Friday, 11 November 2016

Australia and the Transition Back to Land..

Amelie Safely Docked at Bundaberg Marina, our port of entry into Australia
Decisions... decisions.....

We had a choice to make: New Zealand or Australia as our final destination. 
On the one hand, New Zealand was familiar and we knew that it was cheaper….. On the other hand, Australia was an easier sail away, a larger market for selling Amelie and promised some new adventures and, after having pulled the anchor one last time in Vanuatu, we decided to point the bow towards the West. After a three day sail to a wonderful 6 day rest stop at Chesterfield Reef, it took us less than 3 final days to get into Bunderberg Marina, where the helpful and friendly immigration and quarantine officers managed to get us cleared into this wonderful country, which we had called home, nearly 20 years ago. 

It didn’t take long for us to remember what we loved about Oz. The quality of life is very good. Large open green spaces, tons of playgrounds and outdoor activities. People live outdoors here...alot !  Matthew never got tired of riding his bike up and down the path in front of the marina....and then going for long showers ! The sea food, including scrumptious Spanner Crabs and Moreton Bay Bugs, is sublime ! 
Spanner Crab

Moreton Bay Bugs

So, our first week, that is what we did: Rode our bikes, cleaned the boat and ate sea food !

Ibis…the pigeon of Brisbane

On what was to be our last sail on board Amelie, we sailed down the coast to Brisbane
(going outside and around Fraser Island - much easier for 'Otto' to drive!) which took us about a day and a half. In the last hour of this memorable last sail, we were treated to a spectacular marine show...involving a humpback whale and her calf.....and we witnessed no less than 10 tail slaps just off our port quarter.  I chose to see this as a symbolic farewell from the sea.

We were safely docked in Scarborough Marina late in the morning on Saturday October 22nd, 936 days after having left St Lucia, Rodney Bay Marina dock back in 2014.

Fishing boats in Scarborough Marina

Some Stats :  For those of you who like to crunch numbers.

During the last 31 months, we have been to 168 anchorages on 98  different islands and have visited 23 countries and we’ve travelled around 16,500 nmiles on the boat. Out of those 936 days, we spent exactly 50 in a van, traveling around New Zealand, and, for Meg and MC, another 11 days were out trekking around Peru back in 2015, but other than this and MC’s recent July get away, Amelie has not only been our means of transportation across the Caribbean, the Panama Canal  and the Pacific Ocean, she has also been our comfortable and safe home. 

This week, we are in the final steps of moving out of this home. We will move into a holiday park cottage until our land travels take us South down the East Coast in our rental car. We have given Amelie a well deserved and full beauty makeover, inside and out...and with a big sigh, after a job well done, we are happy to say that she is looking better than ever ! We will be sad to let her go, but proud of what we have accomplished so far and grateful for the experience. Our heads are filled with memories and images which will never fade. Our children have grown up into two lovely teenagers, and we have developped strong friendships with truly remarkable people from all over the globe. 

This is what 3 years looks like...

But we are not done……Oh no, not quite yet !

Our plan is to head overland and to revisit Oz, almost 20 years after having lived and travelled here. We have enjoyed catching up with friends here in Brisbane, and look forward to re-connecting with more in Sydney, Melbourne and finally in Perth, where we can share with our children the place where we were married back in 1998...

Then, if all goes as planned, we will find our way to Indonesia, Singapore (so Meg can see where she was born), then on to Thailand and Japan...before easing ourslves back into  a "Canadian Spring" in late March/early April (Mark says he refuses to go back before winter's done!).  After so much time away, we look forward to being home again and spending quality time with loved ones, on both the East and West ends of our great nation.

For those who are interested, we will continue to update the blog, even if the sailing is done, for the South East Asia Land trip. 

Australia: So far so good mate !

In the meantime, I will leave you with some photos taken over the last few weeks here in Australia. We have been mainly working to get the boat cleaned and ready for sale, but we did manage to take a two day break to celebrate Matthew’s 17th birthday by visiting Steve Irwins Excellent zoo, also known as "Australia Zoo", in Beerwah (near the Sunshine coast).  

Matthew gets a ride for his Birthday !

Big Al, the largest of the salt water crocs at Australia Zoo

Don't try this at home kids !

The irreplaceable Steve Irwin ! 

The second day was spent at a fun aqua park a few hours North. Everyone really enjoyed the weekend. 

