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FIJI July – September 2015

July 8 to 15, 2015: Flight to Fiji and the Westin Denarau Our flight from Lax to Nandi, Fiji was about 11 hours. The Fijian Airline isn’t as fancy as other airlines, but it was adequate. The nice thing is that it leaves LA at 10 PM and arrives in Fiji at 9 AM the next morning. You can get a reasonably good night’s sleep on this flight. Because I had to be back in Ann Arbor in five weeks for more cancer treatments, we decided to have a hired captain bring Argo up to Fiji from Auckland. Unfortun…
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FIJI July – September 2015

July 8 to 15, 2015: Flight to Fiji and the Westin Denarau

Our flight from Lax to Nandi, Fiji was about 11 hours. The Fijian Airline isn’t as fancy as other airlines, but it was adequate. The nice thing is that it leaves LA at 10 PM and arrives in Fiji at 9 AM the next morning. You can get a reasonably good night’s sleep on this flight. Because I had to be back in Ann Arbor in five weeks for more cancer treatments, we decided to have a hired captain bring Argo up to Fiji from Auckland. Unfortunately she was delayed in her departure from Gulf Harbor because of weather, so we stayed at the Westin Resort at Denarau while we waited for her arrival. Fiji is a major vacation destination for Kiwis and Aussies and it was booked solid because of school holidays in New Zealand and Australia. Unfortunately the weather was cool and windy, so we arranged tours of the area and went to a Fijian cultural night at the hotel. The main feature of the cultural night were the “Firewalkers”. The evening began with a presentation of historical warrior dances followed by a dinner cooked Fijian style. Rocks were heated by a large fire, a pit is dug, food is wrapped in leaves or foil and placed in the pit and covered first with banana leaves and then with the heated rocks. The feast includes a variety of meat and fish along with taro, cassava and other vegetables. Despite all the festivities, the food really isn’t very good. Once dinner was over the rocks were rearranged and the warriors walked barefoot on them. This is called “fire-walking” and is quite a spectacle. Historically the Fijians were a war-like people who avidly practiced cannibalism and their cultural shows recall some of this heritage. One can only speculate that after barbequing their victim, warriors “fire-walked” in a final triumphant act.

The next day we toured Nandi, the largest town in the area. The town supports the international airport that was built during WWII by the U.S. to accommodate large airplanes; now it is the only airport capable of handling jet airliners. Nandi offers two “sights”; the Hindu Temple and the Farmers’ Market. The impressive Hindu Temple was very colorful and quite interesting.   One thing that caught our attention us was the number of religions that are practiced here including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhists and of course a variety of Christian denominations.

When Argo arrived at Port Denarau (Nandi’s embarkation port for many tourists going to resorts by ferry) she was quite a sight, especially since it was the first time we had ever seen her come into port.  Denarau is a very nice new development with shops, restaurants and a yacht club.

Fijian entry formalities were handled for us by an agent. Trying to figure out entry formalities can be very time consuming, confusing, and frustrating so we hired an agent to sort it all out for us. Total costs and fees for entering Fiji were about $325 USD. Almost all countries seem fixated with taxing alcohol; Canada is particularly obnoxious, but Fiji gets special mention. Here they reserve the right to mark each bottle of booze aboard a yacht and tax the owner on what has been consumed while in Fijian waters!

July 16: Under way from Denarau

We left Denarau Marina the next morning and headed for Waya Island and the Octopus resort. It was a glorious day. Paul Mabee, our captain from N.Z. was staying aboard for a few days as our guest. The first 20 miles or so were just beautiful, then the wind and waves picked up. By the time we got to Waya Island both Rebecca and I were a little sea sick, having been on land for about eight months. The bay at Waya was too rough to anchor, so we decided to head north to Naviti Island in the Yasawa Group.

The Fijian Islands are difficult to navigate because the charts are poor and the islands are surrounded by reefs and coral heads. Passages here should only be attempted during daylight hours and then only between 10 AM and 4 PM when the sun is high overhead and obstacles in the water can be clearly seen. From a seafarer’s standpoint, it is difficult sailing. The trade winds blow relentlessly around 18 – 25 knots, so the seas are rough and choppy. It was sunset when we finally anchored at Soso V Bay, a protected anchorage on Naviti Island. The bay was surrounded by mountains covered by tall brown grass like the rest of western Fiji. There was a small village at the end of the bay nestled in a coconut grove along the beach. Locals passed us waving and yelling “ BULA” as they returned from work aboard their outboard driven skiffs. Along the beach we could see campfires burning as the sun set. We anchored in about 60 feet of water with the wind blowing around 25 – 30 knots. Katabatic winds were a concern in this anchorage. Later in the evening a cruise ship anchored at the outer edge of the bay, probably seeking refuge in smooth water for its passengers.

Rebecca made a lovely dinner despite not feeling 100%: Chicken Cacciatore along with local French green beans, a vegan chocolate cake with a hint of cayenne pepper, all served up with a lovely red Saumur. It was delicious and perfect for a tired crew.

July 17: Soso V Bay to Turtle Island

The next morning brought brilliant sunshine. The wind was still up, so a choppy ride was in store for us as we weighed the anchored and started the 22 mile passage to the Blue Lagoon near Turtle Island. This is the place made famous by Brook Shields and the movie of the same name. We picked our way past the reefs and coral heads and found a nice anchorage near the beach amongst a few sailboats. We dropped the tender and made our way to the resort’s iconic tropical beach restaurant for lunch. During the afternoon we tidied things up aboard Argo and then relaxed. We grilled New Zealand lamb chops for dinner served with couscous and a wonderful fresh fruit salad.

 

 

July 18: Blue Lagoon

This is a beautiful spot, not really a lagoon in the sense that we discovered in the Tuamotus, but actually a widened passage between several islands. These islands rise out of the cerulean blue water as big, steep hills perhaps 2,000 feet high, covered in tall brown grass this time of year, with palm trees growing along the shores and in valleys. There were three villages on the beaches of different islands.   We were anchored just off a very long gold sand beach with reefs all about. After breakfast, Rebecca and I went ashore and walked a few miles on the beach, then returned to the resort around noon for lunch. It took almost an hour to get our order, which was just a couple of sandwiches, and when I inquired as to when we might get them we were offered an apology and told it would be soon: the cook had gone to lunch!

All of us exercised in one way or another that afternoon. Around 5 PM we went ashore for Happy Hour at the Tikka Bar and talked with several sailors who had made the Pacific crossing at the same time we did. We hadn’t met them before, but they recognized Argo. Among them were Craig and Carol who hailed from Seattle. They had summered over in Fiji and didn’t go to New Zealand as many sailors do to avoid the cyclone season. They said they don’t want to take that risk again. It was great fun to share stories and learn from their experiences.

 

July 19: Crossing Bligh Water to Volivoli

It was a crystal clear day with a very comfortable weather forecast of light winds and moderate seas so we decided to weigh anchor and cross Bligh Water to Volivoli on the northwest coast of Viti Levu. It was a 50 mile crossing that would take about six hours. Bligh Water is named after Captain William Bligh (later Vice Admiral) of the H.M.S Bounty (which was a Cutter and Bligh a lieutenant and its only officer). He and eighteen loyal crew members were cast adrift in a small launch (by mutinous members of his crew) in 1789. In one of the all-time greatest feats of seamanship (Bligh learned navigation from Captain Cook) he sailed the boat 3,618 miles across an open, hostile ocean from Tahiti to Timor. He passed right through this Fijian channel, which the British named after him. Apparently he didn’t stop at Fiji because of the fierceness of the Fijians and their reputation for cannibalism. Local Fijians anecdotally claim that their ancestors chased him at sea, but failed to catch him.

Our course from Turtle Island to Viti Levu was almost a straight rhumbline, save for picking our way around a few reefs and coral heads. Although navigation is very hazardous, we found our MaxSea chart software to be almost accurate, so a sharp eye was always needed for the possibility of unmarked hazards. We traveled only between the hours of 10:00 and 16:00 when the sun is high and the reefs can be seen. We arrived at the channel through the reef at Viti Levu at 16:30. The chart was a little off and we needed to correct our course to port to avoid hitting the reef, so in this case traveling only when the sun was high was a safety essential. Once inside the passage between the reefs we turned to port and followed the channel inside the reef a few miles past Malakai Island to Volivoli Point and the protected bay where we anchored. Once settled, we had the chance to sit outside around our table in the cockpit and enjoy a libation and a glorious sunset.

Rebecca cooked up wonderful steaks and vegetables, topped off with a vegan fruit and coconut cake. Delicious!

July 20: Volivoli Beach

It was a beautiful day with the trades generously blowing from the east. Volivoli Beach is located on the northwest coast of the big island of Viti Levu. We went ashore to reconnoiter the little resort; Paul wanted to make travel arrangements to Denarau and we wanted to know about dinner reservations and local sights. We spent most of the day cleaning the salt off Argo and making minor adjustments and repairs. Paul was very generous with his knowledge of boats and helped with some maintenance items. Tinkering took all day and that evening we all got aboard our dingy and went to the resort’s restaurant for a night out. One cannot be too dressed up for these affairs as you have to climb out of the tender into knee deep water and walk on the beach to the resort. It was a lot of fun.

July 21: Diving on Golden Dream Reef and good-bye to Captain Paul.

At 08:15 we boarded the dive boat and headed off to scuba dive on Golden Dream Reef. Golden Dream is a series of coral heads on a much larger reef, which is at least a square mile in size. We dove about five miles off shore. The tide was incoming, which is apparently when the coral blooms and Golden Dream is all about the beautiful yellow flowering corals. It was windy, a little cold, and choppy waves made it a difficult dive. Nevertheless, we stepped off the dive boat into the sea, got our bearings, and then descended to a depth of about 100 feet. Immediately we could see the coral cliffs covered in golden fan corals. Swimming between bommies or coral heads was much like being in a labyrinth of flowering columns. It certainly was truly a golden dream.

July 22: Rakiraki Town

The wind was blowing and it looked like poor cruising weather for the next few days so we arranged for a taxi and went to the market in to Rakiraki Town. It was about a twenty minute trip along the Kings Hwy that circles the island and then over very rough gravel to the heart of town. The island is clearly volcanic: in the distance were huge mountains that were once part of a volcano’s cone. The foothills in the foreground were either formed when the caldera collapsed or originated when lava flowed. Now the hills are home to subsistence farms with fields of sugar cane. The farm houses are neatly painted and well maintained masonry structures, with goats and cattle milling about. Near Rakiraki Town is the sugar mill. The town itself looks like most third world small towns: masonry block two story buildings brightly painted with very high sidewalks of differing elevations. We were looking for the market, which we found located on one side of the square with the town occupying the other three sides. Most businesses, including the markets, are run by Indians. Fiji’s climate and fertile volcanic soil can grow almost anything, so we found all kinds of things that we were looking for including their delicious pineapples.   There was a bakery offering hot bread, so we stopped by for a loaf. There was all kinds of activity around the square including busy pedestrians in colorful clothing, particularly the Indian women with their beautiful exotic saris, men conducting business, buses picking up passengers for trips to other towns, shoppers moving in and out of the storefronts. It was exciting to be in the middle of such vibrant and colorful life activity once again.

July 23: Day tour to the Village of Navala

The Volivoli Resort helped us make arrangements for a guide and driver for a tour of the broader area. The next day we were picked up at 0830 in front of the hotel along with our four bags of trash. Getting rid of trash can sometimes be an issue on a boat, so our first order of business was for our guide, Sunny, to take us to the dump. Unlike our dumps, third world trash heaps don’t have anything useful in them. Our touring objective was the Village of Navala located high in the mountains above the city of Ba. It took about three, mostly tortuous, hours to get there as many of the roads were gravel and in poor repair. Our route took us south on the King’s Hwy past many small villages and thousands of acres of sugar cane fields. Local tribes own the land and the cane fields, which are tended by the village men. Field workers retain half the earnings from the sale of the cane and the other half goes to the village. From what I could tell, a worker keeps about $50 USD/day per worker if things are good. Cutting sugar cane looks like such hard and thankless work that I wanted to experience what an average person does, so I got out of the car and went into a field to ask if I they would teach me to cut sugar cane. The field hands were delighted to talk with us and allowed me a privileged glimpse into their world. My impressions were correct: it is tough work!

We moved along past the sugar cane mill at Rakiraki and numerous little villages until we turned onto the gravel mountain road leading to the Village of Navala, which is famous for its traditional thatched roof, bamboo and palm leaf huts. It is the only historic place of its kind left in the islands; every other village makes their domiciles of modern materials like clap wood, corrugated steel, or concrete block. Navala lies in a little valley high in the mountains surrounded by steep hillsides covered with tall brown grasses punctuated with black volcanic rock outcroppings. Here and there were green shrubs and an occasional mango or other tropical tree. Navala is laid out in the shape of a Christian Cross with 125 huts housing 850 residents. They have an elementary school with a dorm where the children sleep when school is in session, but they come back home each day for meals. I guess this gives the parents the opportunity to make more kids! The village also has a new Catholic Church, as religion is a key aspect of village life. Drinking water comes from an artesian well up high in the mountains, but bathing is done in the nearby rivers. The men go to the sugar cane fields around 0630 each morning except Sunday; the women prepare the noon meal at a house located in the cane fields each day and the men return home around 1600 in the afternoon. The cane fields are part of over 19,000 acres owned by the chief (village). When speaking on official matters, the chief often speaks though a spokesman or assistant chief, who is the person we met. The assistant chief sits at the chief’s right hand during council meetings.   When visiting we had to obtain permission to enter the village in advance. We were met by the assistant chief who conducted the Kava Ceremony in his hut next to the Chief’s hut and collected the F $25 per person fee plus a F $25 touring fee. The ceremony involves the presentation of gift of kava, the recitation of ritual words and cupped hand clapping by the men in attendance, and the sharing of a bowl of kava. Women sit behind the men and must be fully covered. Several village women were in the room with us, and little children peeked in from the doorway to see what was going on, but were shewed away as soon as the adults saw them.

The kava ceremony is a ritual that formally welcomes guests into the village as a members of the village family. Guests are extended the privileges and protection of the village and may anchor in the bay, fish, swim, come ashore, and hike about so long as they observe the courtesies of Fijian life. Kava is a drink made from the root of the yaqona, a type of pepper plant. Fijians harvest the root, crush it, and place it in a cloth. It is then immersed in water and squeezed until a magenta colored, muddy liquid is produced. They drink the liquid by downing a full cup at a time. Kava numbs the tongue and lips and is said to cause drowsiness and laziness when consumed in larger quantities. After the ceremony, Michael gave us a tour of the village and then we returned to his hut where the ladies had spread out a cloth and offered trinkets for sale.

While in Navala we learned that the Fijian Health Ministry is promoting tooth brushing, two children per family (down from double digit procreation), and the wearing of flip flops. It turns out that many people in the islands traditionally go barefoot. Unfortunately there is a parasitic worm that often burrows into people’s feet from the soil causing them to become disabled. Flip flops can put a stop to this condition.

On our way back to Volivoli Resort we stopped at the grave of the “Cannibal King” Chief Udre Udre who holds the Guinness Book of World Records for eating the most people. He kept a stone for each corpse he ate, and these stones were placed under and around his sarcophagus in Rakiraki. At his death in 1840 the pile added up to 999. He apparently believed that if he ate 1,000 corpses he would gain immortality. Who knows, perhaps he achieved it anyway.

July 24: Crossing Vatu-I-Ra Channel to Savusavu

Since our arrival two weeks before the winds in Fiji had been fierce. This was disappointing as we had hoped to visit the Lao Island Group during this cruise, but the waves were 8 feet +/- at a 6-8 second moment, very steep and box like. If we went to the Laos, it would require beating into these uncomfortable head seas for almost 200 miles, so we changed our plans and decided to head eighty-two miles northeast across Vatu-I-Ra Channel to Vanua Levu Island and the little port of Savusavu. This is a ten or twelve hour journey from Volivoli for Argo. The Vatu-I-Ra Channel has got to be one of the all-time worst channels to cross. It separates the two biggest Fijian islands of Viti Levu and Vanau Levu by a narrow gorge in the sea bottom through which pass the trade winds and the ocean swell that has developed across the southern ocean all the way from Antarctica. Winds average 35 knots with gusts to 47 knots, and they gain velocity on the lee side after having been compressed as they pass through the channel. As we passed through it the seas were high and very steep, but fortunately the main channel is only about 15 miles (2 ½ hours) across before coral reefs provide a little protection. We had some trepidation about the passage inside the reef given the accuracy of our charts and the experience of many sailors who found uncharted coral heads the hard way, with their boat! A week before a 70 foot sailing yacht with a crew of six onboard went down not far from here. As we progressed along our course we used our Furuno CH-250 directional sonar to search the depths in front of us, which gave us some confidence. However, keeping a sharp eye is always important as I spotted a patch of unsettled water that turned out to be a very large uncharted rock just slightly off our course to starboard. Lucky for us I saw it! There were three narrow passages through various parts of the reef. One of them, Nasonisani Passage, was particularly difficult. The surf was rolling into the passage from the south pushed by forty knot winds and when the waves hit the reef they exploded high in the air. As we neared the channel we could see monster rollers boiling in, but by then we were committed and there was nothing to do except to push through. Argo rose at least ten feet on the first wave and then fell off in seconds, plowing the bow under the next wave and causing green water to roll up to the pilot house windows. Then she rose again, only to fall in to the next wave. It was quite a violent few minutes, all the time we were praying that nothing went wrong with the boat or that we wouldn’t encounter an uncharted coral head. Eventually we went through the pass and made Savusavu harbor at sunset in 25 knots of wind; we anchored at the head of the bay in 75 feet of water. The harbor was completely filled with sailboats waiting out the heavy weather. After settling in, we enjoyed a couple of rums and a nice dinner.

Anchoring is a necessary skill when you’re doing the kind of cruising we’re doing. The first thing you need is a good anchor. We have a 350 lb. plow type anchor fixed to 600 feet of ½ inch high strength steel chain, which weighs about 3 lbs. per foot.   We generally let out chain equal to five or six times the distance from the bow to the bottom.   For example, in calm weather and with a depth of 50 feet, we would let out 250 +/- feet of chain. In that case we would have a total weight at the bottom of about 1,100 lbs.   When we anchor we lay out the chain, then put Argo in reverse until the anchor digs in. Once it bites, we are hooked and she doesn’t move even when the wind comes up.

July 25: Savusavu

Savusavu is a one street little town built on a creek with a bay on one side and steep, verdant hillsides on the other. It was Saturday and the town was filled with people shopping in the stores and the farmers’ market. We started the day with a trip to the farmers’ market, then the supermarkets, then the various stores to entertain ourselves. In the late afternoon we joined some other sailors for a trip to the Planters’ Club for drinks. Our sailor comrades told us about Curly and his seminars on Fijian waters held Sunday afternoon at a local restaurant

July 26: Curly Carswell

Curly is a salty old mariner of New Zealand extraction who has lived in Fiji on a houseboat in the Savusavu Creek for over 40 years. He is a silvered haired, bearded fellow who knows the ins and outs of these reefs like nobody else. He conducts a seminar ($10 USD) once a week for arriving boaters and tells tales of the islands and provides way-points through the reefs to places we all want to see. He sprinkles his lecture with stories of boats that have gone aground or yachts that have been totally lost on the hazardous reefs. Curly reported that so far this year four boats have gone hard aground. He is a very knowledgeable and charming character indeed. We spent four hours listening to his tales and getting his way-points and he helped us plan our trip to Taveuni Island and Viani Bay.

July 27: Market Day in Savusavu

We spent the next day preparing and provisioning for our trip to Viani Bay, home to one of the best dive sites in the world the famous Rainbow Reef. We needed to freshen our stores and get last minute waypoints from Curly, otherwise it was a lazy day that seemed to evaporate like a dream.

July 28: Passage to Viani Bay

It was a rough start after we weighed anchor at 0830. The short passage out of Savusavu Bay was pleasant enough, particularly as we passed the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort near the point separating Savusavu Bay from the Koro Sea. As we passed through Point Passage things deteriorated quickly. Large rollers were boiling into the bay across the reef; Argo plowed through with her customary power and stability. Once out into the sea the waves soldiered in from the east in 5-6 second intervals and were about 6 feet in height. The wind blew at a steady 25 knots: it was unpleasant indeed. As we progressed up the coast toward Viani Bay and Tavenui Island we could see the lush, green forested hillsides of both Vanau Levu and Tavenui Islands. This is the windward side of Fiji, so it experiences more rain and thus has more vegetation. It was a picturesque sight to see the green and brown hills rise out of the blue ocean. As the day wore on, we eventually gained some shelter from the lee of Tavenui and life became more pleasant. Around 1500 we approached Viani Pass to make our way through the reef. This is a very dangerous time during any passage: reefs are coral and rock outcroppings that pose the potential of poking a hole in the bottom of any boat. One can expect to encounter strong currents (from the ocean rushing in and out with the tides) and waves of substantial size and power can develop. From the pilot house we could see the reef’s beautiful blue and green waters in the distance along with breaking waves.   The desire to get to the safety inside the pass can be very beguiling, but there was more danger to come as we couldn’t tell precisely how the boat would handle in these circumstances or if there was an uncharted rock or coral head on our course. At any rate, we entered the pass without difficulty and soon passed the reef and entered the placid waters leading to Viani Bay. The bay was quite large with several boats at anchor in various places. Only a couple of Fijian dwellings were visible. The hills surrounding the bay were high and steep, some with green foliage, some with tall brown grass, and some turned black from the burning of grass by the locals.

After settling in we went on the internet to find a dive resort and make arrangements to dive on the reef the next morning. Then cocktails, dinner, and a movie.

July 29: Rainbow Reef

The next morning a boat picked us at our anchorage at 0700 and took us to Dolphin Bay a few miles around the point near where we entered the pass. We wanted to dive the famous Rainbow Reef, one of the top ten dive spots in the world. The boat took us to a little dive resort located on the bay; it was a shabby little place, but very iconic South Seas in appearance. Guests live in tents and shower using a bucket of water. Every building has a sand floor, but the food and service were superb. All of the guests were either European or American and were among the most traveled and well informed people we have ever encountered. The owner, Roland (a German), was reputed to be the best dive operator in the region, and our dive-master Susan (also German) was excellent. Once we got our gear organized we headed to the dive boat and met our boatman, a colossal Fijian named Apex. We were glad to see him; he could pull anyone out of the water with one hand! After a fifteen minute boat ride we arrived at the first dive site. We dove in 100 feet of water, first on the channel side then on the lagoon side. Corals flourish in areas of swift current, and there is such a variety of corals here all having different shapes and color that it is called the “Rainbow Reef”.

The reef was spectacular. After jumping off the dive boat and descending to depth, the current pushed us along at about three miles per hour. Looking about the ledge we saw countless schools of fish, fantastic colors, and shapes in a world parallel to ours but much different. There are the familiar Elk Horn, Brain, Mushroom, Fan and other types of corals, and of course there were many different types of fish, many with the most amazing and dazzling indigo, red, green, olive, white and brown. As we “flew” along the reef enjoying the spectacular scenery, all of sudden we felt a current from above pushing us toward the dark blue infinity 1,300 feet below, but we moved past it.

We returned to the dive resort around 1400 and enjoyed lunch with our fellow divers. The cook had prepared a watercress salad, pumpkin squash fritters, and a chocolate crepe dessert. It was delicious. We were back on Argo around 1600.

July 30: Tour of Tavenui Island

 

At 0700 Apex picked us up for our trip to Tavenui Island across the Somosomo Channel. Tavenui is known as the “Garden Isle”, and indeed it was as verdant and beautiful as any island we have seen. The island seemed to be one huge mountain perhaps 50 miles long, 4,000 feet high and 25 miles wide. It doesn’t have a peak per se, but rather almost the whole island is a ridge of the same height. The lower third shows the patchwork signs of agricultural activity, but the upper two-thirds is all rain forest. Aside from enjoying the beauty of the island, we were scheduled for three stops: Tavoro Falls at the north end the island, the International Dateline Marker, and the little villages that dot the coastline. Our guide was Kamal, a farmer and part time guide for the Dolphin Bay Divers. Kamal is the third generation of his family in Fiji; his grandfather was a laborer brought here by the British to work in the sugar cane fields. His father was a laborer in the coconut plantations. Somehow Kamal was able to acquire a freehold of land, build a farm, and raise three children who are now all college educated. Quite an achievement.   He now grows Kava, which is a four year cop and very profitable. He is in the process of planting 1,000 Sandalwood trees. It takes twenty-five years for a tree to mature, and if they are of good quality can be sold for $100,000 each. Kamal apparently has patience, foresight, and big dreams! On our drive Kamal stopped by the home of the grower of the saplings he wishes to buy to complete his 1,000 tree inventory. When we arrived at the home of the grower we had to wake him from his afternoon nap, which is customary for Fijians. When I was introduced to him the first thing he told me was he was the Pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I congratulated him as he seemed very proud of this accomplishment, and then I notice that he was wearing a “T” shirt that read “Love Your Bank”.  Although practical, you can’t make this sort of thing up! He showed us about his little yard.   He has one Sandalwood tree growing in the yard, and from this tree he grows saplings that he has planted on his farm and also sold to other people. I asked how he got in the Sandalwood business. Apparently he learned about the business from his brother who had researched it on the internet. They learned what a Sandalwood tree was worth in India, which inspired them to start growing it for themselves in Fiji. Sandalwood is used in making soap and fragrances.

 

Kamal told us how the average Tavenui Fijian lives. Basically they go to their fields in the morning and tend their crops until lunchtime. They return home for lunch, a nap and that’s it. After dinner the men sit around and drink kava, a drink that is nonalcoholic but nevertheless has a numbing effect on the mind and body. The men stay up past midnight and then fall asleep only to repeat this routine day-after-day. Women do the wash by hand, clean the dwelling, and tend to the children. Men often do the cooking. From what we could see, the Fijians live an impoverished life by our standards, but they are clearly a happy lot. They basically live off the land, own a few animals for food, and collect the income that the tribe earns for renting its land to other people like the industrious Indians, who run and own most of the businesses in Fiji. Fijians, however, own 90% of all the land in Fiji.  

