Motor On - It's Time to Go Home!
Never had we motored so much as we did between Coffs Harbour and the Pittwater, we delayed leaving Coffs Harbour as the weather was poor and only left when we were "assured" of good NE winds from the weather gurus and promptly sailed in to a severe thunder and lightening storm which had us cursing and running out to sea as fast as we could, and then the winds died away leaving us to motor for around 36 hours out of 40 down the coast...........
At around 06.00 on the 25th of November we motored in to Broken Bay, past Lion island and in to the Pittwater cursing the wind, what little there was, which shifted firmly on to our nose at every change of course frustrating our plans to sail the final few miles.
First sight of Broken Bay
We had told a few friends and family that we would arrive and were greeted by Jos' brother Chris, Sister-in-Law Candy and their friend Hamish, who came out in Chris' newest creation "Trim", which he had finished building only a few weeks before, to escort us in to the Royal Prince Alfred Yacht Club which is to be Mary Constance's temporary home until we get a more permanent mooring laid.
The Welcoming Committee
Over the next few hours a steady stream of friends came down to see us with non more happily received than Pippa's school chum Megumi and although we had been away for over a year it began to seem just like yesterday that we had left by plane for France. After a day of partying came the novelty of sleeping on land - something none us have dome since we left France, all this space around us seems quite odd for a short while!
Chums reunited - Pippa and Megumi
The "Alfreds" (AKA RPAYC) Mary Constance's new and very temporary home!
If we thought we were in for a gentle transition back to land based life we could think again - there were cars to reregister, mooring licences to apply (along with a series of hoops we seem to have to go through first with Mary Constance!!), schooling to organise for the girls and finalising the dreaded four letter word; work, for Mike.
Hopefully amongst all of this we will have time to reflect on the year gone by; the highs and the lows, the friendships and memories, the people we have met and, in the case of the school at Port Resolution in Tanna hope to help.
We plan to close this chapter of our odyssey with some individual thoughts on the web site - it my take some time but they will come!!
Landfall in Australia - Bundy On!!
Our landfall in Australia was Bundaberg which we sighted after a perfect sail from Chesterfield Reef aided by strong currents which ran us nicely along until we reached Hervey Bay where we almost ground to a halt as we battled against the falling tide rushing out from the southern most part of the Great Barrier Reef. Despite this we entered the river entrance at about 03.30 and anchored off the Customs Buoy and waited to clear in.
We had heard all sorts of nightmare stories about clearing in to Australia with over zealous Customs and AQIS officers going through boats with a fine toothed comb - as it was we could not have been treated more courteously and professionally if they tried with the whole process running smoothly - in fact many of the things we had thrown away or eaten over the days before would have been allowed in after all!!
Bundaberg Port Marina
In true Mary Constance style we were the last yacht in on the Port2Port Rally but what the heck we had had a good time on the way over with our stops at the reef and had arrived safely unlike, sadly, the yacht AquaAntique which had run aground south of the Huon Reefs and had to be abandoned by its owner losing his home of five years - a salutary lesson to all of us!!
Sunset over Bundy - our first land sunset for ages!!
Luckily we were not too late to catch up with friends and there were several parties lined up over the next few days which was just as well as the weather turned against us giving us no chance to head south for about ten days!
There were several highlights of staying in Bundaberg with one of the best being Jos' Mum, Brother Chris and Sister-in-Law Candy flying up to welcome us home - a great reunion after over a year away with them staying for a few days allowing us to play tourist with them!
On the Tuesday it was Melbourne Cup Day the yacht cub had arranged a suitable champagne lunch with a range of impromptu hats being made and finery put on - Mike even won the best dressed male looking quite dapper in shirt, blazer and colourful "Bulla" shorts from French Polynesia!
Melbourne Cup Belles
Nancy Pippa Jos
Final party night dancing with the kids off "Coconut"
Being in Bundaberg it just did not seem right not to visit the Bundaberg Rum factory and the Ginger Beer factory, whilst not being (in our view) very visitor orientated the rum factory was interesting with millions of litres of Australia's finest sitting in bonded vats waiting release - the tasting at the end of the tour was however great with us having enough tickets between us to try all the varieties made there!! The Ginger Beer factory, whilst being a smaller concern was better set up with various interactive things for the kids to do and again great tasting at the end of the tour!!
