Merry Christmas & a Happy 1999 to all!
The winds were blowing 35 knots and 12' confused seas were breaking all around - it was only a matter of time before a wave knocked us over so that the spreaders were in the water - but more about this later.
Judi wrapped up her contract with Telecom at the end of Jan. With the boat secure in Gulf Harbour, we invested in a 4WD van for a 6-wk tour of the S. Island and headed South mid-February.
White Island. A quick boat trip bought us to NZ's only full-time volcano. Old, rusty machinery remained as remnants of abandoned sulfur-mining operations. The guides were quite cavalier about safety so we went to the edge of the crater - no lava but lots of sumptuous steam. Back aboard, Judi was stung by acid rain as sulfuric acid from the volcano mixed with the rain during a brief shower. Cook Strait was crossed on a 4-hour ferry trip with good weather and the van securely tucked below decks and we had beautiful views of the Marlborough Sounds with clear water, mountains, and lots of bird-life. Picton, our first destination on the S. Island is a picturesque waterfront town with lots of boats, a few shops and restaurants and not much else. on a side trip to Blenheim, we saw the effects of a 7-month drought. The only green patch turned out to be a polo ground, so we watched the locals play a few chukkers of polo before returning to Picton. Horseback riding, sightseeing a Golden Bay, a luxury B&B on the sea, and Cape Farewell rounded out the N. Coast.
On to the West Coast (aka: the "Wet Coast") a sparsely populated ribbon of land between the wild Tasman Sea and the magnificent Southern Alps. only 5-10 miles wide, it is 200 miles of beautiful rain forests, coal mines, gold sluices, rugged seascapes, glaciers and friendly people. Punakaiki is a layered rock formation that look like stacks of pancakes (san syrup). Blowholes spray fountains of seawater when waves crash in at high tide. Further south a gold mine strips off 200' of rock and gravel, processes a 6' vein and replaces it all. a skeleton crew handles it as the prices of gold is now quite low. At Hokitika, the heart of greenstone (or jade) country, a hostel run by a jade carver had beautiful view of sunsets over the Tasman. Jade is only found along the West Coast and was highly valued by the Maori; today they have rights to all jade found on public lands. The highway has one-lane bridges with railroad tracks thus we could negotiate right of ways with cars, trucks and trains at the same time! Franz Joseph and Fox glaciers descend from Mt. Cook (NZ's highest) and end at the highway about 20 km. from the sea. A walk up the moraine took us within 200' of the glacier face and a helicopter ride late in the day provided bird's eye views of the glaciers. A book called 'Off The Beaten Track' led us to the town of Okarito and a lovely cottage by the sea. From a swing on the front porch one could see the snow-caped Southern Alps on one side and the Tasman on the other with micro-lights landing nearby. All of this plus 2 bedrooms, all of the cooking gear we could use, fireplace and solitude for only $US25/day - hard to beat. Okarito was a gold-mining town with 10,000 people but now is called home by about 10 people. Onto Haast with wild, unspoiled rainforest, wide rivers and billions of sand-flies. Over the Haast pass to Wanaka, a deep turquoise lake and Queenstown, a resort area, hosting skiers in the winter and sightseers the rest of the year and one of the most beautiful spots in NZ. A cable car leads to the peak overlooking the town, lake Wakatipu and The Remarkables, a rugged mountain range favored by skiers in the winter. We made the obligatory trip to watch brave souls bungee jump from bridges and ledges into canyons over mountain cliffs. On a bus trip to Doubtful Sound, 80kt. winds blew waterfalls uphill while water from the sound swirled around us like miniature waterspouts. Tree with shallow roots fell in a 'tree avalanche' and blocked our road for a while. The bust drove 1 km down into the mountain to view the Manapouri power station deep in the mountain. From the southernmost town of Bluff the ferry crossing to Stewart Island was rough with over half of the passengers getting seasick. At a lovely B&B the Tuis and Kakas (native birds) came every day to drink from the feeder on the deck while Bellbirds sang in the trees. Back on the mainland, the resort of Mt. Cook provided postcard view of shepherds driving their sheep under the majestic Mt. Cook. Needless to say we took lots of photos.
