Vanuatu

Already the arrival in Vanuatu was special… I had the early morning shift and was the first to see Aneityum in the morning dawn. Three dolphins welcomed Mirabella at sunrise. And just to top this perfect setting I heard a strange noise, turned around and just saw the back of a whale disappear next to Mirabella’s port side… it was a mixture between shock and excitment. I don’t need to see the whales THAT CLOSE… but anyway… I thought ” hello Vanuatu, I think I already like you”

So we anchored in this beautiful bay between Aneityum and Mystery Island. We stayed a few days and met very friendly people like Roslyn for example who was a teacher at the local school. But as one can only clear in in Aneityum when a cruise ship is there, we did not want to stress the goodwill of the local police and moved on to Port Resolution in Tanna. We timed our arrival there together with Ubejane, our South African friends. They were coming from Fidji and we were all looking forward to see them again. Last time we had been together was in Opua in November. It was already getting dark when Ubejane arrived at the anchorage but it was perfect time for dinner. They had caught a nice tuna and came on our boat to share it with us. The girls were happy to see Noah and Samuel again.

The next morning two officers from Lenakel had come over to clear us in. The kids enjoyed playing together in the garden of the yacht club and later on we walked to the beautiful village to look if we could find some bread. We found the bakery (a small hut with a big wood fired oven) but all the bread was gone already. We ordered some for the next day and Leah, the friendly lady from the local restaurant, offered to pick it up for us. The village was made of beautiful hand built huts with pandanus leaf roofs and nicely arranged gardens and paths. But there was no electricity, no running water . The village shares 5 water tabs. Even Leah in her small restaurant has to fill water in bottles at one of the tabs. She has a small two flame gas stove in her kitchen. Normally the people cook on an open fire on the floor in one corner of the hut. They grow most of their food like taro and yams roots on their own.

Of course we wanted to see the volcano and Saturday seemed to be a good day for it. We left Port Resolution at 3 p.m. and the kids were very excited. The road was bumpy, narrow and not easy to drive on. Thank god we did not have to drive on our own… We arrived at the Visitor center and were welcomed by the chief and a local dance ceremony. After getting permission by the chief, some last safety instructions and a short drive we were ready to climb the last peak up to the crater…

To stand at the rim of the crater and look down into the boiling lava was really impressive and also a little bit scary. When there was a bigger burst you could feel the heat and smell the sulfur.

Mount Yasur, Tanna

Mother nature’s fireworks – very impressive
More fireworks later on our cruise through Vanuatu – fireshow in Mele Beach Bar in Efate

Port Resolution – a beautiful village

After our trip to the volcano, we continued towards Efate, the most developed island of the Vanuatu group. We were waiting for an engine sparepart to be sent to Efate and we hoped to speed up the process a bit by being present. That did not really work out and we missed our weather window to sail to Pentecost and see the last land diving of the season together with our friends from ZIGZAG. So we spent a few days in Port Vila experiencing Vanuatu “city life”… the girls loved scootering up and down the seafront promenade together with the boys from UBEJANE while we enjoyed the delicious coffee in Nambawan Cafe. We visited the Vanuatu National Museum where Edgar explained us many interesting things about different customs in Vanuatu and we saw the most stunning fire show at the Mele Beach Bar together with QUINCO.

On the images below some impressions of our visit in the Vanuatu National Museum with Edgar. While telling a story he draws these beautiful pictures in the sand in one run.

Vanuatu National Museum in Port Vila, Efate

Market in Port Vila, Efate

We moved on to Lelepa Island where we wanted to catch up with our friends from UBEJANE and fell in love with that small beautiful island. The water was cristal clear and Ruben (one of the chiefs) and his wife Esther were very friendly. UBEJANE went back to Port Vila und we just wanted to move on when QUINCO turned up. What a nice surprise! Of course we stayed and shared the magic of this island with them.

Ĺelepa Island

After a few days we left Lelepa island to meet up with ZIGZAG in Loltong, Northern Pentecost. As they had already been to Vanuatu they had contacts from their last visit and got invited to a local wedding. Of course we did not want to miss that opportunity. In addition we wanted to celebrate with ZIGZAG Irene’s birthday.

Compared to the lonely Lelepa Island, Loltong was something completely different…. Whenever we stepped on land we were surrounded by kids. The Nakamal was the center of the village and of course the weddings were celebrated just nearby. (“Nakamal” is a traditional meeting place in Vanuatu. It is used for gatherings, ceremonies and the drinking of kava. A Nakamal is found in every significant community but design and traditions can vary).

A wedding in Vanuatu is not a one day celebration. There are numerous ceremonies like for example the exchange of the payment, the bride moving out of he8r former home and all her belongings being brought to the ceremony place and of course the actual wedding ceremony. Three couples were getting married and the ceremonies had already started the day before with a special snake dance. On our arrival day it was “payment day”. An uncountable number of woven red mats (typical for Penthecost area) were exchanged as payment between fhe families of the three brides and grooms. They will be stored at home and can be used as payment for special ceremonies or school fees for example.