 

As far as tourist sights are concerned, the waterfall was perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen. Long, slender, cascading sheets of water falling 100 feet or more to a beautiful blue pool, surrounded by red rocks and lush, tropical plants; it was idyllic.

 

The Rotary Club in Tavenui has constructed an attractive and informative site to illustrate the International Dateline, which passes through Tavenui. You can stand on one side of the line and half your body will be in ‘today” and half in “yesterday”. Very interesting. We traveled on a two lane cow path for a mile to find it.

 

July 31: Viani Bay to the Blue Lagoon

 

El Nino is apparently causing comparatively poor weather conditions here. The winds are higher than normal making the seas rough and unpleasant. Because of the islands, wind is focused and compressed between the island channels and then accelerates out the other side turning normal 18-25 knot trade winds into 40- 45 knot blows. The trades are one thing, but katabatic winds add to the mix. Today a tropical low pressure formed over Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands and is moving toward Fiji bringing high winds and heavy rain Sunday through most of the week. For that reason we decided to move again to the Yasawa Islands and the Blue Lagoon to wait out the weather. It has a protected harbor usually with other boaters for company and a resort, beach bar and restaurant on shore. It is a nice spot. Getting there required a one and one half day trip around the lee or western side of Vanau Levu and across the Vatu-I-Ra channel once again. The trip on the lee side of Vanua Levu was pleasant and relatively calm as we suspected, but by the time we got to the channel it was a mess, with very high winds and big seas. Luckily the crossing was only a two hour ordeal and we made the Blue Lagoon 29 hours after we departed Viani Bay. Once again we found Argo to be simply the best: she powered though the seas giving us a relatively good ride in spite of ten foot beam seas on an 8 second moment.

 

August 1: Arrival at the Blue Lagoon

 

After an all-night run from Viani Bay we arrived and dropped anchor in 50 feet of water. Salty and tired, we lowered the tender and made for the beach for cocktails and dinner. The resort was small and intimate. Only three couples showed up for dinner that night, but the resort scheduled a men’s singing group to perform Fijian music accompanied by guitar, ukulele, and a homemade bass composed of a stick and string pressed on a large wooden box for amplification. It all sounded very good. Dinner was great too, particularly the banana cream pie made with the special coconut cream and sweet little finger sized bananas that you can only get in these islands.

 

August 2 -6: The Blue Lagoon

 

We were at anchor in the wind and rain for several days. The wind was up to 45 knots in the anchorage, and Argo was moving around accordingly. On occasion we go into the resort for dinner, and the furious conditions were rather unsettling as we headed to shore in our tender. One day we decided to venture out in the dingy across the bay to another island and a small subsistence farm that sometimes sells fruits and vegetables to yachters. Salie, a local village woman, guided us to the farm. We crossed the bay that was wind whipped and turbulent and then rounded a point and preceded into second bay. Altogether it was an uncomfortable, wet, 30 minute ordeal. We were looking for a small mangrove area at the shoreline inside of which was a small river. We took the river to its end and anchored the boat to the shore, climbed the mud foot path up a hill to a place where three small buildings, a couple of goats, and a flock of chickens were located. Mattie, Salie’s auntie, met us with a handshake and “Bula” and agreed to sell us some food. She led us down the other side of the hill along a well-worn footpath through the jungle about a quarter mile to her hand cultivated fields. Along the footpath was a three inch rubber irrigation line that fed water to her gardens. The cultivated fields were small, perhaps a quarter acre each. She grew melons, beans, carrots, spinach, lettuce, cassava, taro, bananas, papaya, cucumbers, tomatoes and squash. She also raised goats, chickens, and a steer. As we placed our order she went about the gardens with a knife harvesting. It was great fun to see how native Fijians live, but we had to deal with the boat ride back!

 

The next day we talked with Ivan, the owner of the resort. He is a 73 year old Australian ex-truck driver who bought the Nanuya Resort three years ago. Education is wonderful, but when you see what a practical, industrious person can do for himself and other people it is simply amazing!   For fifteen years he and his wife had been active in charitable work to aid the Fijian’s.   When this resort became available for purchase they decided to buy it, in part to help the three villages in this area. For three years he and his Fijian workers have been renovating it.  The resort needs a lot of power not only to run the desalination plant, but also to run hair dryers, the laundry, cooking appliances, lights, TVs, …the works. It’s a lot of electricity. One of the most interesting things we discovered was that Ivan had installed an American made solar power system to provide power for the whole resort, including making fresh water. High on the hillside overlooking the resort was a vast array of solar panels that replaced a generator that used to provide power. The generator burned almost $130,000 a year in fuel, whereas the solar power system cost about $800,000 to construct. Ivan figured it had a nine year payback period when all costs were considered. Next to the solar arrays were newly cultivated and irrigated fields of pineapple and other vegetables. Now the resort grows some of its food, makes its own water, and generates all its own electricity – all without paying for oil or incurring any costs other than maintenance.   From what I could see, solar power is going to make a tremendous difference worldwide in terms of reducing pollution and also the demand for oil.

 

The way of life in Fiji is changing. Most of the people live in villages. They have lived for a millennium or more in a non-cash economy. They didn’t need money because they could literally catch a fish or grab a piece of fruit off a tree when they were hungry. Their clothes were made of easily obtainable materials. They wanted for nothing. Then came the cell phone and now the internet. Now they need cash to pay their phone bill. One night we were returning to Argo and walked down the beach to our dingy. It was a beautiful starry night.   I noticed a Fijian man sitting on a coconut tree log on the beach at the water’s edge in the moonlight. It seemed idyllic; an isolated Garden of Eden far from the cares and hustle-bustle of the developed world. Then I noticed; he was talking on his cell phone. There is no escape, there are no corners of the earth any longer, not even in Fiji.

 

The next day was beautiful and calm. Rebecca and I packed up the tender with beach chairs, books, and snorkel gear and headed for the beach. It was a rare and beautiful time for us. In all the cruising we have done we rarely get a moment like that.

 

August 7 -9: Denarau

 

Tuesday morning we awoke to a dysfunctional watermaker. We were at anchor far from a water supply, so we had only three days or so to get the thing fixed. We tried all the simple things that knew how to do, but a fifty mile trip to Denarau was in the cards. We called our agent, Eli, to see if she could line up a slip and a technician in Denarau for us. Luckily she found a two day berth for us and she scheduled a technician to meet us at 1500 on the dock. In the meantime we called the factory in the U.S. to sort out the possibilities. Fortunately, we had all the parts we needed on board. We took the machine completely apart after we docked, and examined its innards. The high pressure pump needed a rebuild, and after completing that job with an engineer, everything was up and running again.   It is always a great feeling to actually fix something.

 

Across the dock from us was berthed our Swedish friend, Kaj Liljebladh, on S/Y Amelit. We first met Kaj in Panama, then again in Fatu Hiva, Papeete, and Gulf Harbor. During our last night in port we enjoyed a lovely cookout on Argo with Kaj talking about our various ports of call and the experiences we have shared.

August 9 -14: Musket Cove

 

We moved 12 miles south of Denarau the next morning to Musket Cove Marina on Malolo Lailai Island. Getting into the bay was a little tricky with all the reefs about, but we knew we were on the right track when we passed Dragonfly (Google’s Yacht) on the way in. It was windy as heck, so we anchored until the next morning when we moved to the little marina. It’s a cool little spot with cottages, a beach, restaurants and golf course.   We played the golf course one morning; it cost $10 USD for nine holes. Although it wasn’t the best golf course I ever played, it certainly was picturesque and the cheapest. Argo is stern tied to a dock that was constructed between the main island and a little island a few hundred yards off shore. Argo is right beside a genuine thatched roofed Tikki with a classic beach sand floor and built on the little island. We spent a few days here before returning to Ann Arbor for a medical appointment. Argo is now lying at Musket Cove with Tyler aboard until we determine our cruising time line.

 

I have uploaded new pictures on www.tischtravels.com

 

Thank you for looking in on us.

 

Randy and Rebecca

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FIJI July – September 2015

July 8 to 15, 2015: Flight to Fiji and the Westin Denarau

Our flight from Lax to Nandi, Fiji was about 11 hours. The Fijian Airline isn’t as fancy as other airlines, but it was adequate. The nice thing is that it leaves LA at 10 PM and arrives in Fiji at 9 AM the next morning. You can get a reasonably good night’s sleep on this flight. Because I had to be back in Ann Arbor in five weeks for more cancer treatments, we decided to have a hired captain bring Argo up to Fiji from Auckland. Unfortunately she was delayed in her departure from Gulf Harbor because of weather, so we stayed at the Westin Resort at Denarau while we waited for her arrival. Fiji is a major vacation destination for Kiwis and Aussies and it was booked solid because of school holidays in New Zealand and Australia. Unfortunately the weather was cool and windy, so we arranged tours of the area and went to a Fijian cultural night at the hotel. The main feature of the cultural night were the “Firewalkers”. The evening began with a presentation of historical warrior dances followed by a dinner cooked Fijian style. Rocks were heated by a large fire, a pit is dug, food is wrapped in leaves or foil and placed in the pit and covered first with banana leaves and then with the heated rocks. The feast includes a variety of meat and fish along with taro, cassava and other vegetables. Despite all the festivities, the food really isn’t very good. Once dinner was over the rocks were rearranged and the warriors walked barefoot on them. This is called “fire-walking” and is quite a spectacle. Historically the Fijians were a war-like people who avidly practiced cannibalism and their cultural shows recall some of this heritage. One can only speculate that after barbequing their victim, warriors “fire-walked” in a final triumphant act.

The next day we toured Nandi, the largest town in the area. The town supports the international airport that was built during WWII by the U.S. to accommodate large airplanes; now it is the only airport capable of handling jet airliners. Nandi offers two “sights”; the Hindu Temple and the Farmers’ Market. The impressive Hindu Temple was very colorful and quite interesting.   One thing that caught our attention us was the number of religions that are practiced here including Islam, Hinduism, Buddhists and of course a variety of Christian denominations.

When Argo arrived at Port Denarau (Nandi’s embarkation port for many tourists going to resorts by ferry) she was quite a sight, especially since it was the first time we had ever seen her come into port.  Denarau is a very nice new development with shops, restaurants and a yacht club.

Fijian entry formalities were handled for us by an agent. Trying to figure out entry formalities can be very time consuming, confusing, and frustrating so we hired an agent to sort it all out for us. Total costs and fees for entering Fiji were about $325 USD. Almost all countries seem fixated with taxing alcohol; Canada is particularly obnoxious, but Fiji gets special mention. Here they reserve the right to mark each bottle of booze aboard a yacht and tax the owner on what has been consumed while in Fijian waters!

July 16: Under way from Denarau

We left Denarau Marina the next morning and headed for Waya Island and the Octopus resort. It was a glorious day. Paul Mabee, our captain from N.Z. was staying aboard for a few days as our guest. The first 20 miles or so were just beautiful, then the wind and waves picked up. By the time we got to Waya Island both Rebecca and I were a little sea sick, having been on land for about eight months. The bay at Waya was too rough to anchor, so we decided to head north to Naviti Island in the Yasawa Group.

The Fijian Islands are difficult to navigate because the charts are poor and the islands are surrounded by reefs and coral heads. Passages here should only be attempted during daylight hours and then only between 10 AM and 4 PM when the sun is high overhead and obstacles in the water can be clearly seen. From a seafarer’s standpoint, it is difficult sailing. The trade winds blow relentlessly around 18 – 25 knots, so the seas are rough and choppy. It was sunset when we finally anchored at Soso V Bay, a protected anchorage on Naviti Island. The bay was surrounded by mountains covered by tall brown grass like the rest of western Fiji. There was a small village at the end of the bay nestled in a coconut grove along the beach. Locals passed us waving and yelling “ BULA” as they returned from work aboard their outboard driven skiffs. Along the beach we could see campfires burning as the sun set. We anchored in about 60 feet of water with the wind blowing around 25 – 30 knots. Katabatic winds were a concern in this anchorage. Later in the evening a cruise ship anchored at the outer edge of the bay, probably seeking refuge in smooth water for its passengers.

Rebecca made a lovely dinner despite not feeling 100%: Chicken Cacciatore along with local French green beans, a vegan chocolate cake with a hint of cayenne pepper, all served up with a lovely red Saumur. It was delicious and perfect for a tired crew.

July 17: Soso V Bay to Turtle Island

The next morning brought brilliant sunshine. The wind was still up, so a choppy ride was in store for us as we weighed the anchored and started the 22 mile passage to the Blue Lagoon near Turtle Island. This is the place made famous by Brook Shields and the movie of the same name. We picked our way past the reefs and coral heads and found a nice anchorage near the beach amongst a few sailboats. We dropped the tender and made our way to the resort’s iconic tropical beach restaurant for lunch. During the afternoon we tidied things up aboard Argo and then relaxed. We grilled New Zealand lamb chops for dinner served with couscous and a wonderful fresh fruit salad.

 

 

July 18: Blue Lagoon

This is a beautiful spot, not really a lagoon in the sense that we discovered in the Tuamotus, but actually a widened passage between several islands. These islands rise out of the cerulean blue water as big, steep hills perhaps 2,000 feet high, covered in tall brown grass this time of year, with palm trees growing along the shores and in valleys. There were three villages on the beaches of different islands.   We were anchored just off a very long gold sand beach with reefs all about. After breakfast, Rebecca and I went ashore and walked a few miles on the beach, then returned to the resort around noon for lunch. It took almost an hour to get our order, which was just a couple of sandwiches, and when I inquired as to when we might get them we were offered an apology and told it would be soon: the cook had gone to lunch!

All of us exercised in one way or another that afternoon. Around 5 PM we went ashore for Happy Hour at the Tikka Bar and talked with several sailors who had made the Pacific crossing at the same time we did. We hadn’t met them before, but they recognized Argo. Among them were Craig and Carol who hailed from Seattle. They had summered over in Fiji and didn’t go to New Zealand as many sailors do to avoid the cyclone season. They said they don’t want to take that risk again. It was great fun to share stories and learn from their experiences.

 

July 19: Crossing Bligh Water to Volivoli

It was a crystal clear day with a very comfortable weather forecast of light winds and moderate seas so we decided to weigh anchor and cross Bligh Water to Volivoli on the northwest coast of Viti Levu. It was a 50 mile crossing that would take about six hours. Bligh Water is named after Captain William Bligh (later Vice Admiral) of the H.M.S Bounty (which was a Cutter and Bligh a lieutenant and its only officer). He and eighteen loyal crew members were cast adrift in a small launch (by mutinous members of his crew) in 1789. In one of the all-time greatest feats of seamanship (Bligh learned navigation from Captain Cook) he sailed the boat 3,618 miles across an open, hostile ocean from Tahiti to Timor. He passed right through this Fijian channel, which the British named after him. Apparently he didn’t stop at Fiji because of the fierceness of the Fijians and their reputation for cannibalism. Local Fijians anecdotally claim that their ancestors chased him at sea, but failed to catch him.

Our course from Turtle Island to Viti Levu was almost a straight rhumbline, save for picking our way around a few reefs and coral heads. Although navigation is very hazardous, we found our MaxSea chart software to be almost accurate, so a sharp eye was always needed for the possibility of unmarked hazards. We traveled only between the hours of 10:00 and 16:00 when the sun is high and the reefs can be seen. We arrived at the channel through the reef at Viti Levu at 16:30. The chart was a little off and we needed to correct our course to port to avoid hitting the reef, so in this case traveling only when the sun was high was a safety essential. Once inside the passage between the reefs we turned to port and followed the channel inside the reef a few miles past Malakai Island to Volivoli Point and the protected bay where we anchored. Once settled, we had the chance to sit outside around our table in the cockpit and enjoy a libation and a glorious sunset.

Rebecca cooked up wonderful steaks and vegetables, topped off with a vegan fruit and coconut cake. Delicious!

July 20: Volivoli Beach

It was a beautiful day with the trades generously blowing from the east. Volivoli Beach is located on the northwest coast of the big island of Viti Levu. We went ashore to reconnoiter the little resort; Paul wanted to make travel arrangements to Denarau and we wanted to know about dinner reservations and local sights. We spent most of the day cleaning the salt off Argo and making minor adjustments and repairs. Paul was very generous with his knowledge of boats and helped with some maintenance items. Tinkering took all day and that evening we all got aboard our dingy and went to the resort’s restaurant for a night out. One cannot be too dressed up for these affairs as you have to climb out of the tender into knee deep water and walk on the beach to the resort. It was a lot of fun.

July 21: Diving on Golden Dream Reef and good-bye to Captain Paul.

At 08:15 we boarded the dive boat and headed off to scuba dive on Golden Dream Reef. Golden Dream is a series of coral heads on a much larger reef, which is at least a square mile in size. We dove about five miles off shore. The tide was incoming, which is apparently when the coral blooms and Golden Dream is all about the beautiful yellow flowering corals. It was windy, a little cold, and choppy waves made it a difficult dive. Nevertheless, we stepped off the dive boat into the sea, got our bearings, and then descended to a depth of about 100 feet. Immediately we could see the coral cliffs covered in golden fan corals. Swimming between bommies or coral heads was much like being in a labyrinth of flowering columns. It certainly was truly a golden dream.

July 22: Rakiraki Town

The wind was blowing and it looked like poor cruising weather for the next few days so we arranged for a taxi and went to the market in to Rakiraki Town. It was about a twenty minute trip along the Kings Hwy that circles the island and then over very rough gravel to the heart of town. The island is clearly volcanic: in the distance were huge mountains that were once part of a volcano’s cone. The foothills in the foreground were either formed when the caldera collapsed or originated when lava flowed. Now the hills are home to subsistence farms with fields of sugar cane. The farm houses are neatly painted and well maintained masonry structures, with goats and cattle milling about. Near Rakiraki Town is the sugar mill. The town itself looks like most third world small towns: masonry block two story buildings brightly painted with very high sidewalks of differing elevations. We were looking for the market, which we found located on one side of the square with the town occupying the other three sides. Most businesses, including the markets, are run by Indians. Fiji’s climate and fertile volcanic soil can grow almost anything, so we found all kinds of things that we were looking for including their delicious pineapples.   There was a bakery offering hot bread, so we stopped by for a loaf. There was all kinds of activity around the square including busy pedestrians in colorful clothing, particularly the Indian women with their beautiful exotic saris, men conducting business, buses picking up passengers for trips to other towns, shoppers moving in and out of the storefronts. It was exciting to be in the middle of such vibrant and colorful life activity once again.

July 23: Day tour to the Village of Navala

The Volivoli Resort helped us make arrangements for a guide and driver for a tour of the broader area. The next day we were picked up at 0830 in front of the hotel along with our four bags of trash. Getting rid of trash can sometimes be an issue on a boat, so our first order of business was for our guide, Sunny, to take us to the dump. Unlike our dumps, third world trash heaps don’t have anything useful in them. Our touring objective was the Village of Navala located high in the mountains above the city of Ba. It took about three, mostly tortuous, hours to get there as many of the roads were gravel and in poor repair. Our route took us south on the King’s Hwy past many small villages and thousands of acres of sugar cane fields. Local tribes own the land and the cane fields, which are tended by the village men. Field workers retain half the earnings from the sale of the cane and the other half goes to the village. From what I could tell, a worker keeps about $50 USD/day per worker if things are good. Cutting sugar cane looks like such hard and thankless work that I wanted to experience what an average person does, so I got out of the car and went into a field to ask if I they would teach me to cut sugar cane. The field hands were delighted to talk with us and allowed me a privileged glimpse into their world. My impressions were correct: it is tough work!

We moved along past the sugar cane mill at Rakiraki and numerous little villages until we turned onto the gravel mountain road leading to the Village of Navala, which is famous for its traditional thatched roof, bamboo and palm leaf huts. It is the only historic place of its kind left in the islands; every other village makes their domiciles of modern materials like clap wood, corrugated steel, or concrete block. Navala lies in a little valley high in the mountains surrounded by steep hillsides covered with tall brown grasses punctuated with black volcanic rock outcroppings. Here and there were green shrubs and an occasional mango or other tropical tree. Navala is laid out in the shape of a Christian Cross with 125 huts housing 850 residents. They have an elementary school with a dorm where the children sleep when school is in session, but they come back home each day for meals. I guess this gives the parents the opportunity to make more kids! The village also has a new Catholic Church, as religion is a key aspect of village life. Drinking water comes from an artesian well up high in the mountains, but bathing is done in the nearby rivers. The men go to the sugar cane fields around 0630 each morning except Sunday; the women prepare the noon meal at a house located in the cane fields each day and the men return home around 1600 in the afternoon. The cane fields are part of over 19,000 acres owned by the chief (village). When speaking on official matters, the chief often speaks though a spokesman or assistant chief, who is the person we met. The assistant chief sits at the chief’s right hand during council meetings.   When visiting we had to obtain permission to enter the village in advance. We were met by the assistant chief who conducted the Kava Ceremony in his hut next to the Chief’s hut and collected the F $25 per person fee plus a F $25 touring fee. The ceremony involves the presentation of gift of kava, the recitation of ritual words and cupped hand clapping by the men in attendance, and the sharing of a bowl of kava. Women sit behind the men and must be fully covered. Several village women were in the room with us, and little children peeked in from the doorway to see what was going on, but were shewed away as soon as the adults saw them.

The kava ceremony is a ritual that formally welcomes guests into the village as a members of the village family. Guests are extended the privileges and protection of the village and may anchor in the bay, fish, swim, come ashore, and hike about so long as they observe the courtesies of Fijian life. Kava is a drink made from the root of the yaqona, a type of pepper plant. Fijians harvest the root, crush it, and place it in a cloth. It is then immersed in water and squeezed until a magenta colored, muddy liquid is produced. They drink the liquid by downing a full cup at a time. Kava numbs the tongue and lips and is said to cause drowsiness and laziness when consumed in larger quantities. After the ceremony, Michael gave us a tour of the village and then we returned to his hut where the ladies had spread out a cloth and offered trinkets for sale.

While in Navala we learned that the Fijian Health Ministry is promoting tooth brushing, two children per family (down from double digit procreation), and the wearing of flip flops. It turns out that many people in the islands traditionally go barefoot. Unfortunately there is a parasitic worm that often burrows into people’s feet from the soil causing them to become disabled. Flip flops can put a stop to this condition.

On our way back to Volivoli Resort we stopped at the grave of the “Cannibal King” Chief Udre Udre who holds the Guinness Book of World Records for eating the most people. He kept a stone for each corpse he ate, and these stones were placed under and around his sarcophagus in Rakiraki. At his death in 1840 the pile added up to 999. He apparently believed that if he ate 1,000 corpses he would gain immortality. Who knows, perhaps he achieved it anyway.

July 24: Crossing Vatu-I-Ra Channel to Savusavu

Since our arrival two weeks before the winds in Fiji had been fierce. This was disappointing as we had hoped to visit the Lao Island Group during this cruise, but the waves were 8 feet +/- at a 6-8 second moment, very steep and box like. If we went to the Laos, it would require beating into these uncomfortable head seas for almost 200 miles, so we changed our plans and decided to head eighty-two miles northeast across Vatu-I-Ra Channel to Vanua Levu Island and the little port of Savusavu. This is a ten or twelve hour journey from Volivoli for Argo. The Vatu-I-Ra Channel has got to be one of the all-time worst channels to cross. It separates the two biggest Fijian islands of Viti Levu and Vanau Levu by a narrow gorge in the sea bottom through which pass the trade winds and the ocean swell that has developed across the southern ocean all the way from Antarctica. Winds average 35 knots with gusts to 47 knots, and they gain velocity on the lee side after having been compressed as they pass through the channel. As we passed through it the seas were high and very steep, but fortunately the main channel is only about 15 miles (2 ½ hours) across before coral reefs provide a little protection. We had some trepidation about the passage inside the reef given the accuracy of our charts and the experience of many sailors who found uncharted coral heads the hard way, with their boat! A week before a 70 foot sailing yacht with a crew of six onboard went down not far from here. As we progressed along our course we used our Furuno CH-250 directional sonar to search the depths in front of us, which gave us some confidence. However, keeping a sharp eye is always important as I spotted a patch of unsettled water that turned out to be a very large uncharted rock just slightly off our course to starboard. Lucky for us I saw it! There were three narrow passages through various parts of the reef. One of them, Nasonisani Passage, was particularly difficult. The surf was rolling into the passage from the south pushed by forty knot winds and when the waves hit the reef they exploded high in the air. As we neared the channel we could see monster rollers boiling in, but by then we were committed and there was nothing to do except to push through. Argo rose at least ten feet on the first wave and then fell off in seconds, plowing the bow under the next wave and causing green water to roll up to the pilot house windows. Then she rose again, only to fall in to the next wave. It was quite a violent few minutes, all the time we were praying that nothing went wrong with the boat or that we wouldn’t encounter an uncharted coral head. Eventually we went through the pass and made Savusavu harbor at sunset in 25 knots of wind; we anchored at the head of the bay in 75 feet of water. The harbor was completely filled with sailboats waiting out the heavy weather. After settling in, we enjoyed a couple of rums and a nice dinner.

Anchoring is a necessary skill when you’re doing the kind of cruising we’re doing. The first thing you need is a good anchor. We have a 350 lb. plow type anchor fixed to 600 feet of ½ inch high strength steel chain, which weighs about 3 lbs. per foot.   We generally let out chain equal to five or six times the distance from the bow to the bottom.   For example, in calm weather and with a depth of 50 feet, we would let out 250 +/- feet of chain. In that case we would have a total weight at the bottom of about 1,100 lbs.   When we anchor we lay out the chain, then put Argo in reverse until the anchor digs in. Once it bites, we are hooked and she doesn’t move even when the wind comes up.

