Solo’s Home – 4/11/2021

When we were back in Savusavu we went out for dinner with our friends Carla and Alex who told us about a great local family in Viani Bay. We along with Rondo and Wiz went to the local school and Andrew spoke to one of the teachers to see if there was anyone who could take us to meet Solo, the patriarch of the family. A few eager children led the way. Andrew had previously walked up in the hills and had gotten lost with a few other intrepid sailors for four hours and we didn’t want a repeat, hence our kid guides.

Solo with his wife and one of his grandchildren.

While the walk isn’t overly strenuous, it is steamy and we haven’t done a lot of walking since we got to Fiji so we were all a bit hot and sweaty. Solo and his family were expecting us and wondered why we had been in the bay for a few days and had taken so long to get there. (Alex and Carla had told them we were coming) We explained that we had been busy diving while the conditions had been good.

Solo has one son and five daughters, the youngest one Lynnie is 17. I have no idea how many grandchildren he has, but there seemed like a lot.

Solo’s family gathered around to talk in the shade of the trees.

The family dynamics reminded us a lot of India where the adults are very affectionate with the kids and hugs are freely given. After 3 years in Spanish speaking countries, it is a nice change to be able to easily converse and find out how people live.

Near where we sat talking was a tarpauline cover with something orange, Solo explained that it was turmeric. They slice the tumeric, soak it in water and then dry it. Solo’s wife demonstrated how they pound the Tumeric to turn it into powder to use in curries. When we left, Solo gifted us with a jar of his tumeric.

Clockwise: Photo 1: sliced tumeric drying, Photo 2: Solo’s wife pounding the tumeric and Photo 3 the powdered tumeric

Wiz and Rondo brought a selection of balls including a volleyball which were excitedly received. The kids played volleyball or catch with the younger ones. One little guy in blue carried his blue tennis ball around with him and even found a coconut shell and tried to spin it in the shell.

Photos of the kids playing volleyball, catch and the bottom left is of a very cute little guy who had claimed a blue tennis ball and was rather determined to try to spin it in a coconut shell.

We were all invited to Sunday lunch to celebrate Solo’s 66th birthday, as we were unable to attend we organised to come back the following day to ride the horses.

Horse Riding at Solo’s House – 5/11/2021

Andrew, Max, Ava and I walked back to Solo’s house Friday morning with a few basic necessities they needed and was accompanied again by Helen, the teacher’s daughter. Helen led the way and chatted with everyone happily.

We were eagerly greeted by Solo’s family. Lynnie quickly organised the two horses and helped Ava on one. The last time Ava had ridden a horse was in Vietnam in 2013 and that was with a saddle. Lynnie took Ava off on their property while we talked to the kids and adults. Ava returned saying it was good and quite comfortable. Max replaced Ava, who was a little more reluctant to go horse riding, but Lynnie led him away and he came back quite happy.

Lynnie took both Ava and then Max riding on their property.

The kids entertained us with their antics and even the youngest one at 7 months joined us and she is a real cutie.

Clockwise: PHoto 1: Tina (who is very sweet) PHoto 2: Tina’s mum with her baby sister who is just 7 months old. Photo 3 Ava with Solo’s family.

We returned to the boat sweaty and tired and boy are my legs sore after two days walking.

What on earth is this creature?

We were fortunate to go on two night dives while at Taveuni Island with Susan from ‘Wiz’. On our second night dive, a few nights ago, Susan started madly flashing her torch to get our attention, and there before us was a weird creature about 30 cm long and hovering over the reef. At first, I thought it was an octopus with its legs tucked in but then guessed it was a cuttlefish.

Despite being called a cuttlefish, it is not a fish but rather a type of mollusc known as a cephalopod and closely related to the octopus, squid and nautilus. Like that of an octopus the cuttlefish also has eight arms. The really weird thing we noticed about the cuttlefish is the fin which resembles a short, flouncy skirt that flaps around the body. The fin manoeuvres the cuttlefish forward, backward and even in circles, as you can see in the video below.

Watch the cuttlefish moving through the water.

You can see the fin on the underside of the cuttlefish that glows blue in the photos above that Tristan took.

In photo on the left surrounding the body you may be able to see the very thin fin, it looks slightly blurry as it was flapping while the photo was taken. Photo 2 shows the cuttlefish’s eight arms.

Well you may not have seen one in the sea before, but chances are that if you have ever walked on the beach you may have seen the remains of one washed up on the sand. I can remember seeing them on the beach when I was young and we would take it home and put it in the cage for our cockatoo. The cuttlefish bone is rich in calcium which is why it is often sold in pet stores for birds as a nutritional supplement. In fact the cuttlefish bone controls the animals buoyancy by adding different amounts of liquid or gas into it which allows them to move up or down.

Have you ever seen one like this on the beach?

Both octopus and cuttlefish are masters of disguise. Cuttlefish can change not only their colour and pattern but also the texture of their skin, as their skin possesses up to 200 pigment cells per square millimetre. Also like the octopus and squid the cuttlefish too has an ink sac which it can use to deter predators. No, we did not see the cuttlefish shoot any ink. The purpose behind the colour, pattern and texture change are for the cuttlefish to evade or deter predators or to mimic other species to help them catch their prey or to communicate with other cuttlefish.

Can you see the nodules on the cuttlefishes body that allows it to blend with the coral behind it, pretty cool right?

Look how its changed colour and pattern to blend with it’s surroundings.

