JULY 2016

Sailing on top of the Ring of Fire

Vanuatu is situated on the junction line of two continental tectonic plates on the Pacific Ring of Fire and an occasional tremor is a part of a normal day to day experience. (And we have already experienced several of these!) There are nine active volcanos (seven on land) and numerous fumaroles and thermal springs are scattered through this region. These are some of the world's most accessible active volcanos and Mt. Yasur on Tanna island gave us quite a show. There is a bang, the ground trembles, smoke and red-hot magma shoots up....smell of sulphur, dust...suddenly silence for few seconds before the roaring noise and the shooting magma starts all over again. We were allowed to walk as close as about 150 meters from the crater rim – definitely an unforgettable sight! Roughly 80 island forming Vanuatu stretches 1,300 kilometres and modern life hasn't yet reached many villages we have seen till now. People spend their days tending their gardens, fishing in homemade canoes. There is no electricity, just solar or flash light for few hours before they go to bed. No fridge, washing machine or anything else that we can't imagine our life without – yet the “Western world” could take few lessons from these people on sustainable agriculture and fishing. All we get here is organic and no extra cost for that! Of course money is needed for school education and this is a big challenge for the families here since industrial structure is at the minimum. Traditional dancing, land diving, sand drawing and musics performances for the tourists are just one way to make some money. The water surrounding these island is crystal clear and the underwater scenery spectacular, full of life. Vanuatu has twice been voted the happiest place on earth and villagers always welcome us with a big smile, curiosity about us and the outside world and they let us share in theirs. We are going to be around here till the beginning of September, before moving towards Australia, but first, with a stop in New Caledonia. Have a good summer and keep smiling!  

APRIL 2016

New Zealand is hot...

As planned we departed Tauranga to explore more of the North Island by the beginning of March. All major maintenance jobs were successfully terminated and now came the time to relax and to discover before resuming our coastal cruising of the east coast and it's islands. Thermally active Rotorua and it's steaming surroundings was our first stop. With it's hydrogen sulfide rotten egg smell following us around, we were amazed while walking through the Maori village of Ohinemutu that the locals are not worried to live on top of this thermal area. Pipes are sticking out of their house foundations belching steam away from the buildings, steaming holes, sounds of boiling water are everywhere. Next to this village on the side of the same crystal clear lake lies Rotorua, a typical tourist NZ town with typical tourist shops and many restaurants and spas with healing mineral pools. Further south we spend a good part of the next day in Wai-O-Tapu thermal area which is considered to be New Zealand’s most colourful and diverse geothermal sightseeing attraction. Mother nature gave us a stunning show of fuming lakes, boiling lakes, sulphur deposits, bubbling mud pools. The intensity of the colours in some of the pools has to be seen! Our next adventure took us on a cave expedition to finally see the famous glow worms we heard so much about. “Glowing Adventure” in Waitomo region is an three hour eco tour on a private land with untouched limestone cave system. Once the tour started we understood why they provided us with all the clothing, gumboots, helmets and head lamps (as well as shower afterwards) as we waded through streams and mud, crawled under and climbed over boulders. Surrounded by untouched stalactites we experienced a stunning spectacle where millions of bioluminescent insect larvae beamed bright blue lights around us. What a great first experience of caving! Next. Is Wellington really the world's wind capital? We were going to find out. Situated at the bottom of North Island this was our next stop. This town often experiences gale to storm force winds, but we were fortunate to be there in a calm and settled weather, which made walking around most enjoyable. If we had to live in NZ, this would be the place. The city is a vibrant culture-driven hot spot tucked around a picturesque harbour with lots of cafes, restaurants, museums, walking streets only and full of shops. What a difference from the rest of NZ towns, where one has a hard time to find an open cafe after 5 o'clock! This week went by too fast, but was a great change from our normal mariner's outings. This was a great vacation in a normal vacation-life! Back to Tauranga. We strongly recommend this port to any cruiser. The range of services around the city is excellent, the marine industries vibrant with lots of knowledgeable service contractors and at very reasonable price. As the Kiwis often say “No worry mate.” 


