Exploring the Bay of Islands, Vanua Balavu, Fiji – PICTURES!

Bula, Bula!!

Wanted to send a quick update and pictures. I took the dinghy a few miles to windward to find an internet signal. Sitting on a rock on a white sand beach to get the best signal. I came out here to order some boat parts….this time it’s our battery monitor. Having it sent to Savusavu.

We we have been having a blast here with SKABENGA and TRUE BLUE V. We have been kayaking, hiking, exploring caves, having beach bonfire BBQs, dice nights and just hanging out. We still haven’t moved our anchor and aren’t planning for at least a few more days. We did Sevusevu at the village yesterday; it was mellow with no kava drinking. Beautiful village and friendly locals. I’ll send a longer update later.

Here are some pics off the iPad from the past week. We are anchored in a small bay in between those islands in the first picture:image

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We Found It and We’re Never Leaving – Bay of Islands, Vanua Balavu, Fiji

When sailors die and go to heaven one of the anchorages available to them will be Ships Sound in Vanua Balavu, Fiji. We moved over here this morning and once we set the hook in 25 feet of turqouise water over fine white powdery sand, we knew we made it to where we were always searching. There is 360 degree protection afforded by the barrier reef and then a string of volcanic islets covered in vegetation and what look similar to pine trees. The water is flat, despite the prevailing trades blowing over 20 offshore. The sounds of the waves lapping against the undercuts of the tall volcanic rock islets and the birds are the only sounds to be heard. Above the bay are towering mountains providing the protection from the prevailing winds. The color of the water is incredible and no matter how hard I try I cannot get a picture to accurately reflect its beauty. We both feel that we have found our true paradise and both have an overwhelming feeling of peace and contentment. I was not kidding when we said we were never leaving. We have decided to keep Ellie in Fiji for the foreseeable future. She will live on a cyclone mooring in Savusavu during the cyclone season and we will come back out here next year. It’s that amazing here. It is more beautiful, more peaceful, more incredible than any place we have sailed or anchored during the entire voyage. We’re home to stay.

We have the anchorage to ourselves today but our friends on the catamaran SKABENGA (remember them?!?!) and our Aussie friends on TRUE BLUE V will be joining us here on Tuesday. We have so much fun together and I’m sure many adventures and wild times are to come over the next couple weeks. Stay tuned for the updates.

The other anchorage at Mbavatu (Nabavatu) was awesome as well. We went hiking to the top of this amazing lookout and took some phenomenal pictures that we will upload once we find internet again. The plantation was in great shape and we spent an afternoon sitting on the porch in rocking chairs just taking in the beauty and watching the locals lasso a wild horse. We enjoyed kayaking the bay and meeting some other cruisers. We’ll be back.

Well, cheers from our paradise found. We really hope we can share this spot with our friends and family one day. We aren’t leaving anytime soon so start saving up for airfare to come visit.

Manuia and Vinaka Vaka Levu,
Lewis & Alyssa

August 23, 2015

Ships Sound, Bay of Islands, Vanua Balavu, Lau Group, Fiji

Anchored:
17 10.631 S
179 00.890 W

Bashing Our Way Back to Windward to visit the Remote Lau Group – We’re in Vanua Balavu!

This morning finds us bashing into tradewind seas, as we have done all night. It is not comfortable or easy on poor ol’ Ellie girl, but we can all take a one-night beating; for the spoils of remote Vanua Balavu are beckoning. We have motor-sailed – or rather ‘bashed’ – 100 miles since departing early Tuesday morning and have another 40 rhumbline miles to go before we reach the protected lagoon of Vanua Balavu. It’s a wet and rough ride but if the engine keeps up the pace we should be in by noon. So far the new heat exchanger we installed in Savusavu is working like a champ. [I wrote that under way. The rest I wrote this morning at anchor.]

