Monday 17 October 2016

Last stop before Australia, Chesterfield Reef

Monday October 17th, 2016

"Chesterfield Islands (îles Chesterfield in French) is a French archipelago of New Caledonia located in the Coral Sea, almost 300 Nautical Miles from Grande Terre, and 440 Nautical Miles NorthEast from Bundaberg Australia,   The archipelago is 120 km long and 70 km broad, made up of 11 islets and many reefs."  In this post, we refer to this magical place simply as 'Chesterfield Reef',  it is a completely deserted and wild place which we had the great privileged to visit on our way to Australia.

Deserted Chesterfield Reef

One of the great benefits of traveling by sailboat is that, occasionally, it will allow you to visit a place where very few people have ever been. Chesterfield reef is one of those places. Located almost half way between Vanuatu and Australia, it is actually French Territory (New Caledonia) and one must receive permission from them to stop there. Luckily, permission was not hard to get: a quick email to the Department of Conservation of New Caledonia before our departure from Luganville followed by a rapid reply, was all that it took. 

After a 4 day sail it was a real oasis for us. Stopping in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the deep pacific ocean, the reef appears as a turquoise lagoon and a scattering of white sandy beaches. There is no one there, no building, no rangers, only a lone sign on one of the Island: “Territoire Français depuis 1877” is the only evidence of humans ever having been here. 

BIRDS ! Aside from the natural beauty and peace of the place, it is the abundance of wildlife that makes this reef so unique! As soon as the sound of the rattling of chain from your setting anchor dies off, you are surrounded by the loud call of hundreds of sea birds.They are everywhere ! It is simply mind boggling how many there are! You can’t go anywhere by dinghy without an escort of a dozen or more following in formation close behind you, every now and then one comes right up to you.They seemed to be as curious about us as we were about them ! Matthew simply loved the attention of these flying companions, where ever he went, he would raise his arms towards them and smile as they hovered a few feet above him. 

Some colourful coral, just resting unattached, on the sandy bottom of the lagoon 

A baby gannet (Boobie)

Matthew laughs with delight at the sight of hundreds of birds flying just above his head ! 

SEA TURTLES ! Then there are the turtles !  HUGE sea turtles, many of them resting on the beach...some frolicking in the shallow waters all around you. It was mating season and we saw lots of that going on !   At first we thought they were leatherback turtles because of their enormous size, but after taking a few photos and comparing them online, we think that they were just really big green turtles (but the jury is still out on that one- any turtle expert out there please don't hesitate to chime in ! Thanks ! ). 

We stayed far enough away not to stress these huge sea turtles and used a zoom lens to get the following shots of them as they rest and mate on the beaches. 

There were plenty of sandy white beaches to investigate, and it never ceased to amaze us how many pristine sea shells we could spot as we walked along. A beach combers’ paradise. On one after noon we went snorkeling along a white sand spit which was slowly being taken over by the rising tide. It made for a unique spot to rest after a beautiful swim, only a few meters wide, with waves gently crashing on either sides of us.

We spent a memorable afternoon on this sand spit. 

But wild life comes in all shapes and sizes, as we were to find out later!  We were one of three boats who had stopped to rest at Chesterfield Reef, and our friends on SV Muneera told us of the large tiger shark that came to see them a few nights in a row. Having better luck at fishing then we had, they had been cleaning fish off the back of their boat when the 10-12 foot long shark came by. Mark was on board Muneera during one of these visits and he told us that, at one point, the shark started gently nibbling on the outboard motor on their dinghy. I have to say that while we thought it was somewhat of a thrill to be in such close proximity to such a large and notorious species of sharks, it did however make us quickly change our mind about letting Matthew swim off the back of the boat, and from that point on, we restricted swimming to coral reefs and from the beach ! 

Matthew and his birds

At times we were surrounded by hundreds of seabirds, seemingly curious about the new visitors to their island.

Meg woke up one morning and this is what she saw when she popped her head out of her hatch.    After a wonderful 5 days rest at the reef, the right weather window presented itself and we were on our way again and 3 somewhat rocky days later, we made landfall into the Wonderful World of Oz,  at Bundaberg, on October 17th. We look forward to sharing our time in Australia with you.
Stay tuned ! 

Monday 3 October 2016

Images of Vanuatu- August and September 2016

Small Numbas dance, Malakula

Meg joining the daily volley ball game on Malakula

Sand boarding on the black sands of Ambrym

The Bakery on Epi

Drying Copra (smoked Coconut)

Looking down at the crater below, Mt Marum
Boiling lake of Lava, Mt Marum, Ambrym
The large outer crater of Mt Marum

Walking back down Mt Marum

Village home in Ambrym

Blue hole, a fresh water haven, Santo

The elusive Dugong seen in our anchorage, Santo

The Ladies doing "water music" in Santo (Aore Island)

Taking a break near Port Orly,  Santo North

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

The Dancers on Aore Island

Traditional Wood Carvings/Drums


We are leaving for Australia tomorrow. We leave Vanuatu with alot of gratitude and much love for the lovely people of this Island Nation. It was a beautiful send off from our journey through the South Pacific !