Matthew having a blast on his birthday

The awesome Aqua Park in Coolum, near the Sunshine Coast.

We've also discovered that Redcliffe Peninsula (where Scarborough Marina is situated, just North of Brisbane) happens to be the home town of Mo, Robin and Barry Gibbs, whom you may simply know as “the Bee Gees.” On more than one occasion we have enjoyed walking down the memory lane called “Bee Gees Way”, paying homage to the celebrated trio with video, photos, quotes and statues. It has been nice to learn more about a band who were so prominent in our lives back in our youth....Meg and Matthew (& Mark!) have since been subjected to a rebirth of their music onboard Amelie, and the melodies were well received, even with their more modern taste in music !

Bee Gees Way 

Brisbane South Bank
City of Brisbane as seen from South Bank

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Meghan On Amelie-Vanuatu

Written on October 3, 2016 (a couple of days before we left for Australia) 

"Welkam to Vanuatu!" As they say in bislama (the local language here, also known as "pigeon English"). We have been in Vanuatu for nearly two months and it has been super duper awesome!

Aneityum and Mystery Island
Aneityum Island was our first stop in Vanuatu. After a quite rough and rolly 3 day crossing from Fiji, it was so nice to walk through this beautiful and serenely peaceful town.

There is one car on the entire island (a well-used land rover) and there are no television antennas and barely any electrical poles. As you walk through the little village, people are walking back from the fields carrying miscellaneous fruit and veggies over their shoulders and wishing you a good afternoon. I also met a young boy in the village who invited the two boys from SV Perry and I to come up to his house and help him feed his three pigs.

By the river just outside the village

Just across from this little village is a very small, uninhabited island called Mystery Island. It is a picture perfect paradise spot with a white sandy beach and beautifully blue water. And we are not the only ones who have noticed this... The cruise ships have too (duh, duh, duh!) ! About once a week, a huge cruise ship anchors in the bay and about 1000 tourists pile onto Mystery Island! The locals from the village come over in longboats and set up crafts markets, hair braiding stations, and all kinds of different tours. Then, the day after the cruise ship leaves, there is not a soul. The crafts market and tour booking huts are empty and there is not a sound to be heard! These kinds of experiences are the things I really do appreciate about this lifestyle. 

Mystery Island Airport: where your boarding terminal is either Terminal A or… Terminal A!

Tanna Island and Mt. Yasur Volcano
Port Resolution on Tanna Island has a beautiful little village and a yacht club on top of the hill with a great view. However, it is not this so much that attracted us to this island, it was the... VOLCANO! Every single one of our cruising friends who have been to Vanuatu told us that Mt. Yasur volcano on Tanna Island is a MUST-SEE. Mt. Yasur is the sixth most active volcano in the world and is quite possibly the only very active volcano you can get this close to. Honestly, if you could get closer to a volcano more active than Mt. Yasur, that would be pretty dangerous!

We left for the volcano tour mid-afternoon and headed up to the yacht club with cameras, running shoes (and the dreaded socks), and excited spirits! We all piled into the back of the pickup truck and drove off to the volcano.

TAKE ME TO THE VOLCANO! (line from movie 'Joe Versus the Volcano')

We first stopped at the volcano tours new visitor's centre (that only opened in April this year) where there was a dance performance called "the volcano dance" that consisted mostly of the dancers stamping their feet. I think they were either trying to imitate the volcano or they were trying to talk to the volcano. There was also a safety briefing but it was quite unique because I've never seen a safety briefing before where the guide simply asks the village chief's to talk to the volcano to ensure our safety.

The ground shook when the dancers stamped their feet in the volcano dance

The trucks dropped us off right at the bottom of the rim (where the viewing platforms were). It was warm enough down there but the minute we got up to the rim of the crater, the wind was blowing really hard and I needed my jacket. It's ironic how the one place in the tropics I needed my jacket was when I was observing a volcano that was over 1000 degrees celsius inside!

When we got up there, we couldn't actually see the volcano crater itself (where all the lava is) but judging by what we could see exploding from the volcano, I bet the crater was pretty active and I think it would have been pretty scary to see! Every two or three minutes (and sometimes even more often), the volcano would produce this monstrous roar and then, dozens of pieces of molten rock would come flying out from the crater down below! Some would be shot about 150 feet above the crater! Then, the molten rock would land "like wet blankets" (as my dad said) on the cliffs sloping down towards the crater! At first, I didn't think the pieces of molten rock were all that big but after a while, I started to realize they were actually frighteningly large: the smallest about were maybe a bit smaller than me and the biggest were about the size of a small car!

