Watching hatching turtles while handling the heat.
It was with great delight that my parents were on their way to visit again, dad having only gone home 2 weeks before, after flying up to play support crew to Chae while I was in hospital.
They flew in on another sultry evening, Chae headed to the little island airport on his own, on strict instructions from dad, as they were arriving with 110kg of luggage and there would not be any room for extra kids on the trip to the boat!
I didn’t really think about what 110kg of luggage would look like…. We had been ordering up a storm and having it sent to their house.
Christmas Presents for the kids, spare boat parts – including new fans as 1 in each room had decided to die in a most untimely fashion, in the hottest weather we have yet experienced, food items we had been dreaming of, books for the kids and schoolwork from Te Kura, plus so much more.
There had been a running joke about the courier driver. He was at their house so often that he was staying for dinner these days…the humor was masking some of the growing amazement (read exasperation maybe??) at the pile of goods that was accumulating I think…
All was forgotten though, once we were all reunited again! For Mum it was especially wonderful, as she had been in Nepal when I had my operation so had not been able to come up earlier.
They had brought a suitcase of supplies for the Gizo hospital so we headed there straight away, to give it all to our new friend, Dr Paul and his team.
Supplies are short in this country, so to have someone bring in a load of medicines and bandages would have been welcome for both medical staff and patients alike.
With final goodbyes said to the wonderful staff who had cared for me, we left and headed back for a well needed, refreshing G & T. It was 7 pm and still 30 + degrees….
Our plan was to head North to the Arnavon Islands. We had read of this slice of paradise, it is a marine reserve and a turtle breeding ground.
It is one of the largest breeding areas for Green Sea and Hawksbill turtles in this part of the world and we love turtles, so this all sounded excellent!
The trip was a good 12 hours, so again, up anchoring at 1 am and getting on our merry way. Chae took the first shift and me the second, before the rest of the boat woke up to enjoy the company of family back together again.
It was a loooong and HOT day. Temps up to 35 degrees, and no wind. Not even a breeze while motoring.
Fishing was done, and 2 fish were caught. A Mahi, which we have not had since Vanuatu and a big Walu that mum pulled in. Two of our favourite fish.
A swim was had on the way, in the still and glistening ocean. The boat was stopped and we jumped in, mid passage, cooling down ever so slightly…
Kokoda was prepared for lunch. We all sat in the cockpit and enjoyed a fresh, chilled meal, reducing the body heat ever so slightly with a few beersies to wash it down.
Arriving at Arnavon was like sailing (I use that term very loosely…) into a magazine spread.
It was every paradise you could imagine. The blues and greens of the sea and the low-lying islands were incredible. After the not so clear waters of Gizo and some of her surrounds, this was magical.
A short trip to the beach to see the rangers proved to be rather interesting. We had stumbled upon a group of marine biologists that were there to monitor some of the hatching turtles and fit tracking devices to some of the laying mothers.
They don’t usually come here at this time of year, usually their visits are in April or May, but this year they were trying to track a different breeding population and so had come in November. What luck!
After a refreshing swim at the beautiful sandy beach in front of the boat, a few more G & T’s, beers and a sumptuous dinner of Walu and fresh vegetables, we all headed off to bed, tired from the long day.
Around 9pm, there was a tapping on the hull, “Hello, is anyone awake… we have a nest hatching and want to know if you wanted to come and watch”
Did we ever!
The walk to the nest was lengthy and treacherous in the dark, I was especially careful as the ribs are starting to heal and the last thing I needed was to trip and mess them up again…
Once there, a channel was dug in the sand, from the nest across the path and down the rocky shore to the water, then the nest was gently opened and tiny little Hawksbill turtles started spilling out like kids at a lolly scramble.
There were so many, 162 to be exact!
They followed the light of the ranger’s torches and made their way to the water, their internal GPS system already working to imprint on them their hatching location and the direction to go to the water.
Some had to be helped, turning the wrong way or heading off the path into rugged territory, we gently picked the little creatures up, turned them around and put them back on track.
It was an incredible sight. Like nothing I have ever seen before.
Our World and The Blue Planet show these things, but it is nothing like seeing it in real life.
According to the team there, only 2 from each nest will make it back to this island to lay their eggs. It will take them up to 35 years to grow big enough to be able to start to reproduce.
Their lives for the next 35 years are fraught with danger. Hunters lurk in every sea they swim in and the pollution is a major issue for these incredible gentle giants.
Turtles really have it stacked against them and it is a miracle that any make it back alive.
Watching them swim off into the water, we all wished as hard as we could for a safe life for them.
More excitement was to come the next sweltering Solomon Island day.
2 turtles had been brought in after laying their eggs the night before and we got to watch the team go through the process of fitting the tracking devices.