In this photo it has changed to red and all of the textured nodules on its skin have disappeared.

Interestingly enough, although the cuttlefish have highly developed eyes with the ability to reshape its eyes, it is in fact colour blind. The cuttlefish’s eyes are not only very large in comparison to its body but the pupils are in a W shape.

Can you see it’s ‘W’ shaped eye? This is one of Tristan’s photos.

We think that this particular cuttlefish belongs to the species known as the broadclub cuttlefish which is found in both the Indian and Western Pacific Ocean. It is the second largest cuttlefish species reaching up to 10 kg.

Some interesting facts about cuttlefish:

  • The female cuttlefish dyes her eggs black using her ink and they resemble a grape. The eggs are sometimes called sea grapes.
  • Like the octopus, cuttlefish have three hearts and blue blood.
  • Cuttlefish have a relatively short life span of only 1 – 2 years.
  • Cuttlefish can use jet propulsion to move quickly by filling their body cavity with water and then squirting it out, which will propel them backwards.
  • The cuttlefishes’ brain to body size ratio is one of the largest of any invertebrate, perhaps even larger than the octopus.

Information on the cuttlefish came from the following sites:

Banded sea Krait

All countries have interesting sea creatures; one which Tristan and I have had on our list to see in Fiji is the banded sea snake otherwise known as the ‘banded sea krait’ or its scientific name, Laticauda colubrina. The banded sea kraits’ name stems from the fact that they have white bodies with black vertical stripes. The female is three times heavier and can reach 128 cm (50 inches), whereas the male grows to only 75 cm (30 inches).

The one was well over a meter long so, it must have been a female!

This snake is highly venomous, 10 times greater than that of a rattlesnake. The yachty rumour is that they can’t bite you because they have a small mouth and the only place possible would be between your thumb and finger, this is however an old wives’ tale. They tend not to bite because they are not particularly aggressive, but there have been cases where fishermen have been bitten while bringing in their nets.

The clip is from a dive on Paradise Resort’s house reef in Fiji.

What is special about this snake compared to other sea snakes is that it doesn’t spend all of its time in the water. The snake comes ashore to nest, find fresh drinking water, to rest and digest their food and use rocks onshore to help shed their skin. In fact after diving with three banded sea snakes we went to the dinghy dock at Paradise Resort in Taveuni and there was a small one sunning itself on the rocks! Unfortunately no one had a camera to photograph it.

The sea krait is adapted for the water by having a paddle-like tail which improves their swimming and the ability to hold their breath for 15 – 30 minutes underwater. With such a small head, you would be surprised to know that the males, whom are smaller, primarily feed on moray eels, while the larger females prefer the conger eels. The fact that they can eat eels larger than themselves dispels the old wives tail about not being able to bite a human. When they do find their prey they first paralyse the animal with their venom before swallowing it whole. One decent size eel can sustain them for weeks. Were we lucky to see three in one day or what? We haven’t seen any since.

So what has been our experience with this crazy creature? Tristan has seen a small one snorkelling off Taveuni Island in September. A couple of days later while Andrew and I were diving we spotted three. I followed one of them for quite some time and it was completely unfazed by me; it would stop have a look at me and continue in its search for food. The sea krait was gliding along and going in and out of caves and holes, which at the time I didn’t realise was it looking for eels. I honestly was very surprised to learn that they eat eels because like most people I thought they weren’t able to open their mouths enough to bite us.

Searching for eels, their main source of food.

While it is the first live encounter with a banded sea krait, back in 2011 when on Rah Island in Vanuatu we were fortunate enough to see a human version of the banded sea krait. On Rah Island they have a traditional dance called the ‘Sea Snake Dance’, which is the island’s Kastom dance and is only performed by men. The men paint themselves with black and white to mimic the stripes of the sea snake, carry a leaf in their mouths, sticks decorated with features and I think it was tomatoes.

We were fortunate to see and participate in it. You can see more at our post on Rah Island or here at Mota Lava. Here are a few photos from when we were there and much younger.

A few more interesting facts:

  • They typically lay a clutch of about 10 eggs, on land. The eggs incubate for about 4 months.
  • They are found in the Indian Ocean and the western Pacific.
  • The banded sea krait, like turtles, exhibit “philopatry” which means they return to the same beach to digest their food, rest and lay their eggs, similar to turtles.
  • Kraits or sea snakes differ from land snakes by their tail. Kraits have a flattened tail which acts like a paddle to aid in swimming.
  • Juvenile banded sea snakes spend more time in the water than on land, whereas adults spend about 50% of the time on land and in the water.
  • The banded sea krait, while able to live on land, moves at about a fifth of the speed than it does in the water.
  • They are preyed on by sharks, birds and larger fish and are particularly vulnerable when hunting among the coral.
  • Their tail is larger than their head, which sometimes confuse and fool predators.
Bye for now!

Information about the Banded Sea Krait was gained from the following sources:

FIJI DAY!!!

So, what is Fiji Day? Fiji Day is on the 10th of October each year to celebrate Fiji gaining its independence from the UK when its colonial status was removed in 1970. Interestingly enough, it is actually a double anniversary as on the same day in 1874, King Seru Epenisa Cakobau signed the deed of cession which started British rule in Fiji. Fiji Day is celebrated in nearly every town, village and city and includes things like military parades, speeches, performances and street parties.

