La Réunion!

Trou de Fer gorge after spiralling from the bottom to the top in the best helicopter ride ever!!

Trou de Fer gorge after spiralling from the bottom to the top in the best helicopter ride ever!!

A reunion on la Réunion

Well it sounds good and we did have a reunion of sorts, spending plenty of time with the other ARC yachties eating fabulous bread and croissants, drinking vin blanc, eating (again) at superb restaurants in the capital Fort Denis, and exploring the famous cirques and pitons.

A helicopter ride around the cirques and volcanos was an absolute highlight. What more can I say - it’s the one place I think you forget the cost and just do it. The highlight of the helicopter journey is decidedly the Trou de Fer. The helicopter whooshes up over a mountain and then dives down ,entering through a narrow pass into a gorge about 300 meters deep between two cirques. The bottom is a flowing river, the sides are green clad rock walls and then the helicopter spirals up and around and around the most stunning waterfall - the Trou de Fer waterfall. It is beyond any doubt absolutely worth it!

More below….

Although, I also particularly loved Piton de la Fournaise (and the surrounding area), a 2,632m volcano that is one of the most active in the world, and, Hell-Bourg, within the Cirque de Salize, with its mountain vistas, forest walks, and stunning waterfalls, and not to forget (yes, again) the excellent food! The other highlight was the crazy winding road to Cilaos that I thought would never end. Cilaos is a spa town in the central Cirque de Cilaos, a forested, rugged caldera towered over by the Piton des Neiges, the island’s highest peak. It is wonderous to stand in the cirques and slowly take a 360 turn showing just how small you are and just how beautiful it is to be surrounded by a circle of mountains.

Speaking of roads; we also drove alongside the new, nearly 8 mile, multi billion dollar stretch of highway currently being built out over the water. Impressive, and France's most expensive road no less!

Others went paragliding and canyoning and horse riding which made me think that this is a place very like my homeland NZ; it’s all about the outdoors and making the most of that. The only shame of it is that there have been so many shark attacks over recent years that it is only safe to swim in one area inside the reef (at Plage de l'Hermitage). Mind you, the coral and snorkelling was pretty good and it wasn’t far from the marina so no real complaints there either!

Short hop to Reunion

Despite the fact that I had sworn to fly on from Mauritius, as soon as I landed it was like childbirth - I decided to go back and do it again!! After all it was only a short overnight hop to Reunion Island so it couldn’t be that bad could it?

After a quad-religious blessing for safe seas and fair winds from the local Iman, Buddhist Priest, and Catholic Priest in Mauritius we were happy to say our farewells to Mauritius. First a sail-by and salute to the vessel ‘Barracuda’ that had rescued Karren, before headed out with a good weather window ahead.

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First light in La Reunion

First light in La Reunion

With Jenny gone, we had offered frenchman Victor, one of the ARC organisers, a lift. This was great - we got french lessons all the way. Not the slow and drawn out “La-Ray-un-i-on,” that I had been practicing, but a very short and squashed together “lrenyon!” (Well that’s the best I can do with how to spell it phonetically.)

However not so great was my decision, given it was a short trip, to try some new seasickness pills. That was a total disaster. I was so violently ill it was ridiculous and I’d have been better taking nothing. Oh well, that ones a no-go then.

Good times, and back to the drawing board!

Coming into port in Reunion in the early morning light was not only ‘pretty as a picture,’ but gave us plenty of time to check in and sort out a few minor boat jobs. It wasn’t long before all the other ARC boats were in, and we were being treated to more spectacular entertainment, with colourfully dancers performing in the local style for us at the marina while we shared some yummy local food and of course, being on a French island, some excellent French wine with our yachtie friends. A great start to this stop!

Remote on Rodrigues

We had hoped to stop in Rodrigues Island en route to Mauritius, however with the gale as it was, we decided to pass by. Determined to get there though, it meant a flight from Mauritius - and yes, it was definitely worth it.

With a colourful market place to buy some goodies and lovely colonial buildings dotted around the capital, Port Mathurin was a good place to start exploring this small volcanic island. Add to this many beautiful coastal walks and forested hilltop hikes and views, St John’s church (in the pics) with its intriguing architecture, and friendly people taking their time about life - no stress lines here!

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I think he was smiling at me!

I think he was smiling at me!

But for me the absolute highlight was, of course, the Francois Leguat Giant Tortoise and Cave Reserve. Forget the caves, I’m here for the tortoises. And tortoises there were - about 1200 of them (they’re numbered so they keep track) - from giant old dames to rock-like babies. I was in tortoise heaven and I wasn’t leaving any time soon. I mean, just look at that face!! Do you blame me?

The guides in the reserve are a mine of information as you walk the 2 km path through the gorge - how you tell the different sexes (flatter shell, shorter tail), how the ground temperature affects the sex of the babies forming inside the eggs (warmer = girls, cooler = boys), the age of the different tortoises, what they eat (grasses, leaves, some invertebrates) and so forth.

And if you are really interested in the tortoises, read on below the pics………

The reserve is a huge step forward in conservation on the island. Rodrigues is one of the most devastated places on earth and there is much barren land, however, the reserve has brought 20 hectares back to its former glory - removing invasive introduced species of plants and planting and reintroducing natives - many of them rare. Additionally they are reintroducing key animal species into the area. Hopefully with the success of this reserve more of the island will get the same treatment.

When French and Dutch settlers arrived it was said you could walk a mile on top of the tortoises without putting your feet on the ground - they were prolific, but they were slow and they were huge, which meant humans, along with introduced pigs and rats, plundered the tortoises and their eggs until they became extinct like the famous dodo.

The tortoises you see are sadly not the original inhabitants, but close relatives that fill the same important ecological role as their predecessors eating native plants and spreading seeds and so forth. Only about 10 years ago the first tortoises were brought here, now there are 650 Radiated and 600 Aldabra tortoises (hopefully more since I visited) and all the young tortoises we saw were born in the reserve. The aim of the reserve is to have over 1,000 adult tortoises of each species roaming freely in the restored native forest.

