More History

in Australia, Louisiades, Pacific Islands, Quo Vadis - historyComments Off on More History


Since launching in 1995… 

…as a ‘maiden voyage’, at the end of  December 1995 we left Wellington for 13 months, going first to Nelson, then Northland, Auckland and then continuing on a circuit of the Western South Pacific.

It was a rushed year of cruising, visiting Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia then Brisbane, down the coast to Sydney, before returning to NZ and work in January 1997.
Hurried as it was, it gave us a good taste of the cruising lifestyle and the resolve towards setting off permanently at a later date.
That turned out to be as planned, in December 2001, but in the interim we used Quo Vadis for holidays whenever possible about the Marlborough Sounds and Nelson; we also visited Auckland again for the (winning) America’s Cup Regatta in 2000.


Since then in over 6 years, we appear not to have progressed far, but it has been at a comfortable pace and we hope, taking the best of the opportunities we have been given.

Once more, we left Nelson for Auckland, making a weather enforced, but enjoyable stop in New Plymouth before continuing to Spirit’s Bay in Northland and on down the East Coast.

Again we departed the Bay of Islands for Tonga, visiting the Haapai and Vaavau Island groups once more, but this time extending our Tonga trip by visiting Nuiatoputapu,

the furthermost and relatively unspoiled island group, where the people have a subsistent lifestyle, are friendly and just want to get on with their lives relatively unaffected by the problems of the rest of the Tongan Kingdom.

From there it was a short hop across to Samoa, where we found the mountains, rivers, waterfalls and flowers to be beautiful

and the people were welcoming, it was a place far beyond our expectations.

Wallis Island was an taste of France in Polynesia, a pleasant cultural change although as with all things European, coming at a price…it’s not cheap living. The people are of Tongan origin, but now strongly attached to France, dependent on Europe for aid and doing very nicely with it.

It makes an interesting mix of the French and Polynesian cultures, -with money

It makes an interesting mix of the French and Polynesian cultures, -with money

and in an idyllic location…

We had only an overnight stop in its partner island Futuna before continuing on to Fiji where we based ouselves in Vuda Point for the following cyclone season.

We had hoped to spend the time exploring the nearby Yasawas and Mamanucas, but we couldn’t venture far because of it mostly being unpleasantly hot, with no wind for sailing, or hot, wet and with far too much wind, when there was a cyclone about, which seemed often.

In fact we spent a lot of the season at Musket Cove, often having the anchorage

and the facilities …..

all to ourselves!

When it was safe to be cruising again we circumnavigated Viti Levu to get to Savusavu then went east to visit the Lau Group of islands, where yachts are normally not permitted and which is regarded by most (probably for that reason) to be a very special part of the country


We were not disappointed.

From there we revisited the Yasawas and departed from Lautoka for Port Vila, in Vanuatu. We seemed to get a bit stuck there, -as we often do when we find a place that suits us…


we had trouble leaving, but at last made the break and went north to parts of Vanuatu we hadn’t visited previously in 1996 visiting the Dugongs on Epi, the town of Santo and further noth, the fabulous ‘Champagne Beach’.

Again it was far more than our expectations, we had to leave it prematurely, to get to Bundaberg and be placed to avoid the next cyclone season.


From Bundaberg we coast-hopped to Brisbane staying in East Coast Marina for the summer, followed by some time up the river in the heart of the city

and down on the Gold Coast.

followed by a quick visit to the sights of the Sunshine Coast…

We enjoyed rural South-east Queensland especially around Bundaberg;

inland towns such as Childers

and historic Maryborough 

up a muddy river, like Bundaberg


There’s also Fraser Island. They say it’s the biggest sandhill in the southern hemisphere… or maybe it’s the world…whichever, it has killer sandflies to match…

But most special was the invariable fine weather of the ‘winter’, making, almost always, perfect sailing conditions.

We made our way on up the Queensland coast, enjoying the island-hopping cruising.


our favourites being Great Keppel Island and scenic, but deserted, spots like Pearl Bay




Cape Townshend


and the Percy islands

We stopped for a time at Airlie Beach


exploring the cane fields inland by car and bike


then on to Bowen,


known best for it’s mangos and many murals, then to Magnetic Island


and directly over from it, tropical Townsville.


