The Banks Islands, Northern Vanuatu

Sun 21 Sep 2003 09:57
21st Sept 2003. On passage to the Polynesian Outlier Tikopia in the Santa
Cruz Is.

Dear All,

We have now departed Vanuatu and, with the depths of the Pacific beneath the
keel, are speeding along for the lonely island of Tikopia virtually the
eastern-most of the Solomon Islands chain. Our last few weeks in the Banks
Islands have built gradually to a crescendo and with it is with both regret
and relief that we sail away from such a wonderful and easy-going group of
islands as Vanuatu.

Having anchored in Dives Bay in Ureparapara, surrounded by the steep rim of
the ancient volcanic crater and with a stern anchor out to keep our bow to
the rolling swells, we were greeted by Chief Nickelson in his dugout. An
explanation followed that there was a wedding in the village the next day
and therefore much feasting and dancing and that we would be very welcome to
come as his 'Invited Guests', a term that included couples from the two
other yachts in the bay and the local policemen and priests. What's more, he
explained that as this would be "very free" for us (definitely our favourite
phrase from Vanuatu)! We donated a small pile of salt and chilli powder
towards the cooking effort and were asked if we could make a cake for the
couple. Without an oven, only the pressure cooker where we also bake our
bread, and limited supplies Katharine managed to find a recipe for a banana
and lemon cake, which was decorated with flowers at the feast the next day
and cut very solemnly by the Bride and Groom. I am not sure who was
happier; the village who had a proper cake to cut like they had seen in
pictures of angelical weddings in the UK, or Katharine who could not
believe she had managed to produce a wedding cake at a moments notice!

The celebrations were to start before seven o'clock the following morning
and, as it got underway, the difference between this and the wedding on
Uripiv could not have been more staggering. We were now in the domain of the
staunchly Anglican Diocese of Melanesia (proud receiver of some of the
collection money given so freely at home) and the full church wedding
service with Holy Communion followed. The voracity of the singing, of well
known hymns but sung in pidgin, English and also the village language, would
have made most choir masters at home extremely jealous. Apparently, more
missionaries from the London Missionary Society were eaten in Vanuatu than
anywhere else but since their adoption of Christianity they certainly make
the most of it and the wedding service was great fun and really upbeat.

A very civilized breakfast followed and the atmosphere was definitely that
of a well organised school sports-day, mainly thanks to the MC with his
handheld loudhailer. Teams of cooks were organised for the various meals and
soon the 'musicians' were tuning up their war drums ready for the dancing.
Several hours of feast and traditional kastom dancing followed, with many
fancy headdresses (also extremely worthy of a school open-day) and a long
parade of present giving and spraying of the guests with talcum powder (for
which there was no explanation). Katharine spent the intervals learning to
make coconut leaf balls with a gaggle of village girls and then being
thoroughly beaten by them at catch. The feasting and music continued until
about 8pm and then the disco really did start up. I drank as much kava as I
could stomach and still utterly failed to notice any effect and we departed
at about midnight. The party however continued to rage until 7am.

Ureparapara has some of the most dramatic scenery we have seen in the whole
of Vanuatu. It is an extinct volcanic cone jutting straight out of the sea,
however the rim has been breached and the anchorage is in the ancient
crater. We were therefore completely surrounded by the very steep wooded
slopes and about two miles from the opening to the sea. Arriving ashore the
next morning we met Riley Hilary, one of the deputy chiefs, who agreed to
guide us up to the crater's edge. It would have been difficult without him
as for a lot of the hike we seemed to be following no specific path and the
poisonous trees are well worth avoiding. The gradient got increasingly
steeper and virtually precipitous near the top but worth it for the amazing
view. South we could see the rest of the Banks Group stretching away from us
with sulphur pumping out of Vanua Lava. On the other side we could see
Kokiri nestled in the coral reefs at the head of the bay next to the compact
village and the stunning sharp crater edge surrounding the bay.

That afternoon we set off for the Reef Islands, the only true coral atoll in
Vanuatu, about ten miles away into the south east trades. We had seen them
clearly from the top and they didn't look too far. Unfortunately we did not
take the current into account and by the time we realised we were not going
to make it in daylight it was too late. We nosed up to the lee side of the
reef in pitch darkness, with the help of the radar picking out the few sandy
islands as the charted position was over a mile out on the GPS, and dropped
the hook as soon as we had reasonable soundings. In the morning we woke up
to the amazing sight of turquoise sea all around us and the crystal clear
water showing us we had anchored about 20 yards away from the bomies ahead.
Phew! We re-anchored right in amongst the bomies in white sand surrounded by
dramatic coral heads. Neither of us had ever seen an atoll before and it
was just magic. No other yachts, no village and therefore no canoes. Just
us. We had meant to be there only a night and move on to a festival we knew
was going on on the next island, but it was so perfect we had to stay. We
had been looking for a place we really liked where we could get on with some
jobs and things. Here was perfect and we ended up staying four nights. The
snorkelling was amazing and we saw some huge rays on the bottom and
gracefully flying through the water. We also finally saw some giant clams
and far bigger reef fish than we have seen before. Even the sandy islands
were amazing, with very different vegetation as well as millions of hermit
crabs, lung fish type things, sand digging crabs and even the occasional

However we were keen to see the Morfeys on Flight of Time and say goodbye
before finally leaving Vanuatu and heading north. So we tore ourselves
reluctantly away and headed for Waterfall Bay in Vanua Lava. They are
heading back up wind for New Zealand and will meet up with Troubadour in
Whangarei when they get there in November. We sailed around the southern
side of Vanua Lava the following evening, again relying on the radar, to the
very rolly anchorage at Sola where we cleared customs and Immigration and
set off for Tikopia in the Solomons the following day.

Goodbye lovely Vanuatu. It has been a most stunning and wonderful place to
start our cruise. 37 days and 21 anchorages and not too much money spent!
The scenery is spectacular, both lush and volcanic and people could not have
been friendlier or more generous. They are fit and very healthy, especially
the children (apparently 50% of the population is under 14). So we leave it
having had a truly tremendous time and we look forward to everything that
the Solomon's have to offer ahead!

And now from the calm and dramatic anchorage in Tikopia we leave off until
another day. Hope that all is well in the UK or wherever you are reading

Loads and loads of love

Peter and Katharine