Author Archives: amarulasail

Family Fun in Fiji! (Part 2)

After a week onboard with us, we dropped the family off at Port Denerau, where they got a taxi down to the Shangri-La Fijian resort on the Coral Coast. They had never experienced a resort holiday and all the various activities and huge buffets that go along with it, so we made a plan to join them there after a few days.RIMG3282

En route, we stopped off at the Robinson Crusoe resort, as we’d heard it is very cruiser friendly and puts on a great fire and knife dance performance. We had hoped to have the family come and join us there for the show, but it was a 30 minute taxi ride away, followed by a 45 minute boat trip making it a late night for the girls, so they decided to make the most of their resort activities instead. We enjoyed the show very much, and we also explored the river systems near to the Robinson Crusoe resort. More photos here

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During the few days back together with the family, we explored the nearby mangrove creek, enjoyed dinner together at the resort and lunch together on the boat. The girls decided they wanted a sleep over with Babu & Bibi on the boat (I think it may have been Mum & Dad’s idea for a peaceful night at the resort really 😉 ) but it was a lot of fun and in the morning we all went to the beach for a swim and to play frisbee with the boys. The girls went off for more activities, SUP, swimming in the pool, making & racing coconut boats at the kids club and making tie-dye shirts. Then on their last day we took the bus to Sigatoka Sand Dunes National Park and hiked the trail up and over the dunes, down to the beach and back through the Mahogany forest.

What a great time we all had and we look forward to seeing them all onboard again soon!

And on our way back up to Malolo to catch up with friends, we caught 2 of our biggest yellow fin tuna at the same time! 15+kg each – so it was fresh sushi for the cruiser’s Pot Luck Supper at Musket Cove that night! Photos here

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Family Fun in Fiji! (Part 1)

What an amazing time we had with our FIRST EVER visit from any of the grandkids!!! It’s been something we have been looking forward to for as long as we can remember and we finally had our first family visit here in Fiji :)

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During our time in the Caribbean, fabulous as it was, we felt sooooo far away from our Australian family :( Although it was nice for Lynne to be able to hop on a plane back to UK to visit family and friends there, eventually the time came when we realised that it was time to say goodbye to all our lovely friends and the fun times in the Caribbean and head through the big gate (Panama Canal) and across the Pacific, so we could be closer to our Australian family. And now we are :)

There are lots more photos here on our Lynne’s Facebook page, with captions too. You do not have to have a Facebook account to see the photos :) So, please enjoy them too!

Also, please check out all our photos on our Amarula Sail Facebook page.

Part 2 coming soon….. stay tuned!


Sweltering in Suva

After a few glorious weeks exploring the east coast of Vanua Levu and Taveuni, we decided that it was time to head to Suva to haul the boat out and get some boat jobs done before our family comes out to visit at Easter.

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Despite this being cyclone season, we have mostly had very, very light winds and finding a weather window to actually sail to Suva was quite a challenge. But, despite a slow sail dotted with a few hours of motoring towards the end, it was preferable to our friend’s trip, during which he encountered waterspouts!

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We arrived at the anchorage off the Royal Suva Yacht Club on Australia Day, 26th January, and anchored near to an American cruiser we had met when we arrived in Savusavu in December. Although it was still early his dinghy was not at the boat, so we assumed he had gone ashore. We were surprised when we looked across just before we were planning to head ashore and saw a police boat alongside his yacht. Eric went to ask them what had happened and to our horror we learned that Jim had been boarded and attacked by 2 thieves a couple of nights earlier and he was in hospital. We thought we had left all this behind us and were as saddened and shocked as everyone else to hear of such an incident in Fiji. We found out which hospital Jim was in and, during evening visiting hours, Eric went with a bag of clothes, toiletries and towel to find him. As a single-hander Jim was especially relieved to see a fellow cruiser, although he was surrounded by friendly Fijians :) Thumbs Up for Jim-001 For the next few days we kept an eye on his boat and visited him in hospital until his release on the following Monday, after receiving microsurgery to re-attach his thumb, which had been almost completely severed in the attack. The RSYC kindly made a berth available for Jim, so that once he was discharged from hospital, he was secure within their marina and we’re happy to report that he is recovering well. The police kept a close vigil on his yacht whilst he was in hospital and the perpetrators were both caught.

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Meanwhile, we waited patiently for the boatyard to repair their winch and confirm a date for us to haul Amarula. Unfortunately, after almost a week in Suva, we were informed that a fishing company had to urgently haul a number of their vessels, so we are still waiting…… a familiar story….. ‘Fiji time’…. and, in the Caribbean, ‘Island Time’….. and back in our Africa days, ‘TAB’ (That’s Africa baby)….. ho hum…..

So, rather than wait around in the industrial port area of Suva Bay, we decided to relocate to the anchorage off the Novotel at Lami Bay.

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Anyway, it’s not all bad news. This area is known as the Bay of Islands and we have explored a few of the mangrove creeks, which is always fun.

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Meanwhile, Suva is still only a 15 minute taxi ride away and actually a relatively easy city to navigate your way around in. Taxis are plentiful and cheap, less than US$5 into Suva from here, and the people are very friendly. As Jim said, “In 5 years cruising around Fiji, I have met 2,000 wonderful people and 2 bad guys….”

