Merry Christmas everyone! We wish you were here with us.
Sophie anchored at Wayag, Raja Ampat, Indonesia.
Here are some pictures from our trip to Vanuatu in September and October 2014. As I reflect on our time there, I am overwhelmed by the incredible opportunity we had to connect with so many local people and so many cruisers, new and old friends. We loved sharing this special place with all of you.
Port Resolution, Tanna
Mount Yasur, Tanna
Our next stop Dillon’s Bay on the west side of Erromango. David, our local village guide took us on a hike to some nearby skull caves.
Port Vila, Efate Island
We spent a few days at Port Vila, the capital in order to provision and a little R&R.
Leo’s 10th Birthday
Hawksbill Turtle Sanctuary, Moso Island
We visited the village and local elementary school at Lamen Bay on Epi Island.
Malekula, Wala and Rano
From the Maskeleynes, we proceeded north to an anchorage just inside Wala Island, on the west coast of Malekula Island.
Our next stop north was the island of Espiritu Santo, or Santo for short. We moored at the Aore Resort for the first couple nights and then swapped to an anchorage by the Beachfront Resort in Luganville.
One of the highlights of our entire journey was visiting the Millennium Cave on Santo. IT turned out to be a much more aggressive hike than we anticipated, but we had an incredible time. The tour is run by the local village near the cave and they were well organized and professional.
Million Dollar Point
We snorkeled Million Dollar Point on Santo, where the US military dumped tons of equipment following World War II.
Our last stop around Santo was this perfect little anchorage at Oyster Island. The charts here are off a bit so according to our electronics, we anchored on land. Glad we have eyes and traveled during daylight!
Gaua and Vanua Lava
The Banks Islands are gorgeous, with some of the most Gaua. As soon as we anchored, people started paddling up looking to trade with us.
Lauren and I took the kids snorkeling on one of the healthiest reefs we saw in Vanuatu. Parts of it reminded me of the coral gardens in Tonga. We spied a pufferfish too, but he hid out in the deep shadows of the reef so we don’t have a good photo.
We had hoped to spend at least a few days on Vanua Lava and maybe stop in the Torres Islands too, but a quick check of the weather showed a perfect weather window for sailing to the Solomon’s with wind so we pulled up first thing the next morning, checked out of customs in Solar, and headed on our merry way.
Vanuatu is a stunning, magical place and we hope to go back some day. We are so thankful to have shared this time with so many wonderful cruisers and some of the most generous and welcoming local people we have ever met. It is so incredible to explore remote corners of the planet, one island at a time. Have we mentioned lately how lucky we are?
We’re halfway through a whirlwind trip through the US and I finally found some time to write an update about our last month in Fiji.
One of the best parts of cruising Sophie is the quiet family time we share, and after months of fun with friends, we welcomed the opportunity in June to transition back to our version of normal family boat life in the Mamanucas, the resort islands of southwestern Fiji. The kids focused on finishing school while Max studied for the bar exam. We played in the water, played Settlers of Catan, listened to music, made dhal, falafels and hummus, and devoured many fresh barbecued fish dinners. Although we tried to put a dent in all the fish we’ve caught, there is still a full freezer on Sophie.
We settled in at Musket Cove Resort and Yacht Club on Malolo Lailai Island, where we spent a few weeks last year. It’s as great as we remember, plus they upgraded the island bar and added new gas barbecues so it’s now possible to cook dinner without smoking yourself from head to toe. I can’t say I will miss the dirty, smoky “barbecue outfits” that our cruising friends used just for cooking to avoid contaminating their whole wardrobe, but the new grill plates won’t provide us with as much adventure or entertainment in the wind as those old wood fires did.
My sister Julie and her husband Silas joined us for the last week of June and fun at some of the local attractions. One of our other favorite is Cloud 9, a floating bar with pizza oven that is anchored on the outer reef. Jeff and Melody from DD joined us on Sophie and we cruised over for an afternoon of chillaxing in the sun, snorkeling, and jumping off the upper deck.
