Sailing the East Coast of Australia
This year we decided to head North to enjoy the East Coast making our way slowly to the Whitsundays and on to Magnetic Island. We caught up with lots of friends along the way and found some beautiful anchorages. All up good sailing conditions albeit cold when we headed off in May. Even had great fishing and good sightings of Australian wildlife with plenty of time for exercise. An enjoyable 6 months. Time just flew.
CATCHING UP WITH FRIENDS
My sister, Louise joined us for a week in the Whitsundays and then friends Jeanette and Glen from NZ came to enjoy the reef and head south through the Whitsundays to MacKay. Plenty of action and fun aboard for all.
Plenty of time for socializing with sailing friends. It’s the people you meet along the way that help make the journey fun and memorable.
Lots of anchorages up the coast the best being the ones that weren’t so crowded and had hikes and things to do ashore. Even better having a beautiful view to the West to enjoy the sunsets at happy hour.
It’s not often you get photos of your own boat sailing so you have to be inventive getting shots.
Was fun joining our friend Bill on his boat “Out of the Bag” in the Airlie Race week – below with the yellow and black spinnaker sail.
We did not go hungry that’s for sure.
We love seeing the wildlife in their natural environment. Plenty of animal sightings both in and out of the water.
It’s nice to get off the boat and get some exercise. A lot of islands have trails so we get our exercise going for a walk ashore to enjoy the views or see the sights on the island.
Been a blast sailing the East Coast of Australia.
Finally off sailing again in 2021
This world pandemic has definitely put a damper on catching up with friends and family and making any travel plans. In Queensland life had been pretty normal ie. until the Delta variant arrived and borders started to close again in July. Our new batteries from China finally arrived in early August so it was time to go cruising and get away from the dreaded Covid news.
We headed north through the Gold Coast water ways and up to Mooloolaba where we cycled the foreshore enjoying the views and the great weather.
It was onward north up the coast to Double Island Point where we found a beautiful anchorage behind a sand spit. It was a weekend so the locals were driving the beaches in their trucks having fun; fishing and camping. Rainbow Beach definitely was a beautiful spot.
The weather was calm with light winds and less than a 1m swell perfect for passing through the Wide Bay Bar notorious for being dangerous if you don’t plan to cross at the right time. It’s at the bottom of Fraser Island; the longest sand island in the world apparently. We decided to head south once through the bar and go down and visit the humpback dolphins at Tin Can Bay. The community have a QLD govt. program to educate people on these beautiful intelligent creatures. 5 of one pod had come into town to meet a crowd of people who were gathered on the foreshore. For $A10 you can feed them and get up close. They eat 15kg/ day and the program will give them 3kgs so they still need to find their own fish.
It was then on to travel up the West side of Fraser Island to Garrys anchorage for a walk ashore. It was so calm here that we kayaked ashore and walked 10km along a sand trail where we came across our first wild snake; a spotted python, which was a decent size. No dingoes spotted, which apparently frequent the area.
There are a lot of anchorages along the Fraser coastline sheltered from E-SE winds, which we had, including the exclusive Kingfisher Resort. Around the corner from Moon Point are long white sand beaches. Just stunning.
It was on to Bundaberg to catch up with my sister and family, catch up with U.S. sailing friends, visit the famous Bundaberg Rum distillery and The Bundaberg Barrel for a tasting. The fold up bikes definitely came in handy once again to get around.
After a 4am departure to Lady Musgrave Island in the Capricornia Cays on the Southern end of the Great Barrier Reef we arrived at low tide to enter the man made pass. We were surprised with the number of boats here; 26.
We enjoyed getting back in the water for some snorkeling inside the lagoon, thru the pass and along the western shelf outside the lagoon spotting lots of turtles and plenty of different healthy coral and fish life. Even watched a group of whales jump and perform outside the lagoon from the boat.