Suva is the largest city we have been in since Panama City, so it is useful to have access to maintenance and repair facilities, not to mention Australian plugs after 15 years away from Australia!! There are large stores, cinemas and shopping malls downtown, and the waterfront by the old Grand Pacific Hotel and park areas opposite are lovely.

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The biggest treat was a surprise visit last Tuesday from Lynne’s cousin Alan and his wife Allison, who were on holiday in Fiji. They hired a car and drove the 4 hours from their hotel in Denerau to see us! Of course it rained, as it does daily at the moment, but we still enjoyed a lovely lunch of fish and salad onboard, followed by a quick trip across to the beach at Mosquito Island, before they had to say their farewells and head back to Denerau. Their return drive was quite harrowing, as they passed an overturned car, truck and bus, then encountered flooding around the Nadi area and learned that soon after they had left to drive to Suva, the car hire company had cancelled all further rentals until the weekend! Unfortunately they were marooned at their hotel for the rest of their stay, so any hopes of snorkel trips were slashed! We don’t recommend this time of year for a visit to Fiji 😉

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Merry Christmas from Fiji!

Merry Christmas and our very best wishes for 2017!

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Although our original plan for this year was to make our way back to Australia (or New Zealand, as an interim quarantine stop for the boys) we are now in Fiji after a fantastic year of exploring the south Pacific! To see photos and read about our travels, please scroll back through the posts on our website.

After transiting the Panama Canal in January we joined the 2016 Pacific Puddle Jump and met up with a number of other cruisers in Panama and again in Tahiti & Moorea for get together celebrations and parties. This is a great way to connect with other cruisers who are doing the crossing and also to enjoy aspects of the Polynesian culture, as we were treated to various cultural events during the Tahiti-Moorea rendezvous. In Moorea we met Adam from Vuda Point Marina in Fiji who told us he believed we could import our dogs into Fiji after a 7 day quarantine period! Until this point Fiji was off our radar as pets are normally kept onboard for the duration of their stay and the authorities ask for a FJ$1,500 (AUD$1,000) bond per animal, which is returned on your departure from Fiji provided the pets remain onboard the whole time. However on further investigation we discovered that we could, in fact, quarantine the dogs onboard for a 7 day period, after which we could import them provided they satisfied all the import requirements, so this is what we did! We have now been issued with an import permit and are free to reclaim our bond fee and more importantly, our boys are free to go ashore! Yay!!

After Eric returned from Australia late November we waited patiently for a weather window to cross from Tonga to Fiji.

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The conditions weren’t great, but after a week of waiting we decided to go anyway. We sailed a long way south west from Vava’u to find the trade winds, which we hoped would blow us back north west to Savusavu. After the first 2 nights of thunder and lightening squalls, we turned to the north west just south of the Lau group and enjoyed a slow, but comfortable spinnaker run almost the whole way. During the first week in Savusavu the weather forecasts were predicting a potential cyclone heading towards Fiji! Thankfully, this system of low pressure dissipated and moved away before any major harm and, apart from torrential rain and severe flooding in parts of Fiji, we were saved from any serious winds.

Once the dogs’ import permit had been processed we took advantage of the northerly winds and headed east towards the famous Rainbow Reef near Taveuni to do some diving over Christmas. We had an added incentive to make our way to this area, as our friend Elizabeth from St. Croix in the US Virgin Islands just happened to be on a 10 day dive charter for Christmas. We knew the liveaboard vessel was due to head to Taveuni at some point to do some diving, so we were delighted to wake up on our 2nd morning out from Savusavu to see the Fiji Siren anchored just outside the bay where we had spent the night. What a surprise they got when we sailed round the vessel at 8 in the morning to say hello! It was wonderful to catch up with Elizabeth and meet some of her family, who were travelling with her for the holidays. We did some diving at the same sites, where we enjoyed the tremendous array of colourful soft corals for which Fiji is famous and found the dive sites teeming with many varieties of fish and the occasional turtle. We joined Elizabeth and family onboard for lunch and to view some of their amazing photos, then we said our farewells as they sailed off on Christmas Eve to get to Wakaya island for Christmas Day.

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As the weather was so calm we decided to stay at our anchorage just near Rainbow reef and on Christmas morning we decided to go and dive at the Purple Wall. On our way there we met a dive boat from Paradise Taveuni and they very kindly invited us to tie off our dinghy to their boat, so we could tag along on their dive on the Great White Wall. Normally we do drift dives with our dinghy, but this dive is impossible for us to do as a dinghy drift dive as it involves 2 swim throughs! It is considered one of the world’s top dives, so what an opportunity for us and what a great Christmas present! Thanks guys :) At around 15 metres there is a swim through which takes you down to 25 metres and a wall which drops way down. After exiting the swim through you turn left and are greeted with a stunning wall of white soft corals, hence the name. It is a spectacular sight and well worth doing. Unfortunately we no longer have a good underwater camera, but google Great White Wall, Fiji and you’ll find photos and videos. Further along we went through another swim through and slowly drifted along the wall gradually climbing up to 5 metres before surfacing after a great dive.

Luckily for the boys we are anchored a short distance from some beautiful deserted beaches so they didn’t miss out on Christmas day activities, and of course, it is also Scrumpy’s birthday, so he got extra treats today of sausages and the crackling off our Christmas pork roast :) (no worries, Chui didn’t miss out either!)

