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!

Monday, 17 October 2016

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. 

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. 

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 them and used a zoom lens to get the following shots: 

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 beauitful swim....a mere few meters wide, with waves gently  crashing on both sides of us.

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 ! 

Some colourful coral…..just resting on the sandy bottom of the lagoon 

Meg woke up one morning and this is what she saw when she popped her head out of her hatch 

And Finally…AUSTRALIA ! 

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. We look forward to sharing our time in Australia with you. Stay tuned !

Love always, 


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

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 !