Running a Marathon and Celebrating Maori Culture in Hamilton

On November 29th 2015, Ivo crossed the finish line of his first full 42 km marathon in Panama City, crying. For the first time in his life he was overwhelmed by a mixture of total exhaustion, physical pain and a sort of inexplicable sad quiet euphoria.

One year and a half later, he joined another 42km race in Hamilton, New Zealand. This time, there were no tears and Ivo enjoyed every moment from start to finish. Three hours and 55 minutes of flawless, painless, glorious running.

Ivo running the Kirikiriroa marathon 2017. Photo by photos4sale.com

It’s mid-March, 2017, nice sunny weather. We are driving from Mangawhai through Auckland towards  Hamilton together with Mel, who came from Pert in Australia to New Zealand for a few days to accompany Ivo in his second full marathon.

Maya, Mel and Ivo in New Zealand.

Mel is Ivo’s running mentor and one of his best friends. We met Mel and his wife Caryn aboard yacht ‘Passages’ (a beautiful teal color Island Packet) in the Caribbean and sailed together from island to island for many months. We share many unforgettable memories.

Ivo and Mel also share a passion for running- a sort of a hobby, or mania, that only runners understand. Mel is a few years older than Ivo, born in Namibia, now living in Australia. He has many running races under his belt including a 90K ultra marathon in Africa, and he initiated Ivo in the world of running. It includes training, gear, safety and food.

Mel and Ivo aboard Fata Morgana getting ready to go for a morning run in Mangawhai, New Zealand.

Can you imagine training for a marathon while sailing and living on a boat? Getting up at 4 a.m. , before the burning tropical sun becomes unbearable, kayaking to shore and running between 10 and 40 kilometers (one to four hours), often in circles on tiny islands with no paved roads, with dogs chasing you and little  kids running, screaming and laughing after you; trying to follow a strict running program interrupted by days, sometimes weeks of ocean passages; eating whatever stores you have on the boat or local foods and not having access to the recommended runner’s diet; using the same old shoes even when they are finished and you need new ones, but there is no place to buy new good running shoes in a thousand nautical miles radius.

You have to be really passionate about running and extremely disciplined to train for a marathon while sailing and living on a boat.

We buy chicken and pasta- lean meat and carbohydrates, which we prepare in the hotel. Mel booked a nice double room with kitchen and TV near the Hamilton Gardens- a big beautiful city park where the marathon will start early tomorrow morning. The guys spend the rest of the day resting and eating pasta. We go to bed early.

Saturday, March 18. It’s still completely dark in the park. The runners have gathered. The kiwi people are fun-loving friendly folks and joy is in the air. Many of the participants, men and women, are wearing orange tutu skirts and orange T-shirts, as if coming out of a techno concert. The race begins before sunrise. It will take about four hours for Ivo and Mel to return. Some of the other runners and walkers will cross the finish line much later.

At the start of the marathon

Mel at the finish line. Photo by photos4sale.com

ivo at the finish line. Photo by photos4sale.com

Instead of sitting around and waiting for four hours, Maya and I hitch a ride back to town, and from there we take the bus to Ngaruawahia- a small village half an hour drive north of Hamilton. Another race is taking place there this same day- the annual Turangawaewae Regatta and we are not going to miss it. We will miss Ivo and Mel crossing the finish line- the most glorious moment and the greatest achievement in every marathon runner’s life, but we will witness one of New Zealand’s deepest cultural events- the best waka kopapa racing in the country.

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Waka kopapa are single-hull paddling canoes with great proportions and unique design, traditionally used by the Maori people for war. Built from giant totara tree trunks, with exquisite tribal carvings at the front and the back, some wakas were up to 30 meters long, holding up to 100 warriors. These were sacred vessels used for epic battles.

Waka kopapa- Maori war canoe

We arrive at the event just in time for the waka parade and watch from the banks of the mighty Waikato River as five long boats take off. The men in each waka are dressed in their traditional tribal Maori piupiu, a kilt-type garment made from dried flax. Many have body and face tattoos and they all look fierce.

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Maya and I have time to roam around the river bank with many stands selling traditional food, carvings and other Maori art and crafts before the wakas return. We get traditional ‘mokos’ or face tattoos, which for women are limited to the chin. There are hundreds of visitors, the majority local Maori families from the near-by communities, gathered to celebrate their ancestral culture and history.

Maya and Mira with Moko Tattoos

More and more people arrive as the culmination of the Regatta approaches. Four hours have passed since the start of the Kirikiriroa Marathon and soon Ivo and Mel join us on the loan in front of the small stage on the shore of the Waikato River to watch the return of the wakas. The runners look tired, their bodies are tense as if the juices have dried up inside them, but also very happy and proud.

  • It was a good run. I felt great. I didn’t even feel tired at the end and could keep running a lot more.- said Ivo with an expression of serenity and content.

At the Turangawaewae regatta

A thunderous chorus of hundreds of bare-chested, bearded, hairy, tattooed warriors rowing and chanting rhythmically in perfect synchrony as they approach down the river is a mighty sight to behold, followed by the traditional Maori Kapa Haka performed by each of the waka teams.

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There are no words that can describe the Maori haka, as there are no words to describe the powerful might, the tremendous energy and awesome devastating force of an apocalyptic storm. You feel it with all your senses as it hits you, invading all the space around you, penetrating inside your chest like a thunder from another world. The Maori haka is a natural phenomenon.

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The Maori haka is a custom of high social importance and an ancient living art form. A spiritual dance and song performed by groups of people to welcome guests or warn the enemy, to pay respects in honor of the living or the dead. It is still proudly performed today at every event throughout New Zealand, in public institutions and private gatherings, thought to kids of all backgrounds in every school in the country, and in all Maori families and communities.

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The hakas, imitating oral narratives, transmit feelings of personal and historical events, and transfer knowledge and tradition through music. The war dances aim to intimidate psychologically their enemies with strong loud chanting and roaring, stomping, and fierce expressions. The first Europeans who witnessed them got terrified and described them as ‘ferocious and vigorous’.

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Joseph Banks, who accompanied James Cook on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1769, later recorded, ‘The War Song and dance consists of Various contortions of the limbs during which the tongue is frequently thrust out incredibly far and the orbits of the eyes enlarged so much that a circle of white is distinctly seen round the Iris: in short nothing is omitted which can render a human shape frightful and deformed, which I suppose they think terrible.’

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Later, the Christian missionaries tried to eradicate and prohibited the haka dances and many other Maori or non-Christian traditions and customs, and replace them with harmonic hymns, like in the Polynesian islands. But the Maori people secretly kept their traditions alive and in the 19th century they were revived. When Queen Victoria’s son Prince Albert arrived in New Zealand for a visit in 1869, at the wharf in Wellington, he was greeted by a vigorous haka. The Wellington Independent reported, ‘The excitement of the Maoris becomes uncontrollable. They gesticulate, they dance, they throw their weapons wildly in the air, while they yell like fiends let loose. But all this fierce yelling is of the most friendly character. They are bidding the Duke welcome.’

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It is like that today still. There’s yelling and fierce shouting, mean expressions and terrible gestures, to let us know we are welcome, as long as we respect: the land, the people, the tradition. Ours or not.

Kids watching the haka performance at Turangawaewae Regatta

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Watch the short YouTube video with footage from the Turangawaewae Regatta and Haka performances Road Trip in North Island

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If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Road Trip in North Island

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Sometime in January we pack a tent and sleeping bags and contact a few people on CouchSurfing and some of our Bulgarian friends we met at the Christmas Camping celebration in Mangawhai, who live in various New Zealand cities. Svet and Dara kindly lend us their car called Rocky and we leave on a tour of North Island on a minimal budget, spending money mainly for fuel and food. In two weeks we drive around some of New Zealand’s most spectacular places in search for the free tourist attractions and things to do in the area, avoiding the expensive ones, spending a total of zero dollars for accommodation, cooking for our hosts, and enjoying life on the road.

On other previous occasions, we have visited the Waipu Caves, Tane Mahuta and Goat Island together with friends.

The Waipu Caves, only a few minutes north of Mangawhai, are undeveloped limestone caves, unguided, with no tracks or paths, muddy and narrow at places, and free access. We walk barefoot through slippery mud and water up to our knees inside the mysterious chambers and passages. The Waipu Caves represent the largest cave passage in Northland with underground river and lakes, stalactites and stalagmites. Here, with our flashlights off, in the total darkness and silence of the cave, we gaze at a galaxy of glow worms, like constellations of blue-green stars in a clear night.

The glow-worms are carnivorous bioluminescent fly larvas inhabiting dark places. The larvas take a few months to become flies and during this period they cast luminous silk threads with which they lure and catch their prey. The silk webs are made up of mucus tubes, in which the glow-worms reside, and ‘fishing lines’ hanging vertically beneath the mucus tubes, reaching up to 40cm in length. The fishing lines are dotted with globular secretions of mucus which immobilize small insects like midges and tiny flies, and sometimes larger ones like cockroaches and beetles.

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Goat Island on the east coast, one hour drive north of Auckland, is the site of New Zealand’s first marine reserve, established in 1975.  It is a rich ecological area teeming with fish and sea life. Snorkeling and diving is the best way to explore the underwater world here, but the place is also perfect for a lazy day on the beach in the company of friends. There are many quiet picnic spots on the shore overlooking the dramatic landscape of the bay with its rock formations, and cormorants nesting in the coastal trees.

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Tane Mahuta in the Waipoua Forest of the Northland Region is the largest kauri tree in the world, over 50 meters high, with an estimated age of up to 2,500 years. It is the most famous tree in New Zealand. Its name means “Lord of the Forest” in the Māori language.

According to the Maori creation myth, Tāne is the son of Ranginui the sky father and Papatūanuku the earth mother. Tāne tore his parents apart, breaking their primal embrace, to bring light, space and air and allow life to flourish. Tane is the life giver. All living creatures are his children.

The tree attracts many visitors and is carefully protected and taken care of. Before visiting Tane Mahuta, we pass through a cleaning station to wash the soles of our shoes of any potentially harmful bacteria. During the New Zealand drought of 2013, 10,000 liters of water from a nearby stream was diverted to Tāne Mahuta, which was showing signs of dehydration.

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We start from Mangawhai, driving through Auckland towards New Plymouth, where we meet our CouchSurfing host Daryl. We enjoy being in a car and driving on land for a change, especially in New Zealand, where the sentry is green and beautiful. On the way we pass Three Sisters on the North Taranaki coast and marvel from a distance at the rock formations near the river delta, beautiful at low tide.

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Daryl’s house in the heart of New Plymouth is clean, spacious and full with travel books. Daryl is in a wheelchair since more than twenty years, when he had an accident and broke his back, but this hasn’t stopped him from enjoying an independent life and traveling. He has been in many places all over the world and is passionate about other cultures.

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Daryl takes us to Pukekura Park for the award-winning Festival of Lights with more than 1000 LED lights programmed to dance in different patterns and colours, illuminating the trees and the lake, creating a magical world. Just after sunset, the park is full of people and looks like a fairytale place, breathtaking, with palms and giant ferns glowing orange, yellow and blue, with shining jellyfishes suspended over the lake, a multicolored waterfall, and the Tunnel of Light – our favorite.

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The next day, we drive to Whangamomona – a funny sleepy village in the middle of nowhere calling itself “a republic”, with very strange history and customs. The Republic of Whangamomona is today the main tourist attraction along the Forgotten World Highway with its century old hotel the major point of interest. The town has a total of 14 permanent residents. In 1988 the New Zealand government decided that Whangamomona would become part of the Whanganui/Manawatu region. In response and as a protest, the town declared itself a “republic”, holding presidential elections every two years, confirming its status as separate from the rest of New Zealand. On Republic Day thousands of visitors arrive from all over New Zealand and the world to celebrate.  Festivities include swimming with the eels, a gut buster and betting on sheep racing, with the day culminating in the presidential elections. Everyone who got his passport stamped at the hotel can vote. Some of the Republic’s former most memorable presidents include a goat and a poodle.