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Well certainly 2016 has been a fantastic travel year for us. We expect to remain closer to home (Australia) now and are looking forward to visits from the family to us in Fiji. On that note we will once again wish you all the very best for this holiday season and we hope 2017 is a great year.

The last place on earth you would expect to find a vet!

Our search for a vet to administer the annual vaccinations for Chui & Scrumpy took us to the Ha’apai group of islands, about 70 miles south of Vava’u.

We had a great overnight sail down to Pangai, the main island in the Ha’apai group. Once we had checked in there, we relocated around to Uoleva to find Kristen, the vet. By an incredible coincidence, Kristen, the vet we had been in contact with (courtesy of our friends Gaylyn & Thomas on Qi) just happened to be the partner of Craig, a guy we had known 20 years earlier in Dar es Salaam! Craig arrived in Tonga some 9 or 10 years ago and had been running a couple of businesses here over the years, the latest being the lodge, which he & Kristen had just sold! It was great to finally get the dogs’ vaccinations sorted out and to reconnect with Craig and meet Kristen. Small, small world and a BIG thank you to Kristen for braving Chui and updating the boys’ vaccinations!

After a couple of days anchored off Uoleva we decided to explore some of the islands further south. The Ha’apai was beautiful with a long fringing reef stretching all the way down the eastern edge of the group and a variety of small islands and sand banks dotted to the west of the reef.

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During our time in these islands we saw whales every day. Nothing can describe the thrill or privilege of watching these enormous creatures just metres away from the anchorage simply having the time of their lives. Tonga is one of the only places in the world where you can actually swim with whales on an organised tour. Back in Vava’u we had met some researchers who were studying the impact of this tourist activity on the behaviour patterns of the whales. We were reminded of the research charter we did back in 2002 when we were the base station for a pilot study in Zanzibar on whales and dolphins and the scientists onboard collected DNA from the whales in order to identify habitat and behaviour patterns.

Another of Tonga’s treasures is the diving/ snorkelling, especially around the Ha’apai group. The only downside was the weather. For much of the time it was unseasonably COLD and often wet, overcast and windy! The mostly small reef fish there are beautiful and the coral is as pristine as we have seen in a very long time. Even more special is listening to the sounds of whales off in the distance as we enjoyed the diving and snorkelling. It was really quite eerie and we half expected to turn around and look straight into their eyes, but  no such luck.

Unfortunately, again due to the weather, we weren’t able to do much diving, but the highlights were Wickham reef on one of the few calm, sunny days that we had and snorkelling around the wreck off Ha’afeva island’s west coast.

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Further south in the Ha’apai group there are plenty of islands to explore, but again, due to weather we had some challenges with the anchorages, so the best advice for Ha’apai (like the Tuamotus in French Polynesia) is PICK your weather, if at all possible, and go there with plenty of time to enjoy these gorgeous places…… We hope you enjoy the photos of Mango, Ha’afeva and Nomuka islands, plus the general photos that we posted on Facebook and do please let us know if you CANNOT access these pages. I believe they are accessible even if you do not use Facebook??

After 3 weeks in the Ha’apai group, we sailed back to Vava’u to explore more of the anchorages, meet up with other cruising friends and join in with the Blue Water Regatta, which is held in the first week of October, somewhat inconvenient for me, as I was back on my Sober for October challenge again, so I diligently remained teetotal for the whole event, and indeed for the whole of October!! Oh, and on that note,…… you can STILL sponsor me until the end of November! Come on George, cough up. I did it!! 😉 Thanks to everyone who did sponsor me and also to those who chose to support The Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti (in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew) in support of my efforts. All very much appreciated!

Back to the Treasures of Tonga blog post.

Treasures of Tonga

**STOP PRESS:: I have to introduce an extra special TREASURE OF TONGA here.

Tonga has been amazing. We have been here for over 3 months and it has been lovely to just relax and enjoy the country, without having the 3 month time frame that we had to rush through the vast expanse of French Polynesia.

The distances between the lovely, diverse island groups of the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Society Islands was mind boggling, but we have enjoyed Tonga at a far more leisurely pace. We arrived at the beginning of August and much of the first month was spent organising the annual vaccinations for our dogs, which proved quite a challenge! Huge thanks to everyone who assisted!

For the rest of our time here we have been discovering many of Tonga’s treasures.

Tonga is famous for the whale swimming charters that operate between July and October when the whales migrate here from the Antarctic to breed.

As we made our way through the islands around to the port of entry at Neiafu, Vava’u on August 3rd we saw more whales in just a few hours than we saw in 4 years in the Caribbean! We also saw more bait balls than we’ve since since Walvis Bay in Namibia!!


Vava’u is a delightful cruising ground in the northern part of Tonga, consisting of the larger main island in the north and a number of smaller islands to the south. The beauty of Vava’u is that you can be right in town amongst all the action or you can sail just a few miles away and find a wide range of anchorages, many of which are deserted and have lovely isolated beaches, fascinating caves, including Swallow’s Cave and Mariner’s Cave, plenty of bird calls and the ever present whales (July – October).

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The Moorings Yacht Charter company have produced a guide to all the anchorages around Vava’u. There are 42 listed and even now I believe we have only visited about 22 of them! Some are only day anchorages and not recommended in bad weather, but there is a huge choice and despite hundreds of cruisers coming through Tonga during the height of the season it is possible to hide away, especially if you venture further south to the Ha’apai group of islands.

