Vanuatu!

We have arrived in Vanuatu!

The passage ended up being a very tiring one. After the frontal passage that we were going through in my last post the wind never really settled as it was expected to. We officially entered the tropics the next day when we passed 25 degrees latitude. To mark this occasion the skies clouded over and we entered a period of squalls and rain that lasted for the next five days. It’s a good thing we are using GPS for navigation; if we had to rely on celestial sights we’d have been pretty unsure of our position! Bob is a temperamental old lady and does not tolerate either too little or too much sail for the conditions, so we were tired out with reefing, unreefing, rolling in and rolling out sails. The wind direction was never steady for more than 5 minutes either so we were constantly adjusting David, the wind vane, and trimming the sails to match. Often we found ourselves with no wind at all in the lulls, or light tail-winds accompanied by a lumpy cross-sea, in which case our only option to keep moving and try to settle things down a bit was to start the engine and motor for a bit. In fact, we went through almost our entire 40-gallon tank of diesel, which I think is more than we used in the whole of last year!

The weather broke on the morning of our final full day at sea. The seas calmed considerably and we were given a light breeze on the beam, so we set the spinnaker and spent a very enjoyable day gliding along in fine conditions, making miles while working on re-developing something resembling a sun tan to protect us from the tropical sun.

We arrived in Port Vila at 0330 the following morning and cleared customs just before mid-day. Sarah’s parents are here to visit so we had a lovely lunch with them and went to bed very early for a much-needed rest.

On first impressions Port Vila is much busier than I expected. Tourism is big here and all day there were people whizzing around on jet-ski tours, taking sight-seeing helicopter rides from the air pad next to where we were anchored or lounging in bars and restaurants. It has a very Caribbean feeling about it, except that the people are much friendlier and the atmosphere is somehow lighter and nicer. Apparently one doesn’t have to go far to get beyond the commercialism and into the real heart of Vanuatuan culture, where Prince Philip is a deity, bungy-jumping is done using jungle vines to ensure a good harvest and cannibalistic ceremonies are performed by shamans (using pigs these days…….. or so they say!). We don’t have long here before we must be moving on, but I think we’ll get a chance to see some of that side of things too.

The view of the bay in Port Vila, Efate

Half Way to Vanuatu

The last 24 hours have been very slow indeed. I haven’t totted up our daily run yet (I do that every day at mid-day) but I suspect it will be somewhere around the 50-mile mark, and not all of them towards our intended destination.

The wind has been fitful, with squalls of 30 knots and then lulls of nothing, which makes for a tiring time. We have only a little sail set so that we are OK in the squalls but that does leave us wallowing the rest of the time. The wind has also backed so that it is coming directly from where we want to go. Rather than putting a lot of energy into beating up-wind we are simply waiting for it to back further (which it’s due to do any time now) and then we’ll be able to tack and make for Vanuatu.

As of now, 0900 on Monday July 9th (UTC+12) we are almost exactly half way. Our position is 26 22.7S 171 19.7E. If the wind does what the forecasts say it will
we should be looking forward to a relatively fast and comfortable second half of the passage.

In other news we are pleased to once again have access to fresh fish. It’s something we didn’t know we would miss until we were no longer to get it easily in New Zealand, and which we had become accustomed to eating frequently in The Islands. We caught a smallish Mahi Mahi two days ago and have been enjoying that. I’ll put the lines out again as we approach Vanuatu over the New Hebrides Trench and with luck we’ll get something else. With a lot of luck it’ll be a Yellowfin Tuna 🙂

We get asked a lot of questions about provisions. “How do you provision?” Or “How long can you stay at sea?” Well, the truth is that provisioning for us is not that much more difficult than anyone else’s weekly grocery shop. We have a small fridge so we can’t buy large quantities of stuff that needs to be refrigerated and we don’t have the option of nipping down to the corner shop for another loaf of bread, but in all other respects it’s pretty similar.