July 25: Savusavu

Savusavu is a one street little town built on a creek with a bay on one side and steep, verdant hillsides on the other. It was Saturday and the town was filled with people shopping in the stores and the farmers’ market. We started the day with a trip to the farmers’ market, then the supermarkets, then the various stores to entertain ourselves. In the late afternoon we joined some other sailors for a trip to the Planters’ Club for drinks. Our sailor comrades told us about Curly and his seminars on Fijian waters held Sunday afternoon at a local restaurant

July 26: Curly Carswell

Curly is a salty old mariner of New Zealand extraction who has lived in Fiji on a houseboat in the Savusavu Creek for over 40 years. He is a silvered haired, bearded fellow who knows the ins and outs of these reefs like nobody else. He conducts a seminar ($10 USD) once a week for arriving boaters and tells tales of the islands and provides way-points through the reefs to places we all want to see. He sprinkles his lecture with stories of boats that have gone aground or yachts that have been totally lost on the hazardous reefs. Curly reported that so far this year four boats have gone hard aground. He is a very knowledgeable and charming character indeed. We spent four hours listening to his tales and getting his way-points and he helped us plan our trip to Taveuni Island and Viani Bay.

July 27: Market Day in Savusavu

We spent the next day preparing and provisioning for our trip to Viani Bay, home to one of the best dive sites in the world the famous Rainbow Reef. We needed to freshen our stores and get last minute waypoints from Curly, otherwise it was a lazy day that seemed to evaporate like a dream.

July 28: Passage to Viani Bay

It was a rough start after we weighed anchor at 0830. The short passage out of Savusavu Bay was pleasant enough, particularly as we passed the Jean-Michel Cousteau Resort near the point separating Savusavu Bay from the Koro Sea. As we passed through Point Passage things deteriorated quickly. Large rollers were boiling into the bay across the reef; Argo plowed through with her customary power and stability. Once out into the sea the waves soldiered in from the east in 5-6 second intervals and were about 6 feet in height. The wind blew at a steady 25 knots: it was unpleasant indeed. As we progressed up the coast toward Viani Bay and Tavenui Island we could see the lush, green forested hillsides of both Vanau Levu and Tavenui Islands. This is the windward side of Fiji, so it experiences more rain and thus has more vegetation. It was a picturesque sight to see the green and brown hills rise out of the blue ocean. As the day wore on, we eventually gained some shelter from the lee of Tavenui and life became more pleasant. Around 1500 we approached Viani Pass to make our way through the reef. This is a very dangerous time during any passage: reefs are coral and rock outcroppings that pose the potential of poking a hole in the bottom of any boat. One can expect to encounter strong currents (from the ocean rushing in and out with the tides) and waves of substantial size and power can develop. From the pilot house we could see the reef’s beautiful blue and green waters in the distance along with breaking waves.   The desire to get to the safety inside the pass can be very beguiling, but there was more danger to come as we couldn’t tell precisely how the boat would handle in these circumstances or if there was an uncharted rock or coral head on our course. At any rate, we entered the pass without difficulty and soon passed the reef and entered the placid waters leading to Viani Bay. The bay was quite large with several boats at anchor in various places. Only a couple of Fijian dwellings were visible. The hills surrounding the bay were high and steep, some with green foliage, some with tall brown grass, and some turned black from the burning of grass by the locals.

After settling in we went on the internet to find a dive resort and make arrangements to dive on the reef the next morning. Then cocktails, dinner, and a movie.

July 29: Rainbow Reef

The next morning a boat picked us at our anchorage at 0700 and took us to Dolphin Bay a few miles around the point near where we entered the pass. We wanted to dive the famous Rainbow Reef, one of the top ten dive spots in the world. The boat took us to a little dive resort located on the bay; it was a shabby little place, but very iconic South Seas in appearance. Guests live in tents and shower using a bucket of water. Every building has a sand floor, but the food and service were superb. All of the guests were either European or American and were among the most traveled and well informed people we have ever encountered. The owner, Roland (a German), was reputed to be the best dive operator in the region, and our dive-master Susan (also German) was excellent. Once we got our gear organized we headed to the dive boat and met our boatman, a colossal Fijian named Apex. We were glad to see him; he could pull anyone out of the water with one hand! After a fifteen minute boat ride we arrived at the first dive site. We dove in 100 feet of water, first on the channel side then on the lagoon side. Corals flourish in areas of swift current, and there is such a variety of corals here all having different shapes and color that it is called the “Rainbow Reef”.

The reef was spectacular. After jumping off the dive boat and descending to depth, the current pushed us along at about three miles per hour. Looking about the ledge we saw countless schools of fish, fantastic colors, and shapes in a world parallel to ours but much different. There are the familiar Elk Horn, Brain, Mushroom, Fan and other types of corals, and of course there were many different types of fish, many with the most amazing and dazzling indigo, red, green, olive, white and brown. As we “flew” along the reef enjoying the spectacular scenery, all of sudden we felt a current from above pushing us toward the dark blue infinity 1,300 feet below, but we moved past it.

We returned to the dive resort around 1400 and enjoyed lunch with our fellow divers. The cook had prepared a watercress salad, pumpkin squash fritters, and a chocolate crepe dessert. It was delicious. We were back on Argo around 1600.

July 30: Tour of Tavenui Island

 

At 0700 Apex picked us up for our trip to Tavenui Island across the Somosomo Channel. Tavenui is known as the “Garden Isle”, and indeed it was as verdant and beautiful as any island we have seen. The island seemed to be one huge mountain perhaps 50 miles long, 4,000 feet high and 25 miles wide. It doesn’t have a peak per se, but rather almost the whole island is a ridge of the same height. The lower third shows the patchwork signs of agricultural activity, but the upper two-thirds is all rain forest. Aside from enjoying the beauty of the island, we were scheduled for three stops: Tavoro Falls at the north end the island, the International Dateline Marker, and the little villages that dot the coastline. Our guide was Kamal, a farmer and part time guide for the Dolphin Bay Divers. Kamal is the third generation of his family in Fiji; his grandfather was a laborer brought here by the British to work in the sugar cane fields. His father was a laborer in the coconut plantations. Somehow Kamal was able to acquire a freehold of land, build a farm, and raise three children who are now all college educated. Quite an achievement.   He now grows Kava, which is a four year cop and very profitable. He is in the process of planting 1,000 Sandalwood trees. It takes twenty-five years for a tree to mature, and if they are of good quality can be sold for $100,000 each. Kamal apparently has patience, foresight, and big dreams! On our drive Kamal stopped by the home of the grower of the saplings he wishes to buy to complete his 1,000 tree inventory. When we arrived at the home of the grower we had to wake him from his afternoon nap, which is customary for Fijians. When I was introduced to him the first thing he told me was he was the Pastor of the Seventh Day Adventist Church. I congratulated him as he seemed very proud of this accomplishment, and then I notice that he was wearing a “T” shirt that read “Love Your Bank”.  Although practical, you can’t make this sort of thing up! He showed us about his little yard.   He has one Sandalwood tree growing in the yard, and from this tree he grows saplings that he has planted on his farm and also sold to other people. I asked how he got in the Sandalwood business. Apparently he learned about the business from his brother who had researched it on the internet. They learned what a Sandalwood tree was worth in India, which inspired them to start growing it for themselves in Fiji. Sandalwood is used in making soap and fragrances.

 

Kamal told us how the average Tavenui Fijian lives. Basically they go to their fields in the morning and tend their crops until lunchtime. They return home for lunch, a nap and that’s it. After dinner the men sit around and drink kava, a drink that is nonalcoholic but nevertheless has a numbing effect on the mind and body. The men stay up past midnight and then fall asleep only to repeat this routine day-after-day. Women do the wash by hand, clean the dwelling, and tend to the children. Men often do the cooking. From what we could see, the Fijians live an impoverished life by our standards, but they are clearly a happy lot. They basically live off the land, own a few animals for food, and collect the income that the tribe earns for renting its land to other people like the industrious Indians, who run and own most of the businesses in Fiji. Fijians, however, own 90% of all the land in Fiji.  

 

As far as tourist sights are concerned, the waterfall was perhaps the most beautiful I have ever seen. Long, slender, cascading sheets of water falling 100 feet or more to a beautiful blue pool, surrounded by red rocks and lush, tropical plants; it was idyllic.

 

The Rotary Club in Tavenui has constructed an attractive and informative site to illustrate the International Dateline, which passes through Tavenui. You can stand on one side of the line and half your body will be in ‘today” and half in “yesterday”. Very interesting. We traveled on a two lane cow path for a mile to find it.

 

July 31: Viani Bay to the Blue Lagoon

 

El Nino is apparently causing comparatively poor weather conditions here. The winds are higher than normal making the seas rough and unpleasant. Because of the islands, wind is focused and compressed between the island channels and then accelerates out the other side turning normal 18-25 knot trade winds into 40- 45 knot blows. The trades are one thing, but katabatic winds add to the mix. Today a tropical low pressure formed over Vanuatu and the Solomon Islands and is moving toward Fiji bringing high winds and heavy rain Sunday through most of the week. For that reason we decided to move again to the Yasawa Islands and the Blue Lagoon to wait out the weather. It has a protected harbor usually with other boaters for company and a resort, beach bar and restaurant on shore. It is a nice spot. Getting there required a one and one half day trip around the lee or western side of Vanau Levu and across the Vatu-I-Ra channel once again. The trip on the lee side of Vanua Levu was pleasant and relatively calm as we suspected, but by the time we got to the channel it was a mess, with very high winds and big seas. Luckily the crossing was only a two hour ordeal and we made the Blue Lagoon 29 hours after we departed Viani Bay. Once again we found Argo to be simply the best: she powered though the seas giving us a relatively good ride in spite of ten foot beam seas on an 8 second moment.

 

August 1: Arrival at the Blue Lagoon

 

After an all-night run from Viani Bay we arrived and dropped anchor in 50 feet of water. Salty and tired, we lowered the tender and made for the beach for cocktails and dinner. The resort was small and intimate. Only three couples showed up for dinner that night, but the resort scheduled a men’s singing group to perform Fijian music accompanied by guitar, ukulele, and a homemade bass composed of a stick and string pressed on a large wooden box for amplification. It all sounded very good. Dinner was great too, particularly the banana cream pie made with the special coconut cream and sweet little finger sized bananas that you can only get in these islands.

 

August 2 -6: The Blue Lagoon

 

We were at anchor in the wind and rain for several days. The wind was up to 45 knots in the anchorage, and Argo was moving around accordingly. On occasion we go into the resort for dinner, and the furious conditions were rather unsettling as we headed to shore in our tender. One day we decided to venture out in the dingy across the bay to another island and a small subsistence farm that sometimes sells fruits and vegetables to yachters. Salie, a local village woman, guided us to the farm. We crossed the bay that was wind whipped and turbulent and then rounded a point and preceded into second bay. Altogether it was an uncomfortable, wet, 30 minute ordeal. We were looking for a small mangrove area at the shoreline inside of which was a small river. We took the river to its end and anchored the boat to the shore, climbed the mud foot path up a hill to a place where three small buildings, a couple of goats, and a flock of chickens were located. Mattie, Salie’s auntie, met us with a handshake and “Bula” and agreed to sell us some food. She led us down the other side of the hill along a well-worn footpath through the jungle about a quarter mile to her hand cultivated fields. Along the footpath was a three inch rubber irrigation line that fed water to her gardens. The cultivated fields were small, perhaps a quarter acre each. She grew melons, beans, carrots, spinach, lettuce, cassava, taro, bananas, papaya, cucumbers, tomatoes and squash. She also raised goats, chickens, and a steer. As we placed our order she went about the gardens with a knife harvesting. It was great fun to see how native Fijians live, but we had to deal with the boat ride back!

 

The next day we talked with Ivan, the owner of the resort. He is a 73 year old Australian ex-truck driver who bought the Nanuya Resort three years ago. Education is wonderful, but when you see what a practical, industrious person can do for himself and other people it is simply amazing!   For fifteen years he and his wife had been active in charitable work to aid the Fijian’s.   When this resort became available for purchase they decided to buy it, in part to help the three villages in this area. For three years he and his Fijian workers have been renovating it.  The resort needs a lot of power not only to run the desalination plant, but also to run hair dryers, the laundry, cooking appliances, lights, TVs, …the works. It’s a lot of electricity. One of the most interesting things we discovered was that Ivan had installed an American made solar power system to provide power for the whole resort, including making fresh water. High on the hillside overlooking the resort was a vast array of solar panels that replaced a generator that used to provide power. The generator burned almost $130,000 a year in fuel, whereas the solar power system cost about $800,000 to construct. Ivan figured it had a nine year payback period when all costs were considered. Next to the solar arrays were newly cultivated and irrigated fields of pineapple and other vegetables. Now the resort grows some of its food, makes its own water, and generates all its own electricity – all without paying for oil or incurring any costs other than maintenance.   From what I could see, solar power is going to make a tremendous difference worldwide in terms of reducing pollution and also the demand for oil.

 

The way of life in Fiji is changing. Most of the people live in villages. They have lived for a millennium or more in a non-cash economy. They didn’t need money because they could literally catch a fish or grab a piece of fruit off a tree when they were hungry. Their clothes were made of easily obtainable materials. They wanted for nothing. Then came the cell phone and now the internet. Now they need cash to pay their phone bill. One night we were returning to Argo and walked down the beach to our dingy. It was a beautiful starry night.   I noticed a Fijian man sitting on a coconut tree log on the beach at the water’s edge in the moonlight. It seemed idyllic; an isolated Garden of Eden far from the cares and hustle-bustle of the developed world. Then I noticed; he was talking on his cell phone. There is no escape, there are no corners of the earth any longer, not even in Fiji.

 

The next day was beautiful and calm. Rebecca and I packed up the tender with beach chairs, books, and snorkel gear and headed for the beach. It was a rare and beautiful time for us. In all the cruising we have done we rarely get a moment like that.

 

August 7 -9: Denarau

 

Tuesday morning we awoke to a dysfunctional watermaker. We were at anchor far from a water supply, so we had only three days or so to get the thing fixed. We tried all the simple things that knew how to do, but a fifty mile trip to Denarau was in the cards. We called our agent, Eli, to see if she could line up a slip and a technician in Denarau for us. Luckily she found a two day berth for us and she scheduled a technician to meet us at 1500 on the dock. In the meantime we called the factory in the U.S. to sort out the possibilities. Fortunately, we had all the parts we needed on board. We took the machine completely apart after we docked, and examined its innards. The high pressure pump needed a rebuild, and after completing that job with an engineer, everything was up and running again.   It is always a great feeling to actually fix something.

 

Across the dock from us was berthed our Swedish friend, Kaj Liljebladh, on S/Y Amelit. We first met Kaj in Panama, then again in Fatu Hiva, Papeete, and Gulf Harbor. During our last night in port we enjoyed a lovely cookout on Argo with Kaj talking about our various ports of call and the experiences we have shared.

August 9 -14: Musket Cove

 

We moved 12 miles south of Denarau the next morning to Musket Cove Marina on Malolo Lailai Island. Getting into the bay was a little tricky with all the reefs about, but we knew we were on the right track when we passed Dragonfly (Google’s Yacht) on the way in. It was windy as heck, so we anchored until the next morning when we moved to the little marina. It’s a cool little spot with cottages, a beach, restaurants and golf course.   We played the golf course one morning; it cost $10 USD for nine holes. Although it wasn’t the best golf course I ever played, it certainly was picturesque and the cheapest. Argo is stern tied to a dock that was constructed between the main island and a little island a few hundred yards off shore. Argo is right beside a genuine thatched roofed Tikki with a classic beach sand floor and built on the little island. We spent a few days here before returning to Ann Arbor for a medical appointment. Argo is now lying at Musket Cove with Tyler aboard until we determine our cruising time line.

 

I have uploaded new pictures on www.tischtravels.com

 

Thank you for looking in on us.

 

Randy and Rebecca

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Captain’s Log New Zealand to Fiji July 20, 2015

CAPTAINS LOG JULY 20, 2015 – FIJI #1

BULA!  From Fiji. 

Our last blog was posted from Lake Taupo as we were heading back to Auckland on the last leg of our five week tour of New Zealand.  After driving on two lane roads through the beautiful farmland of the central North Island, passing the thermal fields, volcanos, and geologic wonders of the island, we drove back to Auckland and spent a week walking the city and enjoying the Chinese New Year’s Festival held in the center city.  Hundreds of students from China come to New Zealand over this holiday to enjoy a respite from the Chinese winter, like their American counterparts in Ft. Lauderdale.  These are rich, young and “beautiful” people of the People’s Republic; Prada, Gucci, and Versace are on full display along with a certain arrogant aloofness that seems common to the young and privileged regardless of the state of their origin.  In Auckland City Center the Chinese government sponsors a huge cultural festival featuring colorful classical dances, ancient traditional puppet shows, and food from all over China; it was all very interesting.

We flew back to the U.S. on March 2 to attend the wedding of the daughter of two of our dearest friends.  The wedding was held in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and attended by many of our lifelong friends.  It was quite an adjustment having traveled across many time and altitudinal zones.  We shared a luxurious apartment with our daughter and son-in-law, spent a day or two skiing, dined at beautiful restaurants, and spent an afternoon snowmobiling in the alpine splendor of the Rocky Mountains.  It was a great time. 

After the wedding we returned to Ann Arbor to attend to the renovation of our home and to file our tax returns.  On the bright side, we had been invited to speak to the historic Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle, and our Rotary Club in Ann Arbor.  These events were a lot of fun for us, as it gave us a chance to meet other boaters and to show our friends in Ann Arbor exactly what we had been doing over the past year.  Unfortunately in the midst of a hurried visit home, Rebecca’s father began to quickly fail; two weeks later he regrettably passed away.

I returned to New Zealand on April 9 to move Argo about 25 miles north of Auckland to Gulf Harbor Shipyard at Whangarparaoa, and to oversee the maintenance work that was scheduled.  She was slow and not very agile on her short passage north after six months in the Viaduct Marina.  As we latter leaned, Viaduct Harbor is notorious for heavy marine growth and when Argo was pulled out of the water it was evident that she had become home to a shocking amount of crusty bivalves.  This is all to be expected as boats need to be hauled about every 18 months to remove marine growth from their bottom and through-hulls.  After she was cleaned up, Argo received a new coat of bottom paint and her propellers were coated with a special paint to inhibit marine growth and make them more slippery.  At the same time other repairs were made including waxing the hull.  We also had to clean the two forward fuel tanks of a silicone sealing substance that had fallen into the tanks during the boat’s construction and posed the potential of clogging the fuel lines.  This required a technician to remove the access covers from the tanks, don a hazmat suit, crawl inside the tanks and scrub all the surfaces.  After he was done, all the fuel onboard was removed and polished in special centrifugal filters.  At this point Argo was beautiful from top to bottom, and the travel hoist came to lift her off her supports and put her in the water, ready for our trip north to Fiji.   All of this took a couple of weeks. 

As the work was coming to an end, I escaped to the Lake Taupo Lodge for a few days of fly fishing in one of the world’s greatest trout habitats.  The area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beauty and geological importance.   Three cone shaped volcanoes lie on a flat plain made of ancient volcanic debris.  The largest volcano is snowcapped most of the year, and the other two lie on a path a few miles apart in line with Lake Taupo.  Lake Taupo is a fresh water lake about 240 square miles in size, and occupies the sunken caldera of an extinct volcano that exploded 26,500 years ago.  The eruption, perhaps the largest in history, is known as the Oruanui eruption and ejected about 1170 CC kilometers of material into the atmosphere.  Scientists speculate that this eruption may have started the last ice age.  Today the lake is the tranquil home to huge brown and rainbow trout (put there about 100 years ago from stock obtained in Scotland and California) that feast on crayfish and spawn in the Waitahanui, Tongariro, and the Tauranga Taupo Rivers.  My fishing adventure began on the Tauranga Taupo River; my guide drove us to his cabin on the river that he leased from the Maori, then we put on waders and spent the day tramping along the banks and in the river casting for elusive trout.  It was a beautiful day spent in a rocky, forested area that is as pristine as second growth forests can be.  The old growth forests of New Zealand with their huge Kauri trees were chopped down during the last century, and the current forest is only a fraction of what it once was, but it was nevertheless quite lovely and the trout seem to flourish here.  We fished using wet flies and strike indicators, casting out to deep pools where the big fish lie. Unlike our ocean fishing practice of using heavy line and steel leaders to bring big, toothy fish aboard Argo,  here we used very light line and tackle to give the fish a fighting chance.  These fish are big and strong, and put up quite a fight as they try to escape by dance down the river on their tail.  It is easy for them to break the line or throw the hook, so some measure of skill is required to sense their taking of the fly and to gently bring them to the net.  It didn’t take long before I had a 5-6 pound rainbow on the line. Getting it to the net and then removing the hook so that it could be released to go about its life unharmed required a fair degree of finesse.

The next day we drove about ninety minutes to the mountains above Napier to the Waipawa River.  This river is also a very famous trout stream that we fished using a raft to transport us to various spots along the river.  Our float lasted for about six hours.   Our fishing was very productive; I caught at least 15 large fish, all educated and then released.  The river worked its way toward the ocean cutting a gorge through limestone cliffs that hundreds of millions years ago were part of the ocean floor on the Pacific tectonic plate, and before that, part of the original continent of Pangea.  As we passed the cliffs, we could see fossils and large volcanic rocks embedded in the limestone from ages past.  Above the cliffs were sheep and cattle station pastures; here grass is grown as a crop as earnestly as we grow corn.  The largest sheep and cattle ranch in New Zealand (75,000 acres) that had been owned by a prominent family for generations was recently sold to a Chinese person.

The next day I drove back to Auckland, past huge stainless steel pipes glittering in the bright sunshine carrying geothermal energy that the Kiwis’ use for heat and electricity.  On the way I picked up Rebecca at the airport.  She had remained for an extra two weeks in Michigan to help her mother following her father’s death.  Tired but anxious to see Argo again, we drove the fifty or so miles to back to Whangarparaoa. 

The next morning I arose to complete my ADL’s; I was shocked to find blood in my urine.   Alarmed, we went to the local hospital (of course it was a three day holiday), but nothing could really be diagnosed there.  The next morning the same thing, so we quickly arranged to return home and scheduled an examination at the University of Michigan.   There we learned that I had bladder cancer, an excision of the lesion was performed within ten days and followed by six weeks of immunotherapy.  After the last dose, we have a six week break until the next biopsy, so we had Tyler, our New Zealand friend Ted Dixon, and a professional captain, Paul Mabee, bring Argo up to Fiji where we met her after an 11 hour flight from LAX.

Fiji is an island nation made up of 322 islands, a hundred of which are inhabited.  Most of the population (under 900,000) lives on the largest two islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.  The islands are volcanic in origin and lie 1,100 miles directly north of New Zealand and 400 miles west of Tonga.  The smaller, more remote islands of the Lau Group lie 200 miles east of Viti Levu and are sparsely populated.  People of the Lau Group live a traditional way of life.    Visiting these islands requires permission of the village chief, which can be obtained after completing “Savusavu”, a ceremony of respect and supplication requiring the presentation of Kava, which comes from the Yaqona bush.  Kava is a root that when washed and pressed by hand in a large bowl produces a magenta, muddy colored drink that yields a numbing, relaxing effect.  Kava is reputed to be an aphrodisiac for women, but it puts men to sleep.  West of Viti Levu lies the Yasawa Islands, where fancy resorts accommodate the tourists of Australia, New Zealand and increasingly China.  Between two of the islands lies the Blue Lagoon, made famous by the Brooke Shields’ movie bearing its name.  In the old days Fijians were warriors with a fierce reputation.  Aside from cannibalism, Fijian warriors practiced “fire-walking”,  an historic ritual wherein young men actually walked on hot stones heated by a fire that may have been used to roast human beings!  Today only chicken and pork are roasted, but young men still fire-walk for the entertainment of tourists. 

Argo is now moored next to Dragonfly, a large yacht owned by the founders of Google (not sure if it is one or both owners) at Denarau Marina near Nandi.  We must be in the high rent district.  Anchored out in the bay is an even larger yacht owned by a Russian.  Eli, our agent here who is handling the formalities of that yacht too, told us that the couple lives aboard with a dog.  They have two veterinarians, two nurses, and a security detail on board for the dog.  Recently the dog had some sort of eye problem and they flew the thing to Honolulu in a private jet with its full entourage!  Nice to know how the other .0000000000001% of the population lives!   

Thanks for reading our blog and keeping in touch with us.  We’ll update our blog and load some new pictures next month after we are back in the land of bandwidth.

Randy and Rebecca

Captain’s Log New Zealand to Fiji July 20, 2015

CAPTAINS LOG JULY 20, 2015 – FIJI #1

BULA!  From Fiji. 

Our last blog was posted from Lake Taupo as we were heading back to Auckland on the last leg of our five week tour of New Zealand.  After driving on two lane roads through the beautiful farmland of the central North Island, passing the thermal fields, volcanos, and geologic wonders of the island, we drove back to Auckland and spent a week walking the city and enjoying the Chinese New Year’s Festival held in the center city.  Hundreds of students from China come to New Zealand over this holiday to enjoy a respite from the Chinese winter, like their American counterparts in Ft. Lauderdale.  These are rich, young and “beautiful” people of the People’s Republic; Prada, Gucci, and Versace are on full display along with a certain arrogant aloofness that seems common to the young and privileged regardless of the state of their origin.  In Auckland City Center the Chinese government sponsors a huge cultural festival featuring colorful classical dances, ancient traditional puppet shows, and food from all over China; it was all very interesting.

We flew back to the U.S. on March 2 to attend the wedding of the daughter of two of our dearest friends.  The wedding was held in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and attended by many of our lifelong friends.  It was quite an adjustment having traveled across many time and altitudinal zones.  We shared a luxurious apartment with our daughter and son-in-law, spent a day or two skiing, dined at beautiful restaurants, and spent an afternoon snowmobiling in the alpine splendor of the Rocky Mountains.  It was a great time. 

After the wedding we returned to Ann Arbor to attend to the renovation of our home and to file our tax returns.  On the bright side, we had been invited to speak to the historic Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle, and our Rotary Club in Ann Arbor.  These events were a lot of fun for us, as it gave us a chance to meet other boaters and to show our friends in Ann Arbor exactly what we had been doing over the past year.  Unfortunately in the midst of a hurried visit home, Rebecca’s father began to quickly fail; two weeks later he regrettably passed away.