After a week we decided to continue North and found a deserted island within the Capricornia Group. On the way a pod of whales passed by coming up to let us know they were around. Mast Head island had lovely white sand beaches and was perfect for going ashore on the kayaks. The island was bigger than Lady Musgrave’s island and with no one about we enjoyed the 4km walk around the island spotting lots of sting rays, fish life and baby black tip sharks cruising along the shore line.
With an overnight stop at Hummocky Island we then continued on to Great Keppel Island, where Auss friends Jas & Tolly on SV Le Mistral, who we’d first met in the Caribbean, arrived into the anchorage at the same time. With beautiful white sand beaches and plenty of anchorages to choose from it ended up being a fun place to hang out, enjoy some lovely sunsets with great company and get plenty of exercise walking the island.
It was then southward bound and down to The Narrows a protected mangrove lined waterway between Curtis Island and the mainland between the cities of Rockhampton and Gladstone. Half way along the Narrows is a cattle crossing where cattle cross the channel at low tide and sailboats move through the area at high tide. It was very pretty and led us into the industrial city of Gladstone and a great marina in the heart of town where we could eat ashore and reprovision.
After leaving Gladstone we had north winds perfect for going South but after passing Pancake Creek our friends Jas & Tolly called us up and said they were heading to Lady Musgrave Island and we should join them. The turn took us on a beam reach and we had a fast run to Lady Musgrave arriving for afternoon cocktails. We all anchored in the north end of the lagoon which was less crowded. Brett got out spear fishing with Tolly and his brother Jim in the lagoon catching some fish for dinner. 👍 We then spent another week enjoying the waters, hiking around Lady Musgrave and enjoying the sunsets.
When the north winds kicked in again we decided to do an overnighter on the outside of Fraser Island down to Morton Bay. The whales were out performing for us at dusk, which was just amazing to watch. We had a brown booby join us for our sail overnight, staying to the early hours of the morning in the same place; he had good balance!
It was then on to Scarborough to catch up with a Canadian sailor, Captain Dan from SV Vagabond, who we originally met in Vanuatu in 2019. He hadn’t been sailing for a year and a half due to boat projects so decided to join us for a trip up the Brisbane River to see the sights.
Brett’s cousin, Kyle and Laura live in Brisbane so we enjoyed some time ashore with them catching up. There was plenty of action ashore and good walking and cycling paths from New Farm where we anchored to meet them.
The Sunsuper Riverfire was on in Brisbane for the weekend so we ended up catching up with my NZ friend Cameron and his wife Katy along with their South African friends at Kangaroo Point. It was a spectacular fireworks display with the army aviation team demonstrating their maneuvers in helicopters and a flyover by a Boeing C17 military transport aircraft before the fireworks. We chose the right weekend to be in Brisbane.
It was then onto St Helena Island within Moreton Bay, which in the early 19th century was a high security prison housing 350 prisoners at its peak and is now a National Park. It was intended that the prison should be virtually self sufficient so tradesmen were employed as prison warders to ensure a high standard of workmanship and productivity. Prisoners carried out their sentence working on construction of buildings and roads on the island to growing & processing foods. Workshops for various trades like sail making, boot making, saddles, candle making, carpentry were the main source of work.
Now we are back on the Gold Coast for cyclone season where we’ve been catching up with family and friends and hoping life gets back to normal soon.
Here’s hoping 2022 sees borders open and normality returning….
Where have we been???
In March 2020 we set off to see family in New Zealand with a plan to also go to Canada later in the year …..BUT ….. Covid struck. We were in NZ half way through our month holiday and our airline tickets were cancelled and borders closed. Where better to head to in NZ but back to the Bay of Islands to wait out this pandemic. At least we could watch the boats bobbing around in the bays.
Like everyone around the world during Covid we were locked down with restrictions. Felt like jail for a while….
The NZ winter was slow to arrive; lucky for everyone we had beautiful weather into May. Winter did arrive, our first in 7 years. Ok … so we didn’t have snow but for us it was cold as our blood had thinned from living in the tropics. Beaches were empty, paths full with people exercising but many a beautiful sight to be seen.
