Archive for July, 2010

The Pools and Reefs of Niue

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Niue’s limestone heart is also credited with the excellent quality of its drinking water and the clarity of the surrounding nearshore waters, since rainwater – instead of running off the island directly to the ocean and carrying soil and detritus with it  – tends to filter into and through the porous bedrock until it emerges in clear springs. 

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Take an oceanfront spring, add a fringing reef or two to close it in, and you have yet another one of Niue’s fun features: natural freshwater swimming pools.

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Actually, the pools are mostly sea water, but have a thin layer (about a foot or two thick) of fresh water thanks to the springs discharging from fissures in the cliff.  The fresh water, being less dense, sits atop the denser salt water, and the fun thing is, you can see (and feel) the difference between the two types of water as you’re swimming. 

Here, the camera’s sitting in the fresh water layer, so you can see the surface of the water in the top half of the photo, and the top of the salt water layer in the lower half of the photo.

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Ripples in the halocline between the fresh and salt water sometimes made for a blurry view of things in the lower layer (that’s S as she dove down into the brine), and the chilly temperature of the spring water encouraged swimmers to stay down in the warmer salt water layer as much as possible.

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The pools were like a snorkler’s playground, with the usual beautiful tropical fish (in the salt water layer), caves and arches to swim through, and best of all – no sharks!

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The sharks are on the other side of a vigorous surf break…

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But even with a good surf running across the reef the visibility was quite good.

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K was sad to miss the rare calm day that would have allowed a full day in the water without dodging these breakers.

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18°58.52′S 169°54.28′W   26-Jul-10 03:45 UTC

The Caves of Niue

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Thanks to its limestone, the island is riddled with caves in addition to its chasms.

One morning we picked up Karsten from Dreamcatcher KM and went in search of some karsty caves. Outside the village we came across Leisha and Greg from Fine Gold. We kidnapped them and sped away north on the island highway.

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We stopped for a swim in a flooded chasm were a cold freshwater spring met the sea.

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Then there was a long hike to a stunning set of sea caves and arches.

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But there was also beauty in the details along the way.

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The caves were walled in stalactite curtains, and Karsten the caveman seemed quite at home.

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S the geologist was also pleased to be among the rocks.

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K spent his efforts hopping among the outcrops looking for a nice angle through the salty spray.

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There many to choose from…

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but the best was the view of these seafaring intrepids.

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The next stop was the Washaway Cafe…

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where we had lunch and chatted with Willie the owner…

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It was a grand day out and all the better for the company.

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18°57.00′S 169°51.00′W   26-Jul-10 02:45 UTC

The Chasms of Niue

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Niue (“The Rock”) is an upthrusted coral atoll. Over time the limestone has dissolved in many areas to make a landscape worthy of science fiction.

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We set off in the rental car on Saturday morning to see Togo and Vaikona Chasms. 

Steamy “trails” led through the karst formations. The jungle was pungent with sweet organic decay. Spider webs blanketed our faces in each narrow spot.

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The fact that anything lives in this landscape is amazing…

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The unexpected oasis of palms and and freshwater pools at Togo Chasm is worth the 1200 nm trip across the mid south Pacific.

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A sturdy 50 ft ladder leads down to the sandy bottom of the chasm…

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…where the palms queue up to share the slim shaft of salt spray sunlight.

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A freshwater pool disappeared into the rock on one end,

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and a sea cave opened to the surf on the other.

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It’s a magical place with few visitors.

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The trail to Vaikona Chasm was more of a challenge, but we managed to find the entrance to the cave mouth.

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In the end, prudence won the day and we settled for a grand view of the coastline.

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19°06.00′S 169°48.00′W   25-Jul-10 02:45 UTC

Who Niue?

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

There’s a wee small island in the middle of the South Pacific with a strong sense of national identity and an even stronger attachment to the economy of New Zealand. It’s the friendliest place we’ve visited on this trip in spite of the scary coastline.

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The government is considered a model for stable island nation rule and it may have something to do with the fact that key officials are well respected (with reserved parking spaces.)

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Car rental was very affordable on Niue, but before we could rent a car we had to have a Niuean driver’s license, a very sensible precaution on the part of the local constabulary given the revolving door of  seafarers who don’t drive much, and even then on the wrong side of the rode.

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We took a spin through the tidy town and picked up local vibe of this dapper, friendly island.

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Conscious of our skinny budget, we resolved to walk right past this place. 

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Our resolve held for about 100 feet down the road – but then we reached the spot directly downwind of the kitchen.  We were reeled in like fish.   Mmmmmm – lamb curry!

Boatfolk all gravitate to the local yacht club, another example of what works really well on Niue. The yacht club manages the excellent mooring field and onshore facilities for visiting boats. 

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Amazingly, it’s operated by only 3 volunteers, led by Commodore Keith and his lovely wife Sue. 

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As an added bonus, the yacht club is right next door to Mamata’s ice cream shop.

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Dinghy access on this rugged coast is well also managed with the famous Niue dinghy crane.