In Christchurch we picked up Judi's nieces, Meri and Emily, who had just arrived from the US. The first were given no time to recover as we drove straight to Kaikoura for a very successful whale watching trip with 4 whales and many dolphins spotted. Onto the West Coast and a cute little beach cottage with mountains of foam on the beach caused by the Tasman in full storm mode. A horseback ride the next day ended with a romp on the beach in the foam. Back in Punakaiki the water was blown high in the air due to the storm and the high tide. Illness put a little damper on the next few days but there were plenty of forest and glacier views for all.
In Q-town we all rode the Shotover Jet. It runs up the river at 50 mph and skims inches from overhanging cliffs - a pure adrenaline rush and the most fun and excitement you can have in 30 minutes! Meri jumped off the perfectly good Kawarau Bridge with rubber bands tied to her ankles towards the river 100' below as we took photos and videos. She was so proud of her first bungee jump and loved it. To get to the Milford Sound the tour involved a steamboat ride across a lake, 4WD drive through 30 miles of sheep stations, and onto the Milford Wanderer, a sailboat that motors 99% of the time. The tourists were enticed to go for rides in kayaks but we believe it was their way of feeding the sandflies. Milford Sound is like a Norwegian Fjord with high, steep cliffs carved by glaciers, waterfalls, seals and many sea birds - a beautiful spot that should be on everyone's must-see list for NZ. Back in Christchurch the girls were exposed to indigenous culture and dances at a Maori marae.
E-e-e, m-m-m, o-o-o-o - these were the sounds of the 20 of us deployed from the 'swim with dolphin' boat at Kaikoura. We were told that dolphins would approach us if we made sounds, but it is amazing how few sounds you can make underwater in a mask and snorkel. The boat had found a huge school and everyone was able to swim, make noises and play with dolphins until cold and exhausted - but happy. The girls flew back to the US the next day, probably relieved to take a break. Our 6-week trip ended with a smooth crossing to the N. Island on the Lynx, a high-speed catamaran in spite of 50-70 kt. winds an big seas. Wellington's controversial new museum, Te Papa (Maori for 'Our Place') had fabulous Maori artifacts and exhibits, but somewhat disorganized layout.
Back at Gulf Harbour the boat projects escalate
The entrance to so Suva Harbor is a little forbidding with shipwrecks on both sides, reminders of past mistakes. We anchored in quarantine awaiting clearance the next day. Fortunately, Skip and Susan, our friends from Por Vida, broke the quarantine by stopping by with a couple of ice-cold Fiji Bitter beers. We popped a bottle of champagne and trade horror sea stories for a couple of hours until exhaustion set in - they had arrive a couple of hours before us and had already checked in. So we slept through the night for the first time in 11 nights. Fiji is a collection of 300 islands with Suva, the capital, on the island of Viti Levu ('Viti' is the old spelling for Fiji) as the largest city. The islands are surrounded by coral reefs so the beaches are very protected, but it makes for dangerous sailing - the reefs claim unwary boats every year. UK bureaucracy lives on from colonial days and the number of forms from the officials was daunting - but we persevered and finally check in. In Suva, the pace to be is the Royal Suva Yacht Club, an ex-pat hang-out with cheap beer, good BBQs, mail service, fax machine, laundry and all other essentials. Fiji is independent, quite developed with a solid infrastructure of food production, small manufacturing, and services with a population of 780,000. During colonial days many Indians were brought in to work the sugar plantations, so today, half of the population is Indian. The Fijians have the political power and Indians have most commercial power, but are not allowed to own land and their voting is restricted. There is relative peace but there is a time-bomb which could cause strife when the Indian population exceeds that of the Fijians. The S coast has many resorts that cater to foreign (mostly Australian and New Zealand) visitors. One of their specialties is firewalking where men heat rocks in a fire and walk across them to