The Treasury Islands

Our last stop in the Solomons: probably one of the most stunning islands in this island nation. The biggest island in the group is called Mono and that’s where the main (and only) village is situated, home to approximately 500 people.

We had already checked out of the Solomon Islands in Noro, near Munda, but we knew from other cruisers that the local police in the Treasury Islands doesn’t mind yachts stopping here for a few days when en route to Papua New Guinea (PNG). In fact, they are keen for yachts to stop here because they would like to become an official point of entry and exit for the Solomon Islands.

We approached the Treasury Islands early Friday morning and dropped anchor in front of the village on Mono Island. One by one the villagers came out to the beach and the jetty to see the yachts that arrived. We had sailed across from Liapari with our friends from Rampetamper, a trimaran with a Dutch/New Zealand couple onboard. It was a calm overnight passage and even though there was not much wind it was from the right direction and we managed to sail all night without having to turn the engines on.

As we approached the beach by dinghy, we heard tens of children screaming and playing in the background and we later found out they were having a sports’ day. A guy in a fluorescent yellow vest was waiting on the beach and introduced himself as Roy Junior and told us he would show us around. First stop was the police station where the one policewoman in charge (the other two police officers had gone away to the nearby Shortland Islands for the day) wrote down our details in the visitors’ book. Next stop we went for a walk to the other side of the village to see the chief and ask his permission to stay. Beautifully kept gardens and well maintained huts made for a tidy and pretty village. Chief Benjamin welcomed us inside his hut and asked us to sign his visitors’ book too. He assured us we were free to explore the area and anchor inside the lagoon. He promised there would be no trouble and said there were only good people in this village.

After lunch Roy came with us in our dinghy across to nearby Stirling Island where we trampled through the dense tropical rainforest to see some of the WW2 planes that crashed here, anti-aircraft guns, and lots of rusty old metal. These islands were the stage of a major battle from 27 October until 12 November 1943. Operation ‘Goodtime’ was the codename for the invasion by New Zealand and American troops of the Treasury Islands, to retake it from the Japanese occupiers. New Zealand provided the fighting men and America the air, naval and logistical support. The allies succeeded with relatively few casualties and captured this strategically important area close to Bougainville and PNG. A radar station was installed and the success of the operation helped to improve the planning of subsequent landings in the Pacific. We saw the massive airfield, 2.2 kilometers long, big enough to land a jumbo-jet and still used today.

It was a lot to take in in one day, so much WW2 history and so many things left behind, still intact 75 years later. Amazing. It must have been tough for the soldiers to not only deal with the combat situation but also the heat, the humidity, mosquitoes, malaria and other tropical diseases.

In the afternoon we weighed anchor and navigated our way into the lagoon of Stirling Island, just a couple of miles away from the village. The well-protected bay, dotted with many tiny islets, had the most stunning crystal clear water. Probably the clearest water we’ve seen since the Tuamotus in French Polynesia. And this is why: The Treasury Islands are one of the few islands in the Solomons that have resisted the temptation to sell up logging rights to one of the big Chinese logging companies. This area is logging-free and therefore the water is still crystal clear, the dense tropical rainforest is intact and there is no pollution or damage to the environment. And the islanders intend to keep it that way.

I was surprised. It’s the first time I met a community of Solomon Islanders who actually think about future generations and care about the environment. The villagers are self-sufficient for the most part. There is plenty of fish in the strong currents around the village and the tropical climate makes it easy to grow fruit and vegetables in the gardens just outside the village. The community gets some income from copra trading and in return they buy essentials like rice, flour and sugar from a supply ship that comes by every three months.

The attitude to religion seems different than most other villages we’ve visited too. Even though there are only 500 people, there are 5 different denominations represented, each with their own church. But the underlying feeling is one of tolerance. Not everyone belongs to a church. It’s ok to be an atheist too. I like it here already. It’s so different from any other villages we’ve seen; the people friendlier than anywhere else we’ve been.

After a good night’s sleep we woke up to the stunning lagoon of Stirling Island. The water was flat calm and we heard many different birds, frogs and other animal noises: the sound of paradise. We decided not to swim inside the lagoon. The locals said it was ok during the daytime but they also tend to worship crocodiles and we prefer not to risk it so we took the dinghy out to the pass to go snorkelling. There’s no need to scuba dive here as the visibility is amazing. Perhaps 40 or 50 metres! The corals are stunning, there are plenty of fish and the whole area is pristine and untouched.

Roy lent us a book about the history of the Treasury Island and Operation ‘Goodtime’ in particular. It was a fascinating read and from this gesture alone I could tell he is very proud of his island and its history. I really hope they can preserve it and keep it as it is: stunning and untouched.