The following day, Irene from ZIGZAG, the kids and me joined a group of local women to walk to the next village and pick up Diane, one of the brides. All her belongings were piled up in front of her house and another ceremony with exchange of many red mats followed. After that, we all walked together with Diane to the main square in front of the Nakamal where 30 pigs were waiting. She then waited patiently on a mat with all her belongings piled up behind her until the other two brides arrived from their villages. To make a long story short… we thought there would be a wedding ceremony with some custom dance and music, but either we missed it or it did not happen. But nevertheless it was very interesting for us to see.

Irene and Georg from ZIGZAG introduced us to their friends and day by day we got to know more people. It was so interesting for us to get more insight in their every day life. André and Georg built a swing for the kids and tried to fix some solar panel connections. But it turned out that the battery was dead. On the National children day we had the opportunity to visit a boarding school and attend their special ” slow food” programm. The students were divided in groups and they had to prepare traditional dishes.

The kids of Loltong
The two swing engineers…
Mathilda and Munduru are enjoying the new swing

Slow food Vanuatu style…

Life is hard when you are a chicken in Loltong…

Wedding ceremony Vanuatu style

We felt quite at home and found always a reason to stay. At the end we planned to celebrate Independence Day in Laone and then move on to Maewo the next day. Many of the locals were looking for a ride to Laone to attend the celebrations. So we had a few guests on board… most of them had never been on a sailing boat before and were very excited. The main attraction was a football game between two local teams…

Independence Day in Laone

The next day we sailed to Asanvari, a beautiful little village on Maewo island. As there were stronger winds predicted for the next few days we just stayed one night and then moved on to Lolowai, on Ambae island, where we should have enough protection. It was one of the most beautiful anchorages we had on our trip so far.

Ambae is the emergent portion of Vanuatu’s largest Volcano which rises 1’496m above sea level and 3’900m above the sea floor. On September 28, 2017, after a week of increasing volcanic activity to Level 4 (level 5 being a major eruption), the government of Vanuatu ordered a complete evacuation of the island. Many people were brought to the neighbour island Maewo. Many of them have returned as soon as the alert level had dropped to start recovering their homes. But who knows when they have to leave again? Definitely not an easy life…. We spent a few days there together with ZIGZAG waiting until the wind calmed down.

As soon as the wind forecast was good, we sailed to Peterson Bay , Espiritu Santo. Our friends from QUINCO were already waiting there for us. It is a fantastic place. There are two blue holes, where you can paddel to from the anchorage: the Matevulu Blue Hole and the Riri Blue Hole. We paddled with our Kajaks to the Matevulu Blue Hole and it was simply magical! The kids had great fun in jumping into the cristal clear blue water and so did we.

Within a short dinghy ride there was the Turtle Bay Lodge, where we could bring our laundry, have a nice meal and the kids were even allowed to use the pool. Another day we were invited by a local family for lunch at their beach. In the meantime our sparepart for the engine had arrived and André therefore flew to Efate to get it while I did some provisioning. We had not seen a shop since Port Vila and needed to stock up a bit… After coming back André went on a dive trip in Lougainville to see the wreck of SS President Coolidge while QUINCO was already sailing north to Lonnoc beach. A few days later we celebrated there Maya’s 8th birthday. A few days later the anchorage filled with kids boat… ZIGZAG, BRAVE and FAMILY CIRCUS had arrived and now it was Noah’s turn to celebrate his birthday. What a party with so many kids!!! Next day we headed out with three dinghys to a nice dive spot while the kids were playing on the beach. We had a great dive with our friends. How fortunate we are to explore the underwater world on our own… these are the big advantages of our cruising life. One of the disadvantages is for sure the goodbyes and I probably will never get used to them. In the evening we had to say goodbye to our friends from ZIGZAG not knowing if we are gonna see each other again. They were heading to the Banks islands and then to Solomon islands while we wanted to go to the Louisiades in Papua New Guinea.

We were working hard on our friends from QUINCO to join us to the Louisiades but we finally gave up and enjoyed our remaining time in their good company on a buoy in Aore island resort, doing last provisionings for the passage to the Louisiades. One day we will sit together again somewhere in this world, play Skipbo and have a good laugh.

Dolphins in Lolowai, Ambae
Our beautiful anchorage in Lolowai, Ambae
Matavulu Blue Hole on the island Espiritu Santo
The beautiful waterway to Riri Blue Hole

Impressions of André’s wreck dive in Lougainville, Santo – SS President Coolidge

Lonnoc Beach
We will miss these guys… Anna & Mario from Quinco

After three unforgettable months it was time to move on. Byebye Vanuatu… you are incredible!

Sydney to New Caledonia

It was very difficult for us to leave Sydney… not only because the good weather windows to sail up the east coast were rare but most of all because we really loved this beautiful city and had such a good time there.

Goodbye got a bit easier, when Dean and his family decided to come and see us in Port Stephens over their Easter holiday… so we left Sydney harbour with a silent promise in our hearts to be back some day.