Lucky for us New Zealand seemed to get things under control quickly so we were able to move about the country and see family and friends again. Alas I wasn’t too good at taking photos but did get a few with friends.
By July we realized we were staying in NZ indefinitely, as borders were not opening, so decided to make the most of things what with summer fast approaching. We decided we needed a project to keep us occupied and bought a cargo van with the aim of building a camper van to travel the countryside. I have one handy husband who along with my Dad, John, did all of the work.
And so the build begins….
Our Final design complete and ready to roll.
2 months after starting the build we hit the road heading to the tip of NZ; Cape Reinga to start our NZ road trip.
After spending Xmas with my family we bee-lined through the centre of NZ down to Wellington, the Capital.
We had a fabulous day crossing the Cook Strait on the Ferry from Wellington to Picton ready for New Years.
Meanwhile we got news of flooding in Queensland from friends looking after Seismic Wave. Glad we had someone watching over her. No major leaks aboard so a bonus.
Buying mountain bikes was a bonus as we could head out and do some of the many trails along the way and get some exercise. Our drive through the South Island went from Picton through to Nelson, over to Hanmer and down to Christchurch. We then travelled to Lake Tekapo, Queenstown back to Wanaka and through the Haast pass to the West Coast and through to the Abel Tasman.
Great trip and still lots to see… In February 2021 Brisbane borders reopened to NZ so we decided to take the chance and see if we could return to the Gold Coast. We really need to get back to return to the boat and our things. We stored the van with friends and headed to the airport never sure if we would make it onto a supposedly booked quarantine free flight.
11 months later it was touchdown in Queensland with line ups at the airport to check our temperature and travel declarations. We made it back with no quarantine requirements just a Covid test on arrival and negative results back the next day. Perfect!
First job was to thank friends at our marina who had watched over, cleaned and started Seismic Wave for us while we were gone. We were surprised how well she looked inside after not being used for nearly a year! Joey and Gary were awesome!
Secondly a haul at The Boatworks for a hull clean and general maintenance.
What’s next …. a few jobs and then who knows …. Covid is still here and travel internationally is somewhat limited. The NZ /Auss travel bubble has just opened so that’s great news.
We’re in Aussie
Our passage from New Caledonia to Southport, Queensland had a mix of winds but all up was a good fast trip taking 5 days. We arrived on Thursday 24th October, 2019 ready to enjoy the weekend.
The biggest excitement was hooking a sailfish, which we got up onto the back transom and released as he was too big to bring into the cockpit. We were happier with the Mahi Mahi caught later that wasn’t going to be such a struggle. Good times.
Southport Yacht Club put us on their superyacht berth for clearance with Australia Border Forces. The officials (customs, immigration and bio security) were very efficient. You hear lots of horror stories but for us we had cleaned the boat and had everything open for inspection so the process was quick.
The yacht club has a restaurant on the waterfront so after being cleared into Australia we enjoyed a meal ashore with them. The food was really tasty and a nice treat after 5 days at sea.
Bit of a culture shock arriving here after being in the islands as the GC 600 super car racing was on for the weekend so Southport Yacht Club was busy. Lots of Boat traffic buzzing around this area too. Nice to be back in Australia.
With cyclone season approaching we’ve sorted a berth at a local marina and will come and go from the boat over the next 6 months. Perfect!
Won’t be any blog updates until we go sailing again.
Southern Lagoon of New Caledonia
It was time to head out of Isle des Pins and as the weather was going to be reasonably calm for about 5 days we decided to head into the Southern Lagoon to enjoy a couple of the uninhabited islands. In the Southern Lagoon there are lots of islands surrounded with white sand beaches, which are great for getting some exercise walking. We had a small group of dolphins play in our wake along the way to our first island, which is always fun.