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sunset at sea; we had a very calm overnight passage but still managed to sail all the way

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anchored in front of the main and only village in the Treasury Islands

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the police station registered our details even though we had already cleared out of the Solomons

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the village children had a sports’ day

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walking across the village to see the chief

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chief Benjamin and his visitors’ book

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a short dinghy ride to Stirling Island to see WW2 plane wrecks

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“avenger” WW2 aircraft

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“avenger” WW2 aircraft

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“avenger” WW2 aircraft

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anti aircraft gun

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“lightning” twin hull WW2 fighter plane

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the airfield today

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the airfield back in WW2

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photos from Roy’s book about operation “Goodtime”

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operation “Goodtime”

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the village was completely destroyed

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navigating inside the lagoon of Stirling Island

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crystal clear water

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s/v Rampetamper

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Rehua anchored inside the lagoon of Stirling Island

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many islets inside the lagoon

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the water is the clearest we’ve seen since the Tuamotus in French Polynesia

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ready to go snorkelling

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sunrise over Stirling Island

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Solomon Time

We’re still in Munda, taking things slow: Solomon time. Last week, several boats turned up coming from Papua New Guinea (PNG) including two kid boats. And we’ve had a blast together. Every morning all the kids and mums would gather ashore to do school. The resort was happy for us to use their waterfront terrace, which had a lovely breeze and was in the shade. In the afternoon we went for walks or the kids just hung out together. There were movie nights and play-overs and some happy hour beers for the parents. We also got lots of tips and waypoints for PNG and Indonesia from these cruisers and we’re exited about heading north and west. Unfortunately, they are all heading the other way, back home to Australia and New Zealand. Yet again, we had to say goodbye to new friends but such is life for round-the-world sailors…

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it’s more fun to do school together

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classroom with a view

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classroom in action

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the kids hanging out by the waterfront

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it’s busy in the anchorage at Munda

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walk along the waterfront to see some WW2 relics

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Munda palmtrees

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pit-stop for some water and a rest

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WW2 relics everywhere

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a small museum in someone’s backyard

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WW2 dog-tags; so many lives lost here

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a box full of treasures

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more WW2 relics

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lots of guns and ammunition

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we saw this live croc along our walk, it was kept in a cage in someone’s garden…

The Western Province

I have to admit, the Western Province – the largest of the provinces of the Solomon Islands – is rather stunning. Beautiful tropical islands, turquoise water, excellent diving and snorkelling, amazing coral reefs, WW2 wrecks and head-hunting shrines that remind us how rich in culture and traditions this area still is.

We did a bit of island hopping in the last week. From Lola Island, we navigated through Vona Vona Lagoon to Gizo and then to Liapari, where Noel and Rosie welcome yachts in a beautiful well protected lagoon next to their private island. They have a shipyard and other facilities and we had to pick up a parcel we had delivered there. It’s a quiet and peaceful place with a friendly atmosphere. And … they grow mushrooms! One of my favourite vegetables … which we haven’t seen for ages. Every day Pauline would paddle over to our boat in her canoe, from a nearby village across the lagoon, with fruit and vegetables to trade, including the most delicious fresh mushrooms. Yum.

Sunday is ‘Fun Day’ on Rehua and Noel decided to treat the boys to a ride on his jet-ski in the morning. They loved it. Later on, we went for a dinghy ride on the estuary that connects the lagoon with the other side of the reef. We anchored the dingy and jumped in. The crystal clear water that runs through it was so refreshing and lovely to swim in. We couldn’t get enough of it. In the afternoon, we were invited to a BBQ on the beach, courtesy of Gizo hotel who had come over to Liapari for the afternoon with some of their staff and brought fresh lobsters for everyone. Delicious!

Next it is back to Munda (and nearby Noro) where we will provision, get diesel, LP gas and clear out… So yes, our time in the Solomons is coming to an end. I’ve really started to like the place. It’s not like anywhere else we’ve been before and sometimes it’s hard to believe that societies like this still exist. People lead a basic life: they live in traditional villages, catch fish in the lagoon and grow fruit and vegetables in their gardens. Their canoe is their main form of transport, they live in huts built from coconut leaves and local wood. It’s a simple life but they seem happy. Perhaps we can still learn something from these people rather than trying to ‘help’ them or force our western standards upon them…

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view from the cockpit, anchored near Lola Island


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laundry day on Rehua


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Lola Island


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pet reef-sharks circle our boat all day


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such stunning animals


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Sanbis resort near Gizo


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Rehua anchored in front of Sanbis


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entering the lagoon at Liapari, just 0.8 m of water under the boat


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the shallow, narrow pass into the lagoon at Liapari


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Noel takes the boys out for a ride on his jet-ski


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dinghy trip up the estuary


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gorgeous clear water


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paradise rating 10 out of 10


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dinghy at anchor in the estuary


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time for a refreshing swim


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the lagoon at Liapari


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afternoon bbq and fire on the beach


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dolphins lead us out of Liapari, happens so often and we never get tired of it!