We left Savusavu Wednesday morning after loading up on vegetables and bundles of kava from the market. It’s funny seeing big bundles of kava in our hanging baskets, but each village we visit requires that we present a bundle of kava roots to the Chief and participate in a Sevusevu ceremony (more on that later). The heat exchanger arrived last Saturday and we installed it on Tuesday. I ran all over town on Monday looking for radiator hose but none of the stores had a length long enough to reach the inlet/outlet ports on the new exchanger, which of course had ports configured differently than the old one. I did not want to spend another week or two in port waiting for a longer length of hose (that would have been more than fine for the Princess, she loves close proximity mooring, while I feel claustrophobic). So I disconnected the water heater hose and used that to plumb the new heat exchanger. Now the engine will not heat the water in the water heater but we can still use the generator to make hot water. The install went well and the engine is running like a champ! We have been hammering the engine at 2,000 rpm for the past day pushing into the wind and seas and the temperature has yet to climb above 155F.

With most our errands done, we were doing some final prep and running last minute errands when we ran into a backpacker friend from Tonga, Miriam (somehow spelled with a J – she’s Dutch). She asked where we were headed and we said Taveuni. She wanted to come along so we invited her to sail with us for the day. We had the dinghy on deck and secured by 0800 Wednesday morning and headed out to sea on a beautiful sunny day. We enjoyed a mostly motor-sail to windward into the lee of Taveuni. We picked up a mooring off the Paradise Resort and went in for happy hour. The sunset was incredible and set right over Ellie while we relaxed under the palm-thatch roof on the cliffs edge. We returned to the boat via borrowed kayak from the resort and enjoyed a delicious dinner. After dark we bid farewell to Miriam, cast off the mooring lines and put back to sea, bound for Vanua Balavu, another 70 miles to windward, directly upwind.

We sailed out of the lee of Taveuni and were hit with 26 knots on the nose. It was funneling around the island and kicking up seas. I pushed the engine to 2,000, tucked in a double reef, and pushed hard into it. We were 40 degrees off the wind making 5 knots SOG and taking water over the boat with each wave. It was tough going but ol’ Ellie girl knows how to bash to windward. We continued taking our beating and fighting back and eventually the wind subsided below 20 knots and our speed increased. We split the night watch – I took the first half and Alyssa the second. I did my best to avoid getting sick and throwing up and I managed to hold it together, the Mermaid was not so lucky. Sunrise was beautiful and the sunny morning saw us sailing in between the islands of the Lau Group. I imagined that only 500 years ago there were Fijian and Polynesian war canoes traversing these same waters; they would have been filled with savage cannibal warriors. Not something you would want to see if you were on passage to another island out here. After five tacks and 100 miles, we made it to the QilaQila Pass on the NE side of the reef. The charts were off so I lined up the range marks and, with Alyssa on the bow, we threaded our way through the reef and into the huge protected lagoon. We were both elated to have made it and both awestruck at the sheer rugged beauty of this place.

Vanua Balavu in the Lau Group of Fiji is a little visited group of islands set inside a 150km barrier reef. The islands are steep volcanic rock covered with very lush foliage. The water is an amazing variety of turquoise contrasted with deep blues. The scene upon entering is similar to Vava’u in Tonga but with an encircling barrier reef, much less boats, take away all the Kiwi and Aussie expats, remove the western influence and you start to get a better picture. The Lau has just recently been opened up to cruising yachts, so most of the traditional way of life has been preserved here. There is little to no development or westernization. Most of the cruising yachts that visit Fiji will not make the trip out here. It’s a tough 140 mile bash back to windward, which most cruisers prefer not to make. Also, most cruisers attend seminars in Savusavu where they are scared into following set waypoints for fear of running into uncharted reefs. So they will all follow the same path, visit the same places, and all end up piled up at the last waypoint before departing fiji. Not us. We have a saying we like to use in times such as this, “to the adventurers go the spoils.” The feeling we had upon entering this lagoon was almost indescribable. I’ll try and fail but it was one of elation, awe, satisfaction, pride and accomplishment. In short, we made it.

After entering the lagoon we turned to port and motored around the north side of the islands, threaded our way past uncharted coral hazards and entered Mbavatu (or Nabavatu) Harbor. The harbor provides excellent protection from almost every direction and the water is like a lake in here. There are towering lush cliffs on all sides, a bit reminiscent of Thailand. There are baby turtles swimming around the boat, schools of fish being hunted by predators and what sounds like monkeys howling in the hills. We slept like rocks last night and enjoyed a very peaceful breakfast this morning in our private bay. Alyssa is quietly reading in the cockpit and has declared a “day off.” I am in full support. We have been putting in some serious miles over the past week or so and it’s time for rest.