A fish followed Max and me around the reef. At first glance, it had looked like a shark but as it approached turned out just to be a huge waloo. I’ve never had one keep following like this one did, almost the whole way back to the platform.
This year, everyone made the big leap into the water from the upper deck. Both kids are fearless!
It was a perfect day.
We needed to prep the boat for our USA trip, but we also wanted to cruise with Julie and Silas so we opted for a quick trip to Monuriki Island, where the movie Castaway was filmed. Double Diamond joined us, turning the day into a mini Lagoon rally. Of course we all hoped to sail, but ended up with absolutely no wind so we motored across the glassy sea.
Silas had never caught a saltwater fish before, so despite our official Sophie moratorium on fishing until we freed up more room in the freezer, we trolled one line off the pole. Maybe we would catch a little tuna? That was not in the cards. Suddenly we heard the line run out over 300 feet in just a few seconds and looked back to see a huge billfish leap out of the water. I took the wheel while Jamie grabbed the pole to work the fish and 25 minutes later we landed a 100+ pound sailfish.
Jamie decided to keep the fish and give it to the local village. It was getting late in the day, so we headed for Monuriki to drop a hook, but after a quick drive by decided the lee shore wouldn’t do for the night so we moved over to Yanuya Island, anchored off the village, and went to shore with a bundle of yaqona for sevusevu.
Right before the kava started, Jamie, Jeff and one of the locals went back to Sophie to retrieve the sailfish. Several of the moms met us on the beach and instructed a pack of boys to carry it up to a clearing between some houses. After posing for photos, they laid it out on a piece of plywood and set to work.
Each family took one chunk of fish to cook for dinner, and they planned to make a communal fish stew with the head. Around 500 people live in the village, another without electricity or refrigeration. They rarely troll for fish given the expense of gasoline and instead typically use hand lines or nets to catch reef fish or small barracuda. Any bigger fish are usually sold to one of the resorts so it was a treat for them to eat one. We were just so happy to share and see all the priceless smiles.
We feel so fortunate to have had another extraordinary experience on our big adventure. The friendliness and hospitality of the villagers was overwhelming and we wish we had more days to spend there. It was hard to leave, but the ebb tide and sun going down beckoned us back to Sophie.
The next day we explored Monuriki, the uninhabited island where Castaway was filmed. A tourist boat left just after we arrived, so we ended up with the island all to ourselves.
Leo couldn’t understand why Tom Hanks didn’t just swim over to the neighboring island to be rescued.
After a lazy sail back to Musket Cove we enjoyed our last couple days with Julie, Silas and Max swimming, playing golf, and eating out by the beach. Needless to say, we loved every minute with you three in Fiji. Thanks for the incredible family time. Have I mentioned lately how very lucky we are?
I am currently writing while underway from Monuriki Island, where the movie Castaway was filmed, back to Malolo Lailai. In addition to Max, my sister Julie and her husband Silas are visiting this week so Sophie is a full and happy boat.
Over the last couple weeks we cruised northern Fiji and experienced village life. Our first stop was Rambi Island, inhabited by descendants of people from Kiribati. We stayed a few days in Albert Cove, which had a great beach and beautiful reef. We saw so many fish jumping out of the water. Even the dolphin stopped by to herd their lunch against the inside of the reef.
When we left Rambi, we had a perfect day for sailing to Mitangi, a small uninhabited island off the coast of Taveuni. Snorkeling was fabulous and I managed to remember my underwater camera this time.
We had hoped to stay overnight at Mitangi, but by the time I finished snorkeling the wind had shifted to the north and rollers were coming through the anchorage. We made a quick late afternoon decision to motor to Qamea before dark. This turned out to be a great call. We dropped the anchor at sunset in a totally protected and calm anchorage. Three other boats there left for the Lau group at first light, so we ended up being the only boat in the bay for four days.
In the morning, we dinghied in to the settlement for a sevu sevu ceremony with Moses, the chief, and met a few other people from the village.
The chief and his family welcomed us with open arms into the village and were extremely generous. They have no electricity other than a few solar chargers, and they are still waiting for government money to finish rebuilding from damage sustained in 2009 from Cyclone Mick that destroyed almost every structure on the island. Leo and Hazel had tons of fun playing with all of the kids, dogs and one of the pet pigs that had jumped over the fence of its pig pen and was running loose.
