, non-stop for 8 days in the southern Spring. It's a feat that both Alaskan Airlines and Air New Zealand would be hard to match. They then use the long summer days to gorge themselves on worms and pipis. The return flight back to their breeding grounds involves a stop-over for kai in East Asia, China and Korea. More's the pity for their long term survival. Climate change and the steady replacement of East Asian wetlands by concrete is affecting their numbers.
Godwits (kuaka) taking off back to Alaska
The arrival of the kuaka was something that Maori observed in awe. They couldn't work out where the birds were nesting (Kua kite te kohanga kuaka?
/ where is the godwit's nest?) and assumed that they were spiritual visitors from Hawaiiki, the Maori mythical original departure point. So much for mythology, as it doesn't seem that godwits went anywhere near the modern day Society Islands where Hawaiiki is presumed to lie! However, Maori myths and sayings
about the kuaka do at least indicate just how in tune with nature were the earlier inhabitants of Aotearoa. One wonders how many people today even know what a godwit is, or the fact that it holds the world bird record for long distance non-stop flight!
The kuaka and other migratory birds wait for a southwesterly or southerly before taking off. Sensible practice. That's what we will be doing too!
We Survive the Savage Storm!
18 April 2017 | Tutukaka Marina, Northland
Alison and Geoff, calm and sunny
We are back in our berth in Tutukaka (high tide pic above) just for a couple of nights. We are here to drop off the sailing dinghy, pick up mail and take on non chlorinated water. Then we will be on the way up to the Bay of Islands to take charge of our new storage unit and join the growing throng of would be winter migrants waiting for the southern hemisphere tropics to settle down and make way for us grotty yachties to head North.
After being released from the clutches of Riverside's travel-lift we anchored down harbour opposite the Norsand boat yard. It's not a pretty place, more industrial than residential and is dominated by mud flats at low tide, but it is the only useful free anchorage close to the city centre of Whangarei, with a dinghy dock at Kissing Point a stone's throw away and a place to lock up the bikes.
Just after we had been anchored there for a day or two, we were somewhat alarmed by a radio broadcast from the NZ MetService advising everyone of the imminent arrival of Cyclone Cook, a gift to NZ from Vanuatu by way of New Caledonia. 50 to 80 knot winds were forecast, dependent on the actual track of the storm and very heavy rain. Later, the storm, still described as 'Cyclone Cook', even though it had already been downgraded to a storm, was said to be the 'biggest and most dangerous' in a century.
As it happened, we never got more than about 10 knots of wind and the rain wasn't too bad. Auckland missed it too. So did the Coromandel. It did blow a bit on White Island in the Bay of Plenty, but by the time it had swooped down past Wellington and then Christchurch the poor folks at the MetService were looking a bit red-faced!
Perhaps the fact that Easter was just around the corner explained the fact that the storm was overhyped to ensure no-one was playing silly buggers out on the water if it diverted towards the mainland!
Making Hay While the Sun Shines
08 April 2017 | Whangarei, NZ
Alison and Geoff, in a lull
Photo is not of Whangarei, but the badly flooded town of Edgecumbe in the Bay of Plenty after Debbie dumped her load.
We are not actually making hay, or even making way, as we are here up on the hard stand at Riverside boat yard in Whangarei, our old haunt from the pre circumnavigation days of 2004 and 2005. We certainly depend on some sunshine to make progress. Progress has been somewhat stuttering as the tropics have been sending lots of warm, wet stuff down this way.
First there were the remnants of Cyclone Debbie. It did considerable damage to the Whitsundays, then drowned South East Queensland and North East NSW in turn, crossed the Tasman and hit the lower half of the North Island, badly flooding the Bay of Plenty town of Edgecumbe. We had 2 days of heavy rain in Northland. The Hatea River turned a dirty brown and Whangarei Harbour appeared to be high tide all day and night, but nothing too serious.
Meanwhile we have been sorting out the leftover problems from the last few years of busy cruising. In turn, we checked the forestay for wear (tick), got the furling genoa repaired (tick), installed 2 new cap shrouds and bob stay (tick), fitted new dolly wheels to the RIB (tick), repaired the anchor winch which had died off Tongatapu (tick), repaired the engine cooling pump which had been damaged in French Polynesia (tick), rebuilt the wind generator which was beginning to make so much noise due to worn bearings the whole boat would shudder (tick), check the prop shaft bearing for play (tick), replace the anemometer that died on top of the mizzen (tick) and complete our overhaul of the power generation and storage system, new deep cycle batteries and solar panels which should now serve to provide us with all the off grid electricity we need for the next few years (tick).
We should be back in the water in a couple of days after giving the hull its latest cover of useless antifouling (tick) just in time for Cyclone Cook, currently brewing off Vanuatu, to come visiting.
We are seriously thinking of buying a bigger boat, perhaps in the U.S. or Mexico and bringing it back across the Pacific in stages. We won't sell Saraoni at this stage (would anyone buy it anyway?) but keep it as our NZ base, especially as we still have the very cheap and safe berth in Tutukaka. Our trip to Fiji and New Cal. this year should focus our minds more clearly on what we want to do next.
This is the 17th time we have hauled Saraoni out since we bought it in Airlie Beach, Queensland. It's no fun, especially when it's wet!
Alison inspecting the rudder
Getting Ready for the South Seas
27 March 2017 | Whangarei Heads, Northland, NZ
Geoff and Alison, clear, warm and sunny
Photo shows Tower Hill, a volcanic crater in Western Victoria, now a conservation project.
We are back on the boat on the way for a haul out and maintenance stint in Whangarei after a short road trip around Western Victoria and flight back to Auckland.
We got as far as Portland in Western Victoria, a large man made commercial port partly sheltered in the lee of a peninsula that juts out east of the South Australian border. We'd forgotten that this part of Australia, stretching through to Mt Gambier in SA, has a number of volcanic cones, a bit like the ones that dot Auckland's skyline. One of them, Tower Hill, has been turned into a conservation reserve with emus strutting their stuff and echidnas shuffling amongst the scrub.
Emu at Tower Hill
Rain prevented a trip to the fur seal colony at Cape Bridgewater, so we took the road North through the Grampians, one of several scattered hilly parts of Victoria that rise up from the flat farmland, before navigating the busy outskirts of Melbourne. Melbourne is physically even more extensive than Sydney, as there is very little high rise development. To get an idea of just how big it is, a bus ride from Dandenong, on the SE edge of the city, to the airport on the opposite North west side, took over four and a half hours! It also cost only just over 4 dollars, which must be a public transport bargain of the year.
The plan now is to get the boat ready, spend a lot of money (!) and then sail up to the Bay of Islands for departure on the first available weather window. Picking the weather is becoming more unpredictable with climate change having an impact just about everywhere. It is still full on cyclone season in the South Pacific, with North Queensland battening its hatches down as the worst cyclone since Cyclone Yasi in 2011 bears down on the Bowen / Whitsunday area, so we won't be in too much of a hurry.
It is warm and sunny now, but we had a lot of rain for a day just after getting back to Tutukaka. Northland is certainly very green right now compared to the dry, brown landscape at the end of January.
Rolling Along Victoria's Great Ocean Road
19 March 2017 | Warrnambool, Victoria
Alison and Geoff, warm and sunny
Photo shows the famous "12" Apostles along the Great Ocean Road west of Cape Otway
We're in Warrnambool, a service center for the dry, dusty west Victorian coast on the Prince's Highway (still!) on the way to Adelaide.
We diverted from the bike trip after studying the remaining route to Melbourne - mainly flat, hot farmland - gave the bikes away still in good condition to a grateful Vinnie's (St. Vincent de Paul op shop) in Bairnsdale and swapped them for a rental car!
We thought we had better see some of Victoria's famous coastal scenery before flying back to Auckland next week so are now 250 km from Melbourne at the western end of the Great Ocean Road, which hugs the coast between Torquay, just South of Geelong and Port Chalmers. The coast road twists and turns above the coast and its wild beaches through tall gum forest in the Cape Otway Ranges.
The coast here consists of steep, vertical limestone cliffs which are exposed to the big swells rolling in from the Southern Ocean. Like many other places on everyone's bucket list, it's full of visitors from all round the world, which is a pity, but it doesn't really spoil the views!
We will probably drive back to Melbourne via the Grampians, a range of weathered hills north of here. The weather has been just great for us and all the Victorian beach goers as it has been several degrees above normal. Think that's all about to change tomorrow! Watch this space!
Great Ocean Road looking back towards Cape Otway
Camped under a manna gum near Cape Otway. Note the koala proof barrier to protect the tree. Hundreds of trees at Cape Otway are now dead.
Koalas Hanging On in Victoria’s Protected Islands
16 March 2017 | Bairnsdale, East Gippsland, Victoria
Alison and Geoff, cool and cloudy
It's hard to imagine that the most iconic of Australia's weird and wonderful marsupial menagery, the koala, had been hunted almost to extinction by the time the First World War rolled around in both Victoria and South Australia. The fur trade did to koalas what street lamps did to the great whales and common European diseases did to many of Australia's indigenous people.
Koala fans urged the authorities to allow the last remaining populations of the sleepy tree dwellers to be translocated to a number of protected islands: French Island and Phillip IsIand in Westernport, Raymond Island in the Gippsland Lakes and later, Kangaroo Island in SA.
The idea was a good one at the time, but like many early human experiments in nature management was fundamentally flawed. The koalas bred like billy-o and then ate themselves out of house and home, with nowhere to go and no natural predators. Manna gums, their preferred big protein eucalypt food source, suffered and in turn koalas starved to death and their numbers plummeted.
Koalas are still on these islands in plenty but now their numbers are controlled and managed by fertility treatment, translocation back to the mainland and, in some cases, euthanasia. Victoria's Dept. of the Environment euthanased nearly 700 koalas in the Cape Otway National Park a couple of years ago because of over population. The cull was very controversial at the time, similar to the 1080 issue in NZ.
Elsewhere in Australia, koalas are not doing well, with numbers down to around 100,000, a small percentage of pre colonial times. They never existed naturally outside of Eastern Australia, from Rockhampton south and round into the South Eastern corner of SA. They did not live (in recent times anyway) in WA, the NT or Tasmania. Problems include too many roads and development in prime koala habitat (SE Queensland and NE NSW East of the Divide), climate change and a nasty strain of Chlamydia, which affects otherwise resilient populations.
The pics here were all taken on Raymond Island near Paynesville in Gippsland. There are around 200 koalas on the island, down from 600 at their unsustainable peak. We saw 6. It can be incredibly hard to see koalas up in a tree in the daytime unless it is cool or wet, when they are more active. Most of Australia's marsupials are strictly nocturnal.
Raymond Island is connected to Paynesville by ferry and has a small human population who love their quiet island and its wild inhabitants, feathered, scaly and furred.
1 of 6 koalas seen on Raymond Island
Cool Nights in the East Gippsland Lakes
13 March 2017 | Lakes Entrance, Victoria, Australia
Alison and Geoff, warm days, cool nights
Cool mornings, condensation on the tent, but is all that crap really ours?
We are at Lakes Entrance, a rather bland East Gippsland (Victoria) seaside town, thronged with the multicultural masses of Melbourne, as well as the usual army of grey nomads (including us!).
Lakes Entrance is on the north side of one of the arms of the group of waterways lying just off the Australian version of Ninety Mile Beach. It's a bit built up around the town, but there are plenty of natural areas left along the other arms. The network of waterways is connected to the sea through an artificial channel (hence the name of the town "Lake's Entrance") It's a bit like Southport's (Gold Coast) Seaway.
The entrance to the Gippsland Lakes from high up on the Princes Highway.
As this coast is on one side of Bass Strait, the entrance has a fearsome reputation when the weather gets nasty and the tide is ebbing. We reached the entrance this morning along a sandy footpath through the coastal Banksia scrub, full of honeyeaters and whipbirds, and it was ideal for going either in or out.
Contented pelicans on the Cunninhame arm of the Gippsland Lakes
There was hardly a breath of wind out in Bass Strait and there was only a lazy metre of swell breaking on the beach on either side of the channel. There was just a bit of turbulence through the channel, although admittedly the current was pretty strong.
