Posted: 3rd October 2011.
We had a great time with Ryan and Holly in New Caledonia. They visited for a few weeks and we explored the south lagoon and especially enjoyed the The Isle of Pines. Ryan arrived a few days ahead of Holly and we took the opportunity to visit some nearby anchorages. Twelve miles from Noumea on a small island is Amedee Lighthouse. This magnificent sight greets sailors enter the surrounding lagoon through a passage to the west. We anchored overnight and were able to climb to the top and take in the breathtaking view of the surrounding reefs and Duet below. The climb up the lighthouse was amazing but the most remarkable thing about Amedee Island is that it is home to hundreds of Tricot Rayes, striped sea snakes that spend their days at sea and arrive back to land late afternoon. They were everywhere! We had to step carefully and they are not at all shy. They have extremely poisonous venom but thankfully, although curious they are not aggressive.
Once Holly arrived we stocked up on French cheeses and paté and headed for the Isle of Pines, which is 60 miles south of Noumea at the bottom of the southern lagoon. On our sail there we were having a run of catching large tuna, I was trying for something else (anything else! I’m sick of tuna) but by number three we let him go and didn’t put the lines back in.
The scenery at Ile of Pines is picturesque with beautiful clear turquoise water. Kuto Bay on the south west corner of the island is the main anchorage and is protected from the SE trades but if a westerly springs up, a short 10 minute sail is all that is needed to find protection in Kanumera Bay which is just around the other side of a small knob of land that lies between them. There is also a hotel at Kuto Bay, which has internet so Peter arranged to be there on the days Marina Skype meetings were scheduled.
The Isle of Pines is 18km long and 14km wide so we hired a car to have a look around. The coastline is very pretty with colonial pines bordering small bays with white sand beaches. Inland there are limestone caves and old penal colony ruins. Although the island is a well known tourist destination it is remarkably undeveloped. A local cruising couple recommended a lovely beachside restaurant in the north of the island where we enjoyed a lobster lunch on the sand. We had to make a booking the day before (we actually got our French speaking friend to do that for us) and the restaurant couldn’t guarantee there would be lobster as it was dependent on whether they could catch sufficient that morning. What surprised us was that although we had to walk 10-15 minutes along a small bush track to get to the restaurant, when we arrived there, there were at least 30 other people enjoying lunch. If you have experienced the Isle of Pines you would realize that you wouldn’t normally see that many people all day let alone in one place!
On our sail back to Noumea we were entertained by a pod of breaching humpback whales. Once back in town Ryan and Holly had a few days before flying home so we explored the town, visiting the aquarium and having our daily quota of delicious cakes from Peter’s favourite shop.
A short time after the kids left, our friends Bob and Rosie joined us. We spent a few more days in Noumea and during this time we visited the recently built Cultural Centre. The building is a spectacular design, inspired by the shape of the local colonial pines that are a prominent feature of the landscape. We spent quite a bit of time both inside viewing the displays and also walking around the grounds and outside displays.
Before leaving Noumea for to the southern lagoon and Isle of Pines we once again provisioned. We enjoyed selecting from the wonderful range of cheeses available in the supermarket and we stocked up at the produce market, which is conveniently located next to the marina. Once everthing was securely stowed away we sailed out of the harbor and into the lagoon.
The route to the Isle of Pines passes many bays and islands in the southern lagoon. While in this area we planned to find a suitable place to put Duet up on the beach. We would check her underside, clean it if needed and touch up the antifoul around the waterline. Australian Quarantine is very concerned about importing foreign bugs so they are quite particular about the cleanliness of ships entering Australia. By chance we came upon a little beach and at low tide we found it to have gently sloping sand suitable for the job so we decided to beach Duet the following morning just after high tide. Fortuitously the beach had a mooring buoy out from the sand. By attaching a stern line to it we could easily pull ourselves clear of the beach once we started re-floating. Usually we put out a stern anchor to do this but a mooring buoy is much simpler. To beach Duet, we slowly edged up to the beach until we stopped in the sand. Once settled, we tied the front lines to a couple of trees on the beach and the back lines onto the mooring buoy. The back line would also stop us drifting further up the beach as the tide came in.