We have done another post here on our time in the Ha’apai, but please also enjoy the various photos that we have shared on our Amarula Sail Facebook page

Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga General Ha’apai photos

Pangai  Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga

Uoleva island Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga 

Whales in Ha’apai  Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga

Snorkellling and diving in Ha’apai

Mango island, Ha’apai, Tonga

Nomuka Island, Ha’apai

Ha’afeva island, Ha’apai, Tonga 

The main harbour at Neiafu is deep and well sheltered with a number of moorings available for rent in front of the town.

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The check in process in Vava’u involves going alongside a big concrete dock with a large overhang, which regularly catches yachts out when they get caught under it during the rise and fall of the tide. You have to be very vigilant with the position of your fenders; even so we still sustained minor damage from the experience.

Provisioning here is significantly less sophisticated than in French Polynesia, however there is a fresh food market, which has a reasonable supply of good quality, delicious fruit and vegetables, as long as you’re happy with whatever is in season on the day you visit.

The main grocery stores are Chinese run (and limited), so the best strategy is ‘take it while you can get it’ as it may well not be there next time you visit. But after years in Dar es Salaam, we feel quite at home with all this! In fact it takes us back to our early days there when the grocery store was a 20 foot container with the usual staples like flour, powdered milk, rice, beans and, if you’re lucky, a fridge with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and maybe even some cheese and butter. As yet, we haven’t found ‘butcheries’ like we had in Dar, where the ‘black’ meat hung and was attacked by an ax-wielding butcher when you asked for a kilo or 2 of beef (the black was flies!).

You can easily see why Vava’u attracts entrepreneurs from around the world. It has a friendly, laid-back vibe with plenty of bars and restaurants to meet up with other cruisers, expats, locals and tourists. There is a very helpful morning cruisers net on the radio at 8.30am on VHF Ch 26, which is run by the various business owners to share information about the weather, promote their businesses along with local events, and answer any questions. And if you prefer to get away from it all, there are numerous island hideaways to set up your eco-lodge, Coconut oil production plant or whale swim charter business.

After provisioning and sorting out local sim cards we spent the first couple of weeks exploring the various anchorages around Vava’u. Having anchored at Mala, Port Maurelle, and Nuku, we went across to Vaka’eitu, expecting to spend one night, then move further south to Ovalou.

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Soon after we arrived in Vaka’eitu we noticed someone attempting to tow a motor boat from its mooring to the beach….. by canoe! Eric went over to offer some help and soon got chatting with the family on the island. He helped them change the spark plugs, which seemed to fix the problem, only to have the shear pin break. As they needed to go across to another island for some provisions we lent them our dinghy. When they came back we chatted with them a little more and gave them some coffee and sugar as the shop on the other island had sold out. One of the things that all the guidebooks in Polynesia recommend is to visit a church to experience the singing. Our new friends, David and Hika, invited us to join them the next day, but when Eric went ashore to collect them for church the next morning they had asked their daughter Andrea to escort us, as they insisted on making lunch for us as a thank you for our help! With only 5 families living on the neighbouring island it was a small church service, but very pleasant. Andrea said that David & Hika normally attend church, but they wanted to cook for us on this particular day. She added that when all the family are home on Vaka’eitu and go off to church they fill it up as David & Hika have 11 children! They are very proud of their children and they love to share their talents and amazing hospitality with their visitors, which they do when they put on their pig roast feasts. After lunch Andrea showed us the trail across to a beautiful beach on the south side of the island, then we took her snorkelling at the coral gardens on the western part of the island between Vaka’eitu and Nuapapu. After a second night at anchor David came out to ask us to stay for the pig roast feast the next day, as they had a group of Moorings charter guests coming. He also needed to borrow our dinghy again to go for provisions – and collect the pig for the pig roast! So we spent another night there. It was a lovely spot to get some boat work done and we enjoyed visiting with the family in between times. We heard on the VHF radio net that there was no petrol available in town until the ferry arrived on the Thursday. This meant that David couldn’t get to town, so on the Friday morning we gave David, Hika and Andrea a lift into Neiafu and said our farewells, until we meet again.

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Back in Neiafu we caught up with cruising friends and went to the big church service on the Sunday, which was packed. Despite the service being conducted in Tongan, the singing really was quite special! A couple of days in town was enough for us, so we went off again to explore some of the other Vava’u anchorages before heading down to Uoleva island in the Ha’apai group, where we had arranged to meet up with a Kiwi vet, who had agreed to administer our dogs’ annual vaccinations. Link to our Ha’apai post here.

After 3 weeks in Ha’apai, we returned to Vava’u mid-September to catch up with more friends and join in with the Blue Water Regatta, which is held in the first week of October, somewhat inconvenient for me, as I was back on my Sober for October challenge again, so I diligently remained teetotal for the whole event, and indeed for the whole of October!! Oh, and on that note,…… you can STILL sponsor me until the end of November! Thanks to everyone who did sponsor me and also to those who chose to support The Good Samaritan Foundation of Haiti (in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew) in support of my efforts. All very much appreciated!

Meanwhile, during September, we enjoyed catching up with more cruising friends and we explored further afield. Those of us lucky enough to have time to spend in Tonga can find even more wonderful treasures over at the east coast anchorages.

