Niue to New Zealand


The remote island of Niue is composed entirely of raised coral and is porous; all their ground water is contained in the crater of the volcano on which the island sits, enough for six years. Because no surface rivers flow out of the island  the adjoining sea water is astonishingly clear. Snorkelling from the boat to the shore there is a great feeling of flying as the seabed 17meters below is bathed in light, there are sea snakes galore very distinctive black and white banding, measuring about 750mm long, their venomous bite is to be avoided.  We are informed that as their fangs are set far back they cannot bite humans. This was to prove untrue for the skipper of Mistral 3 who survived because of massive doses of antibiotics.  We hired a minibus along with two other boats and toured the island, exploring caves and snorkelling in fresh and salt water mixes, this fresh water was over flowing from the crater and caused amazing optical layering in the water. 


It is a place of many Christian churches, six separate denominations so far on such a small island, an inordinate amount of time and energy appears to be spent on the construction of so many theatres of worship.  Kay joins a weaving class and spends a delightful day basket and hat making under the instruction of three local women who do this from their home for the joy of social contact and keeping the craft making ‘alive’. (Alas, Customs in New Zealand were not so impressed, confiscating and destroying her endeavours on our arrival there a couple of months down the line!!). After a week of exploring and chilling out, the wind swings to the west blowing directly from the ocean into our mooring area. The forecast indicates continuance of this weather, we check out with customs just in case, the swells increase on the morning of the 1st September, with the reef but 40meters behind and roaring we realised if anything happened to the mooring we would be terminated, at 03.00 our nerves crack, we drop the mooring lines, one jambs, we cut it and run to sea.  A few hundred meters out having just hoisted the reefed main and half the head sail, a rain squall with 40knots lays into us. Three more boats flee behind us, a few hang on to the moorings and they hold. We sail to the east of the island and hide, jilling around under very short canvas.  Poking our nose out, 12 hours later we find the wind has gone south and we lay course to Tonga.


3rd September; the western entrance of the Vava’u group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga brings calm water, we pick up a mooring in Port Mourelle, staying for two nights in this beautiful bay fringed to the southeast with a classic coconut tree beach. We motor up to Neiafu and check-in with the four pleasant lads sitting in a shed and part with 123 T$, take a mooring and explore the town, lots of waterfront bars and cafes all run by ‘Pangani” or blow-ins as we might say.  The supermarket left us a bit shaken, huge portraits of the royal family past and present but little else except the basics. This developing country is very reliant on overseas aid and far less advanced than the French islands. Their meat imports of beef and pork were the worst cuts and to us inedible. Sausages are very popular, they can be made from beef, chicken, lamb or pork – never labelled and the shopkeepers do not know one type from another – we never bought them – couldn’t chance a ‘chicken sausage’ !!** . Also we learned they had most likely been frozen and thawed a few times before they reach the customer ! you take a chance – we cut down our intake of meat.  Interestingly enough all over Tonga pigs roam, beautiful well cared for animals and you wonder why you cannot buy this pork, apparently they are only killed for big social events such as funerals and weddings. Vegetables can be good, preferably bought at the very colourful and friendly market.   Tonga is not cheap for any commodities.


The most striking thing about the Tongans is their size, big solid bodies, warm and friendly smiles but their standard of living is far from affluent, their houses frail and grim. Their dress code  different to any other Pacific islanders we have  met – men and schoolboys wear skirts (sulas), for formal occasions  the skirts are made of matting.  Our arrival in Neiafu coincided with the death of one of the town’s dignitaries. For 3 days, songs of lament were heard, on the final day the singing was continued throughout the night as well the plaintive chant audible throughout the town and anchorage. On the morning of her burial we were awoken around 04.30 with the rolls of death march drumming, at first light the funeral procession commenced through the streets accompanied by a brass band playing a sad, haunting dirge, after her burial the family sat on the grave for a number of days.