I returned to New Zealand on April 9 to move Argo about 25 miles north of Auckland to Gulf Harbor Shipyard at Whangarparaoa, and to oversee the maintenance work that was scheduled.  She was slow and not very agile on her short passage north after six months in the Viaduct Marina.  As we latter leaned, Viaduct Harbor is notorious for heavy marine growth and when Argo was pulled out of the water it was evident that she had become home to a shocking amount of crusty bivalves.  This is all to be expected as boats need to be hauled about every 18 months to remove marine growth from their bottom and through-hulls.  After she was cleaned up, Argo received a new coat of bottom paint and her propellers were coated with a special paint to inhibit marine growth and make them more slippery.  At the same time other repairs were made including waxing the hull.  We also had to clean the two forward fuel tanks of a silicone sealing substance that had fallen into the tanks during the boat’s construction and posed the potential of clogging the fuel lines.  This required a technician to remove the access covers from the tanks, don a hazmat suit, crawl inside the tanks and scrub all the surfaces.  After he was done, all the fuel onboard was removed and polished in special centrifugal filters.  At this point Argo was beautiful from top to bottom, and the travel hoist came to lift her off her supports and put her in the water, ready for our trip north to Fiji.   All of this took a couple of weeks. 

As the work was coming to an end, I escaped to the Lake Taupo Lodge for a few days of fly fishing in one of the world’s greatest trout habitats.  The area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beauty and geological importance.   Three cone shaped volcanoes lie on a flat plain made of ancient volcanic debris.  The largest volcano is snowcapped most of the year, and the other two lie on a path a few miles apart in line with Lake Taupo.  Lake Taupo is a fresh water lake about 240 square miles in size, and occupies the sunken caldera of an extinct volcano that exploded 26,500 years ago.  The eruption, perhaps the largest in history, is known as the Oruanui eruption and ejected about 1170 CC kilometers of material into the atmosphere.  Scientists speculate that this eruption may have started the last ice age.  Today the lake is the tranquil home to huge brown and rainbow trout (put there about 100 years ago from stock obtained in Scotland and California) that feast on crayfish and spawn in the Waitahanui, Tongariro, and the Tauranga Taupo Rivers.  My fishing adventure began on the Tauranga Taupo River; my guide drove us to his cabin on the river that he leased from the Maori, then we put on waders and spent the day tramping along the banks and in the river casting for elusive trout.  It was a beautiful day spent in a rocky, forested area that is as pristine as second growth forests can be.  The old growth forests of New Zealand with their huge Kauri trees were chopped down during the last century, and the current forest is only a fraction of what it once was, but it was nevertheless quite lovely and the trout seem to flourish here.  We fished using wet flies and strike indicators, casting out to deep pools where the big fish lie. Unlike our ocean fishing practice of using heavy line and steel leaders to bring big, toothy fish aboard Argo,  here we used very light line and tackle to give the fish a fighting chance.  These fish are big and strong, and put up quite a fight as they try to escape by dance down the river on their tail.  It is easy for them to break the line or throw the hook, so some measure of skill is required to sense their taking of the fly and to gently bring them to the net.  It didn’t take long before I had a 5-6 pound rainbow on the line. Getting it to the net and then removing the hook so that it could be released to go about its life unharmed required a fair degree of finesse.

The next day we drove about ninety minutes to the mountains above Napier to the Waipawa River.  This river is also a very famous trout stream that we fished using a raft to transport us to various spots along the river.  Our float lasted for about six hours.   Our fishing was very productive; I caught at least 15 large fish, all educated and then released.  The river worked its way toward the ocean cutting a gorge through limestone cliffs that hundreds of millions years ago were part of the ocean floor on the Pacific tectonic plate, and before that, part of the original continent of Pangea.  As we passed the cliffs, we could see fossils and large volcanic rocks embedded in the limestone from ages past.  Above the cliffs were sheep and cattle station pastures; here grass is grown as a crop as earnestly as we grow corn.  The largest sheep and cattle ranch in New Zealand (75,000 acres) that had been owned by a prominent family for generations was recently sold to a Chinese person.

The next day I drove back to Auckland, past huge stainless steel pipes glittering in the bright sunshine carrying geothermal energy that the Kiwis’ use for heat and electricity.  On the way I picked up Rebecca at the airport.  She had remained for an extra two weeks in Michigan to help her mother following her father’s death.  Tired but anxious to see Argo again, we drove the fifty or so miles to back to Whangarparaoa. 

The next morning I arose to complete my ADL’s; I was shocked to find blood in my urine.   Alarmed, we went to the local hospital (of course it was a three day holiday), but nothing could really be diagnosed there.  The next morning the same thing, so we quickly arranged to return home and scheduled an examination at the University of Michigan.   There we learned that I had bladder cancer, an excision of the lesion was performed within ten days and followed by six weeks of immunotherapy.  After the last dose, we have a six week break until the next biopsy, so we had Tyler, our New Zealand friend Ted Dixon, and a professional captain, Paul Mabee, bring Argo up to Fiji where we met her after an 11 hour flight from LAX.

Fiji is an island nation made up of 322 islands, a hundred of which are inhabited.  Most of the population (under 900,000) lives on the largest two islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu.  The islands are volcanic in origin and lie 1,100 miles directly north of New Zealand and 400 miles west of Tonga.  The smaller, more remote islands of the Lau Group lie 200 miles east of Viti Levu and are sparsely populated.  People of the Lau Group live a traditional way of life.    Visiting these islands requires permission of the village chief, which can be obtained after completing “Savusavu”, a ceremony of respect and supplication requiring the presentation of Kava, which comes from the Yaqona bush.  Kava is a root that when washed and pressed by hand in a large bowl produces a magenta, muddy colored drink that yields a numbing, relaxing effect.  Kava is reputed to be an aphrodisiac for women, but it puts men to sleep.  West of Viti Levu lies the Yasawa Islands, where fancy resorts accommodate the tourists of Australia, New Zealand and increasingly China.  Between two of the islands lies the Blue Lagoon, made famous by the Brooke Shields’ movie bearing its name.  In the old days Fijians were warriors with a fierce reputation.  Aside from cannibalism, Fijian warriors practiced “fire-walking”,  an historic ritual wherein young men actually walked on hot stones heated by a fire that may have been used to roast human beings!  Today only chicken and pork are roasted, but young men still fire-walk for the entertainment of tourists. 

Argo is now moored next to Dragonfly, a large yacht owned by the founders of Google (not sure if it is one or both owners) at Denarau Marina near Nandi.  We must be in the high rent district.  Anchored out in the bay is an even larger yacht owned by a Russian.  Eli, our agent here who is handling the formalities of that yacht too, told us that the couple lives aboard with a dog.  They have two veterinarians, two nurses, and a security detail on board for the dog.  Recently the dog had some sort of eye problem and they flew the thing to Honolulu in a private jet with its full entourage!  Nice to know how the other .0000000000001% of the population lives!   

Thanks for reading our blog and keeping in touch with us.  We’ll update our blog and load some new pictures next month after we are back in the land of bandwidth.

Randy and Rebecca

THE ARGONAUT The South Island by Car Feb 18, 2015

THE SOUTH ISLAND

Crossing Cook’s Strait (Jan 20):   We left Wellington on the 8:30 AM ferry to Picton, a lovely little port on the north coast of the South Island just 13 miles across Cook’s Strait.   It was a clear, sunny day with calm seas (which can get very angry during the winter season) making the 3 hour trip delightful.  The ship weaved in and out of the lovely, picturesque islands which are in reality the tops of mountains that extend from north to south in New Zealand.  They are covered in green grass or forests, depending on the microenvironment, and the gorges in the steep hillsides provided little bays, some of which had a building or two marking a town’s site.  The ocean was a brilliant blue, and everything was clean and clear.   It reminded us of our trip through Desolation Sound in British Columbia aboard Odyssey in 2011.   

Driving to Abel Tasman Park:  We disembarked in Picton and picked up our new rental car.  From Picton we drove west for about 4 hours to a little town of Pohara on the Golden Bay, the western gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park.  The two lane highway took us through part of the Marlborough wine region on the north coast.  The geography here is similar to northern California, with broad valleys bordered by low mountains that are covered with forests.  The famous vineyards of Cloudy Bay and Oyster Bay, among others, are spread out across the valley along with large cattle farms.  The flat plane of the valley floor is broken up by wind breaks of high hedges, Lombardy Poplars, or rows of pine trees.   As we drove along we eventually came to the end of the valley, then ascended a windy, hair-pinned curved road over the mountains to the next valley.  The drive over the mountains provided stunning pastoral vistas: views of rivers flowing through the valleys and herds of animals grazing lazily in the warm sunshine.  The roadside was carpeted in colorful wildflowers of orange, yellow, and purple.  We stopped at the little town of Havelock for lunch and as we entered the café we spotted a couple we knew: Leslie and Don Brown from Trueblue, a 65 ft. Oyster sailing yacht we met in Papeete and again in Vava’U.  What a surprise: they were touring the country by motorcycle!  After a nice lunch including a bucket of Green Lip Clams each the size of an egg, we were off again.

As we continued along, the highway began to skirt Tasman Bay at the city of Nelson, an artist colony and resort town at the eastern entrance to the park.  Here golden sand beaches were the largest I had ever seen, and people by the score took full advantage of the fabulous sunny weather and ocean surf.  An hour or so more down the road brought us to Takaka a few more miles further to our hotel in Pohara on the shores of the Golden Bay.  Our hotel was a nice little spot run by a New Hampshire transplant and his partner.  From this base we explored the park, but more importantly Cape Farewell and the Spit. 

Cape Farewell and the Spit (Jan 21):  Cape Farewell is the northwestern most point on the South Island and it is named for the countless seafarers who bade farewell to their loved ones as they went to sea.  The cape itself is a beautiful promontory of greywacke rock, and the “Spit” is a finger of sand that extends 36 km. north and encloses the Golden Bay by its eastern flank.  The Spit is growing, as it has for thousands of years.  It was formed by sand carried north by ocean currents from points south on the South Island’s coast.  The sand comes from the erosion of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  The Southern Alps are made of rock that has been pushed up by tectonic plate forces as the Australian Plate folds under the Pacific Plate.  The plates slide against one another: the resulting fault is the boundary of the plates and can be seen from space as a rift line falling on the western side of the Southern Alps and extending in a straight line from northeast to southwest. The fault is often the site of large lakes lying within the mountains of New Zealand.  On the western side of the fault the mountains are made of granite or dolomite from the Australian-Indian Plate, on the eastern side the rocks are greywacke, sandstone, limestone, rock and mud or sea floor strata from the Pacific Plate.  Ancient creatures from the Cambrian are fossilized in some rocks, while others date from the Earth’s original Gowanda continent a billion or more years ago.  The last ice age ended about ten thousand years ago, but for perhaps one hundred thousand years, massive glaciers two or three miles thick crushed the mountains and carved out New Zealand as we see it today.  The glaciers ground the stone and as the glaciers melted rivers formed that brought the stone to the ocean’s shore.  The glaciers piled up huge moraines that radiate outward from the central mountains and look like mountains themselves.   The ancient riverbeds of gravel, perhaps 400 feet deep, formed the plains that are the agricultural heartland of the country.  The plains of the south island are largest in the east and southern portions of the islands, and are narrower on the western side of the mountains.  When driving around New Zealand, one of the most fascinating things I have found is that the geologic history of the world is all laid out before you, with different ages apparent around almost every turn.  It is all simply breathtaking!

Plate tectonics is forcing the mountains up about one inch per year, but erosion diminishes them by about the same amount.  The tops of many mountains are huge gravel fields.  As the mountains are eroded by wind and weather sand is created, the mountain streams carry the sand to the Tasman Sea, sea currents carry the sand north to Cape Farewell where a counter current causes the sand to be deposited forming the Spit.   

Our tour was conducted on a large bus especially customized to be a four wheel drive, oversized dune buggy. Our tour lasted about eight hours; we drove 30 km down the Spit to an old light house.  There the tour operators provided tea and snacks as we walked around the enclosure that once was home to the lighthouse keepers.  We made several other exploratory stops along the way to examine interesting things like Fur Seals, the Gannet colony, and to climb the beautiful dunes and explore features of the beach.  The life along the Spit was very interesting, particularly the bird life, such as seeing Oyster Catchers and Gannets.  Touring the Cape Farewell Spit was one of the most interesting things we have done.

Driving to Arthur’s Pass (Jan 23):  The drive from tiny Pohara on the northern coast to Wilderness Lodge high up in Arthur’s Pass was a nine hour trip across the northwestern quadrant of the South Island.  It started with a 20 km winding trip across the Arthur Range of Mountains which are high and very beautiful with lush, verdant greenery.  Wildflowers carpet the sides of the road and large limestone massifs inspire awe as we whipped around hairpin curves avoiding giant double tandem lorries.  The scenery was remarkable.  We descended the mountains into the Tapawera River Valley to find large dairy and sheep herds grazing on beautiful pastureland.  We followed Highway 6 over hill and dale through the valley for several hours until we reached the coast of the Tasman Sea at Westport.  Along the way we picked up Simon, a young (24) lad from Salzburg, France, who had left home after his mother died of cancer three years ago.  His father died at sea when he was age 13.  Simon had traveled first to Kazakhstan, then to India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam before coming to New Zealand.  He was a very intelligent young man, but he said he had no reason to return to Europe or France (as he seemed to have no one to love or care for him there). He told us of his experiences twice being robbed of his backpack at knife point and being cheated by temporary employers or hostel owners.  He asked me all sorts of questions about investing his inheritance of $20K euros. It seemed so sad to us that he wanders the world by himself without anyone to care about him or know where he is.   One thing we did learn from Simon: backpackers don’t shower much and Rebecca was forced to keep the A/C on full blast to provide relief for her delicate olfactory senses! 

At Westport we turned south and followed Highway 6 to Greymouth.  This part of the South Island is covered in rainforest.  Here they get plenty of rain, 6 -7 meters of rain per year.  It rains 25 days a month here, but fortunately we are traveling during a dry spell, so the sky is clear and beautiful.  The road winds around the shoreline with the mountains and beautiful, lush fern forest on our left and the Tasman Sea on our right.  The sea water is a beautiful grey-blue color unlike any I have ever seen. Perhaps the sun reflects off the sand bottom or the suspended sand in the water being carried north as I described above.  As we drove south we came to the “Pancake Rocks”, a very unusual rock formation jutting out into the sea.  The rocks look like chimneys of very thin stacks of pancakes.  We spent an hour here and it was fascinating.   A picture is worth a thousand words, so I will direct you to the website picture gallery to see them.

An hour or so further down the road brought us to Greymouth, a major crossroad on the island: it connects Christchurch on the east coast with the west coast via both rail and highway.  At this point we bade farewell to Simon and turned east up highway 73 toward the little town of Arthur’s Pass and the Wilderness Lodge. 

New Zealand Roads:  In New Zealand there aren’t any super highways, just two lane roads that were built in the 60’s.  Both the scale of the roads and their engineering are very basic. The construction is gravel over bitumen.   As the whole country is mountainous, rivers and creeks transect the land and bridges are frequently required.  Bridges in New Zealand are almost always one lane, and a sign on the road tells you which direction has the right of way.  The roads are narrow, and the bridges are often narrower.  Roads are very curvaceous: straight sections rarely extend for more than ½ km.  When driving up or down a mountain the road follows every bend, twist, and curve of the mountain side and they are steep, too, sometimes with 160 slopes.  Some curves have signs reducing the speed limit to 10 km!  That’s how sharp the turns can be.  Mountain scenery is fabulous anywhere, but these roads help the traveler get up close and personal with the mountains.

The Wilderness Lodge (Jan23):  Arthur’s Pass is the only pass across the Southern Alps in the central part of the South Island.  The Alps are 10,000 ft. or more in elevation and the peaks are snow capped  all year around.  They are beautiful, spellbinding, majestic peaks of rock.  The western slope is forested and green, but the eastern slope and the Dunstan Range to the east are much dryer and arid.   In fact 60% of New Zealand is arid or semi-arid land.  The drive from Greymouth to the Wildness Lodge is almost halfway across the island.   The lodge is a combination sheep station, cattle ranch, and eco lodge.  The sheep station raises Merino Sheep, noted as the world’s finest grade of wool.  As we were shown about the station and introduced to several sheep, we were told that a human hair is 60 microns, carpet wool is about 25 microns, but Merino Wool is just 18 microns or less, making it very fine indeed.  It is used in Smart Wool and Ice Breaker brand garments.

When we arrived at the lodge we were met by Michael who manages the property and is the son of the owner; he was very friendly and helpful.  The lodge offers hiking and kayaking as primary activities, and includes guided morning and evening hikes in the nearby Beech Forest.   A five course dinner is served after a social hour in the evening, and a full breakfast is prepared in the morning.  The first day we took a half-day kayaking trip to a mountain lake and packed a picnic lunch to enjoy on the shore. The next day we tramped (in NZ you can tramp or trek, but you can also walk or hike) about the Beech Forest with a guide, and later in the day we drove to tiny Arthur’s Pass Village for lunch.  We enjoyed the company of fellow travelers, Margo and Paul of Saskatchewan, who were very good company and experienced travelers with whom we traded travel recommendations.  The third day was ostensibly my birthday; ostensibly because it depended on which hemisphere I chose to use as the time to be observed, so I chose both!  How lucky to celebrate a really big birthday literally at the top of the world (in the Southern Alps) and feeling that it is a metaphor for the way my life has turned out.   Anyway, we tramped for about 90 minutes across a paddock (pasture) to the Mountain Gorge Trail, which took us up a riverbed and though a Silver Beech Forest.  The forest was graced with many types of ferns, moss, lichens, fungi, tiny colorful textured seedlings, and beautiful large trees. The riverbed was strewn with rocks and boulders with a light grey coloration and uniform appearance through which ran a gurgling stream of cold, pristine mountain water.  It was so lovely – I am running out of adjectives to describe the beauty of New Zealand – it is hard to imagine or describe.  What a wonderful way to spend a birthday!  After a wonderful dinner and chorus of Happy Birthday, the next day we departed the lodge for the Franz Josef Glacier, about four hours to our south. 

One night while we were having dinner, Rebecca became alarmed by the sight of not one, but two mice chasing about near the kitchen.  She asked that something be done but Alan, the guide, said that the forest was experiencing a population explosion of mice and nothing could be done.  Mice were everywhere! This didn’t comfort Rebecca at all, but the next day at the hotel in Franz Josef we bumped into a couple who were with us at the Wilderness Lodge.  The lady told us that mice had gotten into her room and tried to open a bag of nuts she had near her suitcase.  She apparently tried to rouse her husband to handle the problem, but he just turned over and went back to sleep.  She thought she chased the entire family of mice out of the room, but the next morning she found one in bed with her! Later in the day when she arrived at the Franz Josef hotel she found another live mouse in her daughter’s suitcase and was absolutely outraged!  She wasn’t too happy with her husband either! We asked if she asked for a refund from the lodge, but she hadn’t and didn’t know the price of the room.  When we told her, she immediately got in touch with the lodge and they refunded her the cost of the rooms.  He husband, who was a good natured fellow, also took a hit.

The Franz Josef Glacier (Jan 27):  Franz Josef is a little faux, alpinesque tourist town located south along the coast in the rainforest region.  Here tourists flock to see a glacier and we were no exception.  It was a five hour drive from the lodge, and it was also January 26 in the western hemisphere.  I couldn’t put it off any longer, it was my birthday for sure.   We checked into a nice hotel that offered a second story view of the rainforest and high speed internet as well.  Wow! Back in civilization.  Rebecca lined up a surprise spa afternoon for me complete with massage, pedicure, and bar service.  It was completely relaxing and topped off with a cigar, champagne, and a wonderful dinner.  It’s good to have a birthday.

White Herons:  The next day we drove to Whataroa and the White Heron Bird Sanctuary.  There are only about 200 snowy White Herons in New Zealand (an endangered bird) and they only nest along a 50 meter stretch of the Whataroa River deep within a virgin rainforest sanctuary.  We took a tour bus to the river and then a hair raising jet boat run to a boat landing 16 km into the sanctuary.  Once off the boat, we walked another 500 meters or so through the rainforest until we reached an observation blind; from there we could see across the river to the White Herons on their nests with many hatchlings under their care.  These are beautiful birds with special mating plumage of delicate thin white feathers in full display.  It felt like we were in a secret, special place in the wild kingdom reserved for just a lucky few, and we were glad to be here.

The Glacier:  That afternoon we took a two hour walk to the glacier.  It has been receding about 70 inches a day, so in a few years it will exist only at the top of the mountain and may not be visible from below.  At one time it filled the valley and extended far out into the Tasman Sea.  It has receded about a mile in the last ten years.  The little village of Franz Josef is literally abuzz with the sound of helicopters ferrying tourists for $329 a pop up to the clouds for a bird’s eye view.

The next morning we broke camp and headed toward Queenstown, the tourist mecca of the South Island.  But first we had a two day stopover at another Wilderness Lodge on Lake Moeraki, this time to explore the costal rainforest.

Lake Moreaki Lodge (Jan 29): This lodge is owned by the same family that owned the lodge at Arthur’s Pass.  Gerry McSweeny, Michael’s father and lodge owner, sought us out for a personal visit, perhaps owing to the mouse issue.  Gerry is a very nice guy and during our conversation asked me if I had seen the book on Michigan in the library.  He then went on to name a few places in Michigan like the Mackinaw Bridge and the Wolverines of the University of Michigan.  I told him I hadn’t seen the book and I inquired as to whether he had ever traveled to Michigan. No, he said, but he had a guest from Michigan who came to the lodge three times with his young wife Cathy…his name was Bo Schembechler! 

The lodge was located in the rainforest, and Rebecca and I spent a few hours one morning on a tramp through the rainforest to the ocean.  It was a walk we will never forget.  The forest looked like a set for The Ring Trilogy or The Hobbit- mystical and mysterious.  It is damp, as you might expect a rain forest to be.  The canopy trees are large, 1,000 year old pine trees that stand 150ft. or more above the forest floor.  In their limbs are mosses, lichens and all manner of ferns and fungi.  Lower down live the giant tree ferns, perhaps 20 feet tall, with their fronds spread out like giant umbrellas.  Then Beech trees and their seedlings, along with what we call ostrich ferns and other tropical plants and vines occupy the forest.  Of course many ancient trees have fallen and are now part of new life emerging from the forest floor, which is covered in sphagnum moss as thick as a carpet.  Nestled in amongst the plants are little flowers, or emerging ferns bright with a lighter shade of green.  The name of the path we followed was the Monro Beach Trail and after an hour of walking up hill and then down to the beach, we reached the Tasman Sea. This is a beach were Penguins come to breed and raise their young during their mating season.   However, when we were there the only life we saw were tiny Sand Flies and they are as nasty as any swarm of hungry Mosquitos. 

Our Drive to Queenstown (Jan 31):  The next morning we got up and going after bidding farewell to Gerry and Ann and the guests we had visited with during our stay.  Our drive to Queenstown was 265 km.  It began with a two hour trip through the rainforest of the Mt. Aspiring National Park, a World Heritage Site, on the west coast of the South Island.   The scenery was once again spectacular.  At about the 90 km mark the road turned inland as it crossed the Southern Alps.  On the western slope the vegetation is verdant and lush.  As we ascended we reached a point where the vegetation turned tawny brown and shrubs replaced trees.  Some of the mountainsides were barren and very steep.  As we drove along, huge sweeping vistas of rock ledges and outcrops on the mountains came into view.  The mountains enclosed surprisingly large lakes some of which were over 50 km long (Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea) which, as I mentioned above, are the faults marking the point of contact between the Pacific and Australian Plates.  As we progressed we entered the Otago region of New Zealand which is noted for these beautiful conditions and, like Napa and Sonoma Valleys, supports a thriving fruit and viticulture industry.  Occasionally we would see high fences enclosing a paddock (pasture), within which were Red Deer that are being raised for the venison market.  They are much larger than our White Tail variety, and are offered on the menus throughout New Zealand. 

Queenstown (Feb 1):  After about 6 hours of driving though some of the most spectacular scenery on earth we arrived at Queenstown, located in middle of the Southern Alps.   The little town is situated on Lake Wakatipu, a crystal clear lake about 60 km long and surrounded by mountains of differing shapes including rock massifs, striking pyramidal shapes, and high mountains that slope to the lake.  The lake itself is in the basin of the rift formed by the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates.  Some of the mountain sides are arid, some are forested, some are semi-rainforest, and some are covered in shrub: it all depends on the micro climate.   The town itself hangs on the hillsides around a bay: it is a lovely setting featuring a spectacular view of the snow covered, rocky peaks of the Remarkable Mountains.

Queenstown is a resort for vacationers from Wellington and Auckland who flock here particularly during the winter ski season and the summer holiday period in January. The hills are covered with very nice holiday homes and the area near the lake has copious numbers of small hotels and condos.  The town is also a sort of “Fort Lauderdale” for Chinese kids from Beijing, who can take direct flights to Christchurch and then hop local planes to Queenstown.  The 18 -30 year set likes to party hearty here during the Chinese New Year’s celebration in mid-February.  They love the town center with its shops and restaurants that cater to the inexperienced.

We stayed in a lovely hotel right on the banks of the lake facing the Remarkable Mountains and their unforgettable vista.  At many hotels breakfast is included with the room tariff, and that was the case with this hotel.  Rebecca and I came down to breakfast the morning after we had arrived and sitting near us were four scruffy looking men in their late 60’s; they really looked “rode hard and put away wet”.  Tattoos, long stringy grey hair, earrings, and cloths that looked as though they were carefully selected for a particular “look”.  Then I remembered that we passed a huge number of cars and busses parked in a field near a stage that had been set up near a hillside that could be used for an amphitheater.  Hundreds of people were waiting in the hot sun for the show to start.  What was the attraction?  None other than Three Dog Night (e.g., Just an Old Fashion Love Song), and yes, these dudes were sitting right next to us for breakfast talking about stage lighting! 