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S was impressed that environmental awareness is alive and well on the island.  There is a high level of local concern over persistent organic pollutants.  There were also signs admonishing people to not litter, conserve energy, and quit smoking.

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K was impressed by the delightful NZ Lion Red and these yummy burgers with eggs and beets on them.

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After the delights of the village we headed into the bush in search of adventure. We quickly noticed that the island is covered in gravesites ranging from the very well kept to the almost forgotten.

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This is probably a result of an ancient culture living on a small island with limited real estate, but we think it also might have something to do with these monster spiders.

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Although, fair play to them, bees seem to be the preferred victims.

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19°03.20′S 169°55.38′W   24-Jul-10 02:45 UTC

At Beveridge Reef, Briefly

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

After eight days at sea, we dropped the anchor in 10 feet of water on a sandy shelf on the eastern rim of the Beveridge Reef lagoon. 

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Coming through the entrance pass was relatively easy, with only a small bit of drama when the two navigation programs we use didn’t agree on the bearing of the waypoint for the center of the pass as we approached.  Unlike the other atolls we’ve visited, Beveridge Reef does not break the surface of the water; there are no palm-carpeted motus or navigation markers to indicate the location of the pass, only the absence of breaking waves.  So we stopped to verify the coordinates each program was using before continuing, but it made no difference, the two machines still disagreed.   We ended up relying primarily on our good old-fashioned equipment: a crewman’s eyes (K’s) up at the first spreader.  As it turned out, K’s visual estimation of the center of the pass matched up pretty well with the waypoint (which we’d gotten from a previous reef visitor).  Once inside, the lagoon was a fairly steady 30-40 feet deep, with only a few shallow coral patches. Nice!

While S took a trip to the Land of Nod, K made a quick late afternoon survey in the turbulent remnants of ocean breakers that flowed across the reef at high tide. The water in the atoll was fantastic, delightfully cool and unbelievably clear.  

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It looked promising for some good pics at low tide in the morning when the atoll would be mirror-calm if the winds were light.

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After dinner we dinghied over to take a look at the M/V Liberty, which sits forlornly on the reef, a stark reminder for mariners to stay vigilant. 

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The weather forecast we had when we’d arrived called for moderate winds (15 kts) for the next few days, and we looked forward to exploring as much of the atoll as possible. Unfortunately, the forecast we downloaded in the evening called for higher winds by morning.

The new forecast was right. Monday came cloudy and drizzly, with winds gusting to the mid-20s.   Not good for snorkeling.  We resigned ourselves to the fact that the long-anticipated days of us soaking in the wonders of Beveridge Reef were not meant to be.

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We were boat-bound and spent the day doing chores and monitoring the anchor.  We had absolutely no protection from the wind but were well protected from the huge breakers pounding onto the reef about a thousand feet in front of us.  We were safe and could’ve stayed, but with the forecast predicting the high winds to continue for the next five days, the attraction of being at Beveridge Reef was gone.  We pulled anchor the next morning to continue our journey to Niue, only 130 nm to the northwest. 

20°00.46′S 167°44.78′W   18-Jul-10 23:17 UTC

Sleep Islands

Monday, July 12th, 2010

There are some expressions common to the width of the animal kingdom and the breadth of history, even to the earliest single cell organisms in the primordial soup. These are concepts like: "Lets eat!", "Heyyy babyyyy", and "Why did we leave those nice islands?" 

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The last even applies to some plants, like the fledgling coconut who finds itself bobbing into the unending sloppy swell rather than moored on a sparkling sand beach with gentle waves lapping on its hull.  Our reason for leaving those nice islands cannot even compete with good sense of a coconut. We left because 3 months ago when we arrived in the Marquesas we were given a bit of paper from the King of France with a date on it.

And so we cross another 1000 sleepless nautical miles, staggering above decks at the start of each watch like albino moles in a sunny parking lot, asking the on-watch, "How far to the next Sleep Island?" The on-watch replies "999 miles" and the mole returns below to make coffee with stars of pain emanating from his feet like fireworks.

We both suffer from these foot-stars after a long passage. K’s theory is that our bare feet suffer from unnatural shear stresses in the attempt to remain stationary on sloping decks. This would be a great paper topic for an over-achieving Naval Architect with a degree in medicine (probably at TGA): "Seakeeping Shear Stresses in the Human Foot." K of course would be happy to parasitically coauthor the paper if someone else would do the work. 

We become accustomed to this unnatural cycle of sleep and foot-stars after about 4 days in boisterous conditions and this makes a strong argument for not stopping every 4 days even if there are Sleep Islands along the way. It is easier to proceed on an 8 day/1000 nm transit than to stop and re-start at 4 days/500 nm. This might sound like a long time but we have friends who prefer to do 2 month/6000 nm legs rather than 1 month/3000 nm legs for similar reasons.

There are benefits, most of them unexpected. This morning we saw a near total eclipse of the sun. It turned the sky dark, similar to the the state behind K’s eyelids just before he woke up to see… the darkness.