To make things easier with four adults and four kids on board for Easter we wanted to book a berth in a marina instead of anchoring. So André got a quote of 140 AU$ per day in the Marina of Port Stephens. André wrote to the Marina manager, thanks for the offer and told him that we were on a circumnavigation and this was way over our budget. The answer of the Manager was very short: “Having been in this position myself a few years ago, how about 50$ a day?” What a nice gesture, we did not really expect that he would lower the price! But of course we accepted that deal.

The Anchorage Marina in Port Stephens is very well maintained and set in beautiful surroundings just next to a nice beach and a small playground with BBQ facilities. It turned out to be the perfect choice for our Easter weekend with Dean, Karen and their two girls. But before our friends were joining us we did a beautiful hike to the Tomaree lookout. What a beautiful view on the coastline and Nelson bay. We spent unforgettable Easter days together with our Sydney friends and explored Fingal Bay together. Of course saying goodbye was not easy… thank you Karen, Dean, Emily and Hannah for a wonderful time. We will miss you and hope to see you again on your next holiday in Switzerland.

Beautiful beach just next to Anchorage marina in Port Stephens

We left Nelson bay and had a good passage to Southport. At sunrise, just off the coast of Byron Bay we caught a yellowfin tuna. André wrote an instagram post and we received a prompt comment from our Swiss friends from BAJKA : “We can see you😊 we will come for dinner!” They were staying on the campsite of Byron Bay and took our lines in Southport Marina in the afternoon. Jaël and Amina were of course very excited to see their friends Nael and Illian again.

Ela, Lukas and the boys stayed with us for three nights. The kids enjoyed the great playground and Lukas helped André with the installation of our new stove. Then we had to say goodbye, as they were heading back to Sydney. Next time we will see each other back home in Switzerland. We have sailed all the way from Niue to New Zealand together, the kids went to school in Opua and even after they had sold their boat we managed to meet again in Christchurch, Sydney and Southport. We are looking forward to catch up with them back home in Switzerland someday!

We moved to a beautiful anchorage next to South Stradbroke Island. In the evenings the kangaroos were coming to the beach and one afternoon Jaël, Amina and me went on a mission to see some kangaroos close and to find out what their traces looked like.

We spent our time waiting for a good weather window to New Caledonia and did a lot of provisioning. Unfortunately the good weather window did let us wait a bit too long. Normally Dean from Brisbane (a good friend of Karin), wanted to join us for the passage to Noumea. He and his family are getting ready to go on a sailing adventure next year and he would have loved to join us to get more experience in longer passages! But his business was calling… he had to fly to China instead of sailing with us to New Caledonia. We spent a beautiful weekend together with them and Dean took us to an amazing wildlife park where the kids could feed kangaroos and pet koalas.

Finally we left on Amina’s Birthday. We celebrated a day in advance as we already knew it was gonna be an upwind passage. We had to go quite a bit south to make it more comfortable. Jaël stayed in the cockpit every day of this passage. She was afraid to get seasick if she would watch a movie downstairs in the cabin. So they were listening to Kasperli, Globi and fairytale stories in the cockpit. After seven days we arrived at nighttime in Nouméa.

Place des cocotiers – Nouméa

Of course we enjoyed the French flair of New Caledonia. A slice of crispy baguette with a little bit of salted butter, a croissant or a pain au chocolat is hard to beat and makes the crew happy. Also the beautiful market with delicious fresh fish, huge selection of vegetables and herbs were like paradise for the chef of the galley and added a bit of a Mediterranean touch.

We met old friends again, like Jon Petter, Ingrid and Karen-Marie from the Norwegian boat VILJA and Pam and Eric from Pieds-à-mer, which we have not seen since Opua. And we also made a couple of new friends, like Jenni and Neil from SORTIE, TOREA V – an Australian family with 4 kids, ZIG ZAG – a German boat with three kids and QUINCO – an Australian boat with one girl, same age as Jaël. Jaël and Amina enjoyed playing on the pontoon together with Mia, Noah and Lino from ZIG ZAG and Karen Marie from VILJA.

We sailed to Île des Pins and did a beautiful hike together with TOREA V.. Afterwards on the beach VILJA and ZIG ZAG, who had just arrived joined. After a few days we headed back to Nouméa as our new Genoa sail was meant to arrive. ZiG ZAG moved already on to Vanuatu. We promised to keep in touch and to meet in Vanuatu again.

Sydney – a dream has come true

We have had a good passage so far… except the last one or two days, where we had strong current against us and increasing winds. Everyone was looking forward to arrive in Sydney and finally after seven days we could see the city lights in the distance…

We knew that we would arrive at night and were told by the Australian Border Force to grab the quarantine buoy in Watson’s Bay and then come to Neutral Bay for clearance the next morning. It was a short night… we were too excited to go to sleep and of course had to celebrate our arrival.

