A Travellerspoint blog

Sailing the Pacific...

...well, some of it.

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Firstly, may we say how touched we were by both of the people who contacted us demanding to know why our latest blog instalment was late.

So, we left Tahiti after a brief lounge about in a posh hotel (with its beautiful view over Moorea) and headed south to The Australs, feeling like proper explorers.

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One presumes, or hopes, Air Tahiti selects very experienced pilots because those flights are true white knuckle rides. First you fly over the Pacific in all its angry vastness. Then you see a big lump of rock sticking out of the sea and blink twice as you realise that yes, the plane is going to try and land on the edge of the rock. As the plane makes gutteral spluttering sounds and descends in sudden drops you see the enormous waves crashing against the reef waiting to bury you. By this point you're pretty nervous because all you can see is spiky coral and that you're still going very fast on approach. But the icing on the cake is horrendous air pockets and cross winds as the plane tackles landing on the only lump of rock for thousands of miles.

Rurutu

We were hoping as we descended upon Rurutu, an island famous for its humpback whales, that we would see some in the bay, which we were then planning on swimming with. However, apparently only five mothers with calves turned up this year and when we got there they had all left. How inconsiderate. So instead we went on a massive hike through the interior of the island, swam on the beach, watched Mutiny on the Bounty and Anita read Anna Karenina (which is rather like doing Part I History all over again; the same old droning on about peasants).

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Raivavae

Then we moved on to Raivavae, which is the most stunning island either of us have ever seen. With a vast blue-green lagoon, islets peppered around the edges of the reef and a stunning mountainous interior, it was every paradise cliche we could have imagined manifested in one perfect little island. Raivavae opened its airport less than a decade ago and is very keen to hang onto its local feel. No mega hotels here, just half a dozen family run pensions (guest houses). Long may that continue.

We were lucky enough to arrive at a time when our hostess was trialling an eco-tourism project. This meant we were able to join a group of ten Swiss pensioners and go out to an islet by pirogue where there was a barbeque waiting for us. It was awesome. A local would disappear for ten minutes, come back with something from the sea and ask us if we liked it. Anita would say it looked very cute and take a photo with it, James would suddenly put his arm round her and lead her for a walk/snorkel/swim, and then ten minutes later something which looked suspiciously similar would appear cooked.

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We felt most sorry for the langouste which was left in a bucket to marinate in tomatoes, etc whilst it was alive. Harsh. We felt less sorry for the octopus which frankly deserved to die. What kind of animal deliberately continues to swim up the the shore trying to intimidate a group of much bigger animals wielding sticks? Proving that men never grow out of the desire to flame small insects with aerosol cans, James wanted to film them clubbing it to death for the blog, but sadly his request was declined with light laughter.

Raiatea

After this we headed back, met Catherine (James's mum) in Papeete and together flew into another very attractive, much more populated island called Raiatea. Here we saw some impressive marae (platforms associated with various rituals, about which not that much is yet understood but yes, human sacrifice was probably 'on the table' at some point).

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Sailing

In the main centre we also picked up our boat for eight days of sailing round Tahaa, Raiatea, and Bora Bora. Sailing in the Pacific is very different to the Med or the North sea. The waves are bigger (three meter swells are not unusual), the weather is very changeable and when you're not out in the open sea you're negotiating passes into lagoons and dodging coral. There is also the mildly chilling thought that the sea beneath you is 5.5k deep and frequented by all of the big nasty monsters we all know from Blue Planet. It would have been very annoying to see no whales in Rurutu and then hit one while sailing. We met a New Zealand couple on our flight out to Tahiti who told us that seeing a sperm whale pass under their yacht had been the single most terrifying moment of their lives.

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All of this meant that James's skills as Captain were put to the test and he whooped a lot whenever the winds picked up. This also meant Catherine and Anita had to step up as his exceptional crew (we both have bigger biceps to show for it). Excitingly, Anita needed to wear a proper harness to go out to the front of the boat as hanging off the main sail whilst your feet dangle in the air is less than ideal.

Tahaa was a lovely little island. Very quiet, nice lagoon, and beautiful views over Bora Bora. Also some really good snorkelling, with plenty of colourful fish about.

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Bora Bora was geologically stunning with its vast peak and idyllic lagoon, but very different to the other islands in that tourism has somewhat taken its toll on the atmosphere of the place. Almost all of the islets have been bought by large hotel groups, which have strung expensive water bungalows (wooden huts) across the lagoon. This means that for locals, yachties, or anyone else not staying at the hotel there is effectively no access to much of the land. Furthermore, the hotels one imagine do not like the fact that to attain sufficient depth, yachts must pass within close sailing distance of their most expensive bungalows, meaning the latter have little privacy. Solution: don't build your hotel hanging out into the middle of the lagoon if you want total privacy.

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Perhaps because of this, some of the hotels take a seemingly antagonistic attitude towards the few yachts which anchor in the lagoon. We anchored 400m from the St. Regis one night, which deserves a special mention for having run a shuttle ferry with 15m of our yacht every half hour from the early hours of the morning until midnight. That was after a fleet of jet skis had left the hotel to welcome our arrival by circling our yacht whilst we swam.