As the bad weather continued we decided to wander slightly further from Bundy and hired a car for the day and headed off to Childers, about 50 kms away, where we went to the Snake Park - a very low key but excellently run park which has grown from the owner's "reptilian" passions to be the home to a wide collection of snakes, lizards and crocs some of which we even got to hold......
The intrepid snake handlers
Snake Park residents
Sadly Bundaberg was another parting place and here we were to say final farewells to good friends - Karl and Sandy off Fantasy 1, Pete and Chris off Chatti, Ted and Nancy off Blackwattle and Ozkan our new Turkish mate off Kayitsis who all were either leaving boats in Queensland or were leaving later than us down the coast- hopefully we will see all our friends again soon in Sydney or elsewhere on the seas!!
"Fantasy 1" - Karl and Sandi "Chatti" - Pete and Chris
"Blackwattle" - Ted and Nancy "Kayitsis" - Ozkan
The kids with twins Hedda & Marita off Rune & Idunn's "Blue Marlin"
A great surprise was a visit from our friends Peter and Angela Mayhews who being also good friends of Jos' parents had known Mary Constance for many years and had been following our progress with interest - Peter and Angela spoilt us rotten taking us out to dinner close to the marina and then meeting us again for a beach BBQ the next day (albeit a little different to our old bonfire BBQ's on deserted beaches but great all the same with the kids having a great time on the playground nearby!!).
Beach BBQ with Angela and Peter Mayhew
Southwards at last!
We finally got a break in the weather and headed out in to Hervey Bay towards the inner route of the great Sandy Strait past Fraser Island - this proved to be a bit of a slog as we had to motor sail directly in to the wind for 12 hours - not our best style of sailing at all. The first night we anchored off Kingfisher Beach before heading further south through some very shallow channels - which threatened to clean more antifoul off the hull - towards Tin Can Bay. Tin Can Bay is a delightfully sleepy little town which whilst trying to develop has yet to take off (fortunately).
Off Fraser Island on the Great Sandy Strait
After anchoring for the night and having a quick feed at the marina restaurant we woke up the next day and went ashore as we had heard you could feed the dolphins by hand just off the boat ramp - true enough two Pacific Humpback Dolphins put in an appearance and were handfed there by a steady stream of tourists. Apparently these were the second generation of dolphins who came to be fed daily off spring of the first injured dolphin which had been cared for by local fishermen.
Dolphin feeding at Tin Can Bay
At the southern end of Fraser Island we had to cross the Wide Bay Bar, a spit of sand across the entrance which is well known locally for creating some interesting waves and currents - fortunately compared with some of our more interesting atoll entrances is was not too difficult, what it did do however was introduce us to the wonderful coastal safety services provided by the volunteer coast guards who keep track off all yachts as they go down the Australian Coast and help when needed - more on that later!
Wide Bay Bar
Safely out of the bar we headed south towards Mooloolaba, our first stop on the way down the coast - after a fairly uneventful run we arrived in Mooloolaba Harbour at about 22.00 to a very quiet marina - seemingly everyone goes to bed early in Mooloolaba!
The next morning we wandered down to the town and caught the courtesy bus to Steve Irwin's "Australia Zoo" to give Pippa a birthday treat - despite the weather being a little "ho hum" it was a big day out for all of us with animal shows, crocs, elephant feeding and so forth - by the end of the day we were all exhausted and were pleased to be back home at the boat arranging to meet the Mayhews again for brunch the next morning before our planned departure for Coffs Harbour later in the day.
One of the "stars" of The Australia Zoo
Elephant feeding at Australian Zoo
Crickey watch out!!!!!!
Some of the more "cuddly" residents
and a less "cuddly" one....
Again weather let us down with the wind turning south-east, right on the nose so we settled down again and left the following day at daybreak. This proved to be a good decision as we "hammered" down the coast at 8 knots aided by several knots of current, our arrival in to Coffs however was slightly problematical firstly with our first engine failure of the year (luckily Mike managed to get it started after much cursing) and then we went firmly aground in the entrance to the marina - it was good to have the coast guard team on the other end of the radio even if no real help was available as it was around midnight when we went aground! Luckily for us it was very much low tide and after about an hour we floated off and made our way in to the marina for a good night sleep.