the sound of native drums - no asbestos flip-flops on these guys! On a local bus trip around Viti Levu, one could see the N coast covered in sugar plantations, (Fiji's prime export), a narrow gauge railroad along the road to get can to market, a colorful school in each village, get the cane to market, a colorful school in each village, and many mosques. A trip up-river in an outboard-powered dugout over rapids led to a native village with small houses, a large elementary school, and new common house. They were very friendly and gave us our first taste of kava, a root extract used for relaxation and socializing. In quantity, it numbs your mouth and really relaxes you - after 5 or 6 coconut shells, people slump along the walls and doze off. We felt little effect from the small quantity we took. It's taste? Dirt diluted in water! Back down the river we floated on a bamboo raft, like the natives used, and were hard-press to keep our bums from getting wet. Back in Suva we built up our courage and set sail for the Astrolabe reef, an area 25 miles south of Suva that encloses about 20 islands including Kadavu. Our first day out we anchored in the lee of a small island and went ashore to perform our first sevu-sevu ceremonies. Fijian custom dictates visitors pay their respect to the chief, usually with a 1/2 to 3/4 pound kava root. So we dutifully sat on the floor, exchanged pleasantries, presented a roll of kava wrapped in a ribbon, and asked for permission to tour the islands. Permission granted and after watching the locals play a little volleyball, we donned our snorkeling gear for the first time in 3 years and explored the island. With the prospects to stronger winds, we headed for Kavala Bay on the island of Kadavu. The anchorage sheltered us from the 25-30 kt. winds that was making life miserable for other boats still out on the reef. There we had one of the best weeks of our trip to date. After presenting sevu-sevu at Solotavui, we were invited to tea by Losena, a very bright and hospitable lady who lived in the village. One of the children was specially fascinated by white skin and would hold Bob's hand and rub his arm saying 'Palangi' over and over again. Over the next week we had the privilege of eating a traditional Fijian feast and being guests at a kava session at their home and meeting many of the villagers. In turn we were able to help in a small way by fixing a couple of radios, adjusting a sewing machine, fixing a gas stove and declaring another stove a write-off. It was fun for us to take some of our fix-it skills acquired during cruising and put them to good use in the community. After a week of exchanging meals and gifts, we bid our farewell and planned to leave the next day. Losena and her family had the last word - they paddled out and gave us some beautiful handicrafts that they had made in the scarce spare time. The village had no electricity, TV, theaters, supermarkets or other amenities but the people were some of the friendliest we have encountered in our travels. Back in Suva a Fiji-USA rugby game provided a chance to root for the USA (you don't want to know the score). Finally it was time to move on to Malolo-Lailai, home of the Musket Cove Resort. Sailing along the S coast of Viti Levu, we discovered that 10 knots in an anchorage usually meant 25 knots with rough seas offshore - we should have learned our lesson from this. The approach to our first anchorage was a little scary since we could not find the entrance, compounded by an article in SSCA describing how a cruiser had entered the wrong entrance and ended up on the reef. Only luck and the help of some locals enabled him to save the boat after 2 days. The next evening Cuvu Harbor provided a well-protected opening in the reef (with the obligatory wreck, this time a friend from New Zealand who tried to enter at night with no lights a month earlier). The anchorage, used by the Fijian Resort, great for the first couple of days, turned rolly. The Resort, however, made it worthwhile; for $F25 we anchored all week with access to all resort facilities including pools, volleyball, restaurants, massage, shower, water, etc. It was great hobnobbing with people who were spending $200-$300/day. If anyone wants to visit a high-class resort, particularly with children, we heartily recommend The Fijian Resort.