Ilot Ua has a beautiful white sand beach around it and a family of Ospreys and their nests. It was nearing low tide so we took the kayaks ashore thru a small pass on the north end of the beach for a walk around the island.
The water was 21deg so we grabbed our wetsuits and went in for a snorkel along the Reef to the North and the beachfront at Ua. A nice variety corals and plenty of fish life.
Our next stop was Ilot Mato where the views from the hilltop were impressive. This is why we enjoy cruising. We sat here for a good hour watching another sailboat sailing towards us, the Ospreys hunting and enjoying the views.
At the beach on the south corner we saw 10 black tip sharks basking in the shallows typically a sign that there is a healthy reef. There was a huge nest of Ospreys so we watched the 2 babies while mum circled above us.
With turtles off the boat and reefs all about we headed out for some snorkeling. It surprised us to see a lot of dead coral and huge crown of thorns starfish, which are killing the reefs by eating the hard corals. We decided to stop at the large coral reef behind our boat and finally some healthy coral and lots of fish life.
At the south west end of the mainland near the Southern Lagoon Prony Bay is a great place to run to when the winds are too strong to be in the lagoon. There’s also a number of hikes ashore on the rich red soil.
In Prony Bay, Ilot Casey is our favorite anchorage but it’s busy as its a marine reserve and there are only 6 moorings. There is a 3km walk thru forest that used to be farmed, an area showing the nickel mining and along some nice beaches where locals come to camp.
After being in Prony Bay for about a week we wanted to head back out to the lagoon and up the west coast of the main island.
Ilot Maître is a great place to hang out watch the Kiteboarders, kayak around the island and spot turtles. On one kayak trip we spotted over 40 turtles. The highlight was this 2m Dugong who swam beside us while we were kayaking. Sorry no camera that day.
We returned to Maître a number of times as its so close to Nouméa for groceries but a nice place to hang out. While moored here one morning we spotted 2 dugongs passing thru the anchorage. They just hung out so was amazing to see them.
Amadee is a marine reserve with a lighthouse that you can climb when the Mary D arrives in from Nouméa. The 56m high lighthouse was built in 1862 in Paris, France dismantled & shipped to New Caledonia. It was first illuminated in Nov 1865 stands impressively and still works.
The waters warming up so it’s nice getting in to see the variety of fish life and turtles here. Lots of snakes come ashore in the afternoons like most of the islands around here! There an area on the island roped off with terns and puffin nests even though these guys don’t realize they should be in that area. Got dive bombed as we walked the track as they were nesting and felt we were too close.
We spent a couple of days out in the lagoon at Ilot Nge tucked in behind the reef. Ashore we found a huge nest with what we think were baby Ospreys. This was a marine reserve with lots of moorings, picnic tables and fire pits so guessing it gets busy but not while we were there.
There was good protection at Baie Maa where we caught up with lots of NZ and Aussie boats. We continued up the coast where the landscape changed and became very dry and barren.
At Ilot Ducos we’d heard that there are wild deer, goat and horses roaming. Ashore there were a couple of huts with cooking facilities and chairs where the locals come to in the weekends to get away. Very rustic looking. A walk up over the hills following the tracks showed how dry it was and along the way we found lots of bones of dead animals. Apparently they’d had a drought a few years back and a number of goats and horses died. Looked pretty dry from our perspective and a tough environment for any animal. Never did see the deer, goats or horses roaming but we did see some footprints on the beach.
The winds finally calmed and we found a deserted island behind a reef called Ilot Moro, which was great for kayaking around to see the caves in the limestone rock and hard corals below us. Again there was a huge nest of Ospreys on the western side of the island who didn’t like us passing by.
At Ilot M’bo we found a nautilus shell sitting on the beach but alas a smelly creature was inside it still. Snorkeling on the inner reef had lots of hard corals with some greens, blues and yellows and the water was so nice.