Dolphins off the bows on the way to Coffs Harbour
Our stay at Coffs was a little frantic as we had several "housekeeping" things to do, the most pressing was to Vote as it is the Australian General Election this coming weekend and we would be at sea (fines apply if you don't vote here!). We did however manage to catch up with an old Knight Frank work colleague of Mike's; Dennis Gleeson who had made the "seachange" from Sydney to Coffs a few years ago - very tempting indeed!!
Mutton Bird Island "Mutton Birds"??????
And here we sit, again waiting for the wind to change, before we head down to the Pittwater and home - hopefully an early start tomorrow morning and then two days down the coast - do we really want to go home........................................
The Homeward Passage
As we reached our allotted date for departure from Port Vila, having provisioned, made minor repairs to Mary C and scrubbed her waterline to keep Australian Quarantine happy we were beset with strong winds that delayed our departure. This was a double blow as we had decided to enter the Port2Port Rally, a fun event between Vanuatu and Bundaberg, and the delays were likely to mean we would make Bundy before the finish of the "festivities" - in addition we now had to make the choice as to whether we stopped at Huon and Chesterfield Reefs where we had been told we could see amazing bird life and nesting turtles.
The choice was simple, having first checked the weather for any possible development of threatening weather systems (the precursor of cyclones) we set sail to Bundy via the reefs.
The decision was the right one as, in hindsight, we would have been mad to have missed what we experienced there....
Farewell Port Vila
The first legs of the passage was a bit rolly but bearable and we had the added bonus of the return of the fish - either the lures we bought in Port Vila we better or (more likely) the Western Pacific is less fished out and between Port Vila and Bundaberg we were to catch a wonderful selection of fish including Tuna, Wahoo, Dolphin Fish, Snapper and so forth - we even hooked a Sailfish but it was too strong making it one of four fish that were strong enough to snap through the steel traces we place at the business end of the line!!
Yet more fish!!
After three days we reached Huon Reef, an extension to the New Caledonia Group this amazing reef simply rises from over 1000 metres to sea level within less than a mile. With no trees on the islands at all the birds have taken to nesting on the ground and with no natural predators have no fear of humans at all - we had to be careful not to step on both birds and eggs both of which had to number in their thousands!
The girls on Huon Reef Beach
We `stopped the night at Huon to try and witness the landing of the giant turtles as they made their way up the beach to dig out holes and lay their eggs. During the day you could see their tracks clearly and wit the aid of a beautiful moonlight night we prowled down the beach trying to find fresh tracks - we could not use flashlights as the turtles are very shy and will turn back if disturbed up to the point when they start to lay eggs when they enter a trance like state and you can get right up to them. whilst we did not see the act of egg laying we did see one of these gentle creatures come up the beach and start to slowly dig her hole with languid movements of her fins throwing huge piles of sand in to the night air!
One of Huon Reef's giant turtles
The next day we made sail and headed off to Chesterfield Reef, another geological oddity, hundreds of miles from anywhere a reef system 50 nautical miles long thrown up by seismic activity from the seabed and now forming a series of low sandy islands with low bush like shrubs making an ideal breeding ground for thousands of green footed boobies, gulls and frigate birds. The reef group is strangely part of France and days before we arrived the French Navy was exerting its rights to challenge yachts in the anchorage - woo betide anyone who had not checked in to New Caledonia - luckily they had gone by the time we had arrived or we would have had to revert to a dodgy excuse of engine troubles for the stay!!
Vive La France - But why?
Again the reef was beautiful with, without doubt, the clearest water we had seen anywhere on our voyage - snorkeling here was like swimming in a clean swimming pool (probably clearer) and whilst there was little coral it was still beautiful. Once again the bird life was transfixing and we could easily have stayed for days just looking at the birds nesting.
That night we and four other boats met on the beach for a fish BBQ, we had all too much fish, and had a great meal with the background of the Western pacific on either side of our BBQ spot and an audience of curious birds upwind for the fire. As the night wore on the beach also came alive with thousands of large hermit crabs much to the delight of the girls who collected them before they scurried away!
Chesterfield BBQ - Life's tough!! The girls with Sarah from McDiver
Sadly we had to move on and early the next morning at daybreak we headed out of the reef on the last leg to Australia. The last few days of the passage were ideal as the wind grew to a comfortable 20+ knots and we rocketed along aided by the current with Mary Constance recording speeds of 9+ knots in a gentle rolling sea - wonderful sailing helping us to quickly close the gap to Bundaberg and hopefully reach port and clear customs before the final Rally event on the Saturday night!