The answer to the second question is a little more complex. We tend to stock up on non-perishable goods whenever we encounter them being sold at a good price. We left Panama with about thirty bottles of rum. We left Marquesas overflowing with fruit. We’ve left New Zealand full of canned goods and good-quality pasta and rice that we trust won’t go weevilly as fast as the stuff bought in the islands. At any one time we probably have about three months supply of food on board and enough water at the beginning of a passage for three weeks with no rationing beyond our normal conservational practices. We could catch rain water and we could fire up the water maker while on passage if we needed to. We fish periodically and it doesn’t usually take too long to catch something. One fish will last us for between 3 and 10 meals depending on it’s size. The answer, therefore, is that given the right set of circumstances (availability of rain and fish) we could, in theory, stay at sea indefinitely from a supplies perspective. Staying sane out here is the real challenge. Fortunately we seem to be quite good at helping one another with that.

Finally Finished!

We’ve been working flat out on Bob for the last couple of months to get her ready for sea again. I’ll write more about that work in a future post, but here’s an overview:

– Thwart-ship deckhead support beams removed, re-laminated and re-installed. – Windlass re-conditioned
– Lower shrouds re-designed and replaced
– Various overdue engine works
– Port water tank re-sealed
– New VHF antenna installed
– New spreader lights installed
– AIS transponder installed……. I think. It’s un-tested as yet – Lots of varnishing and painting, and some interior woodwork

Wow, looking over it that looks like a really short list! I’ll explain why it took so long later, but for now I’m pleased to report that we are operational once again. As I write this we are about 200 miles North of New Zealand heading due North as fast as possible. It’s getting warmer day by day which is a wonderful relief, but there’s also quite a strong low pressure system creeping up behind us and the front is due to reach us some time around Sunday, in 3 days time. With that front come 30-knot head winds and probably lots of rain and lightning and other nastiness if we were to stick around here. There’s no wind at the moment so our faithful (knock on wood) old engine is being put through it’s paces once again and chugging us along at 5 knots. Looking at the forecast we might have to keep motoring for another twenty-four or even thirty-six hours. Then we might get fair winds for 12 hours or so and then the wind is due to back rapidly to the NNW and build ahead of the frontal passage. Bob’s not much of a beater so there’s a good chance we’ll just heave-to when that comes and wait it out.

Life on board is pretty relaxed at the moment. Of course, I’m always on edge (is that a new sound emanating from the engine, announcing its imminent demise? Or have I just never noticed it before?) but we’ve both managed to get two good nights sleep and have had plenty of time for sitting and doing nothing. We don’t even have to cook yet because we made lots of stews before we left and froze them for the passage. Beef tonight. The pot is bubbling away nicely on the hob, so I’m going to go over there and get myself a bowl.

Wildlife Therapy

I think Bob is very displeased with all this boat work we’ve been doing to her recently. She is upset that we’re disturbing her peace and has decided to show her displeasure in a number of ways. Firstly, she has made every stage of every job just a little bit more difficult than it needs to be. This has cost us a lot of extra time and money and will mean we have to rush around even more than originally planned in order to get to South Africa for the next cyclone season.

Bob’s most recent show of disobedience comes in the form of a mysterious brown gunk that inexplicably appears in unforeseen places around the boat. I took a packet of pasta out of the cupboard yesterday for dinner and it was covered in brown gunk. I got a packet of cheese out of the fridge to grate over the pasta and that, too, was covered in brown gunk. I got some cling film out of a different cupboard to replace the cheese packet – it was also covered in brown gunk! Where the hell is all this brown gunk coming from?! Bob is obviously disgruntled and is finding her own ways of voicing this. Meanwhile, after six weeks of living in what can best be described as a damp workshop in the Arctic in a home that anthropomorphically shows her displeasure by leaving disgusting brown sludge everywhere, I am in desperate need of escape.

This is what Bob has looked like most days recently.

We can see our own breath most of the time, even indoors!

This is me fully kitted out in winter attire for cooking dinner. And no, I’m not pregnant. I have a hot water bottle shoved up my top!

A simple and effective form of escape for me at the moment is to simply go up on deck on a clear day and admire the wildlife. Despite the chaos on Bob from all the work, we are lucky enough to be moored in a beautiful location on the Kerikeri River and even though it’s currently the middle of winter, wildlife is still in abundance here.

This pied shag spends most of his time in the water hunting small fish. He can swim better than he can fly.

I found this honey bee on deck last week. She was struggling to move so I tried to revive her with some sugar water.

She is using her tongue to suck up the sugar water. I find this both disgusting and beautiful at the same time.