There is much to explore here and many new stories will be told. We plan to spend at least a couple weeks here gunkholing around the dozen or so great anchorages in the Bay of Islands. We’re a bit apprehensive about our first Sevusevu (obligatory kava ceremony), but I’m sure it will be a wonderful experience, I just hope I can process the dirty kava water better than I did in Kiribati. Stay tuned for the update.

From our paradise to yours.

Cheers,
Lewis & Alyssa

August 21, 2015

Mbavatu Harbor, Vanua Balavu, Lau Group, Fiji

Anchored:
17 11.211 S
179 00.043 W

Bula from Savusavu, Fiji!

Coming to you live from Savusavu. We entered the bay this morning as the sun was cresting over Vanua Levu in bright shades of fire red and orange. The island came into view and was lush, rugged and a welcoming respite from the rolling swells we have been enduring. We fired up the engine about 2 miles out of Savusavu and the chopsticks held up while Ellie made her way into the very protected river. The river is full of yachts but we snagged what seemed like the last available mooring and are floating peacefully less than 40 yards from the Copra Shed Marina dock. 

The Fijian officials boarded us in a procession of three separate visits. We had to clear health, biosecurity, customs and immigration. They were all friendly and after much paper shuffling and stamping we were officially cleared into the Island Nation of Fiji. We raised our Fijian flag and then promptly went in search of some food in town. We chowed down on some great Hindi food and washed it all down with Fijian Bitter beer, great tasting stuff.

As we strolled the busy streets of Savusavu I kept saying to Alyssa, “this is a crazy place.” It most certainly is. We are definitely not in Polynesia anymore. The people are distinctly Fijian and Melanesian mixed with a large Indian population. Almost all the women sport a huge Afro puff and the Indians are easy to spot in their gold trim and dotted foreheads. Everyone is incredibly friendly and gives out a hearty “Bula!” as we pass. The market is amazing and full of vegetables – Alyssa is in heaven and will be loading up tomorrow.

We have paid our fees and were granted a four month visa. After only a day here we sure want to stay much longer. We may be looking into our options further. Flat water, great food, friendly locals, amazing cruising, incredible scenery and low cost of living. We may have found a true paradise.

We have also been informed that our package is in Nadi and will be sent here early next week. We should have the engine back to 100% by the end of next week. Then we’ll look at the chart, pick an island and go exploring! In the meantime we plan to eat at every Indian restaurant in town.

Bula from Fiji!!!

Lewis & Alyssa

August 14, 2015

Savusavu, Vanua Levu, Fiji

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Tonga to Fiji – Day 3 – Traversing Reef Strewn Waters at Night – Lakemba Passage Waypoints

The sun is slowly rising on day three of our passage and the silhouettes of Thitia, Mango and Tuvutha Islands are on the horizon. We have spent an exhausting and stressful night navigating through the awash low-lying reefs of the Lau Group. We were aiming for the Vanua Belavu Passage but the wind pushed us close to the Lakemba Passage to the south. We didn’t have waypoints for the Lakemba but it was three times as wide. The only other negative was that there was not a single palm tree to get a radar return off of. We checked all three of our chart sources and decided it was just as safe as the Vanua Belavu. It was a very nerve racking night as we used our electronic charts to thread Ellie through the reef-strewn waters. We were not able to pick up a radar signature at all until we were 30 miles into the reefs and we finally picked up Tuvutha Island and verified our charts were dead on accurate; that provided a big reassurance to know exactly where we were. I included our waypoints below for those following in our wake.

We’re still running downwind towards Savusavu Bay, 110 nm NW of our current position. We’ll take our time and plan to arrive off the point at first light. We’ll probably take a few jibes up the Koro Sea and come close to a few islands for some entertainment.

But now I need to get some rest. Time to wake up the reluctant Princess.

Cheers from Fijian Waters!

Lewis & Alyssa

August 13, 2015

17 42 S
179 06 W

Lakemba Passage Waypoints Used:
***USE AT YOUR OWN RISK. NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR ERRORS OR LIABILITY ARISING FROM ANY USE WHATSOEVER***

17 47.4 S, 178 18.5 W
17 54.2 S, 178 37.0 W
17 50.6 S, 178 53.4 W
17 41.7 S, 179 07.1 W

Tonga to Fiji – Day 2 – Halfway!