Vanuatu - Tanna Island, an unexpected highlight so close to home
Despite the promise of better weather we were to sail out of Fiji in to strong winds and very confused seas that made the passage to Vanuatu one of the less comfortable we had experienced - the waves were sufficiently ferocious to send all our books flying across the cabin, something that had not happened at anytime before. It was however a good indication of change as non of the girls were seasick and Pippa, who previously suffered the worst was positively chirpy all the way!
As the weather abated a few days out we decided it was time to put out the fishing lines again, a bit of a forlorn hope as we had failed miserably to catch fish almost the whole was across the Pacific, our luck changed and within 24 hours we had caught three good fish - a dolphin fish, a barracuda and the best of all of yellow finned tuna, all of which were to come in useful as soon as we made landfall.
Fish, Fish and more Fish.........
After dodging the island of Futuna, a small navigational error had put us directly on a collision course with this small island first thing one morning, we made landfall in Port Resolution on the island of Tanna where we had been told there was an active volcano we could visit. We did not expect however to find such a wonderful island so close to Australia.
Port Resolution is a little bit of a misnomer as whilst it is a wonderful protected anchorage there are no facilities there at all except a small "yacht club" set up by the enterprising villagers. When we say there are no facilities we mean it..... no modern buildings, no sealed roads, no electricity, lighting, shops, limited running water etc etc. What there was however was a collection of the most wonderfully friendly people who despite being the poorest we had met on our voyage were the most generous spirited and seemed the happiest -interestingly a recent research project had found that the people of Vanuatu were amongst the happiest in the world, a very believable finding!!
The downside of having no facilities was that Mike had to travel across the island with the skippers of the other yachts in the bay to the principle village of Lenakel to check in, a bone jarring two hour journey each way in the back of a ute - the upside of which was the scenery passing though lush rain forest, a starch volcanic desert past the Mount Yasur volcano and then over the steeply mountainous ridge that divides the island before dropping down to the drier side of the island to Lenakel. The whole process took an entire day!!
The next day, whilst out snorkeling, we went in to the beach and Jos and girls started talking to a couple of the local ladies and there kids from the village and then met one of their husbands "Lulu" who, for the next few days was to become a good friend to us all. It had rapidly become obvious that the people of Tanna had very little and whilst they asked for nothing we were happy to give them surplus clothing, food and fishing gear and anything else we could find that might help a little. In return we were literally showered with kindness being shown around their village, where they still live in traditional timber and rush thatched huts, and their gardens where they grow everything they need.
The people of Port Resolution live simply and in a manner very close to their heritage, there are a few utes for general transport but apart from this little mechanisation, no boats with outboards instead any fishing is restricted to the bay and inshore waters where they can paddle their dugout canoes fishing with lines, nets, spears and bow and arrow - as such some of our fish were gratefully received in the village!
One of the natural wonders if Tanna is Mount Yasur, a volcano which whilst being classed as dormant still puts on a spectacular "fireworks display" as it blast molten rock in to the air - it is close enough to Port Resolution that the bay is fringed with steaming hot pools where boiling water flows in to the sea and steam rises from the hill side. There are guided visits to the top of the volcano so one afternoon we all piled back into the back of a ute and headed off arriving at Yasur just before darkness fell, at first it did not seem to exciting as the volcano gently rumbled away, its cauldron about 100 metres below us but soon with huge booms it started to blow massive chunks of molten rock high in to the air - quite spectacular and quite terrifying when you realise how close we all were to the edge.
Mount Yasur by day and night......................
The next day we made our way to the local school keen to show the girls how different school was here compared to schools at home. By chance we met one of the teachers, Dora, as we approached on her way to lunch and agreed to come back after lunch to talk to her students about Australia and to give her some books, pencils, paper and so forth. Port Resolution school is large by local standards with around 180 pupils from surrounding villages with the higher grade children weekly boarding in rudimentary dorms - even so they really have nothing with the primary levels not even having furniture to sit at. After a quite lecture on Australia (including quite a good demonstration of kangaroo hopping by Jos and the kids!) we were given a tour of the school by Dora meeting all the teachers and pupils which left us determined to see if we could help in some way - hopefully by getting the girls school at home involved in some form of fund raiser to at least get them the basics in Port Resolution!
