Our Boat Friends Saved a Little Girl

Today’s article is not about us. It’s about our friends- the German family we met a few years ago in French Polynesia aboard catamaran INVICTUS. 

We became good friends with Toby and Nicole and their two little girls Marlene (6) and Julie (5). We sailed together to Tonga, New Zealand, Fiji, and New Caledonia, sharing some of the most unforgettable moments of our sailing journey. You probably remember them from the many stories and videos we published of all the adventures we shared since we crossed the Pacific?

Marlene and Julie greet Maya from their catamaran Invictus, as Fata Morgana arrives in the anchorage.

The friendship we made with Invictus crew remains one of the strongest from all our travels. We sailed together for many months, helping each other whenever we could, having fun, and sharing beautiful moments in some of the planet’s most stunning places. We have created a strong and lasting bond between us and we got to know each other well. Toby and Nicole are honest, fun and adventurous, very organized and always caring, welcoming and generous helping people. They are also very brave, determined and hard-working. We will forever be grateful to Toby and Nicole for all these times they were there for us.

At a picknick in New Zealand- Ivo, Mira, Toby and NIcole.

But only recently I fully realized how immensely selfless, noble and compassionate Toby and Nicole are. I was left crying with feelings of enormous gratitude. They have done something not everyone would have the courage, strength and determination to do. 

They have saved the life of a dying girl, and are still fighting for her survival.

Toby with Micheline in Vila Hospital

A few weeks ago Ivo called Toby. We still talk to them from time to time, keeping in touch, planning a ski vacation together in Canada. “How are you guys, how is everyone?” -asked Ivo as he always does. Toby said on the phone: “I am not sure if you want to hear this…” And he told Ivo the most heartbreaking, shocking, sad story.

Last summer, the family was sailing in Vanuatu. When they dropped anchor near the beautiful island of Pentecost, they were approached by a local man asking for help. Here is what happened next, as told by Nicole:

“A local man approached us and asked if we had medication on board to help his sick grand daughter. We had no idea what to expect and of course agreed to come to the village to see what we can do. We found a little girl in a grave physical condition, barely responding.

It was the most awful state to see another human being in, especially a child, and a profound moment in our lives that has impacted us so deeply and changed us personally forever.

We had to get her immediately to a hospital. She was air lifted to Vila shortly after, being moved and transported, an incredibly painful experience for her and a miracle that she survived.

Micheline was malnourished (19.5kg!), dehydrated, her blood tests indicated that she is lucky to be still alive. We found her just in time. She would have not lasted much longer.

More than half of her body was covered in skin lesions and also some burns which we aren’t sure where they originated from. Her lesions were covered in dirt and flies. She was barely responsive.

We arranged for blood and skin tests to be sent to Australia (Vanuatu doesn’t have labs for these type of tests), and discovered that Micheline suffers from a very rare auto-immune skin disorder Pemphigus Vulgaris. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pemphigus_vulgaris

This disorder causes skin lesions and blisters, and if not treated, results in death. Sadly, we learned that it appears her mother died from the same disease 5 years ago. She didn’t receive treatment. This is most tragic, because even though this disorder can’t be cured, it is very treatable if addressed without delay.

In Micheline’s culture black magic is a custom, practiced frequently, and the family was hoping that their cultural rituals would help her. http://dailypost.vu/opinion/letters_to_editor/black-magic-and-witchcraft/article_24111eed-9878-5974-ab66-a723de07afc7.html

Micheline was left untreated for 4 months from when her symptoms first appeared and her health deteriorated fast. During this time she had to tolerate unbelievable pain, physically and mentally but she never gave up and was holding on to her young life.

You can imagine how this impacted us personally, and how this created a conviction to help this human being survive and live a life worth living. We cannot walk away and leave her to her destiny which will result in her death.

Micheline is currently in Vila Hospital. She immediately received blood infusions and antibiotics and we have managed to get daily guidance from our limited network (other sailors, Medbee Europe, Marine Reach NZ, DEBRA NZ and a dermatologist from Auckland Starship Hospital).

Resources in the hospital are very limited, and everyone, especially nurses performing miracle work to improve her situation.

We are incredibly humbled by the support we have received; it is still early days and much more is urgently needed.

She has now started steroid therapy for her auto-immune disorder. Micheline started to eat and her weight is increasing which is progress.

Micheline’s body has very deep pressure-wounds from lying many months without moving. Every two days dressings have to be changed which is extremely painful for her and is now done (unlike recently) under the influence of morphine.

To minimise the excruciatingly painful ordeal, we source specialized dressings (that don’t stick to her open wounds) from overseas. These dressings are extremely expensive and are not available in Vila. We currently order them from Tahiti and have received also donations from other generous people in different countries.

Micheline has not been walking for many months. She is so weak and all her muscles have faded away. She will need to learn how to walk again.”

Micheline in Vila Hospital

After transferring Micheline to Vanuatu’s capital and providing her with the immediate lifesaving medical care, we thought that Toby and Nicole would continue on their sailing vacation, having saved the girl’s life, and leaving her in the hands of the professional medical doctors in Port Vila hospital. But they didn’t! They remained next to the girl until the time came for Nicole to return in New Zealand with her two little daughters where they had to start school.

Toby remained in the hospital with Micheline. Literally living in the hospital, helping to change her bandages, reading her stories, feeding her. Every single day, from morning til evening. He is still there, next to Micheline, making sure she is well cared for, and we are there with them in our thoughts and in our hearts.

In the meantime, Nicole kept working to arrange for the girl to be transferred to a better hospital in a western country, organizing fundraiser for the hundreds of thousands of dollars needed for medical materials, a nurse from Switzerland with en experience in skin and burn patients in Africa,  and for all the expensive medication, bandages etc.

The big challenge is that ideally Micheline should be transferred to a western hospital, like Starship Hospital, Auckland. Micheline cannot take a commercial flight and would need a special med-evac charter.

We are currently working with local authorities, agencies, and organisations to see what can be done.

These things take time and they are complicated and we need to ensure for now, that Micheline’s care in Vila is secured and her treatment monitored and responded to immediately if anything changes.

This is critical, because Micheline’s body is still vulnerable to infections and her body is still malnourished even though we are most pleased with her progress and weight gain.

Tobias is still currently in Vila and has arranged a birth certificate and passports for Micheline, her dad and step mother in preparation for departure when the time comes.

Right now we need help with the following:

+ Dressings material – e.g. UrgoCell Ag/Silver, Urgo surgifix, Medicomp compress steril, ialuset creme

+ Protein powder – nutrition drinks & protein shakes for children

+ Contacts – any contacts you may have in your networks that could assist in any way (e.g. to organisations, medical contacts etc) please contact us directly: nicole.mueller@live.co.uk

We anticipate the following expenses

+ Accommodation & food expenses – for Micheline’s family while based in Vila

+ Travel & local expenses – for Micheline and her parents to receive specialised medical care offhore.

+ Rehabilitation – e.g. to build muscles and walk again

We are totally committed to support Micheline, so that she can go back to her village and continue living her life and go back to school. Micheline has 4 more brothers and sisters whom she misses a lot. Your donation will help to arrange for her family to visit her.

We fully anticipate to provide ongoing support over the next years until Micheline is old enough to take care of her medical needs herself.