Milford Sound and the Fiordlands:  The next day we took a tour to Milford Sound, which is really a fiord because it was created by a glacier not a river.  Our trip was by bus, which we chose because we were told the drive to the sound was very dangerous, but apparently our advisors were not familiar with what we had already driven through.   Anyway, we took the bus tour and it included overnight accommodations aboard a small ship designed for fiord tours.  The bus drive was about 6 hours and provided a trip with out-of-this-world scenery.  Queenstown is surrounded by mountains. As we traveled south, the landscape broadened; the mountains spread out to a broad plane glacial plane.  The fields became flat and the mountains subsided into rolling hills except at the boundary of the plane.  Large herds of sheep, cattle, and deer were contentedly grazing on lush green pastures on hillsides and mountain slopes.  It was a perfect, if not a heavenly, pastoral scene.   

After several photo and comfort stops the bus finally made it to the Milford Sound National Park, a World Heritage Site.  The afternoon was cloudy and rainy, but at the time we didn’t know it was perfect for seeing the fiords.  As we ascended the torturously curved roads into the clouds only 3,000 feet above sea level, we entered the world of the glacier and some of the most spectacular formations on the planet.  Huge mountains perhaps 10,000 feet above sea level had been literally carved, cut and ground into the sharp gorges and fiords that we entered.  The mountains rose vertically from the floor of the canyons or the sea straight up to the clouds.  Rain fell and that which fell onto the mountains was transformed into veils of falling water in hundreds of falls over miles of vertical mountain massifs.  When the rain stopped the waterfalls disappeared. 

We spent the night aboard the Mariner, a 100 ft. vessel designed to accommodate 100 tourists on just this sort of tour.  The ship took us about three miles out into the fiord, stopping at different places and positioning the bow into one of the giant waterfalls so that the water tumbled onto the ship.  Later the ship anchored in a little bay and dinner was served.  Our tablemates, George and Mary were from England and he was head of Britain’s fifteen nuclear power plants.  He had just retired.  It was interesting to talk with him about the controversy surrounding nuclear power: Germany’s recent decision to close of all of its plants, China’s plan to build hundreds of them, and Japan’s Fukushima disaster.  He feels the technology was safe but Japan is a closed society in many ways, including the fact that Japan does not participate in international professional groups or permit oversight bodies to help them manage their reactors.  This led to the disaster and cover-up.

The next day the sun came out and revealed a spectacular day; we got to see the glorious mountain scenery but this time it was in the full sun.  By late afternoon we had arrived back at our very nice hotel in time for a lovely meal in their very fine restaurant. 

Queenstown has a downtown area, perhaps a bit more developed than most towns, but nevertheless typical of New Zealand towns.  There are no shopping centers like we have in North America, rather their city centers are like the main streets we used to have: small shops, for the most part locally owned, with all sorts of businesses occupying store fronts.  Of course there are lots of restaurants and bars in this resort city.

Queenstown to Christchurch (Feb 5): The drive to Christchurch was a long one, about 400 km across the backbone of New Zealand.  I thought it would be mostly mountain roads, but it turned out to be smooth sailing once we got over the Southern Alps.  Unlike the green rainforest and lush grassland along the western coast, the Otego and Canterbury regions are semi-arid grasslands that look a lot like northern California in some places and like Nevada in others.  As we drove eastward the mountains turned to large rolling hills with the most interesting formations, then to flatlands created by the glacial rivers millenniums ago.  High in the mountains were the large sheep stations, and as the angularity of the land subsided, cattle herds predominated.  New Zealand has about 75 million head of cattle, and 45 million head of sheep.

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island with a population of 350,000.  In both 2010 and 2011 it suffered magnitude 8 earthquakes.   The damage was horrific: the entire city center was destroyed, including priceless Gothic Revival buildings, modern fifteen or twenty story office buildings and hotels. Many large buildings are still standing, but are surrounded by fencing to keep people away from them in case they were to fall.  The Anglican Cathedral, which dominates Cathedral Square in the center of town, is now partially destroyed and in ruins.  The residential areas were not spared: about 20% of the homes were destroyed.  In the Fukushima earthquake Japan suffered a loss equivalent to 3% of its GDP.  In the case of Christchurch, New Zealand is estimated to have suffered losses valued at 10% of its GDP.  Despite the destruction Christ’s College, with its beautiful Gothic Revival buildings constructed of grey stone walls and limestone window and door sills, remains.  These buildings adjoin the beautiful and world renowned botanical gardens that lie beside the Avon River as it meanders through the city.  We enjoyed the morning walking through the gardens and the afternoon walking around the rest of the center city.

The next day we took the Transalpine Train across Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth and back.  While this was a somewhat redundant trip given that we had spent several days in the Pass at Wilderness Lodge, it afforded one last look at these fabulous mountains from a different perspective. 

Christchurch to Marlborough (Feb 8): It is a four hour drive north along the rocky, picturesque coast to the little city of Blenheim, heart of the New Zealand wine industry.  Here are thousands of acres of grape vines under cultivation producing the famous Sauvignon Blanc grape among others.  Names like Cloudy Bay and Oyster Bay, so familiar to we wine drinkers, dot the countryside.  Touring and tasting the produce occupied us for most of a day and we learned, among other things, that the first vine was planted here in 1979.  In just thirty-five short years a colossus was established. 

We stayed at the Straw Lodge, a small 21 acre organic vineyard and B&B in the middle of the valley.  Trudy and Barry Gainford bought the farm last year and work it with their son-in-law.  They immigrated to NZ twenty-one years ago from South Africa.  Barry is an optometrist turned grape farmer, and he and his son-in-law (formerly an accountant) now run the operation.  Their first harvest was last year.  Barry grows Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  Of the 21 acres 16.5 is used for farming, the other acreage is used for roads and buildings.  Each cultivated acre produces about 1 metric ton of grapes, which he can sell for about $18,500.  Barry told me that he can bottle the wine and sell it for around $20-30/bottle, and it would cost about $4 a bottle to have it processed including the grapes, processing, and the bottle.  Each bottle takes 1 kg of grapes, so his property could produce about 16,500 bottles of wine.   The profit is potentially much higher before considering marketing expenses.  So the whole key to higher profits is to leverage some sort of marketing plan for his small winery in conjunction with other growers.

One morning Trudy asked me if I had ever heard of “green eggs and ham”.  What father hasn’t heard of that?  I thought it was just a fantasy of Dr. Zeuss, but Trudy told me there is a breed of chicken that lays a greenish egg called an Araucana Chicken and Trudy had a few.  She brought me the egg and compared it to a brown egg, and indeed it was a greenish blue.  It was about the size of a duck’s egg and very delicious I might add.  So indeed, I had Green Eggs and Ham that morning at the Straw Lodge! 

During the day we toured the little towns in the area, lunched at a winery and tramped a trail along the Queen Charlotte Sound.  It was a lovely time and very interesting.  Our tour of the South Island now complete, we rose early the next day, enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the Straw Lodge, drove to Picton,  took the ferry back to Wellington and the highway north toward Auckland. 

Kingsgate and Lake Taupo (Feb 12 -14):  Our first stop that night was in the town of Kingsgate on the Wanganui River at the Sea of Tasman coast, after a three hour drive.  It was a good size town with an interesting main street, on the cliff across the river overlooking the town stood a very large, brown stone tower about 130 feet high that commemorated the soldiers of WWI, captioned the Great War. 

The next day we drove about four hours northeast to the town of Taupo, situated on the coast of New Zealand’s largest lake.   It was a very interesting drive across tortured ground that is the fault rift marketing the boundary of the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate.  As we neared Lake Taupo we could see one of three snow caped volcanos that mark this site as a World Heritage Site.  Eventually we could see all three volcanos lined up in a row, with Lake Taupo in the same rift line as the volcanos.  It was one of the most interesting and gorgeous geologic sights I have ever seen, and desolate as well.  Two of the three volcanoes are cone shaped, about 7,000 feet high, and formed of a purple brown rock. There was nothing living on the sides of these mountains.  The third volcano was much bigger and was crowned with eight glaciers.  It was massive.   Surrounding them was hundreds of square miles of colorful arid landscape.  It is seldom that one can see one of the active sites that is currently forming our planet. 

We stayed at the Lake Taupo Lodge, a lovely five room small hotel that has hosted Barbra Streisand, Burt Reynolds, and other celebrities.  Lake Taupo and environs is one of the premier trout fishing spots in the world, with Rainbow and Brown Trout so large they look like Salmon.  I am hoping to return in April for a taste of New Zealand fly fishing.

A Few Miscellaneous Observations: 

  • Most homes are small and unpretentious, I would guess 1,400-2,000 sq. ft.
  • There are no billboards along the roads of NZ, making it even more beautiful
  • There are a lot of Japanese cars here. Like Jamaica, the Japanese sell their off-lease cars here at a reduced cost.  (If you recall from a previous blog, Samoa changed from left hand to right hand drive to take advantage of the Japanese used car market.)
  • There are a lot of foreign kids backpacking and doing summer work in NZ. They can easily obtain a 1 year work/travel visa here.  Unfortunately, we don’t do this in the U.S.
  • The Kiwis use the words “pop” as in pop in for a moment, or, I’ll pop around this afternoon, and “sort it out” as in ”Call your insurance agent and he will sort it out for you.” They often use the word sort when there is nothing to sort out, like:” I left the key in the room.”  The hotel clerk reply’s, “that’s OK, I’ll sort it out.”  The Kiwis pop and sort all kinds of things all day long! 
  • Kiwis’ do not have a tort provision in their legal code, so you cannot be sued for negligence. This has some unexpected ramifications, for example, tubs and showers are slippery, and pedestrians are in real danger as drivers will run you over if you are in their way.

We will post some pictures as soon as we have some bandwidth.

THE ARGONAUT The South Island by Car Feb 18, 2015

THE SOUTH ISLAND

Crossing Cook’s Strait (Jan 20):   We left Wellington on the 8:30 AM ferry to Picton, a lovely little port on the north coast of the South Island just 13 miles across Cook’s Strait.   It was a clear, sunny day with calm seas (which can get very angry during the winter season) making the 3 hour trip delightful.  The ship weaved in and out of the lovely, picturesque islands which are in reality the tops of mountains that extend from north to south in New Zealand.  They are covered in green grass or forests, depending on the microenvironment, and the gorges in the steep hillsides provided little bays, some of which had a building or two marking a town’s site.  The ocean was a brilliant blue, and everything was clean and clear.   It reminded us of our trip through Desolation Sound in British Columbia aboard Odyssey in 2011.   

Driving to Abel Tasman Park:  We disembarked in Picton and picked up our new rental car.  From Picton we drove west for about 4 hours to a little town of Pohara on the Golden Bay, the western gateway to the Abel Tasman National Park.  The two lane highway took us through part of the Marlborough wine region on the north coast.  The geography here is similar to northern California, with broad valleys bordered by low mountains that are covered with forests.  The famous vineyards of Cloudy Bay and Oyster Bay, among others, are spread out across the valley along with large cattle farms.  The flat plane of the valley floor is broken up by wind breaks of high hedges, Lombardy Poplars, or rows of pine trees.   As we drove along we eventually came to the end of the valley, then ascended a windy, hair-pinned curved road over the mountains to the next valley.  The drive over the mountains provided stunning pastoral vistas: views of rivers flowing through the valleys and herds of animals grazing lazily in the warm sunshine.  The roadside was carpeted in colorful wildflowers of orange, yellow, and purple.  We stopped at the little town of Havelock for lunch and as we entered the café we spotted a couple we knew: Leslie and Don Brown from Trueblue, a 65 ft. Oyster sailing yacht we met in Papeete and again in Vava’U.  What a surprise: they were touring the country by motorcycle!  After a nice lunch including a bucket of Green Lip Clams each the size of an egg, we were off again.

As we continued along, the highway began to skirt Tasman Bay at the city of Nelson, an artist colony and resort town at the eastern entrance to the park.  Here golden sand beaches were the largest I had ever seen, and people by the score took full advantage of the fabulous sunny weather and ocean surf.  An hour or so more down the road brought us to Takaka a few more miles further to our hotel in Pohara on the shores of the Golden Bay.  Our hotel was a nice little spot run by a New Hampshire transplant and his partner.  From this base we explored the park, but more importantly Cape Farewell and the Spit. 

Cape Farewell and the Spit (Jan 21):  Cape Farewell is the northwestern most point on the South Island and it is named for the countless seafarers who bade farewell to their loved ones as they went to sea.  The cape itself is a beautiful promontory of greywacke rock, and the “Spit” is a finger of sand that extends 36 km. north and encloses the Golden Bay by its eastern flank.  The Spit is growing, as it has for thousands of years.  It was formed by sand carried north by ocean currents from points south on the South Island’s coast.  The sand comes from the erosion of New Zealand’s Southern Alps.  The Southern Alps are made of rock that has been pushed up by tectonic plate forces as the Australian Plate folds under the Pacific Plate.  The plates slide against one another: the resulting fault is the boundary of the plates and can be seen from space as a rift line falling on the western side of the Southern Alps and extending in a straight line from northeast to southwest. The fault is often the site of large lakes lying within the mountains of New Zealand.  On the western side of the fault the mountains are made of granite or dolomite from the Australian-Indian Plate, on the eastern side the rocks are greywacke, sandstone, limestone, rock and mud or sea floor strata from the Pacific Plate.  Ancient creatures from the Cambrian are fossilized in some rocks, while others date from the Earth’s original Gowanda continent a billion or more years ago.  The last ice age ended about ten thousand years ago, but for perhaps one hundred thousand years, massive glaciers two or three miles thick crushed the mountains and carved out New Zealand as we see it today.  The glaciers ground the stone and as the glaciers melted rivers formed that brought the stone to the ocean’s shore.  The glaciers piled up huge moraines that radiate outward from the central mountains and look like mountains themselves.   The ancient riverbeds of gravel, perhaps 400 feet deep, formed the plains that are the agricultural heartland of the country.  The plains of the south island are largest in the east and southern portions of the islands, and are narrower on the western side of the mountains.  When driving around New Zealand, one of the most fascinating things I have found is that the geologic history of the world is all laid out before you, with different ages apparent around almost every turn.  It is all simply breathtaking!

Plate tectonics is forcing the mountains up about one inch per year, but erosion diminishes them by about the same amount.  The tops of many mountains are huge gravel fields.  As the mountains are eroded by wind and weather sand is created, the mountain streams carry the sand to the Tasman Sea, sea currents carry the sand north to Cape Farewell where a counter current causes the sand to be deposited forming the Spit.   

Our tour was conducted on a large bus especially customized to be a four wheel drive, oversized dune buggy. Our tour lasted about eight hours; we drove 30 km down the Spit to an old light house.  There the tour operators provided tea and snacks as we walked around the enclosure that once was home to the lighthouse keepers.  We made several other exploratory stops along the way to examine interesting things like Fur Seals, the Gannet colony, and to climb the beautiful dunes and explore features of the beach.  The life along the Spit was very interesting, particularly the bird life, such as seeing Oyster Catchers and Gannets.  Touring the Cape Farewell Spit was one of the most interesting things we have done.

Driving to Arthur’s Pass (Jan 23):  The drive from tiny Pohara on the northern coast to Wilderness Lodge high up in Arthur’s Pass was a nine hour trip across the northwestern quadrant of the South Island.  It started with a 20 km winding trip across the Arthur Range of Mountains which are high and very beautiful with lush, verdant greenery.  Wildflowers carpet the sides of the road and large limestone massifs inspire awe as we whipped around hairpin curves avoiding giant double tandem lorries.  The scenery was remarkable.  We descended the mountains into the Tapawera River Valley to find large dairy and sheep herds grazing on beautiful pastureland.  We followed Highway 6 over hill and dale through the valley for several hours until we reached the coast of the Tasman Sea at Westport.  Along the way we picked up Simon, a young (24) lad from Salzburg, France, who had left home after his mother died of cancer three years ago.  His father died at sea when he was age 13.  Simon had traveled first to Kazakhstan, then to India, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam before coming to New Zealand.  He was a very intelligent young man, but he said he had no reason to return to Europe or France (as he seemed to have no one to love or care for him there). He told us of his experiences twice being robbed of his backpack at knife point and being cheated by temporary employers or hostel owners.  He asked me all sorts of questions about investing his inheritance of $20K euros. It seemed so sad to us that he wanders the world by himself without anyone to care about him or know where he is.   One thing we did learn from Simon: backpackers don’t shower much and Rebecca was forced to keep the A/C on full blast to provide relief for her delicate olfactory senses! 

At Westport we turned south and followed Highway 6 to Greymouth.  This part of the South Island is covered in rainforest.  Here they get plenty of rain, 6 -7 meters of rain per year.  It rains 25 days a month here, but fortunately we are traveling during a dry spell, so the sky is clear and beautiful.  The road winds around the shoreline with the mountains and beautiful, lush fern forest on our left and the Tasman Sea on our right.  The sea water is a beautiful grey-blue color unlike any I have ever seen. Perhaps the sun reflects off the sand bottom or the suspended sand in the water being carried north as I described above.  As we drove south we came to the “Pancake Rocks”, a very unusual rock formation jutting out into the sea.  The rocks look like chimneys of very thin stacks of pancakes.  We spent an hour here and it was fascinating.   A picture is worth a thousand words, so I will direct you to the website picture gallery to see them.

An hour or so further down the road brought us to Greymouth, a major crossroad on the island: it connects Christchurch on the east coast with the west coast via both rail and highway.  At this point we bade farewell to Simon and turned east up highway 73 toward the little town of Arthur’s Pass and the Wilderness Lodge. 

New Zealand Roads:  In New Zealand there aren’t any super highways, just two lane roads that were built in the 60’s.  Both the scale of the roads and their engineering are very basic. The construction is gravel over bitumen.   As the whole country is mountainous, rivers and creeks transect the land and bridges are frequently required.  Bridges in New Zealand are almost always one lane, and a sign on the road tells you which direction has the right of way.  The roads are narrow, and the bridges are often narrower.  Roads are very curvaceous: straight sections rarely extend for more than ½ km.  When driving up or down a mountain the road follows every bend, twist, and curve of the mountain side and they are steep, too, sometimes with 160 slopes.  Some curves have signs reducing the speed limit to 10 km!  That’s how sharp the turns can be.  Mountain scenery is fabulous anywhere, but these roads help the traveler get up close and personal with the mountains.

The Wilderness Lodge (Jan23):  Arthur’s Pass is the only pass across the Southern Alps in the central part of the South Island.  The Alps are 10,000 ft. or more in elevation and the peaks are snow capped  all year around.  They are beautiful, spellbinding, majestic peaks of rock.  The western slope is forested and green, but the eastern slope and the Dunstan Range to the east are much dryer and arid.   In fact 60% of New Zealand is arid or semi-arid land.  The drive from Greymouth to the Wildness Lodge is almost halfway across the island.   The lodge is a combination sheep station, cattle ranch, and eco lodge.  The sheep station raises Merino Sheep, noted as the world’s finest grade of wool.  As we were shown about the station and introduced to several sheep, we were told that a human hair is 60 microns, carpet wool is about 25 microns, but Merino Wool is just 18 microns or less, making it very fine indeed.  It is used in Smart Wool and Ice Breaker brand garments.

When we arrived at the lodge we were met by Michael who manages the property and is the son of the owner; he was very friendly and helpful.  The lodge offers hiking and kayaking as primary activities, and includes guided morning and evening hikes in the nearby Beech Forest.   A five course dinner is served after a social hour in the evening, and a full breakfast is prepared in the morning.  The first day we took a half-day kayaking trip to a mountain lake and packed a picnic lunch to enjoy on the shore. The next day we tramped (in NZ you can tramp or trek, but you can also walk or hike) about the Beech Forest with a guide, and later in the day we drove to tiny Arthur’s Pass Village for lunch.  We enjoyed the company of fellow travelers, Margo and Paul of Saskatchewan, who were very good company and experienced travelers with whom we traded travel recommendations.  The third day was ostensibly my birthday; ostensibly because it depended on which hemisphere I chose to use as the time to be observed, so I chose both!  How lucky to celebrate a really big birthday literally at the top of the world (in the Southern Alps) and feeling that it is a metaphor for the way my life has turned out.   Anyway, we tramped for about 90 minutes across a paddock (pasture) to the Mountain Gorge Trail, which took us up a riverbed and though a Silver Beech Forest.  The forest was graced with many types of ferns, moss, lichens, fungi, tiny colorful textured seedlings, and beautiful large trees. The riverbed was strewn with rocks and boulders with a light grey coloration and uniform appearance through which ran a gurgling stream of cold, pristine mountain water.  It was so lovely – I am running out of adjectives to describe the beauty of New Zealand – it is hard to imagine or describe.  What a wonderful way to spend a birthday!  After a wonderful dinner and chorus of Happy Birthday, the next day we departed the lodge for the Franz Josef Glacier, about four hours to our south. 

One night while we were having dinner, Rebecca became alarmed by the sight of not one, but two mice chasing about near the kitchen.  She asked that something be done but Alan, the guide, said that the forest was experiencing a population explosion of mice and nothing could be done.  Mice were everywhere! This didn’t comfort Rebecca at all, but the next day at the hotel in Franz Josef we bumped into a couple who were with us at the Wilderness Lodge.  The lady told us that mice had gotten into her room and tried to open a bag of nuts she had near her suitcase.  She apparently tried to rouse her husband to handle the problem, but he just turned over and went back to sleep.  She thought she chased the entire family of mice out of the room, but the next morning she found one in bed with her! Later in the day when she arrived at the Franz Josef hotel she found another live mouse in her daughter’s suitcase and was absolutely outraged!  She wasn’t too happy with her husband either! We asked if she asked for a refund from the lodge, but she hadn’t and didn’t know the price of the room.  When we told her, she immediately got in touch with the lodge and they refunded her the cost of the rooms.  He husband, who was a good natured fellow, also took a hit.

The Franz Josef Glacier (Jan 27):  Franz Josef is a little faux, alpinesque tourist town located south along the coast in the rainforest region.  Here tourists flock to see a glacier and we were no exception.  It was a five hour drive from the lodge, and it was also January 26 in the western hemisphere.  I couldn’t put it off any longer, it was my birthday for sure.   We checked into a nice hotel that offered a second story view of the rainforest and high speed internet as well.  Wow! Back in civilization.  Rebecca lined up a surprise spa afternoon for me complete with massage, pedicure, and bar service.  It was completely relaxing and topped off with a cigar, champagne, and a wonderful dinner.  It’s good to have a birthday.

White Herons:  The next day we drove to Whataroa and the White Heron Bird Sanctuary.  There are only about 200 snowy White Herons in New Zealand (an endangered bird) and they only nest along a 50 meter stretch of the Whataroa River deep within a virgin rainforest sanctuary.  We took a tour bus to the river and then a hair raising jet boat run to a boat landing 16 km into the sanctuary.  Once off the boat, we walked another 500 meters or so through the rainforest until we reached an observation blind; from there we could see across the river to the White Herons on their nests with many hatchlings under their care.  These are beautiful birds with special mating plumage of delicate thin white feathers in full display.  It felt like we were in a secret, special place in the wild kingdom reserved for just a lucky few, and we were glad to be here.

The Glacier:  That afternoon we took a two hour walk to the glacier.  It has been receding about 70 inches a day, so in a few years it will exist only at the top of the mountain and may not be visible from below.  At one time it filled the valley and extended far out into the Tasman Sea.  It has receded about a mile in the last ten years.  The little village of Franz Josef is literally abuzz with the sound of helicopters ferrying tourists for $329 a pop up to the clouds for a bird’s eye view.

The next morning we broke camp and headed toward Queenstown, the tourist mecca of the South Island.  But first we had a two day stopover at another Wilderness Lodge on Lake Moeraki, this time to explore the costal rainforest.

Lake Moreaki Lodge (Jan 29): This lodge is owned by the same family that owned the lodge at Arthur’s Pass.  Gerry McSweeny, Michael’s father and lodge owner, sought us out for a personal visit, perhaps owing to the mouse issue.  Gerry is a very nice guy and during our conversation asked me if I had seen the book on Michigan in the library.  He then went on to name a few places in Michigan like the Mackinaw Bridge and the Wolverines of the University of Michigan.  I told him I hadn’t seen the book and I inquired as to whether he had ever traveled to Michigan. No, he said, but he had a guest from Michigan who came to the lodge three times with his young wife Cathy…his name was Bo Schembechler! 

The lodge was located in the rainforest, and Rebecca and I spent a few hours one morning on a tramp through the rainforest to the ocean.  It was a walk we will never forget.  The forest looked like a set for The Ring Trilogy or The Hobbit- mystical and mysterious.  It is damp, as you might expect a rain forest to be.  The canopy trees are large, 1,000 year old pine trees that stand 150ft. or more above the forest floor.  In their limbs are mosses, lichens and all manner of ferns and fungi.  Lower down live the giant tree ferns, perhaps 20 feet tall, with their fronds spread out like giant umbrellas.  Then Beech trees and their seedlings, along with what we call ostrich ferns and other tropical plants and vines occupy the forest.  Of course many ancient trees have fallen and are now part of new life emerging from the forest floor, which is covered in sphagnum moss as thick as a carpet.  Nestled in amongst the plants are little flowers, or emerging ferns bright with a lighter shade of green.  The name of the path we followed was the Monro Beach Trail and after an hour of walking up hill and then down to the beach, we reached the Tasman Sea. This is a beach were Penguins come to breed and raise their young during their mating season.   However, when we were there the only life we saw were tiny Sand Flies and they are as nasty as any swarm of hungry Mosquitos. 