The Kindi Kids Kindi Classroom
Years 5 and 6 Port Resolution School
The final night we had in Tanna was memorable as well with the yacht club putting on a pig roast for all the yachties following a visit to the adjoining village where we were shown traditional fire walking and "leaf carrying" where an impromptu stretcher was made out of large leaves relying purely on friction between the leaves to hold up the "injured" child - we have a lot to learn in many ways.
Port Resolution YC Pig Roast and band
Mad man in a tree??
Of all the places we visited we were truly sad to leave Tanna with its wonderful people and will certainly try to return in the future - Lulu's parting words to us were "I have nothing to give you but my love"!
On to Erromango and then Port Vila on Efate
Leaving Tanna we had a great sail to the next island arriving just before dark in to Dillon's Bay having first sailed along escorted by one of the largest pods of dolphins we had yet seen. Surprisingly Erromango was very different to Tanna, despite being very close together the people are different physically and live a more modern life having moved more away from traditional ways presumably due to the commercial harvesting of sandalwood found there in the 1800's.
Dillon's Bay The welcoming team.....
It was still a wonderful place and although we only stayed for 24 hours the people of Dillon's Bay made a strong impression. As we woke the morning following our arrival some of the local kids came out to see us in their dug out canoes and after the usual distribution of lollies and soft drinks we made our way in to the shore and made our introductions to the chief, a fine old character by the name of William who reluctantly admitted to being the village leader and a member of the council of elders.
We then set off for stroll through the village and were quickly "adopted" by a young villager called Mike we was keen to show us his garden further up the river valley. On the way we wandered down to the river banks and chatted to the ladies doing their washing to find that they all knew Dora, the teacher from Tanna who had, it turns out grown up in Dillon's Bay.
Wash day at Dillon's Bay
Rueben, Mike, Mike and Abel Mike
The kids and Mike (our Mike) swam in the river with the local kids and then we went back to Mary Constance with young Mike and his friend Rueben as they were keen to see the yacht - after feeding them cokes and biscuits we gave Mike a blow up dinghy that we had bought for the girls to use and which had sat unused since France - he was stoked and with great pride paddled off back to his village showing off his new acquisition!
The islands of Vanuatu, formerly the New Hebrides have an interesting colonial past having been governed jointly by France and Great Britain leading to the three main languages being English, French and the local pigeon language of Bislama. One of the effects of this is the unusual family structures where each child may learn to speak a different language - we first discovered this when chatting to another Mike on the beach who spoke English whilst his wife spoke French and the children were being brought up in each culture - quite a strange environment!
After brief 24 hour stop over we set off to Port Vila which was to be our jumping off point for the final ocean leg of our voyage back to Australia and for the first time in a year had to motor nearly all the way as the wind died off totally - quite frustrating and particularly irritating for all as Mary Constance is not the most quiet yacht on the seas!!!
Dolphins of Vanuatu
Port Vila is quite different to the rest of Vanuatu and even on the island of Efate is somewhat out of place with its bustling town centre crammed with cars, Chinese run stores reminiscent of Kowloonside, and multistory buildings - with the exception of Papeete this was the largest town we had seen since leaving Panama City! Despite this, and the strident Aussie accents at every turn, the town has a charm of its own and makes an interesting "bridge" between the un-developed islands and "civilisation" of Australia a mere 1000 nm away - sadly it did make us realise that we were only days away from the end of the odyssey which was greeted with very mixed feelings from all of us....
Scenes from Port Vila - Efate Island
The Franklin Girls in Port Vila
Next stop (via a couple of reefs on the way) Bundaberg!!
A delayed departure from Fiji
We had planned to make way for Vanuatu immediately after making our farewells in Musket Cove but after checking out in Lautoka the weather intervened and we heard from Nancy and Ted on Blackwattle that they were being pounded by 40+ knot winds and some of the roughest seas they had seen for years. As such we made a rapid detour and dropped anchor within the protective reef of Mana Island, a location which brought back great memories for us as we had had a family holiday there when we were last in Fiji some five years ago!
The island was still beautiful and bar some new accommodation the hotel was much the same as it had been when we last visited, luckily the hotel allows yachties to use its facilities free of charge and the girls enjoyed the fresh water pools again.
Mana Island Beach Diving Practice
The "find" however was at the backpackers accommodation where they were holding a "Fijian night" with a cheap buffet dinner and dance entertainment put on by the staff, all very low key but wonderful evening - a real added bonus and much preferable to being buffeted around at sea that night.
