2014 Holiday Newsletter

Click the thumbnail for 2014 highlights

ADAGIO continued to be our magic carpet to cruising areas near and far this year, beginning in New Zealand, where we cruised in company with friends, as frequently as the weather allowed. Dorothy learned to make soft shackles out of Dynema core line, and we don’t know how we got along without them for so long. She also began to write a cooking blog, http://www.cookingaboardadagio.com, so that we could have quick access to our favorite recipes and cooking techniques, and so that we could share these with others.

On January 21, 2014, we set our anchor securely in Orongo Bay, Bay of Islands, and prepared the boat for the onslaught of ex-Cyclone Lucas. Our hurricane-hole in the bay where our ex-house was located proved to be excellent protection.

After the weather had cleared, we cruised among our favorite islands, Urupukapuka, Moturoa, Te Pahi Islands and Te Puna Inlet, testing setting and reefing our sails. When anchoring, we used our new Dorothy-made “Soft Shackles” to connect the anchor bridle to the anchor chain, with great success. It is much quicker to attach and detatch than the Icycle Hitch that was used previously.

On the 13th of March we prepped the boat for another tropical cyclone that was approaching New Zealand from the north. As we were anchored in the SE side of Uruti Bay, with 40 meters of anchor chain deployed, TC Lusi brought gusts of 45 knots between long spells of 35 knots of wind. Heavy rain and large coastal waves and storm surge were forecast as well. Thirty-knot winds continued to blow in our anchorage for the next two days.

After the storm, we took turns bicycling to the Waitangi Reserve and the amazing BOI golf course, with some of the most beautiful views in the area. In the center of the small park on the waterfront is an upright piano on wheels, painted beautiful colors. As we worked on our iPads, young people from different countries, sat down at the piano and play (Beethoven today by a German backpacker). All of the pianists are young men and women, usually with backpacks, and very talented. Every park needs a piano.

By the 1st of April we were on our way to Whangarei, via the lovely anchorage at Whangamumu, the location of a derelict whaling station, now a park, where during previous visits we have observed a pod of bottlenosed dolphins up close. Our first big project we had planned for Whangarei was to replace our genset diesel. The first Kubota engine we had purchased long distance turned out to be a scam-from-Japan when we inspected at Stanley Marine. It took some string-pulling to accelerate delivery of a fresh Kubota to the workshop of diesel engineer Tim Brown.

Meanwhile our Aussie friends Ian and Ellen followed the track of Cyclone Ita across the Tasman. Their arrival was especially timely as Ian is a talented, can-do-anything “Sparky”, who made a big contribution to the replacement of the entire Fisher Panda wiring harness. Once the genset re-installation was completed, Tim did a 4,000 hour total-service of our two Yanmar propulsion engines. Tim’s work was slightly delayed when his American Bulldog gave birth to 15 puppies!

Next on the slippery calendar was a haul out to replace both of our Kiwiprop propellers with Max-Props and a refresh of the bottom paint. The Easter loooooooong weekend interfered with this plan, as workers in NZ took advantage of Easter Monday and ANZAC Friday both falling in the same week, to take a 10 day holiday (from running boat hauling facilities and such).

Day One: On 11 May, we were topped up with fuel and water, and well-provisioned for our passage to New Caledonia. With four people on board we had the luxury to set the watch schedule for 2 hrs on and 6 hrs off. The first night was a near perfect moonlit passage, followed by Albatross soaring around ADAGIO in the morning.

Day Three: Ian deployed our wire-line fishing gear with our electronic strike alarm connected via a bicycle tube. True wind speed (TWS) was 10 to 15 knots, and true wind angle (TWA) was 140 to 150 degrees, with a few rain showers off in the distance, scattered, mixed clouds and outbreaks of sun. 

Day Four: 1st reef main & reacher, light winds. Day Five: TWS 19 to 20 knots, beautiful sailing conditions under sunny skies. ADAGIO surfed to 10 knots whenever the wind gusted to 23+ knots. We averaged 9 knots boat speed in 20 knots of wind. We furled the reacher at 24 knots TWS, and later furled the jib. We sailed along at 8 to 9 knots of boat speed under first reefed mainsail. From today until landfall in New Caledonia, our TWS ranged from 22 to 30 knots, with seat state of 3 to 4 meters.

Day Six: we entered the great Southern Lagoon at the east entrance to Havannah Passage. After checking in at Port Moselle and a quick re-provisioning with beautiful local produce and French cheese and bread, we took advantage of a brief weather window to make for our favorite cruising area around Ile des Pins.

After anchoring in Baie de Kuto and we were soon walking on the beach, enjoying the soft, white sand, coconut palms and Bugny trees. Our friends of fourteen years, Cleo and Albert, looked after us, including hosting a party for Ellen’s birthday. Ellen and Ian climbed the 262 meters elevation to the peak of Pic Ngâ “Mountain”, flying their kites from the top. We followed trails around the shoreline, through beautiful forests of Pandanus and Columnaris pines, and snorkeled in Kanumera Bay.

