Time to Head South

This time of year planning departure south to New Zealand is the topic of conversation amongst all us cruisers here. We look at the weather models every day, waiting for that all important “weather window”. Two important things we look for 1: making sure there is no developing system above us that could clobber us on the way down (early tropical storm or cyclone), and 2: making sure we don’t arrive in New Zealand as a front passes over the North Island (which seems to be every 5-7 days).

PWC_rnd_mm_48_18_178.771_-17.685_.3.2015.11.20.03And the weather models are just that, computer generated projections. Which become less reliable the further you look forward. With the passage from Fiji to New Zealand taking approximately 8 days for us, you see why we look at all this closely.

This will be our fifth trip down (ninth passage between NZ and the tropics), and no matter how much planning you do, you just deal with what you get once you set sail. We can of course get weather updates along the way through Pactor modem.

All things considered we are looking at departing tomorrow (Friday Nov 20). That should put us in Opua NZ around Saturday or Sunday (28th or 29th).

A quick update about what we have been up to since our last post. We arrived in Savusavu from Tonga on Oct 2. Music seems to be our focus the last while. Liliane has been busy writing songs (some great ones!) and learning to play the Blues. I have started learning to play guitar. Now we are fighting over her guitar!

We also had hoped to do some diving at Namena, but the weather wasn’t suitable for the long dinghy ride out to the reef. So it was snorkelling near the boat, and of course music. Upon leaving, while pulling up the anchor, we found our chain wrapped around a steel grappling hook (what the fishermen use as anchors). The chain was wrapped every way imaginable around the three prongs and the shank. We could only bring it within two feet of the bow without damaging the boat. And there was still 75 ft of chain hanging in the water (Namena is a deep anchorage). So I get in the dinghy to try and get some of the chain unwound, and the swell is making this a dangerous plan. At one point one of the hooks slice the dinghy (luckily not my head), so there went that idea. We were finally able to get the snubber hook on the chain below the wrapped mess to take the load off. I still had to cut one of the hooks off with a cutoff wheel. We finally freed the chain, after about two hours. Don’t have a picture of all this, we were to busy swearing. And I end up with a sore back, which I further aggravated a week later trying to land a large wahoo (that managed to get away). So to recap all this, a ripped dinghy, a sore back and a lost fish. Such is the cruising life.

Anyway, it’s getting really hot here. Looking forward to the New Zealand climate and seeing our friends.

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Swimming With Humpback Whales…..Tonga!

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Humpback Whale Calf

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe have been in Tonga for three months now and have seen plenty of whales from our boat. Spouts, breaching and tail slaps. But always from a distance. If you want to get up close and personal, the best chance is to do a whale swim with a tour operator. Tonga is one of the very few places in the world where you get in the water with the whales. It is amazing to see pictures, but the experience is beyond description. It is hard to describe the feeling of being so close to these magnificent animals.

In the first video, the mother is sitting near the bottom and the calf comes to the surface every 10 minutes very close to us. Then back down underneath the mother to be nursed.

In this video, mom and calf are near the surface together (that is Liliane in the pink fins!). The final sequence is another mother and calf swimming together directly below me. You will notice that a large male escort is following behind.

You will also notice the the calf has a lot of scratches. This is caused by the barnacles of the male shoving the calf out of the way to mate with the female. It is tough being a kid.

Mom helping calf to surface

Calf under mom for nursing / protection

After swimming with the whales the tour boat took us to Mariners ‘s Cave. You have to swim under a ledge to end up in a nice cave. Our guide took this picture of Liliane.

Mermaid Liliane

Mike & Liliane

One morning we were woken quite early by the sounds of whales singing close to our boat.We can hear the sounds through the hull. So at 6:45am we got into our wetsuits and jumped in the water. We didn’t see the whales underwater, but we must have been close as we could feel the sound vibrations in our chest. Each year Humpback whales come up with a new song that they all sing. Here is 2015’s greatest hit. Turn up the volume!

While we were recording whale sounds, a sailfish swam over to us. A little blurry, but we captured him. That was almost more amazing than the whales.

Other wonders of the sea, this is a cauliflower jelly fish we found while snorkelling close to our anchorage. They are usually found in very deep water. Somehow this little guy found himself in the shallow end of the pool.

Cauliflower Jelly Fish

While in Tonga, we had a few T-Shirts made with our boat name and the logo that is at the bow of the boat. Liliane had one made that advertises her massage skills to other cruisers.

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New T-Shirts – Good way to advertise

We have been spending time while we are here with our good friends Josef and Renate who own Reef Resort, and their friend Doris. We had a couple of movie nights, as well as a music night. Lots of fun.

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Anchored in front of Reef Resort

We will be leaving for Fiji in a couple weeks, then back to New Zealand mid November.

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Tonga…..Revisited

We are back in Tonga after our last visit in 2012. This time our objective was to visit the Ha’apai group, a part of Tonga that we had never visited. After good passage up from New Zealand mid-May and a ten-day stay in Nuku’alofa the capital, we started working our way up through the Ha’apai chain. Most of the time we didn’t see any other boats and had anchorages all to ourselves. We did however meet very nice local people. One particular family took us in their garden to pick our own lime, popo, and rooted tapioca.  Afterwards we took the young man and his daughter on Meikyo for a visit.