The Fijian Night at the Mana Backpackers
The following day, after checking the weather again (albeit with a degree of cynicism as the forecasts the day before had been very benign) we had a quick snorkel on the reef and set off again to pass through the main reef from Nandi Waters in to the South Pacific and then onwards towards Tanna Island in Vanuatu.
Fiji - A brief holiday and sad farewells
Our passage to Fiji from Tonga was slow as the strong winds we had all encountered entering Tonga had all but disappeared by the time we set sail from Tonga - our exit had been marred somewhat by Mike's double whammy of puncturing the dingy and getting stung by a sea urchin whilst swimming back to the boat for help!
We arrived in Fiji in pouring rain which set in for several days and after checking in at Lautoka we went in to the Vudu point Marina to recharge batteries, fill tanks and so forth and to (importantly) reprovision as the galley stores were looking very depleted. The town of Lautoka was nothing like we had expected and seemed to be a miniature version of an Indian town with colourful saris and booming Bolliwood music coming from all of the stores - Mike's idea of heaven and a shopping mecca for Jos and the kids with everything being far cheaper than we had experienced for some time.
It would have been good to spend more time exploring the mainland but it was time to catch up with Wakalele, Bauvier, Hullabaloo and Silvergirl whom we had not seen for many weeks since we parted company in French Polynesia.
We met up with Wakalele and Silvergirl briefly in Denaru for lunch - we had last been to Denaru 5 years before and since then it had transformed itself in to a mini version of Queensland's Goldcoast with multi million dollar houses and a new shopping mall - as the taxi driver said "when you cross the bridge in to Denaru you leave Fiji and enter Australia or America" - too true.
Fire Dancing Lessons in Denaru
Cool Off Time in Denaru
The following day we set sail to Musket Cove where all our friends had holed up following the Musket Cove Regatta week, which we had sadly missed, and sailed in to the resort marina late in the afternoon. Musket Cove is a wonderful Five Star Resort owned by a yachtie friendly hotelier called Dick Smith and, much too our luck, yachties can take advantage of the excellent resort facilities for a pittance of a marina fee - time for a holiday!!!!!!!
Holiday Time in Musket Cove Resort
As such all of us had a ball with the pool and beach being an ideal playground for all the kids to catch up and the BBQ area being an equally good venue for the grown ups to catch up over several late night evening feasts. Sadly the time went by too quickly and before we knew it we had to get ready to depart for Vanuatu and finally the time came for the sad farewells - after six months of traveling together we had made very special friends and to see Wakelele, Bauvier, Silvergirl and Hullabaloo getting ready to go to New Zealand was very hard indeed and tears were shed all around - still hopefully we will all get together again in Australia before too long or who know further down the track!
The Final Farewell At Musket Cove
Tonga - On to Vava'U, the home of whales.....
As the weather window opened we set off to the northern section of the main Tongan islands, Vava'U where we were told we would certainly see large numbers of humpback whales - hopefully we were about to "break our duck" and see some of these magnificent mammals "close up and personal" so to speak.
As we approached the island group we did indeed see a group of whales breeching in the distance as they played close to a small island about 30 miles north of our destination - this was a good start.....
We` arrived in to the anchorage at Neiafu late on the Saturday and were pleased to see Ted and Nancy on Blackwattle moored close by and after picking up a mooring buoy (the anchorage is over 30 metres deep and as such hard to actually anchor in) we caught up over a beer and bite to eat at the Aquarium cafe - the kids were really pleased to see Ted and Nancy and tell them all our news since we had last seen them in Bora Bora several week ago.
Following our first taste of Tongan singing in Niuatoputapu earlier in the week we were keen to go to the cathedral on the Sunday morning and we even managed to drag Ted and Nancy along to listen to the singing - the trip was well worth while with the singing and general enthusiasm of the congregation being marvelous - it would have been even better if we could have understood the sermon which was delivered with huge gusto and expression by the Father much to the delight of his congregation. During the service a little local girl even plucked up courage to sidle down the pew to give Justine a lolly and then ended up staying with us for the rest of the service!
The Cathedral Church in Neiafu
The town of Neiafu is a mix of old and new Tonga and still has the basic charm of ramshackle supermarkets, pigs in the street and colourful locals in and around the market combined with a good selection of modern facilities for yachties and tourists/whale watchers.
Scenes from Neiafu
We all fell in love with the market which, whilst being small, offered a great selection of local handicrafts and produce and over the next few days we spent quite a lot of time in the market both buying small things and also joining in weaving with the delightful Olivia!