We have been in a very small, isolated area of Viani Bay for the past week, where there are no roads and the only way to reach it is by walking, horseback or boat. A German lady, Marina, runs the dive academy in the bay with direct access to the Rainbow Reef and employs a lot of locals from the area in her business. Marina hosted a Fiji Day celebration for the locals and cruisers.

The day began at 9 am, at a new reef area being established. Locals (including some very cute kids) as well as cruisers met at a buoy where Johnny, Marina’s Fijian partner, instructed everyone on how to plant coral. Johnny would find a rock away from other coral, brush off the sand and algae, place a piece of coral on the rock and then put a cement ball on top of it. I think it had sand, cement and water which you keep held out of the water until the final step. It’s really a two person job.

Brushes were quickly distributed and groups formed. Johnny brought around a piece of coral to each group and it was time to start. The local adults and kids participated in the coral planting. Max, Ava and Tristan all planted a piece each, Ava two. This little area of reef has been protected and is an area that you are asked to steer clear of to let it get established. Each year on Fiji Day more coral is added to the reef and participants are given the chance to have a snorkel on it while planting.

The video below is of us planting coral. The music accompanying the video was produced last year to commemorate Fiji’s 50th year since independence, and is called ‘Children of Fiji and is sung in English, Hindi, iTaukei and Rotuman.

There was much excitement when everyone returned to the boats, with flag flapping, excited shouts and big smiles.

Marina and Johnny organised a beach BBQ with cruisers bringing potluck. We had a delicious meal, some enjoyed cava, music, laughter, dogs and even a couple of horses joined the festivities. Thank you Olivia for entertaining us all with your country/hip-hop music selection and horse riding.

Photos clockwise: photo 1: Everyone relaxing after our meal Photo 2: The cava chief, photo 3: Tristan and Ava sharing a private joke?

Sharing Cava

More flag flying photos, led by Olivia.

Tristan and Ava enjoyed hugging the dogs, they don’t replace our favourite Portuguese waterdog Willie. Miss you Love and Luck.

Thank you Marina and Johnny from Dive Academy for organising the day, we loved it.

It Is Not Always Plain Sailing….

While it may look like we are having a fantastic time during covid-19, looks can be deceiving. I will share our last month here in Tahiti.

As we prepared to leave for Fiji, the number of covid-19 cases in French Polynesia, mainly Tahiti had risen to over 1000 a day. The population in French Polynesia is about 280 000, so not particularly big. France has provided the Pfizer vaccine as well as JJ which is readily available, but only 30% of the population have chosen to do it. We did get the vaccine and do everything we can to keep everyone on board safe and also those that we spend time with, its part of being a community.

To go to Fiji we are required to get pre-approval which requires us all to have a covid test, get the results, get approval to visit Fiji from Fiji navy, check out of French Polynesia with immigration and sail away all within 72 hours of having the test, a very tough requirement. So we set off Monday morning to visit our agent in French Polynesia, Tahiti Crew to start the checkout process. After finally completing all of the paperwork, which took a long time we set off on the 5 km walk to a new testing centre which reopened that morning. The main covid testing clinic has been inundated with people getting tested, so much so that the queues were around the corner and down 3 blocks of the center. So the five of us set off and arrived just before 10 am only to discover they had already run out of test kits. We returned to our agent, Tahiti Crew and asked for a suggestion on what to do. Taheni tells us just call Sarah at the main center when you get there and she will take you to get it done. (That would have been useful to have told us prior to the 12 km walk)

The kids are tired and grumpy at this stage and the prospect of another 10 km walk does not thrill anybody. So we decided to catch a taxi which we have been avoiding for the past 18 months because of the covid risk. Arriving at the center we are met with a huge queue as was expected full of sick looking people. Sarah tells us to come straight to the front where we are led to an entrance for well people. It makes sense otherwise you would have covid after waiting 2 hours in a line. The test is done quickly and we return to the boat to wait. And wait. And wait.

Wednesday we had to return to Tahiti Crew to have the border police check us out of the country before returning to the boat to wait some more. Finally we got the results, all negative, back that afternoon (48 hours later after they were done) and sent them off to our Fiji agent. We prepared the boat for a Thursday morning departure while waiting for confirmation from our Fiji agent that it had all been approved and we could leave.

Thursday morning came and we still had not heard from Jo our agent. So we decided to head to Fiji. A couple of hours later we had a verbal confirmation we were good to come but as many of the staff had Covid the paperwork would take another day or two. Things were going great, we were headed on a track to Bora Bora, not to stop but to get a better wind angle. About 6 hours into our trip and Andrew and Tristan started opening and closing things in the cockpit and we all eventually headed upstairs to see what was going on.

Andrew explained to us all that the rudder was making a thumping noise. It was the first time that we had been on this particular tack since before we left Mexico, there was also quite a big swell which was not helping things. The problem being that we could change tack and continue on to Fiji and we might get there fine or the rudder could snap. There is nearly 2000 nm and 15 days ahead of us still and that’s a long way.

Andrew made a call to Tahiti Crew to see if we could possibly turn around and they said as we still had a two days left on our visa it would be fine. We deliberated for another half an hour and decided to turn back. Max and Ava were relieved. We stopped in Moorea at about 10 pm for the night as you can’t get into the Tahiti anchorage after 6 pm and got up at 5 am to go back.

And so starts the next round of paperwork at Tahiti Crew. Andrew had to get a marina to write a letter explaining we would need a month to get new rudder bearings made. We had to get passport photos and fill in paperwork for the high commission to ask for a month visa extension and then we had to go back to the boat to wait. At this stage Tahiti had implemented weekend lockdowns to try to curtail the rising covid infections.