Lake's Entrance as the tide flows strongly in
We are at 38o South now, so the nights are getting cooler and the mornings, especially when the sky is clear, have been pretty nippy. Just to confirm the latitude, we saw a couple of fur seals hunting for fish at the entrance to the lakes.
We are now only 300 odd kilometres from the outskirts of Melbourne. It would only take 4 days to bike in if we went straight along the Prince's Highway, but we have been getting off it as much as we can. From the last town in NSW (Eden), the traffic has been quite light, as the highway has passed through largely unpopulated state forests and national parks.
Victoria has a number of good cycle trails along disused rail corridors, so we joined one of them at Orbost, a small town on the banks of the (once) mighty Snowy River - the East Gippsland Rail Trail. It was a bit bumpy, but nice and flat and passed a number of old timber trestle bridges built for the original railway.
The East Gippsland Rail (Cycle) Trail
O'Grady's wooden trestle bridge on the rail trail
Strangely, we only saw one either cyclist in 40 km of cycle trail, despite it being a long weekend. Perhaps everyone was down at the beach. It certainly seemed that way when we arrived at Lakes Entrance! We also saw quite a few wallabies and more sadly, a dead wombat - one of a few we have seen by the roadside. But how did a wombat get killed on a cycle trail?
The Snowy River down at Orbost is only a shadow of its former self. It's a reminder of the complexity of water issues here in Australia. The river rises high in the Australian Alps and passes through mostly wilderness on its route through to the sea at Marlo.
In the 1950s, the Snowy River hydro scheme, at the time considered an engineering marvel, tamed the upper river and diverted over 95% of the flow at the Jindabyne dam through to the west side of the Great Divide. Most of this is used by irrigators in the same way as the Murray-Darling largely gets used up before it even catches sight of the sea.
The once mighty Snowy rarely flows strongly enough to break through to Bass Strait these days and when it does, it allows salt water to flow up river for 30 km, changing the riverine ecosystem and preventing any more river water from being used for irrigation. Victorians are trying to get at least a quarter of the upper Snowy flow down in its age old direction.
A shadow of its former self, the Snowy reaches the end of its course towards the ocean.
The End of the Australian East Coast
05 March 2017 | Eden, NSW, Australia
Alison and Geoff, clear and sunny
Photo shows the aptly named Twofold Bay at Eden, near the southern end of the East Coast of Australia
What Australasian yachtie has not heard of Eden? It's the last town on the east coast of Australia before the huge continent turns sharply westwards around Cape Howe along Bass Strait towards Melbourne and Adelaide.
More than just being a little, somewhat depressed service town, it has a tiny, deep water port and it's easy to approach, more or less, whatever the weather. That's unusual along a coast which is mainly endowed with often tricky barred river entrances.
Eden's tiny deep water port. Yachts moored on the right.
Yachties hang out here when heading to and from the Bass Strait and especially Tasmania. Sensible tactics involve a wait for a northerly to make the one to day crossing across the often turbulent Strait. Going North, the wait is for a southerly. The passage round to Melbourne is tricky because there is little shelter along the Victorian coast. Gabo Island, Wilson's Prom and Westernport are about all there is.
Every year on Boxing Day, yachts in the Sydney to Hobart stream towards the South. The entrance to Bass Strait just south of here is often their undoing. It's a rare race in which at least a few yachts don't limp into Eden or arrive under tow, dismasted, to lick their wounds.
From Eden, we head inland into Victoria. There isn't much in the way of services before the town of Orbost, 180 km away, so we hope our "diablo rojos" hold up! We can now say we have (well, almost) travelled the entire length of the east coast under our own steam! We have sailed from Cape York in the far north of Queensland to Yamba in NSW and cycled from Bundaberg to Eden!
Mexicans and Wombats on the NSW Far South Coast
03 March 2017 | Merimbula, NSW, Australia
Geoff and Alison, cloudy, humid with intermittent rain
Photo above: Have Donald Trump's supporters arrived in Australia? Someone told us that Victorians were called "Mexicans" because they lived "south of the border". Hmmmmm!
We are now half way to Melbourne in the harbour town of Merimbula on the far south coast of NSW. The bikes are O.K. and we are as fit as any sixty year old fiddles could be. The weather has been sunny at times but it has also rained quite a lot, up to yesterday mostly at night. The road along the coast has been narrow, hilly and windy and yet still busy with local and tourist traffic. Beautiful sandy beaches have alternated between bush covered headlands. Musical chimes from bell birds sound from the gullies, while the crack of the whip bird echoes from the ridges. The scent of eucalyptus fills the air.
Like British Columbia, much of the route has been through seemingly endless tracts of forest and woodland - but eucalyptus and wattle rather than coniferous forest. A lot of it is either designated state forest or national park.
An east coast low formed just east of Sydney two days ago, dumping a heap of rain just where we were cycling, more rain than we have seen for a long time. We arrived dripping wet at the doors of a motel in Merimbula and have stayed two nights, but have to move on as we have now booked our flights back to Auckland for the third week in March.
Until Merimbula, we had so far camped every night since leaving Sydney. There are plenty of places to camp, but the commercial campgrounds are expensive, with prices anywhere from $28 up to $45 or more. Many of these campgrounds have dozens or even hundreds of cabins cum caravans. They seem to be the "baches" for people in the cities or inland towns and are quite cheap to buy and rent, so are obviously a good option for Aussies who want to get away from it all. The only drawback is that you end up with loads of others in the same park.
For us it's a reminder of just how lucky we are to have a boat. We can park it pretty well anywhere for nothing and have empty or at least uncrowded anchorages surrounded by nature. The land, meanwhile, is getting more and more crowded and the only real way of getting away from the masses is to go walking in the wilderness!
Wombats are certainly smaller than a moose! We saw plenty of moose signs in Canada last year, but very few mooses (mice?). We've also seen plenty of wombat signs along the coast road, and YAY! we at last saw two wombats wombling out of the bush, just before Tura Beach.
Australian taonga but New Zealand's bane - plenty of common brush tailed possums having an all night party in Tathra!
Narooma harbour (?)
Aussie pelican near Bermagui
Escape From Jervis Bay?
23 February 2017 | St. Georges Basin, NSW South Coast, Australia
Alison and Geoff, warm ,clear and windy
Photo shows an escapee by kite from Jervis Bay!
We are on the NSW South Coast on the way to Melbourne. We have been following the NSW Cycle Trail that is surprisingly good around towns and settlements but does disappear somewhat in places.
It's not far to Melbourne now!
The Princes Highway lies parallel to the coast and the route follows the highway from time to time. As with other major highways on the east Coast of Australia, there is a wide hard shoulder with cycle signs imprinted on it, which does help to provide some security from the heavy traffic.
We discovered that old yachtie companions, Andrew and Clare on the yacht Eye Candy, who we met in Colombia and last saw in Nuku Hiva in French Polynesia spent their off season in the pretty coastal village of Kiama, so stayed the night with them on the way South.
Eye Candy is/was one of the mainstays of the (in)famous HF radio net, the MagNet, which we used between the Caribbean and NZ. They are delaying the inevitable return to Oz by leaving their boat in nice places across the Pacific.
We also stopped the night camped on the lawn of Sigrid and Don Cooper, avid Nowra cyclists and travellers and part of the Warmshowers network, which provides accommodation for cyclists in many countries on an adhoc and simple basis.
The 2 bikes are in fine form, apart from an unusual spate of punctures in one of them, we think caused by a crappy inner wheel rim (the bikes only cost A$109 each!). The weather has moderated and is cooler than before and drier.
We arrived at Jervis Bay, Saraoni's namesake (see last blog). It is a large, beautiful, semi enclosed bay with very white sand beaches and clear water. Like all large bays of this type it's really not a great place for a boat, as with any slight change of wind direction, you have to move a long way for shelter. Perhaps it's a good idea that Saraoni spent most of its previous life in Queensland waters! The NSW coast, apart from Sydney, Pittwater and Port Stephens, is a hard place to cruise in, but great to visit by land travel!
We are now just over the peninsula from Jervis Bay on the side of the St. George's Basin in the Jervis Bay National Park. There are friendly grey kangaroos here and we are wakened up in the morning with equally friendly kookaburras and king parrots. Tomorrow, we head for Ulladulla.
7 Mile Beach National Park South of Nowra
Friendly grey kangaroos come for a cuppa at St. George's Basin
Friendly alarm call positioned above our tent!
King parrots are just some of the huge, colourful and noisy, Aussie parrot family
2 Red Bicycles Heading South
18 February 2017 | East Corrimal near Wollongong, NSW
Alison and Geoff, cool but stormy
Loaded to the hilt, one of the 2 $109 Repco bikes bought in Big W.
Our journey on 2 red cycles has begun. We have decided that as long as we can walk, cycle and sail that's what we intend to do as long as possible. Of course the odd flight thrown in to a different destination can't be avoided at times.
We bought 2 red cycles in a Big W in Rockdale just outside Sydney after spending a few days with 2 different yachtie friends. We were lucky enough to be taken out on the Pittwater just North of Sydney by Paddy and Carolyn on their yacht Kristianne whom we met in Australia in 2008 not long after we had started our circumnavigation. They just completed theirs in November 2016. We also met up with Belinda and Kit who we crossed the Atlantic with in 2014. They have left their boat, Quilcene, in the Chesapeake and are exploring a bit of Oz and NZ.
We then rushed to Rockdale, swapped our rental car for 2 cheap red cycles from a nearby Big W. As soon as we had loaded far too much gear we headed south towards Melbourne.
The first gem of the journey was cycling the hilly terrain of the Royal National Park amidst the squawk of cockatoos, the squeal of lorikeets and the laughing tone of the kookaburra.
The northern part of the Illawarra coast is very steep with the escarpment right by the sea. At one point the road is led over a cliffside bridge called the SeaCliff Bridge. It's more like Oregon or Northern California than Australia.
We are now just outside Wollongong the third largest city in NSW. A bit slow to begin with as the last of a heatwave passed through but after some growling thunderstorms and a couple of downpours and the drudgery of the hills of the national park we are heading south on some good cycle paths interspersed with busy sections of highway.
Just south of Wollongong is Port Kembla where Saraoni's hull and deck were built by South Coast yachts in 1986
. The boat was completed in Keith and Vivienne Kingsland's backyard in Nowra, further to the South. When we bought the boat in Airlie Beach in 1998 it was called "Tekin JB". Tekin was an Aboriginal word meaning "get out of" or "escape from", while the "JB" was short for Jervis Bay, a large open bay near Nowra. We have never been sure why Keith and Vivienne wanted to "escape from Jervis Bay" because we are told the bay is stunning. Perhaps it was something to do with familiarity breeding contempt? We will be passing Saraoni's (sorry - Tekin JB's!) old haunts over the next few days.
This next section of the South NSW coast is all about beaches and coastal inlets and there are plenty of them. We have been swimming in the sea. We are about the same latitude as NZ here, but the sea is warmer, especially where it is trapped in tidal inlets lie the Pittwater and the Hacking.
Sydney Harbour's South Head
Pittwater's Cowal Creek anchorage
Paddy explaining how to avoid a goanna? Geoff has just dived into a water hole in 40 degree heat!
Time Out in Oz
07 February 2017 | Katoomba, NSW, Australia
Geoff and Alison, wet and foggy
Looking Over the Grose Valley escarpment in the Blue Mountains
We are back in Australia for the first time since leaving Darwin on the Sail Indonesia rally in 2008.
Partly because we have spent so much time in the past in the North, particularly Queensland and the N.T., we thought it was time to explore some of the South. It is also still the wet season in the tropics although right now here in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney it is also pouring down. The city really copped it yesterday and we are glad we were up here.
We have been spending the time camping in the bush and wandering the plateaux, escarpments and valleys of the Greater Blue Mountains area after high tailing it out of Sydney in a rental car last week.
Camping in comfort? Campsite at the Boyd River.
The weather has varied from pleasantly cool to baking hot, which is par for the course in this part of Oz. It has been nice to wake up to the bush version of the Australian Symphony Orchestra, with all our old noisy friends in abundance - kookaburras, cockatoos and currawongs providing the exuberant main performance, with bellbirds, wrens and honeyeaters and many more as backdrop.
