Maupiti, Palmerston and Niue

                                                                Bora Bora yacht club

Sunday, June 9

The pass at Mopiti

            We get up in time to leave Bora Bora at 2am. in  the morning. The conditions are very calm so we set off  motorsailing with half the mainsail up and the headsail, to Maupiti Isalnd 28 miles west of Bora Bora. We arrive at the pass on its southern side just on 7 as the outflowing current is supposed to be at its lowest then. The pass is well marked but is bubbled up like a washing machine with only 1 kt. of current against us. It can be up to 9 kts. with large waves breaking over the pass which makes it dangerous to enter and you are advised not to . We are lucky the conditions are suitable to go in because we are not prepared to return to Bora Bora and wait for better conditions. We would have to continue on to the Cook Islands.

View across to the pass

It is well worth the early morning start to visit this very small, secluded island which is only about the quarter the size of Bora Bora and has a population of just over 1.000 people. It is still removed from tourism. We arrive on a Sunday morning  and it is very relaxed and calm to walk around, and we enjoy hearing the singing at several of the church services. Impulsive is the only “outsider” boat anchored here and we only see a few people who must be staying in the few pensions here. There are no hotels.
The island is very beautiful dominated by a huge, abrupt mountain on its southern side and surrounded by pristine clear, shallow aqua waters.  We walk up some of this steep mountain to take   in the views and the colours extending out to the surrounding motus.

An exhausted skipper!

                                                                       local flowers

                                                              A local beach

View from bikes 

Hiring a bike is the best way for us to explore the island. There is only one road which circumnavigates the island which is about 10 ks and is quite safe as there are very few cars about.
There was a serious cyclone in 1997 which wiped out the island. It was all rebuilt in 1998, with the help of the French government. The houses all look well cared for and many of them overlook the lagoon, all with their very attractive lush, tropical gardens. The few cars all look relatively new.
There are only a few small shops here which just stock the basic necessities eg. tinned and frozen food and basic household needs. We have been warned that after Bora Bora there are very few provisions available until we reach Tonga so we have stocked the fridges and freezer for three weeks. We are told there is one place available to buy lunch, called Snack. This is on the n. east coast of the island at Tereia beach   overlooking the motu with a melon plantation. The water here is so shallow you can walk across to it, but you must watch out for the sting rays! The beaches here are idyllic and we spend some time enjoying them.
We have a delicious dinner on board Impulsive tonight, anchored at the foot of the enormous mountain, using fresh eggplants and cucumber someone is selling in their front garden this afternoon.
We are disappointed not to have lunch on a motu but we are unable to get onto Gerard who we spoke 2 days ago and feel we should leave while the conditions are good at the pass. We have a 4 day sail, 620 n. miles to Palmerston in the Cook Islands ahead of us.
Heading away from the island there is a flock of hundreds of birds, circling nearby and then diving into the water. There must be a large school of fish nearby.

Preparing the headsails to pole one out each side

This morning we exit the pass at 7am. with no problems. The conditions are very calm with not much wind, so we motorsail with the headsail poled out, averaging 6 kts. This evening the wind picks up to 16kts. and we can sail. We pass through a few heavy rain squalls about dinner time. The skipper is very busy dealing with this and the wind changes so we miss the next episode of Downtown Abbey! The rest of the night is uneventful.

The stars tonight are magnificent – neither of us have ever seen a better display in brightness or in number. They are lighting up the sky.

Checking the mainsail during overnight sailing

Tuesday, 11th. June
This morning we spend some time preparing to pole out the 2 headsails as the forecast has come through from Bruce that the weather is suitable for this i.e. east s.east winds at 12 to 16  kts. It is all just perfectly in place, just as Ross had planned and prepared to sail across the Pacific to Australia. I am about to take a photo when the starboard pole snaps in two. There must have been too much tension on it.
I rarely see Ross really disappointed. He usually makes the best of all situations but this is a difficult one. We now motorsail with the port headsail poled out and with the mainsail as it was.
After Ross fixes everything, has a refreshing shower, orders another pole to hopefully pick up in Tonga, followed by a sleep, he is feeling better.

Tonight we receive wonderful news on the satelite email – Scott and Jeanette have a new baby son. We are thrilled for Augusta, Lily and Alexander to have a new baby brother. We feel  isolated out here but have plans to meet him as soon as we can.