Today my chosen escape method is to spend a little time reminiscing about the fascinating wildlife we’ve seen throughout the country. New Zealand has been separate from the main continent for quite some time now. As a result, much of the wildlife has evolved completely differently from anywhere else in the world and has led to some truly unique species. I would like to share some of my favourites with you.

Friendly birds

Many bird species evolved without the pressure of natural predators and as such many have no fear of humans and some have even become flightless. This lack of fear has led to the demise of some species, such as the moa and the huia, which were hunted to extinction by human settlers over the past 1000 years. Many species are now struggling due to typical anthropogenic pressures such as agriculture, introduced species, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation and climate change. The species that survive today are playful, curious and a joy to be around. Their presence is an important indicator of the state of the environment and if New Zealand continues with its conservation efforts, hopefully their populations will remain and thrive in years to come.

Weka

The weka is one of New Zealand’s most iconic flightless birds. They are curious creatures and are often attracted to human activity. This one was very happy to take food from our hands and hung around the van while we ate our dinner. It didn’t just attempt to steal my food scraps, it tried to steal the whole bowl when I foolishly put it on the ground after finishing my dinner! It also tried to nibble the white ‘spots’ on my socks mistaking them for food. I guess they’re not the smartest of creatures.

Kea

Unlike the weka, the kea is apparently one of the most intelligent birds in the world. It is an alpine parrot and in order to survive in this harsh environment they have become inquisitive and social birds. They are known to congregate around novel objects and use their strong beaks to manipulate them. They have evolved a neophillic (a love of new things), fearless and mischievous character as a survival mechanism in extreme environments. Unfortunately this has caused some conflict with people and the kea is now listed as vulnerable in New Zealand. Did you know:

  • A kea stole a mans wallet and car keys from inside his camper van.
  • A kea took a mans boots from outside the front door and dropped them down a nearby long-drop toilet.
  • A kea learned how to turn on a water tap at a Department of Conservation site.
  • A kea learned how to use tools to get to eggs set in stoat traps without being harmed.
  • A kea once locked a Department of Conservation ranger inside a toilet hut.
  • A group of keas can write off a car in 30 minutes.

 

Pukeko

The pukeko became established in New Zealand about 1000 years ago but is now facing pressures from introduced predators such as cats and rats. Our friends, Alexa (who we originally met in Niue) and her boyfriend Blair have adopted (or been adopted by!) this young pukeko who turned up at their house one day and decided to stay. This is her getting a cuddle from Blair in their living room. She was decidedly less friendly towards me and Alex. We were obviously not welcome in her territory and she frequently demonstrated her dislike of us by trying to peck away chunks of our toes! I don’t know what it is about birds in this country and their desire to eat my feet, but I don’t much like it.

Tomtit

This little bird is a tomtit, also known as the South Island robin. It flew right into my hand to take some food with no persuasion needed! Very cute.

Royal spoonbill

The royal spoonbill definitely deserves its name. It’s native to New Zealand and is the only spoonbill to breed in this country. Have you ever seen such an unusual and regal-looking bird? They feed by opening their spoon-like bill and sweeping it from side to side to filter out small vertebrates and insects from the water.

Silver tree fern

To the Maori, the elegant frond shape of the silver tree fern signifies power, strength and endurance and is now a national symbol of New Zealand. The trees grow up to 10 meters tall and the underside of their fronds is often white or silvery. This underside reflects moonlight well and in the past they have been used as an aid to navigation.

Glow worms

Glow worms may look as stunning as the Milky Way in the night sky, but don’t let their looks deceive you. They are, in fact, deadly and ferocious hunters. The worms are about an inch in length and they have a very interesting way of attracting prey – they use their poo! Glowworms use their ‘waste’ in a chemical reaction to produce light to attract prey, which then gets caught in a network of sticky silk threads. They essentially have glow-in-the-dark bums! Cool eh? They appear regularly distributed in their environment (like the starry night sky) due to cannibalism that can occur during territorial disputes. I also read that they lay their eggs in batches and apparently the first one to hatch eats the rest. I’d hate to think what happens during mating!

Mammals

Dolphins

This bottlenose dolphin spent a good 10 minutes playing in the wake created by our tour boat at Milford Sound. There were probably about 10 individuals in this pod but they can reach numbers of up to 20. Having spent the morning touring this stunning location surrounded by shear mountains and thundering waterfalls, these dolphins were the cherry on the cake!