It’s that time of year when the rallies are gathering here to depart to NZ and Australia so the anchorages are busy. Time for us to depart as well. Where has time gone? After checking out we headed to Ilot Signal for our last night and caught up with some of the boats from the NZ Pacific Rally that we’d met in various anchorages over the past few months.
We are Australia bound and will be checking in at Southport on the Gold Coast just south of Brisbane some 786nm away.
Back in New Caledonia
On our passage from Vanuatu we ended up catching 2 Mahi and 1 tuna so stocked the freezer full, as it was empty for arriving in Nouméa. On Monday September 2nd we arrived at Port du Sud Marina for clearing in, which was easy as the marina handled everything except immigration for us. We sorted immigration the next day as the immigration office closes at 11:30am. Great hours for them but not for us. You get very spoilt staying at a marina and we were lucky as we had a locals spot so it was a nice protected berth, especially when the West winds blew threw soon after arrival.
Lots to do in Nouméa
Walking around downtown and cycling the pathways had us entertained after we’d been to the fruit n vegetable market to restock our fridges.
The Acquarium on a drizzly day was perfect for learning a little about New Caledonia’s fish life, turtles, and coral life. We got to see lots of sea life we don’t typically see up close and learn a little about ones we have seen before.
Hiking 3.5km up to Malaoui Peak at Mount Koghi had awesome views over Nouméa and out to the lagoon. Malaoui is also called le Chapeau de Gendarme (the “policeman’s hat”) because of its resemblance to the hat worn by gendarmes at the end of the 19th century. Definitely felt our muscles after this hike.
Time to head out of the marina and the luxuries of being land lovers again.
Isle des Pins
Our first stop was Gadji where we stayed for 2 nights did some kayaking and were about to head to the coral garden for a snorkel when a dive boat stopped by and told us that you can no longer anchor in Gadji and that it was a marine reserve. Oops. The Chiefs on Isle de Pins have closed a number of anchorages to yachts on Isle des Pins after the referendum held in 2018 for New Caledonia to leave France had not been successful. It was a shame as its a beautiful area by water. We were so lucky to have experienced it in 2017.
So it was down to Kuto Bay to another gorgeous spot with a lovely crescent shaped soft white sand beach where we anchored off the Kuto hotel with Pic Nga in the background.
The cruise ship pulled in for the day from Sydney with lots of passengers so we decided to get away from the crowds. The walk down to the boulangerie near the prison ruins and up past the pump house to cross the ridges over to Pic Nga (262m) is excellent. A great hike with stunning views all along the way.
Given we couldn’t anchor anywhere apart from Kuto and Ille Brosse we decided to hire a car from the Kuto hotel to head out to see some sights, which we hadn’t seen when we were here in 2017, as these were too far to cycle to.
Heading into the Southern Lagoon to some of the deserted islands.
Other Islands of Vanuatu
With only a 30 day visa to see Vanuatu we chose a couple of islands to go to after Tanna for the volcano and Ambrym for the Back to My Roots Festival. We used the winds to help us get places knowing we needed to return to Port Villa to check out.
Mele Bay is just North of Port Villa and was a nice sheltered bay for a stop when we were making our way North after Tanna. The perfect place to hide out from NE winds before heading towards Ambrym. A long beach to stretch our legs and the Beach Bar ashore was great for a nice cold drink, entertainment in the evenings and good views. They put on a few shows to get people in, the most popular being the fire show on Friday nights.
From Mele we caught the local bus into Port Villa to see the big smoke and do something a little different as a tour. Buggy Fun Adventures had an afternoon Jungle Safari tour that was a great way to see Port Villa town including buzzing around the countryside to see the views and out to the beach. The local kids gave us a hi fi along the way with lots of friendly locals who smiled and waved at us.
Port Sandwich, Malekula
After the Ambrym festival we headed to Port Sandwich and went up past the main village to the end of the bay. It felt like we were in the jungle with mountains surrounding us. The kayaks were good for some exercise and getting to the far end of the bay and into the mangrove lined river.