You can check out more on the reserve’s website here.

Magical Mauritius

We had eight days in Mauritius and spent most of them exploring.

After exploring the colourful capital - Port Louis (above) I hiked as far as my feet would take me - maybe not just because I loved hiking, but because I was so happy to be alive! I hiked the spectacular walk to the top of Le Pouce (The Thumb) spotting monkeys en route; dragged the crew to hike the Seven Cascades, which was of course great for swimming, and getting a fish pedicure au naturel; also dragged them to the Black River Gorge which was great for views and some more monkey spotting; climbed the much photographed and stunning Le Morne at the south of the island; and scrambled up Piton Canot in the superb Ebony Forest Reserve with Jenny in tow (reality check: Jenny with me in tow)!

Not only did we hike, we hunted for the extinct dodo bird - just in case, sampled the most wonderful foods so far, learned about, and tasted, rum and sugar at the factories, toured and swam the beaches of the island, visited temples and received a blessing, and between this and boat repairs and servicing!

A special note to the 300 year old botanic Gardens, with its famous pond of giant lilies - at 90 years old and still blooming beautifully, it is worth a visit even if, like me, you’re not normally a botanic gardens type.

We just loved the rich Mauritian culture and friendly people from multiple religions living in peace and harmony. Testament to this, the day before we set sail to Reunion, a local Iman, Buddhist, Hindi, and Catholic Priest are coming to the marina to bless the boats and our journey in a combined ceremony, complete with chinese dragon dancing and, I’m sure, of course - more delicious food!

Now for the pics…..

A watery day at the Seven Cascades…. including a fishy foot pedicure au naturel!

The Thumb (La Pouce) and Petit Canot with Jenny (who does it better?)

Temples and blessings

Black River Gorges and scenic views from Le Morne

The beaches and water….

Botanic gardens and the lilies, rum factory displays and tastings!

From Heaven to Hell!

Matt and Jenny - long term sailing friends reunited

Matt and Jenny - long term sailing friends reunited

I was excited to meet our next crew member, Olympic gold medallist Jenny Armstrong! She was joining us for the 2450 nm leg across to Mauritius. Departing Cocos we had a fair lack of wind and slow start - but that was soon to change!

We were told we would get trade winds the whole way which we did, but we didn’t expect gales on eight of the 12 days with waves up to 15 meters and wind gusting well over 50 knots. This was no fun at all!

It wasn’t the wind strength that was the issue but the diabolical sea conditions with ground swell from the Southern Ocean mixed in with trade wind swell and waves, and, often a northwesterly swell from a weather event in the higher latitudes, meaning a very confused seaway.

Easy departure from Cocos….

Easy departure from Cocos….

For days I was as sick as is possible - I vomited more than you can imagine, and once all the bile had gone it was unbelievably horrendous. I swore that this was it; no more legs of this journey at sea for me - I was taking a plane out of Mauritius! I remember lying, more than once, thinking that if I was given the choice of a pleasant death right now I’d probably take it. Then the little voice in my head would say, ‘but what about your kids,’ and even though they would be left without any parents if I did die, I was still thinking death was a good option!

Day by day we ticked off the days to arrival. Jenny and Matt were nothing short of amazing - both experienced in high seas as well as the Olympics, and both incredible to watch at the helm from what felt like my deathbed. (I really did think we were going to die a nasty death at times - they thought this was funny when I told them once landed safely in Mauritius.)

Starting to rough up

Starting to rough up

Each day we radioed on the net to the other ARC yachts to ensure all was well. It was from this we heard that one of the crew, Karren, on another yacht had had an accident hitting her head leaving her almost unconscious, certainly not terribly conscious, and unable to do anything other than lie with her eyes closed. We did not think this was going to end well, but there was nothing anyone could do with a long way to go and seas far too rough to try and move crew from one yacht to another. Radio support was provided by medics on one of the yachts and the Mauritius Coast Guard was contacted. They duly sent a vessel to medivac Karren but it was four days before they could reach her and when they did the seas were still too rough to evacuate her from the yacht until the following day. She was taken to the hospital in Rodrigues Island, where she was well cared for by the wonderful local people. Although it’s impossible to describe the conditions, you can see a (dramatic) video made by the Mauritius Police Force National Coast Guard here.
(Update: Fortunately, after a stint in hospital and recovery time back in the UK, Karren made a full recovery and was back sailing in the new year!)

No pics from when it really got going - I was laid flat!

I’ve never been so glad to see land in my life - our first sight of the islands off Mauritius was, I thought at the time, the best moment of my life.

I’ll also never forget the deliciously spicy smell and the sound of drums as we came along the coast in the dark. Greeted by the Coast Guard checking who we were near the harbour entrance, we were soon happily berthed at the marina - and I got to step foot on land again!!!

Nothing could have made me happier than that - although it was pretty good to know we were the first ARC boat to arrive as well!

First sight of Mauritius as the sun sets, and the crew arrive safely on land!

On to Cocos Keeling

A few more days of easy sailing and healthy trade winds meant we could relax a little before we found ourselves in that kind of place that Pacific Island dreams are made of - except it’s the Indian!

The Cocos Keeling Islands are that dream place with a spectacular lagoon of azure blue, white sand beaches, palms swaying in the breeze, clear water full of turtles and colourful fish, and smiling people that greet you wherever you go. Pictures speak louder than words……..

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Cocos Keeling, another Australian territory in the Indian Ocean, is regarded by many as Australia’s cheapest aircraft carrier – it had a fascinating part to play in WWI, with the HMAS Sydney sinking the German ship Emden off Direction island. It is history that is worth a read, and a walk around direction island gives the full story on information boards; you can read about it here.

Lazy days were spent on Direction Island’s Cossies Beach (recently crowned the Best Beach in Australia) snorkelling ‘the rip,’ a fantastic safe drift ride , full of beautifully coloured fish, corals, reef sharks, huge wrasse and parrot-fish to name a few, and, snorkelling the incredible coral gardens near our anchorage.

