Sunday, 26 August 2012

Episode 10 New Cal's West Coast



Welcome Episode 10 of the Hog Blog. 

At the end of a jam packed Episode 9 we had made it safely back to Noumea after returning from the southern end of the mainland and Isle Of Pines.

We spent a few days cleaning and re-provisioning before spending the weekend of the 28th and 29th July exploring Noumea’s outer areas on our mountain bikes.

On the Saturday we explored the popular tourist area of Anse Vata which is in the southern sector of Noumea. The place is very clean being Noumea’s upper class area with lots of beautiful bays, beaches, resorts, restaurants and monuments.

The beach at Anse Vata

The ride to the top of Ouen Toro was a painful one but the ride back down was winding and fast.

The WW2 guns on top of Ouen Toro

The popular weekend bay of Baie Uere in the background

On the Sunday we chose to explore the western sector and rode out to Baie de Kuendu and the Kuendu Beach Resort.

The old penal colony ruins which are now part of the University

Kuendu Beach and Resort in the background

Monday morning we went in to see Aussie yachts Le Pan and Ruthian who had come into the Marina late Sunday arvo. We met them surfing at Dumbea and they had just returned from a 1 month surf trip up the west coast. They were very helpful and we found out a lot of info on where to surf and anchor safely. It was great to catch up and hear their travel stories. They took us to a local patisserie that was so close to the Marina but we didn’t know it existed. Paul was in pastry heaven. The variety and quality of the food was amazing. Next time we will take the camera there…

We left Noumea at 11am and motored 20nm north along the West Coast in near glass out conditions. As we anchored up behind the small but beautiful Ilot Moro we watched as the anchor sunk into the depths and could easily see it on the bottom. We just had to enjoy the clear viz so we went for a spear along the wall. The wall was undercut most of the way around making for some interesting terrain and some great sea caves.

Ilot Moro in near perfect conditions

Note the undercut  in the island along the waters edge

We listened to the weather report that night and heard the NSW coast is being battered with 35+ knots and over 6m swell with dangerous surf. We have no wind over 10 knots forecast for the next 10 days. Bad luck guys at home. So near yet so far... Looks like we might get some of that swell though. Yippee!!

Tuesday was an amazing day.
We lifted the anchor for the final 14nm runup to Ile Tenia. It was glassy flat so we had to motor and decided to set the trolling rods.
Paul set the first while we were still behind the island in only 8m and within 10 seconds it started screaming off. We dropped the fish being a little unprepared and so we re-set the lure and again it went screaming off. We dropped it again but a look at the lure revealed definite Spanish Mackeral bites. We had speared one along the wall yesterday so there must have been a few around.
The 14nm from Ile Moro to Ile Tenia was amazing. The reef edge is only about 6nm from the mainland with a lot of scattered islands in between. The terrain was amazing on the mainland, on the islands and underwater on the sounder. We went past scores of beautiful anchorages just waiting to be explored. We could spend the next 6 weeks exploring this part only and still not see it all!
Before anchoring at Ile Tenia we motored thru the pass to check out both the left and right hand surf breaks.
We anchored up in paradise at Ile Tenia. A beautiful sand fringed island in front, the surf breaks and outer reef edge to our side, good diving and snorkeling to the other side and large beautiful islands only 3nm behind us offering safe anchorages from most conditions if we need it. We couldn’t ask for more.

Ile Tenia in Front

Large Islands behind with the mainland in the background

An aerial photo of Ile Tenia and the surrounding reef

After an early lunch we snorkeled on the isolated bommies in the bay, drifting over them and swimming from one to the next. The fish life was amazing. You would think they have never seen a human before the way the came up to us and the camera. We think they liked having their photo taken.

Later in the day on the high tide, it was in with the boards and over to Tenia Rights for the first of many surfs here. Lisa’s neck was a little stiff and sore so she opted for a rest and watched Paul surf. It was only 3-4ft but very clean and consistent and he only had to wait about 1 minute between waves. After about 30 waves his arms were dead from paddling so we called an end to what was a magical day.

Well in true New Cal form, we woke to a grey rainy Wednesday in paradise. Typical!! It didn’t stop Paul surfing though and he went with Harry and Hayley who are off the only other boat anchored in the bay.
They are both very experienced surfers having surfed most of the hot spots in the Pacific.