In July we joined our friends, Frank and Lisa, of the catamaran MANGO MOON, to sail to the Loyalty Islands, first visiting Lifou, then Ouvea, and then to Lifou again. Our overnight sail from the Southern Lagoon to Lifou was fast and comfortable, with following winds and seas, and no hazards to avoid as we were sailing in the ocean again, unlike our passages to and from the Isle of Pines during which we have had to wind our way through coral reefs and islets. A crescent moon, in rain-catch position, graced our night sky, near the horizon, and a creamy Milky Way beamed overhead.

At Lifou, we carefully worked our way through the coral heads to anchor offshore from the town of Doueoulou (or Dreulu). That evening at sunset we all saw the “Green Flash” as the sun dipped below the horizon. Amazing. In the morning, Ian and Ellen paddled the kayak ashore to visit the village.

We piled into our catamaran tender ALLEGRO to follow Frank and Lisa to some of the underwater caves located in the lee of the high fossilized coral cliffs south of us, at Cape Mandé. Acres and acres of coral shelves spreading out from the bases of the cliffs, support every kind of hard coral you can imagine, in all colors, shapes and sizes, all in excellent condition. We watched fish we had never seen before, both above the coral shelves and in the deep blue waters surrounding the shelves. The conditions for underwater photography were excellent.

After two days, we raised our anchor and sailed north along the beach of Xepenehe Bay, or Santal Bay, which extends over 50 km, from Cape Mandé in the south to Cape Aimé Martin in the north. We set our anchor in a sand patch between coral heads near the towns of Xepenehe and Easo, sheltered from the forecast easterly and northeasterly winds. Frank and Lisa had told us about the natural dinghy harbor ashore, which one would want to use only in calm seas.

We hired a car to explore the island. The vanilla factory was a highlight, as the beans were spread outdoors on tables and a kind woman described the process to us. Inside the shop I photographed a large poster that explains the vanilla processing in detail. No wonder real vanilla costs so much. We walked the 200+ stair steps to see the colorful, coral-filled lagoon at the foot of the 40 meter-high Jokin Cliffs. Wonderful. The town of Wé was a combination of traditional and modern buildings. We were late to the farmers’ market, but enjoyed it nonetheless, and visited the small marina. Surrounded by a fence, the Wetr District grande chefferie (17 tribes) in Hnathalo has one of the finest traditional huts in New Caledonia. With a thatched roof, walls of bamboo and coconut-palm fronds, and its structure and roofing assembled with natural binding without a single nail, the high chief’s hut measures over 12 m in diameter.

Our six hour sail from Lifou to Ouvéa in boisterous tradewinds was a delight. ADAGIO anchored between the Mouli bridge and the new Paradise resort. We walked to the Likeny cliffs, as we had done several years ago, at low spring tide, after enjoying the sea life beneath the bridge. Always spectacular, we wanted to be sure that Ian and Ellen saw the cliffs.

We sailed back to Lifou and gave up on the weather improving, so sailed on to Grande Terre and the Southern Lagoon. Much excitement when the fishing alarm sounded and, with all hands on deck, Ian hauled in a large Mahi Mahi. We baked a chocolate cake as we entered the bay at Port Boisé, where we waited for two days until the weather settled down in Noumea. Ian and Ellen left the boat for home in Far North Queensland, Australia. We were fortunate to have had them aboard ADAGIO for three months. During this time Ian and Ellen did more than their share to keep ADAGIO in safe sailing condition, enthusiastically contributed their time and efforts to all of the chores required to sail a boat at sea.

Click for panoramas — caution if your bandwidth is expensive — some are BIG images

In August we returned to Ile des Pins, then in September we sailed once again for Lifou to be with MANGO MOON. After three days in Lifou, we sailed for Noumea, in favorable winds and seas.

In October our friend Susie Fisher arrived from London, to sail with us to New Zealand. She had been recommended to us by our friend Eva Menuhin, who had sailed this passage aboard ADAGIO the previous year. Susie met Steve at 0830 hours at Bout du Monde cafe, after a too-short night’s sleep in her hotel. After a provisioning trip to the city Marché, I joined Steve and Susie. Steve took all of our passports to bicycle to the numerous government offices to check us out of New Caledonia.

Susie and I returned to ADAGIO so that Susie could begin to unpack and so that I could stow my fresh purchases, which included 1.6 kg Yellowfin Tuna, caught locally, 600 grams intended for our friends Cleo and Albert at Ile des Pins. We refueled with a thousand dollars worth of diesel, and some petrol for the dinghy. We hoisted our mainsail in Baie des Citrons, then headed off for Ile des Pins. Susie had a few damp days to explore the Kuto Bay to Vao area of Ile des Pins.