Back under sail, in 25 kts. as usually, we found Musket Cove, a beautiful anchorage with clear waters, bright sun, sandy beaches and cruising buddies all around us. Musket Cove Resort was established by Australian, Dick Smith and has become a haven for yachties. The next 4 weeks were filled with walks on the beach, a trip to the mainland to provision, a couple of scuba dives, including a night dive, and finally Musket Cove Regatta week. About 75 boats and their party-hearty crews joined in events ranging from races, pirate attacks on neighboring resort, volleyball tournaments to best-dressed ship contests, wet T-shirt and hairy chest contests. BBQs and pot-luck dinners. By the end of regatta week, everyone was tired and ready to go sailing, so on the morning of 12 September we paraded past the committee boat as part of the 'briefest bikini contest' and headed for Vanuatu in the resort-sponsored race/regatta from Fiji to Vanautu. Wind was moderate, only 5-10 knots or so, but Judi insisted on keeping the sail small until we had sailed through the pass. Best decision of the say - within 15 minutes of passing through the reef we encountered the conditions that started this newsletter. It was some of the roughest water conditions we have seen, even though the wind was not all that strong. At one point the boat turned broadside to the waves, a 12' wave broke as it hit the boat knocking us over burying a spreader in the water and filling the cockpit. The condition were a surprise to all boats in the regatta as many scrambled to reduce sail and repair damage. One hove-to through the night and went back in the morning due to an injury on board. These conditions lasted for about 12 hours and then the next 3 1/2 days were smooth sailing except for some lightning the last night. By midday on the 16th, we crossed the finish line at then trance to Port Vila on the island of Efate, Vanuatu. The committee boat greeted us with cold beer (is this getting to be a habit?), baguettes, and fruit as we settled down to wait for the officials to check us in.
A quick recap on Fiji. Well developed infrastructure, proud people even though it is not a wealthy country. Racial problems bubbling under the surface between Fijians and Indians. Prices are cheap so it would be a good place to visit.
The main gathering spot for yachties in Port Vila (the port and capital) is the Waterfront Bar and Grill, currently owned by Don and Donna on Solitaire, last seen in Australia. It was good to see them again to share a few drinks and talk about old times and friends. Vanuatu is another independent country, once ruled by an agreement between France and England with 2 infrastructures: school systems, police forces, Governments, etc. The islands has 100 languages when it was colonized and today most ni-Vanuatu (native) speak their village language, Bislama, the pidgin English spoken in may Pacific islands, and English or French depending on the school where they were educated. Port Vila is a sophisticated city with great French restaurants, good roads, a well-protected harbor, Internet access (at $30/hr), most of the ex-patriots, and an outstanding market that is open 24 hours per day. Malaria is a worry so we took precautions: nets, insect repellant and Larium for Bob. An exploratory drive around Efate island showed sparse population outside of Port Vila; a few cattle ranches with the best veal we have seen in years, copra plantations, and farmland. We started looking for a true 'native experience' so after pestering every tourist operator in town, one showed us a scrawled fax describing an event in about a week. It said there would be plenty of 'custom dancing' and pig killing, so after a little investigation we plunked down $US500 for 2-3 day tour. Amazing trip! First, we flew a 12-seater (with Terry and Shelley of Whisper) to Norsup, a small airstrip, on the coast of Malakula, 50 minutes from Vila. The views were great including many of the anchorages for cruisers. Next vehicle was a pickup for a 45-minute bumpy ride to the coast where we boarded a small launch for the 15 -minute water leg to Wala Island Resort. The resort was cute but basic. A double and 2 single bed, small table and a couple of rickety chairs. Mosquito nets dominated the beds. The head was a toilet in a large room perched over a hole in the ground - a large sea-shell was the wash basin, but without water. Shower was a trickle.
Day 1 - The itinerary indicated that there would
be 'custom dancing' that afternoon so they rounded up Rosemary as our
interpreter and a guy got the launch ready for transport back to the mainland.
After a 1 km walk to the entrance to the village we stopped at a small 'tam-tam,'
or traditional slit drum by the path. Our guide beat on it with a stick
but no one was expecting us so we made our way to the village unescorted.
After a 15 minute wait the chief greeted us in full party clothes: a namba
(woven penis shield) and a feather in his hair and several villager women
welcomed us with left leis over our heads and we were escorted to viewing
benches. The purpose behind this whole set of ceremonies was to officially
open a new Nasara, or ceremonial area. Chief Stephan had
'broken' away from the village of his father and to establish his own. We
believe he was doing this to have a village that would put on performances for
tourist in the future. During the 2 days of ceremonies they were gradually
opening this area. The area had a Nakamal (i.e. kava drinking area
for the men) and a few small structures made from pandanus leaves. In
front of this area was a wall of poles covered with palm fronds.