At the 2 am night watch change over the wind has come up a bit so we bring the mainsail across to the port side.

Most of this leg we have had 1kt. assisting current, except early each morning when we have half a knot against us. Wednsesday and Thursday the winds are still light so we are motorsailing averaging 6.25 kts. It is so calm it is easy to do odd jobs on the boat. We now have time to read. Ross is reading James Michener’s “Caribbean”, and I am enjoying “Darwin’s Armada”. You have to admire these young men with their abilities and motivation for research and discovery, and also the conditions they all managed with on the ships at that time.

Ross has set up the Garmen GPS in case we have problems with the chart plotter, which sometimes has a mind of its own. It has misbehaved several times today. We also have the system on the Dell computer if we need it. The Garmen GPS looses its satellites too so this must have been a difficult area to have reception.

On Thursday afternoon it is wonderful to be out here on the water, which is such a beautiful cerulean blue as it is reflected from the sky. It is also very calm.
However Bruce predicts a trough and thunderstorm activity near 161W not too far short of the island. The winds should drop away quickly from ENE then tending more NE. There could be squalls with the thunderstorm activity into the low 30s.
In preparation for all this we furl the headsail and stow the pole. Ross also brings in the mainsail to less than half. We have early dinner so we are free to attend to the sailing issues as they arrive.
Everything happens as forecast but fortunately the winds only come up to 20 kts. and that is willing enough for a while. Ross is deciding whether to change our course to give us a better wind direction and so increase our speed and comfort when the wind comes around to a better position and we are able to put out the headsail again. This is very fortunate because we may not have been able to arrive at Palmerston Island before dark otherwise and it is unwise to come in there after sunset.
There is also a strong leeway of up to 10 degrees.

We now hope the final part of the forecast is correct too – that these storms should clear before we arrive at Palmerston and then SE winds 13/18 kts. for our arrival. The radar is clear of storms now so it is looking promising!
The wind drops out again giving us another quiet spell so we motorsail, able to keep our planned track. At 0600 hours the wind comes up to from SEE, 18/22 kts. and we have a lovely rollicking sail all the way to Palmerston over the next 7 hours, with  aquieter session towards the end.

                                                         Checking in at Palmerston

Palmerton is an atoll.  It has an interesting history as all the Palmerston islanders are descendants of William Masters, a ship’s carpenter. This Englishman arrived in 1863 with two Polynesian wives and soon had another. Today there are 60 people living on the island  and everyone seems to be related to everyone else. Many of the families now live in New Zealand or Raratonga. Apparently there is a small percentage in Australia.
As we arrive we are met by Simon in his run-about tinny just outside the reef. Having checked our mooring, which is his, he apologizes for having to rush off but a large barque, Picton Castle built in Wales in 1912, has just come in too with its crew of 35 and 36 passengers. Some of these passengers are islanders returning from Raratonga and this magnificent looking ship has brought lots of supplies which have to be off-loaded. The islanders depend on boats for their supplies as there is no other form of transport here. We had emailed ahead to see if we could bring supplies in but we had no response. We discover later that the man involved has been away with his ill wife in Raratonga and hadn’t seen the email. He came back here on the Picton Castle.

Next we have a visit from the customs officer, immigration and health officers, who are all very welcoming. They are very strict here about what we can take ashore eg. any fresh foods or meats, and there are no dogs or cats allowed here. These formalities are finished by 4pm. but we are unable to go ashore. Simon offers to pick us up at 9am. the following morning. It is a very difficult passage through the reef and our dinghy motor isn’t strong enough to get us through the outgoing tide.

We have a wonderful day onshore on Saturday with our host Simon. He takes us to his home to meet his family and to enjoy a morning cup of coffee. They are also hosting the young doctor, Aaron ( on board Picton Castle for 3 months, from USA, who lectures at Brown’s university and spends time at the Indian reserves) and the ship’s chef , Shane (who is trained as a chinese herbalist and chiropractor). These two young men are very interesting. It is lovely to see Shane giving Simon’s elderly mother of 83 a long and caring massage. Ross and I are lucky enough to be given a short diagnostic one. Aaron is holding a clinic here. A nurse comes from Raratonga to take care of  all medical and dental issues so Aaron’ visit is very appreciated.