Next morning we motored towards Neutral Bay (which is before the Harbour Bridge) but we could simply not resist doing an extra loop passing the Opera House and going under the Harbour Bridge. There were a lot of “Aaaaah’s” and “Ooohs” until Marco saw a black speed boat coming with a few very official looking guys on board. ” I think they are coming to us” So we turned down the music and put on our serious faces. It actually was the Australian Border Force. ” We were looking for you! We were waiting for you in Neutral Bay!” one of them said. “Aha… Neutral Bay is in that direction? Ok… we are coming right away!” André said. The officer just smiled and said “See you there in 20 minutes!” Of course they knew that we knew were Neutral Bay was….

After the usual clearance procedures we were waiting for the biosecurity check. After about two hours a guy came to our boat, he looked at our Swiss flag and took a picture. Then he greeted in Swiss German and came on board. He introduced himself as Franz Odermatt from Stans in Switzerland. He immigrated 20 years ago as a baker. Of course he spotted the Nespresso machine and accepted with a smile our offer for a coffee. It was strange to sail all that way to Sydney and then be checked by someone speaking strong Swiss dialect from Central Switzerland. After having paid 400 Australian Dollars for a large bag of rubbish, we were ready to go… Sydney here we come.

For the first three nights we had booked a berth in Rushcutter’s Bay Marina but then we wanted to move to a more affordable place. We soon realized that Sydney is not very cruiser friendly. There are just a few anchorages – but all too shallow for us . There are some pink buoys, where you are allowed to stay 24 hours, but how do you want to go sightseeing in town, when there is no dinghy dock around? To make a long story short – after about one week and three Mirabella harbour cruises, André found an affordable mooring in Cammeray marina. It is run by Calvin, a very friendly and helpful guy, who had done a similar sailing adventure with his family. Jaël and Amina made friends with two local geese, who came to our boat every morning.

We had a wonderful time in Sydney! We celebrated André’s birthday, did a lot of sightseeing and caught up with friends from André’s Sydney time. Dean and Karen, who have two daughters of similar age as Jaël and Amina were of course the perfect match. We had a pleasant Sunday sail to Watson’s bay with them, celebrated Emily’s birthday together, enjoyed a delicious dinner in Dean and Karen’s favourite Libanese restaurant and visited them at their home. Some other friends, Tim and Rachelle, who learned sailing in Sydney Harbour together with André back in the old days, flew to Sydney to visit us. We spent a beautiful weekend in Manly beach with them. And to make things even better, our BAJKA friends flew to Sydney as well and we visited Taronga Zoo together.

Getting ready for the passage to Sydney

After an early wake up call we got on the bus to Christchurch Airport and took our flight to Auckland. From there we took the bus downtown to the Central Bus station and changed there to the bus, which would bring us to Opua in a 4 hours drive. It was a long journey with a lot of luggage – we still carried all the stuff from our Switzerland holiday with us – but Jaël and Amina did extremely well.

Mirabella was still in the shed but we wanted to be back on time to see how she looked like and to be able to react if there were any problems. Therefore we had booked an AirBnB in Opua just a little bit uphill from the school. Our hosts Terry and Jocelyn gave us a warm welcome with cool drinks on their beautiful terrace. The kids felt at home immediately… there was a trampoline and a huge box of lego on the terrace and Terry had put fresh corn on the cob and chocolates in our fridge… what else could they wish for!

Next day it was time to go and have a look at Mirabella… wow… what a beauty she was again! The guys from Bluefix had done a fantastic job! Now just the antifouling had to be done and then she would look like new. André decided that this was the right place to do it properly and scratch and sand first all the 20 layers of old antifouling off. A gruesome job. To reduce the costs he worked on it as well.

So it took a little longer than we thought and thanks to Terry and Jocelyn, who are the most generous and friendly people you could imagine, we could extend our stay. Terry helped us out whenever we needed a ride to Paihia or Kerikeri. He took us to beautiful Matauri bay on a Sunday, baked a cake with the girls and invited us often to join one of his deliciuosly cooked dinners on the beautiful terrace.

Finally, after about two weeks, Mirabella got out of the shed, got her mast back on and we could move on the boat again. We were all happy to be back in our floating home and unpack our bags. Since beginning of December we had been living out of them. Jaël and Amina had to be very patient until they could unpack the lego they had got for Christmas. You can imagine what they did first…

The following days we spent getting Mirabella back into ship shape. André sent the anchor chain to Whangarei to regalvanize it, as some parts were a bit rusty and we got a custom made welded reinforcement for our pushpitt, as it had always been a bit wobbly since we had upgraded from a 6 PS to a 20 PS motor.

Camilla, who wanted to join us for the passage to Sydney, arrived and helped us with the boatjobs. Marco, who originally wanted to visit us in Sydney, flew to New Zealand instead, to join us for the passage as well…. quite an adventurous thing for someone without sailing experience. In between last provisioning and boatjobs we also enjoyed more beautiful hikes and celebrated Waitangi day on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. We invited Terry and Jocelyn for dinner on our boat and Jaël and Amina were very proud to finally show them our boat.