Tuesday we were back to be checked in with the border police, who were not very happy with us. Tahiti Crew raced our paperwork down to the high commission and we were back in the waiting game. Nearly two weeks later we still don’t have a visa extension and official permission to be here in Tahiti.

Returning to the boat Andrew, Tristan and Max dropped the rudder to look at it. Andrew called a good friend Mark Edwards who built his own 50 foot boat who we cruised with in 2012/12 in Asia to ask for advice. Andrew also reached out to Greg Christie who is a shipwright and did the original work on our boat 12 years ago. Luckily New Zealand had just gone in to lockdown and Mark had plenty of time on his hands to help. He gave Andrew advice on things to test on the rudder to try to identify the problem.

Tristan with the rudder before the tests began.

Eventually it was decided after all the tests including Tristan bouncing on the end of the rudder when it was situated like a seesaw that the rudder stock had become detached from the inside of the rudder. Andrew went in search for someone trustworthy with experience in cutting open our rudder to repair it. Interestingly enough after an Australian boat gave them a name of a guy, Nicholas who a New Zealand boat had just used and who we were supposed to be going to Fiji with.

Andrew talked to Nicholas and took our rudder in to get a price to get it repaired. Nicholas said he could do it and it would take a week, so Andrew left it with him. Nicholas kindly sent us updates and photos as the work progressed.

Stage 1 of the rudder:

The rudder cut open.

Stage 2: rudder repairs

Fibre glassing to reinforce the inside of the rudder.

Stage 3: Making the rudder whole again

Fibre glassing the rudder back together again.

Image 1: filling the empty space inside the rudder with new foam. Image 2: Sanding back the new fibre glassing.

The finished rudder!!!!

On the day we took the rudder for repair French Polynesia announced a 17 day lockdown was to start . We spent 4 months in lockdown in Mexico last year where we could only move between our boat and 15 meters of beach. This time the rules in Tahiti said no beach, snorkelling or water sports allowed. If you want to leave the boat you have to complete the mandatory paperwork with one of four reasons as to why you are out and about. There moving your boat, no inter-island travel and you are allowed to exercise for one hour within 1 km of your home with the necessary paperwork. Lockdown is hard on anyone, on a 15 meter boat of which there is about 5 meters of walking space it can be miserable. We are about 5 nm from shore where we are anchored. Needless to say the kids have been off once to help bring the rudder back to the boat and Andrew and I have had to trips to the shops for food.

This morning 9 days later we got our rudder!!!!!!!! After a couple of hours of Tristan in the water getting the rudder back in its spot and Max & Andrew doing stuff to it we have it installed.

Max with the rudder after getting it back to the boat.

Getting the rudder back in the water.

The spot where the rudder post had to go back into the boat.

We are ready to go to Fiji! Unfortunately we are waiting on Tahiti Crew to find out if the police will allow us to go as they haven’t completed our inward paperwork yet and if Fiji will require us to go through the whole covid testing again. But we are ready and anxious to get out of here.

Turtles, Turtles and Even More Turtles – Diving in Moorea

We have done seven or more dives in Moorea on the Opunohu Canyons, Garden of Roses and Eden Park dive sites. The one constant in all of the dives has been turtles and lots of them. Interestingly enough, the turtles are happy for divers to get very close to them but when Tristan has snorkelled and free-dived down they have swam away; perhaps his shadow quickly descending scares the hell out of them.

1/8/2021

Tristan, Andrew and I did our first dive in Moorea along the Opunohu Canyons. A few of the turtle photos from the trip:

Our second dive along Opunohu Canyon, Ilo from Distant Star joined us. Ilo got his dive licence in Rangiroa and is really keen to dive. You can see Ilo below with a turtle in the distance.

The turtles sit among the coral for a bit of a nap and you often can’t see them until you are right above them, like this little guy.

Okay I will admit I kept stopping to take a photo of another turtle and my dive buddy Tristan was anxious to catch up to Andrew and Ilo, so much so that he swam straight past the turtle below and didn’t even stop. We ended up using the safety sausage and going up when our air got low (after a safety stop) so as to avoid being run over by the many boats as we couldn’t find the mooring buoy where the dinghy was; it turned out to be not that far away.

2/8/2021

Today we went to the Eden’s Park dive site and had just started getting in the water when a dive boat arrived. We moved to a nearby mooring buoy and started again. I was happily swimming behind Andrew and turned to my right and was eye to eye (about 50 cm) away from a lemon shark. After my initial heart attack and screaming “Andrew” over and over to no avail (you can’t really hear underwater) the shark swam over to Andrew before quickly disappearing. Unfortunately my reflexes were too slow to get a photo of it.

We did come to a clearish slope covered with coral rubble where a pair of white tip reef sharks were happily relaxing until some diver decided to disturb them; me, coming up and photographing them. The sharks swam away and returned when I left them alone.

It was shortly after our white tip reef shark encounter that we saw another larger, barrel-shaped lemon shark but it swam off too quickly to snap a photo. We did see lots more turtles though. Here is one I swam beside for a while.

Quite a few of the turtles were tucked amongst the coral, resting.

Or eating.

or getting a pat from Andrew.

3/8/2021

Our first dive at Eden Park Ilo joined Andrew and I. Tristan came but chose to snorkel it instead of dive. We did not see any lemon sharks this time but ended up in the same spot where we had seen the white tip reef sharks yesterday.