We get our passports stamped, next to the Macchu Picchu and Nazca Lines stamps in the back pages, as if the regular stamps from the countries we visit are not enough. And we drive off, as there is not much to do in the tiny town. I want to take a picture of the Welcome to The Republic of Whangamomona road sign, so Ivo pulls over in the ditch and Rocky gets stuck in the mud on the side of the road. Not many cars pass through here. We wait and worry for a few minutes, until the local mailman saves us and pulls Rocky out of the mud. We wonder if the local mailman is one of the Republic’s 14 permanent residents, and if he has ever been the president… but we forgot to ask him.

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The journey to Whangamomona and back along the narrow winding Forgotten World Highway is more about the drive than about the destination, crossing green pastures and forests, small villages and farms. We enjoy it all the way to Egmont National Park, where we spend the rest of the day hiking in the Goblin Forest and visiting Dawson Falls.

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Tired, we head back to Daryl’s place and spend another night at his house. I prepare a Bulgarian dish for supper called Musaka, based on potatoes and minced meat, replacing the meat with eggplant, as Daryl is vegetarian.

The next morning, we hike Mount Taranaki – one of New Zealand’s iconic mountains and an active volcano with one of the most symmetrical volcano cones in the world that might erupt any minute. It is also one of the most popular hiking destinations in the country with maximum altitude of 2518 meters.

“According to Maori legend, Taranaki once lived with the other volcanoes of the North Island’s Central Plateau – Tongariro, Ruapehu and Ngauruhoe. When he made romantic advances towards a beautiful mountain named Pihanga, Tongariro erupted in jealousy. Banished to the west, Taranaki was maddened with grief. When his peak is shrouded in mist and rain, he is said to be weeping for his lost love.”

We walk up to the base of the crater. The climb beyond first base is not an easy one and is recommended only in good weather conditions and preferably with special alpine equipment. As many as 80 people have died climbing the peak, falling down or freezing to death, which makes Mt Taranaki one of New Zealand’s deadliest hikes.

And there is another danger. Mt Taranaki is an active volcano overdue to erupt by more than 100 years. When this happens there will be total destruction to the edge of Egmont National Park.

Historically, Taranaki has had minor eruptions every 90 years or so with a major one every 500 years. The last major eruption was sometime around 1650, while a smaller ash eruption occurred 100 years later. It’s a ticking bomb.

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The next day, before heading to Palmerston North, we stop for a visit at the Govett-Brewster Art Gallery and Museum of Contemporary Art in New Plymouth to watch Len Lye’s kinetic sculptures, which sound like thunderstorm. There we say good-by to Daryl.

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We drive south, along the scenic coastal Surf Highway 45 passing through Pungarehu for a quick stop. Here Cape Egmont’s historic Lighthouse and museum is marking the westernmost point of the Taranaki coastline. It is the sight of an epic shipwreck, after power failure of the lighthouse on July 13, 1956.

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Next short stop-over on our way is the small Tawhiti museum with interesting exhibits of old agricultural machinery. To see a real-life steam engine tractor was on Ivo’s bucket list and he saw it in Tawhiti museum.

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We drive on. It’s a nice sunshiny day, windy and crisp. As we approach Whanganui, we spot a big lake surrounded by lush flowering gardens on our left, teaming with bird life. We pull over. We wish we had a full day to spend in Whanganui’s Virginia park instead just a couple of hours. We feed ducks, white and black swans, and our favorite- the pukeos, using their feet and long toes like hands to grab the bread crumbs we are tossing them, and we meet the Australian coots for the first time, with their strange feet.

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pukeko

Australian coot

We pass through Palmerston North to visit our friends there Koko, Svetla and their son Evgeni, spending a couple of rainy days with them. Svetla is a professor in the department of Agriculture at the university in Palmerston North. She gives us a tour of the campus and we learn some interesting facts about the local soils, plants, and animals.

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The next day Evgeni takes us to the Victoria Esplanade Rose Gardens with a variety of 100 different rose species. Here, hidden behind rosebushes, we discover little painted rocks. Evgeni explains, that when you find a painted rock, you can keep it, but you will have to paint another small smooth river rock and hide it in the park for someone else to find.

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Next stop- Wellington, New Zealand’s windy capital. Here we stay with two families: John and Cveta and their daughter Imogen, and Krasi and Biliana and their two daughters Magi and Aglika. They tell us which are the most interesting places to visit in the city and how to get there, help us with parking spots and other tips. In the evening, we drink beer together and enjoy the hospitality of good friends.

Wellington

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We spend the first day in Te Papa– the impressive 36,000 square meter, earthquake proof national museum and art gallery of New Zealand, sitting on the waterfront in Wellington’s harbor.

“Te Papa Tongarewa” translates from the Maori language as “the place of treasures of this land”. The museum is spread on six floors with many collections, long term, short term and interactive exhibitions, incorporating concepts of diversity, culture, place, and the environment, focusing on the relationship and partnership between indigenous people (Tangata Whenua) and non-indigenous people (Tangata Tiriti).

We marvel at the collections of fossils and archaeozoology; at the herbarium of about 250,000 dried specimen; the collection of about 70,000 specimen of New Zealand birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals, as well as Maya’s favorite- the world’s largest specimen of the rare colossal squid – 495 kilograms (1,091 lb) and 4.2 metres (14 ft) long.

The History Collection includes historic and contemporary items from the Pacific Islands; and the cultural collections include photography, Māori taonga (cultural treasures), and Pacific cultures.

The long term and permanent exhibitions of cultural objects focus on New Zealand history, Māori culture and New Zealand’s natural world. These are free.

For some of the short term visiting exhibits, like the interactive Bug Lab science exhibition by Weta Workshop, we have to pay. Gallipoli- the large-scale statues of soldiers during the war is one of our favorite exhibits, also created by Weta Workshop- the same studios producing the sets, costumes, armor, weapons, creatures and miniature models for the film trilogy The Lord of the Rings.

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The next day we visit Zealandia– the world’s first fully-fenced 200-hectare urban ecosanctuary and a conservation project. Zealandia has an ambitious 500-year plan to restore the Wellington valley’s forest and freshwater ecosystems as closely as possible to their pre-human state. Some species of native wildlife previously absent from mainland New Zealand for over 100 years have already been reintroduced back into the area.

Here many of New Zealand’s endemic birds, some of which endangered and extremely rare in the region like the tūī, kākā, kererū, tīeke, hihi, little spotted kiwi, and tuatara, thrive in their wild natural environment. We meet some of them, while others remain hidden, like the shy kiwis which only come out at night.

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In Taupo we stay with Mike at his house just a short walk from the lake, and he shows us the best free things to do in the area. CouchSurfing is great in many ways. You get to travel cheaply, but also you meet some cool local people who know all the places in the area, not just the popular touristy ones.

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Mike takes us down to the Waikato river with a pink inflatable and explains the plan.

  • Just drift downriver until you reach the hot springs. Should take 15-20 minutes. There you have to be sure to come out of the water. If you keep going you will reach the rapids and the waterfall and you’ll die. So just make sure you come out at the hot pools.

Ivo and Maya are up for the thrill. The water is freezing cold, but the hot thermal pools are awaiting.

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The area around Taupo and Rotorua is full with volcanic activity- thermal springs, craters, geysers and fumaroles, and spectacular volcanic terrain. Here is New Zealand’s oldest national park and a World Heritage Site- Tongariro.

Located 20 kilometers southwest of Lake Taupo, Tongariro is the northernmost of the three active volcanoes that dominate the landscape of the central North Island, reaching a height of 1,978 meters, with 12 cones and active vents.

The Tongariro Alpine Crossing is considered the best one-day trek in New Zealand, even one of the top ten single-day treks in the world. We are going to check it out.

The weather is exceptionally good: sunny, no wind, and no clouds. The terrain and views are stunning the higher we go. But it’s the weekend and at least a million other enthusiasts are here to hike. Around noon gets so crowded, that we cannot walk beyond the first base because of all the incoming traffic of people arriving from the opposite end of the trek, that we have to turn back and go with the flow.

Mount Tongariro and its surroundings are among the several locations chosen by Peter Jackson to shoot The Lord of the Rings film trilogy.

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The Aratiatia Rapids and Dam near Taupo are the site of the barrel ride for the movie The Hobbit. Here the spill gates of the dam on the Waikato River open a few times every day to createite of the barrel ride used inod for ith 100 variety of roses. the perfect flash flood.

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After a couple of days in Taupo, we keep driving to Rotorua, planning to camp at one of the few campgrounds in the area, because we couldn’t find no one on CouchSurfing. But the campgrounds are all full! We drive around for a while, looking for a hidden spot near the road where we could pitch our tent for the night without being noticed. In New Zealand you can’t just camp anywhere.

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Luckily, a local lady agrees to let us sleep over at her farm. We put up our tent in the corner of one of the cow paddocks. The genuine hospitality and friendly kindness of this woman and the kiwis in general (‘kiwis’ is what the people of New Zealand call themselves) is the most beautiful part of this country.

After showing us around the farm and how the dogs convince the cows to move from one paddock to another, the woman’s grandkids bring us sausages, steak and corn for dinner. We give them a big block of our favorite Whitaker chocolate- New Zealand’s best!

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The next morning, we wake up early, say goodbye to our awesome hosts who give us some more sausages for the road, and head for the Whakarewarewa Forest.

Right at the outskirts of Rotorua is a green park with over 5600 hectares of exotic tree species and native undergrowth, dominated by the magnificent Californian Coast Redwoods, with a network of superb mountain biking and walking trails along the river.

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We skip the geothermal pools and geysers passing by the Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland only to see the free mud pools there. A ticket for the geyser and the rest of the park is 35 NZ$ per adult, while a ticket for the Te Puia geyser costs 55 NZ$. Instead, we head for the free Kuirau Geothermal Park, located right next to Rotorua’s city center, with its steaming, hissing, boiling and bubbling lakes and vents. Here, we even meet a family of Californian quail running around the hot pools.

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The Legend of Kuirau

In early Maori times the small lake in the park was much cooler and was known as Taokahu. A beautiful young woman named Kuiarau was bathing in the waters when a Taniwha (legendary creature) dragged her to his lair below the lake. The gods above were angered and made the lake boil so the Taniwha would be destroyed forever. From that time on, the bubbling lake and the steaming land around it have been known by the name of the lost woman- Kuirau.

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Our last and long-awaited stop is the original Hobbiton Movie Set from The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy and The Hobbit films, situated on a family run farm with lush pastures and flowering gardens near Matamata. It is also the most expensive destination of our tour with an 80-dollar admission fee. If you are a fan I guess it’s worth it, but I (Mira) waited for Ivo and Maya in the car…llar admission fee fowaited in the car… For Ivo and Maya visiting Middle-earth, the Shire and the Green Dragon Inn was a dream-come-true and their favorite experience of the whole road trip around North Island.

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For me, the highlight of our car expedition these two weeks a and Ivo, s. the green views passing by my window. he chance to visit; and the people we metnt time with- s, volcanowas the driving itself, the winding road along pastures and farms, forests and volcanoes. The green land passing by my window.

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Watch the short fun YouTube video Road Trip in North Island

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik

Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Christmas Camping in Mangawhai

Some of the campers in Mangawhai

From Opua, where we spent our first couple of weeks in New Zealand and met the awesomest CouchSurfing host Willi, we sail south to Whangarei to meet Jordan and Gergana and their two boys Hristo and Boris.

At Jordan and Gergana’s house

They greet us like old friends, offering us warm hospitality and assistance. Right away Jordan and Ivo drive hundreds of kilometers all the way to Tauranga to pick up our new dinghy with Jordan’s trailer, saving us a few hundred dollars for delivery. We celebrate with beer and banitza.

Visiting Jordan and Gergana in Whangarei

Thanks to our popularity in Bulgaria (our motherland) as world travelers, we are meeting Bulgarians everywhere we go. Bulgarians living in the countries we visit or their friends who are following our blog, contact us every time and in every place on our way we get to make new awesome Bulgarian friends. Our journey around the world has become greatly about the people we meet and especially the Bulgarian people we meet wherever we go. And in New Zealand we met more awesome Bulgarians than anywhere else!