On 8 October, we departed Kuto Bay in 15 to 20 knots of wind, we made good but bumpy progress under full main and jib, as the Blood Moon Lunar Eclipse began to peek out from behind the clouds. “Ladies and Gentlemen never sail to windward,” but that’s exactly what we were doing. Our boat speed remained between 6 and 9 knots, so we could not complain. We were rollicking along, with rain clouds all around.

Day Three: TWS was 20 to 23 knots, gusting to 25 knots. The seas had risen to 2.5 meters. Day Four: the TWS was 22 to 28 knots. We were averaging 185 nautical miles per day made good. The seas were regularly washing over the coachroof, and some over the radar arch. The TWS remained in the 20s so that ADAGIO’s weather hull lifted enough between seas to let air into the refrigeration sea-water circuit — fortunately Steve has a reliable procedure for restoring circulation (head down in the bilge).

On one of our tacks we managed to jam the new mainsail traveler line at centerline (don’t ask why we replaced our carefully chosen hard-and-stiff traveler line with the new soft line). Just as we were clearing the jam the 130 mm mainsheet block blew up so we had an uncontrolled main boom in 22 knots of TWS. Using our 5,000 and 10,000 lb Lewmar snatch blocks we devised a series of securing steps that brought the main boom under control; then we were able to furl the mainsail to complete the mainsheet repairs. We had High Fives all around as we congratulated ourselves for our ingenuity. Lessons learned:

  • Don’t disconnect-reconnect the mainsail preventer until the tack is completed (because on ADAGIO the preventer backs up the mainsheet)
  • Backup the mainsheet blocks just as we do the reacher turning blocks, with a Dyneema loop through the center of the block — so the Dyneema takes the line load in event of any sort of block failure

As the barometer continued to rise, the motion of the boat eased a bit, so that Steve and Susie could replace the failed Lewmar 130mm block shackle-post with a Dynex Dux soft shackle, free the traveler car and reset the mainsail. What a difference that made to have the mainsail powered again! We celebrated with freshly baked Carrot Cake. As we approached the Bay of Islands, the wind speed began to decrease. Soon we furled the reacher and mainsail and turned on the engines. Over glassy, undulating seas, we went, under a golden quarter moon and bright stars.

15 October — Landfall New Zealand. Our nearly 100% upwind passage ended in bright sun, a half-full orange moon, a gentle sea and light winds. This is a typical ADAGIO landfall. It has been our good luck on most passages to arrive in the sunshine so that we can see the mountains and glaciers.

Over the following week we showed Susie around the Bay of Islands, re-visiting our favorite islands, the lovely town of Russell, historic Waitangi and the Te Pahi Islands. We sailed south to Whangarei where ADAGIO was hauled out for a full exterior re-paint, and all that this entails. Susie flew back to London, and we bought a car and rented a pleasant flat. We will miss Susie’s stimulating conversation, level-headedness, and pleasant company.

In early December, we flew to San Francisco to visit our daughter, son-in-law and two grand children for the holidays. All is well in our world. When we return to ADAGIO in January, she will begin having her deck hardware re-installed, and we will watch her be returned to her original glory.

We wish you the best of holiday celebrations, and a rewarding and adventurous New Year.

Fair winds, following seas, good company, and good Fun,

Dorothy and Steve S/V ADAGIO



Snorkelling in Ile des Pins

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

Our trusty crew, Ellen and Ian, have been enjoying exploring the reefs and bommies in both Kanumera Bay and Kuto Bay (not far from where ADAGIO is anchored). They travel ashore nearly every day aboard ADAGIO’s inflatable Clear Blue Hawaii kayak. It gives them the freedom they need to explore the area.

I finally could tear myself away from chores aboard ADAGIO for a snorkeling adventure in Kanumera Bay. The reefs surrounding the small Islet are mostly healthy, branching coral, with some quite large hemispheres of brain coral here and there. Some soft, fan corals as well. Many types of fish were busily feeding throughout the water column, and curiously approach our dive masks. Billowing Anemones, some blue and lavender, in which anemone fish nestle and appear to caress themselves among the tentacles, were abundant in open areas among the branching coral. Each time we snorkeled, we swam among a tight school of thousands of 3 inch long silver Pilchard-type fish, just under the surface of the water. They were not skittish, but morphed their school to surround us on all sides, as we approached. It is an amazing special effect to feel part of the spinning, glinting, silver circle of fish.

In Kuto Bay, near ADAGIO, the first fish we encountered were large schools of powder-blue Damsel fish, slowly feeding as they milled around above the coral, ready to dive for cover between the coral branches. The Anemone fish in Kuto Bay are of two major types, Clark’s anemone fish (Amphiprion clarkii), clown-painted with two light blue vertical stripes on a dark orange ground, and Red and Black anemone fish (Amphiprion melanopus), sporting one wide, iridescent blue vertical stripe just aft of its eye, on a multi-hued orange ground. Both were beautiful, each living with a different type of anemone. I made an effort to take most of my underwater photos at the top of the reef where the water was most shallow and the sunlight was brightest, and that is were the anemone fish lived. We located one of the Lion fish that Ellen had found the day before, when she counted six Lion fish, out in the open. When we returned we found only one of them, tucked into a crack in the reef. Still, I was able to dive down and get a photo. There were many, many other types of fish, and we are slowly learning their names. One of our identification books notes which type of fish are sometimes toxic or reputed to carry ciguatera in New Caledonia.