All is well out here. We have made great time thus far having sailed 195 miles since leaving early yesterday morning. We are halfway to Savusavu. We plan to be off Vanua Belavu (Lau Group) at sunrise tomorrow, transit the reefs and then sail overnight to Savusavu, arriving Friday morning at first light. We wish we could stop at Vanua Belavu, but the authorities require you to continue on another full day to Savusavu for clearance. Frustrating.

We slipped our mooring at 0430 Tuesday morning and transited the 8 miles out of Vava’u in the dark with the aid of lighted ranges, chartplotter and radar navigation. The only thing we worried about were whales but luckily we didn’t have any more close encounters. The chopsticks held up well and the engine purred and the temp stayed around 154 degrees. Once clear of the last few islands in Vava’u, we raised our sails, set the monitor windvane and tore off across the Pacific bound for the Fijian Islands. The past 30 hours have been very fast sailing with 20 knots on the beam. We were shooting for the well known Oneata Passage due west of Tonga but the wind would not allow it. It was too hard on the boat and we fell off to the north. We are now aiming for Vanua Belavu and will transit through the reefs of the Lau group just south of Vanua Belavu. There is an island to the south that we should be able to pick up on radar (Katafaga Island) to verify our position before threading the needle through the reefs. Once we put Katafaga to port we should be able to pick up Munia, Mago and Vatuvara before using the lights on the points of Rock Island and Vuna Reef to guide us towards Savusavu Bay. If someone can send us waypoints for the Vanua Belavu passage that would be a nice comfort. Also, check Google earth satellite images to verify all the reefs are included in the latest Navionics charts (you can view these charts online for free). We would need before midnight tonight.

The wind is forecast to continue clocking east, allowing us to put the wind on the quarter instead of on the beam. The leftover seas have been a but uncomfortable but are subsiding now. We’re hoping for the rest of the passage to be more pleasant.

If someone can send us info on the Vanua Belavu passage that would be greatly appreciated. If someone can look at this on Google to see if there is a reef there it would be much appreciated.

If we can’t verify some waypoints then we’ll likely stand off the outer reefs until first light and then sail through.

We’ll write again tomorrow morning while transiting the reefs of the Lau Group.

Bula!

Lewis & Alyssa

August 12, 2015
On passage Tonga to Fiji
17 59 S
177 17 W
167 T
7.1 KTS SOG

Fixed the Heat Exchanger with Bamboo Chopsticks – Fiji Here We Come!

Yesterday I pulled apart the heat exchanger, filled the fresh water coolant side with water and found that 7 of the 19 copper tubes were leaking on one of the passes. I was considering using JB Weld to plug the holes on both sides but asked Alyssa if we had any wood dowels that would fit the tubes. She looked around the galley and handed me a set of bamboo chopsticks that we had bought in Chinatown back in San Francisco. They happened to fit perfectly into the tubes. We had enough to plug both sides of the 7 offending tubes so I hammered them in and broke them off flush. I filled the coolant side again and no leaks! We re-installed it, flushed the cooling system and ran the engine up to temp. I’m sure there are many mechanics that are cringing right now but it’s holding coolant, not restricting any raw water flow compared to normal and the engine temp is staying cool after the thermostat opens. Only time will tell if our jury-rig-bamboo-chopstick repair holds up. We’re just hoping it makes it to Savusavu, Fiji where we are having a new one shipped in from the US.

Today we’re clearing out, sending in our Fijian customs forms, picking up our laundry, stowing the dinghy and heading to another anchorage closer to the open sea. We plan to sail west at first light tomorrow morning (Tuesday Tonga, Monday in California). The passage is 420 miles, or three days at 5.5 knots. We’re hoping to be standing off Savusavu at first light Friday morning. 

We’ll write again en route. Hope everyone is having an excellent weekend.