We spent some time in the marina there, exploring inland, there’s good cycling on the surrounding hills


and further inland are the old ‘gold-towns’


of Charter’s Towers



and Ravenswood, both fascinating to visit as a glimpse into the past.


Continuing our plan however, at Townsville we took a right turn out over the Barrier Reef and the Coral sea in the direction of Papua New Guinea.


It’s only a short 3-4 day sail from Townsville up to the Louisiades, but after Queensland it is another world, in almost every way posssible. Our first impression on our arrival at Duchateau was that this was heaven…



It was sunny, the waters clear, blue and sparkling; no crocs, no jelly fish; for the first time in a while we could enjoy the sea and cruise uninhabited islands




We had the outer islands almost to ourselves.

The Louisiade archipelago is part of Papua-New Guinea, just off the south-eastern tip. It is a chain of islands, some high and hilly, others little more than coral reefs with white sand beaches…


…but almost everywhere, throughout, the water is clear and the environment largely unspoiled. The bad ways of the west have hardly arrived here yet and the people too poor to afford to waste anything, recycling is of necessity.
They mainly live in small villages around the shores of the larger islands


the housing is basic, built largely of natural materials



the dirt floors and tracks kept swept clean, -there is no rubbish around the houses or the shorelines;



-as unlike any other island communities we have been, there are no plastic bags and bottles and the few there are get used and re-used.

The people themselves are delightful,



friendly, welcoming and the children a great source of entertainment…




cheeky, but well behaved, -and inventive



building boats -and crafting very dissonant, papaya stem ‘flutes’

There’s no apparent envy of all the wealth that we represent, although obviously we were always careful not to leave items of value on display.
Money is of little value on the islands as there are very few shops, no cars and few out-board motors to buy petrol for. For us, we purchased by trading.



Wherever we anchored there was a steady stream of would-be traders visiting us with what they had to offer of fresh fruit, vegetables and sometimes fish, we would buy in exchange for fish-hooks, tee-shirts and other inexpensive tems brought from Australia for the purpose. The system worked well, it was a great way of getting to meet many people we wouldn’t otherwise have had the chance to make contact with and learning about their culture. They generally had at least a rudimentary knowledge of English.

Traditionally the people have traded between themselves with ‘shell-money’ and to some extent they still do, although now more often it is made for the small tourist trade in yachts and the occasional passing cruise ship.
Shell-money, (baggi) can only be made by a few elders of certain families on select islands.



It consists of strings of shell fragments, -of a particular oyster shell, the pieces cut and trimmed then drilled, threaded and finally polished to be perfectly round, generally a deep red, the richer the colour, the higher the value.

Other islands have other speciality products to trade,


pottery bowls, hand-made, without a wheel;


various woven mats and baskets,


and on some islands, where sago palm grows, the trees are ‘gutted’ for their grainy product.

Travel between the islands for them is by sailing catamaran



a fast and efficient means of transport here where the winds blow steadily from one direction or the other.



They’re built of shaped and hollowed logs, a decorative stem-piece, with outriggers lashed on and a wooden rig with ropes of natural materials, -if they can’t convince a yachtie to trade used synthetic sheets…


They sail well to windward despite the primitive sail and rig, tacking is an end for end manouvre rather than bringing the bow through the wind, when the steering mechanism is so basic, it’s the easiest way to do it on a cat!

Living in the outer islands, is a very subsistant lifestyle, as it has always been, feeding off the sea or what they grow


(the women do the heavy work, the men go fishing…)
They also burn some of the hillsides for grazing their few animals




Unfortunately , as it has throughout the Pacific and Asia, fishing for shark-fin has become a very lucrative occupation.


They were proud of their catches and the income it would bring them, but we couldn’t share the enthusiasm, knowing that the rest of the shark was just being wasted, -without refrigeration, there was too much meat even for them to be able to use before it decayed.
As a result of this new revival in the industry there are rapidly declining shark numbers, maybe making the chance of shark bite to us much less, -but threatening the whole ecosystem.