This country is for nature lovers

After Bay Islands we cruised around Great Barrier Island in the Gulf of Auraki, where every bay has lots of hiking trails to offer and so instead of daily swimming in Fiji we had daily hiking in NZ. Now we are securely tied to a dock in Tauranga, out of the zone of dreaded cyclones of SW Pacific. This is a year of El Nino, and here in NZ they are already worried about how drought is going to affect their agriculture. In El Nino year cyclones have a tendency to occur mainly Est of our longitude and the French Polynesia is preparing for the worst. We hope they and the low laying atolls of Tuamotu are not going to get hit too hard, but will escape cyclones completely! Here El Nino brings dryness, but for now rain still comes now and then and everywhere we look the flowers are blooming between many shades of green. This country is a real heaven for nature lovers and fit people, who are ready to carry all they need on their backs. This unfortunately is not for us anymore, but there are still many, many day trails that we can enjoy. Tauranga is a real small tourist town with a lot of activity around and so it looks like JP is not going to miss me too much while I'll be away! He has a lot of projects he wants to accomplish before I come back, so we can still enjoy the many islands, bays, trails in this country, before we sail away for good sometimes in May. We still didn't settle on exactly where we will go, but for sure the adventure will start with Vanuatu, followed by New Caledonia and then either Australia or through Indonesia. For now we wish you to enjoy the magic this wonderful holiday has to offer and may it bring you joy that will last throughout the whole year. JP would like to share a final thought with you all: “Our small planet Earth is beautiful, so lets do better in preserving its diversity and resources.” – and I do hope his wish will come through...


The loop is complete – back in New Zealand

You might have been wondering what was going on with us, no news for the past six months – almost gave this blog up – that’s how lazy we were. After the fall (your spring) uneventful crossing from New Zealand to Fiji we cleared the customs in Savusavu on Vanua Levu island. From there we were planning on visiting the Lau islands. These are the most isolated islands of Fiji where people live a simple traditional life still following the old customs of welcoming the visitors with Kava ceremony after the visitor presents the gift, such as yagona, which is a root from which Kava drink is made and can easily be bought from the markets in the city. One has to ask the permission to visit the village, take photos, swim etc. Everybody who sails there also buys extra sugar, tea, flour to exchange for fruits or vegetables, or other useful items, especially items for school like books, paper, pens. Unfortunately the weather wasn’t favorable to sail in that direction, but we did have an experience of this traditional welcoming on Kadavu Island that lies just below Viti Levu which is the main island of Fiji. No hats, no sunglasses, the shoulders and knees have to be covered. The people of Fiji have a reputation of being the friendliest people of this planet and we have to agree. We spent about ten days here and got also invited to the Sunday feast, which was one of the best meals we had in Fiji! This island is quite rich as they are the ones who grow yagona and sell it on the main island and so all the tea, sugar etc. we still have on Vanille we are hoping to add to some Christmas food basket collection (here in NZ). We also managed some snorkelling on the magnificent and famous Astrolabe reef which is part of Kadavu island. By this time JP’s two sisters were getting ready for a visit and so we sailed to the main island to pick them up from the airport. With them we visited Yasawa group of islands, where one can hop from island to island in few hours or a day, each one with crystal clear water, colourful corals, lots of fish, long sand beaches...we had a great time, swimming, snorkelling, kayaking, eating...laughing was on the daily menu! The rest of the season we spent with friends, just bumming around, being lazy, enjoying each day as it came. After many years of intense travelling it was nice to do just nothing. On the 26th of October we departed Fiji and after eight days and three hours we tied to custom dock in Opua, once again in New Zealand. For this crossing we had a wind most of the time and so JP was very happy! (I was less happy trying to balance the pots and pans in the galley!) Everything is in flower here, the spring is almost over and the summer cruising season is just around the corner. We will do more sailing around the islands here, as we don’t have that many things to fix. I am once again flying to California to see my sister, JP will stay and will take care of the few things that need looking after. We reserved a place in Tauranga, hopefully a more exiting city than Whangarei, where we were last year. We will try to be a bit more active with this blog in the future as well. We hope all of you are doing well and till next time – CHEERS to you from New Zealand!

APRIL 2015

Fall already?

It's starting to get quite chilly again – long pants, sweaters and jackets are coming out of the closet – it's time to move on before some serious cold hits us here, now that the cyclone season in the Pacific is nearing its end. Since coming back from visiting our family and friends we were touring the South Island in a small camper van. Our trip started with wine tasting in Marlborough region, where most of New Zealand wine is produced. If you like nature this is a paradise for you, if you like to ride a motorcycle this is a dream come true. Roads are winding like a never ending snakes! Scenery beyond belief. Curve after curve, km after km, rarely a straight line. From the wild West coast bordering the Tasman Sea to snow-capped peaks, giant ferns, flying albatrosses, billions of sheep, walking tracks indicated every few kilometers, there is no way to get bored. We could have spent the entire summer roaming this part of NZ but we had only three weeks to spare and yet managed to log over 4,000 km while circling the entire South Island Back in Whangarei we took Vanille to the boatyard to finalize the last preparation for the coming season – antifooling paint, hull wax, etc. – now we are back floating and filling her up with supplies needed for the next six months in Fiji. The last few days we spent exploring the three supermarkets here and other stores for goodies and bargains on wines, beer, boat parts spares, etc., and then trying to find a place to store all this inside Vanille. Who said we were retired! This is work! In a couple of days we will leave this place, will go and play with the wind and sea, test all the new equipment installed and then will seek a good spot and will start monitoring the weather for crossing to Fiji. With a bit of luck and mother nature cooperation we should be underway before mid May.