Easter Weekend

Our last dive completed and it was time to move on from Munda. Belinda joined us on a trip to Lola Island for Easter Weekend. We had a relaxing sail through Vona Vona Lagoon. The charts are notoriously inaccurate in this part of the world and we use a program called ‘SAS Planet’ to navigate with google earth and bing images. But having done this trip once before, we had saved our previous track on our plotter; making navigation much easier.

We dropped the anchor next to Lola Island, a few hours after leaving Munda and had the bay to ourselves. It was a gorgeous day and we pumped up the stand up paddle boards and got the snorkelling gear out. Time to have some fun!

Not much later we saw another catamaran approaching the bay, zigzagging through the reefs. We had seen it anchored in Noro but not come across this boat before (and we do know most yachts that are currently in the Solomon Islands as there aren’t many!). Turns out there are kids onboard too. What are the chances of that?! The beautiful 50ft cat is called ‘Katali’, a Looping 50, built in India a few years ago. The family of five are French and on their way to New Caledonia, which unfortunately is the opposite direction of where we are going. But never mind, the kids all decided to make the most of it and headed off to the beach to play in the shallow water with the swing (and the sharks). Later in the afternoon there was a playover on Katali and the next day on Rehua. It was great opportunity for Tyrii and Aeneas to practise some French.

Meanwhile, the adults had fun too and enjoyed a guitar session ashore. A couple of Belinda’s friends turned up, as well as some locals and it was a great night. Not bad for Easter weekend. The only thing missing were chocolate eggs…

The next day we said goodbye to Belinda, who headed back to Munda. We really clicked and I was sad to see her leave. It’s one of the hard things about traveling: on the one hand you meet lots of interesting new people and sometimes you really connect; but on the other hand we have to say goodbye frequently. Anyway, that’s the way it goes and I prefer to say ‘until next time’ instead.

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exiting the reef at Munda

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navigating through Vona Vona lagoon

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cheers!

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the jetty at Lola Island

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Zipolo Habu Resort

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sad to say goodbye

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lunch with a view

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never mind the rain, the kids are off to the beach

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on the other side of Lola Island

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the view towards Skull Island

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kids playground

Magical Munda

Munda has a lot to offer: a beautiful, well-protected bay with good holding in sand, a sleepy little town with friendly locals, a small resort with great-value lunchtime meals, a few shops with decent provisioning, a good weekly market offering local produce, … But the number one attraction is of course scuba diving! There are WW2 wrecks, stunning reefs, shark sites, eagle ray sites, caves, … you name it, it’s here and all within easy reach. Belinda from Dive Munda runs a great operation and after Tyrii had qualified, she took us on two more ‘just for fun’ dives. It was great for Tyrii to put his newly acquired skills into practice without more teaching or skill testing.

Our first dive was a wreck dive close to Noro: a Japanese WW2 transport ship that was heavily bombed by the Americans. It was lying sidewise and close to the surface at one end. Seathan and Aeneas snorkelled while Tyrii and I dived with Belinda. We explored the wreck and I was amazed with the corals and fish surrounding it. Beautiful. And of course buddying with Tyrii was a priceless experience. He’s great in the water and so confident. I didn’t have to worry about him at all, in fact he was trying to tell me what to do!

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The day after we went on a superbe reef dive. Belinda took us to her favourite secret spot and it was one of the best dives ever! It is also where Canon recently shot all their footage for an upcoming commercial promoting underwater photography. I can’t wait to see the final result as it was a really awesome site with a healthy pristine reef dropping off to several hundred metres. Lush hard and soft corals, gigantic sea fans and colourful coral gardens mean you could spend hours under the water to admire it all. And of course this all came with plenty of pelagic action. Our photos really don’t do it justice, it was so stunning ❤️

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Family Dive

Tyrii is a certified open water scuba diver! He passed his exams – both practical and theory – with flying colours and is now allowed to dive down to 18 metres. I am so proud of our twelve year old!

You can read what he thought of the scuba course on Dive Munda’s blog: http://www.mundadive.com/bottom-time-blog/2017/4/10/tyrii-kids-blog

We all joined Tyrii on his final couple of training dives with Belinda and her crew from Dive Munda. It was a fab family day out with lots of underwater magic: stunning corals, crazy fish and beautiful underwater landscapes.

