Motoring North to Vanua Balavu’s Bay of Islands (Northern Lau, Fiji)

September 18, 2013

This calm sunny afternoon was perfect for motoring up to the renowned Bay of Islands area, which as the crow flies, wasn’t very far away from our Malaka Bay anchorage. But since much of it’s either too deep or too shallow to anchor, visiting yachts generally enter via its north end, entailing a trip up and over the long skinny islands that somewhat enclose the Bay. One nice thing about this ride is that it lies behind the protective reef that surrounds Vanua Balavu; making for calm waters.

Below, our (very) approximate 8-mile route up to our chosen anchorage in the Bay of Islands. (If you want to see Rich’s post about how horrifyingly off our charts were for this area, here’s a link.)

Bay of Islands Area
General Area of Anchorages for the Bay of Islands
Legacy's Anchorage (approximate)
Malaka Bay Anchorage
Dalconi Village
Vanua Balavu Island

We rounded the northernmost island, then headed back south into the rather large area known as the Bay of Islands. Glancing at a satellite photo, this would seem to describe only one small area of scattered rock islands. If you look closely, though, you can see areas of shoreline are actually tucked behind close-lying islands. That’s one of the things that makes this area so magical: all the hidden holes! This is truly a wonderland for dinghies and the sort of area that makes having a kayak aboard worthwhile.

As we motored further south, our surroundings became more and more beautiful. Basically this area is made up of dark craggy islands with patches of bright green vegetation sprouting wherever it can get a foothold. Behind the islands, to the east, a long mountain ridge bisects northern Vanua Balavu, and its tall steep cliffs form a dramatic backdrop to the area.

The islands are all shapes and sizes: rounded monoliths with sheer rock walls, pointy cones, big and little mushrooms, and huge boulders. While they differ in shape and size, they all share a unique feature: an undercut above the waterline which gives them a toadstool appearance.

The water under these overhangs has some of the brightest, most electric colors of blue and green we’ve ever seen. It appears at times as if someone has set up neon lights below the water. I don’t know the explanation for this phenomena, but I do know it’s stunningly beautiful and what makes the northern Lau able to visually compete against the turquoise waters and white beaches of the southern Lau.

Our problem now was choosing an anchorage. The first possibility, the easiest one, was really lovely, but we continued on. Another anchorage appeared, a large teal pool surrounded with sheer rock walls dotted with thick green vegetation, a small island at the back of its bay. That one was really hard to pass by, but we wanted to see the innermost spot just around the next corner (the subject of the next blog post).

Below, a gallery of photos as we motored to the Bay of Islands (click to enlarge and scroll through gallery below). –Cyndi

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The Perfect Ditch Bag

For when things go wrong…

November 12, 2017

We saw this today at the wine store. It holds a box of wine and up to six real glass glasses (be sure to purchase two if you are likely to have more than six people in your life raft).

We can probably accept some compromises when things have gotten bad enough to get into the life raft – box wine is probably OK – but never plastic wine glasses!

OK, maybe that’s not what they had in mind for this product. Maybe that’s just how we roll. -Rich

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A Trip to Lomaloma (Vanua Balavu, Fiji)

September 18, 2013

It was going well as we walked by Malaka Bay’s village to the bus stop, the people we saw calling out a friendly, “Bula!” and stopping to chat. We were almost through the village when a guy came up to us saying we needed to see “the king.” We said we did our sevusevu ceremony at Dalconi Village, but he wasn’t having it and said we needed to do it here. We told him we were catching the bus but assured him we’d do it when we got back. (I was afraid this would happen.)

We made a plan for when we got back later in the afternoon: keep our heads down and walk quickly to our dinghy, hoping we could avoid this guy. But if we ran into him again, we’d go get some kava from our stash and do the darn sevusevu. We also agreed (assuming we were successful in getting to the dinghy unaccosted) that instead of spending the night here, we’d make a quick exit out of the bay when we got back. We didn’t want to worry later about getting a knock on our boat asking us when we were coming in to see “the king.”