The kids (or pikanini as the family called them) from the plantation close to where we were anchored paddled out with 2 baskets of fruit, coconuts, eggs and nuts and invited us to come ashore to meet the family.
Ashore there was a small protected area with 3 buildings, including a church and the hillside was covered in coconut trees. Very pretty area.
It was interesting sitting talking to the family who appeared to be a lot better off than some Vanuatu families we met along the way. The school closest to the farm is taught in French so we struggled to talk to the children while Bernadette, Suzanne and Simon spoke excellent English. Bernadette had come to this part of the island in 1970 with her Anglo husband and they had cleared and replanted the lands with vegetable plots and coconut trees for producing copra. Her husband passed on in 2016 at the age of 86 so farming was obviously good for him. Suzanne was from Santo and been with the family helping Bernadette with chores, farming etc for the past year.
Simon, Bernadettes son has taken over the farm and was working hard clearing trees and vines to plant Sandalwood for the families future. We’d heard him calling the cows and them talking back He had 30 cows that he sells locally for ceremonies and food. He’d actually worked in NZ under one of the programs the government has for Vanuatu people farming but had returned to help his mother.
Awei, Maskelyn Islands
Awei is a very small island with 1 family on it, at the Southern end of Malekula within the Maskelyne Islands. It has a protected bay behind the reef where we were anchored and where the local women from Avokh Island 2 miles away come to fish. It was busy with about 10 canoes of women when we arrived, all anchored in the reef and casting lines. Apparently the supply ship comes Tuesday evening so Mondays & Tuesdays the ladies are out fishing to gather fish, mud crabs (found in the mangroves) and lobster to sell to the ship returning to Port Villa and in return buy staple supplies.
The locals would paddle past to their gardens in the hills on South Malekula returning to Avokh village daily with produce and firewood.
Ledo & Crème stopped by to chat after being at their garden and offered us a mud crab which was huge and that they sell to the supply ship for 1000 vatu (US$10). We watched her pole the canoe back across the reef towards Avokh. Some canoes have made sails thanks to material given from the yachts, which definitely looked easier than poling.
Ledo had invited us to visit the village of Avokh where approximately 200 people live in traditional flax houses. It was definitely a crowded village. Chief Kaiser was in Port Villa so one of the other men welcomed us and took us to meet Ledo. The ladies were all busy weaving mats from flax but all stopped to talk with us and introduce their families.
It was school holidays so the kids were about and eager to talk to us and wanted to see a picture of themselves on my camera. We gave them a soccer ball but learnt that they are not allowed to play with it on Avokh. Sports can only be played on the school grounds at the island across the reef from Avokh. The school which teaches English has approx 80 children and 3 teachers. When we asked how the children get over to school the response was “the kids have their own canoes so paddle to school”. Like everywhere we have been, the people here were very friendly but you could see that life on Avokh was tougher than the other islands we have been to.
With South winds we took advantage and headed over to Lamen Bay on EPI island. It’s a nice protected bay from the trade winds with some friendly resident dugongs and lots of large turtles. We’ve been very lucky and seen dugongs (sea cow) in every bay we have been in around Central Vanuatu. Its tough getting pictures of them though. Kayaking ashore one morning a dugong surfaced and breathed right beside us and then just hung out with us. They are typically shy and don’t really interact but it seemed like this guy wanted some company and was checking out our kayaks.
Ashore we wandered around and ended up going to lunch at Bennington’s restaurant for Roast chicken and fresh salad with Kumera (sweet potatoe), which was very tasty. Benny, as she likes to call herself, has travelled throughout NZ and Australia and worked on various farms. She now has a farm of her own and sells produce and fresh bread to the sailors. So of course I had to buy lettuce, tomatoes, bok choy, beans, bananas and couldn’t miss her coconut bread. All very tasty especially the lettuce as we hadn’t had a salad for 4 months.