New Zealand fur seal

Fur seals are sociable animals and we were lucky enough to see this colony from a viewing platform on the south coast. It was fabulous to see mothers with their suckling pups. Some of them have identification tags on their flippers and are part of a population monitoring scheme set up by the Department of Conservation.

New Zealand sea lion

We’ve seen sea lions before in Galapagos. Those ones were a couple of meters in length and we naively assumed the ones in New Zealand would be similar. As we set off down the beach for a windy sunset stroll we noticed a dark cloud looming overhead. We were about to turn back when Alex decided to have a quick run up the beach to see if we could see any sea lions before leaving. He saw what he thought was a large piece of driftwood in the distance. He was somewhat surprised when the driftwood somehow morphed into an enormous male sea lion and squared him off when he was only a few metres away! I managed to snap the photo above as he was speedily on his way back. You get some idea of scale but it doesn’t really do it justice, this sea lion is HUGE (over 3m long) and weighs almost half a tonne! As the worlds rarest species of sea lion, we are incredibly fortunate to have seen it.

That concludes my escape therapy for today. I hope my next form of escape will be more literal – in the sense that I hope Bob will be in great shape (after all this work) and be in a beautiful tropical island in Vanuatu and away from the New Zealand chill.

A magical road trip through Middle Earth

When Lord of the Rings fans think about visiting New Zealand they remember the films and imagine travelling through the breath-taking landscapes of Middle Earth. Many places, in both the North and South Island, were used when filming the Lord of the Rings and its prequel The Hobbit. New Zealand really does have all this, from the mind blowing grandeur of snow capped mountains to the charming beauty of rolling green hills – and all this is surprisingly accessible when you see the country by land.

We wanted to really immerse ourselves in the natural beauty of New Zealand – to have the freedom to visit distant corners of the country and to stay in these places for as long as we desired. It’s for these reasons we decided to travel by self-contained campervan so we could have the freedom to travel and camp as we liked.

This is our self-contained camper van ‘Jacangi’ at one of many glorious destinations in Middle Earth.

 

My brother Tom and his girlfriend Sue explored the North Island of New Zealand in their camper van, aptly named ‘Shadowfax’ after Gandalf’s horse and supposedly the fastest horse in Middle Earth. You can hardly tell the difference.

Our last blog post painted quite a negative picture of freedom camping in New Zealand and we had many messages from family and friends wanting to give advice and show their concern. For this we are extremely grateful. We want to reassure everyone that while this negative aspect is very real, it represents only a very small portion of our overall experience here and on the whole 99% of our road trip was absolutely amazing. Just like Middle Earth, New Zealand is stunningly beautiful and most of the people here are friendly and welcoming. Also like Middle Earth, there are dangers and difficulties. In our case we faced the Orcs of Mordor in the form of the ‘camper van haters’ and faced perilous dangers dealing with extreme weather conditions.

This is a dramatic representation of one of the camper van haters we experienced outside of Christchurch. I hope his face didn’t freeze like this.

This is a dramatic representation of Alex one morning after waking up in our camper van after a particularly cold night near Milford Sound.

Luckily the negative aspects of our journey were sparse and overall our experience was filled with immense enjoyment and adventure. Here are some of the highlights from our road trip through Middle Earth:

1. The Shire – Hobbiton, Waikato

The Hobbiton film set is a must-see for any Lord of the Rings fans. The drive through Waikato to get to Hobbiton puts you in the middle of rolling green hills and lush farmland. You feel like you’re in The Shire before you’ve even arrived. Once at the film set you can visit the 44 hobbit holes and their delightful gardens and veggie patches. You can also see Bag End, the mill, the Party Tree, have a drink at the Green Dragon Pub and use costumes/props to transform yourself into a character from the film.

   Alex is enjoying some respite at the Green Dragon pub. He really reminds me of someone…

 

 The wise wizard greets a young hobbit outside his home to offer some wizardly wisdom.

 

 Young hobbits of The Shire resting by a horse cart.

 

2. Mordor – Tongariro National Park

Tongariro national park and Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mount Doom) in all its splendour.