The bus to Lomaloma turned out to be a large truck, completely open in the back with bench seating along both walls. We sat with about 20 other people, and I regretted not wearing a sulu for this. I didn’t figure I needed one for town; it never occurred to me to worry about the bus.

Soon, we were headed off to Lomaloma, the main town on this island. The dirt road was well maintained so it wasn’t very lumpy. It was actually a pretty ride though miles and miles of palm trees. As so often happens in foreign places, whether big cities or small rural areas, a kind person noticed us and made sure to advise us on when to get off the bus. In spite of my grumbling about the sevusevu thing, I want to emphasize that the people here are very, very nice. Below, a few photos of our ride across the island (click to enlarge/scroll through photo galleries below).

Lomaloma turned out to be an interesting town, sprawling along the seaside with small structures amidst well-manicured grounds. The trees were abundant, some large with gnarled trunks, some delicate wispy pines, and many, many palm trees. The town itself is flat but framed by green hills in the distance. Because of its location on the east side of the island, there’s a constant breeze that blows in from the ocean. In spite of being tropical, the town felt somewhat dusty and windswept, reminding me more of a town on an atoll than on a mountainous island. Below, a photo gallery of Lomaloma.

The first thing we did was find the market, where I was very relieved to find the eggs and onions I desperately needed plus a bag of potatoes and some cookies. This would help stretch our food supply another two weeks or so, after which we’d head back to Savusavu to restock. We also stopped at the town’s bakery and got some bread and snacked on cheese rolls, after which we took a walk through town and out on the wharf. This may not be the most beautiful place we’ve seen, but it had a nice ambience, very quiet and relaxed, and also very friendly. A man actually called out to us from his house asking if we’d like some tea, something I suspect happens all the time here. (We couldn’t take him up on his offer as we needed to catch our bus.)

We managed to find the correct “bus” (truck) back to Malaka, heading off just as a squall hit the area. It was very cool to sit and watch out the back of the truck as the wind picked up and the rain started pouring down behind us.

Once we got dropped off in our area, we made a beeline through the village to our dinghy, thankfully without seeing the guy who wanted us to do a sevusevu ceremony. Once back at the boat, we pulled our anchor and began our journey to the Bay of Islands, about five miles or so to the north. –Cyndi

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November 5, 2017

Back in the land of columnar pines!

Well not really cool, but certainly not as hot as it got in Vanuatu a few days before we sailed here to New Caledonia. Just before we left Vanuatu, we were having trouble sleeping because it was too warm. Last night, Cyndi got out the blanket! What a difference.

The 295 mile trip took us just over 2 days. Conditions were great, and while we mostly motored in light wind, we did get some nice periods where we were able to sail. The last four hours were a bit of a different story.

New Caledonia can be a difficult country to get into: not because of the customs paperwork or quarantine inspections, but because of the Havannah Pass. The huge lagoon fills and drains partly through this pass. We had almost five knots of current, reaching out to sea four miles.

We tried to time our arrival at the pass for slack water at low tide. We thought we’d have to kill about four hours to get the timing right. It turns out that we just kept motoring towards the pass and the current took care of the time we needed to kill. We got to the pass right at low tide but the current was still flowing out at three knots.

Anyway, it was worth all the effort to get through the pass and we’re really glad to be back in New Cal (though sad to have left Vanuatu). We’ll hang out here for a couple of weeks, get a little cruising in, and then sail to New Zealand for cyclone season. -Rich

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A Pleasant Evening in the Malaka Anchorage (Vanua Balavu, Fiji)

September 17, 2013

After we returned to our anchorage in Malaka Bay, we were able to relax and leave the earlier stressful part of the day behind us. Well, we did have one small worrisome surprise. We knew we were anchored near a runway and that planes fly over this bay, but who’d imagine they’d fly so low? We thought we were well out of the way, but it seems not so much. It was rather unnerving, I’m sure for the pilot as well as for us. Luckily there aren’t very many flights here. Below, a clip of the plane coming in for a landing.