We also took a trip with a local guide Geoff, who took us across to the uninhabited Horsburgh Island, introduced us to some pretty intense sharks, and best of all made it possible for me to experience snorkelling a wreck - a great treat for someone whose ears mean that they will never get to dive a wreck!

Love these little guys

Love these little guys

Snorkelling the wreck

Snorkelling the wreck

Coral everywhere

Coral everywhere

Sunset brought out the BBQ food and beers and plenty of swapping of tales at sea ensued. It was great to have the time to start to get to know some of the other people on the rally. The BBQ area was adorned with yachtie memorabilia - a testament to those that had sailed the Indian Ocean before us, and not only an idyllic location, but also a fitting scene for our sundowners.

We spent plenty of time on West Island, learning about the coconut production and trade, visiting the local clam farm, buying tasteful souvenirs in the best art gallery ever (see the pics below), playing golf on the crazy course shared with the airport runway, exploring the island on scooters, kayaking to other islands, and eating and drinking with the most wonderful local people at their cafe and pizza house.

The Art Gallery inside and out - and beautiful creations made with flotsam and jetsam!

Motorised Kayaks - great for exploring the uninhabited islands

Motorised Kayaks - great for exploring the uninhabited islands

Finally, we got to Home Island where we could explore and visit Oceana House, the Clunies-Ross family’s ancestral home. The Clunies-Ross family were original settlers to the island and ruled the islands as a private fiefdom for almost 150 years until the territory was transferred to Australia in 1955. It was pretty interesting hearing about these larger than life characters - including how one of them kept his women on the very small Prisoner Island where they could not be touched!

One thing that shocked us was the amount of plastic that washes up on Direction Island. Much of it comes direct from Indonesia and sadly accumulates on this beautiful strip of land, where in places it is heartbreakingly deep. We all found it quite distressing and it certainly hardened our resolve to do what we could to reduce the use and waste of plastic in our daily living on the boat and at home.

Rubbish on Direction Island

Rubbish on Direction Island

No Christmas at Christmas

Aurora Polaris heading into Christmas Island

Aurora Polaris heading into Christmas Island

As Christmas Island loomed in the distance, I spied another yacht coming in from the south and making ground as fast as us. It was Aurora Polaris - our new friends from Norway! That got the competitive spirit rolling and we raced them in - coming in literally neck and neck to Flying Fish Cove.

Having been to Christmas Island before, and knowing we weren’t stopping for long, I wanted to make sure he rest of the crew had a good look at this amazing island, which along with Cocos Keeling is in my top five favourite places in Australia! Unfortunately most Australians associate the island with asylum seekers and detention centers. Now asylum seekers no longer arrive, and the island can regain its fame for its nature - most specifically the great migration of the red crabs.

Snorkelling around the boat

Snorkelling around the boat

The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming and snorkelling, checking in, replenishing stores, and a few other boat checks and jobs, before we had a great BBQ on the waterfront with some of the friendliest local Australians you’ll meet. However, the next morning, after the obligatory swim and snorkel - with dolphins joining us I might add, a hire car was ready and waiting for us to get exploring!

Unfortunately the annual crab migration was not this month (more usually November or December) however there were still plenty of these wonderful forest crabs to be seen, along with the blue crabs, and the (sometimes huge) robber crabs as we hiked the forests. Our first stop and walk led us to ‘The Blowholes’ and views of the wild and rugged volcanic coastline. Easy to while away a few hours here watching the sea pound away at the island and then at the nearby Margaret Knoll lookout spotting the brown boobies with their big webbed feet!

Next was some forest wetland walking in ‘The Dales,’ the most important walk being to the only permanent waterfall on the island - the Hughs Dale Waterfall walk. We spotted hundreds of blue crabs interspersed with red and robber crabs amongst giant Tahitian coconut trees, in the beautiful and somewhat Avatar-like forest en route to the falls. We were glad of a refreshing swim as the heat was building - and hey - we' are swimmers after all, so ‘in the water’ is our favourite past-time!

Nicky copped it!

Nicky copped it!

Magnificent wild and rugged coastline at The Blowholes!

Magnificent wild and rugged coastline at The Blowholes!

The Grotto

The Grotto

More walks and views were had that day, before heading to the final stop pre-dinner and drinks, the Grotto. This is an island gem - a short walk brings you to a rugged cave entrance where a crystal clear blue pool awaits. Sea surges can add a bit of excitement as it does have an exit to the sea but it’s totally safe and totally refreshing being mostly freshwater. It’s hard to drag yourself away, but then, dinner awaits.

More of the same the next day, early morning snorkelling, walking a few ks through spectacular forest to the beautiful rugged Dolly Beach complete with coconuts ripe for the eating and a reef break enabling a cooling swim. More walking and more swimming at the Grotto. We felt the last thing we should do before we left (all too soon) was to stop at the Ma Chor Nui Nui temple, a small temple facing the ocean built by the local Chinese for the Goddess of seafarers, "Ma Chor," to protect those traveling out at sea for a safe journey to and from the Island. Here’s hoping we are well protected!

Walking The Dales

Walking The Dales

Jurassic Park-like walk to Dollys Beach

Jurassic Park-like walk to Dollys Beach

Matt and Nicky cooling off in the Hughs Dale Waterfall

Matt and Nicky cooling off in the Hughs Dale Waterfall

ARC yachts in Flying Fish Cove

ARC yachts in Flying Fish Cove

Dollys Beach

Dollys Beach

And just a final reminder from our friends at Christmas Island……

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Scary Seas, Flying Fish & Flying Dolphins!