Ivo with Jordan in front of a Christmas tree in Onerahi Anchorage

Our friends visiting us in 20+ knots wond

Next we visit Svet and Dara, and their two kids Vokil and Sofia (also Bulgarians, friends of Jordan and Gergana), and spend a few days housesitting in Magawhai, an hour south of Whangarei. The few days stretch into a few months. We basically move-in in their house, occupying the old caravan permanently parked at the end of the big front yard, or moving to a tent, when other families visit for a few days’ stay and the caravan is needed to accommodate more people. Maya and the kids are great friends, and we all enjoy the awesome company of Shelby the cat, ruler of mice and sparrows, and the three dogs: Puku, Ruby and baby Bristol. Baby Bristol is a few months old, spoiled bundle of joy, sleeping in the house in forbidden places, and doing her business in the center of the living room or next to the washing machine.

Maya with her friends

We arrive in Mangawhai sometime at the end of November and moor Fata Morgana in the tiny bay a few minutes’ walk from the house. Gradually, more and more Bulgarian families arrive too from other parts of New Zealand and all the way from Bulgaria, parking their cars and caravans in front of the house, covering all the rooms with mattresses, spreading their tents in the front yard near our caravan until there is no more space, invading the back yard. By the end of December, the place looks like a campground, with no rules, no organization, and only one toilet. Actually, there is one rule, and one rule only, and Svet, our host and main Jedi,  is strictly enforcing it: “No one goes to bed before midnight.” They call this “Celebrating Christmas”.

The “campground” in Mangawhai at sunset

Kids of all ages are running around, jumping on the trampoline or sitting in front of the TV, while the mothers are constantly cooking and washing dishes. Every day the campground wakes up early to the sound of babies crying. A few sleepy mothers prepare breakfast and turn on the TV, so the fathers can continue their hang-over sleep until noon, at least. At noon, almost everyone is awake and the smell of coffee is in the air. We sit outside on the porch around an old chest made of kauri tree, which we use for a table to put our coffee cups on, the morning sun shining, everyone a bit reluctant to speak, people lining up in front of the bathroom, and we make the plan for the day.

“Let’s go to the beach.”

It’s important to mention here, that in New Zealand the months between November and May are the hottest, and this is the time of the summer vacation.

It takes somewhere between 2 and 5 hours to organize the going-to-the beach activity, deciding who will be in which car, which beach, who is not going for whatever reason, preparing mountains of sandwiches, getting the kids ready with their swim suits, wetsuits and towels. Sometime in the late afternoon the Bulgarian heard is at the beach- fishing, surfing, splashing and playing football (or soccer). We love football, it’s our national game.

The Bulgarians at the beach

One very strong Bulgarian characteristic is- we are a loud people. We are impulsive, excited when with friends and very loud, rivaling the Italians. So you can imagine a group of 30 plus Bulgarians playing football on the beach… Curious people would come from far away to ask what is the language we speak, or rather, we scream.

Fun and Games at the beach

Tired and hungry, we return at the house with only one shower. At some point, the water, which comes from a rainwater collecting tank, finished very suddenly and surprisingly, while someone was using the washing machine, another one was in the bathroom and the dishwasher was in the middle of its cycle. It hasn’t been raining for a long time. Panic.

The men quickly respond to the disaster: cars are leaving, the water supply guy is found, he says he cannot come today, a gift of a bottle is given, he comes today. The water tank is full once again and we are back in business, after a few hours of complete drought and uncertainty.

The evening is the greatest and most important part of the camping’s routine. In the backyard, Svet and Dara have parked an old fishing boat made of kauri, which after renovation can be used to accommodate a few more campers, but now is just sitting in the middle of the place, as decoration. Next to it is the BBQ. Another smaller boat, also made of kauri and used for catching whales one hundred years ago is turned upside down and raised above a home-made bar, where every evening we bring drinks and food, music and even lasers for added epicness. Between the two boats is an empty space with a metal car wheel in the center, used as an improvised fireplace. We sit around the fire watching it intently and sip drinks until midnight or later.

Dancho and Koko- the evening begins.

Thus, we celebrate not only Christmas, but also New Year and all small and big holydays, and regular days in between, until Easter. The New Year’s party is of epic proportions like a scene from Emir Kostunica’s gipsy films, with over 50 people, all Bulgarian, except our Belgian friend Gill and the two British DJ’s, both named John, one married to a Bulgarian girl we call “Tzuki”. Yes, there are DJs, and there are lasers and a smoke machine, and traditional ring-dancing in clouds of dust, kids and dogs running around, mountains of food and rivers of alcohol. The only thing missing is a live pig roaming around and a shootout.

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Thank you for your hospitality and friendship

Dara and Svet, Voki and Sophia

Jordan and Gergana, Hristo and Boris

Stefan and Petia, Nikola and Marko

Dido and Nataly, Koko, Stefko and Toto

John and Tzuky, Imogene and Isabelle

Miro and Eva, and Mira

Koko and Svetla, and Evgeny

Krasi and Biliana, Magy nd Aglika

Marieta and Ivan Boevi, Stasy and Nia

Pach ond Maria, Volen and Maxo

Joro and Vili

Krasi

Joro

 

More photos

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Мира и Дара правят мартенички

Maya and Sophia dying their hairs

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Watch the short fun YouTube video with more interesting events from Mangawhai

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Exploring New Zealand’s Northland with Willi

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We arrive in Opua- a small boating community in beautiful Bay of Islands with a marina and a boatyard at the end of a deep bay, all sorts of marine shops, a yacht club and a restaurant and one small rather expensive grocery shop.

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Checking in on a Saturday afternoon is as fast as it can get, with two easygoing friendly officials, who inspect the boat, confiscate our honey and a bag of beans considered biohazard in New Zealand, inspect our camping tent for any foreign plants or seeds that might be stuck to it, and take our garbage away along with the many entry forms filled, signed and stamped.

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After the long and difficult passage from Tonga to New Zealand, after the exhaustion and the pain of eleven sleepless days and nights, tossed up and down on the ocean waves, stirred in all directions by changing winds and currents- a sense of immense relief and profound amazement in a new green world is upon us.

The light almost transparent turquoise hues of the blue lagoons in the tropics has deepened here into solid greens of rolling hills and endless fields sprinkled with white dots. The bright gold and soft pink of remote sandy beaches has matured here into deep reds and browns of earth and rock. The thin tall palm trees dancing delicate and fragile against the white sky have taken here the shape of massive ancient trees and giant ferns we’ve never seen before.

New Zealand is different from all other places, exceeding expectations and defying logic. It is morning- a new day is ahead of us, while back from where we are coming, it’s the beginning of the night of yesterday. It is Spring in November here, fresh and beautiful- summer is around the corner, while in the world we used to know people are preparing for winter and the maples are shedding their orange leaves.

Reunited with our friends the German family aboard catamaran Invictus and the Belgian family aboard catamaran Mercredi Soir, we share dinners and walks around the bay, shopping in the near-by town of Pahia, doing small boat works and repairs, cleaning and laundry. A few days pass. We are planning to explore the northern wonders of New Zealand’s North Island, as cheaply as possible like always- hitchhiking and couchsurfing.

New Zealand- the legendary Aotearoa of the Maori, “the land of the long white cloud”, is an island country in the Southwestern Pacific Ocean consisting of two main big landmasses—the North Island and the South Island and around 600 smaller islands, situated 1,500 kilometers (900 mi) east of Australia across the Tasman Sea. The two main island are divided in regions, of which Northland is the northernmost part of the country and our first destination. Through Couchsurfing we contact a local guy named Willi, who accepts our request to stay at his lifestyle block, which means a small farm, in the town of Kaikohe for a few days. He even comes to pick us up with his car from Opua, so we don’t have to hitchhike to his place!

Willi is of Maori descend, our age, with long black curly hair, barefoot, ever-smiling, ever-singing, full of local knowledge, great stories, impressive artistic talent, and awesome sense of humor. Easygoing, funny and smart, with an enormous amount of energy reserves, positive attitude and love for life, Willi quickly became our all-time favorite Couchsurfing host and good friend, whose company we enjoyed more than anything else during those few days in Northland.

Willi

On the way to his house, Willi shows us a few of the places of interest around Kaikohe and Kerikeri, explaining the significance of the Maori sacred grounds, telling us about the local flora and fauna. It’s 5-dollar pizza Monday at Dominos, so we share 5-dollar Monday pizzas watching the Rainbow Waterfalls in the park just before sunset.

Willi lives in the old house of his grandparents with three small bedrooms where he accommodates couchsurfers from all over the world. There is a separate garage building and a big yard full with all kinds of curious old but useful stuff lying around, piled up, most of which could be used for something at some point in time, including a small perfectly rigged sailboat, which Willi is planning to sail around the Bay of Islands someday. In the meantime the yard, garage and sailboat could be used to house more guests, campers and couchsurfers.

Beyond the yard populated by a few chickens ruled by Kuro- Willi’s black ninja cat, are a few paddocks separated by fences, where Willi keeps sheep and cows. He has two kinds of sheep- the white fluffy classic-looking cute New Zealand cliché sheep,

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and a few rather sickly-looking foreign imports of bigger and uglier stature and sullen expression, brownish in color, paranoid in character.

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The cows, of various ages and sizes, are in separate paddocks and more numerous than the sheep. Many are young ones, which Willi buys as calves, raises for a few months and sells at the cattle market across the street from his house.

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Maya is thrilled with all the animals and farm life in general. But mostly, she loves Kuro- the black ninja cat, skilled hunter of mice and sparrows, who casually comes to check us out early in the morning in our bedroom all covered with mattresses and blankets, as it gets cold at night, and allows us to scratch him behind the ears. Cats think they are, and behave, as the rightful owners of the homes they inhabit and the supreme rulers of everyone.

Willi works as a bus driver and tour guide for one of the local bus companies organizing day tours to Cape Reinga and 90-mile Beach- Northland’s main tourist attractions. We were planning to hitchhike to some of these points of interest in the area, but it turned out that the northern part of Northland is very remote and almost no cars pass on the one main road to the tip of New Zealand. So hitchhiking might take much longer time than expected, and without a tent we might find ourselves in the middle of nowhere, at night. But thanks to Willi, we are able to join one of his awesome bus tours and see the most interesting parts of Northland.

First stop is the Manginangina Kauri swamp forest where we meet for the first time in our lives the mighty kauri trees. One of the most remote and isolated places on the planet, New Zealand developed a distinct biodiversity of unique animal and plant life, of which the kauri tree is one of the most famous and prized representative.

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Kauri forests are among the most ancient in the world, appearing during the Jurassic period 150 million years ago. The kauri is a coniferous tree found only north of the 38 degrees south latitude in New Zealand’s North Island. It is the largest species of tree in New Zealand, standing up to 50m tall. They can live for more than a thousand years.

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We continue on to the famous 90-mile beach on the west coast of North Island which is actually only 55 miles long.

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It is an official New Zealand highway and a major tourist attraction. Here Willi makes doughnuts with the bus and we stop to collect tuatua clams and to make a human pyramid.

“Why make a human pyramid?”- asks Willi, “Because we can! We have a whole bus full of humans and there is no excuse not to make a pyramid!”

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At this point, no one of the bus crew- all young backpackers from all parts of Europe, really cares where we are going next. It doesn’t matter, as long as Willi is our guide. This one day bus tour has become an awesome experience and unique performance on wheels thanks to Willi, who is constantly making jokes, singing, and telling stories, organizing karaoke on the go, teaching us to sing a Maori haka and perform it in front of the costumers in a small fish-and-chips joint, organizing games, human pyramids, sandboarding on the dunes of 90-mile beach, and transforming a road trip into a fun unforgettable event in which the passengers become the audience and the performers at the same time, and get to know each other. It’s truly amazing.

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Our next stop is Cape Reinga- the northernmost point of New Zealand and a sacred Maori site. Here the Tasman Sea collides with the Pacific Ocean.

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It is ‘the place of leaping’.

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According to Maori legend, here the spirits of the dead leap into the ocean to begin their final journey and return to their ancestral homeland of Hawaiki. The first New Zealand settlers arrived from Eastern Polynesia around 1300, after long and epic sailing voyages through the southern Pacific islands, navigating the seas in their traditional canoes. They became the Māori people of Aotearoa. Hawaiki is home of the Maori gods and the Maori people’s traditional place of origin. In Maori mythology Hawaiki is where the supreme being Io created the world and its first people. It is the place where each person is born, and it is where each will return after death to transform into birds or descend to the underworld. (from https://www.teara.govt.nz/en/hawaiki )

Here Willi tells us to be respectful. He says that if we sit at the edge of the cliff and close our eyes we will feel the profound spirituality of the place.