We really wanted to watch the opening game of the World Cup but that wasn’t going to happen in the village. It turns out there was a house across the bay owned by an American that had satellite TV, so the village spokesperson invited us to the caretaker’s house to watch the opening game of the World Cup. I baked some muffins to bring along.
A few local kids paddled out to Sophie to play with the kids. They loved the trampolines and jumping off the bows. The boys were so excited by our library on board that we ended up with five kids reading books in the fly bridge for a solid hour after lunch.
The next day more boys paddled out to Sophie to swim with the kids, but we were in the middle of Sophie School and it was raining, so we asked them to come back in the afternoon. A little while later Jamie went down to our room to straighten up and realized they had been under the boat the whole time, hiding from the pouring rain. Smart kids. We gave them chocolate chip cookies.
Moses, the chief, is also the pastor of the village. On Sunday he invited us to church followed by lunch with his family. The kids went to Sunday school and learned hymns in Fijian, which they sang during the service.
What an amazing meal we ate! Here is “Mama” preparing Bele leaves. Every dish was delicious. We think they fished all day Saturday to catch something big enough to host all of us. Their kindness and generosity were overwhelming.
On our last night, Mama brought the women, all the grandchildren, one of her sons, and the village spokesman to Sophie for a kava party. We made popcorn and drank several bowls full of local grog with them. It tasted slightly better than I remembered, less like dirt and more like pepper.
The kids loved eating popcorn and otter pops, and even managed to play a few videogames in my bed.
By Sophie standards this was one memorable party.
We had such a wonderful time and were sad to leave this friendly community. It was one of the most positive experiences we’ve had on our trip and inspired us to invest more time in each village we visit and get to know the families we meet.
On our way back to Savusavu we caught a lot of fish. First up, this 18 pound Mahi Mahi:
Next we snagged this little barracuda that we let go.
We were about to pull in all our lines when we caught back to back Wahoo on our port hand line, 41 and 34 pounds. We gave a big chunk of one plus both carcasses to the local village.
Needless to say, our freezer is now completely full.
After a quick provisioning run to Savusavu, we made a quick crossing along the north shore of Viti Levu and arrived a few days later to Musket Cove on Malolo Lailai, just in time for Julie and Silas’ arrival. So far this week, we’ve paddle boarded, kayaked, swam, snorkeled, caught a huge sailfish and visited Monuriki and Yanuya, but more on this in our next post. Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?
Although we could have spent the entire time sailing with the Batterberrys, we decided to do a last minute road trip on the North Island. As you may recall, we had a 7-seater Kia Carnival. And now we were doing a road trip with 8 people. Hmmmmm. Troy did an awesome engineering job using Spectra line (stronger than steel) to harness a kid car seat to the floor between the front and middle seats. We loaded up and headed south. First stop Rotorua. I have to say, from a tourist perspective, New Zealand iSites are the best. In almost every town there is a center with extremely friendly and knowledgeable helpers. Rotorua is a beautiful although touristy town that smells like rotten eggs due to geothermal activity.
We made an agreement with the kids as we first drove into town that each person could only say “It stinks!” once and then they had to keep quiet the rest of the time. The kiddies decided to save theirs and it turns out, most of them never said a word about the overwhelming sulfur smell.
We followed the NZ Frenzy guide and hiked up a nearby trail to catch a glimpse of the geyser.
Most of the attractions in this area are geothermal and the geyser was just the beginning. Our next stop was Kerosene Creek, a 90 degree stream with waterfall. It’s amazing to just drive up to a place like this, walk two minutes from the car and hop in the warm water. Wonderful!
At lunch, Jamie taught the kids a few trick shots.
Then we headed to Wai-O-Tapu, the most colorful of the local geothermal attractions. Despite the entrance fee, I highly recommend stopping here. It was amazing. We crossed narrow wooden boardwalks and paths through an active volcanic site. The colors were out of this world and these photos hardly do it justice.