Our Drive to Queenstown (Jan 31):  The next morning we got up and going after bidding farewell to Gerry and Ann and the guests we had visited with during our stay.  Our drive to Queenstown was 265 km.  It began with a two hour trip through the rainforest of the Mt. Aspiring National Park, a World Heritage Site, on the west coast of the South Island.   The scenery was once again spectacular.  At about the 90 km mark the road turned inland as it crossed the Southern Alps.  On the western slope the vegetation is verdant and lush.  As we ascended we reached a point where the vegetation turned tawny brown and shrubs replaced trees.  Some of the mountainsides were barren and very steep.  As we drove along, huge sweeping vistas of rock ledges and outcrops on the mountains came into view.  The mountains enclosed surprisingly large lakes some of which were over 50 km long (Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea) which, as I mentioned above, are the faults marking the point of contact between the Pacific and Australian Plates.  As we progressed we entered the Otago region of New Zealand which is noted for these beautiful conditions and, like Napa and Sonoma Valleys, supports a thriving fruit and viticulture industry.  Occasionally we would see high fences enclosing a paddock (pasture), within which were Red Deer that are being raised for the venison market.  They are much larger than our White Tail variety, and are offered on the menus throughout New Zealand. 

Queenstown (Feb 1):  After about 6 hours of driving though some of the most spectacular scenery on earth we arrived at Queenstown, located in middle of the Southern Alps.   The little town is situated on Lake Wakatipu, a crystal clear lake about 60 km long and surrounded by mountains of differing shapes including rock massifs, striking pyramidal shapes, and high mountains that slope to the lake.  The lake itself is in the basin of the rift formed by the Pacific and Indo-Australian Plates.  Some of the mountain sides are arid, some are forested, some are semi-rainforest, and some are covered in shrub: it all depends on the micro climate.   The town itself hangs on the hillsides around a bay: it is a lovely setting featuring a spectacular view of the snow covered, rocky peaks of the Remarkable Mountains.

Queenstown is a resort for vacationers from Wellington and Auckland who flock here particularly during the winter ski season and the summer holiday period in January. The hills are covered with very nice holiday homes and the area near the lake has copious numbers of small hotels and condos.  The town is also a sort of “Fort Lauderdale” for Chinese kids from Beijing, who can take direct flights to Christchurch and then hop local planes to Queenstown.  The 18 -30 year set likes to party hearty here during the Chinese New Year’s celebration in mid-February.  They love the town center with its shops and restaurants that cater to the inexperienced.

We stayed in a lovely hotel right on the banks of the lake facing the Remarkable Mountains and their unforgettable vista.  At many hotels breakfast is included with the room tariff, and that was the case with this hotel.  Rebecca and I came down to breakfast the morning after we had arrived and sitting near us were four scruffy looking men in their late 60’s; they really looked “rode hard and put away wet”.  Tattoos, long stringy grey hair, earrings, and cloths that looked as though they were carefully selected for a particular “look”.  Then I remembered that we passed a huge number of cars and busses parked in a field near a stage that had been set up near a hillside that could be used for an amphitheater.  Hundreds of people were waiting in the hot sun for the show to start.  What was the attraction?  None other than Three Dog Night (e.g., Just an Old Fashion Love Song), and yes, these dudes were sitting right next to us for breakfast talking about stage lighting! 

Milford Sound and the Fiordlands:  The next day we took a tour to Milford Sound, which is really a fiord because it was created by a glacier not a river.  Our trip was by bus, which we chose because we were told the drive to the sound was very dangerous, but apparently our advisors were not familiar with what we had already driven through.   Anyway, we took the bus tour and it included overnight accommodations aboard a small ship designed for fiord tours.  The bus drive was about 6 hours and provided a trip with out-of-this-world scenery.  Queenstown is surrounded by mountains. As we traveled south, the landscape broadened; the mountains spread out to a broad plane glacial plane.  The fields became flat and the mountains subsided into rolling hills except at the boundary of the plane.  Large herds of sheep, cattle, and deer were contentedly grazing on lush green pastures on hillsides and mountain slopes.  It was a perfect, if not a heavenly, pastoral scene.   

After several photo and comfort stops the bus finally made it to the Milford Sound National Park, a World Heritage Site.  The afternoon was cloudy and rainy, but at the time we didn’t know it was perfect for seeing the fiords.  As we ascended the torturously curved roads into the clouds only 3,000 feet above sea level, we entered the world of the glacier and some of the most spectacular formations on the planet.  Huge mountains perhaps 10,000 feet above sea level had been literally carved, cut and ground into the sharp gorges and fiords that we entered.  The mountains rose vertically from the floor of the canyons or the sea straight up to the clouds.  Rain fell and that which fell onto the mountains was transformed into veils of falling water in hundreds of falls over miles of vertical mountain massifs.  When the rain stopped the waterfalls disappeared. 

We spent the night aboard the Mariner, a 100 ft. vessel designed to accommodate 100 tourists on just this sort of tour.  The ship took us about three miles out into the fiord, stopping at different places and positioning the bow into one of the giant waterfalls so that the water tumbled onto the ship.  Later the ship anchored in a little bay and dinner was served.  Our tablemates, George and Mary were from England and he was head of Britain’s fifteen nuclear power plants.  He had just retired.  It was interesting to talk with him about the controversy surrounding nuclear power: Germany’s recent decision to close of all of its plants, China’s plan to build hundreds of them, and Japan’s Fukushima disaster.  He feels the technology was safe but Japan is a closed society in many ways, including the fact that Japan does not participate in international professional groups or permit oversight bodies to help them manage their reactors.  This led to the disaster and cover-up.

The next day the sun came out and revealed a spectacular day; we got to see the glorious mountain scenery but this time it was in the full sun.  By late afternoon we had arrived back at our very nice hotel in time for a lovely meal in their very fine restaurant. 

Queenstown has a downtown area, perhaps a bit more developed than most towns, but nevertheless typical of New Zealand towns.  There are no shopping centers like we have in North America, rather their city centers are like the main streets we used to have: small shops, for the most part locally owned, with all sorts of businesses occupying store fronts.  Of course there are lots of restaurants and bars in this resort city.

Queenstown to Christchurch (Feb 5): The drive to Christchurch was a long one, about 400 km across the backbone of New Zealand.  I thought it would be mostly mountain roads, but it turned out to be smooth sailing once we got over the Southern Alps.  Unlike the green rainforest and lush grassland along the western coast, the Otego and Canterbury regions are semi-arid grasslands that look a lot like northern California in some places and like Nevada in others.  As we drove eastward the mountains turned to large rolling hills with the most interesting formations, then to flatlands created by the glacial rivers millenniums ago.  High in the mountains were the large sheep stations, and as the angularity of the land subsided, cattle herds predominated.  New Zealand has about 75 million head of cattle, and 45 million head of sheep.

Christchurch is the largest city on the South Island with a population of 350,000.  In both 2010 and 2011 it suffered magnitude 8 earthquakes.   The damage was horrific: the entire city center was destroyed, including priceless Gothic Revival buildings, modern fifteen or twenty story office buildings and hotels. Many large buildings are still standing, but are surrounded by fencing to keep people away from them in case they were to fall.  The Anglican Cathedral, which dominates Cathedral Square in the center of town, is now partially destroyed and in ruins.  The residential areas were not spared: about 20% of the homes were destroyed.  In the Fukushima earthquake Japan suffered a loss equivalent to 3% of its GDP.  In the case of Christchurch, New Zealand is estimated to have suffered losses valued at 10% of its GDP.  Despite the destruction Christ’s College, with its beautiful Gothic Revival buildings constructed of grey stone walls and limestone window and door sills, remains.  These buildings adjoin the beautiful and world renowned botanical gardens that lie beside the Avon River as it meanders through the city.  We enjoyed the morning walking through the gardens and the afternoon walking around the rest of the center city.

The next day we took the Transalpine Train across Arthur’s Pass to Greymouth and back.  While this was a somewhat redundant trip given that we had spent several days in the Pass at Wilderness Lodge, it afforded one last look at these fabulous mountains from a different perspective. 

Christchurch to Marlborough (Feb 8): It is a four hour drive north along the rocky, picturesque coast to the little city of Blenheim, heart of the New Zealand wine industry.  Here are thousands of acres of grape vines under cultivation producing the famous Sauvignon Blanc grape among others.  Names like Cloudy Bay and Oyster Bay, so familiar to we wine drinkers, dot the countryside.  Touring and tasting the produce occupied us for most of a day and we learned, among other things, that the first vine was planted here in 1979.  In just thirty-five short years a colossus was established. 

We stayed at the Straw Lodge, a small 21 acre organic vineyard and B&B in the middle of the valley.  Trudy and Barry Gainford bought the farm last year and work it with their son-in-law.  They immigrated to NZ twenty-one years ago from South Africa.  Barry is an optometrist turned grape farmer, and he and his son-in-law (formerly an accountant) now run the operation.  Their first harvest was last year.  Barry grows Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir.  Of the 21 acres 16.5 is used for farming, the other acreage is used for roads and buildings.  Each cultivated acre produces about 1 metric ton of grapes, which he can sell for about $18,500.  Barry told me that he can bottle the wine and sell it for around $20-30/bottle, and it would cost about $4 a bottle to have it processed including the grapes, processing, and the bottle.  Each bottle takes 1 kg of grapes, so his property could produce about 16,500 bottles of wine.   The profit is potentially much higher before considering marketing expenses.  So the whole key to higher profits is to leverage some sort of marketing plan for his small winery in conjunction with other growers.

One morning Trudy asked me if I had ever heard of “green eggs and ham”.  What father hasn’t heard of that?  I thought it was just a fantasy of Dr. Zeuss, but Trudy told me there is a breed of chicken that lays a greenish egg called an Araucana Chicken and Trudy had a few.  She brought me the egg and compared it to a brown egg, and indeed it was a greenish blue.  It was about the size of a duck’s egg and very delicious I might add.  So indeed, I had Green Eggs and Ham that morning at the Straw Lodge! 

During the day we toured the little towns in the area, lunched at a winery and tramped a trail along the Queen Charlotte Sound.  It was a lovely time and very interesting.  Our tour of the South Island now complete, we rose early the next day, enjoyed a wonderful breakfast at the Straw Lodge, drove to Picton,  took the ferry back to Wellington and the highway north toward Auckland. 

Kingsgate and Lake Taupo (Feb 12 -14):  Our first stop that night was in the town of Kingsgate on the Wanganui River at the Sea of Tasman coast, after a three hour drive.  It was a good size town with an interesting main street, on the cliff across the river overlooking the town stood a very large, brown stone tower about 130 feet high that commemorated the soldiers of WWI, captioned the Great War. 

The next day we drove about four hours northeast to the town of Taupo, situated on the coast of New Zealand’s largest lake.   It was a very interesting drive across tortured ground that is the fault rift marketing the boundary of the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate.  As we neared Lake Taupo we could see one of three snow caped volcanos that mark this site as a World Heritage Site.  Eventually we could see all three volcanos lined up in a row, with Lake Taupo in the same rift line as the volcanos.  It was one of the most interesting and gorgeous geologic sights I have ever seen, and desolate as well.  Two of the three volcanoes are cone shaped, about 7,000 feet high, and formed of a purple brown rock. There was nothing living on the sides of these mountains.  The third volcano was much bigger and was crowned with eight glaciers.  It was massive.   Surrounding them was hundreds of square miles of colorful arid landscape.  It is seldom that one can see one of the active sites that is currently forming our planet. 

We stayed at the Lake Taupo Lodge, a lovely five room small hotel that has hosted Barbra Streisand, Burt Reynolds, and other celebrities.  Lake Taupo and environs is one of the premier trout fishing spots in the world, with Rainbow and Brown Trout so large they look like Salmon.  I am hoping to return in April for a taste of New Zealand fly fishing.

A Few Miscellaneous Observations: 

  • Most homes are small and unpretentious, I would guess 1,400-2,000 sq. ft.
  • There are no billboards along the roads of NZ, making it even more beautiful
  • There are a lot of Japanese cars here. Like Jamaica, the Japanese sell their off-lease cars here at a reduced cost.  (If you recall from a previous blog, Samoa changed from left hand to right hand drive to take advantage of the Japanese used car market.)
  • There are a lot of foreign kids backpacking and doing summer work in NZ. They can easily obtain a 1 year work/travel visa here.  Unfortunately, we don’t do this in the U.S.
  • The Kiwis use the words “pop” as in pop in for a moment, or, I’ll pop around this afternoon, and “sort it out” as in ”Call your insurance agent and he will sort it out for you.” They often use the word sort when there is nothing to sort out, like:” I left the key in the room.”  The hotel clerk reply’s, “that’s OK, I’ll sort it out.”  The Kiwis pop and sort all kinds of things all day long! 
  • Kiwis’ do not have a tort provision in their legal code, so you cannot be sued for negligence. This has some unexpected ramifications, for example, tubs and showers are slippery, and pedestrians are in real danger as drivers will run you over if you are in their way.

We will post some pictures as soon as we have some bandwidth.

Captain’s Log – Jan 2015 -New Zealand Auckland to Wellington

CAPTAINS LOG – January 22, 2015               New Zealand: Auckland to Wellington

We arrived back in New Zealand January 4 after a wonderful two and half months at home.  It was a busy time; we started off with a one week trip to New York City for a wonderful visit with our daughter and son-in-law, followed by a lecture I presented at the University of Michigan to economics students on the subject of “What it took for me to attain success in business.”  Next, Rebecca and I spoke over dinner to fellow boaters of the Power Squadron who invited us to present a talk on our transpacific voyage, which also was a lot of fun.  One of the most rewarding events was our grandnephew Michael’s Eagle Scout Award presentation ceremony: when the young ones do well it is especially rewarding.  We also had a wonderful time taking him on a day trip to look over Michigan State University.  Rebecca and friends hosted a wedding shower at our home in the midst of an uncompleted refurbishment effort, which was absolutely a blast.  We spent many delightful hours with family and friends in addition to all the other holiday festivities; I even got a chance to do a little pheasant hunting.  At any rate, we returned to Argo refreshed and very happy to see our dear shipmate, Tyler.   The next chapter of our adventure begins now with a 36 day drive around New Zealand.  

While we were home we received an email from Loren Portnow, a fellow who grew up in Ann Arbor but now lives in Auckland.  He had seen Argo in the harbor and contacted us.  We had a most enjoyable dinner with him and his partner, Donna, when we arrived back in Auckland. 

While we were away, the boat in the slip next to us in Auckland provided Tyler with some humorous entertainment; one afternoon the Voyager 56 cruising yacht arrived back in the harbor after a week or so out in the islands fishing.  There were two couples on board, one member of which was the owner/captain who was on the fly bridge running the boat.  He spun the boat around in the harbor and began backing into the slip next to us.  He was really moving the boat too fast.  As the Voyager backed into the slip, engine roaring, smoke pouring from the exhaust, all hands took to their stations.  However something seemed amiss: it appeared that the party wasn’t completely over and the crew seemed inebriated.  Suddenly as it made its way halfway into the slip, the mate on the port bow fell off the boat into the frigid water.  It was both dangerous and humorous.  Tyler was ready to jump in and save the bloke, but fortunately he made it to the dock without further mishap. 

On another occasion I talked to the owner for a while as they packed up their fish and washed down the boat.  He was so happy and proud; he just imported his dream car – a 2014 Corvette – and went on and on about what a fabulous car it was.  As an American from the Detroit area, it was great to hear that our products are so well thought of. (An interesting factoid: only 550 left-hand drive vehicles can be imported here each year.)

Overview of New Zealand:  New Zealand was formed by the upwelling of the Australian Plate as it overran the Pacific Plate about 30 million years ago.  It lies on the “Ring of Fire” that encircles the Pacific Ocean and so the Islands are volcanic and prone to earthquakes, one of the most severe of which leveled Christchurch four years ago.  New Zealand is the southernmost country in the world, lying between 370 and 470 south – right in the middle of the “roaring forties”, and is about 1,000 miles east of Australia and 1,000 miles south of Fiji.  It is breezy here, if not downright windy.  The air here is extremely clean and clear.  The sun shines with particular brilliance, perhaps owing to the “hole” in the ozone layer that lies directly overhead; sunscreen is a definite necessity here. The islands are mountainous and temperatures range from subtropical in the far north to sub Antarctic in the far south.  New Zealand enjoys four seasons, with summer occurring in January through March.  The country is composed of two main islands that have a combined land area of 104,000 sq. miles and are home to a population of 4.5 million people.  NZ GDP is about $125 billion or $30,000 per person.  By comparison, Michigan’s land area is about 97,000 sq. miles with a population of 10 million, a GDP of $450 billion, and a $45,000 per person average income.

The islands were first inhabited around 800 AD by the Maori, an Indo-Asian people who probably sailed from Indonesia or The Philippians.  The European discovery of the islands occurred 800 years later when Captain Abel Tasman of The Netherlands discovered them in 1631 and named them New Zealand ( in English it means New Sealand).  Today the country has about 4.5 million inhabitants most of whom live in one of its cities; Auckland is the largest with a population of about 1.5 million, followed by the capital city, Wellington, with a population of 500,000;  72% of the population is white, 14% is Maori (indigenous people), with the balance made up mostly of Asians.   New Zealand is a dominion of Great Britain and as such the Queen of England is the Chief of State with the Governor General her appointed representative. New Zealand has a parliamentary form of government with a unicameral legislature. The largest industry is agriculture, which is concentrated on sheep, cattle, wine and lumber, followed in importance by tourism. 

Traveling in New Zealand:  To paraphrase Will Rogers, “NZ may be free, but it ain’t cheap.”  Everything is a little more expensive here than in the U.S., food in particular, which is surprising given that agriculture is the biggest industry here.   A bottle of New Zealand wine that we can buy in the U.S. for $20 costs about $50 here; a U.S. $200/night hotel room costs about $350 here.  Gasoline is around $6 a gallon, and car rentals are about $80/day.  Of course the near 20% sales tax doesn’t help to keep prices down.

January is a long holiday month for many Kiwis, so the roads are busy as are the hotels and tourists’ attractions.  We made our hotel reservations months in advance on advice that many of the choicer locations could be sold out during our planned travel time.  The roads are two lanes across most of the country and they don’t have shoulders, so if your left front tire rolls off the pavement you could be in serious trouble.  The driver here is seated on the right side of the car and traffic is reversed in direction relative to the U.S.; this takes a bit of getting used to, particularly around rotaries and at intersections.  There are huge tandem trucks traveling the roads here and they travel around the curvy, narrow roads at full speed.  The result: NZ has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the developed world.   The posted speed limit literally means the maximum speed you are allowed to maintain, and they have hidden cameras placed about to take pictures of speeders.  A person can get a ticket in the mail and not even know they have been caught until it is too late.  Even 1 km over the speed limit can earn you a ticket, and 30 km over the limit is an automatic revocation of your driver’s license.   But given the narrowness of the roads and the curvy nature of them, I am ill-disposed to speeding anyway. 

Auckland to Rotorua:  We left Auckland January 9 and headed southwest toward the town of Ortorohanga and the Waitomo Caves.  Once outside of metro Auckland, we had about a two hour drive on winding country roads to reach the caves.  The scenery was spectacular: steep, high hills with sharp ridges and deep gorges bearing witness to their violent creation in past ages.  Green grass covered most of the land, although stands of confers such as cedar, fur and pine were abundant.  In some places stands of giant eucalyptus grew, but everywhere the trees seemed much larger than in North America.  It could be the long growing season, moderate temperatures and brilliant sunshine, or maybe the rich volcanic soil.  Who knows? But they certainly grow big trees here. Gradually as we traveled south the hills grew broader with large valleys.   The valleys were green and lush and divided by tall (maybe 20-30 feet tall) hedges of an Arborvitae type shrub, in other places long wind breaks of Lombardy Poplars or pines were all about.  The rich grassland provides fodder for the large herds of sheep and dairy cattle, the largest we have ever seen; we were told of one farmer who milks 3,000 head on his 5,000 acre ranch, and of another who works 30,000 acres!! Grassland here is cultivated like a crop. It is irrigated and fertilized to keep it green and full of nutrients for the grazing animals.  There are no natural predators in New Zealand to harm the sheep or cattle.  Everywhere there were beautiful stands of violet hydrangea, purple NZ phlox, and large orange flowers of a plant similar to an oversized Indian Paintbrush. 

As we drove westward across the North Island toward Waitomo, the flora became more verdant and lush with giant fern trees (Dicksoniaceae) abundant among the forests.  These trees are about 20 feet tall with an umbrella like expanse of fronds extending about fifteen feet in diameter, with each frond being about six feet in length.  They have existed for 300 million or more years and are thought to have been a primary staple of ancient herbivore dinosaurs.   After a couple of hours driving we arrived at the Waitomo Caves, a limestone cave formation in the center of the North Island.  The cave we explored was very large and contained both stalactites and stalagmites and a very large “cathedral room”.  Further down the path inside the cave we came upon the “glowworms”.   The glowworms live on a part of the cave’s ceiling above an underground river.  The little worms emit a constant greenish light that makes the cave’s ceiling look like a starry night’s sky – pitch black with millions of little lights.  To feed, the worms lower a thin strand of sticky, silky thread on which they hope to trap an insect that inadvertently wanders into the cave attracted by the worm’s light.  The whole experience was absolutely fascinating and beautiful.  As we wandered down the steps deeper in to the cave, we ultimately came to an underground river.  There we boarded a small boat and made our way out of the cave, but not before encountering large concentrations of glowworms on the ceiling.  It was dreamlike and otherworldly in both its beauty and its shear strangeness.  

Once back in reality, we continued our drive toward Rotorua.  Along the way we stopped at a bird sanctuary that had several captive kiwis among other specimens.  These are very rare animals, with only about 30,000 thought to exist.  We were able to see the Brown Spotted Kiwi (rarest of them all), which is a large bird about the size of a small turkey.   It looks awkward as it has no wings or tail, and its legs are placed far back toward its ample rump.  It walks quickly about poking its long beak into the soil in search of worms and grubs.  A kiwi is agile, fast moving, and ill tempered.  Its caretaker showed us a little scar she received while trying to care for it, confirming the fact that kiwis aren’t very friendly.  

An hour later we made it to Rotorua, home of the Maori culture.  Rotorua is located on the banks of Lake Rotorua, the largest lake in New Zealand.  The main attractions here are associated with the Maori culture, including a village located in the heart of a geothermal field.   The little village was very interesting, with geysers, steam vents, and hot pools of water circling the twenty or so houses and stores in the town. It was both picturesque and unusual.   Our Maori guide showed us how they cook all types of food in a community steamer powered by the water vapor escaping from vent from the earth; a completely frozen chicken is ready for the table in just 20 minutes! Likewise they cook veggies in a bag immersed in a lovely aqua colored pond that is always at the boiling point.   Around the corner from the village was a national park harboring a large stand of California Redwoods planted in New Zealand around 1900.  It was lovely to be among those spectacular trees and walk in the quiet, cool beauty unique to a Redwood Forest, which, as far as I am concerned, is as close to the home of God as we are likely to encounter on earth. 

Rotorua is a fairly large country town, located on the shore of a lake in a flat, open valley.  The town is based economically on agriculture and tourism.  There aren’t any shopping centers or big retailers here or elsewhere outside of Auckland; instead there are local shops located on a Main Street like we used to have in the U.S.A.   Our hotel was located on the lake, and although we carefully vetted it on the internet, we weren’t aware that giant busses filled with Chinese tourists arrived every morning and disgorged them into the lobby.  They toured in groups, ate in groups, and crowded the elevators just like they do back in Shanghai or Beijing. 

The next day we drove to the Waimangu Geothermal Area.  This was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.  The entry to the park is situated on the top of a mountain, and seeing the geothermal features required walking ninety minutes down a trail and along a fault fissure toward a lake at the bottom of the gorge.   It was a crystal clear day with brilliant sunshine and very warm temperatures.  Our first stop was Frying Pan Lake (world’s largest hot spring: 36 ft. deep and 131 degrees Fahrenheit) with Cathedral Rock at its southern terminus. Then came the amazing aqua blue 176 degrees Inferno Crater Lake (intense aqua blue -2.1 ph. – largest geyser-like feature in the world although the geyser cannot be seen because it is 120 ft. under the surface of the water).   Down the trail was Warbrick Terrace, a multi-colored, fast growing silica platform – colors originating from sulfur, copper, magnesium, iron and silica, all modified and tempered by algae and bacteria of various types, and all growing in boiling water.  Bubbling springs were everywhere, steam vents and mud pools, small geysers spouting, and hot and steaming water flowing like an ordinary creek down the valley floor – fault floor – to a distant lake.   It was a great day walking amidst the powers that created our beautiful world.  

On our fourth day we drove 215 km to the town of Napier, located on the shores of Hawke’s Bay.  As we drove east the grass changed from green to brown. The drive provided gorgeous vistas of flowering meadows, a distant snowcapped volcano, cultivated forest lands of giant pine trees, and rugged, steep volcanic hills on which trees such as oak, Lombardy Poplars, palmettos, and giant lilac trees grow.   Very large dairy herds could be seen grazing everywhere.  As we got close to Napier, we could see that it lay in the heart of the North Island’s wine and fruit growing region.  Napier is foremost a tourist destination, but like all smaller towns in New Zealand it is also a center of agriculture. Following the 1931 earthquake, Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco style.  Today there are at least 100 beautiful Art Deco buildings in the district, and vintage cars of that era are available as an alternative to a walking tour.   Floral gardens line the streets and the downtown shoreline. The residential areas of the town are either colorful seaside bungalows built along the shores of Hawke’s Bay, whose beaches are black volcanic sand, or larger homes of an older vintage perched precariously on the hillside prominence that defines the original town site, something like Sausalito on San Francisco Bay.  The highway leading south to the wine growing areas is a boulevard lined on both sides with giant Norfolk Pines. On the outskirts of town near where we stayed is located the fishing port and yacht marina.  The warehouse district adjoining the working harbor has been partially transformed into an interesting wharf side casual bar and dining area that attracts locals for their afternoon social hour.  Our hotel was just a short walk around the harbor and across from one of the beaches on the north side of town.  It was a chic, modern hotel with lovely rooms and a nice restaurant.

 We spent our first day in Napier enjoying the downtown and its Art Décor buildings.   The next day we drove out to the Elephant Hill Winery, which offered fine wine and a gourmet lunch in a beautiful, artistic setting.   A bottle of their featured La Phant Blanc (Pinot Gris–Voignier-Gewürztraminer) cost $50 (wow!) and accompanied our selection for lunch: John Dory with a shrimp mouse encased in tempura batter attached to a zucchini neck.  All of this rested on a couple of mandarin orange sections, and a few thinly sliced pieces of cucumber and radish, along with vanilla pearls in a drop or two of pomegranate sauce.  It was very good to say the least.