Peter and Bob had almost finished the job of scrubbing and pressure washing around the water line when a boat pulled up and a Park Ranger informed us that we couldn’t work on the boat there as it was a Marine Park (whoops!). However he told us of another beach not far around the corner we could go. So all work ceased for the day and we sat waiting patiently for the tide to come back in. During this time Peter and Bob took off in the dinghy to check out the new bay at low tide and see how best to beach Duet the following morning.
Once afloat we headed for the new bay, dusk was approaching as we set anchor. Come morning we repeated the procedure of beaching, however this time without the convenience of a mooring buoy and the sand wasn’t clean and white but red and sticky. Peter and Bob got busy finishing the job. For me, I had a very enjoyable day. I had a lovely paddle on my kayak around the mangroves while the men finished the antifouling, I don’t normally get out of antifouling the boat so I really appreciated having Bob there doing my share of the work.
The next day we continued to the Isle of Pines catching a tuna on the way, which we enjoyed as fresh sashimi with our sundowners. Our time there was very relaxing with leisurely walks and lot of reading. We dodged a few tricot rayes as we wandered around the knob of coastline between the two bays.
Bob stayed with us for our passage back to Australia but Rosie flew home and to meet us at the other end in Bundaberg. We headed back to Noumea and the following day she caught an early morning bus to the airport which is about 50km out of town.
Our plan was to sit and wait for a suitable weather window, however it turned out that the weather looked quite suitable for the passage back to Australia anytime in the next few days. So we set about the process of clearing out of New Caledonia. Once we had completed the paperwork at three different government offices we were then free to leave.
The 6-day passage was very calm. It was so calm in fact that we ran the motor for 5 ½ of the 6 days. It was like sitting in a lounge room. We did cryptic crosswords and read a lot of books. Everything went smoothly at the Port of Bundaberg at Burnett Heads where we cleared into Australia. Customs and Quarantine were pleasant and quarantine very thorough. They went through every cupboard and bilge on the boat to check for insect pests and restricted foodstuff. As expected they took any fresh fruit, veg, eggs and meat whether cooked or not. They also took seeds and beans such as lentils, mung beans and popping corn etc. Dairy product packaged in Australia , NZ or Europe were OK. It cost us $330 for the privilege of clearing into Australia. No other country we have come across charges like this. We were thankful that the passage didn’t take an extra day because it was double that amount to arrive on Saturday or Sunday. And as it is illegal to anchor before clearing in, so you can’t just anchor and wait until Monday, there would be no choice but to pay the exorbitant weekend rates.
We have always enjoyed spending time in the town of Bundaberg after winding our way up the river. So we decided to do that again before we headed south and back to Mooloolaba. It took about an hour and a half to get to town where we met Rosie.
It was a shock to see the results of the floods from last summer. The marina was pretty much washed away and there were only a fraction of the number of moorings in the river. We spent a few days in the river before Bob and Rosie headed off to continue their holiday further north on Magnetic Island.
The weather had been a bit blowy while in the river but after Bob and Rosie left, the forecast for the following day was to be more settled. So in the afternoon Duet made her way down to Burnett Heads at the river mouth in preparation for the trip south to Fraser Island.
It took us two days to sail from there to the Wide Bay Bar. We firstly sailed south through Harvey Bay watching humpback whale leap out of the water ahead of us. We reached the straits after about 6 hours. The straits consist of winding channels running between the west coast of Fraser Island and the mainland. The channels are all marked but there is much shallow ground and the navigation keeps you on your toes.
The Wide Bay Bar is at the southern end of Fraser Island, where it comes very close to the main land and a lot of water moves in and out with the tide at this point. The bar can be dangerous and has caused many boats to come to grief, so we always give it due care. We wait for reasonably calm seas and choose the time of the tide, which ideally is in the three hours leading up to high tide. Conveniently it was high tide at 10am so 7am saw us heading out with a line up of at least eight other boats heading south. The sea was quite calm so the bar was no problem and we had a pleasant sail down the coast past Noosa and arrived back in Mooloolaba at around 5pm. Ryan was there to greet us and take our lines just as he had been there to cast them off two years earlier.
So here we are back in Mooloolaba after an amazing two years sailing the South Pacific. When I think of the places we have visited and the people we have met, never in my wildest dreams did I imagine we would experience such an adventure. But life is short and I am so glad that we made the life changing decision to buy Duet and embark on this extraordinary journey.
The link to Skipr showing Duet’s position is here:
Bye for now love
Val & Peter