We have been surprised to see so much wildlife so quickly, even close to farmland, although we haven't come across any wombats yet, despite seeing plenty of their huge burrows.
Abandoned wombat burrow at the Boyd River
We will be in Sydney for the next few days meeting up with old yachtie friends we haven't seen since the Caribbean or the Med.
Then we will be buying some more bikes like we did in Canada last year and heading for Melbourne via the NSW south coast and possibly over the Great Alpine Road.
One of several mobs of eastern grey kangaroos seen down the Megalong valley in the Blue Mountains
Goanna basking in the sun
Swamp wallaby, one of three different types of wallaby seen in the Megalaong and Cox's River valleys.
Eastern water dragon near the Cox's River
Alison on the Cox's River Bridge - part of the 6 Foot Track, which is a multi day track between Katoomba and the Jenolan Caves.
Lovable larrikins of the Aussie bush: sulfur crested cockatoos and galahs nibbling flowers in Oberon.
Ghostly gum trees in the fog at Kanangra Boyd
Kanangra Walls in the Kanangra Boyd Wilderness, NSW's second largest wilderness area still in existence
22 January 2017 | Tutukaka, Northland, NZ
Geoff and Alison, sunny, windy
Geoff by Tane Moana, the Northland East Coast's largest kauri by girth. Not tall, but squat!
We're back in Tutukaka, putting the boat to sleep before flying to Sydney, but we've been out and about limbering up and looking for Tane Moana, the large kauri that the loggers missed on a ridge above Tutukaka. It sits on the Te Araroa trail / The Long Pathway, that bypasses the harbour. The trail keeps to the ridges between the two coastal villages of Matapouri and Ngunguru as it meanders around on its way South. There are very few kauris of this size left and what there are, are not on the East Coast. The two largest are Tane Mahuta and Te Matua Ngahere in Waipoua Forest, both probably over 2,000 years old. They are not as old or as big as California's Giant Sequoias, but awesome in their own right, especially when there is no one else around except the forest.
Alison by Tane Moana
Plaque by the big tree
The Ngunguru estuary in the foreground and Bream Head in the background from the ridge above Tutukaka.
Saraoni 2nd from the left in its pen, behind the flax covered breakwater in sunny weather.
Saraoni's swimming pool looking invitingly green and clear (beach side of breakwater) because of the lack of rain! Two penguin couples have relocated their roosting spot to the outside of the breakwater on the other side from the boat, giving us a quieter dawn awakening!
Seeing the New Year In Along the Te Whara Trail
01 January 2017 | Urquhart's Bay, Whangarei Harbour
Alison and Geoff, calm and warm
Photo shows the ridge at the entrance to Whangarei's harbour. Closer islands from the left are the Chickens and their mother Hen. In the hazy background, the Mokohinaus, Great Barrier and Little Barrier
Christmas and now New Year have come and gone. We are anchored in Urquharts Bay at the end (beginning?) of Whangarei Harbour. The wind is blowing gently from the North, which is perfect for this anchorage. It is hell in the strong south westerlies which plague this harbour so often.
New Year's Day 2017 anchorage in Whangarei's Urquhart's Bay
To launch the New Year, we walked the Te Whara / Bream Head trail, supposedly an old Maori route that traverses the knife like ridge between Urquharts Bay and Ocean Beach past Lion Mountain and Te Whara peak. Views look out on a watery expanse, the nearby islands of the Hen and Chickens, with the Mokohinaus, Little and Great Barrier islands in the distance. It's part of the Te Araroa Route.
Smuggler's Cove, below the Lion - Bream Bay in the distance.
We came this way last year, but with a wounded knee, didn't attempt the rocky heights and instead walked the tarmac below.
Bream Head conserves a remnant coastal broadleaf forest and is a mainland restoration project, although the constant daily assaults from mammalian predators have to be contained by labour intensive trapping and poisoning. Here are thriving populations of the three little bush birds, fantails, tomtits and north island robins, whose behaviour is redolent of the ghosts of moas.
We have always speculated on why these little birds are so friendly, even when they have had no contact with people. It's not something that we can prove, but we suspect that their ancestors hung around huge, now extinct, moas to get easy pickings from disturbed insects, a bit like cattle egrets do with cows. The moas are long gone, but with the behaviour probably genetically programmed, the little birds' descendants seem keen to see what insect morsels us human moas throw their way!
Piwakawaka / Fantail along the Te Whara trail
We are nearly at the end of our mini NZ cruise and will soon be putting Saraoni to rest in the penguin pad, while we cross the Tasman at the end of the month.
Tiritiri Matangi - Bird Island!
24 December 2016 | Kawau Bay
Alison and Geoff, windy and cool
Photo shows the unmistakable volcanic hump of Rangitoto Island just off the Auckland Coast from Tiritiri Matangi's shore in the Hauraki Gulf.
The small island of Tiritiri Matangi lies just off the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula in the Hauraki Gulf. It's a place we like to visit whenever possible. It is an open sanctuary managed by DOC with a lot of help from volunteers. It was one of the earliest of the restoration sites to open its doors to visitors. Most of the island sanctuaries are closed unless you have a permit - the reason being it's hard to control re-invasions of little mammals and other unwanted invaders, especially as it is a painstaking business ridding these places from them in the first place.
NZ's native fauna and flora has a hard job surviving, at least the species that have evolved on the mainland, as the introduction of more competitive (and smarter?) animals and plants from around the world has seen a precipitous decline in what was here before people turned up. It was bad enough after the arrival of the first Polynesians, but got even worse after Europeans turned up. The British colonists didn't take to the NZ bush and brought in anything that reminded them of home with disastrous consequences.
There is an ongoing attempt to try and reverse the disappearance and extinction of truly native species and the island sanctuaries are a key part of the strategy. Places like Tiritiri allow NZers to experience what NZ might have been like hundreds of years ago.
It's taken a long time to get Tiritiri to where it is now. It started with almost bare grassland and a few native bird species. Unwanted mammals, including rats, mice, stoats rabbits and hedgehogs were eradicated and have been kept out by a combination of poisoned bait and traps.
Plants, especially trees, had to be planted in their tens of thousands and bird species that had long gone from the island were painstakingly reintroduced from other islands where they were still surviving. That included stitchbird / hihi; saddleback / tieke; parakeets/ kakariki; robins; kokako; whiteheads. Takahe and little spotted kiwi were rescued from the South island, almost extinct in their home ranges. Tiritiri has been such a success that it is now a source of bird populations for re-introductions elsewhere.
Kereru / NZ pigeon
Kakariki / red fronted parakeet: mini version of the larger kaka parrot
Tieke / saddleback / : noisy but vulnerable!
Kokako/ wattled crow: seen but not heard on this trip; heard but not seen in Pureora Forest on our Te Araroa walk earlier in the year.
It's hard anchoring at Tiritiri because you need a light NE wind and no swell to anchor safely. Fortunately, the conditions were just right after motor sailing across from the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula in light winds. We managed two trips ashore and were waken up in the early morning with a true dawn chorus: hundreds of bellbirds, tuis, saddlebacks, kereru, kakariki, gulls, oystercatchers and other birds, including quite a few British settlers (skylarks, blackbirds and thrushes) all squawking away in unison.
These restoration sites really depend on volunteer help, or lots of money, or both and that's a hard ask. The Key Government recently declared that they were going to commit to a "pest free NZ" by 2050, but only allocated $25 million to it. The cost of ridding NZ of mammals it doesn't want (possums, mustelids etc) has been estimated at over 50 billion dollars so maybe the announcement was all hot air and aimed at sidelining the recent Labour/ Greens agreement to cooperate in the run up to next year's election. We'll see!
We are currently anchored in the Kawau / Mahurangi area and heading back towards Tutukaka soon.
Tiritiri Matangi - Hobbe's Beach
Season's Greetings to All!
19 December 2016 | On passage from Great Mercury Island to Kawau
Alison and Geoff, lovely blue sky and 10 knots SW wind
Photo is of the Upper North Island's glorious Christmas show, the red flowers of coastal pohutukawa trees
2016, Wow, what a year! We are really glad we were never born in Syria! Not that long ago, when based in Finike, Turkey, quite a number of people we knew visited Syria and remarked how friendly the people were. Most really enjoyed their trips and their impressions of Syria were generally favourable. Not long after, the Arab Spring precipitated a Middle Eastern chain reaction. The Assad regime over reacted in Damascus with brutal force, leading to the mess Syria is in now, although many other players have been at least partly to blame.
Some other big political dramas this year (Trump / Brexit etc.) too, which everyone is going to be at least indirectly affected by. Some of the trends in the U.S. and parts of Europe are more than a little scary.
Our year has been quite mellow by comparison. Maybe because we have got so used to making long journeys over the last 10 years, we just sort of kept on doing more of them! In January and February we completed 500 km on foot of New Zealand's sometimes tortuous Te Araroa trail from Tutukaka to the Volcanic Plateau, while in June to September we plodded along for 2,000 km between Vancouver in Canada's B.C. to Calgary in Alberta on 2 wheels. In between, we've sailed almost the length of our local swimming pool, from Whangaroa in the north to Whangamata in the South with many more whanga in between! We also slipped in a very enjoyable week on the Pacific island of Niue, "The Rock".
Money's been trickling in faster than it's been going out, after all the tapping away in our floating office. We've even done a bit of teaching in between! We haven't sold our Takahue Valley land block in the Far North yet and are waiting to do so before searching for any more acquisitions closer to where we keep Saraoni when we are not sailing around on it.
The boat is looking better, although progress on smartening up the interior seems to have become infinitely slow and tedious at times, especially as we have been living in and around all the chaos. We think we should be all set to take off to Fiji next year for the winter and early spring. Just to tone up our muscles and get reacquainted with N.Z.'s West Island, we are flying to Sydney on 1st Feb and cycling along the NSW South Coast, past East Gippsland and then over the Victorian Alps via Wangaratta to Melbourne. At least, that's the plan.
As for us right now, we are heading across the Gulf to Kawau Island from the Coromandel and hope to anchor off Tiritiri Matangi Island, one of N.Z,'s oldest restoration sites.
We wish all our friends and family, as well as anybody caught up in tragic conflicts this year, the very best for 2017.
Whangamata harbour, East Coromandel Coast
Lonely Bay in the foreground; Cook's beach in the background. We spent our first Christmas together camped in the manuka behind Lonely Bay with a large flagon of red wine nearly 40 years ago!
Cook beached the "Endeavour" here to scrub the bottom on his first expedition to NZ
A much photographed rock at Cathedral Cove, near Hahei
Crowded anchorage at Flaxmill Bay just outside Whitianga Harbour
Oystercatcher at Mercury Cove
Mercury Cove at Great Mercury Island; free mooring courtesy of the islands' owners!
Kia Ora Coromandel
23 November 2016 | Great Mercury Island. Coromandel East Coast
Geoff and Alison, sunny and warm
Photo shows stunning Coralie Bay on the east side of Great Mercury island off the Coromandel Coast.
We finally left Port Fitzroy in very calm conditions but soon the wind picked up from the south west and we more or less surfed into Tryphena at the bottom of GBI. There the wind howled all night up to 40 knots and the boat rocked and rolled in the not very well protected anchorage. The next morning on a good forecast we set off across the Colville Channel with a good beam wind. As we were getting into the lee of the bulk of Mount Moehau at the end of the Coromandel Peninsula, the nowcasting weather reports on Channel 20 progressively reported increasing winds at the Channel Island station - up to 35 knots again! Luckily, we escaped the worst and beam sailed it all down to Great Mercury in the company of enthusiastic common dolphins.
Friendly common dolphins on the Coromandel coast
Huruhi Harbour, better known as Mercury Cove, is the only all weather anchorage around the North East Coromandel coast, but is a well protected if relatively small spot. Great Mercury is jointly owned by multi millionaires Michael Fay and David Richwhite, but they allow yachties like us to wander at will over this lovely island. Even the large moorings are free to use if you get there before anyone else! The island is now pest free after an operation paid for jointly by DOC and Michael Fay. The island was a stepping stone for pests to get to the other islands nearby. Kakas are here and nesting petrels, but much of the land is run as a sheep farm and there are plenty of pine trees too. Obviously these aren't considered pests!
