Isla de Cocos and her riches... / 15 March 2012
Marumaru Atua crew © Pacific Voyagers
© Pacific Voyagers
Sunday 11th March.
Kia Orana Tatou,
We are now a day's sail away from Cocos Island and we are all still recovering our energy after all the activities we did there and still reminiscing about the fantastic experiences we had there. As mentioned previously the rangers on Cocos Island were very hospitable people and made sure to allow us access to all the adventures available on their island as well as their resources and facilities, like some much need fresh water. They guided us on numerous treks around the island, allowed us access to the designated diving/snorkeling spots, they also allowed us use of their washing facilities for showering and washing clothes, and for those who had computers they allowed us use of their Wifi network to catch up with our friends and loved ones.
The treks were very clear trails and well groomed making them easy to navigate. The first one we tried was to the waterfall, about a 35 minute walk from their main station in Wafer Bay.The rangers first showed us the large pile of illegal long lining gear they have collected it the last few months explaining the work they are constantly doing to protect their waters Then they took us up the path to a unique rope bridge made of buoys, fishing lines, nets, clips and all manner of salvaged fishing material that the coast guard and rangers have collected/confiscated in their waters...we all had lots of fun taking photos, crossing and recrossing here...it felt like something out of an Indiana Jones adventure film! It then goes past a small building which is their hydro-electric station! Very cool and proof of their dedication to sustanability! The path then meanders along through a gradual valley with a pleasant forest before meeting and following their main water pipe until we get to their small concrete dam and intake, which doubles to feed their water supply and their hydro station. Another 10 mins after the dam and we get to the waterfall...fresh cool water coming down a cliff face about 40-50 metres high into an oval shaped pool about 15 metres in diameter.After 19 days at sea this was our new heaven giving us fresh and cold water. There was a natural ledge just under the waterfall where you could stand or sit and be partly submerged while having the water crashing down onto your head and back...needless to say with all of us there together, it was a constant friendly scuffle to try to maintain your spot in these prime positions. At first glance there wasn't anywhere to jump into the water safely but after we started exploring properly one of our brothers from Te Matau a Maui, Kaipara, managed to find some hand and footholds to climb right up the face of the waterfall about 6 metres before launching into a massive bomb into the pool! After he found that, most of us had a go at jumping from this spot...the rangers were amused at how keen we were to find bombing spots....what can we say? That's what islanders do! It was nice for us to go up as a group and relax enjoying the land and to feel the cool of the water.
The other treks were more scenic, with one taking you over some mountains to connect the main ranger station in Wafer bay with another smaller station in Chatham bay where we first arrived. This walk only takes about 50 mins at a good pace but rewarded us with fantastic views down into the bays overlooking our fleet of polynesian Vakas! Once you reached the top of the valley to cross over to the other bay you can see the thousands of sea birds soaring and gliding around in great spirals, some nesting in the trees, and sometimes swooping down to pick a fish up off the surface or even crashing below the surface to land a fishy prize....all the while making a chaotic racket! To walk in a forest so pristine and uninhabited was a great joy for us...to feel the texture of the land between our toes and fingers was an awesome feeling after the long while sailing the ocean...we all got happily muddy as many times as we could! The first day returning to land and seeing and smelling the soil and lush vegetation was a breath of fresh air after the 19 days at sea and we became quite attached to this paradise reserve. The other major trek which only a few of us with enough free time and energy managed to do, was a 6 hour walk to the highest point on the island, some 634 metres high - 3 hours each way. For those that did complete this monster-trek, it was a great stretch of the legs and gave you a great 360 degree panorama of the other mountains and the ocean beyond. One of the boys found it a bit too much and ended up with slightly swollen feet afterwards but nevertheless declared it was well worth it!