Before hitting the Strait - ARC boats head to Christmas Island

Before hitting the Strait - ARC boats head to Christmas Island

It was good to get moving across the Indian Ocean, but first we had to battle Lombok Strait. All was calm as we headed out of Lombok with the other ARC yachts, but that was short-lived. Soon I found myself gripping on for dear life as we hit the strait. With an eight knot current behind us and around 20 knots blowing from the other direction, we found ourselves doing up to 15 knots upwind in waves that were like nothing Matt had ever experienced – and that’s after 18 Bass Strait crossings. We were effectively sailing in surf, with waves that were not only high but were breaking over the deck as Matt angled the boat beam onto the waves. I was scared - simple as that! All were quiet and sitting tight as Matt got us through the churning mess of a seaway; I have to say, much as it may be delightful normally, it’s a little off-putting when you look up and see a dolphin flying through the air from the top of a wave that is well above your height, before you slam down into the next trough..

ARC boats set off from Gili Gede

ARC boats set off from Gili Gede

Fortunately, after an hour or two of that we got out into deeper water and the seas calmed, enabling us to start riding the trade winds to Christmas Island. I just wish I’d had my camera with me to capture some of that craziness - but such is life.

The rest of the journey was a fairly uneventful few days, with rig and deck checks morning and evening, and our daily morning ritual of counting the unfortunate ‘road-kill’ (flying fish and squid that misjudged and ended up on our deck instead of back in the water). Delight at watching occasional dolphins and wonderment at the feats of the flying fish as they leapt away from the boat. An occasional highlight of a potentially boring night-shift was to be hit by a flying fish in the cockpit. We even had one fly right through the little window in the head and straight into the bowl of the loo! Poor little guys.

Matt still very focussed after the Strait

Matt still very focussed after the Strait

After getting out of the rough stuff; still a bit of a swell!

After getting out of the rough stuff; still a bit of a swell!

Flying fish (underside)

Flying fish (underside)

Flying fish (topside)

Flying fish (topside)

The Notorious Lombok Strait

Matt doing his nightly rig check

Matt doing his nightly rig check

Darwin was the place we theoretically joined the World Arc boats. We had a great night meeting with an eclectic group of sailors from around the world - Norway, UK, USA, Switzerland, France, and now us Aussies (and Kiwi), but had to leave before them to get Matt to Indonesia to catch a flight to a business meeting in Europe.

First we had to cross the Timor Sea and get through the notorious Lombok Strait. Wind was light in reaching conditions most of the way, but we had a group of pilot whales join us at one point, oil rigs to avoid, and a few other highlights to entertain us, otherwise it was fairly uneventful - until we got to the Strait in the middle of the night.

The first thing we realised was that the charted markers on land were generally not to be seen, then we started to notice the current we had been warned about pick up….. and up….. and before we knew it we were in an 8 knot current and having to put the motor on and move to stick close to the dark and unmarked shore where it was down to three knots on the nose!

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Hazardous?? Yes. But this is where Matt comes into his own and with a few hours of his expert helmsmanship, we were through and able to anchor up in clam waters to wait for the morning light.

It seemed to be only minutes before a constant buzzing getting increasingly louder woke me. On raising my head I found the boat surrounded by a literal swarm of hundreds of what I called ‘spider boats’ heading at us and around us, and back to shore - it was the friendly fishermen returning from their nights work.

After enjoying the morning spectacle we headed into Gili Gede island and the local marina there, negotiating pearl farms en route.

The amount of litter around in both the water and on land was extreme, which was very off-putting, but it was interesting to look around the islands all the same.

For us, the biggest issue during our visit was the lack of organisation with immigration at the marina - the promised immigration clearance didn’t eventuate and to cut a long story short, by the time it did, Matt didn’t get to make his flight to Europe.

However, the extra time was spent getting to know some of the ARC rally team and other yachties in the marina over a few rowdy nights, and as we were in Lombok shortly after the earthquake, we managed a bit of tripping around the island and neighbouring Lombok where we could see the devastation, but also put a bit of much-needed money into the economy.

(A few pics below of the local market and island life. )

Yachts in the marina on Gili Gede

Yachts in the marina on Gili Gede

Fishermen heading home in the early morning

Fishermen heading home in the early morning

Darwin, Waterfalls, and Crafty Crocodiles!

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33 years!!!

Sometimes you don’t want to go back to a place because you want to remember it as it was - Id never gone back to the Northern Territory where I had the most amazing year ever living in ‘the outback’ with a short stint in Darwin. But here I was 33 years later and it was just fine. Things didn’t seem to have changed dramatically - there were skyscrapers now, and a suburb at Mandorah, which used to be bushland, but visiting old haunts like Fannie Bay and Casuarina beach wasn’t too stressful and a night at the yacht club was a great way to re-live some of the sunset memories.

Between engine servicing and a few boat fixes, like replacing the Raymarine chartplotters in the cockpit - kudos to Raymarine with their ‘no issues in getting that covered under warranty’ attitude, we managed to do some major provisioning. What seemed like hundreds of packets of favourite Aussie foods arrived at the boat - making the most of online shopping and delivery while we could - and got stacked and stored away. I have to say we are really lucky in having a Dufour in terms of storage. There is so much storage space it’s almost ridiculous - although some might object to my removing the wine racks from the wine cellar and turning it into a food cellar instead! Of course we also had to go get a new tender and outboard - one that didn’t make us croc bait - not that we were going to be in crocodile country again but hey…!

Just a termite mound!

Just a termite mound!

Finally we got to do a bit of exploring. I was pretty keen to get to Litchfield National Park because that didn’t even exist when I lived here. Kakadu did, and I was lucky enough to live out that way for a while, but Litchfield came into being in 1986 through an inspiring initiation by the Townsend family who used to have the lease of this ‘cattle country.’ You wouldn’t know it now - it is a magnificent showcase of what can be achieved in a relatively short time.

The park has it all! Swimming (yes you got me right there) under glorious spring-fed waterfalls and in crystal clear swimming holes, walking trails through the bush, and other cool things like the amazing magnetic termite mounds, a great 4wd track to the Tjaynera Falls, as well as a dash of historic ruins! What an amazing time - we walked and swam our legs off visiting many water holes via many trails as you can see from the pics!