We are off tomorrow to catch the high tide into Whangamata Harbour 36 miles South. The high pressure ridge, which is now giving us sunny, warm, but windy weather persists for 1 more day!
No Sex in the Bath Please!
19 November 2016 | Smokehouse Bay, Great Barrier Island, Hauraki Gulf
Alison and Geoff, sunny and windy
Photo shows the bath house at Smokehouse Bay and outside seating area
Not for the first time in our lives we have been anchored in Smokehouse Bay on the West side of Port Fitzroy on Auckland's Great Barrier Island. This is where one ends up when the wind whistles from the west, which is precisely what it has been doing for the last few days. It's easy to get stuck out at the Barrier, especially at this time of the year when the westerlies rarely let up. They're often blowing at gale force, and before the cell phone tower was installed you had to climb up the steep hill behind Smokehouse to get a signal from the mainland, 25 nm away and let your employer know you couldn't get back to work!
Smokehouse Bay has one of those unique features which in this day and age of entrenched neoliberal economics and heady capitalism is very unusual. Many years ago, an enthusiastic yachtie liked the place so much (probably had no choice!) that he managed to acquire the land around it and over time built some very useful facilities: a cabin with a bath and shower, a firewood heater to heat up the water, wash tubs, a water tank, loo and seats to sit around a fire and have a yak with whoever dropped in. The land was eventually QEII covenanted and remains privately owned but in public access. Everything is available free of charge and maintained by whoever is around.
Just before we left NZ in 2006, a fierce storm caused a mammoth slip and swept everything away, but it was soon rebuilt with yachtie volunteer help and is now better than ever. There's even a small "library" inside with "the book of the week". Outside off the beach is a cleaning grid, where you can lean up your boat and clean it off, although theoretically, you are not supposed to use antifoul any more.
A high is due to spread settled weather over the top half of NZ soon. 26 boats that have been waiting in North Minerva left yesterday to time their arrival in NZ with the expected better weather. We too will be off down the Coromandel Coast.
Bath and shower at Smokehouse. Hot water is piped in from a firewood burner.
There's a queue outside so get on with it!
Saraoni from the hill behind Smokehouse Bay
Mount Hirakimata / Hobson
The cleaning grid at Smokehouse Bay
Yachts at Smokehouse Bay
Parrots, Penguins and a Whole Heap of Wind
12 November 2016 | Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier Island, Hauraki Gulf
Geoff and Alison, windy and very changeable!
Update after SI quake and tsunami. Woke up at 7 am this morning. No siren in this remote spot so didn't know anything about the warning to get up a hill. No movement here, but not surprising as long way from SI East Coast. Friends in Whangamata just down the Coromandel Coast got off their boat at 2 in the morning "to go up a hill". Another yacht in Whangaruru North of Tutukaka was also woken up by sirens and they got out and eventually ended up here! Glad we weren't in Kaikoura but not too bad fatality wise.
Photo shows Little Barrier Island from Cooper's Castle on Great Barrier Island in the Hauraki Gulf. Sheltered Port Fitzroy in the foreground
We are on Plan B. Plan A, the cycle trip, has been put on hold as we have been swamped by requests for web content from the invisible people in invisible places around the world who provide us with a living as we float around our giant swimming pool. We are going with the flow (of money) before it dries up!
We're now out at the "Barrier", Auckland's best natural asset, after a nice beam reach down to Kawau and a few days of variable weather in Mahurangi Harbour in the outer Hauraki Gulf. We haven't been here since 2005 but it's much the same. It's hard to imagine that Great Barrier Island is so close to a city of one and a half million people yet seems a million miles away.
Kaka parrots wheel over Port Fitzroy, cackling and whistling, penguins (the same species as our Tutukaka ones) patrol the open water, gannets plunge dive and shags nest in the trees. Since we were last here, the Glenfern sanctuary, Tony Bouzaid's restoration project near the village of Port Fitzroy has gone into public ownership as an Auckland regional park, which is great news. DOC has been making noises about making the North end of the island completely pest free but their budget has been curtailed.
With westerly winds we have been pinned down on the western side of the main harbour and have dinghied in to Smokehouse Bay and the rebuilt yachtie base there, with the free washing and bath facilities, shed and library.
It's still Spring weather here, with fronts rushing by every two or three days. We've already had two gales at anchor since leaving Tutukaka more than a week ago. It's been painful listening to the progress of yachts heading to NZ from the islands. Many have been hit by strong winds, big swells or are still waiting in places like Kandavu, Noumea, Norfolk Island and North Minerva. Last night we spent all night with a howling northerly as Saraoni pivoted and cavorted on anchor in Wairahi Bay.
We may continue from here down the East coast of Coromandel if nature allows us or swing round through the inner Gulf closer to Auckland.
One thing that has changed here is the mobile phone access. We have been able to follow the full horror of the U.S. election drama and the subsequent inevitable dissection of why it happened.
Sullivan's Bay at the mouth of Mahurangi harbour near Auckland
Silver Fern (ponga) in the bush on the Cooper's Castle track, GBI
Nikau palms GBI - NZ's only native palm tree
The Kaiaraara Valley GBI
Kaiaraara River near the sea GBI
Rarohara bay in Port Fitzroy Harbour GBI
Big Stumpy Steals the Show
27 October 2016 | Tutukaka
Geoff and Alison, warm and sunny
Photo shows "Big Stumpy" patrolling Tutukaka's inner harbour, near the Game Fishing Club. His tail is unnaturally short, probably because the sting ray was caught by a fisherman in younger life and his tail damaged by the hook.
We are back in Tutukaka for a week or so before heading off on two wheels again.
There are still a few penguins around, but not as many as before when the breeding season was in swing, so the nights are quiet, apart from sporadic calls from morepork owls and the odd kiwi call. At high tide, when the inner marina is a little clearer and cleaner, short-tailed sting rays have been making their rounds. One of us saw 7 yesterday, right inside the marina, including two that were over a metre wide from one wing tip to the other.
That's not that big according to someone who was watching one of the stingrays. They can reach 4 metres in width - bigger than the manta rays we saw plenty of in the Marquesas last year, but not as attractive.
We've often speculated why sting rays come into the marina. It's not just here, as we saw sting rays in the Coromandel's Whitianga marina when we were last holed up there.
The guy we were talking to who recognises two particular local sting rays, nicknamed "Big Stumpy" and "Little Stumpy" because of their unnaturally shortened tails, thinks it's because they are hiding from orcas (NZ orcas feed almost exclusively on sting rays in shallow coastal water). We suspect it's a bit more mundane than that - they're here because they are attracted to fish offal and scraps thrown into the marina from fishermen.
Easy Come Easy Go?
Photo shows the Sugarloaf - an andesitic rocky outcrop 9 miles from the entrance to Tutukaka Harbour. The white blobs are nesting gannets, with one in flight at top left.
We thought we were pretty smart sailing across the Pacific, but there are smarter creatures than us. Millions of birds migrate every year between various parts around the Pacific to New Zealand's coasts every year. In fact, most make the journey twice a year, every year!
This is the time for migrant birds to arrive and feed up in the Southern hemisphere summer and breed, if that's what they do. On leaving Whangarei Heads on the way back to Tutukaka we came across tens of thousands of shearwaters looking for food off the shore. They are also called mutton birds, because in the past they were eaten. There are several different species. A few spend all of their time down here, but most migrate to the Northern hemisphere during the Southern winter. Buller's shearwaters nest in the hundreds of thousands, previously millions, in the Poor Knights islands off Tutukaka, sharing their burrows with rather morose tuatara. They fly every year right across the Pacific to the NW coast of the U.S. and Canada!
There are even more remarkable journeys. Sugarloaf, a volcanic rock stack 9 miles off the Tutukaka coast, and the Pinnacles, are breeding home to thousands of Australasian gannets. We sailed in rather lumpy seas with a dying southerly to the Sugarloaf a couple of days ago. At first, all we could see was lumps of whitish rock. Soon we saw that every scrap of possible landing spot was occupied by a gannet nest. The Pinnacles were the same. 12 years ago we saw a bunch of lazy fur seals out here on the one single possible haul out spot on these precipitous islands, but there were none today. Perhaps they are heading down to the nearest breeding colony nearer Wellington.
Young gannets, once they have fledged, fly direct to the Australian coast without stopping. It's a route many young human kiwis take, but not so young as these birds and they certainly don't fly under their own steam! Most of the gannets come back after a few years of life in Oz but what makes them go there in the first place and what makes them come back?
Thousands of bar-tailed godwits are also arriving if they haven't already done so. They aim mainly for the muddy, shellfish rich waters of the Thames estuary and the large harbours, like the Manukau and Kaipara. These are waders and are part of a large armada of birds that regularly migrate between the two hemispheres, alternating as they go to keep feeding in the best months of the year. We took 9 months to get from Panama to NZ. The godwits fly non-stop from Alaska to New Zealand and Tasmania, a distance even further than ours. In late March, they fly back again! When we sailed over from French Polynesia we were impressed by the early Polynesian migrations that used bush materials ocean going catamarans and pandanus sails, but the birds knock the socks off any human endeavour.
Whangarei’s Te Kakano Takes Seed
21 October 2016 | Marsden Point, Whangarei Harbour
Geoff and Alison, windy but sunny
Photo shows the newly unveiled Hundertwasser folly, Te Kakano, (the seed) by the Town Basin.
We are on our way back to Tutukaka after a month in Whangarei’s Town Basin, collecting stuff for Saraoni’s makeover and even doing some teaching. The weather is typical of a Southern Ocean spring, oscillating from wet, cold and windy to warm and sunny, sometimes several times in the same day! Whangarei is also in transition, as one by one yachts are arriving in increasing numbers on the Northland coast. Many will end up mooring in the Basin after spending the sailing season crossing the Pacific or circulating amongst the islands not so far to the North. Some we know from last year are making their second trip down to NZ. We were still in Tonga’s Ha’apai group this time last year, enjoying lovely weather and listening in to the early birds making their way South.
The Town Basin has grown and become a more interesting place since we first came here many years ago, not just because of its international yachtie flavour. The Hatea Loop, kid’s playground, i-Site, numerous cafes and restaurants make it an all week attraction. Now the Hundertwasser folly, Te Kakano has just been built, in bright coloured mosaic tiles and koru design with a garden on its roof, supposedly a taste of the Hundertwasser Art Gallery and Contemporary Maori Arts Centre to be built next year if fund raising reaches its goal. It has been a contentious issue in conservative Whangarei, but the link with eccentric Austrian artist Friendesreich Hundertwasser is quite strong. He spent his last 20 years in Northland with the most obvious public contribution being the colourful Kawakawa toilets near the Bay of Islands.
We’re leaving the gritty Saraoni upgrade stuff to later and taking off on the bikes for a month. Northland roads are all hilly and windy, so will be a good test of our leg muscles after the Canadian trip. We have booked a motorbike test for early December and may buy 2 new motorbikes for when we want to get further and faster than pedal power.
Brr....It's Cold in the Winterless North!
08 September 2016 | Tutukaka marina
Alison and Geoff, cold and windy
Photo shows our high tide front window view at Tutukaka - cold and clear at the moment.
We have arrived back in New Zealand and right now it's a lot colder than we'd hoped!
We now have to work a bit to pay back some of the money we spent, even though our online work did cover a quite a bit of the cost.
The highlights of the trip were definitely the Khutzamateen grizzly bear sanctuary near the B.C. / Alaska border as we never got to see one on the highway. The 4 day hike into the heart of the Canadian Rockies around Jasper was definitely well worth it as we actually managed to get away from the traffic of the busy highways and see some of the magnificent Canadian nature at first hand.
We had no accidents, which was just as well, particularly as we didn't take out any sort of travel or health insurance! The Canadians, even though a little aloof, are pretty well mannered on their highways.
It would have been nice to have seen a few more moose and other native animals but it seems the quiet wheels of a cycle interrupt them as much as the harsh brakes of a logging truck so apart from some small animals spotted in rock crevices and a few herds of elk and caribou in the national park, seeing wildlife was not a daily occurrence.