A few of the sailors cruising these islands with us found themselves in need of medial treatment for ‘simple’ cuts which turned seriously nasty, great amounts of antibiotics were required to clear the infections which arose.  They were all hospitalised and one or two of the ‘sailor’ doctors gave their services in monitoring the drugs being administered by the hospital, checking each day with the ‘patients’ as to their situation.  Just a reminder of how any little cut in the tropics has to be monitored.


We climb the hill, Mt.Talau interesting and great views, sadly locals see it more as a convenient place to dump rubbish. As dusk arrived so also did the flying foxes, large fruit bats with fox like faces.


Having spent a few days in the very social town we went back out to the island  anchorages and visited swallows cave, entering it by dingy, fascinating, it would have made the best under water photos if only we had one capable, with the light streaming in from the cave entrance and picking up the fish in the undersea rock formations, lots of people unfortunately felt they had to dab the wall of the cave with graffiti! We both then went snorkelling on the south side of the bay where Kay thought the coral and fish were best ever.


25th September; a race from Neiafu to the island of Tapana, great fun and very exciting with about 25 boats partaking.  Pylades had a good start and managed to finish high up in the fleet beating two 54’ Amels and just pipping an Oyster 56’ over the line, all very satisfying. That night 400 people, the skipper dressed as a pirate! attended a full moon party on the beach at Tapana, lots of heavy music and light shows of dancing skeletons.


Many beach BBQ’s over the next week, the sailors are getting very social.  We pick up a Pan Pan alert on the 30th, a sailing vessel with an engine fire about five miles north of Vava’u. They could not enter their vessel due to thick rancid smoke and were sure the fire would burn out the engine cooling hoses and they would go down.  There are no lifeboats, rescue services here or a co-ordination center. The operation was directed by a ex-pat in a local bar. The rescue vessel was a whale watching boat. The yacht in distress launched its life raft, it failed to inflate, despite having been serviced eight months previously, they then holed their inflatable dingy during its launching in the swell. The rescue vessel had no GPS and was running on bearings plotted by shore vessels.  The endangered vessel was then instructed to activate their EPIRB, it gave a position 9 miles away as relayed by NZ monitoring, from the yacht’s given actual position adding greatly to the confusion. They were finally located after their flares were seen. With the fire extinguished they could not sail back to port as the hydraulic steering lines had burned through. The vessel did not sink and was eventually towed in.


Over the days we sail from one idyllic anchorage to the next. Returning to the town the skipper in the spirit of the ‘Darwin Cruise’ decides to do some direct research.  The Free Wesleyan College is the biggest secondary school in town. Failing to get a meeting with the principal he ends up in the ‘lions den’, the teachers’ room. I explain where I am from and state my case with regard Darwin and the teaching of evolution, “no we do not teach that, we teach only the truth of the bible and the age of the world is but 6000 years old”.  I ask about the number of denominations on the island and they say about ten but new ones come and go and they are all basically Christian. I ask about any people on the island who might believe that man made god and not the other way around, “they would have to leave as they could not live amongst the people”. It was a polite but somewhat depressing encounter, as one thought of the millions of scientific discoveries whose knowledge would be denied the children.


8th October; the 450 mile course from Tonga to Fiji is complicated and dangerous due to underwater activity pushing up over sixty additional shoal and dangerous areas since the last charts were published. We had plotted and marked every new hazard on our electronic chart, very scary as one of these indicated a yacht wreck on water that was shown on our chart as 460 meters deep!. At 17.00 we leave, and hear on the VHF of a yacht which has hit the reef on one of the nearby islands, the four people on board have made it to the land but the yacht has sank. Well after night fall our plotter fails, this on the very trip we really needed it, but as the skipper had been nervous about the trip and for the first time ever had written down all the waypoints, so we could just run on our basic GPS.  Then to make matters more interesting we had the mother and father of and electrical storm for six hours, some strikes were so close that one could feel the blast of hot air on your face from the discharge. There was no time lapse between the flashes and the unbelievably loud thunder, after each flash the watch was light blind for a period.  With the moving off of the storm came wind and lots of it, for the next 24 hour we had a gale, horribly confused seas and rain squalls, we are well and truly in the grip of the Inter Tropical Convergence Zone,  to put it mildly one could think of better places to be.