Just as we were leaving the sharks I spotted a large turtle swimming past, unbothered by the sharks nearby.

I did spot something new; an eel. After showing Tristan the photo, he said it was a white-mouthed eel.

Just as we were finishing our dive I saw a large turtle and beside it the silhouette of a body, turns out it was Tristan frightening the turtle away.

Tristan free diving with a turtle

Our second dive, just Andrew and I began at the Miri Roses and followed on to the section of Opunohu Canyon where the turtles are. Miri Roses look like rose blooms when you look down on them, but a lot less colour than actual roses, still it looks pretty cool.

We saw a lot of turtles again on the dive and Andrew petted one.

My favourite find of the day was this little coral section which I think looks very whimsical and almost like little toadstools.

How to better end a dive than watching turtles?

Moorea

We have spent 9 days at the beautiful island of Moorea. Andrew thinks this is the most stunning anchorage we have been in during our 12 years of cruising. I’m torn because I also really like Fatu Hiva. Either way French Polynesia is gorgeous. Here are a few photos of the anchorage to give you an idea.

We took the dinghy up to the mouth of Opunohu Bay and gazed at the gorgeous view.

We did go to Cook’s Bay for a look, it is not as beautiful as Opunohu Bay. Interestingly enough Captain Cook never stopped in this bay.

There are tons of hiking and biking trails on Moorea; we managed to do two trails with Distant Star, both with spectacular scenery.

Magic Mountain Hike – 4/8/2021

The Magic Mountain hike is on private property on the west side of Opunohu Bay, and there is a charge of 200xpf ($2 US) per adult and 100 ($1) per child to be paid at the owners trailer. The trail is about a 4 km round trip. There is also the option, if you don’t want to hike the path, that you can pay to get driven up or both up and back. When you return from your hike you can sit at one of the tables and they will bring out a plate of various fresh fruit and their own homemade specialty jams to try.

Part of the way up the trail it divides into two paths, the right hand path is shorter but steeper (about 45 mins) and the left hand path is longer (1 hr) but the incline is more gradual. Ashe and the kids went the steep path, while Andrew, Luka, Ilo and I took the more gentle one. About 2/3 up the path there are some concrete seats where you can sit and admire the view and catch your breath.

The view as you hike up the mountain.

Once you reach the top you have an amazing view overlooking the bay, the coral reefs and anchored boats.

The view from the top!

I actually found this hike more strenuous than the one to Belvedere Lookout. But it was worth the hard work! The map below is of the trail we hiked. If you want a downloadable map for your phone to use offline send me an email and I will send you the file.

Map of Magic Mountain Hike

Belvedere Lookout Hike from Opunohu Bay – 6/8/2021

We dinghied from the main anchorage to the end of Opunohu Bay, where we locked our dinghies to a palm tree to start our hike. The hike is just over 9 km round trip, mostly along a road. The road leads you through farmland with cows and pineapple plantations, including one that sells ice-cream or sorbet or go on a tour of the plantation and through two marae before reaching the viewpoint. The hike is moderate and the incline is gradual.

View of the extinct volcanoes plug with wildflowers in the foreground.

One of the pineapple plantations we passed on our hike.

We went off-road at the first Marae and followed the dirt pathway to the second before following another dirt trail (shortcut) to reach Belvedere Lookout. Tristan opted to stop at the Marae and photograph mushrooms while the rest of us continued up.

The Belvedere Lookout offers you stunning views of Mount Rotui and the dormant volcano Mount Tohivea, as well as Cook’s Bay and Opunohu Bay. 

Mount Tohivea

We stopped and enjoyed the view and a bit of a rest before heading back down.

Cook’s Bay on the right and Oponhu Bay on the left are separated by Mount Rotui.

Mount Tohivea and Mount Rotui

We hiked back down, stopping at a pineapple plantation for ice-creams. The map below shows our hiking route. If you want a copy you can download to your phone and use offline send me an email and I’ll be happy to send it to you.

Map of the Belvedere Lookout Hike.

We finished off our day with a potluck on Distant Star, our final night together after travelling together for the past 5 months.

During our time together we had a long and slow 23 day passage from Mexico, quarantine (8 days for us, 14 days for Distant Star), injuries (Ilo hit by a coconut, Makawi falling through a hatch and Kahlil getting infected mosquito bites), a lost dinghy and crappy weather but through it all Distant Star have been troopers and kept going. There have also been some really fantastic times hiking, snorkelling, visiting ancient sites, potlucks, sundowners and lots of laughter. We will miss you guys but wish you all the best with your time in French Polynesia and on to Hawaii. You are an awesome family and we have loved spending time with you. Remember you can always catch up to us in Fiji if you change your mind.

Stingray City

31/7/2021

In parts of the Society Islands in French Polynesia like Moorea and Bora Bora, you can swim or snorkel with stingrays, specifically the pink whipray (Tahitian Ray). We spent all of last year in Mexico shuffling our feet when we got out of the dinghy to scare away stingrays so we wouldn’t get their barbs in our feet. Here, these much larger species are very accustomed to people feeding and swimming with them, so much so that if they hear an engine they will come to explore.

Our first trip to visit the stingrays we took bread to feed them. Turns out they don’t like bread, so we didn’t have as much interaction with them as we had hoped. There were quite a few black-tip reef sharks swimming among the stingrays. Here is a few photos from our first visit.