Towards the end of February there was finally a good weather window for the passage to Sydney but – our anchor chain was still in Whangarei… The weather window would not last much longer. If we waited until the chain got delivered to Opua we would not be able to leave on time and would have to wait for another window. So we asked Terry , if he could drive André to Whangarei. Although he had a lot of work he drove André to Whangarei to pick up the anchor chain. Thank you Terry! The 28th of February we checked out of New Zealand. Jocelyn, her mom Hine and Terry came down to the marina to say goodbye . They brought us cakes, grapes and a Kiwi bag full of chips etc.

Bye bye New Zealand – this was one of the hardest goodbyes. We have been to many beautiful places on our journey, but this was different. Thank you to all the friendly people we have met, especially in the marina, in Opua school and in Paihia Waitangi Kindergarten. Thank you for making New Zealand such a special place! We will be back one day!

Beach cleaning mission
Ready to go…

More landlegs… touring the South Island

Lake Pukaki with Mount Cook

After two days in Auckland we flew to Christchurch. We had booked a beautiful Airbnb in New Brighton. It was the perfect choice to relax a little bit after the eventful weeks in Switzerland and the long flight back to New Zealand. It was a tiny little house with a small garden (with BBQ). Within short walking distance there was the beach and a huge playground with waterplays. Amina and Jaël of course loved it!

Then our two weeks campervan trip began… Amina and Jaël had been longing for this already for a long time. Especially because we would meet our friends (and former neighbours) Barbara and Michi with her two girls Flurina and Seraina, both best friends of Jaël and Amina. They were on a sabbatical and had already spent three months touring Australia. In January they were now flying to New Zealand, to explore the South and North Island for the following three months. The plan was to meet them near Akaroa a few days later and then cruise together for about a week until we would have to head back to Christchchurch.

But the first few days we were on our own. We wanted to visit Hanmer Springs. On the way we passed the vinery Waiau River Estate and we could not resist… we enjoyed a glass of Sauvignon blanc and stayed there over night between the grapevines.

Next day we drove to Hanmer Springs. We stopped at a fantastic camping ground with beautiful walks through the woods just nearby. The Hanmer Springs Thermal bath is beautifully set in a park. There are different rock pools with different water temperatures, a kids pool with waterslides and also a kids area with watergames. You can even picnic on the green. This thermal bath was very different from the ones we knew in Switzerland, where it is usually more an “adult’s only” thing.

We continued to Kaikoura where we were hoping to see some seals. Just when we were having a sundowner at the wharf, enjoying the spectacular view over the bay a guy pulled in with his motor boat. André took the lines and helped him and we started talking. Gary had worked for many years as a ski teacher in Verbier. He offered to take us out with his boat the next morning to see the seals. We arranged to meet at nine o’clock the next day and helped him to get the motorboat out of the water on his trailer. Just before he left, he asked if we had had dinner already. We said “no” and he grabbed a fish out of his cooler and gave it to us. How generous! We had a delicious dinner and saw the seals from very close the next day. We were even invited for coffee at Gary’s place after the boat trip. Thank you Gary and Lynn! You completely made our day!

Beautiful Kaikoura

On our way back to Christchurch we wanted to do a short lunch stop in the middle of nowhere. Shortly after we had stopped two cars pulled in: in the first car there was future crew Camilla, who will join us for the passage to Sydney. She had just seen us, as she was driving by in the opposite direction. The second car was a guy in a pickup. He got out of his car, laid under it and started some serious looking repair works. After a while he threw the drive shaft in his pickup. Apparently his four wheel drive car had now turned into a two wheel drive car only. Before the guy left again he asked us, if we like crayfish… grabbed in a big cool box and gave us a big crayfish. We fried it in the pan right away, there in the middle of nowhere.

We waited for Barbara, Michi and the girls on an idyllic camping ground on the peninsula of Akaroa. Amina and Jaël were completely excited… they had last seen their friends end of August 2017 a few days before we left Switzerland and now we where together in New Zealand. We had a wonderful evening all together.

We drove on a narrow small street to Akaroa the next day. There was a sign “Not suitable for campervans” at the beginning of the road. The road was quite curvy and steep. But the views on the peninsula were breathtaking! We just really hoped that no car would come from the other side as there was no room to cross. Luckily there was no other car and we made it to the bigger road without any problems. But after all we agreed with the sign: “definitely not suitable for campervans”.

Akaroa is a tidy little town with French colonial background. Today many street names and a bakery with delicious baguette remind of that historical background. As the forecast for the next day promised a lot of rain we decided to make some miles and head to Lake Tekapo.

View on lake Tekapo from the Mt John University Observatory

The scenery around Lake Tekapo is simply BEAUTIFUL! The turquoise color of the lake is spectacular. André and I walked up to the observatory and enjoyed the view while Jaël and Amina stayed with our friends on the campingground. We had a great time and would have loved to stay longer, but we had booked the campervan for two weeks only, so we continued to Lake Pukaki after two days. There we had to say goodbye to Barbara, Michi, Flurina and Seraina. As we wanted to see a little bit of the West Coast as well, we had to start heading back. Barbara and Michi had a much wider time frame as they booked the motor home for three months.