Saraoni was pretty well in the same condition when we returned as when we left. There was no water in the bilge and surprisingly the engine started almost immediately. We decided to leave all the solar panels attached to the batteries and that obviously paid off.
We turned off the wind generator while we were away. At 12 years old, it needs new bearings, cone and blades and right now it is grinding around in the midst of a southerly gale!
Returning to NZ means planning the next adventure and the 12 month list includes doing some refitting work in the Town Basin in Whangarei where things we need are easily accessible. Saraoni certainly desperately needs an upgrade, but that is going to take quite a long time, so we will have to break it up.
Anyway, when the boat begins to look a bit more respectable we'll probably head off on another cycle trip to the Coromandel Peninsula and the centre of the North Island and do some hiking in the volcanoes area, as well as complete the canoe trip down the Whanganui River, which we didn't do earlier this year.
We hope to at some time early next year fit in a trip to Australia and next May or June we will try to catch a weather window and spend most of the winter in Fiji and some of the other Pacific Islands. So not much sitting around for us at the moment!!!
Update - now anchored in Parua Bay, the most sheltered spot in Whanagrei Harbour. Spotted a very friendly fur seal swimming around in our part of the bay today, a rather odd sight. Fur seals hang around the Poor Knights in winter but we have never seen them in the harbour. No sign of the large pod of orcas that made a visit a week or so ago, searching for sting rays in the shallows.
Tied up on a pile berth in Whangarei Town Basin.
Passing Bream Head at the entrance to Whangarei Harbour in calm spring weather - pity it didn't last!
Not sure what this fish was that we caught on the way South from Tutukaka
Fitting a new 240 Watt solar panel in Whangarei
OK.....So We Can Kiss Goodbye to Summer!
23 August 2016 | Canmore, Alberta, Canada
Alison and Geoff, cold and cloudy
Photo shows the new snow fall behind Canmore, Alberta... the end of a short summer?
Plop, plop, plop...the last two weeks squirrels have been bombarding each of our campsites with freshly matured pine cones. We think its what Canadians call "The Fall!" As soon as the cones have formed a pile, the squirrels dismember them and either eat or bury the seeds - noisily!
Parks Canada has been advising all visitors to Banff and Jasper NPs of the bear berry season - grizzlies and black bears are actively foraging for berries ready for hibernation. Summer doesn't last very long in this part of the world and it seems to have definitely disappeared yesterday when an icy cold blast arrived with a fresh "fall" of snow!
Fortunately, summer was at least three days long, just when we wanted it, as we pedalled over two 2,000 m passes past rapidly disappearing glaciers and the most fantastic scenery along the 230 km long Icefields Parkway between Jasper and Lake Louise and then the shorter 60 odd km stretch to busy Banff.
The Athabasca Glacier at the Columbia Icefield
Cycling down from Bow Summit, with Bow Lake in the background.
Hikers from Korea at Lake Louise
The thousands of summer visitors disappeared for once, as the Bow Valley Parkway between Lake Louise and Banff was closed for a 1,500 strong bike race and rally. Somehow we managed to be the only two tourists on that stretch of road, much to the delight of the bikers, who had come from all over for the Gran Fondo event. It was such a difference cycling along a quiet, empty road. A black bear came out in the open behind us and sniffed around, obviously enjoying the peace and quiet! Perhaps Parks Canada will make a bike only day along the Parkway more common next year during the centennial?
Black bear enjoying a quiet road on the Bow Valley Parkway
Banff NP is a bit of a contradiction as it not only has beautiful mountain scenery, it also encloses 2 towns, Banff and Lake Louise, a freeway (Highway 1), the smaller Parkways and a busy railway!
National park policy somehow has to balance the competing interests of 2 million annual visitors, commercial reality and the welfare of the park's wildlife and plant life. Not an enviable job.
We are now in touristy Canmore on the edge of the Rockies. We will be cycling soon into Calgary and make a diversion to Edmonton to see Sharon and Reg, home for the summer from their yacht, "Pea Soup". We last saw them in Panama last year. We are due to land back in Auckland on Sept.3rd, hopefully with Spring in the air, the kowhai flowering and the tuis chortling!
A Hike in The Heart of the Canadian Rockies
12 August 2016 | Jasper Town, Alberta, Canada
Alison and Geoff , cool and showery
Photo shows Camp Saraoni high up in the Tonquin Valley with Amethyst Lake and the Ramparts in the background.
After 1,600 km riding along busy highways we were ready for a rest from the constant noise and contact with people and their machines.
Jasper, Banff, Yoho and Kootenay National parks are the four adjoining crowning glories of Canada's Rocky Mountain national park system, but at this time of year are bursting at the seams with holiday makers from all parts of Canada and many other countries too, who have made a beeline here. The two campgrounds close to Jasper have 1,000 campsites between them alone and they are all completely full every night! Yikes!
The summer crowd and a "town" elk near Jasper town
It was time to swap bikes for boots and head for the hills. Whenever we have gone more than a few kilometres on foot away from a road we have usually found we lose the crowds quite easily and that's exactly what we wanted!
We found that dismounting from a cycle, packing a backpack for a 4 day hike into the heart of the continental divide was easier than we thought.
In fact because we had already cycled up hill and over dale for so long, a mere 50 km on a hiking trail was a lot easier and we had no oversized RVs or logging trucks to contend with. Jasper has a number of possible multi day hikes, but because of the popularity of the area and limited summer hiking time you have to book up backcountry campsites and pay for them whatever the weather and whether you actually make it to your chosen campsite or not.
Canada's national parks have been suffering from slow financial strangulation from the previous long years of conservative government and now have poor infrastructure and expensive fees, something that many Canadians we met on the trail are well aware of and hope that the new government is going to address.
On our chosen, booked route, we had to climb up to a 2100 m pass, the Maccarib, down the other side to Tonquin Valley's Amethyst Lake and up and over into the Astoria River valley.
Heading up the Portal Valley
Alison on one of dozens of timber bridges
What we did experience was stunning mountain scenery, lots of rain, muddy trails, a few other wilderness seekers, endangered caribou (reindeer), pikas and marmots. The last two are cute as can be alpine rodents that love to hang out in rock falls or tussock. The pikas are like rats without tails and huge eyes. They go "eek" whenever they feel like it. Marmots are more like oversized hamsters that whistle to each other when alarmed.
"Eeek" - a pika in a rockfall
Marmot on Maccarib Pass
Woodland caribou stag in a meadow in the Tonquin Valley
A lonely old, male grizzly bear at the lower Astoria valley end had been worrying Parks Canada staff since Spring as he had been acting a bit grumpy with hikers and had even tried to stop them from passing. All of the campgrounds had bear poles or bins (in fact even Jasper town centre has bear bins too) for food storage, but we didn't see any bear signs until close to Grumpy's known whereabouts, where there were signs that he was suffering from berry diarrhoea!
Grumpy's berry diarrhoea!
We're back in town now and heading off down the Icefields Parkway in the direction of Banff (280 km away) tomorrow. The highway is renowned for its beauty but of course now we have to share it with thousands of motor bikes, RVs, cars and even a few crazy bikers like us!
Beneath the Rocky Mountains 3 Days From Anywhere
30 July 2016 | McBride, B.C., Canada
Alison and Geoff, cold and thundery
We have reached the tiny town of McBride, population around 500, probably less in the 8 months of winter and a lot more right now, swollen by the summer tourist traffic on Highway 16.
McBride owes its existence as most of the little towns on this road do, to the railway and the highway. It is 205 km from Prince George to the west, and 170 km to Jasper in the East with not much in between except lots of trees! It took us three days to get from Prince George to here and we slept in the woods on the way without any complaints from the local bear population!
The scenery has returned to a familiar BC theme of big mountains and lots of forest after the flat and rather monotonous Fraser Plateau area. We have been following, out of sight, BC's largest river, the Fraser, which runs along the Fraser Trench, a Northern version of the San Andreas Fault, with the Rocky Mountains to the North and the Cariboo Mountains to the South.
For once, the highway has been quite quiet, with much fewer big truck and crazy RV drivers to intimidate us. We have seen our first Canadian moose by the roadside, but no other big mammals, despite all the warning signs. We have now cycled some 1,500 km of road from Vancouver with about 500 to go. We have replaced 2 tyres and mended a couple of punctures and replaced a spoke, but all is well on 2 wheels x 2 otherwise.
After several weeks of cloudy, drizzly weather, the sun started to shine in Prince George and we had a week of hot weather - had summer arrived in Canada? From everybody's account, the miserable weather has been the same everywhere in the west from Vancouver to the Yukon and Alaska.
As our final few weeks take us high into the Rockies and along the famous Icefields parkway between Jasper and Banff, where the scenery is supposed to be some of the best in the world, we can only hope the 'summer' holds. We expect to be rolling into Calgary in Alberta by the end of August, from where we make our way back to LA and Kiwiland.
Mt Robson - the Canadian Rockies highest mountain looks like a huge ice cream cone!
Big Mountains, Big Rivers and Big Fish Along the Yellowhead Highway
18 July 2016 | Houston, B.C.
Alison and Geoff, warm and sunny
Looking back at the Coast Mountains on a section of Highway 16 near the Hazeltons.
Highway 16, also called the Yellowhead Highway, named after a 19th century blonde Iroquois French fur trapper, starts on the island of Haida Gwaii and runs through the Coast Mountains, across the Fraser Plateau, through the Rockies and across the plains to Winnipeg, Manitoba. We have followed it from Prince Rupert, on the coast, along the huge Skeena River and now its tributary, the Bulkley.
The road has been quite busy, as it is the main artery connecting Northern B.C. with the rest of the country, but it traverses remote wilderness areas with a smattering of roadside towns and First Nations settlements. We have seen more wilderness in this area than any time since we were last in Northern Australia (the great oceans apart!) - conifer forests to the horizon, hardly a fence in sight and always the snow covered mountain chains and the turbulent rivers.
"If you go down to the woods today...." We did get a big surprise yesterday. Not a moose, but a black bear mum and 5 cubs ambling within spitting distance of our tent in the little village of Topley!
The Skeena and its tributaries are major routes for adult salmon and steelhead, a sea going trout. Five species of salmon make their run up the rivers from mid July onwards to lay their eggs in the shallow, gravelly beds many hundreds of kilometres from the sea, then they die.
The first part of the highway, as it wends its way through the Coast Mountains, has a number of small indigenous settlements. Indigenous people have used this area for thousands of years but suffered badly like many indigenous people worldwide during the period of European expansion. The original inhabitants were decimated by disease during the nineteenth century, caught in a pincer movement of colonisation from the B.C. coast and from the east, overland along the river valleys. The survivors were settled on small 'reserves', tiny in comparison to their old traditional land area.
Totem pole at 'Ksan village near Old Hazelton
The 20th century was in some ways worse as the communities became marginalised. Canadian citizenship was not offered until 1956!
They are recovering something of their self respect today, relearning their old culture and flexing their bargaining power over land rights.
The Highway has a bit of a reputation for unsolved disappearances, mainly, but not all, of indigenous young women. No one knows whether these were murders, or whether young people simply left home and went somewhere else, never to contact their families again. The authorities have been criticized for not doing enough to solve the disappearances along the so-called "Highway of Tears."
The Inside Passage and the Great Bear Rainforest
08 July 2016 | Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada
Alison and Geoff; cloudy and cool
Photo shows a lone male grizzly with his distinctive shoulder 'hump' along the Khutzeymateen coast.
We are in Prince Rupert, a busy and slightly seedy port town, a short hop south of the Alaskan panhandle. We arrived a couple of days ago after a 450 km, 15 hour trip at 20 knots on a B.C. ferry from Port Hardy at the top of Vancouver Island. Prince Rupert is supposed to be the wettest, cloudiest city in Canada, and it certainly seems to be living up to its reputation!
The ferry trip to here traverses half of Canada's section of the 'Inside Passage', the 1400 km route through mostly sheltered waters that stretches from Washington's Puget Sound up to Glacier Bay in Alaska. The area north of Vancouver Island is a huge and beautiful, almost pristine, wilderness of inlets, rivers, islands, mountains and conifer forest which to date has largely escaped logging and other exploitation.
