This happens way too often…
We are slowly discovering this beautiful country which will be our home for the foreseeable future… Here are a few pictures taken during the last month cruising around New Zealand. Enjoy!
How would you like the end of your trip to be? Give me ten days of sailing in light winds and calm sea, beautiful sunsets, whales, birds and good fishing.
At the beginning of the passage the fact that we had very little wind was making me impatient. Motoring is not much fun and anyway we were not carrying enough fuel to cover those 1000 miles from Tonga to Opua in New Zealand.
The forecast was giving light winds and no risk of low pressure for at least the following ten days, meaning that we were not in a rush to arrive. At times there was no wind at all and the sea looked like a mirror, so we dropped the sails and waited for the slightest breeze to come to hoist back the spinnaker or the big genoa.
That is when I became fully conscious that this was going to be the last long passage of our trip, and that I’d better relax and enjoy, so I did.
The calm sea makes it easier to spot any sea life and we saw whales and plenty of different types of birds. The fishing was very good too, we had to become creative about different ways of cooking tuna, we even dried some of it in the sun to keep it for the next day.
All the way we could feel that we were heading South, the days got longer and the temperature colder, we had to fetch back thick sleeping bags, jackets and socks.
As soon as we entered NZ territorial waters we contacted the port authority on VHF and were received with a happy: “Welcome to New Zealand”. A year and a half and about 13,000 nautical miles later we had reached our destination.
We arrived in Vavau, Tonga, after having been bashing around in 30 knots of wind on the last two days of sailing. Fortunately, the waves almost disappeared on the lee side of the island, and we entered the well protected harbour shortly after sunrise.
Tonga is formed of four island groups of which Vavau is the second from the North. With well protected anchorages, it is a very popular charter and yachting base. Once moored in Neiafu, the capital, it was hard to imagine that the wind was really blowing out there.
By now, we have a pretty well established routine when we arrive in a new place after a long passage: clearance, shopping for fruits and vegetables, shower, cold beer, laundry, internet. When all this was done, we moved on to a quieter anchorage not far from Neiafu, Port Murelle.
The weather was grey and rainy. So we spent most of the time underwater, checking out some caves along the shore. Gaspar also took the chance to make good progress at drawing the storyboard for the comic and painting a watercolour for yacht Love, our anchor neighbours.
A week or so later the wind calmed down a bit and so we went on an overnight sail to the island of Nomuka Iki, in the Haapai group, roughly 80 miles to the South. This small island is divided in two, the South side is home to many cows, chickens, pigs and horses and one caretaker, whereas on the North side there is what looks like a summer camp, but no one was there when we went ashore. We walked around to find beautiful beaches and many papaya trees.
The snorkelling there was fantastic with so much live coral and plenty of colourful fishes and squid, as well as black tipped reef sharks, who stuck around the boat after we cleaned the fish Gaspar had catched for lunch.
A couple of days later we set off to Nuku Alofa, the capital of Tonga, where we have been preparing the boat for the passage to New Zealand. We are at anchor in front of Pangaimotu island, home to the Big Mama Yacht Club, together with another 15 boats or so, all about to sail on the same route as us. The main subjects of conversation amongst cruisers are weather and passage planning. If the wind stays as forecasted we will set off tomorrow morning on a 1000 mile trip to Opua, NZ, with a possible stop at Minerva Reef, a reef in the middle of the ocean.
Finally, the good news of the week are that the book “Cirrus en Voyage” will be re-printed by its author and previous owner of Cirrus, Maud Atamaniuk. In it, Maud illustrates their adventures sailing Cirrus in the North Sea and accross the Atlantic. If you are interested, you can get a copy on her website: http://www.cirrus-en-voyage.com. We already got ours onboard and are working hard on the second part of the story, Cirrus en Voyage II 😉.
Tomorrow we are leaving French Polynesia to sail towards Tonga, and this makes us both quite sad. We have spent an amazing time in this country of islands of which there are still too many that we haven’t visited. We feel very fortunate to have been at anchor surrounded by incredibly beautiful landscapes, to have met a lot of friendly people and experienced a different culture.
No matter how many nice places we have already seen, each time we arrive in a new anchorage we find the view stunning. Want a room with a view? Go and live on a boat.
And because very often images say more than words, here are a few photos of Huahine, our last stop in French Polynesia.
It was very refreshing to see the green mountains of Moorea after a month in the flat Tuamotus. Like the other Society Islands, Moorea is surrounded by a reef which forms a lagoon around the island and so you have both the mountains and the clear blue water with coral grounds.
Being Tahiti’s little neighbour, the island is much more touristy than the Marquesas or the Tuamotus, and there is a considerable amount of traffic and many hotels, souvenir shops and restaurants, as well as larger supermarkets.
After two weeks eating coconuts in the South of Fakarava, where a tomato is worth gold and mangos don’t exist, I was craving for fresh fruits and veggetables. Luckily, Moorea is a large pinneaple producer, mango trees are everywhere, and we arrived at the beginning of the avocado season.
