Thursday, September 29, 2016

New Caledonia: Majestic North East Coast

Mining... the dominant landscape feature of our road trip, day 4, New Caledonia, from Canala to the East Coast.
We knew curvy mountain roads would make for slow travel and lots of stops so we got an early start from Canala.  Our goal was to arrive in Hienghene (pronounced "yang GANG") early enough for a late afternoon campsite setup at Babou Cote Ocean.  
We found it amazing there was spring water in these arid New Caledonian mountains west of Kouaoua.
Our first glimpse of New Cal's East side ocean
from our side-road lunch stop.
Once again we witnessed the terrible stark beauty of New Caledonia's red-orange earth stripped bare through miles and miles from mining.  As we threaded our way through the mountains, we arced around the same mine processor, seen from many angles across the deep surrounding valleys.  At a number of points, the road crumbled at the edge.  Finally, just before descending into Kouaoua, we observed a former hillside, now quarry carved to the point its original form was far past recognizable.

Getting closer... New Caledonia headed toward Houaoua.
Holy cow that's one carved up hillside!  Just above Kouaoua,  New Caledonia.
We passed through the coastal towns of Kouaoua, Houailou, Ponerihouen, Poindimie (an important stop for refueling, and where we noticed the touted Tieti Hotel and Resort appeared closed), Iouho and a number of smaller towns. At last, we arrived on the outskirts of Hienghene, and Babou Cote Ocean dive/camp site.  
Hienghene's minarets in the magical hour or so before sunset.  New Caledonia's East Coast.
We set camp and took the roadside/beach trail walk to get a better sense of Hienghene's natural beauty, best done at low tide, which happened to coincide with our walk.

Babou Cote Ocean Hienghene in came highly recommended by the visitor center and as well one of the road trip articles noted it was the less expensive campground.  I was looking forward to wifi and hopefully a kitchen with a stove.  The staff was incredibly nice.  

However, while "campsites on the beach,"  sounds dreamy, it's really an open area in a flat dusty field right next to the beach -- our least favorite campsite of the three on our trip, by far.  The campground was $15; definitely not the cheap camp site.  A more primitive but also more scenic campsite down the road was $5, though not sure if that was per person or per tent.  The wifi wasn't working.  Nor was it at the hotel down the road where it came "free" with a $4 cappuccino.  No stove, though there was a billy for hot water in the morning, and there was a small camp freezer, which we happily used.  There were flush toilets and cold showers, and a covered double shared picnic table, popular with smokers, otherwise not much in the way of seating.  
Didn't find this Babou Cote Ocean resident nearly
as cute when she tried to drag away my salami.
The resident black kitten charmer was the highlight of Babou Cote Ocean for us, even if I had to resort to Wayne's assistance to keep out salami from getting dragged away while I was chopping other ingredients for our Italian-style bean-salad supper.

The visitor center mentioned Babou Cote Ocean was a good place to snorkel.  Maybe on a calmer day the snorkeling is more impressive, but the visibility was pretty rotten when I snorkeled.  My hunch is the good stuff is what you pay the ~$50 or so for for the campground's dive center to transport you to a nearby islet for diving or snorkeling.    If I was into spending more time and paying for a snorkel transport and tour,  Babou Cote Ocean seemed competent, friendly and well-equipped.

Thus, after a brief snorkel and foiled wifi, we drank our instant coffee, took our frozen water bottles, and moved on.

Road-Tripping By the Numbers
  • RT Day 1:  Noumea through Grand Sud and back, departed at 11:30 am, returned to marina ~5:00 pm, 250 km (155 miles)
  • RT Day 2:  Noumea to Farino, departed at 1:45 pm, arrived at campsite ~ 4 pm, 138 km (85 miles) 
  • RT Day 3:  Farino to Canala, departed campsite at 9:45, several stops / hikes, arrived at campground ~ 5pm, 91 km (56 miles).
  • RT Day 4:  Canala to Hienghene, departed at 7:30 am, backtracked ~20 km, made lots of viewpoint stops, arrived at campsite around 3:30 pm, 261 km (162 miles).
Tuesday's plan.... New Caledonia to Bundaberg Australia.... likely 1 1/2 week 24/7 trip for us.
Location Location
Our boat remained anchored in Noumea (S22.16.722 E166.25.662), whilst we traveled by car, nearly end-to-end across New Caledonia's big island of Grand Terre, October 16-22, 2016.

Cruising By the Numbers
  • Our September 2016 sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia was 305 miles.
  • Our August 2016 sail from Fiji to Vanuatu was 525 miles.
  • We cruised just under 440 miles in Fiji, between late May and early August.  
  • Our May 2016 sail from New Zealand to Fiji was 1090 miles.
  • December 2015 - May 2016 if we weren't cruising New Zealand or hunkering, we were making massive road trips from New Zealand's tip to its tail.
  • From December 2014 - November 2015 we sailed from Northern Florida's Atlantic side to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles, with more than a few stops in between.
  • December 2013 - May 2014 we sailed 1792  miles from Jacksonville Florida to the Bahamas. and back.
  • March 2012 we bought Journey in St. Lucia.  September 2012 we moved aboard, did some boat work, then sailed her to Jacksonville Florida by June 2013, 3762 miles.