Back to civilization as we know it

Vanille is tied up in a Whangarei harbour marina, some 20 miles up on Hātea River, New Zealand. This was our final crossing for 2014 and now Vanille and the crew are ready to take a land-dock break until April 2015 since cyclone season has already started in SW Pacific and will last until then. We chose Whangarei in New Zealand's North Island for its facilities and protection. This is a small town with medical clinics, dentists, big modern library, boutiques, three big supermarkets and any service a yachtsman could imagine will be available to him here. There are also trails within easy reach and we are amazed by hundreds of species of ferns and all kinds of for us unusual flowers. Here we are back to civilization as we know it with the same standards we are used to from North America or Europe. Yes we will be going to cinema as well and JP will be able to enjoy popcorn!! ...After more than 15 thousand miles we traveled in the last two years Vanille needs a bit of pampering as well – new sails are on the program, revision of the shaft alternator and motor starter is needed, outboard motor needs a good tune-up, rigging has to be checked,... etc,... etc. Every yacht that comes here to hide during cyclone season takes advantage of excellent service and a reasonable costs for numerous boat repairs after the long Pacific crossing. Australia has great service as well, but more costly than here in New Zealand. The next tune-up station to fix anything will be in South Africa, and that is not exactly next door! ...We also decided to rent a small camper van and will tour the South Island in February. This will be a nice change for us to travel by roads, although we will have to get used to driving on the left side – for now, one time out of two JP puts the windshield wiper on instead of the flasher – but could be way more dramatic-traumatic. ...Presently with the holiday season around the corner comes the time to visit our families. I'll be spending this time with my sister in mostly pleasant California weather, but poor JP will be facing ice and snow in Montreal. We were complaining of cold when we had a sharp drop from tropical heat to a NZ's spring, night temperatures were and sometimes still are around 10°C, day time is better, up to 18°C and now climbing up every day. After a month here we still have to heat in the mornings, although during the day with the sun up we are ready to complain about the heat!! ...hmm, is that just myself complaining? Knowing that we will be back here later in the full summer gives us courage to brace anything. ...We wish you all the joys of the season, a fabulous New Year and most importantly good health and best of everything!!


We lost a day... (Vava'u, Tonga)

Since our last blog entry from Tahiti, we continued our downwind sail with stops in Moorea, Huahine, Ra'iatea and Taha'a island, and finely the well known Bora Bora. These are called the Society Islands of French Polynesia and are well known for their magnificent lagoons, toothy sharks and some very luxurious and pampering hotels. It's a busy place, especially Bora Bora, with lots of tourists, car traffic, charter cruises and other tourist activities (Huahine and Maupiti are the only ones which escaped overdevelopment and are very keen to keep it that way!). The isolation of these islands in the middle of the Pacific is reflected by the price of goods, everything costs three to four times more than in North America with one exception only, and that is the excellent cheese from France, cheap by our Quebec standard. All of these islands have a main road that follows the coast while the interior of the islands remains mainly wild with a very high steep terrain. Apart from local fruit everything is imported and 2/3 of GDP is from France's contribution! – JP teases our French friends to keep on working and paying steep tax to keep the high standard here – and surprisingly, although tourism is their main income here, in general we haven't been overly impressed by their attitude. Next, after eight days and 1,000 nautical miles West of French Polynesia, the world's smallest independent nation, Niue Island is a real gem! Everything is done to welcome you, and to make your stay pleasant. The island doesn't have any lagoon and as the anchorage can be very exposed at times, the locals installed several moorings and let us used their crane to hoist our dingy out of the water and away from the costal surge when going on land. The rocky coast, the limestone chasms and caves and many well marked hikes are worth a visit. Sadly, because of lack of work opportunities more than half of the populations had left and we were astonished to see so many abandoned houses. And now, in the Kingdom of Tonga, Vava'u islands group, some 250 nautical miles W of Niue we are one day ahead of you! Yes, we lost a day! Tonga sets its time and date with their biggest trading partners, Fiji and New Zealand. This is the only Pacific nation never brought under foreign rule! Here life goes on in a more traditional (Christian) way, Tongans are conservative in their dress, women even swim dressed and men are never seen without a shirt. Most of the kingdom still functions under a subsistence system in which families are allocated two plots of land, one plot for living and the other for growing food. There is no begging, no homelessness, and Sundays are real rest days with powerful harmonies coming out of many local churches. The Vava'u archipelago of 60 islands has a lot of nice and protected anchorage, so at the moment we are cruising and snorkeling these islands and slowly gathering info and preparing for our next passage of 1,300 nautical miles to New Zealand. Life is good!