After a couple of days in Napier, we drove two hours south to Wharekauhua, a 5,000 acre ranch and lodge located an hour’s drive east of Wellington on the coast near Cook’s Strait.  The drive was spectacular, with large herds of dairy cattle and sheep all along the way.  The flora and topography was similar to that of beautiful Northern California.  After about a two hour drive from Napier we reached the little town of Fairview and began looking for our turnoff.  We soon found it; a narrow strip of asphalt leading from Fairview some 40 km of a winding one lane road and little bridges leading to Ocean Beach and the site of Wharekauhua.  After an hour or so of gorgeous countryside vistas we turned onto a narrow one lane gravel road that descended 150 feet or more to a rock strewn riverbed at its base. Then we saw it; a magnificent country estate like one might see in England or Scotland, located there in the midst of wild New Zealand.   As we turned a treacherous corner and continued our decent down the hill we became more and more excited with anticipation.  We weren’t disappointed!

Wharekauhua Lodge has 13 cottages for guests and a main lodge used for dinning.  William and Kate stayed there last year when they visited NZ.  Cocktails and canapés were served at 7 PM in the library.  Dinner followed at 8 PM and consisted of a five course gourmet meal exquisitely prepared by Marc Soper.  Marc was so kind as to share a few recipes with us (although I doubt that we will be able to reproduce them).  Arron (a Samoan immigrant who leaned recently that he had inherited a Royal Chief’s Title upon the death of his uncle) introduced us to a wonderful Pinot Noir (Pegasus Winery) that was as terrific as it was a surprise.  For three days we feasted on the most fabulous food one can imagine.   

Our first full day was occupied mostly by a farm tour. As I mentioned above, Wharekauhua is a 5,000 acre enterprise specializing in the raising of lambs for the table.  They have about 10,000 sheep here during lambing season; 3,000 yews, 7,000 lambs and a 100 or so rams.  Lambs are born in the spring, which is August and September in New Zealand.  Lambs are sold for slaughter in December after shearing.  The poor little things have a very short life.  Almost 100% of the meat produced in NZ is sold for export, most of it to the U.S. market.   Wharekauhua also has hundreds of head of beef cattle, mostly Spotted and Angus breeds.  The Spotted are a fattier breed that when bred with Angus is intended to produce more tender meat then Angus by itself.  In any case, all the animals are fed only grass, which produces a lean and almost tasteless (my opinion) product.  The farm employs about 30 people in all, and most live in housing provided by the farm.  Two men and several sheep dogs control most of the livestock.  The hands demonstrated their sheep shearing technique and the deployment of their dogs to round up the sheep.  It was very interesting.

Our tour guide, Roger, took us down from the plateau where the lodge is located to the gravel road and the black sand beach below.  Here you could see the effects of the violent, giant winter seas from Antarctica that rip ashore and slam the plateau.  At the base of the plateau, in protected areas, are little rustic fishing cabins called “baches” that sportsmen use mostly as fish camps during the summer months.  Roger owns one and told us of the various fishing methods employed here, two of which demonstrate the inventiveness and originality of the New Zealand mind.  He asked me if I had ever heard of a Kon Tiki.  Of course…No.  Roger’s Kon Tiki is a Rube Goldberg contraption –a little 3 foot catamaran fitted with an airplane type propeller, electric motor and battery, a fishing long-line with 25 baited hooks.  The Kon Tiki itself is tied to a reel with a mile or so of line (to bring it back to shore).  The idea is to propel it out to sea about a mile, release the hooked line, wait an hour or two, then pull it back to shore and hope something is on the line.   The reason for all this is that it is very difficult to launch boats here.  The sand is very soft and the beach very steep.  Although boats can be launched few people do it because it takes a bulldozer and a boat launching apparatus with huge diameter wheels tethered to the tractor with about a 30 ft. steel arm to accomplish a launch.  In this situation, the Kon Tiki has appeal.

After a few days at Wharekauhua we reluctantly moved on to Wellington, capital city of New Zealand. Wellington is a big, modern, high rise city located on Cook’s Strait about 12 miles above the South Island and situated in a relatively small notch in the mountains along the coast.  The residential part of the city clings to the hill sides, and luxury seaside homes line the beaches and waterfront.  The shopping district is located on Lambton Quay, a street that was once the waterfront before an earthquake created more land.  In the center of the city stands the Beehive, the ruling party’s main office building and office of the Prime Minister.  It is a very interesting building architecturally, a dome like structure reflecting the modern concept of a capital building.  Next to the Beehive is the House of Parliament, a conventional 19th century classic building executed in grey marble and granite. Further down the capital campus stands the Library of Parliament, a beautiful deep yellow Victorian building that looks very much like a cathedral.  Across the street, but in line with the government buildings, stands the rose colored concrete Anglican Cathedral.   Wellington is quit lovely, with a mix of creative modern architecture and classic older buildings.  The city has made considerable investment in converting its former wharf harbor front into a beautiful and entertaining parkland that preserves the feel of the historical waterfront with the vibrancy of an exciting meeting and entertainment area.  It features a walkway that tracks the entire bay coastline from the cruise ship terminal to the airport, altogether about 20 km; a lovely, walkable downtown area, a cable car that can take you up to the botanical gardens or to the Campus of Victoria University, NZ’s largest.  Charming little neighborhoods with their own distinct identity formed because of their separation by the hills or rivers from the others.  We really liked Wellington and found it to be a very enjoyable and livable city.

After three days in Wellington, it was time to board the ferry for Picton across the strait and begin our tour of the South Island.

Captain’s Log – Jan 2015 -New Zealand Auckland to Wellington

CAPTAINS LOG – January 22, 2015               New Zealand: Auckland to Wellington

We arrived back in New Zealand January 4 after a wonderful two and half months at home.  It was a busy time; we started off with a one week trip to New York City for a wonderful visit with our daughter and son-in-law, followed by a lecture I presented at the University of Michigan to economics students on the subject of “What it took for me to attain success in business.”  Next, Rebecca and I spoke over dinner to fellow boaters of the Power Squadron who invited us to present a talk on our transpacific voyage, which also was a lot of fun.  One of the most rewarding events was our grandnephew Michael’s Eagle Scout Award presentation ceremony: when the young ones do well it is especially rewarding.  We also had a wonderful time taking him on a day trip to look over Michigan State University.  Rebecca and friends hosted a wedding shower at our home in the midst of an uncompleted refurbishment effort, which was absolutely a blast.  We spent many delightful hours with family and friends in addition to all the other holiday festivities; I even got a chance to do a little pheasant hunting.  At any rate, we returned to Argo refreshed and very happy to see our dear shipmate, Tyler.   The next chapter of our adventure begins now with a 36 day drive around New Zealand.  

While we were home we received an email from Loren Portnow, a fellow who grew up in Ann Arbor but now lives in Auckland.  He had seen Argo in the harbor and contacted us.  We had a most enjoyable dinner with him and his partner, Donna, when we arrived back in Auckland. 

While we were away, the boat in the slip next to us in Auckland provided Tyler with some humorous entertainment; one afternoon the Voyager 56 cruising yacht arrived back in the harbor after a week or so out in the islands fishing.  There were two couples on board, one member of which was the owner/captain who was on the fly bridge running the boat.  He spun the boat around in the harbor and began backing into the slip next to us.  He was really moving the boat too fast.  As the Voyager backed into the slip, engine roaring, smoke pouring from the exhaust, all hands took to their stations.  However something seemed amiss: it appeared that the party wasn’t completely over and the crew seemed inebriated.  Suddenly as it made its way halfway into the slip, the mate on the port bow fell off the boat into the frigid water.  It was both dangerous and humorous.  Tyler was ready to jump in and save the bloke, but fortunately he made it to the dock without further mishap. 

On another occasion I talked to the owner for a while as they packed up their fish and washed down the boat.  He was so happy and proud; he just imported his dream car – a 2014 Corvette – and went on and on about what a fabulous car it was.  As an American from the Detroit area, it was great to hear that our products are so well thought of. (An interesting factoid: only 550 left-hand drive vehicles can be imported here each year.)

Overview of New Zealand:  New Zealand was formed by the upwelling of the Australian Plate as it overran the Pacific Plate about 30 million years ago.  It lies on the “Ring of Fire” that encircles the Pacific Ocean and so the Islands are volcanic and prone to earthquakes, one of the most severe of which leveled Christchurch four years ago.  New Zealand is the southernmost country in the world, lying between 370 and 470 south – right in the middle of the “roaring forties”, and is about 1,000 miles east of Australia and 1,000 miles south of Fiji.  It is breezy here, if not downright windy.  The air here is extremely clean and clear.  The sun shines with particular brilliance, perhaps owing to the “hole” in the ozone layer that lies directly overhead; sunscreen is a definite necessity here. The islands are mountainous and temperatures range from subtropical in the far north to sub Antarctic in the far south.  New Zealand enjoys four seasons, with summer occurring in January through March.  The country is composed of two main islands that have a combined land area of 104,000 sq. miles and are home to a population of 4.5 million people.  NZ GDP is about $125 billion or $30,000 per person.  By comparison, Michigan’s land area is about 97,000 sq. miles with a population of 10 million, a GDP of $450 billion, and a $45,000 per person average income.

The islands were first inhabited around 800 AD by the Maori, an Indo-Asian people who probably sailed from Indonesia or The Philippians.  The European discovery of the islands occurred 800 years later when Captain Abel Tasman of The Netherlands discovered them in 1631 and named them New Zealand ( in English it means New Sealand).  Today the country has about 4.5 million inhabitants most of whom live in one of its cities; Auckland is the largest with a population of about 1.5 million, followed by the capital city, Wellington, with a population of 500,000;  72% of the population is white, 14% is Maori (indigenous people), with the balance made up mostly of Asians.   New Zealand is a dominion of Great Britain and as such the Queen of England is the Chief of State with the Governor General her appointed representative. New Zealand has a parliamentary form of government with a unicameral legislature. The largest industry is agriculture, which is concentrated on sheep, cattle, wine and lumber, followed in importance by tourism. 

Traveling in New Zealand:  To paraphrase Will Rogers, “NZ may be free, but it ain’t cheap.”  Everything is a little more expensive here than in the U.S., food in particular, which is surprising given that agriculture is the biggest industry here.   A bottle of New Zealand wine that we can buy in the U.S. for $20 costs about $50 here; a U.S. $200/night hotel room costs about $350 here.  Gasoline is around $6 a gallon, and car rentals are about $80/day.  Of course the near 20% sales tax doesn’t help to keep prices down.

January is a long holiday month for many Kiwis, so the roads are busy as are the hotels and tourists’ attractions.  We made our hotel reservations months in advance on advice that many of the choicer locations could be sold out during our planned travel time.  The roads are two lanes across most of the country and they don’t have shoulders, so if your left front tire rolls off the pavement you could be in serious trouble.  The driver here is seated on the right side of the car and traffic is reversed in direction relative to the U.S.; this takes a bit of getting used to, particularly around rotaries and at intersections.  There are huge tandem trucks traveling the roads here and they travel around the curvy, narrow roads at full speed.  The result: NZ has one of the highest traffic fatality rates in the developed world.   The posted speed limit literally means the maximum speed you are allowed to maintain, and they have hidden cameras placed about to take pictures of speeders.  A person can get a ticket in the mail and not even know they have been caught until it is too late.  Even 1 km over the speed limit can earn you a ticket, and 30 km over the limit is an automatic revocation of your driver’s license.   But given the narrowness of the roads and the curvy nature of them, I am ill-disposed to speeding anyway. 

Auckland to Rotorua:  We left Auckland January 9 and headed southwest toward the town of Ortorohanga and the Waitomo Caves.  Once outside of metro Auckland, we had about a two hour drive on winding country roads to reach the caves.  The scenery was spectacular: steep, high hills with sharp ridges and deep gorges bearing witness to their violent creation in past ages.  Green grass covered most of the land, although stands of confers such as cedar, fur and pine were abundant.  In some places stands of giant eucalyptus grew, but everywhere the trees seemed much larger than in North America.  It could be the long growing season, moderate temperatures and brilliant sunshine, or maybe the rich volcanic soil.  Who knows? But they certainly grow big trees here. Gradually as we traveled south the hills grew broader with large valleys.   The valleys were green and lush and divided by tall (maybe 20-30 feet tall) hedges of an Arborvitae type shrub, in other places long wind breaks of Lombardy Poplars or pines were all about.  The rich grassland provides fodder for the large herds of sheep and dairy cattle, the largest we have ever seen; we were told of one farmer who milks 3,000 head on his 5,000 acre ranch, and of another who works 30,000 acres!! Grassland here is cultivated like a crop. It is irrigated and fertilized to keep it green and full of nutrients for the grazing animals.  There are no natural predators in New Zealand to harm the sheep or cattle.  Everywhere there were beautiful stands of violet hydrangea, purple NZ phlox, and large orange flowers of a plant similar to an oversized Indian Paintbrush. 

As we drove westward across the North Island toward Waitomo, the flora became more verdant and lush with giant fern trees (Dicksoniaceae) abundant among the forests.  These trees are about 20 feet tall with an umbrella like expanse of fronds extending about fifteen feet in diameter, with each frond being about six feet in length.  They have existed for 300 million or more years and are thought to have been a primary staple of ancient herbivore dinosaurs.   After a couple of hours driving we arrived at the Waitomo Caves, a limestone cave formation in the center of the North Island.  The cave we explored was very large and contained both stalactites and stalagmites and a very large “cathedral room”.  Further down the path inside the cave we came upon the “glowworms”.   The glowworms live on a part of the cave’s ceiling above an underground river.  The little worms emit a constant greenish light that makes the cave’s ceiling look like a starry night’s sky – pitch black with millions of little lights.  To feed, the worms lower a thin strand of sticky, silky thread on which they hope to trap an insect that inadvertently wanders into the cave attracted by the worm’s light.  The whole experience was absolutely fascinating and beautiful.  As we wandered down the steps deeper in to the cave, we ultimately came to an underground river.  There we boarded a small boat and made our way out of the cave, but not before encountering large concentrations of glowworms on the ceiling.  It was dreamlike and otherworldly in both its beauty and its shear strangeness.  

Once back in reality, we continued our drive toward Rotorua.  Along the way we stopped at a bird sanctuary that had several captive kiwis among other specimens.  These are very rare animals, with only about 30,000 thought to exist.  We were able to see the Brown Spotted Kiwi (rarest of them all), which is a large bird about the size of a small turkey.   It looks awkward as it has no wings or tail, and its legs are placed far back toward its ample rump.  It walks quickly about poking its long beak into the soil in search of worms and grubs.  A kiwi is agile, fast moving, and ill tempered.  Its caretaker showed us a little scar she received while trying to care for it, confirming the fact that kiwis aren’t very friendly.  

An hour later we made it to Rotorua, home of the Maori culture.  Rotorua is located on the banks of Lake Rotorua, the largest lake in New Zealand.  The main attractions here are associated with the Maori culture, including a village located in the heart of a geothermal field.   The little village was very interesting, with geysers, steam vents, and hot pools of water circling the twenty or so houses and stores in the town. It was both picturesque and unusual.   Our Maori guide showed us how they cook all types of food in a community steamer powered by the water vapor escaping from vent from the earth; a completely frozen chicken is ready for the table in just 20 minutes! Likewise they cook veggies in a bag immersed in a lovely aqua colored pond that is always at the boiling point.   Around the corner from the village was a national park harboring a large stand of California Redwoods planted in New Zealand around 1900.  It was lovely to be among those spectacular trees and walk in the quiet, cool beauty unique to a Redwood Forest, which, as far as I am concerned, is as close to the home of God as we are likely to encounter on earth. 

Rotorua is a fairly large country town, located on the shore of a lake in a flat, open valley.  The town is based economically on agriculture and tourism.  There aren’t any shopping centers or big retailers here or elsewhere outside of Auckland; instead there are local shops located on a Main Street like we used to have in the U.S.A.   Our hotel was located on the lake, and although we carefully vetted it on the internet, we weren’t aware that giant busses filled with Chinese tourists arrived every morning and disgorged them into the lobby.  They toured in groups, ate in groups, and crowded the elevators just like they do back in Shanghai or Beijing. 

The next day we drove to the Waimangu Geothermal Area.  This was a never-to-be-forgotten experience.  The entry to the park is situated on the top of a mountain, and seeing the geothermal features required walking ninety minutes down a trail and along a fault fissure toward a lake at the bottom of the gorge.   It was a crystal clear day with brilliant sunshine and very warm temperatures.  Our first stop was Frying Pan Lake (world’s largest hot spring: 36 ft. deep and 131 degrees Fahrenheit) with Cathedral Rock at its southern terminus. Then came the amazing aqua blue 176 degrees Inferno Crater Lake (intense aqua blue -2.1 ph. – largest geyser-like feature in the world although the geyser cannot be seen because it is 120 ft. under the surface of the water).   Down the trail was Warbrick Terrace, a multi-colored, fast growing silica platform – colors originating from sulfur, copper, magnesium, iron and silica, all modified and tempered by algae and bacteria of various types, and all growing in boiling water.  Bubbling springs were everywhere, steam vents and mud pools, small geysers spouting, and hot and steaming water flowing like an ordinary creek down the valley floor – fault floor – to a distant lake.   It was a great day walking amidst the powers that created our beautiful world.  

On our fourth day we drove 215 km to the town of Napier, located on the shores of Hawke’s Bay.  As we drove east the grass changed from green to brown. The drive provided gorgeous vistas of flowering meadows, a distant snowcapped volcano, cultivated forest lands of giant pine trees, and rugged, steep volcanic hills on which trees such as oak, Lombardy Poplars, palmettos, and giant lilac trees grow.   Very large dairy herds could be seen grazing everywhere.  As we got close to Napier, we could see that it lay in the heart of the North Island’s wine and fruit growing region.  Napier is foremost a tourist destination, but like all smaller towns in New Zealand it is also a center of agriculture. Following the 1931 earthquake, Napier was rebuilt in the Art Deco style.  Today there are at least 100 beautiful Art Deco buildings in the district, and vintage cars of that era are available as an alternative to a walking tour.   Floral gardens line the streets and the downtown shoreline. The residential areas of the town are either colorful seaside bungalows built along the shores of Hawke’s Bay, whose beaches are black volcanic sand, or larger homes of an older vintage perched precariously on the hillside prominence that defines the original town site, something like Sausalito on San Francisco Bay.  The highway leading south to the wine growing areas is a boulevard lined on both sides with giant Norfolk Pines. On the outskirts of town near where we stayed is located the fishing port and yacht marina.  The warehouse district adjoining the working harbor has been partially transformed into an interesting wharf side casual bar and dining area that attracts locals for their afternoon social hour.  Our hotel was just a short walk around the harbor and across from one of the beaches on the north side of town.  It was a chic, modern hotel with lovely rooms and a nice restaurant.

 We spent our first day in Napier enjoying the downtown and its Art Décor buildings.   The next day we drove out to the Elephant Hill Winery, which offered fine wine and a gourmet lunch in a beautiful, artistic setting.   A bottle of their featured La Phant Blanc (Pinot Gris–Voignier-Gewürztraminer) cost $50 (wow!) and accompanied our selection for lunch: John Dory with a shrimp mouse encased in tempura batter attached to a zucchini neck.  All of this rested on a couple of mandarin orange sections, and a few thinly sliced pieces of cucumber and radish, along with vanilla pearls in a drop or two of pomegranate sauce.  It was very good to say the least.

After a couple of days in Napier, we drove two hours south to Wharekauhua, a 5,000 acre ranch and lodge located an hour’s drive east of Wellington on the coast near Cook’s Strait.  The drive was spectacular, with large herds of dairy cattle and sheep all along the way.  The flora and topography was similar to that of beautiful Northern California.  After about a two hour drive from Napier we reached the little town of Fairview and began looking for our turnoff.  We soon found it; a narrow strip of asphalt leading from Fairview some 40 km of a winding one lane road and little bridges leading to Ocean Beach and the site of Wharekauhua.  After an hour or so of gorgeous countryside vistas we turned onto a narrow one lane gravel road that descended 150 feet or more to a rock strewn riverbed at its base. Then we saw it; a magnificent country estate like one might see in England or Scotland, located there in the midst of wild New Zealand.   As we turned a treacherous corner and continued our decent down the hill we became more and more excited with anticipation.  We weren’t disappointed!

Wharekauhua Lodge has 13 cottages for guests and a main lodge used for dinning.  William and Kate stayed there last year when they visited NZ.  Cocktails and canapés were served at 7 PM in the library.  Dinner followed at 8 PM and consisted of a five course gourmet meal exquisitely prepared by Marc Soper.  Marc was so kind as to share a few recipes with us (although I doubt that we will be able to reproduce them).  Arron (a Samoan immigrant who leaned recently that he had inherited a Royal Chief’s Title upon the death of his uncle) introduced us to a wonderful Pinot Noir (Pegasus Winery) that was as terrific as it was a surprise.  For three days we feasted on the most fabulous food one can imagine.   

Our first full day was occupied mostly by a farm tour. As I mentioned above, Wharekauhua is a 5,000 acre enterprise specializing in the raising of lambs for the table.  They have about 10,000 sheep here during lambing season; 3,000 yews, 7,000 lambs and a 100 or so rams.  Lambs are born in the spring, which is August and September in New Zealand.  Lambs are sold for slaughter in December after shearing.  The poor little things have a very short life.  Almost 100% of the meat produced in NZ is sold for export, most of it to the U.S. market.   Wharekauhua also has hundreds of head of beef cattle, mostly Spotted and Angus breeds.  The Spotted are a fattier breed that when bred with Angus is intended to produce more tender meat then Angus by itself.  In any case, all the animals are fed only grass, which produces a lean and almost tasteless (my opinion) product.  The farm employs about 30 people in all, and most live in housing provided by the farm.  Two men and several sheep dogs control most of the livestock.  The hands demonstrated their sheep shearing technique and the deployment of their dogs to round up the sheep.  It was very interesting.

Our tour guide, Roger, took us down from the plateau where the lodge is located to the gravel road and the black sand beach below.  Here you could see the effects of the violent, giant winter seas from Antarctica that rip ashore and slam the plateau.  At the base of the plateau, in protected areas, are little rustic fishing cabins called “baches” that sportsmen use mostly as fish camps during the summer months.  Roger owns one and told us of the various fishing methods employed here, two of which demonstrate the inventiveness and originality of the New Zealand mind.  He asked me if I had ever heard of a Kon Tiki.  Of course…No.  Roger’s Kon Tiki is a Rube Goldberg contraption –a little 3 foot catamaran fitted with an airplane type propeller, electric motor and battery, a fishing long-line with 25 baited hooks.  The Kon Tiki itself is tied to a reel with a mile or so of line (to bring it back to shore).  The idea is to propel it out to sea about a mile, release the hooked line, wait an hour or two, then pull it back to shore and hope something is on the line.   The reason for all this is that it is very difficult to launch boats here.  The sand is very soft and the beach very steep.  Although boats can be launched few people do it because it takes a bulldozer and a boat launching apparatus with huge diameter wheels tethered to the tractor with about a 30 ft. steel arm to accomplish a launch.  In this situation, the Kon Tiki has appeal.

After a few days at Wharekauhua we reluctantly moved on to Wellington, capital city of New Zealand. Wellington is a big, modern, high rise city located on Cook’s Strait about 12 miles above the South Island and situated in a relatively small notch in the mountains along the coast.  The residential part of the city clings to the hill sides, and luxury seaside homes line the beaches and waterfront.  The shopping district is located on Lambton Quay, a street that was once the waterfront before an earthquake created more land.  In the center of the city stands the Beehive, the ruling party’s main office building and office of the Prime Minister.  It is a very interesting building architecturally, a dome like structure reflecting the modern concept of a capital building.  Next to the Beehive is the House of Parliament, a conventional 19th century classic building executed in grey marble and granite. Further down the capital campus stands the Library of Parliament, a beautiful deep yellow Victorian building that looks very much like a cathedral.  Across the street, but in line with the government buildings, stands the rose colored concrete Anglican Cathedral.   Wellington is quit lovely, with a mix of creative modern architecture and classic older buildings.  The city has made considerable investment in converting its former wharf harbor front into a beautiful and entertaining parkland that preserves the feel of the historical waterfront with the vibrancy of an exciting meeting and entertainment area.  It features a walkway that tracks the entire bay coastline from the cruise ship terminal to the airport, altogether about 20 km; a lovely, walkable downtown area, a cable car that can take you up to the botanical gardens or to the Campus of Victoria University, NZ’s largest.  Charming little neighborhoods with their own distinct identity formed because of their separation by the hills or rivers from the others.  We really liked Wellington and found it to be a very enjoyable and livable city.

After three days in Wellington, it was time to board the ferry for Picton across the strait and begin our tour of the South Island.

THE ARGONAUT Kingdom of Tonga 8/11 to 9/21, 2014

CAPTAIN’S LOG                     August 21 to September 30, 2014

The Kingdom of Tonga          Vava’U – Ha’Apia – Tongatapu   

 

Samoa to Vava’U: Our 320 mile trip down to Tonga from Samoa was a rough ride, with swells from the east in the 8-10 foot range.  ARGO handles high seas very well, our stabilizers keep her from rolling or yawing very much, but the constant pitching and movement was unpleasant.   It was a beam sea, and some of the swells were so large that we rolled to starboard as they began to pass under us, then leveled at the crest, and then rolled to port and slid down the back side of the wave sideways as it passed under us.  Of course we didn’t leave Samoa without a weather forecast, but it was dead wrong.   Unfortunately a trough had formed and it was blowing around 30 knots for the whole voyage.   No one felt well during the trip, and I got a good dose of sea sickness to boot.  It’s passages like this that make us think fondly of spending our time in a plush hotel in Provence!