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There is quite a tricky pass to get there, but the rewards are well worth the effort. The waypoints for the pass and getting into the lovely anchorage at Kenutu are given in the various cruising guides to Tonga. When we arrived in Kenutu we met up with cruising friends we had first met in various anchorages in French Polynesia. As luck would have it the 3 boats there, SV Kinabalu (Singapore), SV Balvenie (New Zealand) and SV Confidence (Canada) just happened to be having a beach BBQ that evening, so we joined in the fun.

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The Blue Water Regatta (despite my restraint from the odd tipple) in October was a lot of fun with great information for those travelling down to New Zealand for the cyclone season from representatives from NZ ports, businesses and customs in attendance, plus there was a visit to the local primary school, which the NZ ports support and a trip out to collect and destroy crown of thorns starfish organised by VEPA and of course the fun Regatta, which we (Team Quatsino II) ALMOST won! At the prize giving dinner, there was a fabulous local band playing and a great meal put on by the Aquarium restaurant.

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A week after the Regatta Eric flew back to Australia to finally get a chance to catch up with family after way too long and attend to some other matters. Here he is all packed and ready!


With Eric away for the past month, I have been catching up on boat jobs, getting together with friends and making a daily commitment to update this website. So here it is, at last!! But, one thing I am very proud of is that I did up anchor and SAIL Amarula around to Port Maurelle ALL BY MYSELF!! I was tired of sitting waiting in Neiafu and decided to go for it. Amarula is a big boat and I have never actually sailed her alone before, let alone anchor or pick up a mooring! To be honest, I’ve never had to, but it’s a wonderful, liberating feeling knowing that I CAN! Here are a few photos from the lovely anchorage where I have been biding my time waiting for Eric to return, so we can sail on to our next destination, Fiji!

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SV Amarula is FOR SALE!

It’s been 3 months since our last post on here!

I’m not quite sure why, but I am finding it quite a challenge to sit down and write about our wonderful time in Tonga. Perhaps it’s because it feels, very much, like our journey is almost at an end……

It has been an interesting, wonderful and enlightening experience, living onboard SV Amarula for over 15 years, in various countries, but it is time to go home and begin a new journey, mostly land-based and most certainly family-oriented.

For the past 5 weeks Eric has been back in Australia and it is clear that Australia is where he wants and needs to be now, so the impetus to pack up our floating home, our dogs and move back to Australia is stronger than ever.

For this reason, we ask that our followers, friends and family all around the world PLEASE share this post and our website, so we can find a new, loving owner for SV Amarula soon.

She is a beautiful, blue water catamaran and her forte is as a luxury floating home and strong, comfortable passage maker. Just imagine NOT getting cold, wet or sunburnt on a passage and being tucked up in a cosy, enclosed wheelhouse whilst navigating her across oceans!

SV Amarula would be ideally suited to a family or even a group of friends wishing to circumnavigate the globe. Equally, she is well suited to chartering. Having lived onboard for the past 15 years, we will be delighted to assist with advice/ suggestions depending on her new owners’ requirements.

You can find plenty of information and photos throughout our website, including a record of her construction and launch in our About Amarula section.

Please don’t hesitate to Contact us for any further information and we look forward to working together to now make your dreams come true :)

If you would prefer to go through a broker, SV Amarula is listed with Anna at Nautilus Yacht Management in Sydney, Australia. Details AND PRICE here

And, I have finally published 2 new posts on Tonga:

Treasures of Tonga (mostly about the Vava’u group) and this one about the Ha’apai group

Plus here are the links to our Tonga albums on Facebook:

TONGA Facebook links:

Vava’u, Kingdom of Tonga

 David & Hika’s feasts , Vaka’eitu island, Vava’u

 Swallow’s Cave Vava’u

 Blue Water Regatta – Regatta race  & School visit 

 East Coast anchorages, Vava’u

 More Vava’u Highlights  (Euakafa, Tapana, Blue Lagoon & Hunga Lagoon)

Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga  General photos taken on our travels around the beautiful Ha’apai islands of Tonga

 Uoleva island Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga

 Whales in Ha’apai  Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga

 Nomuka Island, Ha’apai

Snorkellling and diving in Ha’apai

 Ha’afeva island, Ha’apai, Tonga 

 Mango island, Ha’apai, Tonga

 Pangai  Ha’apai, Kingdom of Tonga

Bora Bora to Vava’u, Tonga via Suwarrow Atoll


In our last blog post we left you in Bora Bora just over a month ago and from there we sailed to Suwarrow Atoll in the northern Cook Islands. Our plan was to stop off at Mopelia atoll, the westernmost island of French Polynesia, as a number of friends had recommended a visit.

On our way to Mopelia we changed course towards Suwarrow, as we weren’t making good enough time to reach the very narrow pass in daylight, but increased wind speeds and better angles tricked us into heading back towards Mopelia.

Of course, as so often seems to happen in this part of the world, the weather was playing games with us and the wind dropped off again, so we were just too late to make a safe entry through the Mopelia pass after all.

We decided to drop the sails and wait for day light, but once again the weather had other plans and the wind started gusting up to 30 knots, promising an uncomfortable night ahead. After an hour or so we decided to take the wind and continue to Suwarrow. Once again we had a challenging passage varying from no wind to our best winds and boat speeds since leaving Panama! The bad news…. we lost a lovely mahi mahi on day 2, but we were compensated on day 5 when we caught a good sized (10kg) yellow fin tuna. Yay sashimi for lunch!