The Grenville Channel section of the Inside Passage. This 70 km long stretch is only 400m wide at one point. Moose and elk have been seen swimming across, despite the turbulent tides
There are a few settlements, mostly scattered First Nations villages and reputably more bears and wolves than anywhere else in Canada, including the white variety of the black bear called the kermode or spirit bear. Partly for that reason the area has been fairly recently named the 'Great Bear Rainforest'.
Travelling at 20 knots makes photography and wildlife viewing difficult but we did see plenty of orcas, humpback whales, seals and seal lions but no bears, wolves, elk or moose. We were lucky that the rain and fog relented and we had good visibility as we sped North on the comfortable, if expensive, ferry.
We spent today up a remote inlet called the Khutzeymateen, almost on the Alaskan border, and came across 8 or 9 grizzlies, including a mum and her 3 cubs. We also had a chance to watch orcas close up and humpbacks using their distinctive bubble net method of feeding.
The grizzlies are normally hard to see at this time of the year elsewhere, as we discovered in Yellowstone 2 years ago, as they range high up in the mountains after a spring feed in the valleys, but here in the Khutzeymateen and other close by inlets they feed off nutritious sedgegrass growing by the coast. They fatten up later in the fall when the salmon run is on.
Tomorrow we are off cycling again towards the Canadian Rockies, 1100 km away. The 2 crappy bikes and the 60 year olds wobbling along on them are all in good shape so far!
Humpbacks feeding - a mother and calf. They have come back from Hawai'i, where breeding and calving takes place, to these nutrient and food rich waters to feed.
Orca pod in the Seaforth Channel just off Prince Rupert. These are so called 'resident orcas'. They still move fast like their NZ rellies and its hard to predict exactly where any one individual pod might be. Like Ingrid Visser's Northland orcas, many of the BC residents and transients have been identified from their distinctive dorsal fin marks. This pod had several calves and are searching for salmon.
Bald eagle. The eagles were being thrown scraps of fish from the boat we were on, like the kites and sea eagles get treated to, in Langkawi
Looking up the Khutzeymateen inlet. The area up past the end of the inlet has been declared a sanctuary to protect the grizzly population in particular.
Happy Canada Day!
01 July 2016 | Port McNeil, Vancouver Island
Alison and Geoff Williams
Greetings to all our Canadian friends and all those from the Pacific NW who would normally call this home, but are spending time elsewhere. It's bloody freezing here at the top end of Vancouver Island, although we have had 3 days of sunshine as we pedalled through millions of conifer trees and millions of hills up the coast.
The campsite manager here told us to stick all our food in the laundry room "because we are in prime bear country". Actually, we saw more bear poo along the Sunshine Coast highway and haven't been too bothered when we camped wild on the way up here but guess there must be some bears around somewhere although the most interesting wildlife we have seen so far is some huge, black slugs.
Apart from the humming birds which we have seen in many places, we have also seen and heard a lot of woodpeckers, sometimes resonating through the woods like a discordant, percussion orchestra!
The logging industry is very noticeable up here, with plenty of logging trucks hurtling along Highway 19 in both directions and scars all over the beautiful mountain scenery, even close to the snowline. For some reason, the trees are clear felled in discrete patches, then left to regrow.
We are hopping on our last ferry ride in a day or two, if the sun reappears, up to Prince Rupert, near the Alaskan border. Next stop north would be Ketchikan, but we will probably head south east towards the Rockies and leave Alaska for some later time, perhaps when we have bought fur coats (artificial ones of course).
At Willow Point, just South of Campbell River , wood carvers gather to convert raw cedar or oregon log chunks into something artistic. The products are scattered around town and across Vancouver Island.
Keta Lake, one of many along Highway 19 between Campbell River and Port Hardy.
Everywhere on Vancouver island there are beautiful, craggy snowcapped mountains and conifer forest. Lovely weather when this photo along Highway 19 was taken!
A bald eagle along the stony beach east of Port McNeil.
Beauty in the Clouds
23 June 2016 | Kent's Beach nr Powell River, Sunshine Coast, BC
Alison and Geoff, weather improving?
Photo shows a rufous hummingbird. They migrate up the Pacific coast in late spring when the flowers they prefer begin to bloom.
We are now at the end of the Sunshine Coast Highway near a town called Powell River. It has been cold, grey and drizzly, with steady rain last night.
We crossed over on our second BC ferry today and were amazed to see a couple of pairs of hummingbirds hovering around a feeder near the Earls Cove ferry terminal - delicate beauties - with a backdrop of soaring peaks and misty inlets. This area is a huge cruising ground and we regret not having Saraoni instead of the bikes, but that's a whole new ball game to think about!
The BC ferry arrives out of the Sunshine Coast murk at Earl's Cove
We have met some interesting locals and learned about the bears, coyotes, fishing and logging as well as what are called First Nation people here and now at last the sky has sort of cleared, so perhaps the Sunshine Coast will live up to its name! Wonder if it was a Canadian who first gave the nickname "winterless North" to Northland?
Tweedledum and Tweedledee on a Canadian cycling extravaganza
21 June 2016 | Sechelt, Sunshine coast, BC
Alison and Geoff
Photo shows us in our matching $5 Red Cross op shop jackets with matching crappy white bikes at a provincial park on the Sunshine Coast - Tweedledum and Tweedledee!
We are on the oddly named Sunshine Coast on the mainland of the Canadian province of British Columbia, also rather oddly named as it seems more like its big brother below the 49th parallel.
We arrived in Vancouver in the dead of the night from Sacramento with no Canadian dollars and no clue where we were or where our hotel was. Vancouver regularly gets chosen as the"best place in the world to live" but obviously whoever chose the city hadn't been down East Hastings Street, where our hotel was. The streets were grubby and full of sad looking homeless people. The busiest building was the Salvation Army centre nearby with around 200 people queued up outside, presumably for food.
Vancouver has had similar housing affordability problems as Auckland and like the NZ government, neither the BC or the Canadian federal government seems to know what to do about it other than turn a blind eye to the consequences.
Of course, not everywhere was so shocking. Down by the waterfront, there were the famous views across to the snow covered mountains. Vancouver has a large Chinese community, many of whom have been here for years as they have in other cities along the Pacific North American Coast. Chinatown was fascinating with many stores selling stuff we have never seen before and no labels in English, either.
The hotel manager at the place we were staying seemed to echo Vancouver's diversity. An ethic Indian with a Zanzibari (Shirazi) mum and a Gujarati dad, born in Tanzania, a Shia by religion and Gujarati by culture and presumably Canadian as much as anything else after 30 years on the B.C. coast.
We bought 2 cheap bikes from a large store called Canadian Tire, loaded them up with all the bike gear and headed over the Lion's Gate bridge to the mainland and headed west. The route takes us along the hilly Sunshine Coast with a couple of ferry crossings, then we cross over to Vancouver Island, which protects the coast from adverse wind and waves.
We then plan to take another ferry from the north end of Vancouver Island up to the town of Prince Rupert near the Alaskan border. If we haven't died by then we will take the Yellowhead Highway, 1000 km to Jasper NP in the Canadian Rockies. After that, the plan evaporates!
Simply Stunning! California's Sierra Nevada
15 June 2016 | Sacramento, California, USA
Alison and Geoff, cool and cloudy
Photo shows Yosemite Falls in the Yosemite Valley in California's Sierra Nevada
We are in Sacramento, California's state capital, a historic, but otherwise seemingly dull, widely spaced out city with its streets conveniently (for us) labelled numerically and alphabetically so we can't get lost! We are hanging around tapping away in the public library before getting the Amtrak (train) to San Diego, then Vancouver in Canada.
We have had a busy week, landing in L.A. and setting off straight away to see our old yachtie companions between Australia and the Med, Judy and Dave ex Freebird. They swallowed the anchor some time ago, but have steadily made their way closer to the Pacific Ocean again, settling on the coast between San Diego and L.A.
Yikes! The I5 (interstate) - the busy 6 lane freeway in Southern California
We made our way up to the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range that separates California's central valley and the Nevada desert. It has the world's largest trees, the giant sequoias and the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney.
General Sherman - one of the world's 2 largest trees by volume. It's not the oldest, which is another giant sequoia, estimated to be 3,200 years old
We were lucky with the weather and got to see many of the remaining old giants in Sequoia National Park, then the waterfalls and granite walls of Yosemite. Around 7 million people visit Yosemite National Park every year, twice the number of tourists that visit NZ every year. It seemed that there were nearly that number in the Yosemite Valley the day we were there and it was bumper to bumper at times, but the views were phenomenal.
Click here for an interesting update on comments about effects of climate change made by U.S. President Obama on a visit to Yosemite a day ago
Half Dome at Yosemite
Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point
The Yosemite Valley from the entrance tunnel
We found more space in the higher parts of Yosemite towards Tuolomne Meadows, where we found our old friend, the Pacific Crest Trail. It passes this point on its rambling way between Mexico and Canada. According to the notice on the Tuolomne store door, three times as many hikers are tackling the PCT after the film "Wild" was released.
Black bear cub in Sequoia NP near the Lodgepole campground.
Cheeky ground squirrel at the Glacier Point lookout, Yosemite
Mule deer buck near Yosemite Valley roadside
Every time we have visited the U.S. there is a mass shooting. The country is going through another bout of agonising after the latest killings in Orlando. The fact that the somewhat farcical lead up to the presidential election is taking place makes the discussion about gun control and Islamic extremism more potent.
The U.S. is certainly a more complex place than it might seem from outside and we are not sure whether we undesrtand its collective psyche any better this time round. It will be interesting to compare and contrast this huge country with its northern neighbour.
The cocks crow, the warm wind blows and the sun shines in Niue
28 May 2016 | The Island of Niue
Alison and Geoff, warm and sunny
Photo shows one of Niue's tiny coral sand beaches across the narrow fringing reef near the Alofi police station.
A budget Air New Zealand flight and a quick decision whisks us away from the cold winter storms of northern New Zealand to the shorts and t-shirt weather of Niue and it's not even too hot as the trade wind blows constantly. It's almost home away from home as yachts drift in and out of the picturesque anchorage nestled below the coral cliffs in crystal clear waters.
Some of the ARC yachts on the Niue Yacht Club moorings off Alofi
The only way to get small boats in and out is with a winch because of the swell waves crashing on to the reef
Niue is a single independent nation some 20 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide. It has become famed as a whale watching destination between July and September but at the moment apart from the daily movement of the 1300 population the only other sounds are the early morning cockerels crowing 2 hours before dawn and the sounds of the waves crashing on the coral cliffs.
Much of the Niue coast is riddled with huge caves, part of the upraised atoll sea wall.
Even though it can be prone to cyclones it will never be affected by global warming as the island sits on a raised coral platform embedded in sea caves that rise up to 30 metres from the sea. The highest point is 69 m.
It was first inhabited in the 9th century by intrepid Samoan explorers who somehow clambered over the rugged, indented cliffs onto the relatively flat platform above. It was scorned by European explorers who couldn't find much to plunder. At that time they couldn't have stayed long enough to discover the fresh spring waters lodged in the ground topped up yearly by the 4.5 metres of rainfall. No need for chlorination here.
In the early days up to 20,000 residents inhabited the island but many drifted to New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. seeking work and a different life but many still maintain family ties and homes on the island.
The island was a NZ colony, initially grabbed by the British at the end of the 19th century until 1974 when a referendum decided its fate which was to be self-governing. However all Niueans have NZ passports and drift between the two countries on the twice weekly flight.
No age group seems to dominate the island, just a mix of young and old. The monthly ship brings in all supplies and of course tropical fruit and vegetables grow prolifically throughout the island.
It has a few unusual species such as the nocturnal coconut crab, the uga
, and the deadly banded sea snake known in Niuean as the katuali
The Niuean banded sea snake or katuali is very common and VERY friendly, or just plain nosy. It also has 10 times the venom of a cobra!
Whales use the island's sheltered waters in the southern winter to raise their young before migrating back south in October to feed in Antarctic waters. Some are so well known that they have been given names, recognised by their distinctive tail fluke patterns.
We have already biked 60 kms. of the coast and are renting a car for a day or 2 to see the rest of the island. A dive has been scheduled for this afternoon.