Many people responded with donations made through the campaign URGENT!! Fighting for her life & future – Micheline (10 years), Vanuatu on the Give a Little website, and even just spreading the story has helped our friends to collect over 60,000 NZD so far, needed for Micheline. Here Nicole explains further what are the funds needed for and how they are helping Micheline:

NOTE ABOUT YOUR DONATION

People have been asking us how they can help Micheline and how they can support us.

We want you to know that all funds raised will solely go towards Micheline’s recovery, the management of her auto-immune disorder and her family’s expenses.

It has been estimated, that a transfer to NZ and all associated costs could easily end up costing around NZD800,000, hence we have set up this site.

Any expenses that we and our supporters incur (e.g. our own travel and accommodation expenses to Vanuatu etc) will be covered by ourselves.

In addition, every donation made, incurs a 5% service fee which goes to Give a Little. We are covering this fee ourselves so that every dollar donated will be allocated to this purpose.

Micheline is in critical condition and there are still risks that could impact Micheline’s survival chance. If Micheline or her family no longer require support, all remaining funds will be donated to Vila Hospital.

Daily we see Micheline’s incredible resilience and strength to survive. This fuels our strength and commitment to walk this journey with her and continue fighting with and for her.

Thanks for reading this story. Your support, kindness and care means a lot to us!

Nicole & Tobias

Use of Funds:

Immediate use of funds

+Pressure mattress, medical expenses

+Micheline’s & her family’s expenses in Vila & overseas

+Ongoing local expenses and supplies as needed

The New Zealand Herald also helped by publishing their story and spreading the call for help. We are hoping to do the same, as much as possible.

In the story titled Saving Micheline: Round-the-world-yachties’ rescue mission Phil Taylor writes:

Once seen some things cannot be unseen.

That’s how it is for an around-the-world yachting family whose voyage turned into a rescue mission the moment they laid eyes on Micheline.

Last month Nicole and businessman Tobias Janke found 10-year-old Micheline Warri close to death in a mud-floor hut on Pentecost Island, 190 kilometres due north of Vanuatu capital Port Vila.

That encounter last month brought the family into contact with witchcraft, aid agencies and introduced them to a rare autoimmune disease. Most of all, it led to a determination to save Micheline’s life and to see she has a life worth living.

It was a collision of worlds for the Jankes who with Marlene, 6, and Juliane, 5, have spent much of the past few years sailing the world on their 52-foot catamaran, Invictus.

The German couple fell in love with New Zealand during their trip and now call Auckland home. The girls go to school in the city and the family’s residency applications are being processed.

Last school term they took the girls out of school and sailed to the islands where, after throwing anchor at Pentecost Island, they were approached by a man wanting medicine for his granddaughter.

“We asked to see the child and then we found her in a deadly situation,” Nicole told the Herald.

“She was dehydrated, malnourished and not responding. Half of her skin was gone. She had third-degree burns on her legs and feet. They were infected and covered with flies.

“It was shocking. We had never seen something like this and we couldn’t understand how a child could be in a state like this and that the parents would not react. For us in the Western world we can’t really process that.”

“They believe in black magic. They thought she is witched. She was in the hut where they were living but there is no doctor on the island. They can’t really see a way out.”

“When we saw her, for us it was clear. We can’t walk away.”

Unlikely to survive a voyage to Port Vila on their yacht, the Jankes arranged a flight paid for by the Vanuatu Government.

The Herald first met the Jankes earlier this month in Port Villa where Micheline was in a modesty-equipped isolation room in Vila Central Hospital. On arrival she weighed 19.5kg and her blood count – a health check that can detect a wide range of disorders including anaemia and infection – was dangerously low.

Tobias explained at the time what they faced. “It is a short-term issue to survive and a very big one about what next.”

In the fortnight since, Micheline has done well. She has had a blood transfusion, fluid through an IV, protein drinks and steroids and has gained 2.5kg, although she still weighs less than the Jankes’ 5-year-old.

Blood and tissue samples sent to Australia have produced a diagnosis. Micheline has the rare genetic autoimmune disease Pemphigus Vulgaris which is even rarer in children.

It causes painful blistering on the skin and mucous membranes and if untreated can lead to death.

They have learned that Micheline’s mother did not receive modern treatment for the disease and died five years ago. When the Jankes found Micheline she had lain in the hut for four months.

“But she is talking, she’s eating, she’s drinking, she’s complaining, she’s drawing, she’s laughing sometimes and the other day she was singing. So this is amazing what everybody has achieved in four weeks for this little girl.”

The Jankes have set up a Givealittle page to help Micheline’s ongoing recovery.

“Now we just have to keep going. We are hoping we will receive enough donations to fly her to a Western country because she needs care for a few months. She is eating up a lot of funds and that is hard for a lot of help agencies.”

It is unlikely that Micheline could manage her disease back in her village but she could in Port Vila where she has family and where agencies have committed to help.

“We are kind of set up for the life after but right now we are focused on bringing her out.”

Micheline’s father and step-mother are getting happier as their daughter improves.

“Before they had no hope that she was going to survive.”

Tobias has stayed in Port Vila while Nicole returned to Auckland with the girls for the new school term.

During the search for help the Jankes were told that Micheline couldn’t be saved and they needed to find a way to accept that.

“But we can’t,” Nicole said. “She is a human being who we kind of fell in love with. She has made so much progress. Micheline is really a fighter.”

“We are settling in New Zealand and Vanuatu is not so far. We will not sail away and leave her alone. She is part of us now.”

The Jankes have pledged to pay the Givealittle fee so that all donations go to help Micheline.

In the Port Vila Hospital

We have witnessed one of the most humane, selfless acts anyone we know in our life has ever done… And we know these people! They are our very good friends! They have always helped us and supported us on so many occasions! 

The only thing we could do to help them in this unimaginably difficult for them moment is to spread the word and to contribute and Give a Little for Micheline.

Sailing aboard a small private sailboat is a much different way of traveling the world than simply flying somewhere as a tourist, booking a hotel and visiting the popular tourist attractions. Sailing has allowed us to go to places inaccessible to tourists, to meet local people, spend time with them, and have authentic experiences of local cultures. We have spent months and not just days in some of the places we visited, where we have formed a more fuller idea of the peoples’ lives and problem. We have seen not only the famous attractions swarmed by the tourists, but also the poor local villages.

Thus, we have acquired a different and fuller perspective of the world, its beauty and its misery. And we cannot forget or ignore the fact that so many around the world lead difficult lives of hardship and poverty. Like our friends Toby and Nicole whose lives are now changed forever thanks to this one little girl, our lives are also changed forever thanks to all the places we have been to and all the people we have met.

We will be helping, one little person at a time. There is so much suffering, so much injustice in the world and surely no one can fix it all. But even if we can make a tiny little difference, we will. We will keep sending donations from New Zealand to the islands in Tonga, Vanuatu and Fiji when the next sailing season starts through out Rice Boat Project. Until then, we will support our friends in their quest to save Micheline.

We have used the funds we receive through Patreon to help Toby and Nicole on their journey to save Micheline, as we believe our Patrons would be proud to know their support makes a real difference in one little girl’s life.

On November 3, another article was published in New Zealand Herald, and hope lives on:

Saving Micheline: Overwhelming response brings hope for 10-year-old Vanuatu girl

An overwhelming response to the plight of a Vanuatu girl found close to death on a remote island has opened up options for her recovery.

