Captain’s Log New Zealand to Fiji July 20, 2015


BULA! From Fiji.

Our last blog was posted from Lake Taupo as we were heading back to Auckland on the last leg of our five week tour of New Zealand. After driving on two lane roads through the beautiful farmland of the central North Island, passing the thermal fields, volcanos, and geologic wonders of the island, we drove back to Auckland and spent a week walking the city and enjoying the Chinese New Year’s Festival held in the center city. Hundreds of students from China come to New Zealand over this holiday to enjoy a respite from the Chinese winter, like their American counterparts in Ft. Lauderdale. These are rich, young and “beautiful” people of the People’s Republic; Prada, Gucci, and Versace are on full display along with a certain arrogant aloofness that seems common to the young and privileged regardless of the state of their origin. In Auckland City Center the Chinese government sponsors a huge cultural festival featuring colorful classical dances, ancient traditional puppet shows, and food from all over China; it was all very interesting.

We flew back to the U.S. on March 2 to attend the wedding of the daughter of two of our dearest friends. The wedding was held in Beaver Creek, Colorado, and attended by many of our lifelong friends. It was quite an adjustment having traveled across many time and altitudinal zones. We shared a luxurious apartment with our daughter and son-in-law, spent a day or two skiing, dined at beautiful restaurants, and spent an afternoon snowmobiling in the alpine splendor of the Rocky Mountains. It was a great time.

After the wedding we returned to Ann Arbor to attend to the renovation of our home and to file our tax returns. On the bright side, we had been invited to speak to the historic Detroit Yacht Club on Belle Isle, and our Rotary Club in Ann Arbor. These events were a lot of fun for us, as it gave us a chance to meet other boaters and to show our friends in Ann Arbor exactly what we had been doing over the past year. Unfortunately in the midst of a hurried visit home, Rebecca’s father began to quickly fail; two weeks later he regrettably passed away.

I returned to New Zealand on April 9 to move Argo about 25 miles north of Auckland to Gulf Harbor Shipyard at Whangarparaoa, and to oversee the maintenance work that was scheduled. She was slow and not very agile on her short passage north after six months in the Viaduct Marina. As we latter leaned, Viaduct Harbor is notorious for heavy marine growth and when Argo was pulled out of the water it was evident that she had become home to a shocking amount of crusty bivalves. This is all to be expected as boats need to be hauled about every 18 months to remove marine growth from their bottom and through-hulls. After she was cleaned up, Argo received a new coat of bottom paint and her propellers were coated with a special paint to inhibit marine growth and make them more slippery. At the same time other repairs were made including waxing the hull. We also had to clean the two forward fuel tanks of a silicone sealing substance that had fallen into the tanks during the boat’s construction and posed the potential of clogging the fuel lines. This required a technician to remove the access covers from the tanks, don a hazmat suit, crawl inside the tanks and scrub all the surfaces. After he was done, all the fuel onboard was removed and polished in special centrifugal filters. At this point Argo was beautiful from top to bottom, and the travel hoist came to lift her off her supports and put her in the water, ready for our trip north to Fiji. All of this took a couple of weeks.

As the work was coming to an end, I escaped to the Lake Taupo Lodge for a few days of fly fishing in one of the world’s greatest trout habitats. The area is designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its beauty and geological importance. Three cone shaped volcanoes lie on a flat plain made of ancient volcanic debris. The largest volcano is snowcapped most of the year, and the other two lie on a path a few miles apart in line with Lake Taupo. Lake Taupo is a fresh water lake about 240 square miles in size, and occupies the sunken caldera of an extinct volcano that exploded 26,500 years ago. The eruption, perhaps the largest in history, is known as the Oruanui eruption and ejected about 1170 CC kilometers of material into the atmosphere. Scientists speculate that this eruption may have started the last ice age. Today the lake is the tranquil home to huge brown and rainbow trout (put there about 100 years ago from stock obtained in Scotland and California) that feast on crayfish and spawn in the Waitahanui, Tongariro, and the Tauranga Taupo Rivers. My fishing adventure began on the Tauranga Taupo River; my guide drove us to his cabin on the river that he leased from the Maori, then we put on waders and spent the day tramping along the banks and in the river casting for elusive trout. It was a beautiful day spent in a rocky, forested area that is as pristine as second growth forests can be. The old growth forests of New Zealand with their huge Kauri trees were chopped down during the last century, and the current forest is only a fraction of what it once was, but it was nevertheless quite lovely and the trout seem to flourish here. We fished using wet flies and strike indicators, casting out to deep pools where the big fish lie. Unlike our ocean fishing practice of using heavy line and steel leaders to bring big, toothy fish aboard Argo, here we used very light line and tackle to give the fish a fighting chance. These fish are big and strong, and put up quite a fight as they try to escape by dance down the river on their tail. It is easy for them to break the line or throw the hook, so some measure of skill is required to sense their taking of the fly and to gently bring them to the net. It didn’t take long before I had a 5-6 pound rainbow on the line. Getting it to the net and then removing the hook so that it could be released to go about its life unharmed required a fair degree of finesse.

