Choosing your Summer Destination

South Pacific Destinations for the upcoming Cyclone Season – Busting the Myths!

It’s about this time of year I start fielding questions from cruisers about where to head for Cyclone Season. The SW Pacific has seen an active period over the last few years with many of the island nations and indeed the Australian East Coast seeing some of the worst nature can deliver with Category Five super storms among other lesser events.

There are a number of factors that will come into play as you make your decisions; your program, are you in a rush or have you time to spend fully exploring the fabulous cruising destination that is the SW Pacific; Insurance is another factor if you’re thinking of summering over in the tropics; are you concerned about turning left and heading to New Zealand, or perhaps Australia; you may even be thinking it’s time to sell and move onto other activities. Well, here a a few thoughts on the subject to take into consideration while making your own decision on your destination.

There are effectively three destinations in this equation; stay in the tropics, or head for New Zealand or Australia, all have their plusses and minuses but all are doable. Let’s look at each in turn but before we do so let’s look at the motivations behind some of the information that’s out there. No doubt you’ve been to one of the many trade/ festival events where people will say, you must go here or you shouldn’t go there, or someone is touting a service, a discount or an event they’d like you to attend. Some of them are quite dogmatic in their assertions and some are positing as truth, information that is anything but!

Here are a few examples of “Anything but the Truth”

You’ll Lose your boat if you stay in the Islands over the Cyclone Season! – Not true, yes there is a higher risk than say, summering over in New Zealand but do your homework on places that have a good record such as Vava’u Boatyard in Tonga and Vuda Marina in Fiji and remember over 50% of Australia’s east coast is also in the Cyclone Zone.

If I go to Australia I’m going to get hit by one of those East Coast Lows! – Not True, yes they exist but with modern forecasting and good passage planning the chances are very small.

If I head for New Zealand I’m going to get into a storm and damage my boat! – One of those armchair experts we talked about above actually put in print that; it wasn’t a matter of getting one hammering you were doing well to not get two. Utter rubbish!

Another Myth is that a Passage To New Zealand is a Tasman Sea Crossing, again not true, see the attached map showing the Tasman Sea boundaries below, you’re more likely to be in the Tasman if you’re heading to Australia than New Zealand. So Remember to take with a grain of salt the information you’re being given especially if they have an ulterior motive in giving it.

Staying in the Pacific Islands

Much depends on which Pacific Island. Looking at past events French Polynesia stands out as being the least likely to see Cyclone activity. That said most of the cyclone events in the South Pacific in recent years have been generated by higher than usual sea surface temperatures in the Western Pacific and Coral Sea. Heat creates convection, the Coriolis effect creates rotation, add more heat and you’ve got a cyclone. This area of warm water is now starting to flow back to the east and the area where cyclones are spawned is therefore moving with it. Many of you will have noticed a higher than usual incidence of tropical depressions this year? the latest last week just west of Tahiti.
If it’s the Islands you’re considering for the summer, check in with the people where you’re considering to stay over with. In the SW Pacific; Vava’u Boatyard-Tonga
Vuda Marina – Fiji – Port Vila Boatyard – Vanuatu or NOUVILLE PLAISANCE Haul out – Noumea – New Caledonia
Insurance is a factor for those wishing to stay in the cyclone zone so check with your insurer first. At last time I checked Vuda Marina had an insurer that offered cover.

Lyn and I have summered over in Fiji on Windflower and enjoyed it immensely. We cruised most of the time and had the place almost to ourselves. You will need to book and pay for a space at Vuda Marina for the duration of the summer months as your bolt hole if this is an option you choose.

New Zealand as a Summer Destination.

And what a destination it is.. Now I’ll stick my hand up here and say yes I’m biased, New Zealand is my home and I’m proud to say so. But it’s still a fabulous destination for cruisers. From the Marlborough Sounds and Fiordland in the South Island to the amazing Northland Coast and the Bay of Islands in the North, New Zealand has some great cruising. You’ll also have all the marine repair and service professionals you need, all the parts, materials and equipment you could want and all this with the cost less GST (tax) for International visitors.
For those looking at selling their vessel, New Zealand has a more relaxed approach than that of Australia regarding when duty is payable.
Getting back to the tropics from New Zealand for the next cruising season is easy. All the SW Pacific groups are an easy 7 to 10 day passage, again, patience is the order of the day, you’ll need to wait for the right weather window to get a good passage.

Making the Passage.

One of the things I’ve learned while cruising is, if you want information ask someone who’s done it and has personal experience.
I’ve been sailing in the SW Pacific now for over 25 years, i’ve over 100,000 sea miles under the keel and weather is one of my passions. To say you can’t do the passage from the Pacific Islands to New Zealand without getting hammered is simply not correct. I’ve done that passage over 40 times now and only had ONE bad trip, the first one. At that point it was either a case of giving it up or finding a better way. Since then I haven’t had a bad trip or a trip where I or the boat has suffered damage.
Rather than go into detail on that now, it’s a big subject, I’ll simply say with patience, proper Passage Planning followed by good Passage Management a good trip can be had.
If you’d like to know more please sign up for our Sail South Pacific Newsletter and tick the box for more Passage Planning Information. Click HERE Or Click the link to OCEAN TACTICS weather.

Australia as a Summer Destination.

Like New Zealand, Australia also offers some great cruising. Some of these can be considered out of bounds during the cyclone season but Southern Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and particularly Tasmania are fabulous. Christmas and New Years in Sydney is a bucket list item. At the end of summer and the end of the cyclone season the North Queensland coast beckons with the Whitsundays and the Great Barrier Reef.
New Caledonia, is the western most Pacific Island neighbour to Australia and sees a number of Australian boats head in that direction each year. Unfortunately one of the things that help make Australia an easy destination, the SE to East prevailing wind also makes it a difficult place for cruisers to get back into the Pacific from. Statistics tell us that only 5% of visiting cruisers to Australia make the effort to return to the Pacific Islands, so with this in mind make sure you see and do the South Pacific in full before enjoying what Australia has to offer.

With many cruisers on a time frame and hoping for more of the same as they head further west, we get many cruisers emailing us from points west saying they wish they’d stayed longer in the South Pacific.

Selling your boat?

Rather than continue west or do the hard yards back across the Pacific to the East some cruisers choose to sell their vessels as the get to the western end of the Pacific. The question asked by many is, where is the best destination to do this. Much depends on the boat as to where it’s biggest market is, in New Zealand getting good cruising boats that are well set up is often hard work so many will be looking at the International market for a good boat. Some say Catamarans are easier to sell in Australia yet the regions largest multihull broker has two sales offices in New Zealand. Before you decide, ask the questions, what are the tax issues, where am I going to get the best deal and is it best to multi list or go sole agent? The south pacific is a reasonably small place and it’s only a few hundred dollars for an interested party to fly in to see your vessel where ever it is. Many have had success leaving their boats in the islands where a potential purchaser may not need to pay duty or taxes immediately nor need to do an ocean passage before getting their first taste of the cruising lifestyle.


Above all else, it’s a long way for most to get to the South Pacific so kick back, take your time and enjoy this special place, make the hard yards to get here pay dividends.

Safe Sailing.

John Martin