Steve has put together some marvelously effective presets in Lightroom software to bring out the best in the photos that I took underwater. He has removed the murkiness and restored the colors and contrasts, to bring out the images that I actually saw.

Today at the early morning fish market we identified many of the larger fish that we had seen as we were snorkeling. The locals have been dining on their reef fish for many years, but we only bought the fillets of an ocean-going pelagic fish. However, it is an interesting way to learn to identify reef fish — by examining them in the fish market, where the name of each fish is written on the glass above it, in French.

On the other side of the coin, there are numerous “celebrations of the ocean”, conservation efforts, conservation education activities, and numerous organizations which do not hesitate to point out polluters and reasons why there are environmental problems in New Caledonia, as well as remediation programs.

Paradise discovered is not necessarily Paradise Lost.

The Island of Lifou in the Loyalty Islands

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

We are writing to you from the island of Lifou, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia. After spending a very enjoyable month in the Isle of Pines, we returned to Noumea to re-provision for an exploration of the Loyalty Islands. This 2014 season in New Caledonia, the weather has been uncharacteristically mild. During earlier visits, over our 14 years of cruising, we have been able to remain in the Isle of Pines for no more than a week, as the weather would change and we would have to return north to Grande Terre.

Our two Australian friends, Ian and Ellen, sailed with us from New Zealand in mid-May, and are staying aboard until our return to Kiwiland in six months. Ian keeps us in fresh fish by landing a beautiful, small Albacore tuna, from time to time, with which he and Ellen prepare Sushi.

Our overnight sail from Grande Terre to Lifou was fast and comfortable, with following winds and seas, and no hazards to avoid as we were sailing in the ocean, unlike our passages to and from the Isle of Pines during which we have had to wind our way through coral reefs and islets. At about 4 PM, we departed from our anchorage in a bay named Port Boise on the southeast corner of Grande Terre, just west of Havannah Pass. We timed our passage through the pass for slack tidal currents, and altered course to the north in a southerly breeze of 12 to 18 knots. Perfect conditions for flying our jib and reacher wing-on-wing, “reading both pages”, as the old sailors in the Chesapeake Bay are wont to say.

Our departure was timed for an arrival into Santal Bay on the east coast of Lifou in the daylight hours of the following morning. Our friends Lisa and Frank, aboard their catamaran named MANGO MOON, were waiting for us in the anchorage, and hailed us on the VHF to give us tips for where the coral heads are located, and where to find the sandy bottom to safely set our anchor. Ian donned his swimmers, mask, fins and snorkel, and dived overboard to have a look around. He found a large patch of sand where we dropped our anchor in 12 metres and dug it in deeply. The village ashore is named Drueulu.

We invited Lisa and Frank aboard ADAGIO for 11 o’clock coffee and cake, and I wrote a full page of notes from their tips and tricks for enjoying the island. They are avid divers and showed us on the chart the spot, north of our anchorage, where they snorkeled with a Manta Ray. Several excellent snorkeling spots are at the north end of Santal Bay, near the villages of Chepenehe and Eacho. Xepenehe has a “dinghy pen”, a natural opening in the coral rock, “where we can leave our hard dinghy when we all want to go ashore together. Lisa referred us to the people from whom they had rented a car for a day to tour the island. She also recommended several “must-see” places on Lifou, including the small factory where all of the vanilla bean farmers in the Loyalty Islands bring their vanilla to be processed.

I landed Ellen and Ian ashore from ALLEGRO, on a lovely sand beach, with fossil coral platforms on either side. They wandered around a sleepy village where they watched children arriving at school, visited two curious, tiny, grocery shops, and reported back that they had found a meeting hall/market hall, whose walls were covered in beautiful paintings and empty sea turtle shells. The small homes are made of concrete to resist cyclones and each is paired with a traditional circular hut with thatched roof. A large grotto cave is high on a cliff above the church. The Kanak people who live in these islands, follow many of their ancient traditions. Their seasons and festivals revolve around the planting and harvesting of yams. They also enjoy the benefits of free medical care and education provided by the French. Foods are imported from France, the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. The local gardeners sell beautiful, fresh produce at the weekly farmers’ market. As in France, every village of any size has a bakery that provides the locals with baguettes.