We visit the custom’s office to finalize our papers for a clearance to leave tomorrow and are taken to see more of the island which is only 2.1 squ. m. We are particularly impressed with the school. It had been demolished in the 2002 cyclone, and New Zealand government assisted with funds, as did Australia, and it is doing well apparently. Many yachties contribute too as it is still expanding with its 27 students now.
Lunch with the family is a treat and delicious. The afternoon is relaxing including a walk around the island along the lovely beaches, which only takes half an hour! At 3pm the crew from the Picton Castle hold a market mainly of second hand clothes. It is very lively and colourful. The Swedish couple from the yacht moored next to us join us. They are keen for us to sail with them to the next atoll they plan to visit but we want to catch the next weather window to Niue. Hopefully we will meet up with them again soon.
We are taken back to Impulsive after 4pm. with an invitation to come ashore tomorrow morning for the 10am. church service, followed by lunch and an afternoon on the island.

Shane treating the grandmother

Aaron treating Simon

The school

The Marster's original house

Ross teaching the boys the phonetic alphabet
for radio calling on the boats

With the Custom's officer's son

Walking around the island

the market

The yacht that sunk last year

Dingy ride back to Impulsive

Shane assessing Ross' back

Sunday, 16th. June

Ross with Aaron

Unfortunately we don’t make it to the island or the church service. With the swell out here at the mooring the engine room door, which is very heavy , fell on Ross’ finger. It is a serious injury so I call Simon on the HF radio and ask if he could bring Aaron, the visiting doctor out to Impulsive. We are so fortunate Aaron is available and is so competent. He stresses that the major problem is the risk of infection being in the tropics and being out here in the wilderness as he says. He leaves us with the appropriate medication and dressings to change daily and impresses on Ross he must be careful and rest to give it the best chance to heal. He must have it checked at Niue.

Preparing the mainsail

We have a quiet day on Impulsive but Ross is very keen to begin our sail of 3 overnights to Niue while the forecast is suitable. He asks Simon if he and his nephew could help us with the rigging before we set sail. They come out to Impulsive later in the afternoon to help pole out the spinnaker pole for the headsail, prepare the mainsail and finally to help us off the mooring. Also they bring us out what we missed at the lunch. These people are so welcoming, thoughtful and generous. Everyone who visits here is looked after in this way. It is a very special treat to come here to share something of these people’s relaxed and happy way of life.
We set off still in a westerly direction to Nuie.  The winds are 17-19 kts  from the SE to ESE and we are sailing with the headsail poled out and the mainsail about half up, averaging over 7 kts. This is a wonderful sail until 4am when the wind drops out and comes further round around to the E. We adjust the mainsail by holding it out further and motorsail. There is a very rolly swell out here now but the light from the half full moon is very welcome.
These conditions continue until lunch time on Monday when the wind comes up slightly with a more southerly component in it. We can enjoy a relaxed sail now which is very pleasant. We still haven’t sighted another vessel.
Just before Ross goes to bed we experience winds up to 30 kts as part of a  SE trade wind surge and heavy rain, as Bruce forecast. The auto pilot “jumps out” maybe as we slew down the face of a large wave (  also we changed the response of the auto pilot from 5 to 6 ie. a more powerful response and so maybe that contributed to exceeding  the limit of its fuse). It is very difficult to hold Impulsive on course. We take in the headsail and adjust the mainsail with the preventer. When the conditions quieten down  we put out one third of the headsail, re-adjust the auto pilot and sail through the night averaging 6 kts.
Tuesday morning presents us with light squalls until 1000 hours and then it is sunny and calmer and we continue sailing over beautiful blue seas, with winds from the E from behind at 15-18 kts., and with an assisting current of over 1 kt. we average 6 kts. over the ground. The headsail is poled out to starboard and the mainsail is out to port with the preventer. We expected the wind to drop on us but it continued so we sailed all the way to Niue with sufficiently strong following wind all the way to Niue. What a wonderful sail!

