The build up to getting away from NZ is always busy for us. Organising Rallies means being one step ahead of the fleet; co-ordinating duty free deliveries, fresh fruit & vege, holding briefings & watching weather. The boat is ready, we are ready but this year the weather wasn't quite ready to let us go on the designated departure date of May 5, our Wedding anniversary. It was a little weird to be still in the marina instead on passage or even Minerva Reef as we usually are on that date. But a good dinner, a bottle of champs & flat calm seas made it a lovely night.
We finally got away early Thursday morning of the 10th on a lovely Bay Of Islands Autumn morning. Rounding the Ninepin and we were on course for Vanuatu and our first port of call, Anatom. The first night out was very rocky rolly, with lumpy confused seas, 20-25 knts of breeze and rain squalls, but then again it's not unusual to roll our way out of NZ. After 24 hours the seas had moderated & the winds eased into pleasant sailing conditions with periods of motoring in between. Surprisingly less motoring than the weather prognosis indicated but that's ocean passage making. Prepare for the worst & hope for the best.
275 tunes listened to, 7 days & beautiful sailing later, we made landfall at the southernmost island of Anatom. This was our first visit here. The lagoon has a beautiful sand bottom and is home to many turtles, and the island has lush green vegetation similar to that of New Cal. At the southern end of the Lagoon is Mystery Island with a beautiful sandy beach, a guest house and airstrip. Anatom has only recently been opened up as a clearance port and Timothy, the local policeman & designated customs/ Quarantine officer, is a wonderful ambassador for Vanuatu. After a few laughs the paperwork was completed and he was off in the Police Boat to clear the next yacht. We were unlucky enough to arrive to unsettled wet weather, with the next day bring strong winds and heavy rain that unfortunately coincided with a visiting cruise ship. Not good for the punters but gave us a nice quiet day to relax after the passage.
Anatom is quite a high island, covered in bush. In the 1840's it was a major centre for the logging of sandalwood and later Kauri. It was also a base for Whalers until the early 1870's. The island is evidently great for walking and there is evidence of irrigation canals, ruins from the whaling as well as those of a large stone church. We inquired about taking a walk up to the Inwan Leleghei waterfall but discovered it was a 4 hour walk. Not quite ready for that big a hike, especially after the rain of the previous day so opted for a long snorkel on the reef instead. The coral had been damaged by a recent cyclone but the fish life was great with lots of large parrot fish, butterfly fish, boxfish, and wrasse to name just a few. The coral heads also sported lots of Christmas tree worms & large clams with deep purple and brown camouflage mantles. I even discovered a Vanuatu Post underwater post box which didn't look like it had been serviced for a while. The sandy bottom was also the resting place for a few rays and dozing white tips. One of the highlights was the discovery of an octopus that wasn't too sure of my intentions, he kept a close eye on me as I drifted over the top of him. Over an hour later we exited the water into the dinghy and I had decided that I was going to buy myself an early birthday present in Vila: a camera with underwater capability.
Later in the afternoon we were in for a treat. The locals had organised feast & dancing for the group. At the appointed time we assembled on the beach but as is the norm we had to wait. Hey but that's The Islands. We were challenged and escorted by the village school children to our seats where we were welcomed by the chief representative, the local minister and the Local Tourism spokesman. Then the Mystery Island Beach Boys sang before the children performed the Nonyac ( their kastom dances). It was great to see the enthusiasm and pride they showed. Next came kava. Vanuatu kava is much stronger than that drunk in Fiji & Tonga. It is ground from the wet kava root and looks and tastes a bit different as well. Once everyone had sampled the local tipple it was time to eat: roast pork, the local version of laplap baked in coconut milk, fresh fish cooked with taro, Fresh papaya & pamplemousse ( a sweet grapefruit & drinking coconuts served traditionally on banana leaves. The Beach Boys continued to entertain us until just before dark when we all headed home in our dinghys. A great success & the first of many great events to come.
Unfortunately with leaving Opua late we were only able to stay at Anatom for 3 days before heading up to Tanna, but we will be back next year and this time I might even get to the waterfall.
- © Fairfax NZ News