Tanna - We had made arrangements to leave Vanuatu from
the island of Tanna and after waiting for weather we picked our day and motored
24 hours in light winds to Port Resolution. The anchorage is a delight
with a sandy beach at the head, cliffs with bungalows of the Port Resolution
Yacht Club on the East and wooded hills with steam vents on the West. It
was somewhat rolly but a stern anchor fixed that.
Another day we were greeted by a couple of children playing on the beach. They showed us how they were using hot water that was flowing out of the ground on the beach to cook pieces of kumara (a starchy root) as their lunch, and offered us each a piece. They walked us to their village where we met Margaret and several other women who were preparing a large portion of lap-lap while the men were tending to the fire. They offered us some corn and we gave them some clothing, fishing line, hooks, and a knife that we had brought along. Margaret walked us over to meet her grandfather, who had founded the village. It turns out he was long gone so we visited his grave for a short while. After we left we found out that they had prepared a feast for the yachties and expected many of us to come. A few of yachties did show, but with no clear way of inviting us they had prepared more food than needed for those that came. It was an unfortunate incident since they are so poor in the first place and probably felt neglected by those whom they thought they had invited. We returned the next day with antibiotic cream for Margaret's daughter, Betadine, a few shirts, some tools, pens, pencils, and other stationary supplies.
Yasur - About 20 people piled into a pair of 4WD pickups and headed back to the potholes. The Yasur volcano is 'owned' by a village, so we stopped at the entrance to their territory, paid our admission, and went on an even worse trail to the parking area at the base of the volcano. After a short walk to the crater's edge the solidified lava and ash made it obvious that lethal stuff had reached the edge of the crater in the recent past. The crater was a 1/2 mile oval-shaped hole about 500' deep with a constant stream of smoke coming out of the center. Rumbles were ignored as people spread out along several hundred feet of the crater's edge but loud explosions sent everyone scurrying back from the edge as molten rock was flung high over our head. OSHA would have loved it!
As the sun set there was a constant upheaval of rocks as the lava boiled. Every so often a large explosion would send rocks and lava into the night sky, and tourists scurried back a little, although cameras and videos remained ready to capture images and action. After about 1 1/2 hours, it seemed to have quieted down and the guides began to shepherd us back to the trucks. As we left, we were rewarded by a final explosion, the largest of the night and the fire faded and only the glowing rocks left form this explosion reminded us of the violence of the volcano. We almost expect a 'That's all Folks,' as we joined the rest of the yachties and jabbered about the volcano for the 45-minute drive back to Port Resolution. All in all, it was a very exciting conclusion to our visit to Tanna, 20 yachts had paid for a Customs official to fly to Tanna so that we could check out from here rather than return to Pt. Vila. On 20 October, we check out en mass and prepared to leave the next day for the uneventful 2-day trip to New Caledonia. Entering their protective reef at 3 AM was not high on our list, but we did it in company with 4 other boats.
The visit to Vanuatu was one of the most fascinating imaginable. We took more video footage and pictures there than in any other country and would heartily recommend it to anyone wanting to visit an exotic land. Tourism is in its infancy and growing, although a little disorganized.