The Penguin Pad
20 May 2016 | Tutukaka, Northland, NZ
Geoff and Alison, cool at night, warm in the daytime
Photo shows the outer harbour beyond the breakwater (foreground) from Saraoni's spreaders. Penguins are nesting in the cracks between the large rocks that make up the breakwater. The nearest and loudest pair is nesting under the flax bush at bottom right.
We are back behind the Tutukaka marina breakwater and so are the penguins.
These are (little) blues and are a little smaller than the Galapagos penguins we saw last year in Isabela. In fact, they are the world's smallest penguins. The pairs share the incubating and chick caring, once eggs are laid a little later in the year. They make a hell of a noise just before dawn, a sort of braying, donkey like noise. Once they start up, it's hard to sleep. The closest pair to us is using a large clump of flax just metres from our bow. There are 5 other pairs at last count along the line of rocks towards the fuel wharf.
The penguins normally head out of the main harbour offshore to do their feeding just before dawn and return on dusk, but for some reason or other, only one penguin is jumping into the water each morning out of the whole colony at the moment. The others seem to be staying in their rocky holes all day and night. Perhaps they are moulting, which takes 2 - 3 weeks every year, but that normally finishes much earlier - around Feb or March, so we don't know what is going on! Perhaps they are too busy on Facebook? Nigel, Whangarei DOC's bird guy, speculated that they may be busy "cementing their relationships", whatever that means!
For all the usual imported predator reasons, plus human disturbance, road kill etc. there are not many of NZ's 3 species of penguins nesting successfully on the mainland. Most of them are now only nesting on predator free offshore islands. It looks as if the Tutukaka penguins nest here because of the structure of the breakwater. Dogs and feral cats can't get at them and ad hoc local predator control keeps the stoats away. The famous Oamaru (SI) penguins, where visitors can see up to 200 little blues arriving in the evening, took to nesting in an abandoned quarry. Perhaps because the income from visitors goes towards controlling potential predators, that particular colony is doing ok.
In the winter season, there are far fewer boats moving in and out of the marina, so the local wildlife has it more to themselves. The bottom of the food chain are the large schools of sprats and pilchards, which are kai for just about everything around here. The feeding frenzy starts just before dawn, with trevally and other predators chasing the little bait fish. Then, as the sun comes up, pied shags and black cormorants, gannets, terns, white faced herons and kingfishers take over.
At night, normally just after sunset or just before dawn, we can hear kiwi calling: a male and a female in the bush above the marina and several others from the Te Maika area across the harbour. A female kiwi was making her harsh call in the bush just above the marina office half an hour after dawn this morning. One wonders just how many kiwis (the human variety) have ever heard or seen a wild kiwi. More common are the morepork owls (ruru). About half a dozen call all around from the bush: they seem to spend more time yakking to each other than hunting!
The other obvious creatures here are the rays: short tailed and long tailed rays wander around inside the shallow shores, looking for crabs and molluscs and occasionally eagle rays or bottle nosed dolphins find their way into the marina.
We are getting the boat bedded down for the winter before we take off and checking everything we need to do when we have more time when we get back. We have also managed to resurrect our sailing dinghy, the rig of which has survived 10 years in the Kaitaia backblocks with the cows jumping all over it.
Tutukaka has 9 small beaches of its own, separated by rocky headlands and Philip Island in the middle. They're just right for a sail and a sundowner, although by 6 it's already dark and too chilly to hang around!
Kukutuwhao Island (Lighthouse Island) at the end of the Tutukaka DOC reserve
Tutukaka harbour from the lighthouse on Kukutuwhao Island
Last of the Summer Wine?
14 May 2016 | Off Bland Bay, Northland, NZ
Geoff and Alison, warm and calm
Photo shows Saraoni in the sun off Bland Bay with Cape Brett in the distance
Just left Whangamumu harbour on the way back to Tutukaka. It's not far off the official start of winter here in NZ, but the sun is shining with a light northerly breeze and plenty of blue sky. It's been so warm that we actually jumped in the water yesterday with the dive gear to clean the crap off the hull.
The media and the NZ Metservice has been predicting the "end of autumn" for some time, and for sure the winds have turned to the west after what seems to have been weeks from the east. Westerly winds tend to be prevalent when the high pressure systems that pass from west to east move to the North of NZ - a winter pattern. Easterly winds are more common in summer when the high pressure is to the south. Whatever, it makes for a smooth run along the Northland coast with only a very gentle swell.
Saraoni will be put to sleep in its Tutukaka berth while we head up to Niue by Air NZ in just over a week. Think we will miss out on the first humpbacks arriving, but we'll have a look out on the way up!
Whangamumu from the head of the harbour. It was a whaling station for twenty years or so at the beginning of the twentieth century - southern right whales unfortunately swam close by on their annual migration, but got trapped in nets laid for them just inside the harbour heads. Southern rights were hunted like many whales to near extinction.. They are now very slowly recovering. Whangamumu is surrounded by public conservation land and is a lovely anchorage in westerlies, slowly reverting back to nature.
Toetoe Days on the Northland East Coast
02 May 2016 | Whangaroa Harbour, Northland, NZ
Alison and Geoff, warm days and cool nights
Photo above shows toetoe grass on the slopes above Whangaroa
It is Autumn here on the east coast of Northland and many of the hills and valleys are covered in the bleached seed heads of toetoe grass - a lovely sight.
We have been whanga* hopping up the coast, without any specific aims. It is an area we know well. In fact we learned to sail on this coast in the late 1980s. The coastline between the Coromandel and Houhora is NZ's easiest coastline to cruise with hundreds of possible anchorages. It doesn't have the mountainous splendor of Fiordland or the empty spaces of the Marlborough Sounds, but it is our free, beautiful back yard. It is now too cold and nights too long to bother with camping out in the bush, so it is easier just pottering around the bays in Saraoni.
We have been tapping away of course to earn some money for our offshore trips this year. Later this month we will be flying up to tiny Niue for a week, courtesy of an almost ridiculously cheap return flight by Air NZ. We missed Niue on the Pacific crossing last year as we took the northern route but those who stopped there enjoyed their stay and it's one of those places where it's easier to visit by plane! We'll only be back for a week before flying off to Los Angeles and heading for the Californian Sierras and then up to British Columbia.
Autumn has been very peaceful weather wise along the Northland coast. There has not been much wind with just the odd rainy day. It is definitely getting colder at night but we are still wearing t shirts and shorts in the daytime.
We are currently anchored off the little town of Whangaroa, in the well protected harbour of the same name. There are hardly any boats around now and just as few in the Bay of Islands, 30 miles to the South. The Bay of Islands is filling up with those who are heading North to the islands this year. Some have already gone, dodging the odd late cyclone and tropical storm. We'll be following in their wake next year at this time, so we are watching their weather with interest!
Saraoni at the Poor Knights marine reserve, 12 nm NE of Tutukaka
Whanga hopping up the coast - this is Mimiwhangata bay, to the South of the larger Whangaruru harbour. Whangaruru means "harbour of the morepork owl!"
Cape Brett, the rocky Southern entrance to the Bay of Islands
Whangaroa Harbour from St. Paul's Rock above the township. Whangaroa means "long harbour"
A praying mantis found on the side of St. Paul's. This is a "springbok" mantis, a South African accidental import and judging from the bulge in the abdomen, a pregnant female. The clueless NZ native male mantises don't know the difference between their own females and SA ones. Apparently they try and mate with the wrong ones and then get their heads chewed off! As with so many native species here, the NZ mantises are not surprisingly in decline!
Another unfortunate NZ endemic, the nocturnal, carnivorous kauri snail. This one found alive on the way to Wairakau Creek. Rats and pigs like eating them!
Dogs aren't welcome unless they have gone through kiwi aversion training - a jab with an electric prodder while sniffing kiwi!
The Duke's Nose (Phillip's that is) from the Wairakau valley.
Saraoni peacefully at anchor off Totara North in Whangaroa Harbour. St. Paul's rock, a volcanic plug, in the background.
Murals painted by Chris Wilkie on the tin shack walls of the Totara North museum, depicting the early timber (kauri) extraction days in the harbour. It took less than 40 years to decimate Northland's kauri forests and replace them with dirty dairy - NZ's equivalent of oil palm!
- Maori for harbour, bay, inlet (fa(n)ga in Tongan, Samoan, hana in Tahitian and Marquesan) - it's a common place name on the NZ coast - Whanganui, Whangaparaoa, Whangarei, Whangaruru, Whangamumu, Whangaroa, just to mentioned a few.
Class of 2010
16 March 2016 | Whangarei, Northland, NZ
Alison, wet and warm
Yachtie reunion at Bryce and Martha (Silver Fern)'s farm at Whatitiri, 25 km inland from Whangarei. From the left: Alan (Jean off picture: Tuatara), Vivienne and Alastair (Largo Star), Geoff (at the back), Peter and Catherine (The Southern Cross), Bryce and Martha (Silver Fern). Alison was taking the picture!
One of the nicer aspects of long term cruising is the people you meet along the way and the friends you make, often because of shared experiences that few people on land could appreciate. After 9 years of circling the planet, we have met hundreds of people, many of whom have been on the same long pathway around the globe as us. Because much of the cruising that's done is from east to west around the tropics, it's inevitable that we keep bumping into each other.
We met Peter and Catherine on the East Coast of Australia in 2008 and many times since somewhere around the planet, most surprisingly in the middle of the Virginian woods! Tuatara, Silver Fern and Largo Star were part of the fleet that crossed the Indian Ocean at the same time as us from Thailand in 2010, then conquered Pirate Alley and the labyrinth of the Red Sea. We have all made it to NZ safely one way or another and at different times and all of us are pursuing different challenges in the coming years ahead.
Whangarei is one of the main global crossroads for international yachties and many end up staying here for months or even years. Saraoni is currently in the Town Basin, here because the marina is so close to everything this busy little provincial river city can offer, and we have been meeting up with yachties from our past year's Pacific crossing as well as many that we haven't seen since South East Asia.
Te Matau a Pohe (Pohe's fish hook) - the Whangarei harbour opening bridge - opens up as we approach the Town Basin. It's not quite so cooperative when it gets hot!
Many of the yachts that ended up here for the summer cyclone season are now readying themselves for the annual migration North to the tropics, with Cyclone Winston ravaged Fiji being the most favoured next stop, at least for those who arrived here last year. For once, we won't be leaving with them, but we are flying to Canada via California instead for the winter.
We will be visiting British Columbia for a long cycle ride via the Canadian Rockies, the Pacific Coast near the Alaskan border, the Inside Passage (by ferry), Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands South to Seattle - or at least that's one of several sketchy plans!
400 kilometres of the Long Pathway completed
25 February 2016 | Tutukaka, NZ
Alison and Geoff, hot
Photo shows Mt Ngauruhoe in a spell of fine weather, seen from National Park village
We are now back on a damp and mouldy Saraoni at Tutukaka after backtracking via Auckland from the centre of the North Island. The TA map shows that we reached the 1134th km at Mangahuia campsite, which means we were 800 km by the official trail from Tutukaka. In fact, we have missed out most of the so called TA "connectors" which are the bits of road and highway linking the off-road sections, so we estimate we walked around 400 km in the last 6 weeks - enough for the moment!
After the Timber Trail through the Pureora Forest, we had a few days of rain in Taumarunui, which meant we couldn't walk the Traverse 42 stretch of the trail into Tongariro National Park, as the two fast flowing rivers coming off the volcanic plateau (Mangatepopo and Waione) would have been impassable. We stayed in National Park village until the rain cleared and then walked the Tongariro Crossing in "reverse". We had always avoided this famous (in NZ) one day walk as it is easily the most popular in the country and attracts thousands of people. In fact, the last time we hauled up on to Tongariro was in 1979 when hardly anyone visited the volcano trails.
Despite the large number of people all setting off at the same time at 8 am it was certainly a spectacular walk. The trail rises up into the volcanic field surrounded by the three main volcanoes of Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom of Lord of the Rings filming), Tongariro and Ruapehu to the South. The 2000 m plateau is home to a number of beautiful blue and green crater lakes as well as lava flows, fumaroles and steep ridges. The weather on the crossing was for once near perfect and the views were fantastic.