Here are some pics from sailing around the islands and a couple of the bamboo chopstick repair:

 

A local woman collecting sea slugs. She even had an octopus in her bucket
A local woman collecting sea slugs. She even had an octopus in her bucket
These beautiful blue starfish were everywhere at low tide
These beautiful blue starfish were everywhere at low tide
The ark gallery in the Tapana anchorage
The ark gallery in the Tapana anchorage
I almost impaled my hand trying to husk this coconut. The efficiency of the Tongan guy made my technique pale in comparison
I almost impaled my hand trying to husk this coconut. The efficiency of the Tongan guy made my technique pale in comparison
The Princess and her creature comforts. There was a big smile after this blow-dry session.
The Princess and her creature comforts. There was a big smile after this blow-dry session.
Exploring Tapana Island
Exploring Tapana Island
We brought the kids Tootsi Pops - a huge hit
We brought the kids Tootsi Pops – a huge hit

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Anchored off Nuapapu
Anchored off Nuapapu
A beautiful blonde at the helm while sailing the flat waters of Vava'u....sailing doesn't get much better than that!
A beautiful blonde at the helm while sailing the flat waters of Vava’u….sailing doesn’t get much better than that!
Hammering in the chopsticks
Hammering in the chopsticks
Look at the holes in the bottom left. Plugged with chopsticks!
Look at the holes in the bottom left. Plugged with chopsticks!
Our send-off cocktail session with friends in Neiafu. Not hard to fill the cockpit when you have a keg of craft brew on tap.....the hard part is emptying the cockpit before the keg!
Our send-off cocktail session with friends in Neiafu. Not hard to fill the cockpit when you have a keg of craft brew on tap…..the hard part is emptying the cockpit before the keg!

 

Kicked in the Head by the Tail of a Humpback Whale!!!

You read the title correctly, I was almost knocked unconscious by the tail of an enormous wild humpback whale while swimming with a pod yesterday. It was scary, enthralling and disorienting at the same time. I am writing this with a huge bump/egg on the port side of my skull. I seem to be fine and waking up this morning was a success. So now that I have lived to tell the story, I shall begin…

Although we may have to sell some organs once we reach Australia to pay for food, we decided that we should not miss out on the once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with wild humpback whales. Vava’u is the only place I know of in the world where they allow people to get in the water with wild humpbacks. We spoke to a bunch of locals and found the best operator and the most highly recommended skipper. We booked with the operation, “Whales in the Wild!” and the skipper Shioni. It was a hefty sum of Pa’anga (money) but we can now say it was completely worth every penny.

We woke at 0600 and were on the dock by 0700. We blasted out of Neiafu at close to 30 knots aboard a 26 foot aluminum dive boat with a big 250hp outboard on the back. The process for finding whales is much like a game of cat and mouse. We blast around the outer islands looking for whale spouts. When we find one we get close and see if it is staying on the surface. Most dive deep and only surface once ever 15 minutes or so. Those are not the best whales to swim with since the interaction is very brief. After a few hours of cat and mouse we were tipped off to a pod of 10 whales about 2 miles from our location. We blasted over to the west side and bobbed around in the rough seas while the pod drew closer. The whales were slapping tails and fins and once in a while one would breach. It was exciting and we got our wetsuits on and prepared to jump in. The skipper maneuvered near the whales and said to jump in. Our hearts were racing as we swam as fast as we could to get close to the whales. We were less than 10 feet from a whale that was surfacing and there were three more directly below us. The enormity of the whales and the volume of their calls, mixed with the bubbles they release was amazing. We shot some great video and tried in vain to keep up with their pace but they were soon gone and we returned to the boat with adrenaline pumping through our veins.

We continued our search for the perfect opportunity to interact with the whales. By 1300 we were off the SW side of Hunga Island. There were a few whales in relatively shallow water, an excellent opportunity to swim with them since they can’t easily dive deep. It was our turn to jump in so Alyssa and I suited up and hung over the edge. He maneuvered close to the path of the whales and we jumped in and swam like hell to get close. As we got close the whales turned over on their backs and did some fin slaps and put on a show for us. Then they swam towards the open ocean and everyone followed….but me. I saw another whale coming my way and stayed put to wait for him. He slowly made his way towards me as my adrenaline was being pumped in on overdrive. I didn’t swim away and I was less than an arm’s length from his enormous eyeball as he swam past me with what seemed a quizzical look. As he was mostly past me I turned away to get a GoPro shot of me with this amazing creature in the background and as I was fumbling with the camera he turned to dive, whipped his tail sideways and then slapped it down right on the side of my head! It was a hard blow that knocked the snorkel off my mask, pushed me under the water and stunned me. The next thing I remember was processing what had just happened and seeing the others screaming “are you OK?!?” I replied yes and was shouting how incredible that just was.