4wd in our ‘not quite 4wd’ vehicle to Tjaynera Falls!

4wd in our ‘not quite 4wd’ vehicle to Tjaynera Falls!

Tjaynera Falls swimming hole

Tjaynera Falls swimming hole

Chilling at  Tjaynera Falls

Chilling at Tjaynera Falls

Buley Pools - a stunning series of river pools

Buley Pools - a stunning series of river pools

Florence Falls

Florence Falls

Wangi Falls pool

Wangi Falls pool

Matt and Nicky under the Wangi falls

Matt and Nicky under the Wangi falls

Spectacular view into the never never from the loop walk at Wangi Falls

Spectacular view into the never never from the loop walk at Wangi Falls

A few days later, we found ourselves at Berry Springs - closer to Darwin it was only 50k to go for a swim this time! Well so we thought. Wouldn’t that be our luck. On arrival at these unbelievably beautiful (and gorgeous swimming) springs we were greeted with this……..

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Yep sure enough - just our luck, a crafty salty croc, probably knowing easy bait could be here, had arrived the day before and they hadn’t managed to remove it yet. And if you want to know what we were missing out on, just take a look….oh well, that’s life in the Territory!!

Berry Springs

Berry Springs

The Green Sea - the Arafura!

Doesn’t show it - but the sea is green!

Doesn’t show it - but the sea is green!

It’s actually green!

Wed been told the sea changed colour int he Arafura - but we didn’t realise how much it changed - it’s really quite dramatic.

The Arafura is the sea between Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Australia, and is 800 miles long and 350 miles wide but is only between 50-80m deep (165 to 265 feet).

The coolest thing, and sadly i have no pics, is that crayfish (ike lobsters) actually migrate across the sea by just walking (apparently in single file) across the seabed!

From here to Darwin we had a daily visit that we thoroughly enjoyed - that of the Australian Border Patrol. The first day they flew low over us presumably to sight who was on board and the vessel name, soon after we received the call and provided requisite information - number on board, where we were heading, ports of call, any suspicious activity and so forth. The second day we couldn’t see the plane, nly hear it, but the call arrived nevertheless - they clearly have some hi tech gear on board. Each day we provided the same report. Nice to know the waters are well patrolled up here!

By day…

By day…

And by night….

And by night….

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The next stopping spot was in an isolated bay at the top end of the country in Garig Gunak Barlu National Park. We pulled into the beautiful Seven Spirit Bay - complete with hideaway resort which has no road access. Following a beautiful sunset, BBQ and requisite beers on the back of the boat with the only other yacht in the bay, and a bit of croc spotting with the spotlight, we had a calm and easy night.

 
Victoria Settlement

Victoria Settlement

Victoria Settlement

Victoria Settlement

Wandering into Black Point settlement

Wandering into Black Point settlement

Up early the next morning, we headed to Port Essington - an inlet and historic site further around the peninsula. There we got into our croc bait tiny tender to head to shore to the Victoria Settlement - ruins of an attempt by the British to settle the area. Landing on the beach we realise that just along the beach at the far end is a nice big salty croc sunning himself, presumably before swishing off to find stupid people in small tenders heading to their yacht!!

However, the settlement was a fascinating place to wander with a series of ruins from single mens and family housing to the hospital and grain store, battery and so forth. Even better when we finally decided ot head ‘home’ we managed to get back to the boat unscathed with croc presumably having found something better to do with himself.

Another quick stop on the opposite side of the inlet found us wandering the unappetizingly-named ‘Black Point,’ however it is in fact resplendent with white beaches and beautiful 'desert-type’ bush. We enjoyed poking around in the small museum and information centre on the area we found there. We didn’t find many people as access to this area by land is a long journey through Arnhem Land and is rarely visited.

Black Point - not so black!

Black Point - not so black!

Influencer from Black Point

Influencer from Black Point

Ready for Darwin!!

Ready for Darwin!!

From there, timing our run with the tides and getting it right for the strong currents ahead, we had an early night and early rising to get ourselves past Melville Island, and into Darwin (cleanly shaven of course)! Darwin has a famously big tidal range of up to 7-8 meters causing complex and strong currents in the area. Cullen Bay Marina, where we were stopping, is the only marina in the area that can be accessed in all tides, via its lock system. This was our first experience on the boat in a lock so we were all hands on deck to ensure the boat didn’t get damaged going through. Needless to say, all went well and we were soon berthed in a lovely marina complex, ready to explore Australia’s ‘top end’ and find a bigger tender!!

Into the lock

Into the lock

Rob, Matt and Michelle keeping the walls at bay!

Rob, Matt and Michelle keeping the walls at bay!

Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday Islands

Sunset from Horn island

Sunset from Horn island

Around Cape York and onto Horn Island - the stopping point to get to Thursday Island…. and Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday islands. I’m just not sure what happened to Monday Island! We passed Tuesday and Wednesday Islands en route to Horn, and after some tricky dogleg manoeuvres in the channel, were happily anchored for the night by sunset - and a magnificent tropical one it was too!

Passing Wednesday Island

Passing Wednesday Island

The next morning saw us on our new (tiny) tender getting to shore to get the ferry across to Thursday Island, me protesting trying all four in one trip and that we needed to be careful because of crocodiles. Fortunately my seeming over-concern was validated, when a local lady, also waiting for the ferry, told us that five crocs were living between our boat and the ferry jetty and that a big one had taken four dogs in the last few weeks! Thank you, you’re welcome guys!

Thursday Island (or TI if you’re a local) surprised us all. What a gem. The people (a mix of Torres Strait Islanders, Australian Aborigines, and European) really are wonderful. I’m not one for people and culture - give me animals any time, but I can genuinely say that this lot made an impression, the thing that astounded us all was the incredible respect they all seemed to have for each other, for us, for their homes, for their township - we all noticed it. We were lucky to find John who took us on a tour of the island - all 3.5 square kilometers of it. It sure had packed in a bit of history on its shores over time though. We were lucky enough to get to the museum at the old Battery - the highest point on the island. There we could see all sorts from the Japanese pearling days, the war, the local indigenous people, and shipping - including the disasters. We saw local fishing stands in the water, the Japanese grave site. (TI was not bombed during World War II, probably because of it being the burial place of many Japanese pearl shell divers, or, that the Japanese thought there were still Japanese people living here. However, Horn Island (right next door) was bombed to bits!