Many times over the last six years our travels, we have used the term paradise to describe a particularly beautiful spot. The term gets to be overused. One particular anchorage deserved the title. Our anchorage was is in front of one of three uninhabited islands. Two of them joined by a permanent sand bar. On the beach in front of our anchorage was natural pool about one meter deep formed by a unique combination of wind direction and tide. So of course we opened our very own “Natural Spa”. Three days later when we went ashore it was gone. Filled back in with sand. Glad we had the chance to see it.

The Ha’apai

Spa Heaven

Come on in!

Exploring the island

Girl who played with fire

Mariner’s Cafe, Pangai

OOPS

Beach Buddy

Anchor watch

Pigs everywhere!

In 2013 Tonga was hit by a cyclone. This is some of the result.

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Nature vs Nature

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Nature vs Nature

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Careful What You Wish For

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Visit on Meikyo

Vava’u

We are now anchored in front of Reef Resort, owned and operated by our good friends Josef and Renate. Still waiting for some good closeup whale encounters. Lots of sightings from the boat in the distance. We are here for a couple of more weeks before sailing to Fiji. While waiting for the whales Liliane has figured that treating the staff at Reef Resort will keep her busy for a while. Plus we get to eat fantastic meals and enjoying wonderful company.

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New Zealand Sailing – Part 2

Our circumnavigation of the North Island is complete. We can confirm that it is indeed an island! Two and a half months and 1,300 nautical miles. It was a magnificent trip. Here are some highlights from the second half:

NZ Journey

Our journey Jan 30 to April 17

After spending 3 weeks in Abel Tasman we left for Nelson, which we enjoyed. Particularly the outdoor craft market on Saturdays. Then off to Marlborough Sound and finally Picton.

Marlborough Sound was majestic, but the walks and hikes were not as accessible. Also the anchorages more challenging due to depth, holding and numerous moorings. At Picton we meet up with Mike and Marny from Picara …..and they took us for a very nice walk trail walk. Awesome scenery.  We also saw the little hector dolphins that seemed to be attracted by our dinghy.

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Cape Farewell, the northern most part of the South Island

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Looking north

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Looking south

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French Pass

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Approaching Cape Jackson

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Ship Cove Anchorage. Captain Cook made five visits here.

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Ship Cove Anchorage- DON’T shoot our boat!

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Ship Cove Walk

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Ship Cove Walk- Window to heaven

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Bay of Many Coves Walk- Our New Locomotion

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Banana Flower

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Bay of many Coves – A very noisy creature

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Bay of Many Coves- The Beauty and the Beast

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Bay of Many Coves

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Anchored at Governor’s Bay

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View of Meikyo at Governor’s Bay

The trip back up was challenging. Leaving Picton, we wanted to do a non stop 4 days to Opua. However the wind did not cooperate. We therefore stopped a few places along the way, which turned out to be a lot of fun. We were amazed at the beauty of the coast line, and of course the sunrises.

One of the places we stopped was Napier in Hawkes Bay. We celebrated Michael’s birthday with lunch at one of the wineries. Hawkes Bay is known for it’s wine region and Napier for the Art Deco architecture. In the 1930’s the city was destroyed by an earthquake and was rebuilt in the style of the time. It is one of the most interesting and beautiful cities we have seen so far in New Zealand.

Another stop we did was Mayor island. To our great surprise we were welcomed by seals. There was  a colony of seals just a few meters from our boat. Being an inactive volcano, Mayor island is also known for its obsidian (black lava glass). You can see layer of obsidian mixed with earth. The geological aspect of the island is very interesting and the water very clear. So we also went for a nice COLD snorkel!

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Sunrise Underway

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North Island – East Coast near Hawkes Bay

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Napier

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Stingray – Snorkelling Mayor Island

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Mayor Island Landscape – Inactive Volcano-

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Dolphin looking at us. quite impressive

What do seals do during the day?

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Sailing: Making plans in the sand at low tide

So, here we are back in Opua getting ready to head north for another season. Final boat preparations, groceries, watching weather windows, etc. The list never seems to end. But who’s complaining. We get to start vacation after just finishing vacation.

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Nelson, New Zealand

Well, we finally got to the South Island….by boat. We sailed from Mangonui at the end of Januaury over the top of the North Island and down the west cost to Abel Tasmin National Park. It took us three days. The anchorages along the coastal track of the park are magnificent. We spent three weeks in the park doing trail walks and kayaking with seals. And very little boat work!

On one of Liliane’s kayak outings, she came across a little blue penguin that seemed to have difficulty swimming. Normally we keep our distance from the wildlife. After observation and the approach of the penguin towards her kayak, which normally they don’t do, she picked him up and put him in the kayak. He then waddled up between her legs, took a little pinch of her belly with his beak, then fell asleep for at least a half hour. You can see a small wound on his back in the picture.