The villages on the outer islands are idyllic situations, pretty with flowers


and are usually beautifully kept, fenced off from wandering animals; there’s evidence of civic pride,




but the people are often very poor


with little clothing, poor water supplies and very rudimentary health care.


This family with their cleverly made toy boats are squinting, not just because of the brightness of the sun, but because there was an outbreak of conjunctivitis through many of the villages and it was going untreated. Some children were very badly affected.


Twice daily ’rounds’ with Quo Vadis’ supply of antibiotic drops and pills made a lot of people happier, -but probably only for the short term, in the absence of good hygiene and clean water, it wouldn’t be long before the problem recurred.
But that’s the hard lifestyle they are accustomed too, although grateful of any help they receive, they are uncomplaining people, happy with their lot and living there, but with their limited communication with the outside world, it’s not hard to see why, -it’s a pretty nice place!


Misima is the main island and Bwagoia Harbour the main town, it is a comparative metropolis.


 There are rough roads, some vehicles and shops, -even a bakery


which turns out the best of bread -with a complimentary wood-smoked flavour.


The people of Misima are more urbanised, many with jobs and so have money. With money they can afford more of the pleasures in life, basics like clothes, but also tobacco, alcohol and chewing betel nut, -for their health, the unfortunate ones.
There has been a large mine nearby and that has poured a lot of money into the area, it is the reason for the most of the development on the island. Unfortunately when we were there it was about to close and although the Independence day Celebrations were a festive affair when the whole town dressed up



but clearly the occasion was dulled by the news of the mine’s departure. It was talked of at length during the speeches, -pessimistic predictions of how the people would have to make do with even less. There were going to be many bad outcomes (even to specifically mentioning the loss of imported lamb flaps from New Zealand as refrigerated ships would no longer call…) but in other respects it was of a real concern, as the town (and whole archipelago) was likely to lose its sole doctor and small hospital. That would be a great loss when the health care was already struggling.

We greatly enjoyed our time in the Louisiades, for the clean environment


and its happy, unassuming people who could make an enjoyable lifestyle out of nothing.


In so many ways we were envious of them, we could be happy living there for a long time too, -but then we had the choice, and knew we were shortly going back to Cairns with all that Australia had to offer -and we could afford…


We re-entered Australia at Cairns, -to the chagrin of the over officious Immigration Officer, if she had her way, we wouldn’t have been allowed in, despite being New Zealanders, we had to convince her of our right to do so and ability to support ourselves in her country!!!
However, once allowed in, we enjoyed Cairns for a time, getting back into cycling regaining fitness lost during ‘down’time in the Louisiades


up on the hills and to Kuranda


then driving up the coast to Port Douglas



visiting old conference venues of working days…where we can only afford to go ‘window-shopping’ now…

With the forthcoming summer it was time to move south away from the cyclone area. The northerly winds which would enable good sailing didn’t occur often, or for long, they were often light, so we had to take the rare opportunities to move when they occurred, often motoring for long periods of time and if we were lucky, being able to use an afternoon sea-breeze to sail and turn the engine off.
We had intended returning to Brisbane, but got as far as Yeppoon, stopped in the marina for a break, -and fell in  love with the place.
We decided that this was far enough, secure enough from cyclones and it would do!

We spent a very enjoyable summer there without any weather problems and got to like that part of Queensland very much.

Yeppoon is just a seaside town in farming country


notably of crocodiles


and pineapples



with a lot of the attractive dry open-ness of rural Australia thrown in. The roads are empty, so the cycling is unlimited and the nearest big town is Rockhampton


easy to visit by bus, bike -or courtesy car from the marina when you just needed that little more…


There is also the big port of Gladstone just a little further down the coast.

This is an area of Queensland we’d return to anytime…


The following year, 2005, with autumn we turned north once more, our goal being to be in Darwin in time to make the crossing to Indonesia with the Darwin to Kupang Rally in July.

But first we had to do a haul-out and boat antifoul, we had prebooked that to be done in the Mackay boatyard as it seemed they a lot to offer, but we had a frustrating stay as that wasn’t really so and the south-easterly winds would not ease long enough to get the jobs done!