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Back at Willi’s place, we are welcome to stay a few more days longer than originally planned and to do some work around the house, in the spirit of couchsurfing.

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If you are couchsurfing at someone’s house, the best thing you can do to repay your awesome host for the hospitality and free accommodation is to cook some traditional food from your country and to help around the house. So in the next couple of days, I prepare some traditional Bulgarian dishes and paint the toilet with a fresh coat of paint, while Ivo, Maya and Karlo- a young German guy also couchsurfing at Willi’s place, sheer Willi’s sheep. We also clear some of the bush in one of the cow paddocks piling the branches to create the biggest bonfire in the history of the world.

We are watching the biggest bonfire in the history of the world burning in front of our eyes with beers in our hands, Willi, Karlo and the three of us; sleepy cows munching grass under the stars, and a black ninja cat lurking in the shadows. The spirits of Willi’s Maori ancestors populating the night time of these places are watching over us, communicating their wisdom, guiding us.

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Watch the short fun YouTube video about our Couchsurfing experience at Willi’s house and the Awesome Bus Tour!

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

 

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Passage to New Zealand. Weather is King

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You will shut the doors, turn on the heater and watch from the window the lightning storm over the hills, sipping hot chocolate in your pajamas. The wind outside will howl while you watch TV inside. The rain will pound on the roof while you are falling asleep, glad it’s Saturday evening and you don’t have to go to work tomorrow in this nasty weather. In this weather, all you want to do is stay warm and dry in your bed and sleep. That’s if you live in a house.

If you live in a boat and a storm comes while you are 500 nautical miles away from land the situation is a bit different.

We check the weather carefully before each passage and we wait for the perfect conditions. We wait for days, weeks or months if we have to. We don’t take risks and we don’t enjoy extreme, fast or dangerous sailing. There is a big difference between experienced sailors who race in regattas and like fast speed, and the tropical cruisers looking to move safely from one place to another as uneventfully as possible.

We estimate how long it will take us to get from point A to point B, depending on wind speed and direction and the boat’s usual speed in the predicted conditions. It’s math. The time equals the distance divided by the speed. Add or subtract the currents (and keep in mind katabatic or accelerated wind effects near land). That’s if the weather predictions are correct. A few times they haven’t been…

Some passages are longer than others and some passages are much more complicated, difficult and dangerous than others. The Pacific Ocean Passage from Panama to the Marquesas (over 3000 nautical miles) is one of the longest passages taking a few weeks, but it’s an easy straightforward one with constant light east winds close to the equator (with an occasional squall). The passage from Tonga to New Zealand is a long one too- 1000 nautical miles- and notoriously dangerous. (I am only talking about the popular routs, destinations and passages which the hundreds of ‘tropical cruisers’ out there do each year, and not the more extreme ones like Cape Horn for example, where only a few experienced sailors venture.)

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The beginning of November is the time for all sailboats in the South Pacific to find a safe sheltered place away from the path of destructive cyclones. Cyclones are tropical hurricanes with devastating winds and waves, rain and thunderstorms, hitting the South Pacific between November and April each year. Most cyclones form between 10 and 30 degrees of latitude south of the equator- in other words- in the tropics. This area is called The Cyclone Belt. So there are a few options for sailors- either head north towards the equator or south of the 30 degrees latitude and spend 6 months away from the tropics. Or take a huge risk and remain in the cyclone belt hoping not to get hit this year. The most popular cyclone refuge for boats sailing in the tropical islands of the Southwest Pacific Ocean is New Zealand, lying beyond the dangerous 30 degrees south. And this is where we headed as well, together with hundreds of other sailboats. But the 1000-nautical mile passage from Tonga to New Zealand is not an easy one. It is notoriously rough and dangerous with Low pressure followed by High pressure systems forming every week in the Tasman Sea.

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The Tasman Sea is a disturbed creature stuck between Australia and New Zealand, facing east, breathing in (low pressure) and out (high pressure), sending storm after storm across and above New Zealand and the Pacific. To cross this zone of uncertainty requires patience, knowledge, courage and luck. Each year sailboats escaping the cyclones stage their passage from Fiji or Tonga waiting for the right moment to dart as fast as they can between breaths, or if they are lucky- when the monster is sleeping and breathing quietly. There is a lot of information out there- and strategies- when and how to do it, what to expect and how to deal with it. Like: Start at the back of a system as it passes south of Tonga/Fiji, head towards Minerva Reefs or a bit west of the direct line and if the wind dies for a day or two- turn on the engine and keep going, as you don’t want to linger too long in The Danger Zone and wait for the next system to hit you.

In this particular part of the world, there is also, besides the Tasman Sea- Creature, another mythical figure of giant proportions, literally and metaphorically speaking.  A ‘Guru’ or a ’Master’ – “an implanter of ideas, knowledge, and wisdom based on skill, study and experience with the real world” who helps the Tropical Cruiser with estimating the weather and planning the trip. His name is Bob.

bob

bob

Bob McDavitt will sit down and make an individual sailing plan for each boat, based on the boat’s parameters and weather estimates, for a fee. You can also subscribe for free for his weekly newsletter loaded with latest weather- related news, updates, predictions and tips. Met Bob becomes the most popular person in the South Pacific when the time comes to sail to New Zealand and there are two main rules: 1. You don’t go if Bob didn’t say “Go”. 2. You go only when Bob says “Go.”

You can find more info and contact Bob, or subscribe to his news letter at MetBob.com

Yet, there are no guarantees neither in Bob’s calculations, nor in the GRIB files generated automatically by computers based on satellite data. Ultimately, you need to plan carefully, watch the weather patterns and have good judgment and luck.

We use PredictWind’s Offshore App when planning a trip and with the Iridium Go satellite we can get weather updated and plan routs on the go anywhere on the planet.

Here is one very useful article on Passage Planning to New Zealand form Noonsite.

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We start from Nuku’alofa, Tonga’s capital and main port towards Minerva Reefs with very light winds from northeast. The wind drops even more on the second day, from 8 to 3 knots, and we turn on the engines to reach an average speed of 5 kts. The light winds turn from southeast on Day 3 as we approach North Minerva reef. A couple of yachts are coming out of the reef heading to New Zealand. One is S/V Ostrica with our friend Patrick from Switzerland (whose mother is Bulgarian) aboard. We talk on the radio and he informs us of his plan to head southwest for a day or two before turning southeast towards destination. With the predicted wind direction, this makes sense. We decide not to stop in Minerva and also head slightly west of the line, but it turns out it is not enough. We hit a current and we get pushed east.

Five hundred nautical miles from destination, or halfway, we receive a call on the VHF radio from New Zealand coast guard passing in an airplane above us asking if everything is OK with us, how many people are aboard, what is our destination and ETA. It feels great having someone watching over you.

The next couple of days, about 400 NM left, the wind turns from south reaching 27 kts with 4-5 meter waves and we have no choice but to head west with zero progress towards destination and very uncomfortable sailing close to the wind. It gets cold too. The more south we sail, the cooler the air and water temperature. We are out of the tropics.

About 300 NM from destination we realize, according to the up-dated weather predictions and GRIB files, that a low-pressure system will pass right on top of us with over 40 knots of wind from north. This is scary. We prepare the Galapagos beer crates to drag behind us for stability.

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Calm before the storm. The wind dies completely and the ocean becomes smooth and glassy. It is unbelievable that this same silent lake of a sea will raise great moving mountains of chaos in just a few hours. A lonely dark albatross is following Fata Morgana flying low over the water surface in big circles, keeping its distance. Like a premonition. Just because we know with certainty that a storm is heading our way, we blame the albatross of being a ‘bad omen’, as most dark things seen before calamites.

The storm hits us on the ninth day of the passage 160 nautical miles from land at 22h00 with winds 35-40, gusting to 48 knots. We are prepared and waiting. No surprise. Sails are down, beer crates in the water. The boat is stable and moving with 6-7 knots. We are even progressing towards destination and the waves are not bad at all. We close the enclosure and it’s smooth bare-pole sailing with excellent improvised drogues and the auto-pilot performing great.

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I am sending messages with our position and up-dates every one hour via the Iridium Go satellite to our friends in Australia and New Zealand who are monitoring our progress. It makes me feel safer.

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Actually, we feel quite safe. Maybe it is the fact that it’s not our first storm, maybe because we use the ‘drogues’ for a second time and they perform really well and the boat feels stable, but we are not concerned about our safety. Not like the first time we got hit four years ago in the Yucatan Channel, when we thought we are going to die… I guess with time and experience one does learn the limits of the boat and becomes more and more confident in bad weather and bad situations.

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The storm is over, the new sun is out and we are approaching New Zealand. Both Ivo and I are extremely exhausted from lack of sleep. But instead of calm AFTER the storm, the situation gets worse. The wind turns form south and keeps blowing with 25-30 knots creating huge messy waves. Fata Morgana is jumping up and down left and right with reefed sails and the engines pushing. Inside it feels like someone is constantly beating and kicking us. It’s painful. Impossible to prepare food or sleep, even to stand up, walk down the stairs or go to the toilet. Plus it’s cold and everything is wet and salty. I feel painfully disgustingly tired, uncomfortable and fed up with the whole thing. I just can’t take it anymore and all I want is for this ordeal to end. I quit. Let me out!

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That’s how it is on day ten of this unfortunate passage. We arrive in Opua on the eleventh day completely destroyed and ready for a break from the boat and the sea. Ready for a long deserved green land vacation is in New Zealand.

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  Watch the 20-minute video about our stormy passage from Tonga to New Zealand

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

.

… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Hina, my Beautiful Friend in Tonga

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Sailing to Tonga

We met dolphins, almost run over a great big sea turtle resting on the surface of the sea, and landed a 6-kilogram dorado or mahi-mahi- two names for the same big ocean fish with beautiful golden-green skin and white delicate flesh. Our dinner for the next four days.

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We crossed the dateline, which is a very confusing event. The Dateline is running from the North Pole to the South Pole, passing through the middle of the Pacific Ocean, following the 180° line of longitude, and demarcating the change of one calendar day to the next. From Tuesday, we sail directly into Thursday, skipping an entire Wednesday, and finding ourselves in the Domain of the Golden Dragon. Sailors, who cross the International Dateline enter the Domain of the Golden Dragon; those who have crossed the Equator are no longer Slimy Pollywogs, and become Trusty Shellbacks, and those who pass through the Panama Canal belong to the Order of the Ditch- all honors we now proudly possess. But this does not change the fact that an entire day has been lost beyond recovery because of an invisible imaginary line.

Tonga

Tonga

Two hours before sunset, the first islands of the vast Tongan archipelago begin to pop up from the ocean on the western horizon. It has been 48 hours since we are slowly motor-sailing with wind between 6 and 10 kts behind us, rarely reaching 16 kts, covering 210 from the 230 nautical miles passage from Niue to Vava’u- Tonga’s northern island group. We have been using our engines a lot more lately, since we crossed the Pacific. We are no longer “purists” strictly sailing, dropping and lifting anchor and even catching moorings on sail, spending 50 dollars for fuel annually. We have become “normal”, trying to avoid bad weather and bad situations even if it means motoring and spending more money for fuel. A storm has been predicted- the first for the season, so we want to make sure we are safely at anchor before it hits after a day or two, even if this means 20-30 hours of engine.

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Only 20 NM to go. With average speed of 4-5 kts we will have to navigate in complete darkness for a few hours between invisible reefs and shadows of islands. Ivo is watching closely the chart plotter with Garmin charts, the backup on the i-pad with Navionics as well as OvitalMap showing Google Earth view of the area with our GPS position- a great software for the South Pacific. We slow down as we approach the reef pass and it gets shallow. The sea is calm. We proceed carefully without problems. The charts are spot-on.

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At 9 o’clock in the evening we enter a deep very protected bay near the first of the Vava’u Group islands- Pangaimotu. It’s completely dark on a cloudy moonless night. We can see a few boats sleeping in the night without anchor lights or any other lights. The more we approach the anchorage, the more boat silhouettes appear closer and closer, dark and lifeless, barely visible. Of about 20 boats only a couple have anchor lights! The rest are almost completely invisible. Both Ivo and I are bitching about it as we are dropping anchor in a tight spot between two monohulls. Once we are done dropping anchor a guy in a dinghy shows up telling us in a very friendly manner that this is a paid mooring field, that boats on moorings don’t need to turn on anchor lights, as they are not at anchor, and that we should reanchor further away from the moorings. We do that and go to sleep. It might be legal and according to the rules to have your boat moored without a single light at night but it also seems stupid and risky to me. Is it because it’s called “anchor light” and not “mooring light” that the law allows this? I wonder how many of these dark invisible vessels have been run over at night, causing damage not only to themselves, but to the unsuspecting arriving vessels.