Following a story in last week’s Weekend Herald, more than 330 people have donated more than $50,000 via a Givealittle page set up by round-the-world sailors Nicole and businessman Tobias Janke.

It means a nurse can fly from Europe to Vanuatu to care for Micheline Warri fulltime for a few months if they can’t find a hospital in a western country to take her.

The Jankes have dedicated themselves to her recovery since finding 10-year-old Micheline last month unresponsive in a mud-floor hut on Pentecost Island, 190km due north of Vanuatu capital Port Vila.

She was, dehydrated, malnourished, had extensive infected skin sores and third-degree burns on her legs and feet.

They arranged for her to be flown to Vila Central Hospital where the Weekend Herald first met them. On arrival Micheline weighed just 19.5kg and her blood count was dangerously low.

“It is a short-term issue to survive and a very big one about what next,” Tobias said at the time.

Micheline’s weight has increased to 25kg, she is now able to eat and drink without any assistance and is strong enough to be taken outside in a wheelchair for short periods.

But the Jankes say her long-term prospects depend on the quality of care she gets during the next few months.

A nurse in Switzerland, who is skilled in treating burns patients and has done aid work in Africa, has agreed to come to Vanuatu at the end of November for three months if needed.

As of today, Micheline has been transferred in New Caledonia for better treatment, her weight is now 25 kg and she can now eat and drink on her own!

Micheline is getting better!

Micheline is getting better and there is hope that by the end of January her auto-immune disorder will be under control with an appropriate treatment plan and medication and that her skin will fully recover and her body weight will go back in the normal range. Her chances  to be strong enough and to be able to walk again through extensive rehabilitation are now much bigger!

Newest updates on Micheline’s recovery by Nicole:

We were so humbled by the immediate responses and generosity we received from you; it exceeded all our expectations. We want you to know how much all your comments and donations mean to us. We read every single one of them; and even though we can’t respond to all of you, please know that your words, encouragement and support has fueled our strength and energy to keep going on this quest. Thank you!!

(1) We have some great news! Through our European networks, we made contact with a nurse from Switzerland who has extensive aid work experience in Africa but is also highly qualified especially around burn victims.

Her name is also Nicole, and she is currently working at the Uniklinic Hospital in Zurich. She has agreed to come the end of November to take full time care of Micheline for 3 months. Nicole also has fantastic medical networks throughout Germany and Switzerland and will be able to get advise from specialist units as required. This is an incredible milestone for us in securing additional continuous medical care while we are still working to get Micheline into an overseas hospital.

(2) Micheline’s weight has now increased to 25kg! Her appetite is ever increasing, too and she is able to eat and drink now without any assistance from us.

The days can be long for her and her need of being more stimulated is becoming more apparent.

Tobias even did some basic maths with her the other day which she very much seemed to enjoy. 🙂

The mattress seems to be helpful, but her massive pressure sore at the bottom of her spine has become a challenge as it is not improving.

The rest of her skin is definitely getting better.

(3) We change her dressings every 2 days. Micheline gets a small amount of morphein to help her with the anxiety and pain this causes her. She can handle it much better now. Dressing materials are running critically low.

Nicole from Switzerland has been in touch with the Swiss manufacturer Ialugen who has kindly offered to supply dressings for free. We are very thankful to Nicole for organizing this. These will be dispatched on Tuesday. In addition, we are trying to source a large supply of these specialised dressings, as we go through a lot of these.

They are incredibly expensive and through our worldwide contacts we are hoping to get access to wholesale supplies. Your donations will assist funding these.

A local Christian support group come to the hospital to sing for Micheline in her native language.

Micheline has been very quiet in general, but when she started singing, it was an emotional moment for us all. It’s was very moving – a song of hope….

You can watch this beautiful moment here.

If you would like to help Micheline visit our friends fundraising page @Give a Little

URGENT!! Fighting for her life & future – Micheline (10 years), Vanuatu

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Back in Canada

It has been one month since we arrived in Canada- back on land after more than five years of continuous cruising aboard the legendary Fata Morgana, a 38-foot Leopard catamaran built in South Africa.

It feels like we just stepped out of a dream. A blue dream, filled with so many beautiful places and people. Now all this is just a memory.

Fata Morgana

Flying from New Zealand to Vancouver meant that of everything we own we could only bring three suitcases 21 kg each. They were full mostly with souvenirs and seashells: a poncho from Peru, a blanket from Bolivia, a Megalodon tooth from New Caledonia, black pearls from French Polynesia and a jar of Manuka honey from New Zealand.

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To get plugged back into the system proved to be surprisingly easy and quick, especially when you know what to do and how to do it. Unplugging was much harder…

This past month has been a roller coaster ride. We had to look for a car, get our drivers licenses, car insurance and medical cards sorted, find a rental house after looking at up to 6 homes for rent per day in three different cities, find used furniture for the house piece by piece and bring it one by one with the car or a rental trailer and take it all (heavy couches, beds, tables, etc.) upstairs, find a school for Maya in our new neighborhood and get her started, find a job for Ivo and go through all the application and training procedures, and Ivo even had time to do a car trip from Vancouver to Montreal and back (a total of 10, 000 kilometers) to pick up our son Vik, who came to live with us in beautiful British Columbia!

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So you have to forgive me for not being able to post here or create a new video in May. Oh, and we got internet in our new home about a week ago. So i am back on the job- new updates and videos are coming up!

We miss the freedom and adventure of the boat life- it feels strange to be stuck in the same place surrounded by buildings, everybody around us busy with silly things. But this doesn’t mean that nothing exciting is happening. We actually enjoy so many things in our new life which we were badly missing on the boat. We were laughing like little kids the first time we entered a grocery store filled with Canadian goods we haven’t seen for over five years. Like pop-tarts and Reese’s peanut butter cups and President’s Choice chocolate chip cookies. We were pointing at things and laughing and people thought there is a funny little animal running on the shelf behind the cookies!

We can now take long hot water showers three times a day if we want to, and we can now wash our clothes in less than an hour, without getting our hands wet. We are now convinced that the toilet is humanity’s greatest invention. But you can only appreciate this after living on a boat.

Maya in our new home

I planted a small garden with vegetables and herbs in the backyard. I took my time digging my fingers in the earth- a forgotten feeling I enjoy so much.

But our greatest joy is having our son Vik back with us. Just this makes it all worth it.

Our return to Land has been a strange and new experience for Maya, who grew up on a boat. She was immediately admitted in the local high school, with no exams or evaluations needed- another great thing about Canada’s school system. All you need is a Canadian Citizenship.

– How old is she?
– 14.
– So she is grade 9. She can start tomorrow.

Thus, Maya begun school on a Friday, a month before the end of the school year. She didn’t have a backpack for school this first day, so she took a small knitted bag we got in Peru, and the teacher gave her a few sheets of paper to write on. She was worried and anxious and excited and happy at the same time. High school for the first time, new friends- so many kids her age and most of them so strange! Her first impression of the kids in the school is that many are bored with life, uninterested in anything, plugged in their phones and gossiping about incredibly stupid things like fake eyelashes and acrylic nails! Vaping is apparently a big trend. Maya came back from school and told me:

– Mom, you know what I learned in school today?
– What did you learn?- I was excited to find out. Maybe something in English class about writing essays, or in Math class on Geometry.
– If a girl talks to you and calls you “Honey” or “Sweety” it means she actually hates you. If she calls you “Bitch” it means she really likes you…

What’s up, bitch!