Arrival at Neiafu:  We arrived at the town of Neiafu on the Island of Vava’U at 0700 and tied to the custom’s dock.  Before our lines were secured, the immigration, health and customs agents were on the dock and ready for business.   After filling out the customary forms and paying about $100 in various fees, we went ashore.   It wasn’t long before we had arranged telephone service, bought fresh vegetables from the farmers’ market near the dock, and made a short walk down Main Street to see what Neiafu was all about.  What we found was a rag-tag collection of a few stores, three banks, a Western Union office, several bars, restaurants, churches, and souvenir shops.  Neiafu is a waypoint for boaters who are either going south to Tongatapu and New Zealand, or westward to Fiji.   The harbor is very large, clear blue, and deep.  It can accommodate any size ship that can make it past the narrow channel in the reef at its entrance.  When we arrived, there were about thirty boats on mooring balls in the harbor.  At anchor in the western end of the harbor was Paul Allen’s 225 ft. yacht Meduse, one of several he owns.  Along the waterfront were a selection of bars and restaurants, however the Aquarium Restaurant seemed to be the gathering spot for most of the boaters.  Mike, its American owner, was a congenial fellow who gladly provided information about the island and help with anything anyone needed. 

Late in the morning we moved to an anchorage just west of town and anchored in 95 feet of water near Meduse.   Rumor had it that some big shot like Bill Gates was coming, but no one showed up while we were there.  Not to be outdone, we had our own personage to welcome aboard at Neiafu.  Just as we dropped anchor, Mike from the Aquarium called on the VHF to tell us that our intrepid friend Reid Sherard had arrived and was at his dockside restaurant waiting for us to pick him up.  Reid had flown 36 hours from Los Angeles to Auckland, then to Nuku’alofa, and finally on to Neiafu.  He actually arrived a day ahead of schedule.   With him were two bottles of vodka and three printer cartridges (which are unique to the U.S.).  It was great to see our old friend. 

Meanwhile back on Argo, Tyler was diligently washing the sea salt off and readying her for company.   Giving Argo a bath is a lot of work and takes an entire day. We are very lucky to have Tyler onboard; Tyler takes a great deal of pride in his work and makes this yacht shine like no other!  He is a great asset to us!

The weather in Vava’U was in some ways a welcome relief from the searing heat and high humidity we had experienced since leaving Jamaica six months ago.  For the first time we didn’t need air conditioning.   The Tongans told us that it was unseasonable cold:  the temperature was consistently about 770, humidity in the high 60’s, and the sea water temperature was 780.  Despite this perfect combination of factors, the wind blew at 20 mph for days making the water a little too rough and cloudy to enjoy water sports or riding about in the dingy.  This is springtime in this part of the world and transitional weather patterns brought more clouds and wind than usual.  We were disappointed that Reid didn’t have better conditions given the long trip he made to get here.

We found Neiafu to be a very pleasant place with friendly people who were helpful and kind.  Many boating friends that we had met along the way were also there, so we spent a few enjoyable evenings catching up and hearing about their experiences.   Altogether we spent eighteen days at anchor diving, touring the island, talking with friends, whale snorkeling, going to church, feasting, and enjoying all that is. 

The Kingdom of Tonga: The Vava’U Group is the northern most archipelago of the Kingdom of Tonga.  The Kingdom is made up of three island groups: Vava’U to the north, Ha’Apia, in the center lying 60 miles south of Vava’U, and Tongatapu, the third archipelago that lies 60 miles south of Ha’Apia and is home to the kingdom’s capital city, Nuku’alofa.  Altogether the three groups stretch about 160 miles from north to south along the Tonga Ridge, which is formed by the meeting of the Australian and Pacific Plates in the South Pacific Ocean.  Tonga is thought to be moving eastward at 25 cm per year and is gradually sinking into the ocean.

Unlike all the other islands of Polynesia, The Kingdom of Tonga has never been colonized by Westerners.  Tonga is governed by a king who enjoys all the regalia that goes with a monarchy: e.g., nobles, royal lands, money minted with the king’s image on it, royal tombs, a palace, and of course, ownership of the key money making enterprises.  Originally the three island groups were each governed by a Tu’iTonga, a man/god chief.  The Tu’iTonga on Ha’Apia with the help of the Wesleyan Methodists and the British Navy, attacked the Tu’iTonga on Tongatapu and in the twenty year war overthrew him and established a kingdom modeled on the British monarchy.  The chiefs who supported him were made nobles and the Methodist Church and the British were granted special rights.  The king named himself George I (all kings are named George and today we have George VI).  He proclaimed that all land was owned by God and given to him by God for safe keeping.  Of course he took the prime and largest cuts for himself, his cronies, and the Wesleyan Methodists.  Even today all land in Tonga is owned by the king, but some time ago the king granted title to eight acre parcels to individual Tongan males.  Woman may not own land.   

The country has a constitution established in the mid 1800’s.   Until 2006 the king was more or less an absolute monarch and ruled a nation of about 103,000 people.  There were riots and the burning of buildings in 2006 as Tongans demanded greater democratization of the government, but it isn’t clear that anything of substance has changed, although it now has a parliament. 

There are estimated to be about 70,000 Tongans living abroad who send money back to their families in Tonga and this constitutes the largest source of foreign revenue for the country.  About 70,000 people live in the capital of Nukualofa, about 15,000 live on Vava’U, and the balance live on other islands.  Land can only be titled to Tongans, however “squatter’s rights” comes into play when a person moves onto land that no one is paying attention to and resides there for ten years or more.  The original owner loses title.  A Tongan must appear in person on his land at least once every ten years and chase any squatters off or risk losing it.  If a “palangi” (a white person) wishes to acquire property, it can only be leased from a Tongan or noble and leases must be approved by parliament and the king.  Leases are easily obtained and the lessee will eventually get a copy of the lease with the king’s signature and the royal seal in wax at the bottom.  Leases can extend up to fifty years.

As in Samoa, families are large (average ten children) and those members that are ambitious are encouraged to migrate abroad and send money home.  By and large I don’t think Tongans are a very motivated lot, although they are very friendly.   The country is very poor and the brighter people head for Australia, New Zealand or the U.S. if they can get a visa, which is increasingly had to come by.  Most countries feel that they have enough islander immigrants, particularly as some Tongans abroad have been pushed into crime to meet the financial demands of their families at home.  Title to land is devised on a primo-genitor basis, so if you are not the first born male you might as well leave for greener pastures.   Of course at least one lucky soul is obligated to stay home and take care of mom, dad, grandma, and keep an eye on the family’s property.   Despite their obvious poverty, few beg or go hungry.  Tongans take care of each other and are deeply committed to their family.  Tongans seem to be proud people; they have their islands, their heritage, and their religions.  They also have a Western Union office in almost every village of any size, and its sign is the only one in good repair. Aside from having children, they raise pigs and chickens (raise is too strong a verb as they just let them run about and grab one for dinner as needed), cultivate small gardens of taro, kava, bananas, carrots and whatever else will grow.  Most of the land I saw under cultivation was done by human labor: no beasts of burden or tractors.  Driving around the whole island I saw four tractors and one horse.  Undoubtedly there are a few more, but most land is cultivated on small plots on a human scale.  All this is supplemented by fish the men catch. 

The climate here is more temperate than all the other islands we have visited, and for the first time we have seen fruits and vegetables that we are more accustomed to seeing at home.   Each village has at least one church, and Sunday is an observed day of rest, religion, family and feast.  Their school system has managed to teach the English language to almost everyone over the last twenty five years.  The government provides primary school, and the religious sects, particularly Moorman and Wesleyan Methodist, provide secondary schools, although you have to belong to the church and tithe in order to send your children to the church’s school.  Driving around the countryside, you can see large noble estates, but most parcels are about eight acres in size and cultivated by a family for subsistence.  The churches in Tonga are shamefully medieval in the power and wealth the clergy wields, and in the way people are forced to give money to them.  The Mormons seem to be very aggressive and have built a facility at virtually every cross road.  Homes are very basic except for those of the local church ministers or government officials. Large houses (the size of a typical American suburban home) are either owned by nobles or church ministers.  The villages are not kept up as they are in the other parts of Polynesia, and on the smaller islands of the Ha’Apia Group cyclone damage from last summer’s storms is considerable.

Vava’U Group:   Coming into Vava’U was very different than the other islands we had visited during the last six months.  The island is not volcanic.  It is a coral island rising abruptly about 300 feet from the ocean’s surface to a flat plain that is covered in dense jungle.  From the sea, the islands look like huge stone monoliths with dramatic cliffs; beaches are present only where the cliffs give way to a little bay or indentations in the rock.  The water is crystal clear, and the bays and passages between the islands are deep sapphire blue and the islands colorful.  Here, in the shelter of the islands and the warm waters of the Mid-Pacific Ocean, Humpback Whales come to give birth and breed each year.

Whales:  Vava’U is most well-known for “swimming with whales”.  There are two or three outfitters who are licensed to take tourist on “whale dives”.   A dive is actually a surface snorkel and is an all day ordeal in which eight or so snorkelers accompany a guide, four at a time into the water to swim next to a cow and calf (usually).  Males are difficult to swim with because they are on the move and are often breaching or pushing each other around in an effort to attract the attention of a female (what’s new?).  Would-be swimmers wear wet suits and ride around for hours in the open boat until an appropriate female and calf are spotted.  Then the boat stops a hundred yards or so from the mother, and if she doesn’t swim off, four snorkelers at a time quietly enter the water with a guide and swim over to within fifteen or twenty feet of the whale.   Females with newborns often rest for part of the day so as to let the little one nurse and safely play.  As you swim toward the leviathan you can see how big these creatures are; 100 plus tons suspended just at the water’s surface with the majority of their body hanging perhaps 100 or more feet below.  You first see their giant black backs with a prominent spine, as you look downward you see the spine lead to the tail a hundred feet or so below in the blue water.  The black upper body changes to a white underside with huge folds in its skin.  The breathing hole is at the water’s surface and is about one third of the length of the body and behind the head.  Forward of the breathing hole the head rests suspended in fifteen or so feet of water and is a strange, but familiar shape.  The eyes are on the side of the head well back of its huge jaw line that is covered in barnacle like growths.  The little calf swims about its mother turning and twisting as it goes, and then pausing for refreshment if desired.  Calves drink about 50 gallons of a yogurt type mother’s milk each day and grow rapidly.  The adjective “little” really doesn’t apply as they can be thousands of pounds within weeks.  During our dives we were within ten or fifteen feet of these huge, beautiful animals.  On one of our dives we spent perhaps a half an hour within feet of a mother and calf.  The baby came so close to us and was so frisky I thought it might injure us, not knowing its own youthful strength.  After all the divers returned to the boat and were drying off, we watched the mother and baby at the surface of the water.  I saw the mother’s tale flukes rise high in the air, an indication of a deep dive.  I assumed she was leaving.  We were only a hundred yards or so from her.  A moment or two later she erupted straight up out of the sea, turning her immense body laterally over in the air, and then crashed down yards from our boat. It was awesome…spell binding…breathtaking…like nothing we had ever seen or imagined.  It was as though she was offering us one last glimpse into her world.  After a few moments to collect our wits, we departed thankful for the experience and emotionally closer to our origins in the natural world.  

The whale’s world underwater in Vava’U is silent, tranquil, warm and slow moving.  Occasionally you can hear the whales sing.  Sometimes you can see the males breaching, or pushing each other about in a contest of strength, or, more aggressively, slamming each other with their giant heads in an attempt to prove dominance.  For them this is not play, but the vital, essential business of life.  It’s also no place to snorkel!

We have posted videos and pictures of our whale dives on www.tischtravels.com

Feasts:  Like Samoans, Tongans love a feast.  Aside from their private Sunday family gatherings, entrepreneurs offer feasts to tourists several days a week at different locations around the islands.  We decided to go to one on Sunday at the En’toi Botanical Garden.  The proprietors picked us up in their rickety old, filthy van and drove across the island through the little villages with the shiny new Moorman facilities to their sea side establishment.  The owner, Halima (?), was celebrating his 69th birthday that day, so the feast was preceded by a speech in which he recalled growing up in the village and not knowing anything about the outside world, not even that it was round.  He thanked providence for his good fortune to become the Assistant Secretary of Agriculture during his career, for his wonderful children, and apologized to his wife Lucy for being less than a perfect husband.  With that, the feast was underway and one by one the eager guests proceeded to the buffet and began selecting from a variety of Tongan dishes including suckling pig, curried fish, poultry, taro, bread fruit, curried vegetables, and other dishes.  After the feast, I looked about and saw several pictures of Halima during his career meeting Pope John Paul in Rome in the company of other Tongan dignitaries including HRH the King.  He told me that he had actually met the Pope twice, and many other dignitaries from around the world as well.  Not bad for a country not bigger than a small town in mid-America!

Our 25th Wedding Anniversary:  We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary here in Tonga.  Rebecca found a nice resort established a few years ago by a sail boating couple from Switzerland who were apparently ready for life on the hard.  Normally they are booked several weeks in advance, but somehow Rebecca got us in.  Kathryn had called them from NYC to try to arrange a surprise, like a bottle of champagne or a local musician to play for us, but nothing like that was available in Tonga.  We moved ARGO to an anchorage off shore and dingied in for a lovely dinner complete with a table cloth and a beautiful flower centerpiece.  Rebecca’s dish was quite interesting: a whole red snapper split down the back from head to tail and baked.  It was very artistic as it looked like a large, pink, spiral ribbon.  It was delicious.

Diving the Ship Wreck:  Just west of our anchorage at Neiafu was a wreck that sunk about twenty years ago in 125 feet of water.  This ship apparently had caught on fire and the captain and engineer stayed aboard to try and save her. Both died when she sank.  Wrecks are common in this part of the world. In Nuku’alofa we counted nine wrecks in the harbor.  In the third world maintenance is not a valued practice on anything much less a ship, and cyclones sweep thru these parts every year.  Many ships drag their anchor during big storms and wind up on a reef and break apart.  Compounding matters, often the crews are made up of local men and when a cyclone arrives, they abandon their ship to take care of their families. 

Tyler and I dove the wreck on a sunny morning.  I had never done that sort of diving before; it was a little spooky, given that at two people lost their lives.  The water wasn’t very clear, but we could see her lying broken on the bottom.  She was known as the Clan McClellan, a relatively large ship of a few hundred feet.  We explored the decks above 100ft in depth, seeing her railing and mast and thinking of the hopes that she carried with her and the tragedy of her demise.  

Going to Church in Neiafu: Religion is the center of community life in Polynesia, much like it is in the American south.  Here there is practically a church on every corner.   One Sunday we decided to go to church and see what a service in Neiafu was all about.  The church we visited was a Catholic Church.  It was built on the most prominent hill in the town and from the front looked like something you might find in Italy.  The façade was Italianate in design, very ornate with painted pictures of Christ on the bell tower.  It was built on a hill that required climbing about twenty five steps to reach the entrance, and the climb made the church all the more imposing.   Behind the facade was a more modest structure, sort of a pole barn with a white metal roof.  Inside were pews and a couple of statues and shrines, very typical of a modest Catholic church.  The service began when the choir started to sing, and that was something to behold and the real reason for our visit.  The choir constituted at least a quarter of the people in the church, but the quality of their singing was second to none.  They were terrific.  A procession then began when the priest, proceeded by a small retinue of elders and officiates, made their way down the aisle to the altar.  The church was packed and people were standing outside.    Men wore traditional Lava-lavas with a ta’ovala skirt wrapped around their waist.  The ta’ovala is a grass cloth traditional garb woven from mulberry tree bark as in the Samoan tapa making process that I wrote about in my Samoan blog.  The women were, of course, dressed in their finest, and they too wore a sort of grass skirt over their western dress, but much lacier and also made of tapa. Going to the church was a wonderful cultural experience for us. 

A Drive-about:  One of our friends, Adam Paskowitz Captain of Spirit of Adventure, mentioned that he had taken a dune buggy/go-cart tour on the back roads of Vava’U.   Rebecca and I thought it might be fun so we arranged for a tour.  The little company was run by a family of ex-pats trying to eke out a living in Neiafu.  We arrived at the appointed hour and we met our guide Joshua.  Joshua had grown up in New Zealand but had a Tongan father.  His father owned some property in town including a distillery of sorts, and at his death it became Joshua’s.   So Joshua came back to Tonga to claim his birthright. Things weren’t going all that well for him, but he knew the island well and spoke impeccable English, so off we went.

We should have known better as the cart was a death trap. I could hardly get into the thing, but anyway we rode over hill and dale, past the ubiquitous Moorman Church and basketball court, past the cemeteries with their huge quilts memorializing a recently deceased person, past the little hand tilled fields of taro, eventually finding the cow path Joshua was looking for.  This path took us several miles off the beaten track—through the dense jungle, past little subsistence farms to some of the most beautifully natural and unspoiled sights we have seen. One such place was a gorgeous cliff overlooking the sea.  The cliff had been eroded in a most unusual way by centuries of the relentless pounding of the sea.  About fifty feet above the sea was a huge circular hole about twenty feet in diameter in the cliff’s outcropping. On the prominence above it roosted hundreds of fox bats – fruit eating bats about a foot long that hung in the branches on the trees above.   

Ha’Apia Group: The Ha’Apia Group lies about 65 miles south of Vava’U.   We left our anchorage early in the morning and enjoyed a lovely cruise, one of the best we have experienced down to Ha’Apia.  It was a bright sunny day with calm seas and whales breaching along the way.  Our trip took about eight hours and we arrived at Haano Island.  Approaching these island takes great care and should only be done when the sunlight allows one to see all the coral heads and reefs.  We cautiously entered the anchorage with all hands focused on any signs of danger.  We were all very surprised by the geology of these islands compared to Vava’U; Ha’Apia Islands are flat sand atolls rising no more than five feet above the sea’s surface and covered in jungle and shrubs.   As I mentioned, surrounding the islands are extensive coral reefs, which makes them unpopular with boaters.  When we arrived we were the lone boat on the island.    After a pleasant and restful night at anchor, we went ashore the next morning to reconnoiter the little village of Haano.  Once ashore, we quickly appreciated that it had been terribly damaged by a cyclone the previous season.  As we walked through the little village, we saw men rebuilding a water tower, and some of the people whose homes were destroyed living in tents.  It was a very poor area in the best of times, but now it was devastated.  After walking about and greeting the people we met, we decided to move along to the next island of Lifuka and the capital pf Ha’Apia, Pangai Village.  

Tyler’s 30th birthday:  We thought that Piangai would have a little more to offer, and since it was Tyler’s 30th birthday we wanted to find a town with a suitable celebratory establishment.  We picked our way through the coral heads and reefs and anchored a mile or so offshore.  Our friends Jeff and Sherry on Grasshopper showed up in the anchorage shortly after we arrived to help celebrate, and we all went into Pangai Village.  The village itself was also heavily damaged by last January’s cyclone and people were living in very dilapidated circumstances.  The town seemed all but abandoned.  Dogs roamed the streets everywhere, which made us feel uneasy, particularly if they were to form packs.  As on other Polynesian islands, these dogs are a very sturdy breed and look to be part pit-bull.  On one street ten or fifteen of these dogs formed a pack and took off after a pig.  They nipped at it and badgered it.  Finally as they became more brazen and aggressive the pig must have sensed that the game could turn lethal at any moment, and with that, turned tail and outran the dogs in making its escape.  As we walked further along the only human activity we saw was centered on little food markets run by Chinese proprietors.  Older Tongans distrust the Chinese grocers because they sell alcohol to the young men, who in turn get drunk, rowdy, and fight.  As we turned the corner toward the Mariner’s Café, we heard a commotion and saw a serious fist fight erupt between two young men who had obviously been drinking.  We wanted to get away from the fight and the men who were hanging around watching, so we hurried on to the café only to find it closed.  A few minutes later the loser of the fight staggered by with the aid of an inebriated friend, his head bleeding profusely from a gash administered by his opponent with a wrench.  As soon as the little crowd disbursed, we headed back to Argo where Rebecca made a wonderful birthday dinner complete with filet minion, mashed potatoes, corn, and a fruit pie for dessert with candles for Tyler.  

The next day we moved south about thirty miles to the island of Haafava.  This island has a protected lagoon, like the Tuamotus. We entered the lagoon over a very narrow channel in the reef and anchored near the small dock the islanders use to bring in supplies.  The lagoon’s bottom was littered with coral heads and rocks, so Tyler stood lookout on the bow pulpit and we picked our way around until he found a patch of sand and we dropped anchor.  After settling down we found the area absolutely beautiful, but the wind was up and made for a rolling anchorage.  Tyler and Rebecca went for a swim and we all took the dingy for a spin later in the afternoon.  The view from Argo was absolutely beautiful.  We were surrounded by other islands and, more closely in, coral reefs.  The ocean swells were crashing on the reefs, and off in the distance we could see the silhouette of the only active volcano in Tonga, which made for a spectacular vista. 

As beautiful as it was, it was time to continue south toward Tongatapu and prepare for our passage to New Zealand.  Our wonderful friends Melanie and Curtis Hoff were meeting us in Nukualofa.  They planned on joining us for the final passage to New Zealand and the conclusion of our great adventure.  

Tongatapu Group: These are the main islands of the Kingdom of Tonga and site of its capitol Nuku’alofa.  The city is on the south side of a very large bay that is open to the north.  There are many reefs, coral heads and islands scattered about, but so far the charts have been accurate and we haven’t bumped into anything.  We anchored a little over a mile from the city’s docks and inner harbor, which are in a shambles and littered with sunken wrecks.  Several abandon, rusting Japanese fishing vessels are tied to a dock and bear witness to Tonga’s naval prowess; they confiscated the ships because the Japanese violated Tongan territorial waters.   We anchored off Pangiamotu Island at Big Mama’s Yacht Club.  Out front is a sunken bow of a large ship that went down here in a cyclone about twenty years ago. It acts as an artificial reef and attracts a lot of colorful fish.  People come out to see the fish, enjoy the beautiful beach and swim in the crystal clear water.  Mama is a very large lady, sort of like Aunt Jemima.  She owns the tikka bar here, which looks inviting, but the food is horrible.  At this end of the bay I counted nine partially sunken ships. 

To get to the city we took our tender about a mile and a half across the bay to the inner harbor, and then the inner-inner harbor or boat basin.  Instead of a proper, safe floating dock, they have taken scrapes of old wood and hobbled things together to build a walkway and floated it on old oil barrels.  It is rickety and wobbly.  The planks are unevenly spaced so that one could easily trip and fall through a space into the filthy water, or, if you get off center as Rebecca did, one end of a plank could give way; she nearly fell in.  Once the dock is negotiated the main road to town is near at hand, and the town center is about a fifteen minute walk.  Along the paved road are venders selling fruits and vegetables, taro, watermelons and fire wood; hundreds of neatly stacked piles of cut wood for cooking fires are stacked next to the road.  This is in contrast to optical fiber cable being installed along one of the main streets downtown.   

Like the harbor, Nukualofa suffers from aesthetic deprivation.  It is shabby and without many of the staples of everyday life that we had hoped to find here.  They have a very fine farmer’s market with all sorts of things we haven’t seen on other islands, like lettuce.  I was looking around for a Tonga cap, and asked the local cap embroiderer where I could find one or if he could make one for me? He looked at me as though I were nuts.  Who wants a Tonga hat?  All their caps have American or other foreign sports’ team logos on them.  ­­­­­­­Here, people identify with the west.

The next day we took a tour of the island.  I have put pictures of these sights on www.tischtravels.com. The first stop was the Royal Palace (19th century Victorian style summer home), then the Royal Tombs (it looks like a normal Tongan cemetery, where the soil is mounded over the body, but large stone statues of the deceased kings in European military garb stand over the graves). There were several beautiful coastal sites to see including blow holes and natural arches, and finally the Ha’amonga Trilithon, which is an ancient stone arch similar in some ways to Stone Hedge, which marked the ceremonial center where the Tu’iTonga presided.  Every village has at least one Moorman school, basketball court and meeting hall, and maybe a Catholic and or Wesleyan Methodist Church.   There are also the odd Seventh Day Adventist and Jehovah’s Witnesses’ meeting halls as well.   In Tonga the haves live well, the rest are serfs.

Leaving Tonga:  Our friends Melanie and Curtis Hoff joined us in Nuku’alofa for the ride south to New Zealand.  It was very symbolic in the sense that they came down to Stuart, Florida and waved good-bye to us from the bridge as we left America, and now they were joining us on our final leg of the journey to New Zealand.   Because the trip to New Zealand is long and fraught with the possibility of difficult seas, we offered them the chance to just meet us in Auckland, but they wanted to come along and we were very happy to have them. The Hoffs are boaters who have cruised the U.S. East Coast extensively, so we all studied the weather files and decided unanimously to leave as soon as possible after fueling Wednesday at noon.  Our passage involved threading the needle between three potential storms that were expected to form while we were at sea.  A low was due to make its way across our course bringing with it very high winds and high seas (13ft.), but if we left Tonga on Wednesday afternoon we felt there was a good chance that we could get south of it.  Tonga offers us the possibility of buying tax free fuel if we buy it on the way out, so Wednesday morning we hooved to a crumbling cement dock at the harbor (after helping an itinerate boater move to a mooring) and arranged to take on fuel.  To get the tax free permit we had to check out of the country with customs, which meant checking out with immigration (whose office was across town), then to the Harbor Master’s office to pay port charges (a real rip off at about $200 USD for a week at anchor), then to the Total Petroleum facility with $14,000 in Tongan cash.  My pockets were bulging with money, but that is the only way they do business.  To get the Tongan money, we had to go to the bank on Monday and convert our dollars.  Lucky for us, in Tonga you can convert without charge up to $10,000 Tongan per person.  So Rebecca and I each took USD’s and converted it so that we had enough to pay Total.  The tax free fuel price was the equivalent of $3.90 per gallon, which wasn’t too bad (they sell it in liters and we bought about 8,000 liters).

The fuel truck was due at noon, but arrived about an hour late (it’s on Tongan Time), and it took about an hour to fuel; in the end Argo was full!   We left Nuku’alofa on the incoming tide at about 14:30 on September 24 bound for Auckland, New Zealand and the end of our voyage. 

Our next Captain’s Log describes our experience with a Force Ten Gale on our way to Auckland.