No this wasn't taken with a green screen!

The "wet blankets" on the cliffs surrounding the crater

There were two viewing platforms: the lower one and the higher one. The higher one was more exposed to the wind, was louder, but also got you a better seat for the show! You were kept more on you toes up there though, because the molten rock did fly a bit closer to you and one time, a large enough piece landed only about 20 metres down the cliff from our platform. Luckily, we knew when it was going to explode because of that great bellow the volcano would make. I am so glad we went on the evening tour because we got to see the caldera and terrain as well as the landing of the molten rock in the daytime but when the sun went down, we got to see the best, best, BEST fireworks show ever!

My heart didn't stop racing until we got back to the beach but I don't think I'll ever see anything like that again. Plus, this is definitely going on my list of epic field trips: I saw a very active volcano exploding liquid molten rock and then I saw the process of the molten rock cooling down really quickly to form extrusive igneous rock!

Malakula Island
Malakula was a memorable stop and it really showed me the true meaning of "down to earth" and "peacefulness". Like Aneityum, there were no signs of televisions or radios and barely any cars or electrical poles. Also, I don't think they had any motorized boats on the island: only the traditional, wooden, outrigger canoes.

 They have one tiny general store but either than that, everyone is completely self-sufficient. Everyone has their own cattle and chickens and they grow all their own produce in their gardens. No one needs a refrigerator in their kitchen and their ovens are simply firewood powered. It is no surprise to me that Vanuatu is said to have one of the highest population of happy people in the world!

We established a nice relationship with a man named Rex and his wife Trudy. My dad and Rex exchanged different tools and fishing lures. Trudy baked us some delicious bread buns and so we gave her some dried goods and toys for her kids (Rex and Trudy have four or five kids). Trudy also invited me to play volleyball with the women in her village who play every afternoon. Just seeing Malakula's simple and yet beautiful way of living is what made my stay there so special.

Ambrym Island: Another Awesome Volcano Experience
Tanna's Mt. Yasur is definitely not the only volcano in Vanuatu. There are quite a few volcanoes here and so we visited another famous one on Ambrym Island. This one, however, was not as easy to get to. No, for Ambrym's volcano, we really earned our show by walking three and a half hours through dense jungle, vast ash plains, and finally the up to the rim of the Marum Volcano caldera. In case you are wondering, the ash plains are a long, flat plain made of volcanic ash and igneous rock pebbles.

Walking down the cliffs that lead up to the volcano rim
Finally, after the very steep uphills at the end, we made it to the rim of the volcano where we were able to observe from above the enormously wide and deep caldera of Marum. The coolest part about the caldera was the boiling lava pit at the bottom!

It wasn't shooting out molten rock like Mt. Yasur but it was still very active, bubbling, and spewing lava at times (we could even hear it bubbling from where we were standing). After having lunch in one of the most scenic places I will probably ever picnic, we strapped our backpacks back on and headed back down. Even despite the steep parts and the heat, the hike was well worth it and Vanuatu has certainly given us the best volcano experiences ever!

These are only four of the many islands we visited here in Vanuatu so here are some pictures of some other great places we stopped at here.

Nautilus shell which we carved in half that we found in Aneityum   

David, from Erromango Island, in his handmade, wooden outrigger canoe

Sacred burial caves we visited on Erromango Island

Our museum tour guide at the national museum in Port Vila
doing 'sandroing' (sand drawing), a world-renowned art
originating from Vanuatu

At the market in Port Vila

A "Carribbean-Beautiful" beach found on Espirutu Santo Island 

The dugong (or manatee), a very rare marine mammal, we spotted in the
bay on Espirutu Santo Island

Now, we are on the island of Espirutu Santo and we are getting ready to sail over to Australia in a few days now. I am quite sad to leave the South Pacific islands behind. The things I have seen in the last year and a half (from Galapagos to here) have absolutely BLOWN MY MIND and they have definitely been the best two years of my life! There is not one regret though and I know the memories I have of these places are priceless! Now, I'm pretty excited for Australia which I've been wanting to visit ever since I can remember!