All of the Loyalty Islands are ancient atolls made of fossilized coral, which have been uplifted numerous times, beginning during the Tertiary, forming a series of platforms in a stair-step arrangement, from the sea up to the center of the island. A platform in the center of the island is the original bottom of the ancient lagoon, and the high cliffs along the shoreline are the ancient fringing coral reefs. The porous fossilized coral is well drained, so there are no streams or rivers, but there is a deep fresh water aquifer beneath Lifou. The island of Ouvea has no aquifer, so the inhabitants get their fresh water from a desalination plant.

Because there is no runoff from the islands, the water is crystal clear and the visibility is in the dozens of meters, making for brilliantly clear, in-focus underwater photos. We piled into our catamaran dinghy ALLEGRO and visited some of the underwater caves located in the lee of the high fossilized coral cliffs south of us. Acres and acres of coral shelves spreading out from the bases of the cliffs, support every kind of hard coral you can imagine, in all colors, shapes and sizes, all in excellent condition. We watched fish we had never seen before, both above the coral shelves and in the deep blue waters surrounding the shelves.

We re-anchored ADAGIO off the beach at the village of Easo, sheltered from the forecast easterly and northeasterly winds. We plan to rent a car to tour the island, getting to know the people, and do some more great snorkeling.


Dolphins in Paradise Bay

Click the thumbnail for the dolphin pics

At Oh seven hundred hours, from his pillow, Steve heard the exhalations of a pod of dolphins as they swam under ADAGIO. It was a call to cameras in hand and wind breakers over pajamas.

We were all on deck in the cold wind photographing the feeding behaviours of a pod of bottlenose dolphins in Paradise Bay, Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand.  At first they were between ADAGIO and the shore, with Australasian gannets diving from the skies above.  One happy dolphin would occasionally toss a fish up into the air.  Others came alongside the boat to say hello, with eyes meeting ours and nice portraits being taken.  After an hour’s time we were still taking photos and were near hypothermia in the cold wind.  From inside ADAGIO we continued to watch the dolphin antics through the wrap around windows in our saloon, until 0900 hours when they flipped their tails goodbye and departed for the adjacent bay.

By 1000 hours, Steve had loaded nearly 1000 photos onto the computer and had narrowed the pick photos down to fewer than 500.  Time to weed them to a smaller number.  The lighting was not great, but the subject matter was.  Wish you were here.

Lifou – Coral heads at Droueoulou

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

Every animal on the reef has its own personality, and the constant interactions over territories and food are fun to watch. I snorkeled with Frank and Lisa Coale from the catamaran MANGO MOON on the three large coral heads that are located between the beach and where ADAGIO is anchored, near the village of Droueoulou in Lifou, Loyalty Islands, New Caledonia.

The water depth must have been about 10 meters, so the deep blue water around and between the coral heads was too deep for me to explore. Clouds obscured much of the sun’s rays, but there was enough light on the top of the reef to allow for photography. The big plus is that the water is very clear. No rivers on land so no sediment in the water.

Each coral community is a unique collection of living organisms. Each time I snorkel, I discover creatures I have never seen before, and also familiar creatures behaving differently from what I have seen or read about. Highlights from today were: a green sea turtle, an anemone hosting two different species of Anemonefish, a small Octopus, several beautiful Lemonpeel Angelfish as well as lots of other fish, large spherical golden-orange coral heads, brilliantly colored corals of all types and sizes, large swirling schools of small fish, and an assortment of colorfully patterned Giant Clams.

As we approached the first reef, a Green turtle appeared from the depths, exhaling a stream of air bubbles which gave away her position. She “flew” away when she saw us.

Frank and Lisa free dived down into the blue canyons and took flash photos, but the top of the reef was plenty of an adventure for me, where the light is best. I have never seen such pristine, large, orange brain corals, that dotted the top of the reef.

Giant Clams are becoming more and more rare in the Pacific, but there were an abundance of different species on our reef. The giant clam’s mantle colors come mostly from symbiotic photosynthesizing zooxanthellae algae in the tissue. These algae are the same that are also used by reef corals for nutrition and give the corals their color. A fascinating discussion of the source and purpose of mantle coloration can be found at:

An octopus is a master of camouflage, but I spotted one when it moved to a safer place in the reef, after it saw me coming. It did not completely disappear into the hole that it hides in, but depended upon its coloration. Its shape was a giveaway, as was its movement as it lowered itself into its hole as I approached. I never saw it in its entirety but it must have measured two feet in length.

There were many types of fish on the reef, and my favorites were the Lemonpeel Angelfish (Centroopyge flavissimus Cuvier), the Eastern Triangle butterflyfish (Chaetodon baronessa Cuvier) and the Barrier Reef Anemonefish (Amphiprion akindynos). I admire the first two fish for their beauty and the Anemonefish for its living arrangements.

I did not realize that a single anemone can host more than one species of Anemonefish. But I found one that does. The dominant Barrier Reef Anemonefish and its two juveniles appeared to be tolerating the presence in and among the tentacles of the anemone of a Pink Anemonefish (Amphiprion perideraion Bleeker). It remained in the lower regions of the anemone and did not parade around in the tops of the tentacles as the Barrier Reef Anemones did.