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The next day we meet once again our friend Kim Philley aboard S/V Philiosophy and he introduces us to the cruising community in the bay. Every Saturday evening these guys organize potluck BBQ on the beach. They are great people, experienced sailors, full of stories and good advice, some have been around the world twice. I just wish they turned on a small, economic LED light at night…

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We remain in the bay of Pangaimotu for the weekend. It is a hurricane hole tucked in between islands and reef, protected from wind and waves in all directions, and a perfect place to ride out the storm we are expecting to hit any minute. But the storm hits the islands of Samoa some 300 nautical miles north of Tonga and all we get is rain. Buckets of it!

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About Tonga

The day after the big rain it’s sunny and the world is beautiful again. Time to step on land in Tonga for the first time in our lives.

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Being for the first time in a new unfamiliar place, of which we are not a part, is always very exciting and somewhat uneasy and overwhelming. We are visitors in a new country and everything is interesting.

The Kingdom of Tonga is an archipelago of 169 coral, limestone and volcanic islands of which only 36 are inhabited by some 100,000 people (most of them on the main island of Tongatapu). With total land area of about 750 square kilometers scattered over 700,000 square kilometers of sea in the southern Pacific Ocean, Tonga is divided into three main groups – Vava’u, Ha’apai and Tongatapu. Its neighbors are Niue to the east, Kermadec (part of New Zealand) and New Zealand to the southwest, Fiji and Wallis and Futuna (France) to the northwest, New Caledonia (France) and Vanuatu to the farther west, Samoa to the northeast, and Tuvalu and Kiribati further north-northwest.

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Tonga has been nicknamed the Friendly Islands since 1773, when Captain James Cook first visited the area and was warmly received by the local people at the time of the Inasi festival, the yearly donation of the First Fruits to the Tuʻi Tonga (the islands’ paramount chief). There was a failed plot by the local chiefs to kill Cook, but they didn’t do it and he never found out, and so the islands remained “friendly”.

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From 1900 to 1970, Tonga’s status was that of a British protected, with the United Kingdom looking after its foreign affairs under a Treaty of Friendship. But throughout history, Tonga never relinquished its sovereignty to any foreign power and remained the only Pacific nation to retain its independent status as a traditional kingdom. And even during the colonial period, Tonga has always governed itself, which makes it unique in the Pacific.

Meeting Hina in Pangaimotu

From the bay of Pangaiotu, we walk up on a steep paved road cutting through lush farmlands. Tall coconut palms, banana and papaya trees dominate the rolling hills with green cassava and taro plantations. The air is still, the land is dry and silent in the intense heat of the island’s interior.

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We seek the shades on the side of the road and stop to rest under an old mango tree. A little further, the first houses of a village begin to appear. Humble homes with vast flowering gardens, populated by chickens and pigs. Graves with white crosses and flowers lie in front of each house. It’s noon. The shades have shrunk and the sun is burning hot. Dehydrated, we pause once again on the side of the road, not far from a white church. Surely, we will meet people here and maybe a car will pass and give us a ride to the big city of Neiafu on the other side of the island.

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A woman’s voice is calling us from the blue house across the road. She is waving at us making a sign with her hand to go to her, offering us water. There may be a restaurant at her place, I’m guessing, or maybe the woman wants to sell us something, like the locals in so many other places we’ve been to, who always try to sell us something. We have to be careful. So often people invite you and show you things and then ask for money. You can tell when people are honest and have good intentions- it’s something in the way they talk and smile at you, something in the way they approach you with caution and respect, something in their eyes that defines them as genuine and trustworthy. This woman- the first Tongan human being we meet- has such eyes. All about her is bright and calm and beautiful. Her name is Hina.

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There is no door in the low fence around her house, so we have to climb over it. No, there is no restaurant and Hina is not trying to sell us anything. She saw a man, a woman and a girl, strangers in her village, in the heat of the noon, and offered them shade, water and friendship in the form of the most infinite famous around the world Tongan Hospitality. From the moment we entered her home and met her daughters and sons, from the moment we sat on the mat of her porch and accepted a cup of refreshing fruit juice, from the moment we told her our names, so hard to pronounce and remember, we became Hina’s guests of honor and best friends.

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Hina’s home is clean and humble, consisting of one big spacious living room, almost empty, with no other furniture than a cabinet along the wall and a TV on a small table. No dining table, no couch or chairs. The walls are covered with family portraits. In the back, there are a couple of bedrooms, which we didn’t see, and an open floor kitchen with a stove and a table. The big front porch looking towards the street is on the west side of the house and the pleasant shade there will soon be chased away by the afternoon sun.

Hina works at the big market in Neiafu, a few kilometers away, selling souvenirs and hand-crafted baskets she makes. We promise to visit her there, as we will be sailing to Neiafu the next day, where we have to check-in in Tonga officially. Normally, visiting yachts are required to check in immediately upon arrival, but a day or two later is usually acceptable in many countries we’ve visited. Ah, so maybe Hina is so friendly with us, because she is trying to sell us her souvenirs, I suspect. But when we do visit her at the market the next day, she greets us like royalties, with hugs and kisses, and insists on giving us small souvenirs- two shell necklaces for me and for Maya, and wouldn’t accept our money! She wants me to choose and take for free one of her baskets as well. I can’t accept, this is too much. It takes her a few days of hard painful work to make one basket. But I am happy to learn how to weave and make my own basket.

Hina at the market

Hina at the market

Becoming my friend and teaching me traditional basket-weaving is the greatest gift Hina gave me. Spending a few days with her in the cool shade of the covered market, sitting quietly, getting to know each other, sharing lunch- these are the most intimate and beautiful moments of my Polynesian experiences. It’s quiet at this time of the weekday in the gifts and souvenirs corner of the market. It’s dim when you enter from the sunny street and your eyes need some time to get used to the darkness. The long tables are covered with wooden figurines and carved masks, jewelry made of seashells and pearls, and all sizes of woven baskets and traditional ornamental girdles. A few women sit near their tables, waiting for customers, weaving. I am sitting next to Hina in the far corner of the vast shed. We are both working on our baskets, silently. The place is quiet like a cathedral. Like in a dream, Hina starts singing – a soft, gentle beautiful tune in her strange Tongan language, in which a simple word like “hello” makes your tongue dance- “malo e lelei”. I hold my breath as if a fragile butterfly has just landed on my shoulder and I don’t want it to fly away. Observing it with the corner of my eye, I want to perceive and remember each detail of this short moment of my life.

Hina

Hina

Sunday Celebration and Umu

Hina invites me, Ivo and Maya to a traditional Sunday celebration and feast at her house.

  • I will make umu for you, the food of Tonga, for you to try. – says Hina.
Hina and her sons

Hina and her sons

Her English is not very good, but we understand each other perfectly. I ask if we can pay for some of the ingredients she will use to prepare the food on Sunday- five kinds of meat, taro, cassava and sweet potatoes, fish, lobsters and oysters, fresh fruits and vegetables. Her family has a plot of land not far from her house, in the fields we passed on our way when we first walk to her village, and they are producing most of the root crops, fruits and vegetables, as well as peanuts, which they sell. But most of the meat, fish and oysters she has to buy from her neighbors or the market. But she is not accepting my money offer. She is inviting us as friends at her house, not as customers.

Hina

Hina

After a bit of negotiating, I convince Hina to invite also our friends from another boat- a French family with three adorable kids and a young crew member aboard S/V Excallibur (six people in total); to make a big feast and accept a little money per person (for her food expenses), and our gifts (some school materials for her kids, clothes and dry food products). She likes the idea.

Sunday morning, we are ready to go. We have arranged for a taxi for nine people from Neiafu to Pangai to pick us up from the port at 8 o’clock. Ten minutes later we arrive in Hina’s house. She is happy to see us, as always, and already busy preparing the umu. She greets us with a platter of pineapple, papaya and mango fruits and fresh juice. Her two daughters- the most beautiful young college girls we met in all of Tonga studying to become nurses, are helping wrapping goat meat, pork, beef, fish and oysters in taro leaves, with chopped onions and coconut milk. Preparing the food is traditionally the women’s task.

Preparing the food

Preparing the food

In the meantime, Hina’s husband and two boys, prepare the underground umu or “earth oven”, which is the men’s task. They put some large rocks inside a hole in the ground in the backyard and make a fire on top. When the fire burns down and the rocks get really hot, they place large banana leaves on top and put the food inside the hole. All the meat wraps, as well as the yams, taro and cassava. Then they place some more banana leaves on top to keep the heat and cover the hole.

Making umu

Making umu

After this, everyone goes in the house and gets changed for church. The women put on long colorful dresses ornamented with a kiekie -a handcrafted girdle. Maya gets a golden dress and I chose a bright red one with large flowers- the best clothes our hosts possess.

Maya and MIra

Maya and MIra

The men wear clean shirts with tropical flower prints, long dark skirts and the Ta’ovala- a traditional woven mat used for all formal occasions. Ivo, Nicolas and his two sons look totally insane wrapped in the skirts and the straw mats, which also turn out to be rather uncomfortable. It’s a jolly commotion choosing and putting on the Tongan clothes; we are almost late for church!

Nicolas and Ivo

Nicolas and Ivo

While the food remains in the underground umu oven slowly cooking for hours, we all go to church, a few meters away from the house. But we have to hurry up; Hina is a bit nervous, as she sings in the church choir and want to be on time. I remember her beautiful voice.

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Since Christianity arrived about 200 years ago, the vibrant tradition of unaccompanied choir singing has been established in Tonga. In the late 19th century, missionaries introduced hymns popular in England and Australia, keeping the Western tunes but translating the lyrics into the Tongan language.

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The church bells ring and everyone is already inside as we arrive and take our places in the back. There are about fifty people, young and old, all dressed in their Sunday best. They all sing the most beautiful church music imaginable. Young and old women voices ring with acoustic, joined by powerful male voices in perfect harmony. We listen to the long and very fiery cerement of the priest delivered entirely in the Tongan language. It seems as if he is accusing us of some horrible sins, screaming and gesturing very seriously at us. And I mean- at our group of visiting white people. The congregation is respectfully silent. I think, we will burn in hell for being late, or because the kids got bored after two hours, or because Ivo looks ridiculous in traditional ta’ovala, or for some other unforgivable sin we have surely committed.

Ivo

Ivo

After church, family and guests go back to the house. The men take the food out of the umu oven and the women place it on a table made of banana leaves. After a prayer to bless the food, the feast begins.

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  Watch the short video about our beautiful friend Hina in Tonga and the Sunday feast. Tonga’s Underground Cuisine

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Beveridge Reef and Niue

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All sailboats visiting Palmerston- four in total (three with Bulgarians aboard)- leave at the same time and head west. The wind looks favorable to sail to Niue, some 400 NM away, at least for the first couple of days. We sail together in a group keeping in touch on the VHF radio. Buddy-boating is always great.

After two slow spinnaker days with light east winds, the GRIB files forecast a westerly change. We decide to stop in Beveridge Reef- some 120 NM before Niue, together with S/V Ostrica and S/V Aislando. We want to see this extraordinary place and it’s a good idea to wait inside Beveridge Reef for a few days until the unusual west winds turn from east again.

Beveridge Reef

We arrive in Beveridge Reef in the afternoon on the third day, making sure we enter through the cut in daylight, which means pushing with the engines the last couple of hours. Just before the reef- a stronger puff of wind and our spinnaker “explodes”. It’s an old secondhand sunburned undersized spinnaker we got in an attic in Martinique for 150 EU two years ago. We used it a lot during our Pacific Ocean passage and it hearts to see it all blown to shreds. But it doesn’t hurt as much as if it was a new 10-thousand-dollar sail. Ivo will try to stitch it up, even though repairing it looks impossible to me.