11th October; the wind and seas ease back the sun appears, out of blitz comes bliss, a perfect days sailing and likewise our navigation computer comes back to life.   On the last day the wind dies and we motor to Suva, Fiji’s main town.  We call the authorities at 07.00 but its 16.00 before five officials pour over the side with dozens of forms, which we fill in at breakneck speed, while they talk on their mobile phones, an item we have not used and certainly have not missed since Spain. The Fijian authorities come down with heavy fines on any boat not complying with their entry rules and in this regard we were required to send them a ‘pre-arrival form’ before departing Tonga .


Finally free to go ashore we indulge ourselves at the bar of ‘The Royal Suva Yacht Club’ It’s a slightly down at heel relic of old decency with portraits of a very young queen Elizabeth, also photos of lots of chaps in proper white yachting gear smoking pipes and being served by indigenous folk. Now it’s a much more cosmopolitan affair with all the nationalities and races of the world awaiting on beer at €1.00 a glass.


For days despite the almost incessant rain we explore ‘soggy Suva’, it’s a great place with a very lively buzz, an interaction between the indigenous Fijians, the Indians and the Chinese. They prove to be the friendliest people we have met so far, always asking where one is from and showing genuine interest.  Everywhere the industrious Indians, running almost all the business from the large to the little shoemaker repairing flip flops, either the flip or the flop. They, like the Chinese never say no, every thing is can do, and here we meet for the first time a whole new set of deities,  it is the Hindu festival of  light ‘Diwelle’ many armed female and elephant headed  gods peer out from posters in a hundred windows together with the red swastika.  These are the Hindu Indians there are the Muslim Indians a school mosque with hundreds of hijad clad girls and uniformed boys pouring forth. The mono cultural of the divided Christians are now behind us and as we drift further west we no doubt will encounter a greater preponderance of these more diverse superstitions. 


15th October; raining all day again we change all our oil and fuel filters, open the two water tanks and have a major clean out.  The BBC world service is now coming to us loud and clear and we catch up on a years missing news. We decide to go for one of our rare dine outs to a highly recommended Indian restaurant, we were told it would be very expensive but very good. For wine and excellent food we pay €44.00 for the two of us and get a taxi back to the YC for €2.00.


21st October; Anchor in Vega bay on the island of mBeqa: only boat, the next day go ashore and request a meeting with the chief, are directed to his house and present the requisite gift of Kava plant. This is accepted most graciously and he offers us his blessing and welcomes us to the village.  Well that’s what it sounded like. The Kava is a root crop which they grind into a powder and mix with water to drink and enough of it will blow your head off. We are now basically dealing in drugs!  The logic of all this is that if you anchor anywhere off a village in the more remote areas, this is the equivalent of camping in someone’s front garden and you must be granted permission.  The chief sat cross legged on a mat to greet us and his name was Johnnie. 


As we wandered around the village a women insisted we join her for tea, this was lemon tea served in bowls accompanied by fried pampana, she and her family showered us with gifts, necklaces they made and shells they collected to sell to tourists, but no one ever bought from them. They asked for nothing in return except AA batteries, when they sent out a boat to us later we parted with all our batteries and collections of colouring pens and materials, food and some clothes. The village was devastatingly poor and we despaired for the future of the many many children. After two days we sail to Notadla harbour and anchor, the wind goes high and we double up our anchor lines, holding is good. The following day we exit in 35knots and interesting seas at the reef entrance, by the time we make the main reef entrance to the calm of Nadai waters the wind  has dropped to 6knots and turned on the nose! 


24th October; pick mooring at Musket Cove go ashore join the YC $5.00 for life membership, you just have to sail here first to qualify.  Very civilised drinks later in the bar with tales of the sea from many sailors. Two days on we sail and motor to Lautoka anchoring off the main dock, more checking in and skipper gets very cranky in the heat particularly when we get to the dock gate and they will not let us out  sending us back to the officials for a release pass.   Lautoka is again a very Indian town  we stock up and taxi back. Onto an anchorage at  Port Denarau in 3M, a very secure harbour indeed very touristy with lots of bars restaurants and a shopping mall, we meet great people, have a very fine meal. We drift back to Musket Cove after a few days and resume snorkelling and hull cleaning keeping a weather eye to our trip south to NZ.


