24 October 2014

Is New Zealand Outside of the South Pacific Cyclone Zone? Yes, No and It Depends

Every year hundreds of boats transit the South Pacific, leaving from ports in North or Central America, and arriving in tropical paradise. By the end of the cruising season, after visiting a handful of Pacific Island nations, each boat has to decide where to weather out the South Pacific cyclone season. By far, the most common strategy is to reach New Zealow_highland in early November with plans to return to the tropics at the end of the cyclone season in April or May.

As we sit here swinging at anchor in Tonga, at the end of October, boats are in transit, already transited or waiting for weather to sail to New Zealand.

One reason New Zealand is the default option is because it is commonly considered to be outside of the cyclone belt...but is it?

Yes. By definition, a cyclone* ceases to be a cyclone the moment that it leaves the tropics. This exit is called an extratropical transition and the former cyclone is now called “a storm of tropical origin”. In addition to the fact that a cyclone has exited the tropical arena and reaches colder waters, it often (but not always) loses other physical characteristics such as the eye that are necessary to be considered a named cyclone.

No. Even though this storm of tropical origin is no longer accurately labeled a cyclone, mariners and news outlets usually continue to use the official cyclone name as a former cyclone approaches New Zealand because, semantics aside, the strength of the wind in the storm of tropical origin can be as extreme as any tropical based cyclone. Over a 27 year period (1970-1997), Northland averaged one storm of tropical origin, with cyclone strength winds, per year. In April 1968, Tropical Cyclone Gisele re-intensified near Wellington producing winds gusting to 145 knots and blowing the roofs off of houses as far south as Christchurch on South Island.  As recently as March 2014, Cyclone Lusi brought cyclone strength winds to North Island.


It Depends. These former cyclones, as they reach New Zealand, are usually rapidly weakening and for that reason don’t often reach very far down the North Island. While an average of one extratropical cyclone per year hit the area from Auckland north, the area south of there, between Auckland and the top of South Island averaged half as many. Still, extratropical storms of considerable strength, as described above, have reached all of the way down South Island.  Strangely enough, although El Nino is generally associated with increased cyclonic activity, the strongest extratropical storms affect New Zealand when the ENSO cycle is neutral, not El Nino.

In Sum. While the risk is still relatively low, New Zealand is not accurately described as being unaffected by cyclone strength storms of tropical origin. New Zealand has been directly hit by substantially more extratropical storms of cyclone strength than areas of French Polynesia (i.e., the Marquesas and Gambiers). It is more accurate to say that New Zealand is a low risk border region – albeit one with well protected harbors, stout marinas and facilities for repairing any damages.
*In this region a cyclone, among other characteristics, starts as a 10 min sustained wind speed of over 34 knots. 10 min sustained wind speeds of over 64 knots (a hurricane in other regions) are a Category 3 cyclone.


22 October 2014

South Pacific Landmark Decoder


The power of a name is not unknown to the tourism industry. Certain names suggest landmarks and landmarks are things that tourists want to see. Simply by giving a place an exotic name you can increase the number of tourists who want to go. This applies to cruising tourists like us as well of course.

Here are three names we’ve seen a number of times and our decoding of what the names actually mean.

Bird Motu/Island/Rock – Ile Oiseaux: This will be somewhere with nesting birds and will give you a good chance to see baby birds and their parents up close. Quite often, the anchorage will reek of bird poop and be filled with the sound of screeching birds particularly at sunset and sunrise. If somewhere is called Bird Rock it will probably be a white (guana coated) rock that is picturesque… from a distance.

P1000725Blue Lagoon – This will be somewhere that is shallow enough to really showcase the natural colors of the lagoon. Often it will have a variety of shallow depths so you can see the beauty of the colors in contrast. Sometimes it will be enclosed, perhaps with a navigable entrance, or you may have to anchor outside. You can often locate it from a distance by the number of pasty fly-in tourists walking around on the beaches and the launches they came in will be moored nearby. Don’t worry if you are planning to anchor there, the tourist boats won’t stay long. There will often be somewhere else in the atoll/island just as pretty (or prettier) without a daily visit by tourist boats.