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16°50.86′S 152°02.65′W   11-Jul-10 02:03 UTC

Sleep Islands

Monday, July 12th, 2010

There are some expressions common to the width of the animal kingdom and the breadth of history, even to the earliest single cell organisms in the primordial soup. These are concepts like: “Lets eat!”, “Heyyy babyyyy”, and “Why did we leave those nice islands?”. The last even applies to some plants, like the fledgling coconut who finds itself bobbing into the unending sloppy swell rather than moored on a sparkling sand beach with gentle waves lapping on its hull. Our reason for leaving those nice islands cannot even compete with good sense of a coconut. We left because 3 months ago when we arrived in the Marquesas we were given a bit of paper from the King of France with a date on it.

And so we cross another 1000 sleepless nautical miles, staggering above decks at the start of each watch like albino moles in a sunny parking lot, asking the on-watch, “How far to the next Sleep Island?”. The on-watch replies “999 miles” and the mole returns below to make coffee with stars of pain emanating from his feet like fireworks.

We both suffer from these foot-stars after a long passage. K’s theory is that our bare feet suffer from unnatural shear stresses in the attempt to remain stationary on sloping decks. This would be a great paper topic for an over-achieving Naval Architect with a degree in medicine (probably at TGA): “Seakeeping Shear Stresses in the Human Foot”. K of course would be happy to parasitically coauthor the paper if someone else would do the work.

We become accustomed to this unnatural cycle of sleep and foot-stars after about 4 days in boisterous conditions and this makes a strong argument for not stopping every 4 days even if there are Sleep Islands along the way. It is easier to proceed on an 8 day/1000 nm transit than to stop and re-start at 4 days/500 nm. This might sound like a long time but we have friends who prefer to do 2 month/6000 nm legs rather than 1 month/3000 nm legs for similar reasons.

There are benefits, most of them unexpected. This morning we saw a near total eclipse of the sun. It turned the sky dark, similar to the the state behind K’s eyelids just before he woke up to see… the darkness.

16°50.86′S 152°02.65′W 11-Jul-10 02:03 UTC

The Big City

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

The city was both a relief and a stress after a couple of months in the back of beyond. Papeete is a very unique place. We already made our point that the people are the most interesting thing in town but we did experience some uniquely Tahitian scenery and food.

It turns out we were only 2 degrees of separation from some very friendly staff at the Intercontinental. So we anchored in front of the infinity pool…

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and sort of experienced what its like to hang around in a luxury hotel with a great view of Moorea.

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We got some great help from our friends there and are convinced that the rainbow over the Intercontinental is just part of the service.

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French Polynesia is widely condemned as unreasonably expensive due to vague influences of French socialism, European style entitlements, Polynesian socioeconomic customs, guilt money for nuclear test and a whole litany of bad influences for the fixed income traveler. We were more confused by the economy than horrified at the prices. Some things are nearly free, like bread and flour. Some things that should be free are quite expensive, like local fruit. New Zealand lamb neck chops are cheap and plentiful. Fuel is duty free for visiting boats and as cheap as anywhere we’ve been.

Prices for eating out were all over the chart. We tried a bit of the bistro lifestyle and left some Poly Francs in our wake.

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Then we found these mobile truck restaurants. We call them Truckstaurants.

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They set up tables in a vacant lot and have identical menus revolving around steak, stirfry and Russian potato salad (!?!) with beets. The heart of the operation is a butane fired wok, a cooler full of drinks and a grill for steak frites.

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We had some great steak frites and the price was what you’d spend for a sweet, sweet brewpub cheeseburger in Seattle.

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Tahitians are primarily defined by their beauty…

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and the sea…

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which sounds great until you win the Miss Tahiti competition and have to judge tuna cleaning competitions.

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We spent long enough in Papeete but wished we were back as soon as we left.

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17°32.62′S 149°34.22′W   02-Jul-10 01:49 UTC

Candid Papeete

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Papeete is a place where grit meets paradise and the story is in the faces.

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Bus Stop Girl…

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and her mom.

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The city is full of young romantics and some of them are disgusted that they have to wait for a bus on their honeymoon.

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The end of a long day at the building supply warehouse.

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Burning off the product of cheese product.

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The Manfish

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Young Menfish

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Bus Girl

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Packing up the fruit

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Bus Stop Boy

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Sweet shoulders!

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Sweet face!

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The finger of accusation.

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She sells cucumbers by the seashore

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Granny

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A map of the mind

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The daughter will probably remain single all the way through high school. The son can’t wait to get his coconut engraved.

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Southern winter fashion

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Planthead ladies

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Modern Polynesia

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Classical Polynesia (with friend)

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Coolest guy in the fish market

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Manta Mom

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Mademoiselle

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He’s going back some day… come what may…

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A loaf of bread, a jug of Coke, and thou

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The chic French family

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Purple Mango Man

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Dress Seller (with goggles)

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Big Dog

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The Cafe Lifestyle (with strong Gallic nose and scooter)

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Little Boy Blue (with blue wedgie)

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The Phases of Island Manhood

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17°34.35′S 149°37.26′W   01-Jul-10 01:49 UTC