Pretty soon Maya found one good friend and that’s all she needs right now.

Maya and Ashlee

As it turned out Maya is one of the best students in her class. The most shocking was the feared encounter with her old nemesis- Mathematics. Maya is among the five best math students in her class, passing the final exam with 84% , thus heading to grade 10 next September (a year ahead)!

She also joined the Canadian Army Cadets. Actually she joined the cadets before she started school. This was a dream-come-true for Maya, who wanted to be a Canadian Cadet since she was 8, but the minimum age to join is 12. So first thing first, as soon as we found our new house- we looked for the nearest Cadet corps.

Maya at the RCA and of year parade.

What are the Canadian Royal Army Cadets? It sounds too military, too scary, but in fact it’s most adventurous thing, where kids learn first and most of all something many kids of today lack- respect and discipline, military style. Here is why Maya’s dream was to join the Cadets and why she, who loves challenges and the outdoors will have an amazing time at the Cadets, in the company of like-minded individuals of her age:

“The Royal Canadian Army Cadets appeal to teenagers craving exciting outdoor activities where their personal limits as individuals and team-members will be tested. The hardcore outdoor-oriented will love the challenge!

Army cadets develop abilities in the use of map and compass, GPS technology, orienteering, first-aid, camping and survival skills, canoeing, abseiling, trekking, mountain biking, etc. As they get more experienced, some will be selected for parachuting, white-water rafting and glacier climbing. They will also learn to become outdoor leaders.

Army Cadets get involved in ceremonial military events and citizenship activities that allow them to connect to their Canadian heritage. They develop a great sense of pride and discipline through their involvement in a hierarchical system that allows them to hone their leadership skills as they grow older and they learn to care for younger cadets.

In addition to their specialty training, Army Cadets may become involved in other exciting activities like competitive Olympic-style marksmanship and biathlon, sports competitions, music training and competitions, cultural outings, volunteer community support, etc.

Canada represents the best playground for teenagers interested in the outdoors. We are the organization of choice for teens and adults interested in getting out of the classroom to explore the planet the way it should be.

Every year, some of our top cadets get a chance to participate in high-level expeditions around the globe. Our destinations in the past few years included Morocco, Australia, Costa Rica, South Korea, Italy, Mont-Blanc, the France/Spain Pyrenees, New Zealand, the Canadian Rockies, the Northwest Territories, and Newfoundland and Labrador. Whatever the destination, cadets will find the ultimate challenge awaiting them!” (Royal Canadian Army Cadets)

Joining the Royal Canadian Army Cadets and all of the many 2, 3 and 4-day expeditions and organized sports and outdoor activities and survival courses throughout the year are all-inclusive and totally free. In the summer, the cadets can go on a two-week camping trip in the mountains, not only for free, but they will get paid around $60 per week! The best cadets are chosen each year for inter-provincial or international exchange trips. Maya can’t wait!

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Another exciting news is that Ivo has just been hired as a long-distance truck driver! He will be driving one of those big Freightliners with 52-foot trailer all over Canada and USA, and his family members are welcome to join any time! It’s different way of travelling, less tropical, I agree, but there are sequoia forests, volcanoes, caves and canyons to be explored in the vast American continent. A couple of exciting destinations we are now looking forward to is the ice roads of Yukon and Alaska. In early spring (March and April, we just missed it this year), before the ice starts melting, Ivo might get a load for the Canadian far North or Alaska. When this happens, I will join him with all my video and photo equipment. Not sure if the kids will want to come…

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In the meantime, I will be working from home on my writing and travel videos, helping Maya with school and Vik with college, as well as working on a couple of new photo and film projects. I have also organized an initiative to collect clothing and household and send them to friends in Vanuatu, and hopefully Tonga and Fiji in the near future, with the support of our Patrons. More details will be posted on our The Life Nomadik Patreon Page

And whenever possible, the kids and I will be joining Ivo with the truck across Canada and USA. (Thinking of names for the truck right now; “The Beast” is one option, based on Taika Waititi’s film What We Do In The Shadows, or “Tessy” -not exactly Tesla but pretty close…)

Stay tuned for exciting updates from the Nomadik Family in Canada, on wheels- BIG WHEELS!

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A Day in Suva

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I remember the first time I heard the name Fiji, many years ago. Name of a country of tropical islands with extreme beauty somewhere on the other side of the world, in the middle of the Pacific, where rich people go on vacation. I was about Maya’s age, living in Bulgaria, dreaming about tropical islands of extreme beauty, and Fiji was on my bucket list of places to visit, even though I had no idea how to get there. Now that I think of it, the best way to visit Fiji is aboard a sailboat.

My Fijian dream is about to come true.

After a couple of days sailing from North Minerva Reef, we approach Port of Suva on the southeast side of Fiji’s biggest island- Viti Levu where we can check-in in the country. On the VHF radio we hear the port captain speaking in Hindi to one of the few commercial ships in the port and to another ship in Fijian! We call for permission to enter the port and receive instructions (in English) where to anchor.

Port of Suva

In Fiji, there are three official languages: English, Fijian and Hindi, all three broadly spoken and studied in the local schools by all children. Fijian is widely spread, spoken as a first language by Fijians who make up over half of the population. Fijians of Indian descent, nearly 40% of the total population (brought as contract workers from India during the British colony), speak a local variation of Hindi, known as Fiji Hindi. English was brought to the islands during British colonial rule and was the only official language until 1997. It is still the primary language used in government, business, and education. This means that almost everyone in Fiji speaks at least two language, and many are trilingual!

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We arrange the checking-in through Suva’s Royal Yacht Club over the radio and wait for a few hours for the customs and immigration officials to arrive with a small motorboat. They are the first Fijians we meet- friendly smiling people, not in too much of a hurry, with dark skins and black curly hairs. There is a polite nurse with them, asking us if we are in good health and taking notes. Two guys look around the boat, open the fridge and some storage compartments. It’s all good. We fill the endless entry forms. But all this is not enough. We need to go on land and look for the quarantine department, the port captain, the doctor’s office and a place at the end of the city where we can get a cruising certificate that will allow us to visit the rest of the islands. Arriving in Fiji by yacht and the clearing procedures can be really complicated, slow and expensive. In some other places, like Nadi, agents offer to do all the running around for a fee, but in Suva you can do most of the clearing procedures yourself and it’s the cheapest option. But we have to spend a day in Suva walking from one end of the city to the other with a bag full of papers and forms. Here is some very important information on clearing procedures for yachts arriving in Fiji @Noonsite.

Royal Yacht Club Suva

Thus, we explore Suva.

We kayak to the Royal Yacht Club. The only royal thing about it is its name. The small marina is nothing but a dirty little cove with fishing boats and derelict vessels, and so shallow a normal yacht can only enter during high tide. From here we walk. It is a few kilometers to the city’s center, passing by the local jail, the big beer factory named “Fiji Bitter, The Real Taste of Fiji”, the central market, and the commercial port, before we reach the city center with its colonial buildings and busy stores. First impression of Fiji- dusty, noisy and crowded- nothing to do with the image of a tropical paradise in the tourist brochures and in my dreams. Yet, I love Suva’s atmosphere and authenticity, its diverse population and architecture. I realize how much I like to walk in big dusty cities now and then, to feel the vibe of busy streets and the colorful disorder of markets.