The fluorescent green Devil’s Pool is surreal.
Afterwards, Maureen, Troy and I hunted down a hidden waterfall while Jamie and the kids waited by a locked gate at the beginning of the road. We located an overgrown path, climbed through the brush and finally found the falls, along with a DOC sign warning of the risk of amoebic meningitis so we decided to stay out of the water. On the way out, we all stopped at the famous Mud Pools. This is a hilarious roadside mud splurting, blurping and belching extravaganza. We didn’t have high expectations, but just couldn’t stop laughing once we saw it first hand.
There’s nothing like 100 degree Celsius mud flying at you!
One of the primary reasons for our road trip was to do the Tongariro Crossing, considered the best day hike on the North Island. We were a little reticent at leaving the kids with a completely unknown babysitter for the day even though the iSite recommended her, but we dropped off the kids and a ton of food for them and off we went.
Troy and Maureen plus James and Maureen (Jamie’s college friends who also came to visit us in NZ) joined us for the hike. Here is a before picture on the bus ride to the start of the track:
Oh yeah, smiling faces all around. This was soon replaced by a few expletives when the hike transitioned from the relatively flat beginning to what’s known as the Devil’s staircase — 50 minutes nonstop uphill stair climbing, my favorite. The views were amazing though.
This hike was incredible and definitely lived up to all the hype we read in advance. We also had a spectacular day with mostly sunny weather.
We took a yoga break near the Mt. Tongariro summit.
It’s easy to put everything else into perspective when you’re surrounded by substantial beauty.
By this point in our road trip, we were accustomed to the boardwalks or barriers keeping us off or out of dangerous areas. This was entirely different. We literally slid down a gravel hillside in an active volcanic area.
Lake Taupo emerged in the distance as we began the climb down.
All in all, an exhilarating day came to a close with a long downhill trek through the forest. Troy and Maureen had finished the hike early so they picked up the kids then Troy FTW circled back with the car and cold beer.
Meanwhile, Maureen took the kids rock climbing.
On our way home, we stopped for snacks at a café on Lake Taupo and checked out the plane outside McDonalds. Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand and home to many tourist attractions. We took in the view at Huka Falls, which according to guide books makes your heart sing. Yes, it does. It is also one of the many New Zealand rivers where you can ride a high speed jetboat through the rapids, but we didn’t see any during our short visit.
Craters of the Moon
Caroline and Johannes met up with us again for a tour through Craters of the Moon (aka Golum’s lair). This a mini version of the Tongariro Crossing for the kids, with plenty of geothermal activity.
While not as colorful as Wai-O-Tapu, Craters of the Moon was definitely worth the trip. The kids had so much fun exploring all the thermal jets steaming up around the path. Leo even did the optional hill climb near the end of the track.
And no NZ road trip would be complete without some unusual road side attractions and kids passed out in the car…
We had an incredible time on the road with the Batterberrys and loved sharing so much family time together.
To round out festivities in February, we celebrated Hazel’s 6th birthday in Auckland. We couldn’t be more proud of this little girl who is growing up right before our eyes.
After a breakfast of pikelets (mini pancakes) donuts and fruit, we headed to the Parnell Baths, large outdoor saltwater pools, then stopped in Remuera for lunch and some fun crafts at Seedlings.
In the evening, we walked over to the Silo Market for a low key party. The Silo Market runs every Friday night in the summer and is like the Roulottes in Papeete, Tahiti but with a wider variety of local gourmet food trucks and more dance music. Hazel assigned outfits (starting with herself) so that meant fancy dresses for most of us.
Thank you Misti for the delicious cake, and everyone for the gifts and most importantly joining us to celebrate. Hazel loved it!
The light during magic hour was perfect for these shots of Jamie and Hazel. Pure love. He’s even wearing her necklace. 🙂
An incredible finale to an extraordinary month. Have we mentioned lately how lucky we are?
It turns out that when we entertain friends, move the boat and sightsee like tourists on vacation I have no time to photo triage or blog. We have experienced an enormous amount of jaw dropping scenery during the past 10 weeks. A couple posts won’t do justice to it all, but I have tried to capture some of our favorite moments here.