France, as usual, maintains their colonies in a style to which they have become accustomed. The roads are great, police everywhere (more on that later), good selection at the supermarkets, good phone service, etc. This all comes with a price, it was by far the most expensive place we visited: prices twice those in NZ, 4X Fijian prices. Most tourists were French and only a few shops were motivated to speak English. Check-in was a Port Moselle Marina in Noumea, all officials came to the boat and quickly handled all paperwork. Noumea is a first-world city with lots of traffic, a McDonald's, shops and museums. We visited the Jean-Marie TJibao Cultural Center (see Time 21 Dec 98) just outside of Noumea. It has only been open a few months, so its content is sparse, but the design is beautiful, with 6 large shell-shaped structures imitating the traditional houses of the Canaks (native New Caledonians). The center was dedicated to an independence movement activist who was assassinated in 1988. The native Canaks feel that they are disadvantaged by the French, and have been agitating for independence for years. At one point France sent 12,000 soldiers to control the colony with a population of only 150,000 people. On an outing to the S end of Grande Terre, we found the terrain hilly, with a lot of red mud and very little vegetation. At several eating places we were told they were full or that we needed reservations; don't know if it was discrimination or not so we finally ate a couple of fruit and pressed on
North of Noumea was Mt. Koghis, a 1500' mountain with great views on the way to Bourail where we crossed to the east coast at Houailou. Each town we passed had a 'mararie' (town hall), a gendarmerie, and perhaps, at store or 2. Near Hienghene, a series of 200' vertically layered rocks called the Linderlique Cliffs, stood as natural sculptures of chickens and figments of viewer's imagination. They rise straight out of the water. Hienghene, home of Tjibao, mentioned above, is a pretty harbor, but too shallow for sailboats. As a splurge we spent the night at the Club Med and resumed driving the next day around the N end of the island and back to Noumea. Grande Terre has lots of evidence of mining (the reason France like the colony) - the tops of many mountains had been stripped where they extract nickel and iron and leave large, ugly scars of red earth and mud. Near Bourail we encountered a blockade of trucks - dump trucks they use in the mines - lining each side of the road so that we had to drive slowly between them. They were miners on a work action, we guessed trying to drum up support. They waved us through after Judi's 'ne parle pas francais' convinced them we were tourists. Down the road about 2 km we came to a bridge full of gendarmes and soldiers and their vehicles. They apparently were blocking the bridge to prevent the trucks from moving closer to Noumea. Both groups were very orderly, but serious. We heard later that the police had been there for several days, so this is a long-term action of some type.
Back in Noumea on the way to the handicraft area near the wharf we were interrupted by the sound of grenades. It seems that the wharf workers had gone on strike the day before and the gendarmes had given them until now to clear out. When they didn't, they cleared them out with concussion grenades. Lot of discontent in paradise - the French Revolution lives on.
With an eye on the weather it looked like a good time to head to Australia so we checked out and arranged to leave the next day. For 5 days we had great conditions - ideal trade winds with an average 125 miles per day. We pulled into Scarborough Boat Harbor during the afternoon of 12 November after our most pleasant passage to date.
Overall, New Caledonia was nice, but not nice enough to warrant paying 2-4 times as much for amenities as one would in Fiji or Vanuatu. The French influence seldom caters to the English-speaking tourists (all signs in the Cultural Center and museums are in French only). The day after we left, the country voted to prepare for independence in the 15-20 years.
Arrival in Australia was a long awaited event for both of us and the culmination of a dream for Judi. Agricultural agents are very serious about their job and incinerated most of our food. Scarborough is a small town about 20 miles north of Brisbane designated a check-in spot for foreign yachts. We caught up with friends, and set about the task of preparing for a year and a half in Australia. After looking at campervans (too small) we moved up to motor homes (translate to more $$) and are currently negotiating to purchase a 23' one. Meanwhile we moved to Dockside Marina on the river in downtown Brisbane for the Christmas period. This is a city of 1 million people, roughly the size of Auckland, spread out along the Brisbane River. They have done a great job in recent years with parks, sculptures, shops, restaurants, and ferries so that they take advantage of the riverfront. We are a short ferry ride from the downtown malls and Internet cafes. The only downside is that ferries and other boats create wakes that roll our home violently at times, in one case damaging the toe-rail severely. We will stay here until early January, and then move the boat back to Scarborough as we set out to explore Australia by land.
We plan to travel throughout Australia for the next 15-18 months before setting sail again. We will try to get back to the US during this time to visit a few places.
in the US, Bob's son, Denis is doing fine at a new home in Tallahassee, Judi's sister Sharon and bother David are also well in Oregon. This last year has been one of many exotic experiences, and although we did not travel as far as in '94, the exotic cultures were more diverse. We are now looking forward to exploring the B-I-G country of Australia.
Love to all,