The next day we drove about ninety minutes to the mountains above Napier to the Waipawa River. This river is also a very famous trout stream that we fished using a raft to transport us to various spots along the river. Our float lasted for about six hours. Our fishing was very productive; I caught at least 15 large fish, all educated and then released. The river worked its way toward the ocean cutting a gorge through limestone cliffs that hundreds of millions years ago were part of the ocean floor on the Pacific tectonic plate, and before that, part of the original continent of Pangea. As we passed the cliffs, we could see fossils and large volcanic rocks embedded in the limestone from ages past. Above the cliffs were sheep and cattle station pastures; here grass is grown as a crop as earnestly as we grow corn. The largest sheep and cattle ranch in New Zealand (75,000 acres) that had been owned by a prominent family for generations was recently sold to a Chinese person.

The next day I drove back to Auckland, past huge stainless steel pipes glittering in the bright sunshine carrying geothermal energy that the Kiwis’ use for heat and electricity. On the way I picked up Rebecca at the airport. She had remained for an extra two weeks in Michigan to help her mother following her father’s death. Tired but anxious to see Argo again, we drove the fifty or so miles to back to Whangarparaoa.

The next morning I arose to complete my ADL’s; I was shocked to find blood in my urine. Alarmed, we went to the local hospital (of course it was a three day holiday), but nothing could really be diagnosed there. The next morning the same thing, so we quickly arranged to return home and scheduled an examination at the University of Michigan. There we learned that I had bladder cancer, an excision of the lesion was performed within ten days and followed by six weeks of immunotherapy. After the last dose, we have a six week break until the next biopsy, so we had Tyler, our New Zealand friend Ted Dixon, and a professional captain, Paul Mabee, bring Argo up to Fiji where we met her after an 11 hour flight from LAX.

Fiji is an island nation made up of 322 islands, a hundred of which are inhabited. Most of the population (under 900,000) lives on the largest two islands, Viti Levu and Vanua Levu. The islands are volcanic in origin and lie 1,100 miles directly north of New Zealand and 400 miles west of Tonga. The smaller, more remote islands of the Lau Group lie 200 miles east of Viti Levu and are sparsely populated. People of the Lau Group live a traditional way of life. Visiting these islands requires permission of the village chief, which can be obtained after completing “Savusavu”, a ceremony of respect and supplication requiring the presentation of Kava, which comes from the Yaqona bush. Kava is a root that when washed and pressed by hand in a large bowl produces a magenta, muddy colored drink that yields a numbing, relaxing effect. Kava is reputed to be an aphrodisiac for women, but it puts men to sleep. West of Viti Levu lies the Yasawa Islands, where fancy resorts accommodate the tourists of Australia, New Zealand and increasingly China. Between two of the islands lies the Blue Lagoon, made famous by the Brooke Shields’ movie bearing its name. In the old days Fijians were warriors with a fierce reputation. Aside from cannibalism, Fijian warriors practiced “fire-walking”, an historic ritual wherein young men actually walked on hot stones heated by a fire that may have been used to roast human beings! Today only chicken and pork are roasted, but young men still fire-walk for the entertainment of tourists.

Argo is now moored next to Dragonfly, a large yacht owned by the founders of Google (not sure if it is one or both owners) at Denarau Marina near Nandi. We must be in the high rent district. Anchored out in the bay is an even larger yacht owned by a Russian. Eli, our agent here who is handling the formalities of that yacht too, told us that the couple lives aboard with a dog. They have two veterinarians, two nurses, and a security detail on board for the dog. Recently the dog had some sort of eye problem and they flew the thing to Honolulu in a private jet with its full entourage! Nice to know how the other .0000000000001% of the population lives!

Thanks for reading our blog and keeping in touch with us. We’ll update our blog and load some new pictures next month after we are back in the land of bandwidth.

Randy and Rebecca

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