Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Happy Birthday Captain!

Another reason to celebrate. Mark's birthday!!! I know one thing he did want was to be safely in New Zealand by his big day. We had a really fantastic day beginning with breakfast with friends in the little town of Russell and ending with a big party aboard Scholarship that night. As you can see we even had music and of course Cake!

New Zealand

We made it!! After eight days at sea we arrived in the Bay of Islands on the North Island of New Zealand. As the sun rose on a Sunday morning we made our way to the huge and busy customs dock in Opua, a small village in the southern part of the bay. Opua consists of a restaurant, general store, a huge marina and every kind of marine or boat repair business. We were greeted on the dock in the morning by our friends on Robin's Nest and Rasa Manis. All together we finished our celebratory New Zealand beers just time for 8am when the immigration and customs officers arrived for work to check us in to the country. This morning was a huge celebration as this passage to New Zealand may not be our longest but it was certianly the one that caused us the most worry. The weather gods smiled upon us however, and we all knew this as many other friend on boats were still out there and the seas had turned tempestous. Within and hour of the check in,we were tied up in the marina and we were headed for long hot showers in the modern marina bathrooms. As you will notice in the photos below, it is cold here. It is still spring and for a bunch or yachties who have been in the tropics literally for years, it was fleece and beanies time. You will notice from the photos how gorgeous it is here. A little bit of Maine mixed with Northern California. After some rest and many celebrations with fellow arrivals we took a weekend trip three whole miles over to the quaint little town of Russell. Once known as the "hell hole of the Pacific", Russell has a long history of whaling and debauchery. Not so now. It is one those adorable little seaside towns full or art galleries and gourmet food stores. The view from the top of the hill was awesome!
Moorings at the Opua marina

The General Store and Bluewater Restaurant. The only game in town but excellent food.
Celebrating with Chris, Poki and Lucie

Another party with Irie and Robin's Nest!

The scenic overlook in Russell

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Malo Apeito Tonga

Tongatapu is Tonga's largest island and also home to it's largest city, Nukualofa. Our last stop before New Zealand, we ended up staying bit longer than we had intended to, but oh the fun we had. After provisioning and getting all of the officialdom out of the way we moved 1.5 miles out of the city to the small island of Pangaimotu. A perfect place for cruisers, Pangaimotu is it's own quiet island but town is just a dinghy ride away. When we arrived at Pangaimotu we had checked out of the country and intended to leave within a few days. The trip to New Zealand is notorious for being rough in the wrong weather so all twenty boats at Pangaimotu ate, slept and breathed weather until it was time to go. Our few days turned into two weeks and I have never had more fun being stuck anywhere. Pangaimotu is the home of Big Mama's Yacht Club. Big Mama herself was a character and we all made her year as we came in everyday for boccie ball or board game day or usually to her delight, happy hour and dinner. The most fun being Halloween/pirate night. One friend even dressed up like Dr. Mark Haley! You can see from the photos everyone got into the spirit. Next time, 1100 miles til' New Zealand.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Haapai Islands

Our next stop in Tonga was the Haapai group. A large group of mostly uninhabited islands, the Haapai islands are a quintessential tropical paradise. Nothing but white sand beaches for walking and lots of sunshine. We visited four anchorages and did lots of swimming and applying of sunscreen. We met up with friends for another Tongan feast and even got to have a girls lunch on Chica Bonita (think yummy food, wine and pedicures). We spent less than a week before moving on to the big island, Tongatapu. Below are a few pictures. This is the place to go if you want to leave civilization behind.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Vavau, Tonga

The Kingdom of Tonga is made up of 178 islands. In two months you don't get to see that many but we did our best.. After a two day trip from Niue, we made landfall in Neiafu, the largest city in the Vavau Group. A dusty little place, it is necessary to stop here to check into the country. After a few days on a mooring with clean laundry and fresh baked bread in hand we set out five miles to our first Vavau anchorage. The Vavau group as it is referred to is incredible in the fact that within fifteen miles there are over fifty anchorages. Some large, some small but all with fantastic beaches and wonderful snorkeling. The most common thing in Vavau because everything is so close, was to spend five or six days out and then head into town when you wanted more supplies. Some of the anchorages even had resorts to visit, or Tongan feasts to attend. Our first weekend in Tonga, Scholarship traveled nine whole miles and we attended a traditional feast on the beach. Over fifty people were there to sample the local food and culture. After being entertained with live music and dancing we sat down to family style meal. Served on banana leaves with no untensils it was different than what we were all used to. And then the lights went out. SInce we were on a beach, the lighting was provided courtesy of a generator. We literally sat down and took our first peek at the food and poof it was pitch dark. So now we are sitting in the dark and eating who knows what with our hands. Having a shellfish allergy this became comical as everyone around me became as "taster" so I could find something to eat that would not give me hives. I ended up eating a lot of fruit and I think when I got home I made a grilled cheese because I was still a bit hungry. The lights did come on near the end of the meal and most of my companions pronounced the food pretty good even if it still wasn't clear what we were eating even when the lights came on. A few nights later we found ourselves in a Spanish restaurant on a tiny island listening to the owner singing portuguese love songs while Maria cooked and their pet goat ran in and out of the restaurant. I haven't been in such and odd place since the Italian polo match in Mexico. That is the thing with traveling like we do. You never know what you might find.
Vavau was a very special place and we spent over two weeks there before heading south to the Haapai group. We explored caves by dinghy, went diving and snorkeled almost every day. The beaches were made for BBQs and provided for a great time with friends old and new. Tonga is a sort of a crossroads for cruisers. Many people start in the Marquessas in May and then take several routes through the pacific. Around October, most have arrived in Tonga and from there go our seperate ways again. Some to New Zealand, some to Fiji and others off to Australia or even further destinations. As the cyclone season offically starts at the end of November we are all thinking about getting to a safe destination and out of mother natures' way. Below are some underwater shots Mark took. My favorites are of Nemo. Tonga is crawling with clown fish all ducking in and out of their anemone. Also I have included some feast photos.