In a month spent mostly waiting we go to know the cowboy town of Mackay and it’s area, the good bits and the bad, all too well…

Once we were free to leave, we had to do some catch-up, so it was a comparatively quick trip back up the coast to Cairns, -but not that it meant sailing overnight! It wasn’t that rushed, we had excellent day sails and covered a lot of ground quickly and still had time to stop again in the Whitsundays,




Magnetic Island and Cairns, but then, as we were into new territory we slowed down.


Lizard Island is a ‘Mecca’ for many Queensland cruisers, they make an annual ‘pilgrimage’, using the good south-easterly sailing breezes to get up there from Brisbane and points south, they pull into Lizard Island and enjoy retirement until the northerlies at the end of spring will get them back south again.


It is a beautiful island of course and is in the middle of the barrier reef with the opportunities for diving and fishing that offers, so we enjoyed several days in the bay there, but we don’t rate it as highly as many others do. However, it’s a nice place to stop off on the way north.


But, it is still a long way from there to Cape York, we had several excellent days of sailing with good breezes from behind and rapidly covered the distance, generally in company.


Until after going at great speed on the current through the narrow Albany passage between Albany Island and the mainland


we arrived at the Cape, anchored with a sense of achievement and went ashore to have the photo to prove it…


Around the corner into the Gulf of Carpentaria is the small aboriginal town of Seisa and a nice place to anchor a few days waiting for the right opportunity to cross the Gulf to Arnheim Land.


We had by then been without shops for some time, so even the small supermarket there was a welcome one to reprovision with fresh food.

From Seisa it was just a few days passage across the Gulf to Gove Harbour on the other side, it is the site of a large aluminium smelter and the town is built adjacent to it, amongst the heaps of red, dusty bauxite. Industrial though the town may be, it is a good anchorage and one of the few places it is possible to stop at in the Northern teritory, most of the coastline is under aboriginal ownership so we are prohited from landing.

Gove is also a welcome spot to rest-up after the crossing of the gulf, which never is as straight-forward as it seems it should be, there are currents and with the wind comes nasty confused cross-seas, -our trip had been no exception! Although not all unpleasant, and reasonably fast, there were some times when we had to slow significantly because of the messy conditions.


From Gove we once again had pleasant sailing downwind to Darwin, several days of hopping around the featureless and extremely hot, hazy, Northern Territory coastline.


After passing through the ‘Hole in the Wall’ between the Wessel Islands on the second day out from Gove, there was little to see above the water. Any land we could see was flat,smoky and distant, -but on  occasions we found the land to be disturbing close below the water… just literally scraping through in places where our navigational information had misled us…


There was about a month to spend in Darwin before we were to leave on the Kupang rally, it was a chance to make the final preparations for the yacht to be ready for Asia; to get to know some of our fellow-cruisers; -and enjoy our last Australian town.


It’s a leafy, green, modern central city area, commercially similar to other Australian centres,


but because of its isolation in the vast red dirt of the Northern Territory, it has a real sense of independence from the rest of the country, -they do it ‘their way’!


It’s also ‘different’ because it was the only Australian city to be bombed during World War 2, it was also largely destroyed and rebuilt after cyclone ‘Tracy’ and both events are remembered in many places through the town.


We enjoyed the night markets, a weekly feature of Darwin in the dry of winter, (although it’s unfortunate the sandflies like to come along too…)


and the day markets, there was already an obvious Asian influence on the goods and food for sale;


the aboriginal culture too very strong.


We took the opportunity of a few days by rental car touring the Litchfield National Park


known for its walks and wonderfully cool waterfalls for swimming; then Kakadu, for it’s wetlands;



the harsh outback landscape



and paintings of the ancient aboriginal past.

Not to be missed though are the ‘jumping crocodiles’


who are an entertaining interlude on the long drive back to Darwin! They’re by no means domesticated crocs, they are wild in the river, but are accustomed to the daily boat trips where they can be fed fresh beef on  a stick…it saves them the trouble of stalking it on the hoof!

We enjoyed our time in Darwin, but were ready to go by the time we left for Kupang in Indonesia, in July, as planned.

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