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During the final day we actually had to slow the boat down to ensure a daylight arrival or risk another night tacking back and forth outside the atoll….. RIMG0988-001

Suwarrow has an interesting history, as the setting of Tom Neale’s book ‘An Island to Oneself’. This Kiwi hermit spent a number of years living here between 1952 and 1977, which led to him write his book. RIMG0991-001

Once he passed away the island was turned into the Cook Islands’ only national park. It is protected and managed by the rangers who base here during the season from June to November. RIMG0992-001

It is a beautiful place, for sure, reminding us a little of Cosmoledo atoll in the Indian Ocean, where we were the base station for a scientific research charter back in 2002. RIMG0993-001

As with any national park, there are rules, however it seems that some of them have been introduced more recently due to various visitors’ irresponsible behaviour. For instance, one of the must do’s for us was to dive the pass. Not only was the weather not conducive, but we were advised by the rangers that it is no longer permitted, as they had been called out on too many occasions in the past to rescue divers who were swept out to sea.

Visitors are not permitted to go ashore on any of the motus (islands) within the atoll, other than the main island where the rangers live and no diving or fishing is permitted within the lagoon. We were keen to explore the lagoon, but with 20+ knot winds and the forecast giving the same conditions for the next few days, we decided to move on to Tonga sooner rather than later. RIMG0994-001

Had it been just the 2 of us we may have waited out the weather, as Suwarrow is a totally isolated island paradise, but with the dogs stuck onboard (not even allowed to join us for a dinghy ride around the anchorage….) we felt too guilty, once again being reminded just how challenging it is to travel with pets in the Pacific!

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The passage to Tonga started out really well with 15 to 20 knot winds from the south east giving us our best boat speeds in some time despite sailing with 2 reefs in the mainsail. We actually slowed the boat down for safety reasons, due to the tear in the mainsail below the second reef, which we still haven’t had an opportunity to repair yet.

By the third day the wind dropped and we used the spinnaker with the mainsail, maintaining a steady 6 – 7 knots for the next 24 hours or so. But, as luck would have it, the wind died, the current turned against us and our final 48 hours was painful! We ended up motoring the last 24 hours! Aaaghhh!!

We entered the Vava’u group via a precarious pass on the east coast just north of Fonua Unga island. RIMG1011-001

On our Navionics chart and OPEN CPN charts the pass looked doable, however as we approached it the wind started to gust again and waves were breaking on the nearby reef causing us some concern as the breaks were right in the supposed pass. When the depths started showing 3 metres under the keel (not the 7++ shown on the charts) we held our breath and hoped for the best! Later when we purchased the Moorings anchorages chart and saw how the pass was depicted on there we would never have attempted it! Reminiscent of our time in the San Blas without the detailed Eric Bahaus charts!

Anyway, here we are in the lovely Vava’u group of islands in the Kingdom of Tonga!

We’ve actually been here over 2 weeks! This is our first blog post partly due to poor internet again and the fact that most of the time since we arrived has been spent on working out the logistics of getting the dogs’ annual vaccinations done by the end of next week, an ongoing challenge which we hope to resolve very soon! Finger crossed that it all finally comes together……. !

More to come soon….. in the meantime we hope you enjoy a few photos from Vava’u, Tonga

David & Hika’s delicious pig roast feasts

Exploring the lovely Swallow’s Cave, Vava’u, Tonga

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High Society – From Towering Peaks to Azure Lagoons

Sadly our 3 months in French Polynesia is coming to an end and our final island in the final archipelago we’re visiting is Bora Bora!

Saving the best to the last 😉 Perhaps….. but it’s certainly the most famous of the group known as the Society Islands (bar Tahiti).

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There are actually 5 archipelagos in French Polynesia, but we haven’t had enough time to do justice to the Marquesas, Tuamotus and Societies, never mind the Gambiers and Australs.

Other than Tahiti and Bora Bora, the Society Islands include Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea and Tahaa. Whilst the Marquesas are impressive volcanic islands with steep cliffs dropping off into the ocean, the Tuamotus are flat coral atolls with challenging tidal passes to enter the stunning turquoise lagoons. Meanwhile the Society islands are a combination of both, with volcanic peaks reaching up to the sky, yet these islands are surrounded by fringing reefs, wrapping them in clear, blue waters teaming with marine life, much of which you can get up close and personal with (check out the sting rays in the Moorea & Bora Bora lagoons and the stunning coral gardens in Tahaa!)

We timed our arrival in the Society islands with the Tahiti-Moorea Sailing Rendezvous, which is a fabulous get together weekend of yachts, event organisers & sponsors to celebrate crossing the Pacific ocean, probably the longest passage most of us will ever make. Back in Panama in March we attended the Pacific Puddle Jump 2016 meeting that was put on by Andy Turpin of Latitude 38 magazine and Stephanie from the Tahiti Tourism Board along with a host of other contributors and sponsors. Part of the fun of global cruising is meeting like-minded cruisers who are also out here ‘doing it’! Not only do we all learn from each other, we are all far away from home and family, so our cruising family means a lot and hey, who doesn’t love a good party!!

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Our stay in Tahiti was short and wet! In fact the windy, rainy weather we’d ‘enjoyed’ for much of the time in the Tuamotus followed us to Tahiti and we found ourself anchoring in the very busy anchorage off Marina Taina in 35 knot gusts and driving rain! Fortunately we still managed to get a few repairs done and find a new waterproof camera (not quite the quality of the previous one, but as that one cost more than double here than what we paid only a few months ago from UK we decided on a cheaper model, especially taking into account our luck with ‘waterproof’ cameras!!)