Amedee Lighthouse... after this post was written,
but before we get to Australia.
Up Next
We plan to catch a safe sailing weather window - likely early next week to Australia, about a 1 1/2- 2-week ~760 mile passage.  We're already checked out as New Caledonia's government offices are closed until Wednesday morning for a holiday.  We plan to stop at Amedee Lighthouse in New Cal before we give our final goodbye to this lovely country, and likely at least one more spot to wait before crossing.  We'll  be out of wifi range by the time you read this, until we're set-up for wifi again in Australia.  This is pre-posted catch up posts on New Cal for you to read while we're underway.  Once in Oz, we'll check in at Bundaberg, then travel South down the East Coast to Pittwater, near Sydney where we'll park Journey.  We'll travel over land there for a bit and figure out where to go back to work somewhere in the world.  Job tips are appreciated!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Vanuatu: Molten Lava Fireworks, Mt. Yasur Volcano

Sure… Mt. Yasur’s volcanic magma source looks a long ways away from the rim viewing area.  Just wait…. Tanna, Vanuatu.

“Doesn’t look like they let you get that close to the caldera,” Wayne commented, upon seeing the first of my Mt. Yasur volcano images.  “You’ll see,” I told him.  with great certainty.  “That would be bad.  Very, very bad.  And fatal….”

Vanuatu:  Tanna near Mt. Yasur.  These undulating hills of ferrous red rock glowed in the ensuing dusk.  Would’ve loved to hike them.
Before we set sail for the South Pacific, we asked fellow Pearson owner and friend, Dirk of Evening Ebb, what the greatest highlights were of his South Pacific sojourn.

Vanuatu’s volcanically active Mt.Yasur on Tanna topped his list.  “It’s worth it, a definite don’t miss,” he insisted, despite having to pay for the ride to it, the entry fee, and the guide.

Cabbage palms heralded the entry to Mt. Yasur’s ash plain.  They were
so pretty I couldn’t resist a photo from inside the 4-wheel-drive.  Tanna, Vanuatu.
Yes, we’ve lived in the shadow of Washington State’s infamously explosive Mt. Saint Helens. We’ve visited the lava-expanding big island of Hawaii.  We explored the bygone splendor of Martinique’s St. Pierre.  Our boat got dusted with volcanic ash from Mt. Montserrat in the Caribbean despite our needing to give the island itself a miss.  We delighted in New Zealand’s geothermal wonders, and I loved the Auckland Museum’s special volcanic exhibition.

Having narrowly missed the volcanic caldera view of Ambrym’s Mt. Marum, even though Wayne was chomping at the bit to leave Vanuatu and move on to New Caledonia, he wanted to honor my insistence on seeing Mt.Yasur.  “I’ll wait for you in Port Vila,” he promised, noting seeing Yasur was not that important to him.  Even if the sail to Tanna from Vila wasn’t an unpleasant upwind bash, it meant we were missing that same rarified weather window required for a nice passage to New Caledonia.

Then a magnificent sandy pyramid arose from the ash plain.   Tanna, Vanuatu.
What makes Tanna’s Mt. Yasur so unique?

Mt. Yasur spews molten lava almost as reliably as Yellowstone’s Old Faithful geysers. And, like at Yellowstone, you’re able to get close enough to see, feel, hear and even smell it erupt, without too great a risk of life and limb.  In fact, sometimes areas are closed off because its eruptions are too boisterous.

Oh!  If only the last bit into Ambrym’s volcanic
Mt. Marum had been this easy!  Mt. Yasur, Vanuatu.
“Yasur was a little too Disneyland-ish,” Mark Silvestein of Field Trip complained.  

Of course, he’d made it to Ambrym’s Mt. Marum ridge top, a feat only a few can claim compared to the easily accessible Yasur.  What’s more, he even filmed its pulsating cauldron via drone (click here to check outhis awesome Ambrym Mt. Marum video).

Indeed, part of what made the hike to Mt. Marum awesome was the fabulous scenery leading up to it… stunning rugged mountainous and coastline vistas, dramatic charcoal-colored lava plains, punctuated by brilliant green jungle growth.  And always, there is the startling sharp, vertical thrust of the lava cone itself, a sure signal of a violently fiery emergence from the center of the earth.  Personally, it’s a sight that unfailingly makes me gasp in awe of nature’s power.

Mt. Yasur volcanic post -- gives
a whole new meaning to
"hot mail."  One of Vanuatu's
unique mail boxes.  Another is
underwater, just off Efate
in Mele Bay.
While less dramatic in color, Mt. Yasur’s tawny ash is more akin to New Zealand’s shapely sand dunesoff its famed “90 mile drive.”  I suspect the passage to Mt. Yassur’s lovely prelude to its cone has been almost entirely usurped by 4-wheel drive tours.  As we whizzed past Yasur’s gorgeous plains, I pined for the leisurely exploration afforded by Mt. Marum’s mostly excellent hiking trails.  Then again, we were also racing to reach Mt. Yassur by sunset, and we were running quite late.