Fata Morgana in BR

Fata Morgana in BR

S/V Aislado arrives just a few minutes after sunset, no engines used. We help them navigate the pass by following our track on the AIS, which makes it possible for them to enter the reef in the dark. S/V Aislado might be the only yacht ever who entered Beveridge Reef successfully at night, considering that the reef is not correctly marked on any marine chart. You have to find and download a drawing and waypoints available online, before sailing there. On the electronic charts Beveridge Reef is marked as a splotch two miles away from its actual position, with no pass indicated.

Directions to Beveridge Reef

Directions to Beveridge Reef

S/V Ostrica decided to wait the night outside the reef and entered the next morning, bringing a big mahi-mahi to share with us.

S/V Ostrica arriving in Beveridge Reef

S/V Ostrica arriving in Beveridge Reef

Patrick S/V Ostrica

Patrick S/V Ostrica

Beveridge Reef is just a reef in the middle of the ocean- a narrow circular ring of coral and rock, very similar to the atolls we have already visited. The main difference is- there isn’t any islands or land area in the atoll, no sandy beach, not a single palm tree, no birds.  And not a single island in a hundred nautical miles radius. The reef is entirely underwater at high tide and at low tide the tips of its upper rocks stick out of the water. In the middle, there is a blue shallow lagoon with sandy bottom, which is an excellent anchorage, and there is only one pass on the west side to enter. The barrier reef protects the lagoon from the waves without stopping the wind and even in storms the lagoon can be a refuge for boats. If seen from the air, it looks like a turquoise flat spot surrounded by deep dark purple ocean.

Beveridge Reef

Beveridge Reef

For five days we are stuck in the reef waiting for east winds, snorkeling in the pass, cleaning the hulls, diving the wreck on the east side, and partying with our new friends in the evenings.

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As we exit the reef heading to Niue, a big motor catamaran approaches with a National Geographic team of underwater photographers aboard. They ask for directions to enter through the cut.

Watch the short video we made about Beveridge Reef.

Niue

We arrive in Niue in the afternoon on the second day after leaving Beveridge. In the evening, we watch a big lightning storm passing south of us, heading towards the Cooks. The sound of thunders is the last thing you want to hear at sea and we are grateful we arrived on time. The anchorage in Niue is one of the least protected anchorages in the South Pacific, deep and with coral bottom. So yachts have to catch a mooring buoy for 20 dollars a day paid to the famous Niue Yacht Club, and hope for good weather and east winds.

Mira and Maya in Niue Yacht Club

Mira and Maya in Niue Yacht Club

The next morning, the Niue customs and immigration officials come and we check-in right there on the dock in the port of Alofi. This dock is the only way to land ashore in Niue. You have to haul out your dinghy- in our case the kayak- and lift it up with a special crane, otherwise the rough sea and huge tides might damage it.

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No time to lose. We don’t want to spend much time and money in Niue as 20 NZ dollars per day is the most we have ever paid for a mooring. Plus, we don’t want to get stuck in bad weather in an unprotected place. We decide to hitchhike instead of renting a car for 55 NZ$ plus 19 NZ$ for a local driver’s license plus gas.

Beer for capt. Ivo

Beer for capt. Ivo

It’s a beautiful sunny day. We are right in front of the Yacht Club in Alofi, Niue’s capital, smiling, our thumbs up. A car going the opposite direction stops suddenly, makes a U-turn, and picks us up. The guy drives us across to the southeast side of the island- 13 kilometers to the village of Hakupu. It’s a narrow winding road and it takes him about 20 minutes. Sitting in the back of the car, we don’t even see his face. He is a middle-aged Polynesian man. At the end, we insist to pay for the gas- it’s a long way away from where he is going. But he refuses politely- he just wants to help us and it’s no trouble for him. “You are visitors and Niue is my home. It is only natural, and the Christian thing to do, to welcome you and help you out. “ Sometimes, a small insignificant event like this can make your day a better day. Sometimes, a nameless faceless person can have a profound effect on your entire life and change you into a better human being.

In one day, we stop a total of 11 different cars. Friendly locals give us free rides to most of the awesome places in Niue and tell us stories of the island, of hurricanes and tsunamis, of sea snakes and sharks, of wars and migrations, and other miraculous events. So this is why we fell in love with Niue. And this is why if you ask us we will tell you that Niue is one of the most beautiful places in the South Pacific with the nicest most welcoming people we have met.

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Niue is an island-country of 260 square kilometers with about 1, 500 inhabitants, who are also citizens of New Zealand. It is a self-governing state in a free association with New Zealand and 90 to 95% of the Niuean people born on the island live in New Zealand.

The island’s nickname is “The Rock” as it is one big rock in the middle of the sea, with no barrier reef, no bays, no other islands around. But the word ‘Niue’ means ‘Behold the Coconut’ in the local language.

Niue is one of the world’s largest coral islands, oval in shape, and looks like a turtle floating in the sea. Its terrain consists of a central plateau rising to about 60 meters above sea level and steep limestone cliffs along the coast with many limestone caves and chasms.

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Togo Chasm

From Hakupu village, we walk down the road past lonely graves and giant spider webs, through a forest of palm trees and ferns to the entrance of Togo chasm, located in the Huvalu Forest Conservation Area. Down the narrow treacherous path we reach an alien landscape of razor sharp coral pinnacles. Togo is one of few places on earth where a geological phenomenon like this occurs on such a large scale. A field of spectacular coral towers. The best part is- there is no one else but us.

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Next, we get a lift back to Hakupu and to Anapala Chasm on the south-eastern shore. After a short walk through the forest we reach a cave with a small pool of fresh cold spring water, used by local people for drinking since old times- the perfect place to cool down after a hike in the tropical heat. Once again, no other tourists- we are alone.

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Ivo and Maya in Anapala Chasm

By noon we are back in Alofi on the western side of the island, heading north to the Tavala Arches, caves, Matapa Chasm, the Limu Rock Pools and the Avaiki swimming cave pools- an exclusive bathing place for the ancient Polynesian kings of Niue.

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Avaiki Cave Pools

We spent one unforgettable day in Niue visiting many of its unique caves, chasms and rock pools. We loved the quiet authentic atmosphere of the island- clean and friendly, and very well organized; the fact that there are almost no other tourists there, that all the places of interest are free and open for visitors any time. Definitely a place we would return to.

Niue Map

Niue Map

Niue Photo Gallery

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Togo Chasm

Coconut crab in Togo Chasm

Coconut crab in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Maya in Togo Chasm

Roadside graves in Niue

Roadside graves in Niue

Banana spider in Niue

Banana spider in Niue

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Anapala Chasm

Anapala Cave

Anapala Cave

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Tavala

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Tavala Arches

 

Tavala Arches

Tavala Arches

Tavala Arches

Tavala Arches

Limu Pools

Matapa Chasm

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Limu Rock Pools

Maya in Limu Pools

Maya in Limu Pools

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Ivo, Mira and Maya

Ivo, Mira and Maya

 

 

Watch the short video with all the beautiful places we visited in Niue: Sailing, Hitchhiking, Caving, Swimming and Dancing in Niue

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
Support us on Patreon @The Life Nomadik
Watch us on YouTube @Fata Morgana

 

If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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The Big Marsters Family and Other Extraordinary Encounters in Palmerston

Palmerston

Palmerston

Early in the morning we exit the narrow pass of our last French Polynesian atoll Maupihaa (or Mopelia, as the French renamed it). It is one of the places I leave with a heavy hearth. I wish we could stay longer, a lot longer- at least a month more. To make copra together with Hina, to hunt for coconut crabs in the coconut forest with Bowie and Kevin and for lobsters in the reefs at night with Io and the other guys, to cook our catch on the fire, drink homemade beer and share stories. But we have overstayed our visa in French Polynesia already, and if we want to visit all the other places on our list of Places-to-Visit and get to New Zealand before the beginning of cyclone season, we better hurry up. I wish there was no cyclone seasons, no visa limitations and life was endless, so that we could spend as much time as we like in all those places we love.

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We have another long passage of 540 nautical miles ahead of us to our next destination- Palmerston. It is another small Polynesian atoll part of the Cook Islands. The weather is good with light winds behind us and 1-2-meter swell. But nothing is ever perfect; we get a few hours of no wind and a few hours of squalls. Nothing severe, the winds reach only up to 25-27 knots. We fly the spinnaker 90% of the time in 10-15 kt East-Southeast winds.

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Shortly after sunset on the second day Ivo lands a nice tuna, which I marinade with soy sauce and black pepper and roast on the BBQ. Maya no longer refuses to eat fish, but she still doesn’t enjoy its taste the way Ivo and I do. Yet, she is now old enough to realize the benefits of fish: low-fat high quality protein filled with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins D and B2 (riboflavin), rich in calcium and phosphorus and a great source of minerals, such as iron, zinc, iodine, magnesium, and potassium. But most of all- it’s free food and we save a lot by eating free fish instead of our food reserves.

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In the afternoon on the fourth day we spot a lone big whale. Or rather- he spots us and starts circling the boat, passing way to close and too fast under the hulls to investigate. It is not the first time a whale decides to play around with Fata, but so far, they have never touched the boat.

We approach our destination just as the wind picks up and turns from northwest. Our friends aboard Amelie IV – an awesome family we met in the Caribbean- advised us not to miss Palmerston and thanks to them we decided to visit the place.

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They also told us about the very particular procedure we have to follow when we get there, so we are prepared. We call on the VHF radio channel 16 and wait to see who will answer. There are three options- either Bob Marsters, Edward Marsters or Simon Marsters will answer our call. Whoever does, becomes our host and adoptive family for the entire duration of our visit. Edward Marsters answers first and directs us to one of the mooring balls near the reef. The sea is choppy with big waves crashing on the reef just a few meters away from the boat, so it’s really hard to catch the mooring. There are three other boats on the other moorings not too far away and everyone is rocking and rolling with nothing to stop the wind and break the waves, as we are outside Palmerston’s barrier reef on the west side protected only in east and southeast winds, but not in the northwest winds we are getting. We have been told that this atoll doesn’t have a pass big enough for sailboats, so visiting yachts have to remain outside.

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Upon arrival in Palmerston, which is part of the Cook Islands and New Zealand protectorate, we are supposed to check-in with customs and immigration. Before there wasn’t such an options and yachts were required to go to Rarotonga – the capital of the Cooks first and check-in there before sailing to Palmerston.

The officials are supposed to come aboard in a fishing boat, to bring all the forms we have to fill, and to stamp our passports. But the waves are so big that it is impossible for the officials or anyone to get out of the atoll. So for the first day and the first night of our visit to Palmerston we remain on the boat backing broncos in extremely choppy conditions, waiting for the wind to change direction.

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Moorings outside the atoll

The sea calms down on the second day and we are able to do all the checking-in formalities with three friendly officials native of the island: customs, immigration and health and bio control. The formalities include filling forms, getting our passports stamped, paying the fees (less than if you check-in anywhere else in the Cook Islands) and getting the boat inspected and sprayed for bugs.

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After this our host Edward takes us to the island for the first time. Navigating through the narrow shallow pass, we enter the blue lagoon full with coral heads and rocks and head for a long white sandy beach fringed with coconut palms. Another postcard-perfect beach. Fishermen are just returning from a night of fishing, bringing a load of parrot fish, jacks and some other bigger fish; unloading the boat and cleaning the fish guts right there on the beach.

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  • These are my two sons and this is my brother. -Edward introduces us to the fishermen.

Later, they let us “help” them filleting the fish under a big old tree in Edward’s backyard.

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Fishing is a great part of life in Palmerston and the local’s main source of income.

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In the past, they used to produce copra (dried coconut used in the cosmetic industry) like most of the other Polynesian islands, but today fishing is their primary activity. They are the biggest exporter of parrot fish in the area. Thanks to the arrival of electricity on the island, they can now keep their catch frozen for months until the ship-buyer comes.

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Palmerston is one of the most isolated inhabited islands in the world with only 57 people living there today, surrounded by miles and miles of nothing but ocean. Their nearest neighbors are 500 nautical miles away, in Rarotonga- the capital of the Cook Islands. There is no airport and the only regular transportation to and from the island is a supply ship, which comes every 6 or 8 months, if the weather is good. So the 57 inhabitants can sell their fish and order pots and pans, furniture, clothes, even basic things like sugar, flour and rice only once or twice a year.