Looking back to Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu from the Tongariro Crossing
Mt. Ruapehu from National Park
It was a bit of a challenge to complete the 20 km walk in less than 8 hours to reach the shuttle pick-up, but we managed it with time to spare. We were pursued on the downhill stretch by an endless flow of overseas young visitors representing many European countries - Germans in particular seem to be everywhere - and we suspect most kiwi walkers have chosen less crowded trails. Right near the end, just as we were wondering where the car park was, a large sign announced a lahar pathway in our tracks and advised us to "keep going without stopping" for the next 700m!
Lakes Taupo (in the distance) and Rotoaira (foreground) from the Northern side of Tongariro.
We are going to come back at a later date to walk the round Mt Ruapehu Circuit and canoe down the Whanganui River, which is also part of the TA. Our next trip, apart from sailing to various spots in NZ, is to the US and Canada in June - probably mainly cycling.
Echoes of the Past in the Pureora Forest
16 February 2016 | Taumarunui, King Country, NZ
Geoff and Alison, rainy but warm
Photo above shows tiny camp Saraoni pitched right at the Northern access to the magnificent but expensive Mangatukuku cyclists suspension bridge
We are in the small King Country town of Taumarunui on the upper reaches of the Whanganui River after emerging from a 6 day 85 km tramp through the Pureora Forest, west of Lake Taupo.
We are now several hundred kilometres and 5 weeks away from our starting point at Tutukaka although we haven't walked all that way. Where the TA has yet to find a way over private land and passes along a road margin we have thumbed it. Thanks to all the nice people who have given us old fogeys a ride - we have had the best hitchhiking we've ever had!
We diverted off the main Te Araroa trail that hugs the top of the Hauhungaroa Range that lies within the forest to sample the newly created Timber Trail - one of 23 cycle cum tramping trails that the government has built while we were circling the planet.
The Timber trail starts in beautiful old growth podocarp forest where the final battles against logging in native forests were played out in the late 1970s and ends along an old loggers' tramway.
Because the trail has been designed for cyclists it made a great tramping route - well contoured and without the usual roots and rocks!
Most of the time we had the forest to ourselves and the birds. In the healthier parts of the forest there were plenty of kaka parrots, kakariki (parakeets), kereru (native pigeons), North Island robins and we heard kiwi at night and a pair of duetting kokako (rare and highly endangered wattled crows) at dawn on the second morning.
The government must have spent millions on this one cycle trail alone, as a number of spectacular suspension bridges have been erected over deep gorges as well as the reconstruction of the Ongarue Spiral, an amazing feat of 1920s engineering where the little steam trains managed to climb up the steepest gradient.
The longest bridge at 140 m apparently cost half a million dollars. Hmmmm... at the same time the same government has been flogging off what is left of publically owned assets, cutting back on just about everything including the budget for public hospitals, let alone the DOC budget (which now has to maintain the Timber Trail as well as the rest of the public conservation estate) - what is John Key up to?
It is now raining, apparently due to Tonga's third cyclone this summer (Winston), so in the meantime we are tapping away as usual to pay for our trip to Canada in June using a small tablet, a keyboard and a portable solar panel strapped to the top of one of our backpacks!
We haven't finished with the Long Pathway yet. We are soon walking 40 km up to the volcanic plateau and doing a circle around Mt Ruapehu before returning to the boat.
Echos of the past: a 1920s "lokey" rattles across the original Mangatukutuku Bridge - photo courtesy of DOC's bridge side interpretive display.
The Maramataha Gorge is now crossed by a 140m suspension bridge.
Alison ventures into the old tunnel at the Ongarue Spiral on the Timber Trail
More Sushi Than Fushi
31 January 2016 | Mt Pirongia, Waikato
Mt. Pirongia - more broad than high!
We are camped under a kahikatea tree by a gurgling stream near Mt Pirongia, an extinct shield volcano and at 970 m, Waikato's highest. It's more broad than high, sitting brooding over mooloo land.
We spent 2 days in the city of Hamilton. Like so many other places it's moved with the times. We first passed through Hamilton 40 years ago when a meal out meant fush and chups or a meat pie. Now there are sushi bars everywhere and Waikato's largest city has an eclectic Asian population, as noticeable as pakeha and Maori residents.
The weather has been hot and humid with afternoon storms and rain. We found a barn just in time yesterday, then hopped over a fence to camp in a cow paddock.
The Waikato River flowing through Hamilton, sushi capital of the region with the same name as the river
Silver fern grove on the slopes of Pirongia
Tallest tree in NZ - a lonely kahikatea tree near Kaniwhaniwha
Two weeks on the Long Pathway
27 January 2016 | Huntly, Waikato
Alison and Geoff, hot and humid
Photo of the Northern end of Ocean Beach, nr Whangarei with a distant Bream Head at the other end
We have walked through pine forests and native bush, over small mountains, crossed creeks, tackled sealed and unsealed roads and walked kilometer after kilometer along wide sandy beaches. We also camped in reserves, in well-wishers back gardens, on friends yachts and in fee paying campgrounds. The long pathway is certainly a challenging way to see New Zealand, but we have seen far more of an area we thought we knew well and met some amazingly nice people.
We skipped through Auckland and are spending a couple of days at a campground at the old mining town of Huntly on the banks of the Waikato river - NZ's longest.
Tomorrow we intend to walk to the village of Ngaruawahia via the Hakarimata range. We have been told there are quite a number of steps to climb to the 347 m summit. After that we will walk to Hamilton and then into the King Country via Mount Pirongia, through the Pureora forest and up to the slopes of Tongariro, Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu. Well, that's the plan! Like when we're sailing, we could change our minds at any time!
The Taiharuru estuary can only be waded across at low tide.
Alison reaches the end of Ocean Beach with Bream Head / Te Whara in the distance.
Taranga Island (The Hen) lies just off Bream Bay with the Mangawhai sand spit in the foreground.
Pakiri Beach from Te Arai - Auckland's last unspoiled beach on the East Coast
Tutukaka - Saraoni's Home Port for Now
12 January 2016 | Tutukaka, Northland, NZ
Geoff and Alison, warm and wet
Photo shows Saraoni in her old berth behind the breakwater at Tutukaka marina, looking out at the outer harbour beyond flax which has grown to twice its height since we were last here.
We are off tomorrow, heading for the Central North island volcanoes on the Te Araroa trail, which passes by near here on its rambling route down to Bluff. Saraoni is back in its old berth which we bought back in 2004 when we started teaching in nearby Whangarei. We have spent the last few weeks around Whangarei, firstly to clean and paint Saraoni's grubby hull, then because it is simply more convenient without transport - Tutukaka is 27 km from town.
We have also been up twice to our 2 acre "ranch" over the hills and up towards Kaitaia in the North. We left our bits and pieces in a kitset shed before we left on our circumnavigation in 2005, but the shed inevitably blew apart in a wild winter storm two years ago, so we have had to clean up the mess. Amazingly, everything we left behind was still there and some of the more useful things like our 2 Giant bikes and sailing dinghy gear were in good condition. We will be trying to sell the land and buy something a little smaller and much closer to here as the journey up North means a 300 km round trip.
Looking up the overgrown path to the old shed site.
Looking South East to the bush covered Mangamuka Range
Little has changed here in Tutukaka. Perhaps there are a few more million dollar mansions on the hill tops, but it is still a cheap, secure and useful place to leave the boat while we venture away. Our two fibreglass dinghies we left behind in 2006 were still lying upside down in the dinghy rack. Summer days mean a hustle and bustle with the marina car park full at times, boats going to and fro and visitors trying their luck with a rod on the fuel pontoon. The dive boats taking divers out to the nearby Poor Knights islands are full most days, whatever the weather.
Shags still hang out in the trees by the outer harbour, drying their wings. The bush on the hill to the East has a few kiwi left, which call at night - but more so in winter when they breed. Little blue penguins also breed here, in the spaces between the breakwater rocks in front of Saraoni's berth, while gannets, kingfishers, herons, gulls and terns dive into the water for sardines. At high water, one or two short tailed sting rays, some a metre wide across, patrol the marina inner wall, looking for...what? The way out? Something to eat? Keeping away from the orca family that often passes outside the harbour? A previous marina manager used to hand feed the sting rays, so maybe they are looking out for him!
Our walk to the big volcanoes should take a few weeks. The trail follows the East coast to Auckland, then to the Waikato River and Hamilton before crossing to the West of Lake Taupo along the ridge tops of the Hauhungaroa Range. If we have time, we may take the next part of the trail which means kayaking down the Whanganui River through the forested Whanganui National Park.
From Moanathon to Whenuathon
15 December 2015 | Whangarei, New Zealand
Geoff and Alison, cool nights, warmish (!) days
Rather a mixed up Maori / Greek title, but it represents our change of direction over the next year at least. For the last few years, if anyone asked what we were doing, we could easily say that we were slowly circling the planet in our little bathtub of a boat. Reactions would vary from total blankness to a smile or even a "cool". Now, having completed our moanathon
, saying that we are no longer circling the planet just doesn't have quite the same ring to it.
But we haven't finished with Saraoni just yet and are not about to sell it or its slot in Tutukaka's marina, overlooking the outer harbour with its green bush clad slopes and penguin rocks. More importantly, we need the boat as a home base, at least for the foreseeable period.
After such a long time mostly boat and ocean bound (8,000 miles from Curacao, our last long stopover, in September last year) we almost always head for the hills - by foot or wheel. Conveniently, a new long distance pathway - Te Araroa
- has been completed (more or less) from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the South. That's over 3000 km from one end of the country to the other. That'll do for us - it will be our whenuathon
Te Araroa is not the usual wilderness track that we are used to in NZ. It wanders through farmland, across towns and along roads as well as climbing bush clad hills and striking out along beaches - especially in the North Island, where more complex geology means there is no equivalent North / South geographical corridor like there is in North America. The South Island section of the trail is by contrast more similar to the Appalachian Trail or the PCT as it follows the spine of the Southern Alps and lies mostly on DOC (public conservation) land.
Coincidentally, the rambling ramble passes both the Saraoni ranch - our overgrown patch of land in the Far North and the hill at the back of Tutukaka, so we can pretty well walk right out the door (or the tent in the case of our land) straight on to the trail and consider we are walking towards the bottom of the South Island.
A Maori land rights marcher in the 1970s commented while strolling down to Wellington's Beehive (NZ's Parliament Building) from Cape Reinga that the best way to know the land was on foot - slowly. That resonates with us as we never seem to get anywhere fast and the slower we go, the more we see. Perhaps it'll take us another 9 years to see the length of New Zealand! In any case, we certainly won't walk the entire length of Te Araroa in one go and will be off on another continent somewhere else from time to time if funds keep trickling in from our writing.
As for this blog, we are not sure whether we will keep it up for future Saraoni wanderings, just keep it going while we make miles on foot, or start another blogsite dedicated to the "Long Pathway". Watch this space for further updates!
For now, we still have Saraoni maintenance stuff to do - mending this and that, cleaning and painting the hull and are currently hauled out at Dockland 5 in Whangarei. The boat will be back in its old berth in Tutukaka from the end of this year and we will be heading South - slowly!
Day 7- Landfall in Sight and a Circumnavigation Complete
26 November 2015 | Off the Ninepin, the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Alison and Geoff
Just passing Cape Wiwiki and Tikitiki Island (photo above -the rock usually called the Ninepin) at the entrance to the Bay of Islands and have passed our departure point 9 years and 3 months ago. Low cloud obscures the land after a sunny day. We are hanging up 39 flags and a number of hats for the countries we visited.
This trip from North Minerva has not been disrupted with unfavourable winds and the unusually long high pressure system has kept the winds in the South East to North East direction so we have actually kept to our anticipated arrival time in New Zealand, at least from North Minerva. We are not shivering either as it's about 24° C.
The New Zealand Air Force Orion flew over earlier this morning. We are not exactly sure why yachts are monitored as they are unlikely to be illegal immigrants. They fly at a very low level so that they can view the boat name then they call up on the VHF. After a few minutes we worked out that were quite a large number of yachts close by judging by the chat from the Orion.
It's difficult to know how to react when a challenge like this has been completed. We hope to start the next challenge on foot maybe walk the whole length of NZ. We'll see.