We spent February and March cruising the Hauraki Gulf, the Coromandel Penninsula, Auckland and Waiheke, Great Mercury Island, Great Barrier Island, plus an impromptu road trip on the North Island. We feel so lucky to have great friends to share this with. Troy and Maureen, Vicky and Chris, James and Maureen, Caroline and Johannes, Alex and Chris, Misti, and Jeff and Melody all joined us for parts of this amazing journey. Here are some of my favorite memories from the month of February…
As part of their Sophie School education, Leo and Hazel have started to help more with the cooking. Mealtime is one of our favorite family activities.
One day, we stumbled into a biking safety celebration in Auckland and the kids loved having their faces painted.
In the first half of February, Maureen and the kids joined us for some sailing and beach time on Sophie. We saw heaps of dolphin on the way to Great Mercury Island, one of our best sails of 2014 so far.
On Great Mercury Island, Maureen and I took Cora on a hike to find the waterfall. We didn’t have great directions so we ended up missing a turnoff across the stream and hiked up a huge mountain road to the edge of a private forest before we realized we were in the wrong place.
After retracing our steps we finally discovered an unmarked path across the stream and made it to the waterfall.
Meanwhile, the kids had a blast on the beach. Peachgrove Bay may be their favorite beach in New Zealand. Leo and Hazel were both boogie boarding in style.
Hot Water Beach
We anchored Sophie on a calm day outside the surf line at Hot Water Beach. The swell was big enough that we couldn’t make it to the beach in the dinghy, so Jamie ferried us in small groups to some rocks at the side of the bay and we scrambled over the rocks to shore. It was almost low tide when we landed so we borrowed a shovel and hurried to dig a hole near the hot streambed. It’s easy to miss the hot water and fill up a cold pool, but we kept trying and eventually found what we were looking for, pink bums and all. I had a hard time standing on the beach in less than an inch of water for more than a few seconds where the stream emerged. Boy is that water hot!
After digging holes and playing at Cathedral Beach too, were all glad to drop anchor near Whitianga and head into town for a pizza party.
The kids love riding in the dinghy and I love these shots of the girls with the wind in their hair at sunset.
On our way back to Auckland, we stopped at Waiheke Island and Maureen and I took the kids on steep climb to the Stony Batter Reserve. We had read that the trailhead was on the east shore of the cove, but at first all we found were trespassing warning signs to stay off private property, the road and beach. Jamie finally located the DOC trailhead and punted the dinghy, then carried each of us to shore so our sneakers wouldn’t get wet. To start, we scrambled up a steep and slippery hillside that showed almost no evidence of a trail except for orange triangle markers on posts every 50 feet or so. These hopped over sheep fences multiple times going up and it wasn’t until we arrived at the top and crossed one more fence that we discovered that our trail was actually closed for lambing. Wish they would have posted that sign at both ends of the trail! Luckily Hazel only had one major meltdown and everyone else marched up like little soldiers without any whining after we promised a treat to all kids who made it to the top. Peanut M&Ms make all the difference on tricky hikes.
We had read that the Stony Batter tunnels were worthwhile, but this was one of the most incredible places we have seen – a series of World War II pitch dark underground tunnels you navigate using torches (Kiwi for flashlights), and gun enplacements.
The Batterberry clan also joined us for Sophie School. It was so much fun teaching with Maureen and the kids managed to do a full week of lessons while we were out sailing.
Hazel and Cora also learned that although sharp plastic toys work great as scalpels when playing surgeon, they should pretend instead of really cutting through skin. Yes, this is Hazel the smiling surgeon and Cora the smiling patient.
While the Batterberrys and Johnsons traveled on the South Island, we spent a few days on Waiheke before moving to Gulf Harbor where we finally had our watermaker ETD repaired. Hooray, we have unlimited water again on Sophie! While we were there, Caroline and Johannes (formerly of Orkestern) came for a visit and helped us sail Sophie back to Auckland.