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We head for Edward’s house. It’s a five-minute walk on a path covered with sand and broken coral in the shade of palm trees. The property is big with a few buildings; there is all sorts of stuff all over the place, laundry hanging to dry, chickens and pigs running around or sleeping in the shade.

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Edward’s house is not very big, with tin roof and plywood walls.

  • It is used as prison, if ever someone commits a crime. – explains Edward, who is also the policeman and occasionally the mayor of Palmerston.
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  • Is there crime in Palmerston? – I ask in astonishment.
  • You will be surprised.

But they- the locals- don’t like to talk about this stuff, it’s none of our business. They prefer telling the visitors about the beauty of their island and its interesting, incredible, unique history.

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Edward Marsters

In 1863 an English carpenter sailing on a wailing ship through the area decided to stay behind and live on this small uninhabited Polynesian island, less than a square mile in territory, leaving forever the civilized world. He built a house using wooden planks from shipwrecks he found on the barrier reef of the atoll, married not one but three women from another Polynesian island to keep him company and started a family on Palmerston. His name was William Marsters.

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He had a total of 23 children with his three wives and divided the island in three equal parts for each of his three wives and their descendants. His children grew up and brought wives from other islands or married their third cousins, and thus the Marsters family kept growing. Some left the island, some came back, some never left.

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Today, there are over fifteen hundred descendants of William Marsters scattered around the world. Many live in New Zealand and Australia. Of them, only 57 remain on the island, divided in three families descendants of the three Marsters wives, forming one of the most bizarre and isolated island communities in the world. All Palmerstonians are related- brothers and sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts. Everyone on the island- dead or alive- have the same family name- Marsters.

The original house built by William Marsters is still standing in the middle of the island, next to the church. He made it with the wood from ships wrecked on the reef as well as materials given to him by the passing boats who stopped in Palmerston to trade. He gave them fish and coconuts in exchange for whatever he could get.

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This practice of trading with the passing boats still continues today. We give our host many old ropes that we no longer need, some supplies, and the old kayak Agent Orange, which we no longer use, as we got a new three-seat one from our friends KayakShop.BG. Agent Orange is a 15-years-old veteran of a kayak, bent, with a big crack, which Ivo managed to fix with life seal, so he doesn’t leak, but he’s not a pretty new think either. Yet, he still floats well and still has some adventure left in him. For Edward, Agent Orange is the best thing in the world and he sings us many songs in gratitude. We also get to use his mooring ball for free and for as long as we like and we have tasty lunch at his house every day. We are also very happy to have found the ideal retirement home for a worthy old kayak, who has been with us halfway around the world, on many epic adventures. Knowing that Agent Orange is in Palmerston makes us feel really good.

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Similarly, we are happy to bestow my books to the local school. We have been sailing for nearly four years with an old small less than 11-meter catamaran full of books. A catamaran has to be light to sail well and fast. Ours is two times heavier than it should be, full with all sorts of stuff accumulated through the years. So it’s not surprising that Fat Fata is moving rather slow, with 4-5 kts average speed (especially considering that we don’t use engines a lot). When we left Galapagos for the long Pacific Ocean crossing, we noticed the boat is leaning slightly forward, which means too heavy on the bow. This can be very dangerous in bad weather and can cause the catamaran to dig in the water after surfing a big wave and flip over. So we hoped for good weather and we prepared some improvised drogues (beer crates on long ropes) to deploy from the stern in case of surfing. We also decided it’s time to dig up all the books located in the hulls of the boat and get rid of them, no matter how tragic this seams for me. I love my books. They are a good selection of classics; my favorite authors in English, Spanish and French. I nearly cry as we load on a wheelbarrow and head for the school my Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, Steinbeck and William Warton, Carlos Fuentes and Mario Vergas LLosa, Simone de Beauvoir, Albert Camus and Emile Zola, Marvin Harris, Gore Vidal, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, Plato and Thoreau. I hope that someday, when I live in a house somewhere on land- whenever and wherever- I will find my favorite books again and keep them. I also hope the local kids will enjoy Mother India, Big Fish, and Life of Pi…

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The school principle, a New Zealand very friendly lady, and the two young teachers Joshua and Mellissa Simon who came to teach here on a two-year open contract, after teaching English in Korea and Malaysia, are very grateful for our contribution to the school. They actually can’t wait to go through my books and read some of them, as they have already read all the books in Palmerston.

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The school itself is nothing but a roof with individual desks lined up along the wall, with no windows and doors, as the temperature in Palmerston is always the same perfect 26-28 degrees all-year-round and so the windows and doors (which in other places of the world keep the heat in and the cold out or the cold in and the heat out, depending on the situation) are useless here.

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There is a football field in front of the school where Ivo and Maya play football with the kids. There are many kids in Palmerston. Half of the total population (57) or more are under 18-years-old and they are all cousins. The rest of the population are mostly older people (the grandparents). The young Palmerstonians, after graduating high school on the island, usually leave to continue their studies or look for work in Rarotonga, New Zealand or Australia. Some of them return on the island with their families, or later, when they retire. The two teenage boys I interview tell me, they are planning to continue their studies in Rarotonga, work, and return on Palmerston in their old age.

Behind the old grey house of William Marsters is the graveyard where the pioneer, his three wives, children and everyone else who died on the island in the last 150 years are buried. It is the most surreal graveyard with all gravestones bearing the same family name- Marsters.

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However, there is a division on the island, separating the three families descendants of the three Marsters wives. Each family owns equal share of land and property, including the mooring balls. Palmerston is a very special place with some very particulars rules and laws. For example, the mayor of the island changes every year rotating between the eldest person of the three families. If the eldest person steps down or dies, the next eldest person becomes the mayor, taking all the important decisions, and representing Palmerston in the Cook Islands or New Zealand.

Another local law is: strictly on immigration. No foreigner can come and live in Palmerston, bringing a strange family name among the Marsters. Except the school teachers and director, who are only temporarily here. And an Australian guy named Will.

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Will is a pale-skinned bearded guy who we mistakenly take for a fellow cruiser from one of the other sailboats the first time we meet him.

  • No, I am not a cruiser, I live here. -he explains.

Will arrived in Palmerston two years ago on a ship sailing through the area and decided to stay behind, while the ship went on, very much like William Marsters.

Escaping the complications of society and the civilized world back in Australia, and falling in love with this beautiful atoll and its peaceful people, Will started helping the locals, fixing stuff that needed fixing and living among them as one of them. This has caused a bit of a controversy, as some Palmerstonians want him to leave, while others want him to stay. But in order to stay, he figured he has to marry a Marsters girl and change his name to Will Marsters. The problem is, there are only little girls and old ladies presently available on the island, so for now he is still single with a bit of an uncertain faith. You can follow his adventures and read some thrilling updates from his daily life in Palmerston on his Facebook page Will in Paradise.

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Another unexpected meeting and an event comparable to a miracle, is with two other Bulgarians, on two of the three other boats visiting Palmerston at the same time like us. One is a guy named Patrick aboard S/V Ostrica, whose mother was from Bulgaria, and the other is Silvia Petrova sailing aboard S/V Aislado together with her New Zealand husband Vaughn and their 6-years-old daughter Zara. What are the chances three sailboats with Bulgarian sailors aboard to meet- not French, not American, not German or Australian, but Bulgarians! On the opposite side of the globe, in one of the most remote inaccessible islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean! Not two, but three boats, at the same time! Suddenly, the Bulgarians in Palmerston are about 10% of the entire total population on the island 🙂

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Silvia, Mira and Maya

Besides the school, the Palmerstonians also have a library, a field with solar panels and a room for batteries to store the electricity, as well as a phone and internet station. Edward told me, that if they wanted to, they could have an airport on one of the smaller islands of the atoll (there has been a project and it has been approved, ready to be financed and built by the Cook Islands and New Zealand’s governments), but the locals don’t want it. An airport might make travel easier for the people of Palmerston and it would greatly facilitate the arrival of goods on the island, but it will also bring too many unwanted complications. Like tourists and other people who aren’t Marsters. Maybe they will build a hotel next and the famous little community will become a tourist attraction. Which is something the Palmerstonians don’t want. They want to preserve their way of life the way it is and to keep their pristine lagoon and secluded island clean and beautiful for the next Marsters generation.

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  • I’ll tell you a secret- says Edward as he is bringing us back to Fata Morgana with his fishing boat, zigzagging between shallow corals on his way out of the lagoon’s barrier reef.

I wonder what kind of secret it is. The one thing missing in Palmerston where everyone knows everything about everyone, is secrets. We, the cruisers, bringing something new- a thing or a story- are the creators of short-lived secrets.

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  • So what is the secret?- I ask.
  • Well, there is a way to enter the lagoon with your sailboat and park it right in front of the beach there. There is another cut through the reef on the other side. But we don’t want the yachts anchoring in our lagoon, in front of our homes, throwing their bottles and banana peels in our clean blue waters. Same like the airport. That’s why we prefer to keep the boats on the moorings outside the lagoon where they cannot stay too long. We welcome sailors, and want to show them the best hospitality in the world; we love trading with them, like good old William Marsters and we are very spoiled, because they always bring us and give us things. But we also want to keep our island and our way of life as it is for as long as we can, do you understand?
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Watch the short video from Palmerston with interviews with the locals and the Bulgarians we met Alone on an Island With His Three Wives

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Maupihaa. A Few People on A Tiny Island

Maupihaa

Maupihaa

We sail overnight with Bowie and Debora and all of their stuff from Maupiti to Maupihaa and drift not far from the atoll for the final dark hours of the night before entering through the narrow, shallow, full with coral heads pass, notorious for its dangerous strong tidal current. Thanks to Ovitalmap and Bowie’s local knowledge, we enter without problems in the lagoon- our final French Polynesian blue lagoon, before heading through the Cooks, Niue and Tonga to New Zealand.

Maupihaa

Maupihaa

We drop anchor near the long sandy beach of the main island. Mauihaa is part of the Society Island Group, even though the atoll is exactly like the Tuamotus, without a volcanic island in the center. There are two more yachts in the lagoon, but very far away from us.

Fata Morgana at anchor in Maupihaa

Fata Morgana at anchor in Maupihaa

The low flat coral island is thin and long like a green snake, about 200 meters wide and a few kilometers long. The most luxurious coconut palm forest covers the entire land surface.

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The waters in the lagoon are turquoise, calm and clear like liquid glass. Myriad of healthy corals, giant blue, purple and green clams, and all sorts of tiny tropical fish visible through the water even without a mask populate the shallows. Any seven-star resort would be envious of this place. But there is no resort here, not even one tiny hotel. There is no city, no port or airport. There are no facilities, no electricity, no internet, no stores, no schools, not even a church. Only one dirt road running parallel to the beach from one end of the island to the other, connecting six or seven small tin houses.

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Only a handful of people live permanently on the island- less than a dozen, and even they leave the place for a few months every few years to visit their families in the inhabited islands of the area- the nearest one being Maupiti one hundred nautical miles to the east. Their main activity and reason to be here is to make copra- dried coconut, which they export on the cargo ships twice a year. The same cargo ships bring them supplies and can take them on or off the island every 6-8 months.

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We are tired after a night of sailing, but only a couple of hours after we drop off our hitchhikers on their island, Bowie and his son Kevin show up in a homemade wooden boat.

– Let’s go fishing!

Bowie didn’t sleep for a minute last night, yet he is fresh as a cucumber and eager to go fishing!

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With their boat- rotten and falling apart- we head for the pass. On the opposite side of the main island, there are a couple of small coral islets covered with low shrubs home of colonies of sea birds. We pass in the shallows between two of those islets and the outer reef. Bowie and Kevin know every inch of the waters, every coral, every shallow and every deep place. They slowly navigate to a spot, where a narrow cut between the reefs makes for a perfect fish trap. There, with Ivo’s help, they attach a fishing net to the rocks from one end to the other blocking the entrance of the cut. Bowie starts walking slowly toward the net splashing the water from the other side, scaring the fish.

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Silver mullets, turquoise parrot fish and other reef fish panic and try to escape but get stuck in the net. The trap works. In just five minutes we have about twenty eatable fishes of decent size. A couple for us, a few for Bowie and his family and the rest- for the other people on the island.

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In Maupihaa the locals share their catch and almost everything else, like one big family. Well, maybe because they are only about a dozen people, which is less than some big families, and also because their way of life is very much different than the way of life in the civilized world.