The wonderful Olivia's weaving class
The weather was not too great and it was all too easy to stay in town for a few days before heading out to explore the many anchorages and hopefully find whales and so we moved round to Port Maurelle or anchorage number 7 as it is also known - the Tongans being very organised have numbered all the anchorages right through the island group.
Port Maurelle was excellent, well sheltered, calm and with the clearest water we have ever seen - so clear that we could easily identify individual stones and fish over 20 metres below the boat and our luck was in as we managed to tie up to one of two mooring buoys in the bay - it turned out that the buoy needed some repair and as such it was so difficult to pick up Mike almost gave himself a hernia!! So the first job was to repair the mooring and we "donated" some line and with the help of John from Swift Cloud (a kiwi single hander) did a running repair that took most of the morning to complete.
The snorkeling around the bay was also some of the best we had seen with brightly coloured coral like we had never seen and amazingly new coral growth all over the bottom - somewhere at last things seem to be going right in the marine world! Not only were there bright corals but amazing star fish - bright blue ones, huge pink ones just like Patrick from "Sponge Bob Square Pants" and ones that looked like giant cushions. On one snorkel Mike found sea urchins about 15 cms across with bright red spins the size of Havana cigars with bright yellow pipe fish about a metre long swimming round them.
In and around Port Maurelle - Anchorage #7
Port Maurelle Beach
The next day we went in search of whales but as we moved out of the shelter of the bay we were bashed around by 35 knot winds and after motoring round in the wind for about 2 hours beat a hasty retreat to port Maurelle still not having seen whales. We were compensated by the positive armada of our friends coming in to the bay, there was Blackwattle, Bauvier, Southern Cross and Meitli and, to the kids great joy several other kid boats including Mustang whose daughter; Cara, was turning 5 the next day - party time.......
In the afternoon we took the tenders round the headland to explore Swallows Cave which we had seen as a cleft in the rock as we sailed past a few days earlier - as we motored round and gently moved in to the cave we were amazed to put it mildly. The sun shone in through the narrow cave opening and lit up two large chambers with vaulted ceilings and the clearest, bluest water you can imagine - the bottom of the cave must have been about 20 metres below us and yet when we swum it was as if you were swimming in air as you could see the bottom so clearly and as we swum out of the entrance the water just seemed to disappear below us as the water depth went from a few metres at the entrance to over a hundred metres vertically - quite spooky!
That night we met up with Cedric, Paige and Hannah from Southern Cross and Uber, Juliet and Cara from magnum for a BBQ on the beach complete with one of Mike's usual bonfires - this time complete with ghost stories courtesy of Juliet just at a level designed to scare the kids just enough.....
Beach BBQ Time Again!
Super Chef Cedric
The following day was the day of the big party and about fifteen or so kids and a related "big kids" met on the beach for a lunchtime picnic, party games and general chill out session (mainly for the parents) - at last the sun came out after several fairly ordinary days and everyone had a great time with Cedric organising the treasure hunt across the beach and then taking the kids for a "hoon" around the bay towing them behind his tender on a bogy board at high speed.
The beach birthday party
Party Goers....... .........Paparazzi??
Sadly time had to interfere again and we had to start gearing up for the next passage to Fiji and so we headed back in to Neiafu for some last minute provisioning and to pick up the schoolwork which had followed us down from Samoa care of several boats as well as going to see the customs and immigration guy to check us out of Tonga.
Of all the places we had been so far Tonga was one of the hardest to leave with its welcoming people, beautiful cruising grounds and ever elusive whales and we could quite easily have spent a month around the islands - this sadness was coupled with the ever growing realisation that we were now on the home stretch and our year's voyage was nearly over!!!!
Tonga - First stop "New Potatoes" or, to give it its proper name Niuatoputapu....
We left Samoa in the late afternoon in to a gentle sea and sailed down the northern coast as night fell, we rounded the point and entered the channel between the two islands resorting to the motor as the wind fell and hoped that the winds would increase to push us down south towards Tonga - we didn't expect what followed as the winds and seas grew to their highest extent since we left the Med' almost a year ago.
Fortunately the passage was only two nights and we were very pleased to arrive at Niuatoputapu early on the Sunday morning having mysteriously lost a full 24 hour day as we crossed the international date line. We entered the atoll in to calm waters and were relatively sheltered with only about 20 - 25 knots of wind blowing over the boat - far better than the guts of up to 40 knots we had experienced on the passage down.