Suva Correctional Facility

Suva Bus Terminal

Suva

Suva Market

Suva Market

Suva Market Watermelons

Suva Market Sea Grapes

Suva Market Octopus

Perched on a hilly peninsula reaching out into the sea, Fiji’s capital and main port city, is also known as the “New York of the Pacific”. A third of the nation’s population lives in and around Suva- a multiracial and multicultural city with representatives of all major indigenous Pacific groups. The city is the political, economic, and cultural center of Fiji and also the economic and cultural capital of the Pacific, hosting many regional headquarters of major corporations. Also here is the University of the South Pacific’s main campus, as well as many major international agencies and diplomatic missions from the region, which has attracted an influx of Pacific migrants from all neighboring countries, who study, work and live in the city and its boroughs.

Beer Factory in Suva

Suva, with a mix of modern buildings and traditional colonial architecture, also has a thriving arts and performance scene, with a growing reputation as the regions fashion capital.

Suva Fashion

Yet, Suva is not very popular with tourists and vacationers seeking picture-perfect sandy beaches and resorts. Although Suva is on a peninsula, almost surrounded by sea, the nearest beach is 40 kilometers (25 mi) away and the nearby coast is lined by mangroves. Most of the city center, including the old Parliament buildings, is built on reclaimed mangrove swamp.

Maya and MIra in Albert Park

 

The mountains north and west of Suva catch the southeast trade winds, producing moist conditions’ year round. For this reason, the city has tropical rain forest climate and receives substantial amount of rain, such that the term “fine weather” in a weather report simply means “not actually raining”. Suva has relatively constant temperatures throughout the year, varying between 28 °C (82 °F) and 22 °C (72 °F) and hardly a day without rain. Yet, the two days we spent there the sky was blue and the sun was shining.

Suva

I walk with great pain in my lower back and my entire right leg, after I suffered from a pinched nerve on our way to Minerva Reefs, but at least i am grateful that I can walk at all. One of the first places we visit is a local drug store where I can buy any kind of medicine over the counter, so I don’t have to look for a clinic. I explain my pain to a young Indian nurse at the pharmacy and she gives me anti inflammatory pills and something special for my pinched nerve.

Ivo with the guard at the Presidential Palace in Suva

In fact, I have been diagnosed by a professional already. Doctor Petar Chaushev is a relative of one of our friends in New Zealand- Doctor Boris Penchev, and he helped me via e-mail, determining my medical condition and suggesting possible treatment and medication.

After I sent him an e-mail explaining my problem, he answered back: “According to your description of the pain in your lower back, I believe that you have pinched a nerve on the right side, at L5 level of the spine – the sciatic nerve. I suggest that you do the following test to determine if your condition might have some permanent damage or not. With someone helping you, try to walk slowly on your heels and see if you can lift the toes of both legs at the same height, or if the right foot is closer to the ground. If you can lift them equally, then you can continue to take anti inflammatory twice a day after meals, rest a lot and do some light careful exercises. “

We continued writing e-mails with my online doctor Chaushev and thanks to him (and to the no-prescription-needed-medication in Fiji) I got much better much faster.

After a couple of months, when I was all better, my doctor wrote to me that the best thing I can do now is to keep my back muscles strong and in shape and thus- the spine well aligned to prevent the same injury from happening again. Exercise and control your weight! I think this is the best advice for everyone out there- stay fit and maintain your back muscles to avoid this sort of painful injury.

Dear D-r Petar Chaushev, if you are reading this- thank you once again!

And to all of you out there wondering how cruisers and sailors deal with medical situations- this is how!

Maya

The day we spend walking around Suva was enough to see the main points of interest and then keep going.

Ivo and Maya at the Botanical Garden

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Heart seed

We visited Thurs ton botanical gardens and Museum, passed by the Presidential Palace and Albert Park, and stopped at the central market to buy fruits and vegetables for the boat.

Suva Museum

I was ready to rest for at least a week, after the long passage, but our friends from catamaran Invictus sent us a message that goes something like this: “We are getting west wind for the next couple of days! You get west wind once a year in Fiji, so don’t miss this chance and start sailing east immediately! We are in Savu Savu and will meet you in Lau! Mercredi Soir are already on their way there, so you have no excuse- BE THERE!”

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The prevailing winds in Fiji are from the east, so the passage from Suva to Lau is usually extremely difficult against the wind. So, we just arrived in Suva, and now we are getting these extremely rare west winds, which are perfect for sailing back east to Lau Group of Islands where our best friends will meet us in two days. Why didn’t we stop in Lau then, on our way to Fiji, instead of sailing to Suva? We couldn’t stop in Lau on our way to Suva, because it is not possible to do the clearing procedures there- no option to check-in. Arriving from New Zealand you have to sail to one of the few places in Fiji where you can officially check-in: Suva, Nadi or Savu, otherwise you will be illegal. You have to obtain a cruising permit for the rest of the islands, and only then you can sail to Lau Group of Islands (which is 160 NM back east, where we came from).

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Here we go again. Back on the boat, sleep one night at anchor, and sail again. We start in the morning, sail overnight with the wind on a broad reach, and arrive in the late afternoon on the next day. We drop anchor in one of the South Pacific most spectacular anchorages- The Bay of Islands. Here I will find my postcard-perfect white sand beach and much much more.

To be continued…

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Watch our short YouTube episode Sailing to Suva

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Passage from New Zealand to Minerva Reefs

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May 27, 2017. Our last morning in New Zealand. The boats in the anchorage are no longer here, the little island in the middle of the bay is missing and the trees on the hills of the shores are all gone, along with the hills and the shores. Nothing is left but Fata Morgana, waking up inside a dense grey cloud of fog.

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Fogs are confusing, especially at sea. It feels as though the world has almost disappeared. As if you are inside an egg and you are not moving at all. Inside the fog, you can easily lose your way and head in the wrong direction. You can bump in another boat or crash on the rocks, so you have to be very careful when navigating in fog.

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I am worried and sad. Because of the fog, but mostly because we are leaving. After six months, we are leaving again. I will miss this green beautiful land and its people who showed us what true hospitality really is. New Zealand is all I have imagined and more. This country surpassed my expectations with its beautiful wilderness, diverse nature, neat tranquil towns, and their humble friendly inhabitants. Here we made many new friends, who became as close to us as if they were our family. The hardest thing was saying good-by to our new brothers and sisters.

I am also afraid. We are heading north to where we came from six months ago. To where the ocean became crazy one night, with storms assaulting our boat with big waves, and no one around for hundreds and hundreds of nautical miles. We were never in danger then- we already knew what to do and we did it, but it was painful. The waves thrashing our little boat as if trying to destroy her- inside I felt like someone is constantly beating me. I promised myself then, that I would not do the return 1000 nautical miles passage. I will take the airplane when the time comes to go back to the tropics, after the cyclone season is well over, in May.