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It was fun to reconnect with good friends we had met back in the Caribbean during the past few seasons, others we had met along the way and also to meet new friends. The Tahiti-Moorea RDV kicked off with an Aussie get together on the Friday morning, 24th June, with various Australian marinas and marine specialists showcasing their products. Of course, Steve from Rivergate Marina in Brisbane was a big hit with just about every Aussie he met by presenting them with a tube of Vegemite! The day continued with the event registration at the Tahiti Tourism Office downtown, where we all received our goodie bags with T-shirts, brochures etc and a presentation showcasing many of the islands and what they have to offer, plus a welcome by the Head of Tourism, who caused some amusement by welcoming the various Nationalities, along with the Europeans and not forgetting the British (this was the day of the Brexit announcement!). After a performance of Polynesian dancing and drumming and cocktails, we went off to sample the delights of the Roulottes (food trucks which set up at dusk on the waterfront in Pape’ete).

On the Saturday the plan was for all yachts to rally (not race, Lorna 😉 ) across to Moorea. Unfortunately, after weeks of high winds, the wind decided NOT to blow, so most of us ended up motoring the 15 NM across to Moorea to anchor in the stunning Cook’s Bay, where the party continued through Saturday night and all day Sunday.

We were treated to more dance and drumming performances and more presentations by sponsors from other Pacific nations, including Fiji, Australia and New Zealand. On the Sunday, we began the day with canoe races. In teams of 4, along with 2 locals, we raced in traditional Polynesian outriggers. Our team of 4, the Amarula crew, along with the crew of SV Echo Echo, Jeannette and Neil, did amazingly well, coming in 2nd in our heat! This meant we had to race again in the semi-finals. Something went bizarrly wrong, as we came in last, having rounded the buoy and almost ended up in the next bay! Somehow our canoe simpy did not want to head back towards the finish line….. Ho hum…. There were various other activities and events all day long, more dance and drumming performances and a delicious, traditional Polynesian lunch. All in all a fun and successful event. Thanks to Andy, Stephanie and all the rest of the team! Well done!

Unfortunately, our friend Lorna from SV Quatsino II was quite badly injured in the canoe races as their canoe capsized and hit her on the head. She was concussed and taken to hospital, so sadly she & George missed the rest of Sunday. The good news is that the paramedics were on the spot within minutes and the treatment she received was, thankfully, excellent and she is on the mend. We managed to catch up with George and Lorna again a few times before we moved on to Huahine and they returned to Tahiti.

Moorea was truly beautiful and we enjoyed a relaxing few days in Cooks Bay after the party weekend. In fact we continued partying with various friends who had stuck around and others who had just arrived. We had a fabulous musical evening on Amarula with Dave from SV Eliana plus Shaun and Sabine from SV Chevaldy entertaining us, and the Quatsino and Enchatress crews, and apparently a few of the other yachts in the anchorage!

After a few days we relocated to Opunohu Bay and did the 10km round trip hike up to the Belvedere viewpoint, passing by the Agricultural college, where you can stop for ice cream and a tour of the facility (and free wifi! Wish we’d known. We didn’t bring the tablet…). The more attractive trail through the woods & alongside the river wends its way past an interesting archaeological site, which includes various maraes (stone platforms) and an archery platform.

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After the hike we spent a couple of days in the crystal clear anchorage at the entrance to the bay, where it was easier to dinghy across to spend time getting up close and personal with the tamest sting rays we’ve ever seen! The crews of Amarula, Quatsino II and Moonraker, plus visiting friends enjoyed feeding and stroking these amazing creatures, whose skin felt like velvet. On the way back we stopped off to see the sunken tikis, stone carvings which were allegedly dropped into the lagoon when the missionaries came through the region and destroyed many of these ‘false idols’! We popped ashore to the village of Papetoai to see whether we could pick up internet and got lucky with the reception, as we were able to have great skype calls with the family back in Australia!

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From Moorea we sailed overnight to Huahine. In retrospect we should have waited another day for better wind and to clean the weed off the boat, which had grown prolifically in just the few days we were anchored in Cooks and Opunohu Bays. However, the calmer winds permitted us an easy entry through the east coast pass on Huahine and a chance to explore the bays and motus (islets) there, before moving around to the main town of Fare on the west coast to stock up on supplies. One of the ‘highlights’ of the east coast is to visit the river at Faie Bay where there are the sacred blue-eyed eels. As we had the dogs with us, Eric anchored off in the dinghy whilst I went ashore for a quick look. A small group of tourists were there feeding them, so I managed to take a few shots as they slithered all over each other in a fight for the food. Not quite sure why they are sacred…? We noticed a stilt hut on the water out in the lagoon, which seemed to be getting visits from quite a few tourist boats and only realised later that this must have been Huahine Nui Pearls and Pottery that is mentioned in our Lonely Planet Guide. I wish we’d stopped for a quick look, but the forecast was for stronger winds again, so we decided to head back out through the pass before it became too choppy and we sailed around the north coast down to Fare.