2/8/2021

Andrew went for an early morning dinghy trip to get a tin of mackerel so that we could make a trip to feed the stingrays. We went early to beat the horde of tourists that were there on our last visit and we were rewarded with some very curious stingrays.

A tin of whole fish would probably have been better as the mackerel kind of flaked and fell apart, but the stingrays hoovered it up.

Nope, not a puppy dog begging for food, just a stingray.

I’m not sure if Tristan was trying to kiss the stingray or just get a closer look?

Andrew quite happily interacted with the stingrays and giggled as they got close to him.

And a few final photos of these cool creatures during our snorkel

4/11/2021

After our experience on Monday I was keen to go back to the stingrays so that Max and Ava could experience it. This required everyone to be up at 6 am so we could get there early. Getting teens up and moving in the morning is difficult, I had to wake Ava and Tristan up three times and listen to lots of grumbling.

Andrew decided to sit this one out so we headed off at 7 am and were the only ones there. Max and Ava were very hesitant with their interactions with the stingrays at the beginning until Tristan showed them how to do it.

Tristan is definitely determined to get up close and personal with a sting ray and share a kiss.

The Stingrays playing with Tristan and Max, its hilarious.

Max looking a little wary.

Mmmm not sure if Max is flamenco dancing, stingray (bull) fighting or just trying to get away.

Whereas Ava just looks nervous.

Ava learnt to never turn your back on a stingray or it will try to climb it.

This stingray just wanted to sit in Ava’s lap.

And when the stingrays disappear the clownfish come out to play.

It was such a cool experience I can’t help sharing one final photo.

And another video:

Aquarium, Tahiti – 30/7/2021

The Aquarium is located not far from the airport in Tahiti and is a shallow novice dive or snorkel with a maximum depth of about 10 metres. The highlight of the dive is the Cessna 172. The plane sunk near the runway at the Tahiti Airport on the 16th of April in 1995 following an emergency landing. The plane is largely intact with just the tip missing from one wing and even the tyres remain. You can actually get inside the plane if you are diving, I’m not sure that you would have enough air free diving to do it. Andrew and Tristan just free dived down beside it.

Photos of the cessna, Andrew is clearly visible in one and if you look closely you may spot Tristan in one of the photos too.

Also at the dive site are hulls of two schooners.

One of the schooners, along with a couple of inquisitive fish who insisted on being included in the photo.

Andrew with schooner 2

There is a small amount of coral surrounding the site, but ultimately you are snorkelling or diving to see the wrecks. There is also a concrete table and chair at the site, I assume set up by a dive company and someone has placed rock or coral to form a heart shape.

Ultimately Tristan and I a chance to experiment with out new cameras, more photos to come in the future.

The dive site is located near the airport and there is an orange mooring buoy that you can tie up to if you wish to snorkel or dive the site. The GPS co-ordinates for the site are: 17°33.910’S, 149°37.644’W

Rangiroa

We had a quick but rolly trip to Rangiroa, arriving before the tide and having to wait outside the passe for the tide to change.  Two boats we know had been through the passe in the past week and felt lucky to have gotten through without losing their boats, thankfully the passe was relatively calm, and we had a safe entrance.

After an easy anchorage and a quick catch up with Charisma, we went ashore to get a few needed supplies; unfortunately, the one we were most looking forward to, baguettes, except they were already sold out. 

We soon settled into an easy routine of an early morning baguette run, a bit of school and then an afternoon snorkel at the coral garden. 

The coral garden is probably the best part of Rangiroa; you take yesterday’s stale baguettes to feed the many fish who eagerly attack you for the bread.  You need to either keep the baguette out of the water or be careful with your fingers otherwise you will end up getting bitten like Andrew did from a rather excited paddletail who couldn’t distinguish bread from a finger.  There are usually a few small black reef-tip sharks below the fish feeding frenzy, but they keep their distance; even Ava happily snorkelled and fed the fish.  There are always a lot of tourist boats just before sunset who go to the coral garden to feed the fish and snorkel while being serenaded by a local on the ukulele.

We tried several times to dive the passe but with the strong winds and increasing swell all of which affects the forecasted tide times and currents have made it almost impossible.  Adding in the fact that you are also in a dinghy with 15 horsepower engine, trying to get divers in all their gear meant Tristan and Andrew managed just one quick dive.  I went a couple of times to dive but the currents and tides weren’t right, and it was just too dangerous.   

Motu Fama – 7/7/2021

With Charisma’s planned departure from Rangiroa soon approaching we decided to visit Motu Fama and stay overnight before visiting the Blue Lagoon, as the Blue Lagoon doesn’t have a suitable overnight anchorage.  Motu Fama is made up of a series of motus (islands) with little lagoons enclosed between them, some of them you can enter with your dinghy during high tide.  We went into one little lagoon with the approaching high tide and snorkelled among the small coral bommies looking at the fish, eels and even a hiding octopus.  Tristan found a whole pile of nudibranchs right along the shoreline which pleased him. 

Pretty isn’t it?

After we explored the lagoon, we met up with Charisma and Distant Star in the neighbouring motu, just managing to navigate the dinghy through a precarious passe narrowly managing to avoid beaching ourselves in the waves. Ashee, Alexis and I chatted while the kids were off exploring, Andrew snorkelled, and Leif and Eden swam.  A very relaxing afternoon on the lagoon.

The teens and Kline went off exploring for a couple of hours and returned with a couple of coconuts.

Relaxing in the sun.