The two juvenile Anemonefish were of distinctly different shapes and colors. I have been unable to identify them, but will continue to look into it.

Crinoids are wonderful to see, if you realize that the living specimens on the coral reef are living relatives of fossils that are 450 million years old. They resemble a flower and are variously called a sea lily or a feather star. They are members of the same phylum as starfish, sea urchins and sand dollars. As animals, they feed by sweeping plankton out of the water with their “feathers”.

All photos were taken with our tried and true Canon PowerShot SD800 IS digital ELPH, in its underwater housing.


A Walk around Kuto Peninsula

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

Our favorite walk on the Isle des Pins is at Kuto Peninsula, which follows the shoreline through a forest of Araucaria columnaris pines and pandanus trees, which grow on a base of fossilized coral, many of which are rooted on the tops of ledges jutting out over the water.

During his second voyage in 1774, Captain Cook visited New Caledonia. Jacques Brosse, in his book, Great Voyages of Exploration, 1983, wrote:

“To the south of New Caledonia, he discovered a small island remarkable for its high conifers, which were so crowded together that from a distance they looked like basalt columns. The species belonged to the genus Araucaria, then unknown. These Auracaria columnaris, which measured as high as 70 meters, looked like giant pines, and Cook therefore called the place the Isle of Pines.”

Cook and his carpenter thought these newly discovered trees would be ideal for ships’ masts. On his way to New Zealand, Cook discovered the uninhabited island which he named Norfolk Isle, and on which he discovered the Auracaria tree now called the Norfolk Island pine.

Wikipedia provides the following information:

“Members of Araucaria are found in Chile, Argentina, southern Brazil, New Caledonia, Norfolk Island, Australia, and New Guinea. ………. These columnar trees are living fossils, dating back to early in the Mesozoic age. ……… By far the greatest diversity exists in New Caledonia, due to the island’s long isolation and stability.[4]

“It is believed that the long necks of sauropod dinosaurs may have evolved specifically to browse the foliage of the typically very tall Araucaria trees. The global distribution of vast forests of Araucaria during the Jurassic makes it likely that they were the major high energy food source for adult sauropods.[10]”

During our walk, it became obvious that the columnaris pines grow quite well on fossilized coral, and on the windward side of the island. The edible seeds of the trees are similar to our familiar “pine nuts”, and plant themselves plentifully beneath their tall parent trees. Some seedlings were sprouting from holes in fossilized coral heads. Trees felled by the wind quickly decompose and provide soil for the seedlings.

Impressions of many types of coral were clearly visible underfoot. Several small, sandy bays had been carved into the shoreline by the waves, and were filled with white pumice stones which had floated ashore from an ocean volcano many miles away. Patches of living coral colored the water offshore.

The trail ended at the backyard of our friends Cleo and Albert, which is full of convict ruins, and overlooking beautiful Kanumera Bay.

A Drive around Ile des Pins with Cleo

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

Generous to us as usual, Cleo carried us in her little white car from her home to Vao for the farmers’ market, and to two of the grocery stores (épiceries) on the island. I was able to re-provision really well, since the supply ship had recently visited the island, and the two weddings on the island were over. The past two weeks had been slim pickings for grocery and produce shoppers like us. Several of the women on the island are excellent gardeners, and sell at the open-air marché: billows of Italian parsley and Cilantro (which the locals call Chinese parsley), just-picked lettuces, interestingly-shaped and delicious tomatoes, tiny carrots still wearing their feathery tops, beautiful white radishes which we grate and serve sprinkled with cream, Bok choy for our Hong Kong fried rice dish, fresh basil to serve with the tomatoes, crisp and curly freshly-picked green beans (haricots verts) and more.

Other women sell: gorgeous papayas, green bananas (so they don’t all ripen on the same day), fresh local escargots if we want them, smoked corn on the cob (which we haven’t tried yet), fresh baguettes (better than what the bakery sells), sometimes fresh fish (which we have not tried for fear of Ciguatera poisoning), occasionally large, black crabs, and several items of produce which we have not yet identified.

At the two épiceries I bought a locally-grown large frozen chicken, a package of our favorite Toulouse sausages, a pack of frozen large pork chops and bell peppers, apples and pears just off the supply ship. We can also buy large purple grapes imported from Australia and lovely French cheeses and sliced ham for our lunchtime sandwiches on the baguettes.

We traveled with Cleo to the airport, where she received six boxes from Noumea containing fabrics for Albert to paint, calendars for 2015, copies of books she has published and more. Ian and Ellen were a great help to Cleo in loading the heavy boxes into the car, and then off loading them at Cleo’s house, and into Albert’s Cinema building.