Later in the afternoon, we decided to head into Malaka Village and see how long it would take us to get to the bus stop (for tomorrow’s early morning trip to Lomaloma, the main town on the other side of this island). With the convenient ramp belonging to the Department of Fisheries and Forests building, the landing was easy. The village sits right behind all that, along a dirt road that heads inland from the shore.

As we walked, we noticed the village was off to one side of the road. The other side had low grassy hills scattered with pine trees along with the usual palms. I’d been worried about walking here without a sulu (Fijian skirt) or being told we need to do a sevusevu ceremony for this village. Sam had told us that since we’d done the sevusevu in Dalconi, we didn’t need to worry about it in this village. I had a sneaking suspicion, though, these villagers might not agree. Seeing that the road went alongside the village and not smack through the middle, I felt better.

In all it was a very pleasant walk, the sun low and golden and the village very quiet (nap time? dinner time?). Below, a few shots from our walk through the village and the government buildings next to the shore. (Click to enlarge/scroll through galleries that follow.)

In the evening we had our usual sundowners in the cockpit, and by now the day had gone from being trying to very lovely. The sunset was beautiful along with the full bright moon hovering above. Venus came out shining brightly as a finale to this beautiful show. Below, a few photos.

This was one of those evenings we didn’t want to leave the cockpit, waiting as twilight became dusk, and dusk became dark. Life was good again.–Cyndi

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Leaving Vanuatu :-(

November 2, 2017

We’re heading south to Noumea, New Caledonia within the hour. It’s so sad to see our time in this enchanted place come to an end but we need to get south for cyclone season.

Here’s how we spent our last afternoon here in Port Vila…

Lunch at the War Horse Tavern, and swimming (and drinks) at the Iririki resort. Oh yea, and also the not-so-nice things like visiting various government office to check out (after a few tries at finding them), provisioning, and paying bills!

It’s not like life’s so bad for us – don’t feel sorry. In about two days we’ll be in New Caledonia… French food, fresh fish, beautiful islands… -Rich

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Dalconi Village (Vanua Balavu, Fiji)

September 17, 2013

We woke up pretty early and went outside to have coffee and survey our new surroundings. This is one of my favorite parts of cruising: seeing a new neighborhood in the morning light, often seeming very different after a cloudy, tired, late-afternoon arrival.

Unfortunately we wouldn’t be in this spot long because we needed head about a mile up the coast to an anchorage off Dalconi Village. We didn’t look forward to making this trip as Dalconi’s anchorage has poor holding and protection, but we needed to go there to do a sevusevu ceremony to gain access to the north part of this island.

As we motored north, we had a few impressive blasts of wind barrel down on us. This island is mountainous, and often that means wind bullets, almost as if the wind builds up at the top of the mountain then topples over in one big blast. There isn’t much effect on the water, but it is unnerving to be motor-sailing along minding your own business and suddenly finding yourself heeled way over.

Once we arrived at the village, we had a problem with our windlass and anchor. Rich fixed it, and we finally got the anchor set, but this was not turning out to be a good day. Earlier we’d found a container leaking oil in our lazarette, an annoying mess we’d have clean up. And now the psychic weight of having to do a sevusevu was putting enough stress on us to make us bicker over inconsequential things (we tend to bicker when under stress). Emotionally, bad things were piling up, and things were about to get worse.

As we anchored we noticed some guys had been building a fire pit on the beach. We assumed it was for trash until we heard a pig snorting, then screaming. Rich and I looked at each other. The screaming went on about 15 seconds, then subsided into softer grunts, then silence. Apparently this was to be a lovo (an feast cooked on hot stones underground) and the main dish had just been put to death.

Tears sprung to my eyes; this was an extra horrible event on a pile of bad events. I was upset and crying when I came back to the cockpit. Rich said I’d end up a vegetarian, but I said no, I wouldn’t. But I didn’t like hearing something suffer and die like that.

I pulled myself together and we somberly got ready to head in, me wearing a sulu (like a sarong) and Rich wearing long pants (men have an option to wearing the male version of a sulu which Rich really never wants to do). We put our kava in my backpack, it’s long shoots sticking out the top making a nice visual announcement that we were properly prepared.