It was far more intense process than I would have thought, with sanding, fiberglass, and antifoul all involved.
10 turtles in all would be having the devices attached and we ended up getting to see 8 be fitted over the course of 3 days.
That afternoon the rangers came back to the boat asking if we wanted to join them on the turtle rodeo. A turtle rodeo? Sure, that sounds fun!
Basically, they drive the boat around the lagoon, looking for turtles in the crystal clear water, jump in and grab them to make sure they have a flipper tag on.
Sounds easy, right?
Well, they made it look super easy, so Chae and dad decided they would have a go.
Turns out turtles are WAY faster than they look, and the rangers are a LOT better at turtle wrangling than the 2 white guys were!
5 were wrangled and passed up to the waiting hands of Chae and dad. The children sat in the longboat, watching in amazement as turtles flapped around their feet, like it was an every day occurrence!
We then took to an island where they checked them over and we got to release them.
The kids all got to hold, see and feel what a turtle is like up close. We all got to appreciate just how stunning these animals are.
This was something we could have only dreamed we would experience when we set out on this adventure!
We were then taken for some snorkeling, which I tried to join in with, but the ribs weren’t letting me do it, so I stayed in the boat and watched my family flip out on the underwater world around them.
The 2 rangers that took them for the snorkel were incredible with the children, pointing out creatures, coral and other organisms to them and explain how they fit in the world they were in.
Biology and marine life lesson, TICK!
The next day passed in a similar state of amazement for us all. More turtles came and went, tracking devices were fitted and we got to watch these monsters be released back into the sea, lugging their incredible cumbersome bodies across the sand and transforming into graceful rockets once hitting the waters again.
The Arnavon Islands were all we had hoped they would be, and more.
With a long trip back to the mainland, we left again at 2 am, wishing that we could stay longer.
In hindsight we probably could have, as the weather that was forecasted changed, as it is want to do, so again, we motored the whole way back.
Stifling heat our constant companion at this time of year.
Back to Munda, through the incredible Diamond Narrows – yes, it is very narrow and you don’t want to lose focus through here!
Munda then graced us with a day and half of torrential rain, which although excellent for the water tanks, was not so good for activities.
Mum and I spent one day in the kitchen, preparing meals to freeze for our upcoming passage to Indonesia (more mum than me doing the cooking, which we are so looking forward to eating, she is the best cook and we miss all the delicious meals we used to share often together as a family!!)
We managed to get a lot of schoolwork done with mum and dad on board here to help spread the load.
A ton of boat jobs were accomplished, the tramp was re strung by dad, as the lines had started to wear and snap and so it had been off limits until the new line was brought up. The constant sun is harsh on a boat and her fittings.
Water makers were repaired, fans and wirings were fixed, anchor chain was re marked and un twisted, the list went on….
We were so appreciative to have the extra hands to help with it all.
One wet afternoon, during a break in the weather we headed to the ‘War Memorial Museum’ a short walk away.
It wasn’t quite what we expected in the way of museums, but Billy, the man who runs it, was a knowledgeable and interesting man, who has a huge collection of things found in the jungles and oceans around this area, left over from WW2.
Both American and Japanese items were stacked to overflowing on the long tables and it was a sobering reminder of the men who fought and lost lives here.
My grandfather had been posted in the Solomon Islands for a time during the war, in the general area of where we are, so it was interesting to see some of the areas he would have been to.
The last day was spent at our favourite little island here in Munda.
Snorkeling the impressive reef for Chae, Dad, Libby and Noah, while Mum, Emelia and I played on the beach.
Games of Petanque were had, beers were drunk in the hot sun, while lying in the bath like temperature water, not really cooling you off, but refreshing you anyway.
It is an idyllic spot and one we will miss when we leave here next week.
It was lovely to be able to share it, to walk the sands together, creating memories for a lifetime.
The evening was finished off with a movie, we dropped the table down in the saloon and laughed ourselves silly to the enduring silliness of The Pink Panther, a firm family favourite through all generations!
All too soon, it was time for mum and dad to fly home.
Bags were repacked, significantly lighter, and the dinghy ride was fine with all 7 of us this time!
We sat at the airport ,that we had also sat at with Chris and Madhurii (luckily this time the travelers both had passports!!) and talked about our 7 short days together, the fun we had had and the incredible sights we had been party to.
It always seems to go so quickly and then you are saying goodbye again, watching your family walk down a hot and dusty tarmac to a tiny plane, not knowing when you will see them again.
Which country will we meet at next time?
Which hot and dusty airstrip will deliver family into the welcome arms of the Waterhorse crew again?
Till next time Godfreys, we miss you already and will have to have our V & S and G & T’s on our own this evening, while you wing your way back to our home.