Two manpower watertaxi on Lake Pukaki

It was sad to go seperate ways again, but we were very thankful that it worked out so well and we were able to cruise together almost a week. On the way up the West coast we did a beautiful hike to the Fox Glacier and then continued to Hokitika and spectacular Arthur’s pass ( unfortunately with quite a bit of rain) back to Christchurch.

Fox Glacier

In Christchurch we gave back the motorhome and moved into an Airbnb and BAJKA was already waiting for us. Amina and Jaël were so happy to see their friends Nael and Iillian again. As BAJKA was already sold they were on a road trip now. The kids enjoyed the huge Margaret Mahy Playground together. Pretty much the best and biggest playground they had ever seen so far. And we enjoyed catching up with Ela and Lukas.

We all enjoyed our land trip in New Zealand. On each and every place we had stopped we could have stayed much longer. We have seen just a few places of this beautiful country – we had to make some choices. But the good thing about New Zealand is: whatever you choose, you will most likely meet friendly and open minded people and enjoy stunning sceneries. New Zealand… we will be back some day!

Landlegs… trip to Switzerland

After four hours bus ride through New Zealands beautiful North Island we arrived in Auckland. Since Panama we have not seen any city life at all. We checked in in our Air B&B and and the kids were completely excited! They had their own room with a big double bed, there was a wardrobe where they could hide in, there was a table and a small kitchen with a big fridge (with ice cubes in the freezer!) and a big bathroom with washing machine and a shower with endless warm water. You may wonder how this should be so exciting but for boat kids this is very exciting. They begged to eat dinner at our table in the Air B&B and not in a restaurant.

Next day we caught our flight to Zurich with a short stopover in Hongkong. Jaël and Amina were completely absorbed with the on board entertainment program. They were almost too busy to sleep…

We arrived in Zurich Airport very early in the morning and to our big surprise we got a warm welcome from our friend Lisa. What a beautiful surprise! She had to catch the train to go to back to Berne (it was a normal workday) but there was enough time to have a glass of Prosecco, coffee and a piece of this delicious “Welcome Mirabella” bread she had made for us.

The time in Switzerland passed very quickly. We visited our family and friends, spent a few beautiful days in Adelboden with my family in winter wonderland, went on a sledge run in Flumserberge, had Glühwein on the Christmas market and practiced our ice skating skills… we thoroughly enjoyed it. But of course it was also strange to be in all these familiar places without having our home. As our apartment is subrented while we are travelling we stayed most of the time in Küsnacht with André’s sister Karin.

Beautiful days in Adelboden
Winter Wonderland

On the 31st of December we took our flight to go back to New Zealand. It was not easy to say goodbye again not knowing when we would see our family and friends again but we were also looking forward to our next adventures.

New Zealand – Aotearoa

We made it – what a great feeling! New Zealand seemed so far away at the beginning of our journey – half around the globe – and now we were here. Unbelievable!

It was dark when we came closer to shore and there was a land breeze. It reminded me of the smell in the mountains in Switzerland on early summer evenings… a mixture of hay, damp earth and a tiny little bit of cow dung. Something just so completely different to all the places we have been before on our journey – but very much like home.

We arrived in Opua around 10 pm. We were on the early group, so we had to handle our lines by ourself. PELIZENO was the first boat of our ” Minerva Reef Club fleet” and had made it on time to be cleared in during the day. In the hours after our arrival more and more boats from the Minerva Reef Club fleet came in. It was a long night there on the quarantine dock… of course we had to celebrate our arrival in New Zealand and about every half hour there was another boat arriving… The rhum on Rougue flowed freely.

Next morning there were quiet a few boats there for customs to clear in but everything went very smooth and efficient. A friendly german speaking lady introduced herself as Monika and brought us a welcome bag with all kind of useful informations. We felt at home right away. There was a good atmosphere. In the Marina Cafe were many familiar faces . Some we had already met in French Polynesia others we knew from the Vavau Blue Water Festival in Tonga. It was so great to see so many of our friends.

To make things even better Jaël and Nael from BAJKA could start in Opua school on Friday already. We just had enough time to organise a lunchbox and black skirt and leggings for the uniform. The school was 10 min. walking distance up the hill… it simply could not be better.

There was no kindergarden in Opua but our new cruiser friends Kostya and Jenya from PONYO told us about Paihia Waitangi Kindergarten. Their daughter Michelle was enroled there and they planned to take her out to go cruising. So we tried our luck and Wil and her team were happy to enrol Amina the following week. We arranged to start slowly, as Amina had been around us all the time for the last year and was not used to be without us anymore. After a while trying we decided to bring her only in the mornings and that worked out very well. Wil, Dilmari and Mahina are doing a fantastic job there and Amina was very proud to go to Kindi.

Paihia Waitangi Kindergarden

While the kids were in school and kindergarden we started some major boat projects which had been on our to do list already for a while. Opua is certainly one of the best places for boat projects. Kiwis are very passionate sailors. Therefore you have a big chance of finding solutions for any problem you could come across on a sailboat. In addition we planned to have Mirabella repainted while we would fly to Switzerland in December and explore the South Island in a Campervan in January.