 
The locals swim - I didn’t! looking back to horn island

The locals swim - I didn’t! looking back to horn island

Top of the island at the battery

Top of the island at the battery

original beacon in the museum

original beacon in the museum

japanese Pearling suit

japanese Pearling suit

Northern Most pub in Australia - the torres hotel. Cheers!

Northern Most pub in Australia - the torres hotel. Cheers!

After a fun time, we felt it obligatory to have a drink (and food) at the most northern pub in Australia, the Torres Hotel - just to get bragging rights of course!

 
 

To the Top - via the Lizard!

Rob hooked the dinner

Rob hooked the dinner

Matt arrived back and we threw off the ropes two hours later, complete with new crew Michelle. As soon as we were clear of the channel, the line was in and five minutes later we had a tuna in the pot. The start of a good overnight run to Lizard Island. On anchoring we found we had some big fish and small sharks to contend with. As soon as we identified they were not tiger sharks but lemon sharks, and there were no crocodiles, we were all in the water, knowing this was the last swimming spot until we got to Indonesia!

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Away from those lemon sharks and big batfish there was plenty of easy snorkelling to be had.

Away from those lemon sharks and big batfish there was plenty of easy snorkelling to be had.

It was Wednesday night and that meant tapas night at the staff bar of the local resort. Beauty!! After meeting a few interesting yachties, and a few beers later all was going well, until, we decided to head home.

Talk about drama - the tender was not to be seen - not a sign of it. Frantic running to the headland, grabbing of another tender and spotlight to search - all in vain. It was absolutely gone - one tender, one engine and whatever else was on board. Disaster - this was not a place that you could just go get a new one. One heck of a damper to the spirit of the boat.

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Two windy grotty days followed with us making arrangements with a yacht (Mad Monkey) from the ARC to bring a new tender and engine to Lizard with them. Luckily Matt had one bar on his phone to arrange purchase - nobody else did.

Fortunately the next day brought with it clear blue skies and no wind. After a trip up the mast for Matt to check the rig, another yacht took us ashore and we got to explore the incredibly beautiful island at last. Interesting bush and flowers, marshland, estuary, white sandy beaches, hilltops and rocks, and a small airport runway with conveniently placed chairs to boot.

A few pics below give the idea - amusingly you can fly here and then take your pick of accommodation - the full on resort, or, camping in the National Park. That’s it - no other options.

Sundowners on the beach, sausies on the barbie, two enormous whales putting on a sunset display, and the news Mad Monkey would be with us the next day, finished the day off nicely.

Meeting team Mad Monkey (Helen, Mark and son Josh taking a gap-2 years) was wonderful, despite us heading off soon afterward. They were the first ARC boat we had met. And of course we are forever grateful for their assistance!

Matt in his happy place

Matt in his happy place

With the spinnaker up we made good speed until nightfall when having taken the inland channel toward Cape York, we lost the wind completely and ended up motoring for six hours. That was the calm before… well not quite a storm, but 25 knots and a very very messy seaway with a short chop and waves over the cockpit. I ended up prone - but not vomiting! Breakfast - one mango iceblock, morning tea - one mango iceblock, lunch - one mango iceblock………

Through the saloon window

Through the saloon window

Little reef islands dot the seas all the way to the Cape

Little reef islands dot the seas all the way to the Cape

Cape York being the northernmost point of mainland Australia, and our next stop, Hope Island, being not too far away, we had plenty to celebrate.

We’d made it - to the top!!

Celebratory photo at the top of Australia!

Celebratory photo at the top of Australia!

Marlin Marina @ Cairns

There are a few choices for a marina in Cairns but we opted for the ‘right in town’ one given we were going to be there for two weeks. The Marlin marina, replete with baby to super yachts, has all the facilities you could want, plus some of the best restaurants in town overlooking the marina. A short stroll away is the esplanade and little heliport, and the town center. Helicopters, fireworks, dining and sunsets all at hand. Too easy!

Just your average marina sunset!

Just your average marina sunset!

Romance on the Esplanade

Romance on the Esplanade

Taking day trippers to the reef - a busy spot!

Taking day trippers to the reef - a busy spot!

Fireworks in the harbour - a regular event.

Fireworks in the harbour - a regular event.

Escape to the Country!

With Matt still in Sydney and the boat jobs mostly done (read good fun jobs like cleaning the bilge and battery area) it was time for me to get a car and escape to the country. Mostly I needed to swim - and you can’t swim here - unless you like being crocodile breakfast.

Magical swimming holes and waterfalls surround Cairns along with the Atherton Tablelands

First stop - Josephine Falls. A heavenly chill in the water and sooo good to be swimming in fresh water again. I then headed on to exotic and romantic sounding places like Millaa Millaa falls, Zillie Falls, Fairy Falls, Crystal Falls……all in parks - some a few minutes walk and others an hour or two from the road - but all beautiful in their own way.

Josephine Falls

Josephine Falls

Ellinjaa Falls - Just a touch of romance!

Ellinjaa Falls - Just a touch of romance!

Millaa Millaa Falls

Millaa Millaa Falls

Silver Crook Falls en Route to the Nandroya Falls

Silver Crook Falls en Route to the Nandroya Falls

Driving to the Tablelands

Driving to the Tablelands

En route to the Tablelands

En route to the Tablelands

Day 2 found me headed north to the Cape - Cape Tribulation. I knew I was in my kind of place as soon as I got going out of town; stunning coastline scenery, signs warning of ferocious crocodiles, car ferries across the river, and roadhouse-like pit stops all reminding me of my misspent youth (but a heap of fun) in the Northern Territory those many years ago. Cape Trib has its share of beautiful beaches but not ones I’d be game to swim in, with the very real danger of being eaten by a crocodile or stung by killer box jellyfish.