We got in the dinghy and our electric engine wouldn’t start. We switched batteries and still no luck. Rich cleaned the contacts, then worked at it and finally got it started. We thought we’d fixed this thing but it was now going downhill steadily.

This day was not going well. Getting the dingy to shore required taking it over shallow water and rowing (never a good thing for us–we don’t row well together – see “Yelling Sticks”). We scraped the bottom in spite of the rowing but thankfully the dinghy seemed ok. This whole sevusevu excursion was turning out to be about as much fun as dental surgery.

Things started looking up when we arrived ashore to find two men waiting for us, one of them being Sam, the guy who acts as Turaga ni koro for this village. They’d seen us come in yesterday and tried to contact us over the radio (which we didn’t hear). A bit embarrassed as apparently boats are expected to come straight to Dalconi Village, we explained that we’d been ill yesterday and unable to come in (I didn’t go so far as to mention my racoon face). They accepted that and were very nice. It’s probably hard for a Fijian to be cross with someone with a peacock-like display of kava roots sticking up behind her head.

The sevusevu went really well. We all sat down on a mat at the chief’s house and Sam presented our kava and our $60 ($30 per person), the pre-set fee for visiting the Northern Lau Group of islands, specifically an area called the Bay of Islands which happens to be owned by Dalconi Village. We were presented with an agreement that showed a list of projects for which the money would be used.

Apparently Dalconi Village had gotten some resistance from cruisers not wanting to pay the fee, fueled by the likes of Curly (the local ex-pat who does seminars about how to cruise Fiji) and John Martin (head of the ICA rally who is quite an expert on charging fees for no service) who feel there should be no fee here at all. So they now call it a “donation,” and show you how your donation will be used for things like the school or community building, etc. For heaven’s sake, what else are they going to use it for, drugs and hookers? Somehow this list allows for cruisers to save face, thinking they are standing up and refusing to pay the fee but are instead making a donation (for the suggested amount, of course). Excuse me while I go roll my eyes.

We made our “donation,” then looked at some info they have about a cave excursions and feasts, although I think these things take place earlier in the season when there are more cruisers. Sam then took us around the village and to visit his house. He asked what we needed, and we said bananas and papayas and we’d be happy to pay for both. They had no bananas, but they did have papayas and they would be free for us. At his home he apologized that his wife was not there to cook us lunch but did give us some breadfruit cooked over an open fire that was quite good. He told us how to cook it, and then actually gave us some. In all we found Sam exceedingly generous and gracious, and I felt bad about the flack they’ve endured about charging the fee. After all, until recently, visiting the Lau group of islands required an outrageously expensive special permit. Now at least it’s affordable and accessible.  (Below, a gallery of photos from Dalconi Village; click to enlarge/scroll.)

Our sevusevu and village visit went well and the spell of bad events for us seemed to have been broken, but when we took our dinghy back in the water, my shoe stuck in the mud and broke. This was followed by another spat over who was and wasn’t rowing properly through the water. (I was rowing properly, Rich was not, but he yells louder.) Back on the boat I managed to pinch some skin on my palm as I closed the overhead hatch, quite painful and soon to be a nasty blood blister. The bad ju-ju seemed to be back.

We pulled up our anchor and headed back to our previous anchorage off Malaka. Sam had told us how to take a bus to the main town located on the other side of the island. Since we needed some provisions, we planned to head in the next morning and catch the bus at a stop just outside the Malaka village. As for now, it was good to be back in our old, secure spot: good holding in a protected anchorage.

I know this has been a long, rambling post, but I have a reason for writing it. Recently I did a post about a perfect day we’d had, but frankly those aren’t as frequent as non-cruisers like to think. Most days tend to be more of a mixed bag. Sometimes the mix leans towards the positive, sometimes more to the negative (like the one above).