On the weekends we enjoyed beautiful hikes in the mangroves and rainforests full of fern trees. We did not see any kiwis but lots of beautiful birds like Fantails and singing Tuis. We just loved it. I think it is this mixture of stunning nature and the relaxed and friendly people that makes New Zealand so special. Wherever you go you have those special encounters with warmhearted people.

The Ponga trees (maori for fern trees) look like palm trees
View from Waitangi Treaty Grounds

We celebrated Jaël’s 7th birthday on 31.10. and all the boatkids went on a “trick or treat” tour on the numerous pontoons of the marina. On Naels Birthday two days later there was a Halloween party in school. There were always kids around in the marina and they loved to scooter around and play together. So we all enjoyed this time and almost got back our landlegs.

End of November Mirabella got hauled out and Paul, the rigger ( by the way the husband of Jaël’s teacher) took the mast down. Amina was very excited about it and told everyone in Kindi that she has to climb up a high ladder now to get on the boat.

Jaël’s 7th Birthday
Beautiful morning on the boatyard
Off we go… a lot of luggage and a long journey ahead of us

So we left Mirabella in Opua, ready for being moved into the shed for the repaint. We had packed all our warmest clothes for our Switzerland trip and Lukas from BAJKA gave us a lift on Sunday morning to the bus station. Four hours bus ride to Auckland and a long flight back home on the following day ahead of us.

Passage to New Zealand

Minerva Reef

Who would have thought that it would work out that well… there was this perfect weather window that allowed Karin to join us for the passage to New Zealand and to be on time for her flight back home. We never would have planned it that way – things just fell into place and worked out well.

Normally the passage from Tonga to New Zealand can be quite challenging as the weather forecast is usually not precise yet for the last few days on the day of departure. Therefore you might suddenly get some uncomfortable winds which were not yet predicted when leaving Tonga. Luckily there is Minerva Reef 350 nm off of Tonga and 800 nm off New Zealand. You can anchor there in the middle of nowhere , sheltered from the waves and wait, until you got a good forecast for the rest of the passage.

When leaving Ha’apai we were not sure yet if we would stop in Minerva Reef or not but strong wind and waves were building up and it seemed more pleasant to wait 3 nights in Minerva Reef until it would calm down a bit. So we anchored in this surreal place together with 10 other boats. Most of them we knew from the Vavau Bluewater Festival but also our cruising friends BAJKA and ROGUE were there.

Minerva Reef is probably the most weird and special place we ever anchored in. The wind was blowing with 25 knots but we were protected from the waves, even if we did not see any land. We spent our time with discussing the latest weather forecast, exploring the reef, baking cake, looking for some warmer clothes in the hidden treasures of the boat (as it was getting a bit chilly) and Jaël and Amina enjoyed some playtime with Nael and Ilian from BAJKA.

It is not so easy to see the reef, when you are out on the ocean
The kids enjoyed the extra playtime on Minerva reef
Our neighbours boat BAJKA
Beautiful sunset on Minerva reef
Loosing some energy
Baking chocolate cake…
Exploring the reef

On Wednesday everyone left (except one boat, which we tried to persuade that it will not get any better) as the forecast for the 800nm to go looked brilliant. We had a very good passage and arrived in Opua, Bay of Islands on Sunday night around 10 pm. It was a long night on the Quarantine dock as almost every 30 minutes there was another boat from our Minerva Reef cruising group arriving.

The following day we were astonished about how efficient, well organised and friendly everyone was. We can highly recommend Bay of Island Marina in Opua to anyone as a port of entry in New Zealand.

Land ahoy… New Zealand here we come!
Waiting for clearance on the quarantine dock next morning
Bay of Island Marina Opua

Kingdom of Tonga

After a good passage from Niue we anchored in a beautiful spot where INFINITY, ROGUE and MONKEY ISLAND were already waiting for us. We went on land to have some drinks together. ROGUE had already spent some time in Vava’u and was planning to move South the next day. Our plan was to clear in in Neiafu the next day and register us for the Vava’u Bluewater Festival as the weather forecast for the coming week did not look very promising. The whole following week would be rainy and very windy, so not really the right weather to check out the beautiful anchorages in the Vava’u island group.

As Tonga is one of the rare places where you are allowed to swim with humpback whales we where hoping to get a chance before the stormy weather aŕrives. Even for Karin who has seen a lot of underwater life this was something very special. There is of course no guarantee when you book the trip that you actually will be able to snorkel close to one of these beautiful mammals. We cruised around for quite a long time and on the first attempt the whale moved on too fast. But a little bit later we were lucky. Our guide gave us directions where to swim and we had the chance to see a mother whale with her calf just next to us… an unforgettable moment!

Swimming with the whales… beautiful….. but what if she moves now a little bit more towards us?