Fortunately, once again, there are the odd croc-free swimming holes in freshwater rivers that kept me cool.

Car ferry to Cape Trib. Plenty of crocs round here!

Car ferry to Cape Trib. Plenty of crocs round here!

Cape Trib beach - beautiful, but no swimming

Cape Trib beach - beautiful, but no swimming

And if you’re getting hungry, like I was, and the menu looks like this……

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……….……. it’d be bad form not to at least have a smoothie. Agree?

And then to top it all off, and I will have to admit to lingering here a while, I bypassed the river tours to see crocodiles (having lived in croc country many years ago) and stopped at the Daintree Ice Cream Company. Oh what bliss - yellow sapote, jackfruit, mango, coconut…….. heaven in a tub! Of course the reason I had to try them all was so I could experience first hand the flavours of the fruits you see if you take the very informative walking tour of the orchards!

I wanted more time here but the boat is calling and I must go - food to be purchased and all that!

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Fabulous Fitzroy

Welcome Bay

Welcome Bay

In Cairns for a two-week pit stop while Matt flies back for the Sydney Boat Show, but, just to make sure we were all chill first, we had to stop at Cairn’s little island gem - Fitzroy Island - for a bit of RnR.

Anchoring in Welcome Bay - nice name right - its a quick hop in the tender to the beach and the start of a great (read energetic) 2-3 hour round island walk - taking in the top of the island which gives brilliant 360 views. You can make a loop walk out of it by then heading to the old lighthouse. Nobody complained at all (I lie)! I do highly recommend it, but you know I like a bit of a walk.

Off to the Lighthouse….

Off to the Lighthouse….

It’s not that far guys!

It’s not that far guys!

Near the top! Skipper starting to look a bit like he’s been at sea a while!

Near the top! Skipper starting to look a bit like he’s been at sea a while!

Great views on the way up (or down) over Welcome Bay. Your Welcome!

Great views on the way up (or down) over Welcome Bay. Your Welcome!

Heading to Nudey Beach

Heading to Nudey Beach

Nudey Beach

Nudey Beach

After that we couldn’t not do the walk to Nudey Beach or the Secret Garden. The names are enough, and they are both short little jaunts that repay you with plenty of beauty. After all that activity we felt we deserved the sunset drinks at the bar in Welcome Bay - and all cheers to the skipper that got us here to the end of the first leg of our journey!

I guess its what you call a tropical sunset.

I guess its what you call a tropical sunset.

Cheers Skipper!

Cheers Skipper!

Cairns - just around the corner.

Cairns - just around the corner.

Whitehaven - definitely White!

What can I say? Its as white as they say and the views are as beautiful as they say! It’s ‘the’ famous Whitehaven beach!

Whitehaven Beach

Whitehaven Beach

After an uneventful overnight sail from the Percys, arriving at Turtle Bay on Whitsunday Island at about 5am, to find ourselves in a big swell with the wind in the wrong direction, so a couple of motoring hours later we were anchored at Whitehaven beach and taking a well deserved swim. (We thought so anyway!)

Refreshed and ready to take on the world, we decided it was a good idea to take the tender up the inlet.

It wasn’t.

The tidal flow was too strong for us to make much headway so we ended up just floating back down the inlet - all good fun though. After flying the drone for a bit, and walking up to the lookout for the view, along with the three boat loads that had just arrived, it was time to head back to the boat to ensure it didn’t ground with the tide going out rapidly.

The tender was now high and dry and the four of us had to sweat it across the beach carrying the tender and its heavy engine. It must have been a bit of a laugh for onlookers!

After that little effort, we clearly deserved to lay in the sun for an hour or so. It’s amazing how four people can spread out on this boat and all have their own space - one up the front on the bow, one in the cockpit, me on one side, and another on the backboard. Snoozing came easy!

Nicky and I anchored up at Whitehaven

Nicky and I anchored up at Whitehaven

Amusing when that water all disappeared and we had to carry it the whole way!

Amusing when that water all disappeared and we had to carry it the whole way!

Late afternoon was good for me - we headed to Nara Inlet on Hook Island, with its very skinny little entrance. As we were motoring, I got to navigate and take the helm the whole way. For me, the newbie sailor, this was fantastic!

At the helm!

At the helm!

Just in case you forgot what it looked like!

Just in case you forgot what it looked like!

Crazy Middle Percy Island

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This is a crazy place: a crazy yacht club; crazy signposts, crazy people (maybe), and crazy beautiful. Its a real favourite already and probably going to stay that way.

After having to can a planned stop at Lady Musgrave, we took an unplanned stop instead at Middle Percy Island. Only accessible by boat, we were not alone but didn’t care. Arriving at sunset, we managed our second swim of the trip and probably about our second shower too!!

As the morning (bird) chorus got going, so did we. Taking the tender to shore the first thing you are magnetically drawn to is a fascinating structure dubbed the Middle Percy Yacht Club - a Robinson Crusoe like affair where there must be a buoy, or flag, sign or piece of equipment from virtually every boat that’s ever landed there. It’s an absolutely fascinating time waster.

 
Matt & Rob feeling at home.

Matt & Rob feeling at home.

Percy Island Yacht Club - you could spend hours!!!

Percy Island Yacht Club - you could spend hours!!!

Stuff and more stuff

Stuff and more stuff

Nicky in her element!

Nicky in her element!

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Matt had sailed here in his youth and knew there was a homestead somewhere so we took to the track we could see and began our ascent through beautiful forest, complemented by plenty of kangaroos, wallabies, wild goats, parakeets and cockatoos. With the aid of amusing signposting, we eventually found our way to the Homestead, where an eccentric older English couple live. Only the wife appeared, alongside the welcoming party of goats and peacocks and dogs, in her mildly tatty clothes – and gave us a run-down on the more recent history of the island and ownership. It seems there’s been plenty of drama, but here they live and eke out a survival.