On the way to and from the airport, we drove through the “plateau” of the island, where the minier soils (Peridotites and Serpentines) support an assortment of plants which are close to 100% endemic, including numerous orchids which we could see. Isolated from other lands, geologically and ecologically, large areas of New Caledonia have these ultrabasic soils, which are nearly completely lacking in phosphorus, potassium and calcium, elements considered as indispensable to plant life. In addition the miniers soils are also rich in nickel, manganese, magnesium and other metals considered toxic to plants.

The adaptation of the flora to these very special conditions has resulted in the multiplication of endemic species, which fortunately are not threatened by invasive species from overseas which cannot tolerate the soils. Many of the endemic plants could not subsist without the help of mycorrhizae fungi or symbiotic bacteria which fix atmospheric nitrogen in the soil or intervene in the mobilization of certain mineral elements. (Several of these phrases have been translated by me from the book, “Fleurs et plantes de Nouvelle-Calédonia,” Maurice Schmid, Les Editions du Pacific, 2000).

Also unique to the plateau region are the approximately 400 Tumulis. These are mounds of earth, about two to three meters in height and 10 to 15 meters in diameter, covered with shrubbery. Theories about their origin include nesting areas for a large, flightless bird like a New Zealand Moa. Numerous archaeologists have studied them, and there is still no resolution to the question of the origin of these quite ancient mounds.

Steve collected us and our shopping bags in ALLEGRO from the dinghy dock, after I had hailed him on our Motorola family radios.

We arrived back at ADAGIO just before the rain began, enabling us to put the final touches on pre-storm preparations. As it turned out, most of the forecast heavy rain was deflected by Grande Terre and never made it to Ile des Pins. The strong winds forecast did not arrive the following day, and we spent a pleasant day resting, reading and napping.

Steve had been helping Cleo learn about self-publishing resources. She has completed a novel and is putting the finishing touches on a collection of short stories. She has already published several printed books about the Ile des Pins. Deb has been super helpful with advice for Cleo, referring Steve to some of her publishing circle. Our New Zealand writer friend, Eva Brown, has been contributing ideas and sources.

Meanwhile Steve was helping Tony and Brigitte to get the most value from their Mac and iPad. Before long Brigitte had gifted us with a very large pumpkin/squash from her garden.

The following day, the weather was favorable for a passage from Ile des Pins to Noumea, so we enjoyed a pleasant 9-hour sail back to the Big Smoke of Noumea, in time to attend a Festival of the Lagoon near the Port Moselle marina over the weekend. We needed to re-provision with wine and other grocery items that cannot be purchased in Ile des Pins.

Annual Fair at Ile des Pins, 2014

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

Over the Pentecost 3-day weekend, the people of the Ile des Pins put on a fun fair, to display their arts, farm products, dances, music, culture and environmental awareness to other New Caledonians (as well as to tourists like us).

About 40 stalls had been set up in the sports grounds near the town of Vao. Each stall was decorated with beautifully woven palm fronds, flowers, shells, fronds woven into birds, turtles, fish and more. Numerous artists displayed their works. Farmers displayed their best Yams (which is a very important part of the tribal culture) and other produce. One stall was selling large black crabs at a good price. Food stalls offered wonderful eats. Groups of children were totally engaged in artfully presented educational materials concerning sea life preservation and protection of the Southern Lagoon of New Caledonia. A stage had been erected with a sound system, and the local dance group performed their traditional dances, accompanied by local musicians playing drums and singing. We enjoyed Tahitian Salad (fresh tuna marinated in lime juice and coconut milk) and chocolate cake for lunch. We met many interesting locals who showed us their hand made and ornate Ukeleles, seashell jewelery, baskets and designs woven of palm fronds, hand crafted models of traditional outrigger canoes, and other wood carvings. On Sunday there was more dancing, music and even a fireworks display.

After the fair we drove to the beautiful Oure Resort at the far end of Kanumera Bay, to entertain Cleo and Albert in a round of tropical cocktails and enjoyable conversation. As we were departing the hotel, the nearly full moon overhead was encircled by a large “moonbow”. It was spectacular but impossible to photograph. Quite a sight that none of us had seen before. It was the perfect ending to a very pleasant day.

We returned our rental car to the Hotel Kou-Bugny and found our way on foot in the dark, but moon-lit night, to ALLEGRO waiting for us at the dinghy dock, to return us to ADAGIO.

Island Tour in rental car


Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

It was high time we showed Ellen around the Ile des Pins, and reacquainted ourselves with some of our favorite haunts. We collected our rental car at the lovely Kou-Bugny Hotel, on the waterfront at Kuto Bay, and drove north.

On the NE corner of IDP is the tricky-to-enter Baie d’Oro. Oro Bay also must be exited at the top of high tide, and in suitable weather. So our time inside Oro Bay has been special – listening every night to the seas crashing on the reef protecting the small anchorage.