Blue Lagoon – 8/7/2021

We got up bright and early and headed to the blue lagoon knowing that we would have to pick through coral and that if we didn’t go today, there would be no other chance as the wind was going to continue increasing.  After anchoring we left Tristan and Ava on the boat to keep an eye on it as we were surrounded by coral bommies and with big waves we wanted to make sure the boat was safe.  Ilo stayed on board Distant Star to keep an eye on her.

With the waves we managed to get both the snorkelling gear and everyone on board the dinghy, it was a bit of a trial.  The next challenge was finding a suitable passe to get the dinghy through to the shallow waters on the outside of the lagoon.  We did have a few reef sharks follow us in, looking for food as the local tour operators feed the sharks here.  Inside the shallow water, while anchoring there was much excitement from Kline who was spotting all the baby black tip reef sharks in the water.  The sharks would come to within a few feet of you before veering off.

We carried all our gear, Alexis and Chris manoeuvred the little ones through the coral, and sharks, to reach the island on the edge of the lagoon.  There wasn’t really any coral to snorkel on in the lagoon, it was more of a swimming experience.  Most of the sharks were either where we had anchored or around the other side of the lagoon where it is set up for the tour operators to take tourists to feed the sharks. 

The kids happily played for hours while everyone chatted.  Andrew and I went out to where the tour boats are anchored and snorkelled the coral wall where the bigger black tip reef sharks were.  The water wasn’t as clear and often you could turn around and after a few seconds you would notice 5 or 6 sharks following behind you, and if you stopped, they would deviate off. 

Andrew went back to get Tristan (Ava opted to not go swim with sharks) and went for another snorkel in the same area.  Andrew saw a much larger shark which wasn’t a black-tip reef shark… hmm maybe Ava was right to sit that one out.

Meanwhile back onshore, Kline was off near the restaurant with Chris paddling among the baby sharks while Leif slept half on, half off a log, and everyone relaxed under the shade of a palm tree.  Just before leaving my buddy, Leif walked with me over to the restaurant side to look at the baby sharks, although he didn’t want to go in the water, so we looked from the sand. 

How cute is Leif, falling asleep on a fallen tree?

My buddy Leif and some of the baby black tip reef sharks we looked at.

Kline pointing out the sharks as Charisma leave the blue lagoon.

After a long, slow trip we returned to the anchorage at Tiputa.  Our last night with Charisma was spent aboard Utopia with a few drinks.  We had a lot of fun and Alexis you are hilarious; I think we laughed until we cried.  We will miss the Charisma crew’s company but wish you and your beautiful family a safe trip back to the USA in a couple of weeks.

Tiputa to Avatoru Bike Ride – 11/7/2021

I decided it would be a great idea if we (our family) hired some bikes from Pension Josephine and ride to Avatoru, which is 10 km each way.  Lucky for us the pension had enough bikes.  Andrew then thought it would be a great idea to also bring a jerry jug and get some petrol at the service station at the other town.  Finally, after the delay we set off and I set a cracking pace with Ava close behind.  We passed palm trees, views over the interior of the atoll, bridges linking the motus and friendly locals.

At the start of the bike ride near the passe.

What I didn’t realise was Tristan and Max had rusty springs in the bike stands which kept flopping down and dragging on the ground.  Not sure who’s ingenuity it was, but by the time they caught up the stands were tied with strands from the palm leaf to stop them scraping on the ground. I guess I need to look behind me more often to see where everyone is.

We arrived at the petrol station to find it closed.  Hmmm looks like another bicycle trip to come.  We stopped for drinks and then I took everyone to see the unique statue on the church grounds which incorporates pearl shells into its design.  Tristan thinks it is a waterfall, makes sense.  After looking at the passe we stopped at another magasin for iceblocks before beginning our return trip.

Not sure if this boat was beached for repairs or wrecked here after going through the pass?

The trip had been going pretty well until just before the halfway mark, the airport, when Tristan commented that my tyre looked flat – I thought it was hard pedalling. I walked the bike for a while.  Then Tristan doubled Max on the back of the bike, I rode Max’s and Andrew rode his holding my bike beside it, an arrangement that lasted less than 5 minutes.  Back to pushing the bike.  We ended up sending the kids ahead and I had the brilliant idea of trying to hitch a ride, with the bike.  I was unable to convince Andrew to go ahead of me, so he rode in circles while I unsuccessfully hitched a ride.  A local, in a small car, pulled over and told us to stop; he called Josephine’s and organised for them to come pick us and the bikes up. 

While waiting he stayed and chatted to us.  Turns out he is from Bora Bora and is running a hotel here on the island now.  A lovely guy who was very interested in Andrew’s tattoo from the Marquesas.  He did tell us that a night at a resort in Bora Bora (there are 10 resorts with an 11th approved) not over the water starts at $1100 US a night.  No wonder they don’t want boats cluttering their island.

The atoll is made up of lots of little motus or islands many of which are connected with bridges like you can see in the two smaller photos.

We were picked up by the French owner of the pension and were saved the 5 km walk back.  The kids were waiting for us back at the pension, looking tired.  When we rode to Avatoru the road felt flat but, on the way back we noticed that there is a slight slope uphill combined with the 25 knot headwinds; no wonder the kids were so tired.

We finished the day with a snorkel over the coral gardens, where they have now installed floating underwater signs with information about the reef, which is a great idea.