The time came. It’s the end of May- the New Zealand winter approaching with its cold rains and fogs. Most of the boats have already left. Our friends aboard catamarans Mercredi Soir and Invictus are already in Fiji, enjoying the tropical sun, waiting for us. We got delayed waiting for the new sails to arrive from South Africa and a diving compressor from Germany. We had to paint the hulls again before leaving, to install the wind vane, fix the toilets and do everything that needed to be done.

Six months have passed quickly, mostly spent on land, with friends, celebrating holydays and regular days, driving around North Island, visiting beautiful mountains, beaches and forests, working on the boat. By May, the bad waves have become a memory and I make a deal with Ivo.

  • I will do the return passage again aboard Fata if we stop at Minerva, some 360 NM before Fiji.

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The sun moves higher in the sky and its magical autumn warmth melts the fog away. Our familiar bay slowly reveals itself like a photograph in a darkroom- first the nearest grey rocks pop up from the sea, then the green shores take shape in the distance and grow bigger and bigger, until we can see the soft oval dome of the last hill with its lonely white lighthouse standing guard at the mouth of The Bay of Islands. Soon the air is clear and crisp again, the sky is blue, the world is no longer narrow and obscure. We can now get a last glimpse of New Zealand, of solid red-and-green land, before a week of nothing but blue desert and birdless skies.

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We are staring back at the shrinking land behind us, bouncing rhythmically on the slow big ocean swell. The shores, which have just appeared from the fog, are now disappearing in the distance once again, and for good.

We are preparing mentally for the utter loneliness of being in the middle of an ocean on a tiny sailboat for a week at least- like astronauts in space, maybe even lonelier. At least the astronauts can look back at Earth and have this one fixed point in space guiding their return. We are sailing towards nowhere.

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A small white triangle pops up from the entrance of the bay right behind us, then another and another! On the AIS we count at least 15 more sailboats, all heading in our direction! Soon we are surrounded by yachts, their captains chatting on the VHF radio, discussing the wind and the waves, their speed and sail combination, the weather forecast, their planned routs towards Fiji or Tonga with a stopover at Minerva Reefs! All morning and into the early afternoon, more and more sailboats leave Opua for Minerva Reefs as part of the Opua-Tonga-Fiji rally, which apparently, we have spontaneously joined. We will not be lonely at least for the next few hours before everyone disappears behind the horizon. The marathon runners, all clustered at the start, will eventually scatter, the distance between them increasing every minute, as the faster ones run ahead for the finish line.

Sails are adjusted, the race begins. In the ocean, it’s a slow but long marathon, with most boats doing 5 to 6 knots in 10 knot winds from southeast. Yet, a few of the yachts have the same speed like Fata and remain close for the rest of the day, the first night, the next day, the second night and even after three days and night we can still see them on the AIS within a few nautical miles from us! One is a Leopard catamaran, slightly bigger than ours, with no AIS. These guys keep us really vigilant the first couple of nights with their little white, green and red lights coming within a few meters form ours.

The weather forecast looks good, with no storms and very light winds predicted for the next five days. Light winds are OK; storms are unwelcome.

  • You want light winds?- the Ocean asked with a sly smile. The Ocean loves to play tricks on you, so you must be careful what you wish for… Light winds it is.

The second morning of the passage we wake up with wind 6 to 8 knots right behind us, Fata barely moving. Our friends have already pulled up their spinnakers. We do the same and we help with the starboard engine. By morning three, the wind has died completely and all boats from the rally, with all sails neatly folded and all masts sticking in the air like devastated bare tree trunks, turn their motors on. The winner of the race will not be the fastest sailing yacht with the most skillful skipper, but the yacht with the most powerful engine and the largest fuel tanks.

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We have experienced deadcalms before- beautiful and eerie announcers of storms, but they usually last for a few hours only, especially at these unusual latitudes. This time, we witness the Ultimate Deadcalm lasting four days and nights with not even the slightest puff of wind, in a place notorious for Tasman storms and mean weather systems.

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On the third morning of our passage, the slow sunrise reveals an endless purple mirror separating the sky above from the sky below- Fata Morgana suspended in the middle- stuck to her inverted image like an unusual optical illusion, a bizarre phantasmagoria. The ocean as we know it is no more. In its place is an endless sky. We are sailing on clouds.

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I am lying in my bed unable to move. The pain is unbearable, sharp and constant, stretching from the right side of my lower back all the way down my right leg to the tips of my toes. As if a cord running inside my body has snapped, leaving me paralyzed and suffering. Later, I found out that I have pinched a nerve in my lower back as a result of a simple innocent sneeze. But before the professional diagnose, I have no idea what is going on, and why, and what to do?

I can’t move, I can’t sleep and I can’t even change my position. I can only lie on my back, but even on my back the pain is terrible. After two childbirths and a few rotten teeth throughout the years, I am now experiencing the worst pain of my life, in the middle of the sea. Usually I sleep curled up on one side, so lying on my back for hours in constant pain is killing me. Not knowing what is happening and how long it will continue is not helping my situation. I am dying. Slowly and hopelessly, with no hospital around the corner, I am dying, killed by a sneeze.

Call a helicopter to come and pick me up, bring me back in New Zealand, and save me! Can’t call a helicopter- we are outside of helicopter reach, no phones here, too far out at sea. All I can do is take painkillers and anti-inflammatories- even antibiotics- whatever pills I can find on the boat. How long can a person survive without sleep, unable to move, in constant sharp pain? If I survive, will I ever be able to walk again? I don’t believe in God and I don’t usually pray, but now I am praying and promising (mainly myself), that if I survive and if I ever walk normally again, I will exercise regularly and run, build some muscles, do yoga and make sure I become fit and stay fit, I promise! I hope- I pray- it’s not too late. We people tend to realize the benefits of healthy eating and physical exercise once it’s too late.

After a couple of days of incredible pain and a bag of pills, I think I am feeling a bit better. The ocean has been kind to me this time- something I will forever be grateful for. No waves to thrash me up and down in my quiet suffering. I survive only thanks to this unusual calm, day after day after day. It is also easier for Ivo, who is now left to sail the boat alone with Maya’s help day and night, for there is not much to do- no sail adjustment, no stress- the autopilot and engines are doing all the work.

On the third day of my painful situation- the fifth day of the passage- the pain has become more bearable or I have become more used to it. I can now carefully and slowly move around. I can sleep on my side, stand up and go to the toilet with no help. I can roll out of bed and go up in the cockpit. I cannot bend my body in a sitting position but lying on the floor of the boat is now possible, so I can get out of the cabin for a change..

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I can now go out, slowly and carefully, and admire the strange world around us- empty and utterly still. The sea is a frozen mountain lake with no mountains around it to give it shape. The clouds, reflected on the glossy surface, catch the afternoon light and spill it above and below us in perfect symmetry.

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A school of mahi-mahis follows the boat for a while. They come close and we can see their green-and-blue backs with the sharpest detail, like fish in an endless aquarium. Ivo pulls out two – fresh food for the next few days.

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Night. Fata Morgana is flying through a silent alien universe with double the stars- bright, heavy, insane- leaving a trail of green liquid fire. Delicate creatures, some like miniature luminescent snowflakes, others like large underwater glass flowers, become alive with tiny flickering explosions, revealing only the contours of their invisible shapes for a brief moment. And disappear in the liquid black of the night sea.