That said, the view was still magnificent and the inconvenience was worth it. For our final night in Bora Bora Catherine kindly treated us to dinner at Bloody Mary, a restaurant where an awful lot of famous people have eaten, including some who actually deserved to be famous for having some semblance of talent. There was a lovely array of locally-caught fish, which was a welcome change from the pasta and tinned vegetables of the previous week.

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After the crossing from hell between Bora Bora and Raiatea, we arrived safely back at base via a last anchorage overlooking yet another beautiful mountain with cascading waterfalls running down its side, and we are now nestled in a beachside bungalow on the island of Huahine, listening to the waves crash against the reef.

Posted by jamesandanita 02:28 Archived in French Polynesia Tagged fish sailing Comments (0)

From the beach to the slopes


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It's been a while again since the last update - partly that's because we've been far too busy to write anything, and partly because as it turns out internet access (that actually works) is surprisingly hard to come by in Australia and New Zealand.

No news is good news though, and we've been having a really great time and keeping ourselves pretty busy. A slightly longer post today as I'm currently on the plane to Tahiti and am seriously running out of any in-flight films I haven't already seen (I've just watched "Fast and Furious 5"!).

Darwin

We spent a few nights in Darwin to just relax and recover from 9 days camping in the outback. It was certainly a welcome novelty to have a real bed with a real shower rather than pitching a tent each night!

Other than that though, not a huge amount to report. There's not really a lot to see or do in Darwin, though we did find a couple nice restaurants and more excitingly a massive wave-pool to indulge our inner child. In case you're wondering why they bother with a wave-pool when they've got a lovely warm sea with sandy beaches: sharks and crocs are the answer.

Sydney

After a quiet time in Darwin we were definitely ready for a more bustling city, and on we went to Sydney. After one of those taxi drives from the airport where you think "Oh no, where did I book this hotel... please don't stop here" the place we were staying in Potts Point was rather nice (as opposed to the next neighbourhood along, which was the red-light district!).

On day 1 we went to take a look at the tourist must-sees: starting with the opera house. More by chance than anything else though, we took in the botanical gardens which were surprisingly good - in particular a truly vast number of bats flying around against the skyline. Though we both had a pretty good idea what the opera hosue was going to look like it still really takes your breath away as a building - not just the architecture but also the setting alongside the city skyline and the harbour bridge. As luck would have it we were able to catch a performance in the evening - "La Boheme" (you'd struggle to get a cheap deal on front-row seats rocking up on the day in London!).

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Being the unimaginative tourists that we are, on day 2 we took in the other stereotypical Sydney highlight - Bondi beach - followed by a nice walk along the coast. The beach was pretty rammed, as it was the first week of nice warm weather of the spring - the water was still pretty bracing though...

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New Zealand

First impressions of New Zealand were very good - stunning scenery, friendly people, even the McDonalds we were forced to eat at the airport was pretty tasty (McKiwiburger is strongly recommended!). Pleasingly, the country kept up that impression right through till when we departed, we loved New Zealand! And here's why...

Mud, mud, and more mud

We went wallowing in mud, but not just any mud... stinking sulphurous volcanic mud, which feels surprisingly good on the skin (James was very keen to go to the spa... honest!). We also saw lots of nasty sulphuric acid bubbling away, a geyser, and James got taught how to do a haka. Here's the video - you're going to love this...

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Skiing

Continuing our volcano theme (don't get many of those where we come from...), we went skiing in the national park. Great snow, wide open pistes, some lovely off piste and most important to stand any chance of getting Anita on the slopes, bright sunshine! After a comfortable day of skiing and taking in a view across the whole of North Island, Anita stupidly said she felt like pushing it a little and trying some off-piste. So James pushed her off the edge of a black. Thanks honey. Sadly video footage reveals that when scared Anita bends over and skis like a grandma.

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Auckland and onwards

We meandered back up to Auckland through the lush countryside, savouring everything green after so long choking on dust in the Ozzie outback. And in Auckland we basically did nothing. Except eat, and that's the real revelation...

The food in New Zealand is fantastic! Not just all those baby lambs you see everywhere, but even the veggie stuff, the cheeses, yum yum yum. We're going to award New Zealand ranking number 2 in the world for average quality of meal (obviously France is number 1). Don't ask where England ranks if you're easily offended.

Next up is 3 weeks in French Polynesia, starting with Tahiti where we've just arrived. More on that later, but for now suffice it to say that the place we're staying for the first couple of nights is the plushest hotel either of us have ever been in, and our room was a sea view and is about 50 metres from the beach!

Last week's brainteaser

I'm sure you've all been holding your breath waiting to know what the picture in last week's post was. It's a hawk catcher - apparently this is how the aboriginal people used to catch a particular type of ozzie bird. They would light a small fire, which this bird is attracted to, the lie in wait under it and spear the bird through the fire. They'd then simply cook it on the fire and it would be ready to eat - fast food thousands of years before McDonalds.