In Maharepa anchorage at the entrance of Cook’s bay, we reunited with Inga and Peter, and together we went off exploring the island’s mountains and valleys. In Vaianae, a beautiful valley in the South of Moorea, we met Tuke, a local producer of vanilla. He took us around his plantation explaining us how carefully he has to polinize the plants flower by flower when the time comes, and how he dries the vanilla when the fruit it is ready. He also gave us plenty of fruit from his plantation, and we felt like we were in the Marquesas again.
We sailed to Papeete, the capital of Tahiti and biggest city in French Polynesia, to do some medical checks and paperwork to apply for a New Zealand work visa. Although we were kind of psychologically prepared for it, the city and the traffic were a big shock. Papeete is everything but “peaton” friendly, and everyday we ended up nakered after running errands walking up and down along a stinky and noisy road.
After a week in the city, we were very happy to come back to Moorea. This time we anchored in the entrance of Oponohu bay, and I had an amazing time snorkelling with rays, they come so close that you can touch them!
Now we have to keep going West and after having said goodbye to some of our lucky boat friends who are staying for another season in French Polynesia, tonight we leave on a night passage to Huahine, probably our last stop in this magic country.
The Tuamotu archipelago is formed of 78 atolls, ring shaped islands with an inner lagoon surrounded by a reef. Some of these atolls have a pass to enter, where strong currents generate when the tide goes up and down, as great amount of water goes in or out of the lagoon.
The landscape here is completely flat, it couldn’t be more different to the mountainous Marquesas, and as we approached the atoll of Kauehi we saw what looked like a long line of palm trees of coming out of the sea.
We had tried to time the four day passage from Ua Pou to enter the atoll at low tide, when the current in the pass is almost nonexistent, so the last day of sailing we slowed down. But the wind dropped as we got closer and we ended up going through the pass a little late, the tide had started to come in and we accelerated through the turbulence in the pass. Apart from being a bit shaky, everything went okay. We hoisted the genoa back up and we followed the channel 7 miles to the village, Tearavero.
The colour of the water inside the lagoon is crazily beautiful. I didn’t know that there could be so many different types of blue. As soon as we dropped the anchor we had many curious unicorn fish coming to check out Cirrus’ bottom. Trying to spearfish them from the boat, we attracted some black tip sharks. We will have to get used to swimming with those, as they are everywhere in the Tuamotu.
200 people live in Kauehi, although many of the young ones spend most of the year working or studying in Tahiti. Fishing, copra and pearl farming are the main income of the islanders. Their houses are open and they all have tanks to collect rain water.
The provisioning ship Maeva Nui arrives in the atoll roughly every 3 weeks. There is no exact set date for its arrival, but the info spreads quickly when they call in to say they are coming one day of the following week. Then everybody in the village speeds up to prepare as many copra bags as possible to send to Tahiti, and the day the ship comes they all reunite by the quay to do some shopping. A few vendors travel on the ship, and they set their little tents on shore with their products: from mobile phones, parfums, fishing gear, underwear to all sorts of biscuits and sweets.
The Maeva Nui also brings fruit and vegetables to the atolls, otherwise almost nonexistent or very hard to find in the local little shops. The amount of fresh food that they bring depends on how many atolls they have visited before.
A guy from the ship set himself at a little table in the quay and started taking in the orders. We were unluckily the last of the atolls being visited by the ship, so the only fruit they had left was apples. I placed my order and the man called the ship by radio and asked me to wait. When the apple boxes arrived he called us one by one to come and pick ours up.
After a week in the village, we moved to an uninhabited anchorage at the south of the atoll, where we met our boat friends Debonair and Suzon. We spent the days fishing, picking up coconuts and shells and even sailing a bit on Debonairs‘ sailing dinghy.
As far as fishing is concerned, some fish in the Tuamotus have got ciguatera and so they can’t be eaten. The type of fish you can eat varies from one atoll to another (and sometimes even in different places within the same atoll). After asking the locals in Kauehi, we ate marbled grouper, parrot fish and unicorn fish without any problem.
Our next stop in the Tuamotus was the more known and much bigger atoll of Fakarava, which has a 35 miles long lagoon. We spent a couple of days in the village of Rotoava in the north of the atoll, where we did some provisioning before heading to Hirifa, an uninhabited anchorage in the south.
In Hirifa we met back with old boat friends and met new ones. The south of Fakarava is a water sports paradise, and we spent the days at the beach sharing everyone’s “water toys”. Gaspar took out the kite surfing equipment and I tried some windsurfing.
We also went snorkeling in the South pass, letting the incoming current drag us as we checked out the beautiful coral surrounded by a million colourful fishes and plenty of sharks.
Finally, although not based in the Tuamotus, but in Kiribati, here is a book that describes life in an atoll in a quite funny way – we obviously got caught by the title: The sex lives of cannibals, adrift in the Equatorial Pacific, by J. Maarten Troost. Enjoy!