Debora, collecting sea shells to make jewelry

Debora, collecting sea shells to make jewelry

Here, there is nothing except what nature provides. And so, when someone goes fishing, which means spending precious fuel, he catches enough fish for everyone on the island and distributes it to his neighbors.

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On the reefs, there are lobsters, easy to catch at low tide on a moonless night, using nothing more than a flashlight. Once under the spotlight the lobsters freeze and all you have to do is pick them up. The coconut crabs- the ultimate delicacy we have ever tried- proliferate in the coconut groves. They also come out at night and the best way to attract them is to leave a few open coconuts for them somewhere in the forest and come back to the spot after dark. All they eat is coconuts, so an open one is a great attraction, as they won’t have to work for hours to break through it. The sea birds and sea bird eggs from the small coral islets complement the locals’ sea food diet, and occasionally they eat sea turtles too (only large turtles, one every 3-4 months for everyone on the island). Besides coconuts, which provide coconut water for drinking, there are papaya and banana trees. Some of the people we met had ordered soil (besides all other supplies they need) delivered on the cargo ships stopping here twice a year, and are producing tomatoes, cucumbers, green beans, pumpkins and watermelons. Some kept also chickens and pigs. There were many dogs on the island, but we didn’t dare asking if the dogs are for eating, which in such an isolated small Polynesian island wouldn’t be exceptional or surprising. In any case, the off-grid way of life in Maupihaa seems very harmonious with nature.

Coconut crab

Coconut crab

As long as the population on the island remains the size of one big family, the natural resources- fish, birds, eggs, crabs, lobsters and turtles will not be affected or overexploited. Maupihaa’s inhabitants are very conscious about the problem of overexploitation in other places, so they are determined to keep their atoll healthy and their way of life simple and sustainable.

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Everywhere we go people greet us with big smiles, talk to us for a long time and want to give us something, even if we have nothing to give in return, but a bit of rice or a can of ravioli. One man gives us a bag of fruits and vegetables from his garden.

The men with the best garden in Maupihaa

The men with the best garden in Maupihaa

Every day we have a coconut crab for lunch, fish for dinner and a few sea bird eggs to try out of curiosity.

Coconut crab for lunch

Coconut crab for lunch

I am a bit concerned about taking eggs from the bird colonies on the little bird islets. But Bowie explains, that the missing eggs will soon be replaced with new ones and balance in the bird colonies shall be restored.

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We only take the spotted eggs from the small white birds Bowie calls “kabeka” which are abundant here. The boobies and frigates have already hatched and the babies all covered with white fluffy dоwn are now quite big.

Baby Frigate bird

Baby Frigate bird

They are funny to watch, sitting in their nests under the burning sun, waiting for their parents to bring them another portion of pre-digested fish.

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Baby boobie bird

Life in Maupihaa seems very idyllic. For a few days. The perfect lagoon, the perfect beach, the perfect coconut forest, abundance of fish, lobsters and crabs, coconuts, bananas and papayas. No one to tell you what to do, no pressure, no schedule. No money involved. Slow rhythm of oblivion. And nothing else.  All the things we hate and love, things we are addicted to, are missing here.

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Visiting such place- passing through for a few days- is very exciting and beautiful, and we all compare it with paradise. But remaining month after month, year after year on a few square kilometers of sand and coconut trees is a whole different situation. Would you do it?

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We borrow two bicycles from Bowie and from their neighbors and explore the island looking for Hina. Our friends Krisha Barakova and Adrian Albu aboard S/V Anka I told us to visit Maupihaa and to say hi to Hina- one of the first and most legendary inhabitants here.

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We find her at the end of the island. She is all smiles, greeting us as if we are old friends, and shows us around the house. Like the rest of the people in Maupihaa, Hina has a waterhole with fresh water for washing, where seawater filters through the sand, a rain catching system, couple of solar panels for lights and the radio. She owns the only SSB radio on the island, which the inhabitants use to call their relatives on the other islands, as well as the sailing boats. She has no fridge, and for fire she burns wood and coconut peals.

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Hina first came in Maupihaa with her family in 1993 when she was 20 years old. There were about 100 people living here at that time, families with kids, many houses. But from 1993 to 1997 cyclones destroyed everything. No one was left on the island. Everywhere was brown, nothing was left but sand.

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Hina spent two years in the army in France, but didn’t like it. She didn’t like having someone telling her what to do. In 2000 she returned in Maupihaa. For a few years, over ten if I remember correctly, Hina was the only person living on the island. Maupihaa’s one and only inhabitant. One hundred nautical miles from the nearest village. Completely alone, she was making copra, welcoming the occasional sailboat, and enjoy her freedom in a paradise she calls home.

– I have everything I need here. I miss nothing. Maupihaa is my home and when you come back, you’ll find me here.

Hina

Hina

Images from Maupihaa

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maupihaa1 Watch our 22-minute video and meet the locals in Maupihaa. Check out all the strange things we had to eat there for the first time! Coconut Crabs and Se Bird Eggs on The Menu.

Find us on Facebook @The Life Nomadik
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If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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Hitchhikers with Generator in Maupiti

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30 nautical miles West of Bora Bora lies the tiny picturesque island of Maupiti (11km2), the smallest of the Society Islands, secluded and authentic.

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Its atoll has only one narrow pass to the south linking it to the rest of the world. A pass so notoriously dangerous and only accessible in specific ocean conditions, that the island remained uncolonized for the longest time during the European colonization period.

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Today, Maupiti is still hard to get in to from the sea, and rarely visited by tourists or sailing yachts. It’s the most quiet and peaceful place with magnificent sceneries, white sandy beaches, legendary rocky peaks, spectacular diving and snorkeling spots, and ancient historical and archeological sites.

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The main village is Vaiea, where most of the island’s 1300 inhabitants live, with neat charming houses and a couple of small family shops, a church, a post office and a bakery all connected by one road circling the island.

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We remain in Bora-Bora for a month longer than planned, waiting for a good weather window to sail to Maupiti, or rather- to enter through its pass safely. With strong south winds and swell the atoll is inaccessible. So we are kind of stuck in Bora-Bora, but not complaining about it. I don’t think anyone would mind being stuck in Bora-Bora- the most romantic world-famous lagoon.

Stuck in Bora-Bora Photos

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Finally, we get the chance we were waiting for, and all the boats waiting to go to Maupiti leave together. We sail with our friends – catamaran Moby and catamaran Cool Runnings. Heading west with light east winds, Cool Runnings and Fata Morgana fly the spinnakers.

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Moby prefers zig-zagging, jibing back and forth. Moby is the fastest of the three catamarans, but zig-zagging instead of downwind sailing with spinnaker proves to be the slower option. Cool Runnings arrives first, second is Fata and shortly after- Moby enters the pass on sail, without engines, only to prove, that with good conditions even the most dangerous pass becomes a piece of cake.

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A few days of tropical bliss follow.

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As we are getting ready to go for hike, a motorboat approaches Fata Morgana in the anchorage on the east side of the lagoon. Aboard are a local couple- a man and a woman who ask us if we will sail to Maupihaa next. We are not sure. Maupihaa is a coral atoll without a volcanic island in the middle 100 nautical miles west of Maupiti and its pass can be even worse than Maupiti’s pass. Its position on the charts is wrong, it is shallower and narrower, with record-strong current and a few coral heads right in the middle.

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The man explains that they want to send a small tool to his son Kevin- five kilograms. He makes a gesture with his hands as if holding a box the size of a cat. Besides, our friends Krisha and Adrian from S/V Anka told us a lot about this atoll and recommended passionately to visit it and say hi to Hina, giving us all sorts of tips how to navigate the pass safely. And now these guys need our help.

A few permanent residents live and make copra in Maupihaa. A supply boat goes there only once or twice a year bringing provisions and passengers, exporting the bags of dried coconut. The next boat will be in November. We promise to go there and bring the small tool to Kevin. Then we go hiking.

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We climb Mount Te’urafa’atiu at 381m together with our friends. A few viewpoints on the way up offer amazing panoramas. From the top, the 360° view of the lagoon is spectacular.

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As we return on the boat, we find two big bunches of bananas neatly attached to the dinghy davits- an offering from the man and the woman to seal the deal. They visit us again to discuss the details and schedule departure time.

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“Besides the tool, we also have some boxes with eggs, milk, sugar, flower, oil, rice, and other provisions, some mattresses, clothes and other stuff we would like to send to our son and to some of the neighbors. And can my husband go too? And can I come as well?”- asks the woman. They promise us papayas and coconuts on top of the bananas. So we cannot refuse. Sweet people. The Polynesians have won over our hearths ever since our first island in the Marquesas, and we are more than happy to help them.

“Yes, bring everything and climb aboard! We will sail together to Maupihaa first thing tomorrow morning!”

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They show up early the next day with a mountain of stuff- all sort of provisions, boxes and bags which we pile in the saloon, a long wooden spear for fishing, plus “the small tool”- a hundred-kilograms diesel generator, that takes up most of the space in our cockpit. All together, we just loaded our 38-foot catamaran, which is already overweight with tons of old books, with about 400 extra kilograms! I wonder if we will be able to move at all. But the wind is beautiful 15-20 knots behind us, and we are actually making pretty good speed.

We drink coffee and eat breakfast- eggs with fresh bread.

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The man, Bowie Tropee, is eager to help with the sailing, even though there is not much to do. He is an experienced sailor who crewed once on a sailboat crossing the Pacific Ocean from Panama. He has been working on a commercial boat too, one of those Aranui boats bringing cargo and passengers between the islands and atolls. The woman, Debora Tropee, is charming. She has many stories, wisdoms and legends and is pleased to share them with us.

The Legend of Maupiti’s Three Mountain Peaks

Long before the time of our ancestors, when the islands were born, a mother and her twins (a boy and a girl) lived on the top of the island of Maupiti. This island was surrounded by a closed lagoon, that is to say, without a pass. Alas, without the pass, the water of the lagoon was not renewed and the fish could not live.

The mother sked her children to go down to the sea and dig a passage between the lagoon and the ocean. The girl went north, but was unable to finish her work, which earned her the name of Hotu’ai (unfinished fruit). As for the boy, he managed to dig a narrow passage in the south, which earned him the name Hotupara’oa (good job!).

The mother congratulated her son but asked him to stay south and guard the pass. The girl, who had been rejected, had to stay north, far from her mother … and since then she has not stopped to look at her and to beg forgiveness.

It is from this time that the island is called Maupiti (the twins) and that the mountain has three peaks- the first to the south, facing the sea (the brother), the second at the center (the mother), and the third to the north, turned towards the center (the girl).

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We arrive early, in the middle of the night, and heave-to in front of Maupihaa’s pass for the last hours of darkness, to wait for the morning before entering through the narrow shallow and dangerous cut.

The curren is strong and the pass is so narrow we feel as if touching the sides. But our biggest advantage is the man, who knows the pass, every reef and coral head. He helps us navigate through it successfully.

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The morning is golden. A whale takes a single breath not far behind us and disappears. The birds from the small islands of the atoll wake up and arrive to great us curious as we turn on the engines and head for our last stop in French Polynesia- Maupihaa.

 

Watch our 18-minute video sailing to Maupiti, spending time there with friends and then sailing to Maupihaa with our guests. Sailing Maupiti with Hitchhikers

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If you are reading this …

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… we have a small favor to ask. More people than ever are regularly reading our stories and watching our short videos, but far fewer are supporting us. We have no regular income. And unlike others, we haven’t made our content private – we want to keep posting free stories and videos for everyone. So we think it’s fair to ask people who visit our blog and YouTube channel often for their support, a sort of a friendly monthly subscription. Our efforts to research, write and post pictures, to film and edit, to translate, take a lot of time and hard work. And it’s even harder to do it from a boat with limited internet and electricity. But we do it because we believe our journey and way of life matters – because it might inspire you! If you regularly read and value our hard work, watch the videos and want to support us, consider becoming one of our patrons and part of our Nomadik family for as little as $1 or $5 dollars a month, and help us in our future travels. You can chose the amount you want to contribute and for what period of time, and you can always change your mind and change or stop your pledge. We use the funds collected through Patreon to upgrade our photo and video equipment, as well as to cover our modest living expenses- food and boat repairs. Thank you!

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