Thursday turned out to be a beautiful and warm day with no wind and glassy conditions. Paul went surfing with Harry and Hayley (H&H) again and they scored near perfect conditions with a good swell.  Lisa went snorkeling and explored some new reef and got some cool reflection shots in the glassy conditions.

In the arvo we went for a walk on Ile Tenia. It‘s a large sand fringed Island and took us 90 minutes to walk around. We had the place all to ourselves.

Lisa’s Nautilus Shell she found on the Island.

Being our first time in New Cal we don’t know what are normal weather patterns for this time of year. All the other yachties we talk to are spinning out about the lack of wind. H&H have been here many times and say the winter months blow SE 20-25 knots constant. We have had one day of that since we got here! We downloaded the weather again today and there is nothing over 10 knots for the next 8 days with mostly light and variable winds.

Friday – Another glassy day in paradise.
Paul, H&H left early to surf the lefts. The conditions were superb with no wind, lots of sun, amazing U/W viz and big, big waves breaking over the reef. It was well over double-over-head and the biggest Paul has surfed in a very long time. The drops were huge and fast and we all had a great time returning stuffed and more importantly safe and intact.

In the arvo we both went spearing on the inner wall off the outer reef. The viz was amazing and in excess of 40m. We have not seen this sort of viz ever in such shallow water, only in places like the Coral Sea in the deep water.
On the way home we dropped off a decent size Coral Trout to H&H who were very appreciative.

Tenia Sunset with Harry and  Hailey’s yacht to the left

Saturday it was over the lefts again early to beat what was sure to be a rush of local boats later in the day. Fortunately we took both RIB’s. The surf was unbelievable!! It was smaller than yesterday at only 6-8 foot but was very clean and perfect. It was like pictures out of a surf magazine. Paul had never seen anything like it.  Unfortunately ½ way thru the surf Paul snapped his leg rope ducking under a wave and lost his board. Harry saw what had happened and paddled back to his dingy to rescue Paul who had managed to swim out of the impact zone.
They then took both tenders around the back of the reef hoping to recover the lost board. It could be anywhere as the inside of the reef is more than 800m from the break. Paul didn’t have much hope of finding it until Harry went over the reef (it was high tide) and picked it up within about 3 minutes of us starting to look. We were very lucky. Harry said he’d spent hours searching for boards here before. The blue colour of the board surprisingly stood out.
Paul returned to Lorelei and Lisa a little rattled but OK and an intact board.

We ditched the surf gear and loaded the spear gear and headed 3nm north to a reef we thought might be a good spear. The wall along the reef edge had a 2 knot current right along it so we decided to do a drift for 1.5nm down the wall. The terrain was amazing with stunning coral formations and bommies over the sand on the reef edge. The viz was still 35m+. The downside of that is the fish can also see you from a long way away. We also felt the fish life was a little lacking. That sort of terrain on the Aust. GBR would be packed with fish of all sorts.
We did however see some great things like some beautiful egg cowries, a school of large harmless tawny nurse sharks and eagle rays. We managed a feed of trout and crayfish but still couldn’t bag one of those pesky Green Jobfish that we saw heaps of but just couldn’t get close enough to.

Lisa with her Coral Trout

In the arvo Lisa took Paul for a surf on the Lefts. It was a little bumpier but still very good. Paul was the only one out and got some great waves. Like this morning, Paul’s brand new leg rope failed with the knot coming undone between the railsaver and the board. The board went over the reef again but this time on low tide. Lisa was not anchored in the tender and was right in to pick Paul up and go around the reef again. Fortunately we knew where to look after this morning’s episode and found it straight away. The low tide had taken its toll though and there were scratches down one side and 4 small dings on the rail up towards the nose. It could have been a lot worse. His favourite carbon fibre fins were surprisingly unmarked. He was pretty bummed for a few hours but in the end we just put it down to experience and the downside of surfing reef breaks. At the end of the day it’s only a board, was repaired that night and most importantly no one was hurt.