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When Liliane first saw the little blue penguin

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He was so exhausted, he fell asleep.

 

After he was rested, she turned him over to the park office. It was a pretty amazing experience. Blue penguins by the way are the smallest penguins in the world.

Our goal was to do most of the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. The trail follows the coast, and there is no road access. Normally it would take five days to complete the trail, stopping each night at a Dept of Conservation camping area or hut. The beauty of being on a boat is that we could access a different part of the trail at each anchorage. One fun part was Cleopatra’s Pools, multi-level fresh water pools with natural rock slide. But the water was cold!

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Liliane bathing in Cleopatra’s pools. Pretty cold!

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A very long suspension bridge

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Another beautiful place

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The mermaid’s dream

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It’s a long way down. NZ North Island.

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Panorama South Island NZ

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Abel Tasman Anchorage

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Meikyo anchored in Abel Tasman, beach at low tide.

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Not afraid of you!

 

While in Port Golden, we had coffee on the Jacques Cousteau Expresso Ship just across from Meikyo. The ship was once part of the original Cousteau fleet, but now it is a pretty neat place to have a cappuccino.

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Cousteau’s boat, now a nice place to have coffee

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Cousteau’s old ship

 

After 3 weeks in Abel Tasman Park we sailed down to Nelson where we stayed a week. Nelson is a very interesting town. It is referred to as the arts capital of New Zealand. Each Saturday there is a large craft market in the middle of the city. Liliane took a one day bone carving class with a Stephan Gilberg, a local artist. See the amazing result and the process below:

The carving  I (Liliane ) designed is a  combination of a hei matau (fishhook) and tohora (whale). The fishhook symbolizes good luck and protection on journeys, especially over the waters as well as prosperity and fulfilled life. The whale symbolizes power, might and strength as well as free spirit. The whale are believed to be the oldest children of “Tangaroa” god of the sea. This combination is most appropriate when living on the ocean. To represent water I embedded a Paua shell which are largely found in new Zealand. Our teacher was really fantastic helping and guiding us to achieve our carving.

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Believe it or not, I did it myself

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Now she’s looking for bones! Next stop, the butcher shop.

Before our trip to the South Island, we had a nice cruisers pot luck on Pine Island. For the last three years we have admired the view of Pine Island from our mooring in Opua, but never set foot on it till now. We were really amazed how nice it was up there. You just have to make the steep climb.

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Pine Island Party Place

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You have to climb there…Lots of fun.

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But don’t drink to much. You have to climb down!

 

And we save the best for last. After all these years at sea, we had a dolphin encounter that was spectacular. We have had dolphins many times come to the boat while travelling at sea. It is always a wonderful experience. But this one blew us away. They were performing for us. They also would get very close and role on their backs to look up at us. Check out the picture and video below:

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Hello, I am Sam !

So here we are in Nelson, getting ready for the next stage of our New Zealand journey. We plan to cruise Marlborough Sounds, Picton, then up the east side of the North Island to arrive back in Opua by the end of April. By then it will be getting colder here, and time to head north to the tropics.

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New Zealand It Is!

We arrived in New Zealand after eight days at sea.

Our passage from Fiji was not the fastest nor the slowest. It was perhaps our calmest one. We sailed at an average speed of 6.5 knots and  motored for about 36 hours in total.

The big event of the trip was the catch of our biggest Mahimahi.

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Our arrival to New Zealand was very enjoy-fulled. We received a warm welcome from our friends on the radio and within 12 hours we had an invitation for a nice Thanksgiving diner with SeaQuester and Happy Monster.

Our Sea Monkey friends

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It was like we never left. Within 24 hours we put the music band back together, the aerobic classes and the massage therapy. There was already a line up for treatments.

We are starting our forth season here. New Zealand has become our second home. It always warms us to see friends that we had not seen in months, sometimes years.

This year we have decided to go sailing. Imagine,  what an idea!!! Since New Zealand has some of the most beautiful shores in the world, we have told ourselves that this year we will try to spend less time and money on the boat  and  more time on just enjoying the freedom of sailing. Hopefully Meikyo won’t have other ideas.

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA First morning in New Zealand from our anchorage

 

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Fiji update

Here we are a few days away from November.  Like the previous years before we have spent a few weeks diving the wonderful protected marine park of Namena. Liliane did her 400th dive on her birthday. That’s all she wanted this year. Ya right!

Never the less it was our 3rd year in Fiji and we saw new things.

We snorkelled the Yasawas and saw the famous manta rays . After that we traveled towards Savusavu and meet our friends from  Kailani and went to the most spectacular show in Fiji, The Fire Dance. We liked it so much that we went a second time. The price was also very spectacular. $20.00 Fiji per person. Approximately $13.00 can.  for diner and show.

We had real nice encounters with sharks. They seem to be more and more curious about us. On one of the videos Liliane was approximately 2 feet from the shark.

So here we are now trying to decide if we are going to the Marshal Island or New Zealand this year.

Here we are with our friends Jennifer, Harley, and Sophia on SY Kailani at the fire dance

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Fire Dance the best show in Fiji

Shark encounter of the calm kind

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