Tiputa Passe – 13/7/2021

After a few very slow days we met up with Distant Star onshore to have sundowners at the lookout over the Tiputa passe.  There was one major flaw in the plan.  We went to the magasin to get some cold beer and some candy.  We returned with just candy.  Turns out there are new laws in force banning the sale of cold beer during the Covid-19 pandemic to try to stop people congregating.  We are not sure if that is everywhere or just in the Tuamotus. 

The kids relaxed with chocolate and cookies.

Nevertheless, we went to the lookout and watched the waves roll in through the passe.  The kids shared the chocolate and Ava shared the peanut butter cookies she had just baked, while Ashe unenthusiastically drank her not-so-bubbly soda water.  It was the daredevil Kahlil who kept us entertained by climbing on the channel markers while dodging waves.  Unfortunately, in my haste to snap his photo before he returned to shore, they are a bit blurry.

Daredevil Kahlil venturing through the breaking waves to reach the marker.

Toaroa Motu – 14/7/2021

With no end in sight with the wind and us looking likely to remain in Rangiroa for another week, Ashee decided we should adventure further into the atoll and explore some new places. Our first stop was Toaroa Motu.  The motu is fringed with palm trees and the azure waters lap its shores; it even has a small inland lagoon, although I don’t think you really want to swim in it.  There is a cabin ashore, but we have not seen anyone using it.  We walked the beach, climbing over the fallen palm trees and talking before the no-see-ums started eating us alive and we retreated to the boat for the evening.

Tristan and I made our own homemade version of bounty bars using fresh coconuts Tristan had collected and de-husked and put through the food processor, coconut oil and condensed milk and then covered in chocolate which we enjoyed for dessert.  They weren’t the prettiest, but they tasted pretty good. We already have plans on improving them.

17/7/2021

Our second visit to the motu, Tristan, Ilo, Makawi and Kahlil all went spearfishing.  They were gone for quite some time; it was when we could smell smoke that we knew that they had caught something and were cooking it onshore.  They decided to cook the fish whole on the fire and discovered was that it takes a very long time to cook, hours.  Max and Ava finished their schoolwork off (we are playing getting ahead before our next long passage) and went ashore to join the others.  They managed to keep themselves busy and are already talking about how they will cook the next lot.

18/7/2021

Another day and another spearfishing adventure.  Tristan, Ilo, Makawi and Kahlil were gone for hours in the morning and returned after cooking and eating their catch.  They were back for about an hour and were off again, coming back with quite a few marbled groupers.  Andrew was very impressed with Kahlil’s catch; not only did he get the biggest fish, but he did it on a Hawaiian sling.

We met on the beach just before sunset so the boys could cook their catch, while Ashee and I brought in some other dishes for our potluck dinner.  The boys were really pleased with their fish dinner.

The kids sat around the fire chatting and the adults relaxed a few feet away when Andrew had the brilliant idea (according to the kids) that he should let off all our old, expired flares that we can’t get rid of.  Don’t worry, there were no accidents.  Most of the flares worked fine, a smoke and parachute didn’t work but the kids all know how to use a flare if it is ever necessary.  Although you really want a boat or plane to be pretty near you when you set it off as they really don’t last long.

Kahlil with a branch covered in vines, Tristan setting off flares and Andrew reading the instructions on how to use them.

They look a little spooky, don’t they?

Hauone Island – 15/7/2021

Our next stop was at a little lone island inside the atoll which was supposed to have good snorkelling.  I did not go snorkelling, but Andrew and Tristan and the Distant Star crew did.  The water visibility was not good and there wasn’t a lot of interest to see under the water.  They did visit the island which has a lot of nesting birds including boobies, and pretty shells.  We decided to continue while we had sunlight to get through the maze of coral awaiting us ahead.

Maufano Motu – 15 – 16/7/2021

Our next stop was Maufano Motu.  We spent two nights here with the wind howling and frequent rain, some of it torrential.  Luka and the kids went ashore which turned out to be a difficult challenge as there is no easy way through the coral bommies and there were areas where they had to lift the dinghy. They managed to amuse themselves for the afternoon, but we have decided to return to Toaroa Motu where there is easy beach access and the boys maybe able to do some spearfishing.

Overall impression of the Tuamotus?

Underwhelming! Why?   

I had spent ages researching dive spots and finding their co-ordinates and which atolls we would visit.  What I didn’t consider was the ability to dive the sites from a dinghy.  Most of the dive sites are in the passes or on the outside of the atolls.  This means you must dive on slack tide and while we were in the Tuamotus there was a lot of wind, waves and swell which directly affects the when the high and low tides were (which is not necessarily the predicted times) and this makes passe diving difficult and dangerous. So, we didn’t do as much diving as we would have liked, it was definitely easier diving the south passee in Fakarava than diving in Rangiroa.  So that aspect was disappointing. Perhaps later in the year, without the trade winds blowing so strongly, the diving would be easier to manage.

The coral really wasn’t that great.  The best we saw was on either side of the south pass in Fakarava, outside the Kauehi atoll and the coral gardens in Rangiroa.  The corals are mainly brown, yellowish- green with the occasional purplish area but there are no vibrant colours.  We didn’t see in clownfish, but we did see a lot of sharks.

The other thing we hadn’t anticipated was how strong the trade winds are at this time of year which meant we were frequently stuck for a week or more in places waiting for the winds to die down, so unfortunately, we spent far longer than we had planned in the Tuamotus.

In hindsight I think we should have spent a bit longer at Fakarava, maybe stopped at Kauehi and called the Tuamotus done.