Aeneas, who at seven is too young to scuba dive, went snorkelling with one of Belinda’s crew while we were diving.

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Tyrii getting ready for his final training dive

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And we’re off!

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Zsa-Zsa, one of Belinda’s crew

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Two excited boys; Aeneas will do some snorkelling with his personal guide while we dive

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Tyrii and Belinda hit the water first

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Tyrii and Belinda setting off on the first of two final training dives

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beautiful staghorn corals

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stunning colours

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Tyrii checking his compass during his navigation skill test

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diving the wall

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Zsa-zsa and I

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looking up

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Zsa-Zsa and I exploring the wall

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Belinda and Tyrii are above us

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Belinda and Tyrii

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stunning coral formations

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underwater family moment

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Tyrii and Belinda

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Tyrii and Belinda

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Tyrii and Belinda

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Aeneas snorkelling on the surface

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great vis and stunning corals

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Zsa-Zsa and I during deco time

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posing while waiting to ascend until decompression time is over

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Belinda lets Aeneas have a go at breathing underwater

After that stunning dive we clambered back onboard for some snacks and water and set off to the next dive site called “Eagle’s Nest” where one can usually find plenty of eagle rays.

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post dive smiles

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ready for dive number two

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Tyrii checks his gear as we switch tanks

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Tyrii and Belinda on the second dive

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The vis was not as good as on the first dive but it was still stunning

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Tyrii and Belinda surface after the second dive

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and he’s fully qualified after passing all the tests!

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post dive family picture with Rehua in the background

Munda Sunsets

We’ve had some stunning sunsets in Munda over the last few days. Watching the sun go down, sitting at anchor, beer in hand, what a perfect way to finish the day ⚓️⛵️🌅

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Gone Fishing!

Last Sunday we decided to head out for a day sail and do some fishing. Marty and Andy, two Australians we met here in Munda, joined us for the day. They definitely brought some luck (or skill?) onboard as we caught a fish as soon as we went through the pass. A beautiful size kingfish. Andy caught it and then lost it but Seathan managed to retrieve it with the gaff. Phew. We also caught a barracuda and some smaller reef fish but decided to throw those back. We sailed up and down the edge of the reef for a couple of hours and enjoyed a lovely day out. As live-aboard sailors we don’t often go for a daysail; for us sailing is a means to an end, to get from A to B. This leisurely day out was great fun, and, we had some delicious fish to throw on the barbecue that evening. We should definitely do this more often! 🐠 

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Lola Island

We’ve been in Munda for a little while now and it’s a great base for exploring the area a bit more. Last week we zigzagged through the reefs and headed over to the Vona Vona Lagoon where we anchored next to Lola Island, home to Zipola Habu, a friendly resort ran by Joe and Lisa for the last thirty years or so. It was a great place to do some snorkelling, go for a long bush walk and make an excursion to nearby spooky “skull island”. On Sunday, Lisa’s grandchildren came over and one of the girls had a birthday party. Our boys joined in with the celebrations (who would say no to some chocolate cake?). The swing in front of the bar, off the jetty, was the perfect playground even though it was heaving with black-tip reef sharks. These friendly sharks are curious but shy too and the kids loved jumping in between them. If somebody would have told me three years ago I would let me kids swim amongst sharks, I would have never believed it. How life has changed.

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zigzagging through the reefs

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Vona Vona Lagoon

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cute little islands everywhere

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beautiful turquoise water

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the resort at Lola Island

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Lisa’s granddaughter was having a birthday party

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chocolate cake …

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dinghy trip to Skull Island

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Skull Island

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Skull Island

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Skulls everywhere

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Spooky!

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don’t think I’d want to come here at night…

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Rehua anchored in front of Lola Island as a squall is approaching

Twelve!

Tyrii turned twelve today. Wow, how time flies… For his birthday present, he asked if he could do a dive course and become a certified open water diver. How cool is that? We’re in Munda and Belinda, who runs Dive SSI here, is a fantastic dive instructor. She started teaching him a few days ago. If he passes all the exams later this week, we will be able to dive together and he will be allowed to go as deep as 18 metres. He’s super excited and studying hard as I write. Of course there was still some time for chocolate cake this morning and tonight there’s pizza on the menu 🎉🍕🎂

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A few small birthday presents, including a favourite Lucky Luke comic


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Birthday cake!


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Tyrii with Belinda, his awesome dive instructor


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Heading out for the first dive


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Happy faces returning from the first dive