We returned to the boat and swam again a few more times with other whales, had lunch in a beautiful protected cove and most importantly, lived to tell this story.

Here are some pictures from the day. I’ll try and upload a video or two but the internet here is painfully slow.

In other news, our heat exchanger on our main engine is toast [my fault – didn’t know you had to change zincs every month in the tropics!] and it’s leaking coolant into the raw water = not good. So today we’ll pull it apart and make a temporary repair. I am having a new one shipped into Fiji so it should be there when we arrive. Always something isn’t it…

And now, the pictures!!!

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Vava’u, Tonga – The weekend in Tapana and Finding Aisea Beach

We spent the weekend tucked in a protected bay in the lee of Tapana Island. The first two nights we anchored and the next three we spent on a mooring ball off the Ark Gallery. The Ark is a floating house boat that a lovely American couple built. Larry and Sherry are friendly and welcoming and we enjoyed visiting with them aboard the Ark and at the beach bonfire on Saturday night. On Saturday morning we called a cab and went into Neiafu for the nautical swap meet. We were able to sell some extra gear and came back to Tapana with 360 Pa’anga ($180 US); that will allow for some extra spending cash at the various resorts and feasts to be found around the archipelago.

Today the wind was howling 30 knots offshore and 25 through the islands. I really wanted to head to the east side to visit the more remote villages but it was not to be. We could have bashed against it but it would have been tough going and also would have really shaken up the beer we have fermenting. So in the interest of beer production – and in the interest of Princess happiness – we decided to slip around the corner and anchor in the lee of Pangiamotu. We are sure glad we did. Just coming around the corner from Tapana had us rolling down 3 foot waves and had the dinghy surfing into the Monitor windvane, I can only imagine what the scene would have been like transiting the pass at high tide with seas rolling over the reef and hitting our beam.

We are sure glad we came up here. At Tapana we were moored between 7 other boats in close proximity. Up here we have many miles of bay to ourselves, outstanding protection, extremely flat water and less than 10 knots of wind (when it’s blowing 25+ offshore) and we also have no swell (Tapana had a swell at high tide; and we were paying for the mooring down there!). One of the reasons there are no boats here must be that the guidebooks say that you can’t anchor in the bay due to a fishing farm. Well I can verify that the farm is no longer and the bay is clear. We are set in sand in 40 feet of azure blue water in the middle of the bight closest to shore with the white house. The white house is torn to bits by what seems the last cyclone. Any evidence of fishing is long gone. The only things here now are sheer cliffs, an abandoned house, and rainforest filled with singing birds. This is a lovely spot and anyone sailing Vava’u in the future and looking for protection and seclusion when the trades are up should take note of the waypoint at the bottom of this post.

We both had the feeling today that we are finally caught up on boat projects and can relax. It’s an amazing feeling and has been very elusive this season due to the fact that we have been covering so many miles. We were talking about the sheer number of man (and woman) hours it takes to have our house(boat) in order. At sunset today we had: a new autopilot (1 day of labor), a new spring replaced on the Monitor windvane (1 hour of labor), full water tanks (3 hours of effort today), new engine oil and a new filter change plus new coolant (2 hours of effort today), a keg of beer carbonating (5 hours of effort last week), the bottom of the boat was clean of dirt and barnacles (3 hours of work a couple days ago), the cabin was clean and orderly (many hours of Mermaid labor each day), and the topsides were clean and we were both showered. I’m sure there is a lot I am leaving out. It was just a very nice feeling to have most of the “to-do” boxes checked and have the boat in such great shape again. We both felt like we could breathe a sigh of relief and really enjoy ourselves.

Since the trades are still howling we have decided to sail downwind tomorrow and go explore Lape Island and Nuapapu. Great hiking, excellent diving, and friendly Tongan villages await. We’ll have to decide where to head for the weekend as a nasty frontal system is coming through that promises high winds and heavy squalls. We’ll either be in Hunga, which offers 360 degree protection, or back in Neiafu, for the entertainment.

We’ll write again from the next incredible Vava’u anchorage.

Cheers,
Lewis & Alyssa

August 4, 2015

Aisea Beach, Pangiamotu, Vava’u

Anchored:
18 41.837 S
173 59.904 W
Sand
40 Feet Depth