Beautifully flat water at Niuatoputapu
The island group of Niuatoputapu is small but acts as the northerly entrance to the Kingdom of Tonga and as such we had to go through the usual rigours of checking in although this time the process was more involved with 4 very large Tongans needing to be ferried out to Mary Constance to inspect the boat, check our papers and consume soft drinks and pancakes!
We soon learned that the island was only supplied by ship once a month with everything apart from a few local products needing to be delivered. As such the island was in the middle of a crisis having run out of cigarettes with about two weeks to go until the next supply ship arrived. Luckily we were able to help a little having bought cigarettes and cigars or trading with all that time ago in the Caribbean and we later learned that the gifts had been widely distributed!!
Fishing hooks and line gratefully received
The islanders proved to be very generous in return and it certainly seems to be true that the poorer places we visit give the best reception as are the most generous. From the start we were looked after by Sia and Niko who seem to thrive on adopting yachties; entertaining them and helping them out in anyway possible. As soon as we landed we were invited in to their house, a traditional Tongan property and fed beautiful fish, meat and cooked papaya - yum!
Jos and the girls with Sia and Niko Sia and Justine on Mary C
As we walked through the rough streets of the villages we rapidly realised that this island was one of the poorest we had yet seen and yet people seemed shy about asking for help although the youngest children had developed an easy way of asking for lollies and the swarmed around us as walked anywhere.
Lolly distribution time
The next day we had to make our way to the main village on the island to pay the Customs, Immigration and Health fees for checking in. As this was several miles we borrowed bikes from Sia and set off, Mike on one with Justine on the handle bars and Jos and Pippa each on a bike - quite a novel experience as non of us had ridden bikes for ages. All along the way we met bunches of kids coming out of school, all of whom we happy to get little gifts of lollies or ask to have their pictures taken - thank goodness for digital cameras as the kids loved seeing themselves.
Bicycling through paradise shame about the mozzies!!
Pippa and Justine as usual were a massive draw card everywhere we went with their bleached blonde hair being so different to the islanders, the kids seemed to be drawn to them and the adults all wanted to make a fuss of them!
Local kids in "New Potatoes"
Finalising the check in involved a visit to the multifunctional admin office for the island - an old run down building that served as court room, post office, bank and admin centre. Here we had to deal with paying for our entry dues in a variety of currencies having been thrown by the books which said check in was free and having no local currency - high finance ensued and we ended but paying is US dollars, Euro and Aussie dollars!
The Court House, Post Office and Admin Centre
Unlike many of the islands we stayed in the weather here was not great and boy did it rain! On the Monday the rains came in the afternoon with such force that we had to drape a tarpaulin over the boat in an attempt to keep dry. This worked and had an added side effect - a massive supply of free, clean water - enough to fill our water tanks, wash the boat, shower and do the clothes washing. For hours the rain fell and we charged around the deck collecting water and dodging the countless buckets of water being thrown around by the kids - never had the deck looked so clean!
Rainy days at Niuatoputapu
Local housing on the island - pigs abound!!
The mat reed making house
The weather had its down side as it kept us on board and limited our chance to look around the island but the next day the kids went over to play on Gaia Su who we had met in the anchorage. Gerard and Su were cruising on their own as their kids had grown up and Su luckily loves kids allowing us to have a couple of hours ashore to head back to the main town to make a few deliveries - we had been asked by Bob and Karen to find a "home" for a bag of reading glasses so we made a trip to the local clinic to donate these to the nurse for distribution and also popped in to the primary school to give them a few pencils, rulers and so on al of which seem to be greatly needed and gratefully received!
The Health Centre and staff
Primary School Kids and....... .......the old school
One of the great things about the Tongans is their ability to sing and we were lucky enough to still be in the anchorage on Thursday night for the mid week mass - we went to the small church in the village along with about 60 Tongans and boy can they sing. With no accompaniment they nearly blew the roof off the little church to the extent that Justine sat there for most of the service with her fingers firmly in her ears. This short service left us looking forward to more singing when we got to the bigger island group of Vava'U.
Finally the weather improved giving us a window to head on further south to Vava'U and off we set again in to the rolling sea for another bouncy passage - luckily this time it was only 180 miles!
This site was last updated 01/27/09