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We anchored in the deep Haavai bay just off the village of Fitii, a mile or so beyond Fare and during the evening we were treated to the sounds of singing and drumming wafting across the bay from the village. It is July and during this month the whole of French Polynesia is engaged in a cultural extravanganza known as Heiva. It is a month long celebration of all that is Polynesian, ranging from dancing and drumming performances to canoe races and other sporting, cultural and artistic events. The villagers from Fitii were preparing for their upcoming performance at the main Heiva site in Huahine. We were lucky enough to enjoy their practice sessions a few days early, as unfortunately we couldn’t make it to the actual performance. Eric’s visa runs out on 18th July and we still had to get cooking gas and provisions in Raiatea, then get to Bora Bora for the Bastille Day celebrations on July 14th. Fingers crossed that the weather is kind to us, as we are leaving our departure until the very last minute!

In retrospect, perhaps we should have applied for the long stay visa for Eric (non-Europeans only get 3 months in any 6 month period, unless they apply in advance for a long stay visa). As it happens Lynne’s British passport may not be much use anyway in the not to distant future if all goes to plan with the Brexit!!!

Our sail from Huahine to Raiatea was one of the faster ones we’ve experienced in some time and really quite choppy, as the wind was beam on. Once through the pass we headed up towards Uturoa, the main town of Raiatea, looking for a decent anchorage. With no anchoring anywhere close to town, we motored a good 5 miles north of town, through a pass into a deep channel and back south again, to anchor a mile away from Uturoa across the lagoon. With 20+ knot winds from the south east, heading into town was a rather wet affair and unsuccessful, as we were looking to fill our cooking gas bottles and hadn’t realised that the Carenage Yacht Services, which does gas refills is actually around on the north west side of the island! Oops! Had we been a bit more up to speed, we would have found a much more pleasant, calmer anchorage in the lee of the island, which we did the next morning.

We took our gas bottles ashore to be filled, caught up on some internetting and even enjoyed good skype calls from the boat later that evening, a first since Panama! Onboard internet, especially good enough to make skype calls, has been almost non-existent here in French Polynesia, so this was a real bonus! Another job we had to do in Raiatea was fill up our diesel tanks before leaving for Tonga. French Polynesia very kindly offers duty free diesel to visiting yachts for up to 6 months.

From the fuel dock we motored back south to visit the Taputapuatea Marae site, which allegedly dates back to the late 900’s and is deemed the most important cultural heritage site in French Poynesia. From here Raiateans sailed out to ‘colonise’ other Pacific islands, as far north as Hawaii, east to the Tuamotus, west to the Cook islands and south west to New Zealand in their dugout canoes with their elementary knowledge of planetary navigation.

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After visiting the marae site, we decided to head round to the deeper, more protected bay of Faaroa to anchor for the night, where we caught up with cruiser friends on SV Haven, Kinabalu and Blowing Bubbles. Eric went and joined them all for sundowners, but unfortunately my allergies were playing up so I stayed onboard and had an early night. However the next morning we all dinghied up the nearby river, one of the only navigable rivers in French Polynesia and we were treated to a mini tour of the plantation of a local man, Andre, who shared produce from his farm with us for a minimal fee. We enjoyed tastes of papaya, coconut, guava and orange limes (good for a facial workout!), plus a fruit called pakai, which was new to us; similar in taste and texture to a lychee, except it grows in a long pod containing a number of cells each with it’s own dark seed in the centre, rather than a single encased cell with a single seed like a lychee. We came away with a couple of large bunches of bananas, sweet potatoes and taro to share between us.

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After another very enjoyable evening of sundowners onboard SV Kinabalu, we all went our separate ways again the next day. Eric & I had hoped to stop for a dive on the Nordby, one of the only wreck dives in French Polynesia, but the wind was still gusting 25 – 30 knots, so we sailed up through the lagoon to the west coast of Tahaa, known as the Vanilla island and enclosed within the same fringing reef as the island of Raiatea. Our plan was to sail around to the north of Tahaa to visit a small pearl farm and check internet at the village of Patio, but again the strong winds changed our minds for us. Instead we anchored in the calm, protected bay of Tapuamu, directly across from Motu Taotao, which is home to Tahaa’s luxurious lodge and spa Le Taha’a Private Island and Spa and also the site of the lovely coral gardens. This is some of the best snorkelling we have done in a long time, as you float just above the coral in between the 2 islets. It is teaming with fish and the coral is healthy and plentiful. Back at the anchorage we enjoyed lovely sunset views over Bora Bora and the next day we had a great sail across to our final island in French Polynesia.

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Bora Bora is one of those magical bucket list places and we were fortunate to visit during the Heiva and Bastille Day celebrations. (We sadly learned about the horrors of Bastille Day in Nice, France, the next day. Our hearts go out to those whose lives have been irrevocably affected and to the whole free world) Initially when we inquired about what was happening for Bastille Day in Bora Bora no one seemed to know and we also learned that most of the Heiva cultural events had finished, however we got lucky! Early in the morning, on Bastille Day, there was a colourful parade, followed by a Polynesian dance performance at the Heiva events area.

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 We were even treated to a firework display across the bay in the evening! So it turned out to be a great day! In between cultural events we dinghied across the lagoon to another area where tourist boats go to feed rays. We didn’t take food ourselves this time, having fed the rays in Moorea, but once again we got a chance to snorkel with these amazing creatures. Such a treat!

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The downside of all this touristy activity is that many boat jobs have gone by the wayside and now we have run out of time! Oh well, maybe we’ll get a chance to do some boat work in Tonga…..!!