Really bad days happen, but they’re rare. Perfect days happen, but they’re also rare. Most days land in the middle. For me, the trick in life is to do what you can to make things happen more on the positive side of the middle, but sometimes shit happens and you just have to ride it out.–Cyndi

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Fire Show (at a safe distance!)

October 27, 2017

This was the view from our boat last night while anchored off Mele Beach Bar during their Friday night fire show.

Mele Beach is just a few miles from Port Vila where we’ll check out in a week or so to go south to New Zealand for cyclone season (maybe with a stop in New Caledonia or Fiji, depending on which way the wind blows). -Rich

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What’s Up With Us?

October 23, 2017

We’ve been without internet for a while now. We’re able to claw out a few bits and bytes this morning here at Craig Bay on Ambrym so here’s a brief update. Our lives have included volcanos (see the post below), waterfalls, villagers, some sailing, some motoring and in general, really good times.

Waterfall on Penticost Island, Vanuatu

We left Santo a while ago – maybe two weeks or so (we’ve completely lost track of days, dates and time) and headed to Maewo via a brief stop at Ambae. We worked our way south along Maewo’s 30 mile long west coast, with little difficulty. It can be hard getting south in the strong southeast trade winds here, but with the shelter of Maewo, it wasn’t too hard.

Next up was Pentecost and Ambrym (where we are as I write this). It was a surprise, or rather the wind was a surprise. It turned northeast. That’s great for getting south but bad for virtually all of the anchorages on the northwest coast of the island with an uncomfortable swell rolling into the bays. After briefly anchoring, we traveled the length of Ambrym to anchor in Craig Bay on the southwest corner of the island. It’s nice here but so smokey!

This morning, we’ll sail for Malakula Island, or Epi Island, or maybe even Efate. We’ll see where the boat wants to go when we get out there. In general, it’ll be somewhere south as we’re trying to get to Port Vila on Efate where we can provision and check out of this amazing, wonderful, beautiful, lovely, peaceful country and get south for cyclone season. -Rich

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Legacy vs. The Volcano

October 10, 2017

Manaro Voui volcano steams on Ambae Island, Vanuatu

The volcano on Ambae Island (here in Vanuatu) has been erupting. All 11,000 island residents have been evacuated to neighboring islands. We thought we wouldn’t be able to stop at Ambae because of this eruption, but in recent days it has gone from a level 4 (out of 5) to level 3. The island is still evacuated but as we sailed past Ambae on our way to Maewo we saw the Vanuatu police boat Takoro and since it was getting late and we wouldn’t make Maewo until after dark, we asked if we could spend a night. “It’s OK” came the reply, so we dropped anchor up at the northeast tip in a place called Vanihe Bay.

As you can see in the photo above, the volcano looked to be putting out mostly steam with little smoke. That might still be from lava running down from the cone into the lake that surrounds the cone. We didn’t see any red glow at night nor did we hear any of the explosions we were told about. All was calm in our little bay.

Vanihe Bay anchorage on Ambae Island, Vanuatu

This is a beautiful island and we hope things calm down quickly and the displaced residents can return home soon. I wish we could have gone ashore and explored but we felt like we were pushing our luck as it was. We’re happy to have seen what we did and avoided the being incinerated part of the experience. -Rich

Update: October 22, 2017

After our night at Ambae, we moved on to Maewo. All did not remain peaceful at Ambae. First we saw huge clouds above the volcano, then we heard thunderous booms. Cyndi even got quite a picture at night of the glow of the lava.

Despite this, we’ve heard that volcano is calming down and that the Vanuatu government will start returning evacuees any day now. We’re glad they get to go home.

Update: October 23, 2017

Speaking of volcanos, we anchored in Craig Bay on Ambrym last night. It’s really smokey. Some of it might be from two fires we saw burning in the hills, but I think most is from the active volcano on this island. Here’s what sunrise looked like…

Smoky Sunrise at Craig Bay, Ambrym, Vanuatu

And sunset…

Ambrym Sunset in the Volcano Smoke

And below is a picture of the Benbow volcano on Ambrym Island before we left from Penticost…

Benbow Volcano on Ambrym Island
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