Sunday was a surf lay day as no doubt it was going to be packed with locals. Instead we took the RIB over the outer reef edge on high tide to have a look at a diving place called The Grotto. This area is well known for its Caves and Schooling Hammerheads.
With the 40m viz we were having, we decided to freedive the area first as there may be currents to deal with.
The place was great and we thought the terrain and fish life was very similar to Osprey Reef in the Coral Sea. We found loads of caves and saw lots of fish schools and big fish action. We found the schooling Barracuda but unfortunately no Hammerheads were with them.

On the way back in over the outer reef edge we found 3 guys out snorkeling with no boat in sight. We thought they looked distressed so we went over to them. They were swimming as hard as they could but couldn’t make headway back over the reef as the run out tide was pushing them backwards. They were in deep water and over 800m from the Island which is most likely where they started from. We tried to talk to them but just got garbled French from all 3 at once. Then Paul gave the OK sign and yelled “Are you OK?” from which we got a solid “NO!” So we indicated them to get in. Well it was pretty funny from our point of view. They launched themselves into the RIB fins & all and 10 seconds later we had all 3 upside down on the floor, completely exhausted and eyes like saucers. We simply took them to the island and dropped them off. It was on our way past so no dramas for us. They were very appreciative and offered us the only thing they brought on their day trip – beers. We declined the offers but thanked them anyway. God knows what would have happened to them if we didn’t see them. We were the only boat on the outer reef.

In the arvo we had a “Sunday Session” and invited H&H and John and Jenny (who had just showed up in their boat “Sharkface”) over for arvo drinks and food. It was a great way to relax for 1/2 a day.

Monday - The locals went back to work so we went back to the surf break. Paul took Hayley and John in our RIB.
They surfed the lefts again and then moved to another break called Littles what is situated right on the tip of the grottos reef edge. It is 50m+ deep down both sides of the reef and over 200m deep strait out from of the take off zone. We freedived it yesterday so we know!! It’s a bit weird sitting there in the water waiting for a wave to come out to the depths and jack up over the reef edge. It had powerful waves with an unusual curved inside bowl section as the wave refracted around the reef.

Jenny has a great Kayak too and loves snorkeling/freediving. So Lisa and Jenny loaded up their kayaks with their gear and off they went. They also paddled over the reef into the Grotto and drift Snorkeled with their kayaks down the wall.

Tuesday morning we decided to leave Tenia. We loved it here and scored perfect weather. Being able to anchor where we were for a week is unheard of as it is very exposed, close to the outer reef and only recommended as a day anchorage in the cruising books. We felt very lucky.

We decided to move 20nm north to our next destination Ouano. However one hour into the motor north, the conditions went from flat to mirror and the 5 knots dropped out to zero. We couldn’t justify hiding behind an island so we decided to stop at the normally exposed Pass D’Isie instead. We found a sand patch in crystal clear water only 4m deep, just inside of the reef pass and opposite a large wreck sitting on the outer reef edge.
The photos below say it all…

Note Lisa Swimming and the wreck in the distance.

After a swim we put the RIB in to explore the wreck on the midday high tide and do some freediving while drifting thru the pass just after the tide turned.
We were able to get very close to the wreck as it is normally high and dry near the bow and in a breaking wave area at the stern but the high tide and flat conditions just gave us enough depth with the motor in shallow drive. A closer look at the bow revealed the name – the “Ever Prosperity” which certainly opens up a can of worms. According to the Lonely Planet book, the cruising guides and the digital one on the laptop, they all say the Ever Prosperity is the large wreck located 1km north of Amedee Island about 50nm south of here. Well we can now confirm they are all incorrect and indicates the authors probably copy each others literature.

The drift thru the pass was fun and deep with great viz. We did see a large Leopard Shark, lots of Trevally, sea snakes and bait fish but it didn’t produce the big sharks and pelagic fish action we were hoping for.

That evening we enjoyed an amazing sunset over the wreck and wondered how many people have ever seen a good sunset over it.
We felt quite privileged and it topped of a very special day.

Wednesday we moved on to Ile D’Isie and anchored up at noon in a beautiful bay with a lovely small island just off the point. We had planned to kayak for the arvo but we were both so stuffed we ended up watching movies. We have been go-go-go since we left Noumea and we had to have an arvo off.

