Friday, 5th November 2021 was a joyous day on Moondust when Pete and I were re-united after being apart for 14 months! Just three weeks later, when the Omicron Covid variant was identified in South Africa, it became clear that I had been super lucky to have arrived in Fiji just before the whole world again closed their doors to South Africans.
I had returned to South Africa in September 2020 for my daughter’s wedding, convinced that I would be back on Moondust within a month or two, maybe three if Covid wasn’t over by then. Little did I know at that stage that Covid wasn’t going to disappear in a few months, years or maybe ever.
Hoping that Fiji would open their borders to international visitors sooner than New Zealand, being more dependent on tourism, Pete sailed to Fiji in June 2021 with a temporary crew member, under their so-called Blue Lanes Initiative.
As Fiji was still closed to fly-in tourists, Pete decided to make the best of his time in Fiji and made a wide circuit around the more than 300 islands. He especially wanted to visit the remote Southern Lau group of islands, which meant waiting about 45 days for the right weather window, as these are difficult to reach in the face of the prevailing the trade winds.
The Hauraki Gulf, east of the city of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, is a popular playground for tourists as well as local boat owners. It is also the venue for the iconic 2021 America’s Cup sailing challenge. Despite Covid restrictions on tourism from overseas, we had freedom of the Gulf on Moondust.
This area is extremely popular, being close to Auckland, as it features a number of islands, most of which are also accessible by ferry. We had previously visited Great Barrier Island, so this time, sailing from Whangarei, north of Auckland, our first stop was Kawau Island.
Whanga (pronounced Fanga) means harbour in the Maori tongue and since we left the boatyard in Whangarei seven weeks ago, we have visited two other harbours further north and found that Whanga could just as well have meant beautiful. Whangarei, Whangamumu and Whangaroa are all spectacular, with lovely hiking routes that offer breathtaking views.
Since Moondust splashed back into the water in Whangarei, we’ve been busy provisioning the boat with food and technical spares for the months to come. We are still hoping that Fiji and other countries on our route will open in time for us to continue our voyage this sailing season.
We felt we could not leave Whangarei before enjoying some of the popular hiking routes and visiting the Whangarei Falls.
Having been stationary for so long, I unfortunately got seasick upon heading into the waves at the mouth of the Hatea River. Luckily it was a short 30 nautical mile sail to Tutukaka, where we could find some shelter, albeit in a rolly anchorage but somewhat protected from the big, nauseating swells of the ocean.
We planned a ten day trip to New Zealand’s South Island to coincide with Moondust standing safely on solid ground at the Norsand Boatyard in Whangarei. To save time we flew from North Island to Christchurch, halfway down the east coast of South Island, from where we rented a little car to explore its enchanting natural wonders.
We mostly stayed in the Top Ten Holiday Parks, which have a variety of accommodation options, and opted to share communal ablutions as well as cooking and dining facilities. We were pleasantly surprised by these neat and clean facilities and thoroughly enjoyed the cooking experience in ‘Master Chef’ type kitchens, with its chance to meet fellow travellers.
I arrived back on Moondust shortly before Christmas after a wonderful three week visit to my family and friends in South Africa. In my luggage were quite a few items for Moondust, amongst which was our new Genneker, made by North Sails in Cape Town.
It was good to be back and also to again see Rick and Liz, Pete’s brother and sister-in-law, who were visiting from Australia. Rick was very helpful and he and Pete finished a number of two man jobs while I was away.
EXPLORING THE BAY OF ISLANDS
After stocking up the larder in Paihia we set out to enjoy the Bay of Islands, situated on the east coast of New Zealand’s northern island. This vast bay, where Captain Cook landed in 1769, has 144 islands and a choice of anchorages, sheltered against various wind angles. A very necessary attribute as the winds were very variable and at times, strong.
The Bay of Islands, described as the cradle of the nation, is of historic importance as this is not only where Cook arrived but also where the peace treaty was signed between the British government and the traditional Maori inhabitants, at what is today known as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds near Paihia. Russell, which today is a touristic little hollow, was once the capital of New Zealand.
We reached Vava’u, the most northerly group of Tongan islands, just before sunset on 18th September 2019. We were exhausted from our very difficult 16 day passage from French Polynesia and were very tempted to break our first golden rule: never enter an unfamiliar anchorage at night. However, we opted to round the northern point of Vava’u and seek shelter in Vaiutukakau Bay on the north-western side, taking three hourly watches to make sure we didn’t drift out into the current and rougher water.
At first light we sailed into the scenic waterways of Vava’u and passed a number of islands, heading for the main port, Neiafu, where we had to clear in. We tied up to the main dock and were informed by the friendly customs official that we had missed a day along the way. Tonga is the first country west of the International Dateline, which meant that we were now 11 hours ahead of our family and friends back home, instead of 11 hours behind.
From the Tuamotus it was a three day and night sail to the Society Islands, the last French Polynesian (FP) island group that we were to visit. As we didn’t have any business to do in Tahiti and my visa time for FP was soon coming to an end, we chose to sail past busy Papeete (the capital of FP) and head west for the quieter and less touristy Huahine.
Each of the French Polynesian archipelagos has its own unique character and we shall remember the Marquesas for their scenic beauty with majestic mountains, hiking routes, exquisite waterfalls, abundance of fruit and friendly Polynesians. Of the six inhabited islands, just a spec in the Pacific Ocean halfway around the world from South Africa, we visited five: Fatu Hiva, Tahuatu, Hiva Oa, Nuka Hiva and Ua Pou.
It took us 36 days, plenty of wind and sail power and just three litres of diesel to cover the 4 044 nm (7 300km) across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to the Marquesas. On weighing Moondust’s anchor at 06:15 on Easter Saturday at the southern end of the Panama Canal, the white full moon still hung in the sky to starboard while the sun peeped through warm orange cirrus clouds to port.
We had a pleasant start to the longest passage we will encounter in our circumnavigation (across this first stretch of the Pacific Ocean) with no seasickness on my part, light winds and a beautiful Mackerel on our fishing line!
We found Cuba to be absolutely fascinating and very different from any of the other Caribbean islands. It felt like we had taken a big step back in time, before the days of modern cars and a permanent connection to the virtual world.
After two weeks when we were finally ‘snorkeled out’ at Jardines de la Reina, aided by a good breeze, we sailed overnight for Cienfuegos, 160 km to the northwest and situated in an enclosed bay. We anchored off another government run Marina Marlin, where, after a lengthy but friendly check-in we were free to go ashore and enter the ‘time warp’.