There is a Primary and high school here in the bay and the school children are responsible for tending their own gardens. We saw a 6yr old with her Mum returning from their gardens and the little girl was carrying her own spade. So cute. We wandered up one of the roads to look at the gardens but all you could see was walking trails that headed into what looked like jungle to us. Lots of banana trees, papaya trees and taro on the side of the road.
Along the EPI coast we stopped at Revolieu Bay where we got a great night sleep behind a reef to then head south to Mele Bay on Efate again. Port Havannah on the way was where the US had stored all their ships in WW11 but it has been closed to yachts for the last month because of a Coconut Rhinoceros Beetle infestation, so we had to pass by. Shame as its meant to be pretty.
We relaxed for a few days at Mele Bay but before we knew it a window appeared to go to New Caledonia so we caught the bus into town to clear out. The officials were all at the port so it was all very efficient.
Vanuatu has been a great stop with such friendly and happy people.
Back to My Roots Festival, Ambrym
The people of Vanuatu are mainly Melanesian and are called Ni-Van which means ‘of Vanuatu’. Each island here seems to have its own traditions, ceremonies, status objects and rights, which is known as their Kastom way of life. There are many tribal languages but the main language is bislama, a Melanesian language with English roots.
The village of Olal on Northern Ambrym puts on an annual festival in August called Back to My Roots to communicate and educate the traditions and kastom way of life of the people of Ambrym. It’s a fundraiser but also a way of educating the younger people in the hope of keeping the stories alive.
We anchored at Nopul anchorage on the Western side of Ambrym along with about 15 other boats and walked to Olal, where we met Chief Sekor and paid our fee to attend the 2 day festival. (9000 vatu). Then it was a walk into the jungle where we arrived at a clearing with carved totem poles, a small hut with Rom masks on it and tree logs for us to sit and watch. Men in traditional Nambas (penis sheaths) entered the clearing stomping their feet to the beat of tam tam drums.
One of the locals John would communicate what each dance represented so we had a small understanding of what was happening. For each dance the men gather in a circle facing inward to a story teller in the centre talking in their local language and tam tam drums beating. The dances were mainly performed by the men who stomp their feet into the earth, occasionally breaking from the circle to dance around the group, while the story continues on.
Magic is important in this culture with black magic being feared (e.g. barbed wire being placed around an object to keep the evil out) and good magic being practiced (e.g. the chief must plant the first yam on Ambrym of the season as that ensures a good crop). They had a couple of magic shows for us where a small palm tree was planted in the ground and it took 3 men from the audience to pull it out.
The Rom dance tells a story of good versus evil and has been passed through the various villages on Ambrym where each villages stories are told and kept alive in their local dialect. On the island the Rom dance is still used for different celebrations eg appointment of chiefs, Yam harvest time and circumcision ceremonies. The Rom dancers who have colorful masks and are encased in banana leaves represent evil spirits who move in mass around the ‘good’ men and boys who are chanting, singing and stomping to the beat of the drum.
Sand drawings are another traditional way of telling stories or drawing pictures and messages. They start with a rectangle which is split into segments and then without removing their finger they draw with circles and shapes but never a straight line.
The ladies of Ambrym took us down to the waters edge to perform water music where their hands move rhythmically through the water and create sounds, which was amazing to hear. They typically do it in the rivers to communicate to the men that the women are bathing and should not come to the river.
You could see that these people are very proud of the kastoms and traditions and enjoyed sharing their stories with us. Its not something we could completely comprehend and understand as there are so many traditions that have been passed down through generations but it did give us a small look into the rights of people in the community and their kastoms.
Ambrym is lush with fruit and vegetables because of the volcanoes on the island. As we walked the mud roads we met many locals who were very friendly stopping to talk after working their gardens. Sometimes they’d wait patiently till we were free and would shake our hand and welcome us. Rope was very much in demand here with the locals wanting it for tying up their cows and was traded by many a sailor for incredible stone and wood carvings.