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On the sixth day, the south winds return. We are sailing again. The propellers of our boat are not very big and we never run the engines at maximum RPM in order to conserve fuel, so our normal speed under power in the last five days has been about 6 knots, making progress of about 130 NM in a straight line towards destination. Most of the other boat who left Opua with us are pushing a bit harder and will arrive in Minerva sooner.

The Minerva Reefs are two submerged atolls in the middle of nowhere some 25 nautical miles apart- South and North Minerva. No islands here, no dry land- just a couple of reefs forming shallow blue lagoons each three miles across. Their jugged coral rocks sticking above the sea at low tide are completely submerged at high tide making the anchorage one of the strangest in the world- you are sitting at anchor in 5-10 meters of sand surrounded by nothing but ocean in all directions, protected from waves in most weather conditions. No one lives here, there are no permanent residents, as there is no land at all. The nearest island is three more days sail form here.

On the seventh afternoon of our passage we begin hearing the other boats on the VHF radio discussing the entrance through the pass of the lagoon, GPS positions, red wine and lobsters. But we are late and we’ll have to spend another night outside waiting in the lee of the reef, as entering through the cut and navigating inside the lagoon is only safe in good daylight.

It’s a black moonless night as we approach South Minerva Reef. In the distance, it looks like a small city with the flickering lights of at least 20 boats, all tucked safely inside the lagoon. An ocean oasis. We finally got wind after a windless week, but now we have to stop and wait. We heave-to outside the reef making sure we drift away from the rocks and not towards them. We keep watch the rest of the night, as boats keep arriving in the darkness, some heading towards Tonga without stopping.

The next morning, we sail through the cut- wide and straightforward- inside North Minerva Reef. Inside the lagoon, we dodge a few coral heads and drop anchor in 5 meters of water- beautiful teal-colored liquid glass. Everything about this place looks familiar, after spending a few days in Beveridge Reef last year: the lagoon, the reef with its breakers, even the color of the water inside the lagoon are the same as in Beveridge Reef. Minerva Reef, like Beveridge Reef, is a coral atoll with limestone base elevated by volcanic activity. Yet, this is another place, and a very special one- Minerva Reef has a unique story.

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The reefs were named after the Australian whaler Minerva in 1829- one of many ships wrecked on the treacherous rocks hidden beneath the waves, invisible at night. Until 1972 the reefs were mainly visited by passing ships, private yachts and local fishermen from Tonga and Fiji. Until one day a millionaire and political activist Michael Oliver from Las Vegas had an idea. He set off to create a brand new sovereign micronation with “no taxation, welfare, subsidies, or any form of economic interventionism.” Oliver formed the Ocean Life Research Foundation, a syndicate which allegedly had some $100,000,000 for the project with offices in New York City and London, and in 1971 the building of the new nation begun. Barges loaded with sand arrived from Australia to bring the reef level above the water and create artificial islands. Next, a small tower was erected and the flag of The Republic of Minerva was raised. On 19 January 1972 The Republic issued a declaration of independence in letters to neighboring countries and even created their own currency and had their first president elected. Probably by a majority.

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However, the declaration of independence was greeted with great suspicion by all other countries in the area- Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Fiji, Nauru, Samoa, and theCook Islands. Tonga claimed the two Minerva Reefs as traditional fishing grounds belonging to the Kingdom since forever, and the rest of the neighboring states quickly recognized the claim.

Flag of Republic of Minerva

Here is the Proclamation published in a Tongan government gazette on 15 June 1972:

“His Majesty King Taufaʻahau Tupou IV in Council DOES HEREBY PROCLAIM:

WHEREAS the Reefs known as North Minerva Reef and South Minerva Reef have long served as fishing grounds for the Tongan people and have long been regarded as belonging to the Kingdom of Tonga has now created on these Reefs islands known as Teleki Tokelau and Teleki Tonga; AND WHEREAS it is expedient that we should now confirm the rights of the Kingdom of Tonga to these islands; THEREFORE we do hereby AFFIRM and PROCLAIM that the islands, rocks, reefs, foreshores and waters lying within a radius of twelve miles [19.31 km] thereof are part of our Kingdom of Tonga.”

Shortly after that, a Tongan expedition was sent to the reefs and occupied the new Republic by taking down the Republic’s flag and hoisting the Tongan flag in its place, with no objection from the local residents- the lobsters and the giant clams inhabiting the rocky parts of the reefs. The Owner of the Republic quickly fired the newly elected president in order to avoid any armed confrontation- “the libertarians who were involved did not want to fight for their territory.”

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Ten years later, a guy named Morris C. “Bud” Davis led a group of Americans to occupy the reefs once again. This occupation lasted for three entire weeks, after which the Tongan troops arrived and kicked everyone out. A few times after that various groups and individuals have tried to claim the reefs, including us, but each time Minerva has been “more or less reclaimed by the sea”.

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In 2005, Fiji claimed the waters around the Minerva Reefs as being their fishing grounds, not Tonga’s, and lodged a complaint with the International Seabed Authority concerning Tonga’s maritime waters claims surrounding Minerva. In turn, Tonga lodged a counter claim. The Principality of Minerva micronation joined in and claimed to have lodged a counter claim as well!

In 2010 Fiji sent Navy ships to destroy the navigation lights installed by Tongans at the entrance to the lagoon. The next year, they did it again! Two Royal Tongan Navy ships were sent to the reef to replace the equipment yet again, and thus to reassert Tonga’s claim to the territory. There were Fijian Navy ships already in the vicinity but as soon as the Tongans approached, they withdrew.

In 2014, the government of Tonga decided to propose to generously give the Minerva Reefs to Fiji and thus end the territorial dispute. In exchange, Fiji would have to surrender the Lau Group of islands. Two small reefs in exchange for sixty islands, of which thirty inhabited! Tonga’s Lands Minister Lord Maʻafu Tukuiʻaulahi announced that he would make the proposal to Fiji’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola, because some Tongans have Lauan ancestors and many Lauans have Tongan ancestors, so it’s only fair!

Today, the reefs are still officially part of Tonga, with no navigational lights at the moment. And the Lau Group of islands belongs to Fiji.

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There are six other boats in North Minerva together with us. All the others- twenty or more- are in the South reef, which is the first one to reach when sailing from New Zealand. No Navi ships from Tonga or Fiji are here today.

Two guys are talking on the radio discussing the local lobsters, famous for their size and sheer quantities. One is saying, that too many boats are visiting the reefs lately and right now everyone from the rally is trying to catch as many lobsters as possible and stuff them in their freezers. Consequently, the lobsters are fished out. We see people patrolling the rocks at low tide, walking with their heads down, carrying big backpacks for lobster-collecting purposes. Sadly, because of the lobsters’ popularity, the Tongan, Fijian and Chinese fishermen and the greed of the boaties, whose numbers increase each year, the once abundant giant lobsters in Minerva Reefs are now almost extinct, so we don’t even try.

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Fata Morgana is at rest, the engines finally shut off, the fuel tanks almost empty. We wash the salt off the boat, cook and sleep. Then it’s time to explore. We take the kayak and paddle towards the small tower on the western part of the reef. The kayak ride is not easy for me, as my lower back and right leg still hurt and my movements are very limited. Sitting is painful. But I feel better. The pain is no longer as sharp and as strong as initially and I am able to walk slowly around the reef.