The cruising festival was a great thing. It was organised by a few local businesses together with New Zealands Customs , Bay of Islands and Whangarei Marina. It really made appetite for New Zealand! The organizers were all very friendly and helpful. The ladies from customs and biosecurity explained us what we had to exspect at the c-dock. They also distributed a documentation with all the necessary forms which was very useful.

One of the highlights of the festival was the visit of Hosea Primary School where the children did some beautiful singing and dancing performances. After a delicious local lunch (made by the kids parents) the kids could play together. The kids playground looked a little bit different… one of the biggest attractions was an old car with a broken window. You would never find that on a playground in Switzerland..

And of course there were also some regattas. First there was the Friday race. Light winds – perfect for us. The whole BAJKA crew was on boat. Lukas, who sailed for Switzerland at the Olympics in Sydney 2000 was our secret weapon… and we won! There was a party in the evening where we saw our friends from CHASING STARS and TODAY again who were just about to leave for Fidji. It was a fun night and great to see them again.

Next regatta was the Wednesday race… there was a lot of wind and we got slightly beaten by our challenger ZENSATION, who was second in the first race. We had a bit more healing than usual and parts of the crew were busy downstairs with bailing out the water which entered through the sink because we had forgotten to close the seacocks. What a beginners mistake…. But Lukas and André stayed calm and the finish was very tight. We were second in the monohull category and won 5 days in the Bay of Islands Marina in Opua, New Zealand for the cleanest hull – as one can see on the pictures below ;-).The last regatta was the weekly Friday race again… this time with no women and no kids on board but also with no wind and no luck ;-). All in all these races were good fun for us and it was particularly interesting to share Lukas’ knowledge and experience.

Regatta at the Blue water festival

After the cruising festival we said goodbye to INFINITY who headed towards Fidji and sailed further south to the Ha’apai Island group. We first thought that we are just staying for a short stop over and then continue towards Nuku’alofa to drop Karin off but then a perfect weather window for New Zealand started to develop! Who would have thought, that Karin would join us for this passage! We anchored on a beautiful remote island together with BAIJKA and PELIZENO, had a beautiful walk around the island on my Birthday and got ready for the passage. We would have loved to stay a bit longer, but the weather window was just too good… we could not expect anythinģ better. Goodbye Tonga – New Zealand here we come!

Niue

Once you have managed to haul out your dinghy at the pier you will discover beautiful Niue with the most friendly people you can imagine. The only place we have been so far, where you do not even have to stretch your arm out to get a ride…

You probably do not know where Niue is . To be honest we did not know much about it either. We were looking for a place where Karin could join us after her diving trip on the “French Polynesian Master” and Tonga turned out to be too complicated. So the plan was that she would meet us in Niue.

Niue is a small island in the South Pacific Ocean to the east of Tonga. It has an area of 260 square kilometres and a coastline of 64 km. It is one of the world’s largest coral island. Niue is a self-governing state in free association with New Zealand. There are about 1600 people living on the island.

BAJKA was already waiting for us in Alofi. As we haven’t seen them since Fakarava we were looking forward to catch up with them. INFINITY had arrived just a few hours before us. We had left Maupelia together and had stayed in contact on the passage. On a windless day we even managed to meet for a swim in the middle of nowhere. We wanted the kids to have some fun in the water together as we knew that the rest of the passage was going to be very windy and rainy. Karin had arrived already a day before us in Niue and had booked a room in a hotel.

The haul out lift for the dinghy was a bit unusual at the beginning but we got used to it quickly and Jaël and Amina were quite excited about this new procedure. Clearing in was very easy and uncomplicated.

Niue is known for whale watching and diving. There are beautiful caves and chasms waiting to be explored and the water is very clear. The people are very friendly and as soon as they see you walking along the street they offer you a lift. No matter you want it or not.

We hired a car and drove together with INFINITY in moderate speed (driving zigzag around the holes in the road) to the Avaiki Cave. It was a picture perfect scenery and we enjoyed a refreshing swim in the cristal clear turquoise water. Afterwards we continued to Talava Arches and had a snorkel later on in the beautiful Limu pools.

The next day we went diving and it was spectacular. Quite adventurous for a new born PADI Open water diver but all went well. We had the opportunity to dive in a cave and in a chasm. This was something completely different! We saw plenty of water snakes which we have not seen in French Polynesia at all. The visibility was outstanding. Niue is a lone island in the pacific and, being a coral island, it does not have much soil and runoff. This are key ingrediences for world class visibility.

On the anchorage we could even see whales right behind Mirabella. Once Jaël and Amina were with BAJKA in the dinghy and saw one very close. Humpback whales in the southern hemisphere spend the summer feeding down in the waters around Antarctica and thèn spend the winter migrating north past New Zealand to the tropical South Pacific for breeding – most commonly around Niue and Tonga.

We were really positively surprised by this small island and would warmly recommend it to other cruisers. For us time had come to say goodbye , next stop was Tonga, where we possibly would meet ROGUE and CHASING STARS again.

Talava Arches
Limu Pools
Avaiki Cave
Talava Arches