17 December 2014

The Tongan Tale of the Bare Bottom

Have you ever mooned someone at night and had them confuse the sight of the starlight reflecting off your arse for the rising sun? No? Well, if so, you could be part of an island legend.

I’m not kidding. I’m laughing, but not kidding.

Imagine our surprise when we read the tourism sign at the bottom of the Mount Talau hike in the Nieafu, Vava’u, Tonga region and reached this quote:

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P1050168Ahhhh….too good.

The summit had nice view point balconies and picnic tables, unfortunately strewn with trash which looked like local teens.

The views at the top were very nice but how can they beat the story? I’m still hoping that someday they will erect a statue of Tafakula’s heroic and inspired moment.

15 December 2014

Liquid Motivation: Fijian Brews

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P1050248We saved Lauren’s donation so that we could use it to purchase our very first round of Fijian beers.

They weren’t microbrews (oh, how we crave a good one) but they were cold, they were frosty, and they were definitely better than Hinanos. And they went down smoothly after our passage from Tonga to Fiji, in a cute waterfront bar overlooking the entrance to Vuda Point Marina where we hauled out Estrellita a few days later.

Thank you, thank you Lauren and we wish you and your man could be here to join in but we are very glad that you are saving hard for your own vagabonding adventure.

Until we meet again!

26 November 2014

Region Review: French Polynesia

P1040003I’m trying to stick with my plan of doing some sort of region review as we exit a country or a region, but the reason it took me so long to write this is I struggled with whether is it possible to review a region this large in which we spent so much time?! It’s a country we fell in love with, that marked us permanently and with which we would return to with excitement someday.

First, to get a sense of how we traveled in this region, you can see where and how we spent our time there. Second, even though we spent more than 2 years in this single country there are tons of places we didn’t visit (e.g., we never visited the Australs). We can only rank what we saw.

Of the 4 archipelagos that we visited, Livia ranks her enjoyment in this order:

  1. P8220328Tuamotus – This is what I dreamed of when I was shivering in British Columbia through several winters of living aboard a boat we purchased to enjoy low latitudes. The water clarity, the underwater scenes, the wildness of being able to romp around on the motus playing survivor Estrellita, the crazy kiting – the stuff of my dreams. Fave spots: see below.
  2. Societies – I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed the Societies. More heavily populated and with more damaged coral, but as is often the case, there is a reason they became such a popular destination for tourists – they are stunningly beautiful – laIMG_0270ndscapes and blue lagoons. And you can find your own semi-remote spots if you take the time to look for them. Perhaps also, after so long in isolated spots in the Tuamotus, the ability to have burgers and beer, the social aspects of the Societies, were a refreshing contrast. The three M’s of paradise: Maupiti, Mopelia & Moorea.
  3. Gambiers – If there was more than just Mangareva to visit, the Gambiers would beat out the Societies for  #2. I loved the Gambiers. Great underwater scene, great land play opportunities, amazing kiting and we met some fantastic tweeners to hang out with. If it weren’t for the slightly claustrophobic feeling of being stuck for part of hurricane season with the same set of sometimes gossipy, sometimes clique-ish, ex-pats-who-never-leave boats, I would have had an even better time. Favorite anchorages: Motu Tauna, Taravai’s West side.
  4. Marquesas – Don’t let the fact that the Marquesas areP1040065 #4 make you think I didn’t enjoy them. Also, remember that we only spent 3 weeks in the Marquesas because, at that time, we only had 3 month visas for the entire country and having a short stay in an area is an easy way to have a false impression of the place. While the Marquesas were beautiful land-wise, they were missing the underwater play that I love. In a tight race between 4 fantastic spots, they are the 4th most interesting to me.

Carol (asked to rank separately without hearing mine above) chose the same rank order!

Livia’s Tuamotu Top 3. Now, the really hard part. Where were our favorite spots within our favorite archipelago? Again, there are lots of places we didn’t visit even though we spent the bulk of our time in the Tuamotus. I’m going to let us have a top 3 list for the Tuamotus which is hard enough. It is no surprise to me that my three favorite places are also the three places featured in our video Kiteboarding the Tuamotus although it isn’t just the kiting that makes these places special.

  1. Rangiroa – If you don’t have very much time Rangiroa is a bit harder to enjoy. While the village area has some great snorkeling, you have to get out of the village to see the beauty of this atoll and for reasons of time and weather, most people don’t. You need time to make the circuit of the 35nm long atoll because in the various corners of the atoll there are totally different scenes: village with great snorkeling, strange moonscape upraised reef, kitiP1000726 (2)ng paradise as well as a bunch of other gorgeous nooks to tuck into. We were there a full month and didn’t get to go everywhere we wanted, in part because we spent two weeks kiting a mara’amu in the SE corner. Warning: It isn’t easy to safely travel the really big atolls such as Rangiroa and we got our asses kicked there.
  2. Fakarava – The South pass of Fakarava is stupendous. Diving through a cloud of slick shiny slightly twitchy missiles that are grey sharks, drift snorkeling with great coral and fish, and doing it all again and again, seeing different things each run, absorbing a little more of the scenery passing by at high speeds each time. Hirifa is an epic kite spot. We anchored in front of the restaurant at Hirifa and also just West of the restaurant on our own sandbar.The rest of Fakarava is quite nice too but the South pass is why it makes my #2. Scenic kiting also to the West of the S Pass although a little crunchy with coral bits.
  3. P1030315Tahanea – Tahanea is one of those places that went from undiscovered to discovered because of word of mouth, track passing and blogs. This makes portions of the French ex-pat community grumpy (even though they were the ones spreading the word of mouth). It is isolated, has a wildly beautiful South coast and three great passes to snorkel on the East side – oh, and kiting. Coral in the Westernmost pass is better than at Fakarava although you don’t have the schools of sharks. Oh, and we swam with mantas. Just one time out of the nearly dozen we were there but that always makes my day.