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It’s mid-tide, the water is coming in like a river flowing from the ocean over the rocks, at some places deep to our knees. Purple, green and blue giant clams bloom at our feet, quickly closing their shells when approached, vigilant and shy. There is no trace of any land here, or sandy islands, let alone a Republic with a president. The only memory of humans ever been here is the broken metal tower sticking about three meters in the air, and the shipwrecks on the fringes of the lagoon.  The air is pleasant, much warmer than 800 Nautical miles south in New Zealand. We are back in the tropics. Tomorrow, we will sail again, heading northwest, another 360 nautical miles to Fiji.

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Watch our YouTube video SAILING FROM NEW ZEALAND TO MINERVA with twenty boats, zero wind, two mahis and a squid.

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What are we going to do?

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The plan has changed. Again.

It’s funny how cruisers change their plans all the time. Often when we ask fellow cruisers where they are going to be in February or when are they going to be on that island in Vanuatu, the answer is We have no idea. Often, you start for one place, but because of weather or a breakdown you end up in another. The circumstances change, or we change our ideas, and then the plans change too. As the saying goes “Our plans are written in the sand at low tide.”

Our plan to sail to the Solomon Islands, then Papua New Guinea by the end of 2017, then Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand in 2018 has changed when we decided to sell Fata Morgana in New Zealand and move to a bigger boat back in the Caribbean or in the Mediterranean region. We wanted a bigger boat with four cabins for charter guests, as a way to make some money while living on a boat.

We placed Fata Morgana for sale in August 2017 when we were in Fiji. Shortly after, the hurricanes came.

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season was a hyperactive, deadly, and extremely destructive, as well as the costliest season on record. Hurricane Irma and Maria devastated entire islands and communities, wiped out or damaged many yachting destinations and destroyed thousands of boats.

Even though the hurricanes didn’t affect us directly, as we were safe on the other side of the world, they affected the boat market, as well as our future plans.

Selling the boat in New Zealand remained a possibility, but buying a boat in the Caribbean and spending the next few seasons there became uncertain.

We decided to wait. To take some time off. After selling Fata Morgana we decided go back and live on land for a few years. The more we thought about it, the more it made sense, the more reasons we found, and we felt good about this decision. The time felt also good, after five years of full-time non-stop living aboard.

Maya is now 14 and will have the opportunity to graduate high school back in Canada and continue her studies if that’s what she wants. She can finally take piano  and dance lessons, enlist in the Canadian Cadets, have permanent friends and do all those things she couldn’t do on a boat.

In Canada we will reunite with our son Viktor, who is already 20-years-old and we miss him more and more every day.

I will have time to finally sit down and write that book I was planning to write since a few years, which is now a defined project in my head, ready to be put on paper. A book about one family’s dreams and illusions.

We will work, look for home, buy a car. We will go back to “normal” life and it’s not going to be easy, but it’s not going to be hard either.

Actually, we have never had a normal life and I sometimes wonder what it would feel like. We left Bulgaria, our families and friends, when we were barely 22-years-old, and arrived in Canada to start a new and better life. We had a house in which we barely lived, as we worked as long-distance truck drivers, both Ivo and I, the kids with us in the small cabin, travelling all over Canada and USA for years. Maya was practically born and raised in a truck, before moving into a boat.

After traveling some more around New Zealand and possibly Australia in the next few months, we are going to fly back to Canada and live in Vancouver area. What exactly are we going to do and how is once again uncertain, but I suspect it’s not going to be a very conventional comeback to land-life. After living on wheels and then on a boat, after visiting so many places, meeting so many people and learning so many things, it will be almost impossible for us to just get plugged back in the system and suddenly stop. I suspect that we will keep traveling, keep learning, keep looking for alternatives, even without a boat. We have many ideas, and if you are still interested we will keep sharing them with you, our followers and supporters, fellow adventurers, travelers and dreamers. Our Life Nomadik will continue one way or another and I suspect it’s going to be epic. We didn’t reach Southeast Asia, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, Cambodia, Vietnam, Africa, Europe, and so many other destinations by boat, so now we will have to find other ways of traveling there (always as cheaply and amazingly interesting as possible.) We accept ideas and offers!

When we told our friends and parents, five years ago, that we are selling the house and buying a sailboat and then getting the kids out of school, leaving work and moving on the boat, sailing from island to island with no particular plans, they looked at us with a mixture of worry, disbelief and condemnation. You are crazy and irresponsible, they said. DON’T DO IT! We knew we are crazy but we did it anyway and we are not sorry.

Today the reverse is happening… Many are disappointed with our decision to sell the boat and move back on land, but such is life- things change and it’s time for a change.

In the past five years we visited more places and had more adventures than most people will never experience in a lifetime. It has been a great journey of discovery, both world and self-discovery. And it was a privilege to be able to share it with so many people via the blog and the short videos we made. We will keep making them and writing stories in the next months, as the best stories and adventures are still untold. We have amazing footage from Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia, so we will be publishing many more episodes in the future, and written stories. We are planning an expedition on land to New Zealand’s South Island and possibly Australia in February and March, so we will have even more material and footage for films and articles. And then, who knows! Keep following us to find out!

Maya told me a few days ago, that she is not afraid to die and if she dies now, her life has been complete, because so many awesome things have already happened to her. I was terrified! No, your life is not complete, it’s just beginning now and a lot more is ahead of you! You don’t have to compare with the majority and become satisfied with what you have accomplished just because it is more than the next person. You need to strive for more and better accomplishments and knowledge, to develop your potential and talent, to seek happiness and improve yourself and your environment. Life is an adventure, with or without a boat, and yours is going to be even more fascinating than you can imagine. You can become a marine scientist, or an artist, you can go to Antarctica or visit the moon! Five years on a boat halfway around the world is nothing yet! Keep going!

We want to thank our Patrons, the 56 people who are supporting us and helped us incredibly enormously, especially in the past few months, which have been a bit difficult for us financially. Those of you, who send us 1 and 2 dollars each month have helped us cover our internet expenses, so that we can keep posting and uploading stories, photos and videos. Those of you who send us 5 dollars every month helped us move forward, paying for boat fuel or transportation on land. Our 10-dollar Patrons ensured that the entry fees to the different countries, visas and other formalities were in order. And thanks to our 20 and 50-dollar and plus Patrons we could buy food for a month and even share some with the friendly islanders in Vanuatu. This is how you kept us going and we will never forget it, hoping that some day we can do the same for you and others.

Some of you, fellow cruisers and sailors, or dreamers planning to sail around the world some day too, have been following and supporting us mainly because we sail and live on a boat. We completely understand if you no longer find a reason to support us, now that we are selling the boat and moving on land and we will understand if you decide to stop your monthly subscription. We are grateful to all of you and hope to be able to return your kindness in the same or in a different way some day.

We will keep the videos and blog stories coming in the next months, as we have a lot of footage to work with and even more footage is coming up, as we visit some more of New Zealand’s wonders. We will also continue the special Behind-the-Scenes and Sailing&Cruising monthly articles with extra information for our 5 and 10+ dollar Patrons, sharing what we have learned.

To those of you who decide to keep their subscription for a few more months, while we keep publishing videos- we are grateful and touched!

Thank you all!

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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 …

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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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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 …

.

… 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!

 

Share

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 …

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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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