Our lateness spared us the literal kustom song-and-dance show at the Mt. Yasur visitor center, though they were still quick to collect their entire $75/person entry fee.  Apparently just a few months before, the entry fee was only half that.

Just across the road from Mt. Yasur’s visitor center is Yasur View Bungalows, where I’d originally planned to camp.  Again, while the bungalows were a mere 3 clicks (kilometers, or 2 miles) from Mt. Yasur’s ridge point, the dirt road there was a veritable dust cloud from the 4 wheel drive’s passage in.  Was there a dust-free walking path to Mt. Yasur’s ridge point?  If not, I too would’ve succumbed to a 4-wheel drive in even from nearby Yasur View Bungalows.

Ahhh, my first acrid but stunning taste of what all the Mt. Yasur fuss is about.
In fact, much as I ached to explore that whole volcanic plain as much or more than the explosive volcano itself, I have never, ever been anyplace dustier than Tanna.  Considering how many countries I’ve been – that’s saying a lot!  It’s not just the volcanic ash, it’s the fine soil of the road; with few exceptions, all the Tanna roads I traveled were unpaved.

None of these minor complaints supersede Yasur’s genuinely spectacular draw…. It’s little more than a few minutes walk up from the parking lot along a well-defined path and – wow! -- you’re overlooking an obviously active caldera.

Hellfire and brimstone – forget that namby-pamby revivalist stuff – this is the real deal!

Mt. Yasur belches its powerfully noxious sulfur brew in clouds of steamy pale grey, dark black and red-orange smoke.  It’s stinky.  It’s gritty.  It rumbles, roars and then… it EXPLODES! 

 Did I mention acrid?  So I followed these guys (and gals), Mt. Yasur volcano, Vanuatu.
 You find yourself noticing a file of hikers on another part of the caldera’s ridge.  Hmmm, they seem to be upwind, and seems their view is as good or better.

Dusk ushers in darkness.  Quickly, I follow in the ridge-walker’s footsteps.  The ridge is a little loose, but wide and well marked, even in the semi-darkness.  Ahhh… I’m upwind of the grit, sulfer and smoke.


I stop.  It’s either that, or run like hell!  I look.  The primordial drumbeat resumes.

Sometimes, that BOOM! merely precedes a puff of red-tinged smoke, like a wily magician, deftly transitioning between acts.

Other times the explosions are followed by a gigantic yellow-white towering fountain of flame, casting red-orange sparks in its wake.  No longer able to defy the laws of gravity, the sparks then streak their streaming way earthward. 

Thanks to a 60x zoom, here’s a (safely) closer look at Mt. Yasur’s seething magma.
Glowing red against a black background, you realize that orange firework display that shot into the sky well above your head is comprised of molten lava….

This is the land where the earth itself is magic, both wonderful and terrifying, creative and destructive, the center of birth, and death.  As Harold Jeffreys  quipped, “The real difficulty about volcanism is not to see how it can start, but how it can stop.” 

Disney?  Naw….

This is the real deal.  (But still go to Ambrym and do the Mt. Marum volcano hike if you're in Vanuatu.)
Oh, wow!  A white-hot fire tower and crimson smoke!  Mt. Yasur volcano, Vanuatu.    

This was my favorite part of Mt. Yasur’s molten fireworks display.  Vanuatu.

What goes up, must come down, as evidenced at Mt. Yasur, Vanuatu.

2016 Cruising Countries to date:
New Zealand, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia
Location Location
This is a recent retrospective of when I went to Tanna Sunday, September 13, returning Wednesday the16, 2016.  Wayne and Journey remained at  "our" Yachting World mooring (S17.44.750 E168.18.729) in Vanuatu’s Port Vila.  We're currently in New Caledonia, where we arrived September 21, 2016; this post was written while at anchor Noumea, New Caledonia (S22.16.695 E166.25.688).  We're currently cruising the country.  There’s still a few more Vanuatu posts to catch up on. 

While this post is about our last country, Vanuatu, we're currently in New Caledonia.  This Google shows both.
Cruising by the Numbers
  • Our September 2016 sail from Vanuatu to New Caledonia was 305 miles.
  • Our August 2016 sail from Fiji to Vanuatu was 525 miles.
  • We cruised just under 440 miles in Fiji, between late May and early August.  
  • Our May 2016 sail from New Zealand to Fiji was 1090 miles.
  • December 2015 - May 2016 if we weren't cruising New Zealand or hunkering, we were making massive road trips from New Zealand's tip to its tail.
  • From December 2014 - November 2015 we sailed from Northern Florida's Atlantic side to New Zealand, over 10,000 miles, with more than a few stops in between.
  • Prior to that we sailed from St. Lucia to Florida and also spent a season cruising the Bahamas.

Then a magnificent sandy pyramid arose from the ash plain.   Tanna, Vanuatu.
Up Next
We're planning on cruising in New Caledonia until November.  After New Caledonia, we head to Australia, by December 2016 (but probably earlier).  There, we plan to sell our boat, and go back to work, somewhere.