Carol picked Fakarava, Tahanea and added Toau which is isolated and spectacular in the South side (through the East facing pass) and also has the family at Anse Amyot to visit with in the North side – particularly fun when they aren’t overloaded with visitors.

22 November 2014

Estrellita: Cyclone season 2014-2015 (Keel Pit, Vuda Point, Fiji)

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Here is Estrellita’s home for the cyclone season, and you may have noticed she isn’t floating in the crystal clear blue waters of the Marshall Islands.

No one is certain (still) whether this year will be an official El Nino year or not, but with the increased west wind anomalies and the elevated risk of typhoon activity in the Marshall’s, the fact that the Marshall’s are atolls (and our own sucky experience with wind from the wrong side in an atoll), we decided to delay heading to the RMI until next year.

P1050276We debated staying in Tonga, and were on the waiting list for the keel pits in Fiji, but by mid-October had decided that we would head to New Zealand for the first time. After planning to be in NZ at the end of 2012 we figured it was about time! We had gone so far as sending in our arrival paperwork to NZ, in a 24 hour period we were notified that we had a spot in the keel pits in Fiji if we wanted it and we had a pretty fantastic opportunity to as caretakers as a resort in Tonga.

The decision: Ultimately, we decided to make the passage to Fiji, put Estrellita in the keel pit, prep her for leaving, and fly back to Tonga for some resort time near our favorite kiting location in Vava’u. And so we did…

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P1050299I’ll write more about the passage, our experience going into a keel pit, what we did to prep the boat, finish up my memories of Tonga by boat, and write about our land travel over the next few months.

The plane plan: We aren’t certain where we will head after Tonga. NZ by plane is a real possibility but we are staying open to other opportunities (anyone have any flight passes from Nadi or Auckland?) but we’ll end up back in Fiji in time to do a month or so of work on the boat and splash in Fiji at the very start of the season to start exploring a new country.

17 November 2014

Region Review: Fun Times in Tonga

estrellita in vavau 2014

We spent just under 3 months cruising Tonga – 1 week in the Ha’apai group and the rest in Vava’u. It is a long time for a cruiser trying to make it from Mexico to NZ in one season but there is so much more we could have done if we had more time. We would have loved to go back the Ha’apai group, and to have seen Niautoputapu. Even in Vava’u, we could have spent a lot more days kiting at Kenutu before we got bored of that place (if ever).

As the months past, the network of connections we had made in the place grew. We made friends. We said goodbye to friends. We joined and left (or were left by) several fun gangs of people.

We had mixed reviews of Tonga from friends before arriving. We knew boats that had been here, been very disappointed and left immediately for Fiji. We knew boats who had been here, loved it and wished for more time. It was difficult to know what to expect because most people we heard from had only spent a month here, with at least a week in the main harbor, and had their eyes on their passage to New Zealand. Many of our friends saw some cool stuff here but they didn’t have much time to explore the nooks and crannies.

team giddup kenutu 1

We had a fantastic time. Everyone has their own soft spots in their hearts for certain kinds of places, and Tonga didn’t capture us long term as French Polynesia did, but I can’t imagine us not having a good time here. Beautiful anchorages everywhere you go and heaps of them.

What we liked:

  • KITE, KITE, KITE. Wow. Kenutu makes our top 5 list so far – totally. If you kite, and there is wind, go!
  • Holy whales! If you arrive at the right time (it was mid-August for us this year), the mothers and their wee calves are in the shallow interior waters. Later in the year the whales stay in Vava’u but go to the deeper exterior waters where you are less likely to see them. We arrived at the peak of calving and it was amazing. Every time we went sailing we saw them. We saw them breaching and playing from our anchored vessel. Spectacular.
  • White sand beaches.
  • Amazing water colors.
  • Loads of anchorages so even when it is busy you can find your own spot if you like. Generally great holding.
  • Every place has a little surprise, something good and unexpected to find when you explore.

What was a minus:

  • Underwater is a little underwhelming. You can find some live coral, you can find fish, except in the most sheltered bays the water is clear, but to our (admittedly jaded) experience, it is…only ok.
  • Spear fishing is a bit of a no go unless you are willing to go far out and deep. No leisurely shooting in the anchorage in the coral fields.
  • While there are lots of easy great anchorages, some of the places we wanted to explore were anchorages on shelves where swinging meant coming into the reef near the beach.
  • Guidebooks were whacked (this isn’t really the fault of the place, but true).
  • Channel 26 ;)

Thank you Tonga!

livia kenutu

14 November 2014

Video: Gravity Filling Our Propane Tank

Not an actual instructional video, but it would have been nice to have seen someone do it before we tried for the first time. We gravity filled our propane tank throughout French Polynesia and here we are doing it on Taravai Island (in Mangareva Atoll, Gambier Archipelago, French Polynesia).

Direct link to the video here.