Thursday we were feeling revitalized so it was up early and off to the reef again. We motored out to the Pass D’Ouarani which has the Ouano Left hand surf break off the southern end of the pass. We sat and watched it from Lorelei and were amazed at the size of the barrels even though the swell outside the reef is only relatively small at 1-2m. No-one was out. We did not surf it as we wanted to take advantage of the flat conditions to do other things before the big swell hits.

We then turned and went back thru the pass and anchored on a shallow sand patch just inside the reef edge. We put the kayaks in to explore the small island on the edge of the pass and to go for a snorkel.
The Island was very small and called Rectif N’Digoro. It was covered in the highly venomous banded sea snakes sunning themselves and looking for food. We had to be very careful where we stepped.

After the island we did a drift snorkel thru the shallow lagoon parallel with the pass. It was also full of sea snakes – this time very curious and equally venomous Olives Sea Snakes. The area is a marine sanctuary and it showed as there were loads of schooling fish around the bommies.

A couple of friendly Sea Snakes on Paul's fins.

In the arvo we ventured back into the safe anchorage of Ouano which is on the mainland

The view looking to Ouano. Note the stunning mountains on the mainland.

The vessel we moored next to at Ouano. Now we have seen some amazing Tenders in our time but this one’s got to be the best.
David B you’d have the best of both worlds…

We spent 3 days anchored in Ouano.
Friday we put the kayaks in and explored the local area on them. In the shallows near the beach we made some new friends – 2 dogs that followed us around everywhere we paddled that was less than 3 feet deep.

Saturday in between rain squalls we went for a walk on the spit of land that makes up the Ouano area .

Sunday was a lovely day and we packed up the RIB for a day trip. We took surfboards, snorkeling gear and lunch.
First we motored 5nm out to Passe D’Nogoro to check the surf. The swell was big but had too much West in it and it was breaking dangerously onto the reef edge. On the way back thru the pass we spotted a nautilus shell in the mixed debris of mangrove pods, weed and drift wood. The more debris we checked the more we found. In 15 minutes of searching we had found over a dozen. We threw 7 less than perfect ones back and kept 6 good ones including one very big one and a cute little one. 
A few days later we had them cleaned up and managed to carefully cut one in half with a fine hacksaw blade.

For lunch we anchored up at Ilot Konduyo which was a lovely island.

After much discussion and planning, we decided to leave Ouano on  Monday and head south again back to Tenia.
The surfbreak at Ouano just wasn’t working.
 Additionally, our next planned stop north, Bourail is also exposed in the current conditions and too far to motor (we’d rather sail) so we motored the 2.5 hours south and will go north again in the right conditions if & when they come along.
We trolled on the way and in the shallows of the lagoon we caught a Blue Maori Cod which are great eating. Note the glassy conditions – still…..

In the arvo we went and surfed Tenia Rights.
Lisa waxed up her new board for the first time and took it out for a spin.

Just at the end of the surf the rain clouds came over and it started pouring. By dark the wind had got up and we spent an uncomfortable night at Tenia rocking and rolling.

At daybreak we moved in between rain squalls to behind Ile Predour and anchored in a protected bay with high mountains all around.
During the day we had winds from 3 different directions and were very glad we weren’t still on the reef.

Wednesday we woke to a lovely day. We had deer running along the beach on the island to our left and a heard of cows walking in waist deep water across the coral out to a small coral and mangrove lined island to our right.
We loaded up the RIB and spent the day exploring the bays of the Baie De St Vincent. This is the heart of cattle country and the terrain was amazing.

Thursday we left early and set sail for Bourail which is 45nm north.
We only got 15nm up the reef and found 4 Aussie Yachts (including friends John and Jenny off Sharkface and Ben and Wendy off Just Magic) all parked at Passe D’Ouarai and the boys were surfing some solid waves at Ouano Lefts. So it was down with the spinnaker and main and out with the boards to join them.

Paul screaming down the line

We decided to stay a few days and surf and went back into Ouano after lunch.
In the arvo Lisa, Paul, Jenny and Wendy took their kayaks and paddled around the bay exploring the mangroves. The fish life was amazing with constant schools of little fish jumping just ahead of the kayaks.
That evening we went to Ben and Wendy’s cat and feasted on Chilli Mud Crabs Ben had caught in his pots.