10th November; check out and prepare for passage to NZ, this weather window had been long predicted, but each day as it approached it changed a bit for the worse.  Also the disconcerting news that a 43’ Beneteau that left previously had been dumped on by a six meter sea and had its rudder smashed, after two days of trying to steer they had to abandon ship.  To compound themisery their life raft floor fell out.  But all were picked up safely.  By the time we exited the Nebula pass it was 25knots plus south southeast, the best course we could sail was 20degrees off the rhum line, every second wave burst over the boat with predictions to continue for five days. To further add to our discomfort a chance remark by a fellow sailor that he might stop for fishing  at Conway reef which would now be on our adjusted route.  We could locate no such reef on our electronic charts. Examining a separate set of electronic charts we found the reef indicated about 7 miles off our given position complete with three ship wrecks on top of it.  Rattled and despondent we turned back. 


It must be stated that while the Fijians in general are one of the friendliest peoples we have encountered, the same could not be said of the bureaucratic officials who inhabit the shabby customs and immigration offices of Lautoka.  When we checked back in we are restricted to the port of Denarau to which we retired, get the main engine water pump rebuilt while we are there and a few other bits. We drink beer and talk weather.


16th  November; after another incident filled check out at Lautoka we again head for NZ 1050 miles to the south, a much more benign sea at the pass, with light wind we motor for a day the wind fills in nicely at the required 15 knots from the east north east and under full sail  we run down the line.  Each day brings a slight drop in temperature and the night watch now finds clothes to be an essential item the skipper is looking for socks not needed since somewhere in Spain 18 months prior.


19th November; all reefs out and fine sailing on a beam reach, sunshine for first time in a week, best days run of 161 miles. Before night fall the fail safe shaft of the self steering snaps and Pylades goes wildly off course. Auto is engaged the paddle is removed, new part fitted, we are up and running within 30 minutes. The boom vang connection also parts this can wait until we get in but we lose some sail shape control.  The next day the wind dies off and we chug the course at 5 knots, a distinct chill descends over us as we hear that the wind is due to turn south southeast and freshen maintaining itself in that quadrant for some time.  Each evening and morning Kay is now net controller of the “penguin’ net, that is an informal group of yachts giving each other positions and weather information via the SSB as we plough south. Here provide you with best replica watches uk online.


22nd November; going to weather with 20 to 25knots of wind on the nose on the open ocean is something to be avoided, the tacking angle becomes very wide, port tack to Australia starboard tack to Chile.  The motion, to put it mildly, is horrible, at six knots we hit what seems like a brick wall every few minutes and a wall of green water pours over the  boat finding the smallest little crevices to get into the boat.  At about 12.00 and about 300 miles off shore, the roar of a very low flying aircraft fills the air not far above mast head height, a four engine nimrod, within seconds the VHF springs into life, “Pylades, Pylades this is Orion of the NZ coast guard, we have all your details, what time do you hope to check into Opua?”. They had flown low enough to read our name with their optics and had our prior notice of arrival information, efficiency is big in NZ. 


The next couple of days are best forgotten as every thing is thrown at us to make the passage miserable and delay our arrival. To compound the situation we receive notice of an evolving  storm system just to the east of our position, all indications are that we should be in before it starts to move.   But out of such gloom appears a sight to lift the lowest spirit. Rising out of the southern ocean swells an Albatross soaring and wheeling around our tossing ship. Magnificence, with its 2 meter wingspan, skimming the waves as it went about its perpetual wandering.


24th November; Land ahoy, New Zealand sighted, the wind dies away the sea calms and we are as high as kites as we motor in beautiful weather along the coast.  We had been warned that this trip would be challenging but now it was worth it all.  It is dark when we enter the Bay of Islands and at 22.30 when tied at Opua we open a bottle of bubbly.





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Posted: 9:57:41 PM - 12/7/2010

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