On the south shore of the bay is the ***** Le Méridien Ile des Pins. This is the real thing – the honeymooner’s dream resort. Not surprisingly, many of the guests are Japanese newly-weds. We stopped there for our first coffee of the day.

There are several limestone caves on the island, and the most accessible one is the Grotto of Queen Hortense. The trail to the entrance of the grotto is through an impressive rain forest of luxuriant tropical vegetation. We were engulfed by beautiful ferns and surrounded by New Caledonian Kaori trees, which are closely related to New Zealand Kauri trees, really tall tree ferns, and enormous vines. The grotto itself is wide open to the forest, with long stalagtites hanging above our heads as we entered. It was in this bat-filled cave where the Kunie Queen Hortense hid during local political upheavals in the 1800’s.

Near the grotto, we heard the unusual song of the New Caledonian Imperial Pigeon, called a Notou (Ducula goliath), the largest tree dweller pigeon on earth. The song can only be described as sounding like the fog horn on the Golden Gate Bridge. No kidding.

The Melanesian inhabitants of Ile des Pins call themselves Kunie. Vao is the only town/village on the island, where the Catholic church, farmers’ market, post office, bank, doctor’s office, Mayor’s building and épicerie (small grocery store) are located. Eight tribes are scattered around the island, each living on its own tribal land. When a child is born and grows up, the tribal chief allocates a parcel of land for a house to be built. The Big Chief lives near Vao.

The Kunie language is spoken among the islanders, who also speak French. Europeans on the island serve as teachers, police, medical professionals and air-traffic controllers. The main roads and airport were build by American servicemen during WWII.

As we toured the island, we passed some of the homes where the locals live. It is traditional to build two buildings, one for sleeping quarters and a second for cooking and living areas. Some of the buildings have been built in the traditional manner with conical thatched roofs; others have been built of cinder blocks, and still others are framed in local wooden poles from the native Kohu tree, with woven palm fronds for the walls. Often there is a covered outdoor seating and dining area. Gardens are primarily filled with colorful native plants and tropical flowers, overshadowed by enormous Poinciana trees, or in the shade of a huge Banyan tree with vertical roots plunging down from the horizontal branches.

It is popular to decorate a house with fishing net floats that have been collected from the beaches. All sizes and colors of floats make trees and homes appear to be festooned with glass Christmas ornaments. Gardens are often encircled by large clam shells, and planted in Vanilla bean orchids which climb up the trunks of trees. Papayas, oranges, limes, and mandarins grow abundantly in the casual orchards. Occasionally we would see an enormous Mango tree, covered with thousands of flowers. Every few kilometers we would spot a steer, tied in a pasture to graze, waiting to be the invited to dinner at an upcoming wedding. Farmers’ gardens where men have planted their traditional Yams, beneath banana and papaya trees, could be seen from the road.

At Baie Saint-Maurice, we visited the memorial to the first Marist missionaries who disembarked in the Ile des Pins in 1848, and WWI war memorial. Surrounding the religious statue are many wooden poles that have been carved by members of all of the Kunie tribes on the Ile des Pins. Amusing faces and sea creatures are the primary subjects of the carvings.

Near Kuto Bay, where ADAGIO was anchored, is the Gendarmerie (police station), bakery, a couple of grocery stories, and best of all the Boutique owned by our friends Cleo and Albert, where their home is located. Our friends Tony and Brigitte live there, too, and Tony has his own boutique for wood carvings. These four European friends have lived in Ile des Pins for nearly forty years, have built their own houses, gardens and businesses. Originally founders of the first SCUBA dive resort in New Caledonia, they now make and sell their art and written publications from their two gift shops located near Kuto Bay. We have known them since our first visit to Ile des Pins in year 2000. It is always wonderful to see them, catch up on all of their news and learn more about New Caledonia.This 

Lifou – underwater at Cap Mande

Click the thumbnail for photo gallery

All of the Loyalty Islands are ancient atolls made of fossilized coral, which have been uplifted numerous times, beginning during the Tertiary, forming a series of platforms in a stair-step arrangement, from the sea up to the center of the island. A platform in the center of the island is the original bottom of the ancient lagoon, and the high cliffs along the shoreline are the ancient fringing coral reefs. The porous fossilized coral is well drained, so there are no streams or rivers, but there is a deep fresh water aquifer beneath Lifou. The island of Ouvea has no aquifer, so the inhabitants get their fresh water from a desalination plant.

Because there is no runoff from the islands, the water is crystal clear and the visibility is in the dozens of meters, making for brilliantly clear, in-focus underwater photos. We piled into our catamaran dinghy ALLEGRO and visited some of the underwater caves located in the lee of the high fossilized coral cliffs south of us. Acres and acres of coral shelves spreading out from the bases of the cliffs, support every kind of hard coral you can imagine, in all colors, shapes and sizes, all in excellent condition. We watched fish we had never seen before, both above the coral shelves and in the deep blue waters surrounding the shelves.