In Chatham bay at low tide (the tide's rose and and fell a huge amount - over 2 metres) there was a nice strip of sand which we made use of to play touch and soccer a few times for exercise. Again a great change of pace to be able to exert ourselves and feel our lungs and muscles burning...especially in a place such as this, where there may have been only a handful of other touch and soccer games in the island's entire history...! A cool thought for us! Of course in both bays all the Vakas were anchored at least 100 metres from shore so our other exercise came from paddling our cumbersome dinghies to and from the Vaka...especially when we had a dinghy-load of our water bottles to refill and paddle back out! Some good laughs had by everyone during these short paddles while trying to stay dry, and in the dinghy, while dodging, catching and attempting to time the shorebreak sets that got between .5 to 1 metre...safe to say hardly anyone stayed dry....although some of the girls from Uto ni Yalo made a valiant effort on the first evening after a cool fresh water shower...we were paddling for them and they almost made it all the way back to the Vaka dry too, but then a little rogue came out of the blue and drenched us all...it was hilarious!...they were angry at us for a while saying we did it on purpose...lol...but not for long :)
Our escort vessel Evohe and her awesome crew, after being shown the safe diving/snorkeling spots and procedures by the rangers, began making daytrips out to these spots to take any of us voyagers who were keen to try this experience...and just about all of us leapt at these opportunities! One of the favourite spots was around a tiny island named dirty rock which was about half a mile out from Wafer bay. Dirty rock was actually an undersea pylon that rose straight up from the sea floor about 40 metres below. It was teeming with fish and marine life of all sizes including sharks such as the common blacktips and whitetips as well as schools of hammerheads. One of the main attractions here for these larger species is that it is a cleaning station...where the little fishes come out and pick all the algae and buildup off the sharks etc. Some of us who dived and snorkled on the first day of Manualita Island a larger island at the mouth of Chatham Bay, then later at Dirty Rock had awesome experiences swimming amongst a big ball of fish with the pod of dolphins at the top and under them were the school of bigeye scads, rainbow runners and below them were the skip-jacks and yellow fin tunas, turtles, galapagos sharks and hammerheads, what and awesome sight to see all of it in one hit. The sight of the big sharks was quite fearful at first with their sizes averaging 2m, but after a while we learnt the importance of remaining calm and just enjoy their gracefulness as they swam around us. Some of us had their own dolphins swimming alongside them and eyeing them at the same time what a special moment that was! Those who were certified did scuba diving in these various spots and were able to look alot longer at these environments while the rest of us just snorkeled and peeked in at the beautiful undersea world from above...although some us are definitely part fish like Sergio (an experienced free diver), who was going down to 30 + metres with single breaths and surprising the scuba divers as he swam past with a grin. These will all be memories cherished by us all, never to be forgotten.
We had an afternoon of sharing with the rangers one day where we filled them in about our voyage and our goals and gave them some small gifts, and they in turn told us more about themselves, the history of the island and the conservation work they are doing there. The history includes many tales of Pirate's buried treasure on the island so everyone was keeping an extra keen lookout after that..just in case. However, mostly these rangers' work consists of being caretakers who strive to maintain the natural purity of the island's marine life, land creatures, birds and of course the native vegetation. The main threat of course? Yes you guessed it...us...man! The coast guard showed us a whole shed full of longlines he had pulled and cut up from within the protected area. Also they told us about some of the introduced species of land animals that have taken hold there which they are trying to deal with...pigs, deer, cats and rats. A shame that man's influence can lead to so much change and potential harm. A great parallel with our own mission regarding our oceans....man's...no OUR influence has put our seas and our planet in jeopardy...and it is only Us who can make it right! Like the motto goes on our Vaka when it comes to doing tasks..'there is no next person!'...i.e. don't ignore a job and wait for the next person to clean it up...do it yourself so that it is done, clean and ready for the next person....the same goes with our natural environment...if we keep on waiting for the next person to do something about it...it will be far too late...let's get ourselves into a collective gear now to initiate the change we need! Akamaroiroi tatou! Let's make the effort...
We got to know some of the rangers pretty well like Josh, Antonio, Stephany, Manuel & Leila to name a few...we took some of them onboard our vakas to show them around a bit, and we also helped them with some of their chores around their stations such as raking rubbish...digging out old drains...scrubbing a few dirty areas...and moving some heavy items around...the least we could do for their kindness...Meitaki Maata guys!!
On this current leg our Captain Peia has called on all the trainee navigators from all the vakas to step up and guide us from Cocos to Galapagos entirely with traditional means. This will be their practice run before navigating the long leg from Galapagos to the Tuamotus. We had a briefing on Marumaru Atua the night before departing Cocos, where all the navigators came aboard and were able to ask questions, reinforce their knowledge or clear up any issues they were not sure of. All the way from San Diego our own navigators aboard Marumaru have been honing their skills on each watch so now, after our first night of sailing everyone is in extra good spirits and we are confident that our navigators are doing their jobs well...as i'm sure the other vakas are too...of course under the watchful eye of our Pwo Master Navigator, Captain Peia who is checking in with each vaka everyday at sundown.
Alexander Teariki Olah
A day's traditional sail towards the Galapagos Islands...