Wednesday, 19th June
Arriving by boat at Niue gives the wrong impression. It looks like a small, flat island in the middle of the Pacific with some cliffs and an uninteresting low green coverage. We have a lovely time exploring what it is really like.

the dinghy lift out

Limestone caves

Typical memorial seen along the roadside

Talava arches

 The chasm - Anapala

walking into Opaahi - 
a typical sea track

Niue is the largest upraised coral atoll in the world and is porous limestone. The cyclone in 2004, with winds up to 140 kts. and waves up to 20 m. high coming up the cliffs on the west coast near the main town caused severe damage. The 4 tonnes concrete blocks of the moorings were dislodged and dragged out to sea. The main town, Alofi , has recovered well and strategies are set in place for future incidents. eg the hospital was wiped out but has been rebuilt on higher ground and further inland.
We arrive at 9.30 am and are fortunate to find the skipper from a nearby boat , Simon, is able to help us moor. (it is difficult for Ross with his left hand still not in full use). We are given a very warm welcome from Niue radio by Ira, and Keith the commodore from the NYClub.
Dinghies are hoisted ashore at the quay using a single point hoisting sling from the dinghy with an hydraulic winch and a crane. Keith came to give us a hand with this because, as with many things, it looks all too difficult but once you have tried it all is manageable. This manoeuvre would be very challenging in a strong westerly swell.

After clearing customs Keith drives us to the hospital. Ross’ finger is healing and there is no sign of infection which is a real worry in the tropics. This doctor also emphasizes how vigilant we must be to prevent this. If an infection sets in we will have to leave the boat.
One difficulty here is the banking. The currency is $NZs. You cannot use cards except at a car hire business and they charge you 8%. If they have cash they will let you take it also at 8%. The bank will not give you cash on cards. Keith kindly lent us money for the hospital visit. (This charge was extremely reasonable  -  $NZ25- for the consultation and a small amount for the dressings and antibiotics). The yacht club lends us money until there is cash available at the car hire centre.
Keith takes us on a quick tour to point out the main landmarks and facilities here and leaves us at the yacht club. This is our first opportunity to download Oliver’s photos but the internet is very slow here today. We eventually get it the next day. What a beautiful baby boy!  
There is no mobile phone reception here.
 The three couples from the other three yachts moored here happen to be at the yacht club and are catching up on emails and the weather forecasts. We are all heading in the same direction to Tonga. They are all very interesting and lovely people. They invite us to join them tonight at the 5pm sausage sizzle followed by a trivia night. This venue is further north at Coral Gardens set high on a cliff with the most beautiful view across their tropical garden and lawn, the sea and sunset. It is a popular whale watching spot and there has been a sighting three days ago marking the beginning of the season.
 The islanders have some regular evening activities held on different nights of the week eg restaurants/cafes are open different nights of the week and so spread the clientele of this small population around the available places. They cannot all be filled each night.
The wind comes up tonight and there are some very heavy tropical rainstorms. I am a little anxious about getting  back to Impulsive in the dinghy so we leave with the other yachties. It is quite an eerie experience down at the wharf even though there is a strong lighting system there. It is a very dark night. Simon and Robyn kindly get us organized with the crane and hoist and we are soon back on board. The sea is very rolly tonight so Ross has difficulty sleeping.
We begin today at the yacht club, the hub for all the yachties. A strong westerly 3m swell is forecast to come in by midnight tomorrow so we are all planning to leave by then. The moorings are safe but there is no protection from the west which would be very uncomfortable and would make going ashore in the dinghies very difficult – not for the faint hearted!
While I wait for the internet Ross wanders next door into the Attorneys at Law office to speak with Sina who has her LLM degree. She is interested in practising as a lawyer here and discovers she deals mainly with land titles claims and surveys. The customary system of ownership is superseded by a registration system and the number of absentee landlords means that some occupiers have been able to become registered owners, so quite a few claims have to be litigated. We also visit the Justice, Lands and registry office. Ross is able to look at the main registry.
We have a wonderful day starting with breakfast at Crazy Ugas a small , very attractive restaurant  near the yacht club perched up on the cliff with magnificent views. An extra bonus is we can see the yachts.
We set off with a picnic lunch to continue exploring the island, in a clockwise direction,which has a rugged coastline and reef  with its small and rugged swimming coves. There are  also many caves, chasms and spectacular limestone formations. There are many historical points of interest eg. Opaahi:  Captain Cook’s second attempted landing.
The Huvalu forest is a designated conservation area which protects the island’s primary forest, fauna and flora.  It is  beautiful to walk in these areas of tropical rainforest along the well cared for sea tracks to the different special places. Some highlights over the three days are:
the Limu pools – this is a lovely place to swim in the crystal, clear waters with small fish, particularly the blue “neon” ones. There is a mixture of fresh and salt water here
Matapa Chasm - Another lovely place to swim and snorkel surrounded by two extensive cliff faces