Unfortunately by the time we got back to the beach it was dead low tide and we couldn’t go exploring in the tender up the lagoon as planned. A real shame as apparently at high tide it’s just beautiful. Matthew Flinders inscription on a nearby rock indicates that “it is one of the prettiest places he’s ever seen.” However, it was still beautiful at low tide and the beach and swimming more than made up for it!

Onward to the Whitsundays!

 
Gone but still beautiful

Gone but still beautiful

Plans are made to be broken

Change in plan 1.

Mooloolaba at sunrise

Mooloolaba at sunrise

Day 5: We decided we were a bit low on fuel to get into the reef and islands. There’s been so little wind we had to motor most of the way. So we decided to go to Mooloolaba, attempted to go in up the channel and it was just too shallow for our boat. So we had to get into the tender and luckily Matt had a friend Cassie living nearby and she came in her old car – we needed an old car not a new car. We took all the jerries in on the tender and she took Matt to fill them. We did two runs and now are back on the way with plenty of fuel to keep us going in this no wind / light wind weather!

Bonuses of our unplanned stop in Mooloolaba: We got to see a pretty little harbour with lots of lovely yachts and a gorgeous sunrise – we arrived just at first light. We also got to meet Cassie and have her onboard as our first visitor on the boat on the trip! Good on you Cassie.

MAtt and cassie - our saviour in mooloolaba

MAtt and cassie - our saviour in mooloolaba

Change in Plan 2.

Day 6: Yesterday we went into Lady Musgrave but the weather had turned to rubbish and it was crowded and so we decided to get out. Bonuses of skipping the plan: Not sure - but we did see so many whales and dolphins it was ridiculous, and we may have missed them if we stopped!

Change in Plan 3.

Day 7: Unplanned stop in Middle Percy - which turned out to be a real favourite. Having not stopped at Lady Musgrave we made a stop at Middle Percy Island, which you can only visit by yacht. Now that was maybe the bonus of not stopping at Lady Musgrave. Its a real favourite, so more on it later!

Fuel stop and a bit of fun stop

Fuel stop and a bit of fun stop

 What next?

On the matter of plans being made to be broken. This can totally be applied to the whole trip.

The trip will take us around the world starting from Sydney Australia, eventually taking us back to Sydney Australia (missing my homeland NZ on the way :-( if we don’t change the plan)!

Sydney to Cairns, Cairns to Darwin, to Indonesia, to Christmas Island and Cocos Keeling Islands…… across the Indian Ocean (the first long long sea voyage) to Rodriguez Island (if the weather allows) before we get to Mauritius, a day sail to Reunion, from there skirting the bottom of Madagascar to the east coast of South Africa, then hopping around the South African coast to Cape Town.

Theoretically from there we go to St Helena, to Brazil, and then up to the Caribbean. However, there are a few options, Namibia before St Helena – reports are looking good, from a sailing perspective (everyone knows from the land aspect it’s an awesome country).

Then in the Atlantic around the equatorial area, there is Fernando De Noronha – a part of Brazil, as well as French Guiana and the Salvation Islands (the home of Papillon ) just north of Brazil – two possible stopping options.

Then we hit the Caribbean with its myriad of island and countries – 26 countries and numerous territories. I doubt we will get to visit them all, however Im sure we will visit quite a few.

Lets see what plans we break!!

Calamity in the night

not a great shot but wonderful to watch!

not a great shot but wonderful to watch!

Straight from my diary… the story of Day 3!!

13 July – Day 2

Whales at sunrise, and a beautiful mother and baby whale at sunset. An uneventful day otherwise, just heading up the coast motor sailing. Finally got into great winds in the evening and are powering through it.

All going well so far…..

14 July – Day 3 @ 4am

At 2am Matt and I were on shift and literally just saying ‘if we keep going at this rate we will be in Queensland tonight.’ And then BAM!!!  

We hit something, soon realising it was a crab pot. Dismay, and annoyance, as according to the charts, there are not meant to be any in this area at this time of year.  I am listening to it now – there are at least three buoys on the line and it’s got us fair and square. We managed to hook the line up with the boathook and cut the pot away. Then spent the last the last couple of hours trying to get the line and buoys off – but we couldn’t. Its stuck on the rudder and we think the keel.

Matt called the Coast Guard in Coffs Harbour to arrange a tow in, and let them know that we’ll probably need a diver to clear it. The concern now is that these buoys are bashing away at the boat – it’s just ‘bang, bang, bang, constantly. With the current and this happening we are having to go slowly – but the damage is what we are worried about – damage to the hull maybe, but definitely to the propeller or rudder or whatever it’s caught around. Real bad luck that we managed to sail straight over the one illegal crab pot around!

The Culprits!!

The Culprits!!


So as you can see - only our second night and not a good night!!

We’d rung Marine Rescue expecting to have to be towed in, but as it turned out, there was a very wide entrance and the wind was gentle and at just the right angle to let us simply sail in. That was good!

The rest of that dark night we’d been envisioning all sorts of nasty scenarios – like needing a new propeller and rudder and being stuck in Coffs Harbour a few weeks! However, we got in, we anchored, and…. brilliant news! All it took was to whip off the buoys and net stuck around the rudder - and absolutely no damage!!! Pheww!

I have to shout out to the Coffs Harbour Marine Rescue who were fantastic. They were ready and waiting for us if we needed the tow, had called divers, and waited to make sure all was well with us before leaving. Kudos to them!

We couldn’t leave without taking our first (very much celebratory) swim. That over, we got on our way to a day of lots of whales, a shark, lots of motoring because there wasn’t much wind, but otherwise a completely uneventful day. We couldn’t be happier!

Coffs Harbour Marine Rescue - Ready to assist!

Coffs Harbour Marine Rescue - Ready to assist!