Jenny and Wendy Cooking up a storm in Wendy’s Galley

The next day were all were up early again and out to the pass to surf the lefts. It’s hard to describe how good the surf was. It was 4-6ft with long super clean glassy waves. We could do up to 20 turns on each wave running thru 3 sections. There were only 5 Aussies out and we were all grinning like Cheshire cats…
It was by far the best surf we had seen in New Cal and one of the best ever.

After the surf we both speared the pass for 4 quick trout for dinner that night as we had John & Jenny and Ben & Wendy around for dinner.
It was a fun Friday night on “Club Lorlelei” which Ben had nicknamed us.

Saturday it was out to the surf break again. It was a small but very clean 3ft and all 6 of us paddled out. Justine from Aussie yacht Malinda was already out and that meant more girls in the line up than guys!
Ben and Paul waxed up their Short Fish Boards and took them out for some small wave fun. Paul had a surf but soon swapped the board for the camera and swam out into the line up to get some fun underwater photos of everyone surfing.

Ben, Wendy and Lisa paddling out to join Justine.

That evening the 6 of us went into the Ouano Surf Camp’s bar/restaurant and had drinks and pizzas.

The next morning we woke to glassy conditions and looked out to see Just Magic with a great reflection in the water.

We went and said goodbye to John and Jenny. We will hopefully catch up with them in a few months time in Port Vila, Vanuatu.
We set sail for Bourail with Just Magic and had a light wind 35nm run north under spinnaker which was outside the reef. We trolled the whole way in over 1000m of water depth but didn’t even turn a reel.
Half way up we pulled in close to the reef to have a look at the wreck of the France II. This wreck has a tragic story and was a 300ft, 5 masted schooner fitted out in sheer luxury. In her day she was the pride of the French fleet. Unfortunately all that was left of her was a few pieces of scattered wreckage on the reef edge. We were hoping for something a little more intact to explore.

Just as we had anchored up in the bay at Bourail a 6m tinny with a dozen local Kanaks roared past at 20 knots with lots of friendly waving. 100m further on they hit a sandbank and came to an instant stop. Thankfully there was another boat with them to assist. We couldn’t help wonder how many of them had broken bones and noses.

Monday morning the 4 of us jumped into our RIB to explore the coastline of Bourail. First we went to have a look at its most famous landmark – The Pierced Rock.

When we went around the cliff face to the side of the Pierced Rock we found a series of sea caves. The second one we could see right thru it and later in the day checked it out from the land when we went ashore.

Wendy suggested to check out the next headland by boat and we are glad we did. We found a series of long cuttings in the rock going into sea caves that we were able to explore. We each took a corner of the RIB to fend and paddled into the cave making it in with only inches to spare. Once inside we found thousands of Swallows and their mud nests in the roof. Once disturbed they were flying all around us. It was very cool.

On the way we checked out Baie De La Tortue orTurtle Bay. This is supposed to be one of the nicest beaches on the West Coast with its tall Araucaria Pines.

Once on land we did a walk to the headland overlooking the Pierced Rock. We saw a large Manta Ray swimming around its base in the clear water.
We then walked onto the Notre Dame lookout, down to Turtle Beach and onto the next headland before returning for a well earned swim.

Tuesday we loaded the 4 of us into the RIB to go and explore the town of Bourail. It is the second largest rural town in New Cal and in reality is just a single main street with 3 servos, 3 supermarkets and a stack of smaller shops, schools, and businesses.
We had to go approx. 6 klms up the winding Nera River. (see the pictures above) We ran aground twice and ended up tying up to the edge of the riverbank and walking a further 800m into town.
We food shopped, Paul and Ben raided the local patisserie and had a great lunch at a local café.

The last part of the trip back was a wild and wet one into the wind and chop from the Nera rivermouth around to the bay the yachts were moored in. We all got pretty wet.

In the late arvo we went to Ben and Wendy’s boat to play board games, relax and drink the newly purchased $3.50 1.5 litre bottles of Sangria which were surprisingly good.