Pink Sands – Self explanatory, right? Except, sometimes the sand isn’t particularly pink (to my eye). And yep, again, sometimes there is pinker sand somewhere else in the atoll. The two pictures above are both at Fakarava but the sand was pinker at the place with no name.

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20 October 2014

Logbook: Kenutu Island (Vava’u, Tonga)


P1040237Friends had told us this was their favorite anchorage in Vava’u and what good advice that was!

Kenutu has hiking, crashing waves (on the opposite side from the anchorage), a great beach, gorgeous water colors all around, lots of room for anchoring and good conditions for a solid night of sleep. Plus, as already discussed, it is a fantastic kite spot.

We hiked all over the island and still managed to miss a few trails that others told us about. We swam in the anchorage, organized a few beach fires, played with the crew of other boats and kiteboarded ourselves silly.

We visited three times, always when the wind was forecast to be strong, and the anchorage was perfect.


17 October 2014

Video: The Value of Nowhere


This is not one of our videos but a video from the Cabrinha Quest - a charter/owner kiteboarding/surfer catamaran who does some really cool stuff schlepping around kiteboard pros and average kiters plus professional photographers and videographers. Pete Cabrinha wrote and narrated this video and it says so much of what I want to say myself about cruising/vagabonding.

The video is full of amazing footage worth watching but it is Pete's points about nature and remoteness that I feel like sharing with everyone.

You can go to the video directly on youtube here

There were many points that resonated with me. The two that really stick out are:

- The joy of unplugging from the internet. I love the internet, blogging and social media. I also love the fact that my life involves binges of internet and then periods where I am disconnected. I don’t think I would enjoy social media very much if I were always connected to it. The periods of time when I am disconnected are important to me deeply. People often suggest ways I can be more connected to social media while at anchor (e.g., buying local SIM cards, etc) and although I am certain I will occasionally do that, I resist that full-time, every day connectivity.

- The way that connecting with a person from a different culture via a sport is powerful. We made good friends on the water through kiteboarding and spear fishing while in French Polynesia and these connections with people living ashore felt more authentic for us than other connections we made because we shared a common passion with the person.

15 October 2014

Logbook: Foelifuka a.k.a. Blue Lagoon (Vava’u, Tonga)


IMG_0329We spent a lazy several days bobbing about in the “Blue Lagoon” off of the island of Foelifuka. The colors were mesmerizing and it was one of those places where a main attraction is the cockpit view.

Although we walked the beaches and swam in the water, one of the nicest things about the place was sitting in the shade of our cockpit watching the scenery. Even Carol, my highly energetic husband, could properly chill out in this type of beauty.

It was the kind of weather and place that inspired lattes outside in the morning, cooking on the BBQ for dinner, long drawn out sundowners and every day sunset watching.

P1050093Tonga was a bit chilly when we arrived but the summer furnace is starting up and that is definitely no longer the case.

We had one day so calm that we were able to dinghy the miles over to the Coral Garden which was on the backside of another anchorage we had already visited.

I can give the coral garden a thumbs up. Not world class perhaps but if you are anchored nearby, a definite nice snorkel with a variety of live coral and lots of reef fish.


13 October 2014

Logbook: Fonua Fo’ou (Vava’u, Tonga)


GOPR6399Outside of the main archipelago are a number of islets with anchorages for “settled weather”. We visited Fonua Fo’ou on one of those days. In total we were there for maybe 6 hours but it is one of those picture perfect stops that made a lasting memory.

We were anchored off a small motu with a reef on the windward side protecting us somewhat from the swell. In front of us what that swimming pool amazing water, amazingly clear because it is ocean water, white sand around palm trees and better coral than we’ve found in most of Vava’u. Because we chose to go in settled weather, it was flat and calm and we could hear the tropical birds on the motu and the sound of the waves on the reef.

We almost spent the night and probably could of given the conditions but with a slight roll and having spent our time there swimming and lazing about we moved on in the late afternoon.