Talava arches – stunning scenery and another place to swim

Anapala (sth. E coast) – a long steep descent down into the chasm and a fresh water pool

Avatele – An attractive beach and reef for snorkeling (the Wash Away cafĂ© is very attractive but only open on Sundays)


The west coast is more open and exposed to the prevailing winds and so has a thinner vegetation and not the same rainfall as the east.
It is sad to see so many abandoned houses on the island. Many people have left Niue to find better opportunities in NZ and some in Australia. The population has dropped considerably to 1,500. They have dual citizenship with NZ and are self governing.
Tourism is doing well here but the Niuens would prefer it to stay at the level it is now. The diving here is world class.
Tonight we go to the recommended Japanese restaurant. The owner catches his own fresh fish for the sushi and sashimi. It is a top class dinner.

Friday 21st. June
The local produce market is held from 4am on Fridays so we go ashore by 7am to see what is available but as we are warned most of the goods are sold by now. We buy limes, papaya and bananas. We don’t need much because we can’t take fresh food into Tonga.
Provisioning here is generally basic from the supermarket.
After another lovely day on this charming atoll we return to Impulsive to prepare to leave for Tonga at 4.30pm. It always seems difficult to leave these beautiful places with their warm and welcoming people who seem so happy here, but the forecast and time must be considered.

The winds from the south at 8/13 kts are favourable tonight and throughout Saturday. They drop out for about one and a half hours at 1100 hours but we sail apart from this time. The full moon casts light over the water and makes for a magical night watch. It also makes it easy to watch the sails.

The forecast for Sunday is S to SSE – 10/15 kts
And later      SSE – 13/15 kts
Most of the day we have perfect conditions with a wonderful sail:
11/12 kts, averaging 6 kts. with the wind at the right angle just in front of the beam so we are sailing flat. The swell is two and a half to three m. swell, which is well spaced.
These conditions hold into the night when the very large full moon comes up which is lovely and always makes night watch easier as it casts its light over the sea and the boat.
Unfortunately the wind drops at 2100hours so we have to bring in the headsail and turn on the motor.

Approaching Tonga early morning with the full moon still high up in the sky is lovely. This is the Vavau group to the north of Tonga. The officials dock is particularly buy this morning and we raft up next to three other boats, and have one rafted up next to us. This yacht were in Niue with us so its all great fun. There are other boats ahead of us and a large freight ship is just leaving.
The officials here are very welcoming. They really enjoy the ginger biscuits we offer them.
We are pleased because we understood we had to throw out all our fresh fruit and veges. Apparently we can keep them as long as we don’t take any of them ashore. This also means taking all the rubbish from them ashore for the officials to get rid of. I am extra pleased I can keep my pot plant.
Neiafu is a small town with a long habour frontage. It is a well protected harbour surrounded by land on all sides. We have a mooring here along with many other yachts. After an extended and relaxing lunch ashore at Belle Vista with its lovely view and local lobster salad we explore the town. We soon pick up on the relaxed atmosphere here.
The super market is really basic (we are glad to have stocked up until Figi) but the fruit and vege market is good. The fish market opens on Monday and Wednesday.
Tonight we take the dinghy into “Mangoes” on the waterfront for dinner. It is fun to find a couple we were at Niue with and another couple we saw in Raiatea. The latter are originally from Paris and have been living and working for the last 30 years in Papeete, Tahiti. They visited there on their yacht and have been there ever since. They retired last year and claim they are learning to enjoy their new lifestyle without work. They seem to know this well already! They both have amazing joie de vivre. They also still enjoy returning to Paris.

One thing we find difficult is the date here. Instead of being 11 hours behind UTC they treat themselves as being 13 hours ahead. eg it is currently midday Tuesday local time instead of midday Monday here. It is even more difficult trying to find a good time to call the family in Melbourne or Copenhagen.
We join the 8.30am net this morning. It is the best we have been part of with its efficiency, clarity and detailed weather report. They also announce any activities that are scheduled in the town.
Sailing in this area seems it will be like I naively imagined sailing around Australia would be. Sailing very short distances to visit and enjoy the pristine beaches and their surrounding waters with coral, varieties of fish and snorkeling. This is an area of many beautiful raised and coral islands.