Wednesday we all went out and speared the wall along the pass on the flooding tide. We started outside the pass and drifted in. At one stage we were off the edge when Paul spied a large shape approaching straight at us at 6 ft under the surface. It looked solid and first thought it was a big shark. To our delight it was a large Dugong that came right up to us for a look. Not at all what we would expect on an outer reef wall…

For late lunch/dinner we went ashore where Ben and Wendy had built us a fire for the BBQ. We found a great little pebbly beach between 2 wrecked barges and set up camp. We had stacks of food including home made marinated Portuguese Chicken, Satay Coral Trout and more Sangria!!!
It was a great arvo kicking back.

Thursday we set sail again for a 3 stage run to Koumac spanning 3 days and covering approximately 45nm each day.
We left at 8am and had a light start under spinnaker. By 1pm it was 15knots and down with the kite and out with the headsail.
On the way we sailed into a pod of about 12 small whales. They came right up to the side of Lorelei. We think they were Pilot Whales or possibly Melon Heads but not so sure. They were about 2.5 to 5m long.
If anyone can work it out from the pretty ordinary photo below then we’d be grateful to know.

Ben and Wendy’s cat smoked us today for speed in the light winds and beat us into the anchorage at Port De Mueo by 50 minutes. We were however pretty chuffed to be able to sail thru the pass, weave thru the channel and sail right up to our anchorage spot, arriving at 4pm.
The Port is a nickel mining centre and not rated that highly for yachties, however we found a beautiful protected beach off the back of an island and stopped for the night. We had drinks on the beach at sunset.

Friday we took off again and had sails up and engines off by 8am. We put our smaller spinnaker up today in the hope of holding it up longer when the wind kicked in after lunch. At 2:30 we were surfing down waves and averaging 8 knots so we dropped it and set the headsail instead.
Like yesterday we managed to sail through the pass, up the channel and right into the anchorage at Baie De Chasseloup arriving at 5pm and 1 hour after Just Magic.
Baie De Chasseloup marks the start of the beautiful Top Lagoon when travelling north and now gives us the option of sailing inside or outside of the reef depending on the conditions.

The big kite on Thursday

The smaller kite on Friday

Saturday we woke to a stunning day and classy conditions. We set off motor sailing inside the lagoon at 7am and for the first 90 minutes had to negotiate some very shallow sections.
We sailed past massacre reef which has a very sad story after a kanak revolt in the late 1800’s left scores of people dead on the reef edge.

Massacre Reef with the stunning mountain ranges in the background

The wind never really kicked in enough to switch the engine off so Lisa ran the navigation and sailing upstairs while Paul worked downstairs. We made over 500 litres of fresh water, did 5 loads of washing, charged the batteries and did computer work all in the mornings run north.
For lunch and the arvo we anchored on a small sand spit in the outer reef pass near Koumac. We had a great snorkel off the back of Lorelei and along the pass wall. The coral and fish life was great.

At 3pm we wandered the last 5nm into the Bay at Koumac, pretty tired but stoked to finally be here. Ben and Wendy came over for celebration sunset drinks before and early night into bed.

Coming into Koumac

Lisa and Wendy with drinks on sunset

Sunday morning Paul and Ben went into the Marina in Ben’s RIB to check it out and enquire about fuel for Lorelei. We were advised to get fuel straight away as the big charter boat was out being a Sunday and it gave Lorelei a bit more room to move.
We took Lorelei in while Ben stayed on the fuel dock to help with the lines. It is only a small marina and maneuvering Lorelei’s 28 tones and 64ft of overall length was a challenge but we did it OK and took on both Diesel and Unleaded for the first time since Brisbane.

So our plans are to continue cruising with Just Magic thru the top lagoon, around the tip and back down the East Coast before returning to Noumea to clear out in just under 4 weeks time. Ben and Wendy arrived in New Cal the day after we did so we both have to leave around the same time. We are really enjoying their company and will continue on with them from Noumea to Vanuatu on or around the 22nd September weather permitting.

Speaking of weather –  fantastic conditions still and warmer now we are further north. Still no wind over 10-15 knots! So weird but so good (apart from no Kiting). You’d hate to own a kite surfing school here. The last 2 months would have sent you broke…
With the light winds the new engine has had a real workout (145 hours on her so far) and has made motoring and tight maneuvering far more pleasant. We are so happy we put it in when we did.

So that’s it from Episode 10.

Gotto go -  It’s Sunday arvo and we are going into the beach for drinks, nibblies and a swim…..

Cheers – Paul and Lisa.

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