Posted by jamesandanita 19:34 Archived in New Zealand Tagged food skiing beach Comments (1)

9 days in the Outback

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No updates for a while as we've been travelling through the outback with no phone reception, let alone internet. We're back in civilization in Darwin now, so here goes for the past 9 days or so.

Broome

We started off by flying up from Perth to Broome (still in Western Australia). Thankfully we were only staying there for one night before catching our flight, as there really isn't a whole lot to see or do there. It's a pretty small town, primarily based around pearl diving, and more recently tours to the outback. We arrived late afternoon, walked 5 minutes from the airport to the hostel, which was a 5 minute walk from the "center of town" - yep, pretty tiny. We were staying in dorms in a hostel so not the bets night's sleep, but ho hum. Very sad to see so many drunk Aborigines sitting round the parks. This seems to be a common sight across towns in northern WA and NT.

The tour

Our home for the next 9 days was a specially modified high-clearence 4WD truck, which we were sharing with 12 other people plus our tour guide, Adam (more on him later).

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We were picked up bright and early from our hostel and off we went on our 2000km+ trip to Darwin. A typical day from then was getting up when the birds started singing, i.e. at dawn (bizzarely this isn't actually as painful as I'd imagined it would be!). We'd then gulp down some quick breakfast, pack up camp, and hit the road. We'd usually then do 2-3 stops during the day in various places of interest - normally an hour or so walk to a great swim spot in the pools which form on the rivers in the gorges. We'd then set up camp just before sunset, get a roaring fire going and cook up some dinner. Dinner was surprisingly good, and we got to try kangaroo, which is actually pretty good (similar to beef, though not quite as nice). We were sleeping in tents, which was fine though it actually gets pretty cold at night in this bit of Australia it turns out. We turned down the opportunity to sleep in the classic swag bag because we didn't want to eat some kind of killer spider in the night, or indeed wake up several times from the cold!

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Wildlife

We managed to see a good amount of wildlife (in the outback as opposed to Singapore zoo this time) along the way. We saw some wallabies ("Agile" or "Rock" wallabies to be precise), crocodiles (fresh-water ones, i.e. the ones that only eat fish, not people), and plenty of birds, snakes and frogs.

One of the slightly unnerving aspects of the trip was swimming in rivers/lakes which we knew had fresh-water crocodiles in them. Despite the fact they're supposed to be harmless to humans, they are still crocodiles and do grow up to 3m in length...

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Bungle Bungles

On days 6 and 7 we went to the Bungle Bungles (aka Purnulu national park). This is a range of sandstone rock which erosion has carved into some very impressive dome-shaped structures over the years. The approach was 50km or so of very rough track, which made for a slightly bone-crunching couple of hours on the bus, but well worth the effort in particular for the views of the ranges as we approached. By the time we got to the bungles the weather was getting really rather hot (high thirties) and there aren't any swimming spots there so it did make for a fairly hot couple of days...

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Lake Argyle

After the bungles we went on to lake Argyle, which is a huge man-made lake used for irrigation and hydro power for a large part of Western Australia and the Northern Territory. The highlight of that was a cruise on the lake by boat, where we got to see much of the wildlife (in particular seeing a fresh-water croc up close). We then went swimming with 25,000 crocodiles.

The Story of Adam

Adam was our tour guide and a walking cliche. Young, agile, unshaven, mostly bare- footed and chested; the kind of straight talking, upbeat Australian one imagines from watching a very well known outback movie. He clambered over boulders like a monkey, plunged his hand into rock pools to pull out snakes to show us ("Wanna see something cool?" always meant step back a little), had an encyclopaedic knowledge of flora and fauna and was very knowledgeable and protective of his native land and Aboriginal culture.

Best of all, was the colour he gave the trip with his stories. He mentioned idly one evening that he kept bees as a sideline. I asked him how he'd come to get into that business and he explained that he'd been wandering around a market one day and seen how much honey sold for ("I couldn't believe people paid that for honey!"), so went home, took out an axe and went out with a mate to find a tree with a hive in it... which he then chopped down and took all the honey from, being quite rightly attacked by a swarm of bees in the process ("Yeah, they were really angry! We had to run!"). Amazingly (everything is "AMAZING" in Australia), he went back and did it again a few times before deciding it would be better to buy some kit and keep his own bees so he wouldn't get stung so much. He is now a proper, reformed bee keeper.

Then there was the time he and his mates decided to go out trying to catch baby emus. "How does one catch a baby emu?", we asked. "By running really fast and then ankle tapping it!" he exclaimed to us looking at me like this was the most obvious thing in the world.

And the time his mate asked if he could borrow his dad's trailer. Why? Because he wanted a pet camel and had seen one 100k up the road so needed something to take it home in.

What does Adam do on his days off between tours? A long hot bath? No, he goes camping or fishing. Amazing.

Riddle of the Week

Who can tell us what this is?

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Posted by jamesandanita 20:51 Archived in Australia Comments (8)

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