This 80,000 hectare national park is one of the most spectacular areas in New Zealand, perhaps even the world. The area encompasses meadows, lakes, alpine landscapes, rocky plateaus and jagged ravines. It is home to natural hot springs as well as three volcanoes Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe (better known as the infamous Mount Doom). This is one of the most beautiful and majestic places I have ever had the pleasure of visiting. The film crew did a great job bringing out the menacing characteristics of the landscape and it’s very easy to imagine Frodo, Sam and Gollum on their perilous journey through the lands of Mordor with the almighty ring.

 “We wants it. We needs it. We must have… the PRECIOUS!”

 

 Mount Ngauruhoe during a fiery sunset. There’s no need to stretch your imagination for this one – the fires of Mordor are blazing.

3. Rivendell – Kaitoke Regional Park and Fiordland

We had our pointy-ears at the ready and immersed ourselves in the home of the elves – Rivendell – or Kaitoke Region Park as it’s better known to the locals. Although the film stage has been long since removed, it’s very easy to imagine yourself in Rivendell thanks to the helpful information boards and replica elvish archway installed here.

The replica elvish archway in Kaitoke Regional Park.

 

 “Call me Legolas. Come, I will protect you.”

The magnificent backdrop to Rivendell with the immense waterfalls was filmed in Fiordland National Park and is one of the reasons why tourists flock to this area of New Zealand every year.

The magic of Rivendell can be felt at Milford Sound in Fiordland. Huge glaciers carved this fiord out of the mountains leaving behind this vast chasm, surrounded by snow covered peaks and glistening, thundering waterfalls.

4. The Anduin River – Kawarau Gorge

This is the location of a scene in the first film where the Fellowship of the Ring paddles down the Anduin River, which at one point is straddled by a pair of enormous stone statues representing the Kings of Old. The stone statues were added using CGI but the Kawarau Gorge is breathtaking nonetheless. You can see the gorge from its most striking angle by doing a bungee jump from the Kawarau Bridge, which Alex did on his birthday recently as mentioned in a previous post.

 Kawarau Gorge is the location for the scene of The Argonath and Anduin River.

5. The Dead Marshes – Kepler Mire, Te Anau

Gollum leads Frodo and Sam through the Dead Marshes and past the haunted souls of the dead who lie under the surface of the water. It’s easy to imagine Kepler Mire as the eerie home of the dead, especially if you were to visit on a foggy evening under nothing but candle light for a truly haunting effect.

 “There are dead faces in the water!”

6. Fangorn Forest – Snowdon Forest, Fiordlands

The Snowdon Forest near Te Anau is the location of Fangorn Forest – home of the Ents and where Aragon, Legolas and Gimli first meet Gandalf the White. You have to stretch your imagination here to really imagine yourself in the forbidden forest of the films but it’s a beautiful location nonetheless.

 Snowdon (aka Fangorn) Forest. Is that Treebeard I see in the distance?

After two glorious months our road trip through Middle Earth has finally come to an end. We’re now back on the boat and spending most of our days doing various jobs in preparation for leaving in the coming weeks. We have some major rigging work to undertake and we’re hoping it won’t be too long before we’re able to set sail for Vanuatu. Autumn is now coming to an end in New Zealand, winter is coming and we’re both very keen to head to warmer climes. I’ve come to realise that my body is not built for the cold and Bob in particular is not the easiest place to heat up in a cold spell. At least we can move her to somewhere toastier.

Image credits from top to bottom

  • Shadowfax the horse – image from YouTube uploaded by Screen Themes
  • Orc of Mordor – image from lotr.wikia.com
  • Gimli covered in snow – image from www.theargonath.cc
  • Gandalf the Grey – image from zeldadungeon.net
  • Gandalf with Bilbo – image by Kelly McMorris downloaded from kellybean86.deviantart.com
  • Hobbits by horse cart – image from 8tracks.com from Concerning Hobbits playlist
  • Tongariro National Park – photo by Tom Brooks
  • Gollum with ring – image from maybeshesthatgirl.blogspot.co.nz
  • Fires of Mordor – image from jrrtolkien.wikia.com
  • Legolas – image from lots.wikia.com
  • The Argonath/ Anduin River – image from www.queenstown.net.nz
  • Gollum in Dead Marshes – image is screenshot from film
  • Fantasy Forest – image by Daniel Pilla downloaded from danielpillaart.deviantart.com