Prior to leaving Fiji we received special permission from Vanuatu Customs to clear in at an “unofficial” port of entry; Port Resolution on the island of Tanna. By email we were quite surprised to receive a typed official document for entry followed up with an email from the customs officer on Tanna; Iau to say he was on standby for clearance for the day we expected to arrive.
Why did we want to go to Port Resolution? A protected bay where there is good access to Mt Yasur, one of the world’s most active volcanos, where you get up close and personal. So yes it was definitely worth getting the special permission and was a highlight for us.
On arrival into Port Resolution, Iau from Vanuatu Customs had driven from Lenakel on the West Coast to Port Resolution on the East Coast to clear us and another vessel SV Coquelicol into Vanuatu. It was all very efficient to be honest and surprised us. Immigration didn’t turn up but Iau told us he’d come out over the next few days. Hmmm…..As Iau was heading back to Lenakel the 5 of us saw this as an opportunity to go visit the big smoke of Lenakel so jumped into the truck, together with Stanley, the organizer of tours at Port Resolution. The 1.5hr trip there was amazing with incredible scenery driving on a dirt track or ash while passing the volcano, lots of villages and a very dense forest. It was a crazy trip across the island in the back of Iau’s 4WD truck.
Lenakel is a small town but was incredibly busy as it was market day (Monday’s & Friday’s) with LOT’S of people hanging out and selling produce. There was an ATM machine, plenty of stores for food and the all important Digicel or TFL SIM card stores. Stanley organized a truck to take us all back and all up it was a great adventure, which we hadn’t expected.
Back in Port Resolution we kayaked around the bay admiring the steam vents rising from the rocky walls lining the shoreline and at the far end of the bay we’d spotted ladies gathering at low tide to bathe and clean clothes in the natural hot springs among the rocks. At night you could spot the red glow of the volcano on the hills surrounding the bay. All signs of the volcanic activity in the area and our upcoming adventure to the rim.
The village here is broken down into lots of smaller communities of families where there was a central cooking station surrounded by traditional homes made from woven thatch. A very basic existence and extremely happy and friendly people.
After a couple of drizzly days we finally saw an opportunity for our volcano tour. We organized a big lunch at Chez Leah’s together with Sylvie, Daniel and Thomas from SV Coquelicol who were also going to do the tour. Leah served us up a tasty chicken stir fry dish with vegetables at a Cost of 850 Vatu pp (US$8)
The 5 of us decided to get some exercise by walking the 8km dirt track towards the staging area to the volcano where we met locals along the way wondering who these crazy white people were walking.
Once at the entrance gates we paid our entry fee of 9750 pp Vatu (US$100) and signed all the waivers etc. There was a ceremony to welcome all the tourists and trust me there were probably 50+people from all over the world there. What happened to our private tour! Yeah right.
Prior to being loaded into trucks, together with a white hard hat, we were given the security speech….. “If the magma comes over the rim don’t run, listen to us we as tour guides are here for your safety”. We drove up to the base of the volcano and then walked a series of stairs to the rim of the volcano where plumes of smoke, gas and steam billowed….before an all mighty boom and molten magma flew into the air. Cameras came to life with lots of excitement.
Unbelievable that we could be this close to an active volcano. After a huge rumbling blast where molten rock was thrown into the air and beyond us we all gasped and the safety crew arrived to tell us we had to move further back down the viewing area. We all sighed, secretly wanting to stay close to where the action was. As darkness came the colors in the volcano intensified and we all crept back up to our previous positions at the viewing area to see the orange glow with a deep rumbling that threw magma up again.
Before we knew it our 2 hours were up and the call for last photos and a 5 minute warning to leave the area came. It was truly amazing hearing the rumbling sounds, booms and seeing molten magma being thrust into the air from within. Just as we were leaving the volcano gave an almighty boom and sparked to life again.
Great time in Tanna.