Jamie also replaced a cracked main cabin hatch so all four windows are operational again. And the best part is he got to use this:
When the Batterbarrys and Johnsons returned, we had a fun grown-ups only winetasting day on Waiheke. You know things are off to a good start when you find pants by the side of the road!
After the ferry and a bus ride out to our first vineyard, we discovered it was closed for a private function. No problem, we thought. We could just hop through the fence and cross a pasture to the next place. Of course it was raining and I was in heels, but the thick grass didn’t stop us.
The second one was closed too, but they took pity on us and poured a full flight for us. Then the rain stopped and we continued our fantastic day. Obsidian held our tasting in the work shed complete with tractor. We followed that with an indulgent 7 course lunch at Casita Miro. Amazing!
We managed to sneak in a sunset walk on the beach before dinner. I love watching the sun go down while squishing sand between my toes!
Great friends and an amazing place. Who could ask for more?
To be continued…
Happy 2014 everyone! Sophie has seen a good deal of activity over the past few weeks, celebrating holidays with friends in the city followed by spectacular island cruising. We like it so much that we’ve decided to stay around the Hauraki Gulf and Great Barrier Island until at least early March. Here is a photo essay of our recent adventures.
We kicked off the summer season here with our first ever tropical Christmas. It’s pretty low key and many people just barbecue at the beach for Christmas. While living on the boat we tried to keep up most of our family traditions. We found a German bakery and sausage store in Auckland and enjoyed a quiet Christmas eve dinner with the four of us.
The kids were thrilled that Santa managed to find Sophie using the Sky Tower as his homing beacon.
One new tradition this year is Skyping our family. We loved catching up with everyone and my cousin Holly surprised us with this most excellent costume!
On New Years Eve, we spent a low key night on Sophie with friends dropping by for the sunset, trampoline races and fireworks.
Hazel and Leo both wanted to stay up for the fireworks, but they were exhausted so we convinced them to go to bed and promised to wake them up for the fireworks, which we did. Leo rallied from midnight to one but Hazel told us she was too tired to get up so she skipped the fireworks and went back to sleep. In the morning she didn’t remember doing this and was so mad that she missed the dance party on the roof.
After all of that, what could possibly follow? An awesome day sail around Auckland of course. We haven’t sailed with this many people on board since Tonga. With wind and completely flat seas we ended up going over 10 knots. Sophie is a happy boat!
Our first bridge since the Golden Gate in San Francisco! We just made it under.
After all of our holiday festivities, we were glad to get back to our regular routine of Sophie School in the mornings and family fun in the afternoons. We explored a few of Auckland’s best playgrounds.
My favorite was Snakes and Ladders, a life-sized version of Chutes and Ladders. It works just like the game. You roll the dice and then follow a series of stumps and spaces up the hill. When you land on a ladder you climb up, and when you stop at a slide you go back down. Although they were a little skeptical at first, after more than an hour we had to drag the kids back to the car.
At one point, Leo decided slides should go either direction.
We also took the kids out to practice riding their two wheel bikes. For Leo this was mostly a refresher but Hazel had never been on one and we thought it would be good to just throw her into the deep end without training wheels. We ran all around the field in Victoria Park bent over holding her steady. Our backs are thankful that training wheels will be going back on. Luckily the allure of the playground trumped bike riding after a while.
Leo completed his science project from Opua School. His plant grew one green bean. It was delicious.
Despite all the fun we had being city mice, we were all ready to get back on the water. After picking up a spear gun and two weeks of groceries, we headed out. The kids were quite impressed at the amount of groceries Jamie carried by himself across town.
Our first stop was Islington Bay at Rangitoto Island, a few miles outside of Auckland. It felt so good to be at anchor and there were only a handful of other boats there. In the afternoon we hiked up to the top of the volcano. The kids got a bit tired, but then Hazel rallied a short distance from the top, took the lead and practically ran up the final hundred steps to the lip of the crater, with magnificent views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.
On the way down we explored some lava tubes. The kids had a blast navigating one all on their own.
One of our best sailing days ever was the trip to Great Mercury Island. It was a 50 mile sail around the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula and out into the “real ocean,” ending with one of those perfect downwind runs in the sun that doesn’t get any better.