From New Zealand to Fiji without flying – and then some!

Day 3,221 since October 10th 2013: 197 countries out of 203. No flight, no return home, min 24 hrs in each country and 1 pandemic! 

(The opinions expressed on this site are my own, and do not reflect the position or policies of the Danish Red Cross which I represent as a Goodwill Ambassador).

Memories from the good ship YWAM Koha – and beyond


We might as well continue where we left off two weeks ago: I had joined the good ship YWAM Koha in Tauranga, NZ, and we were possibly leaving north to Opua, still in NZ. However, we remained to be a Chief Officer short from forming a complete crew.

The former entry: I guess we got our answer! Back to sea…(farewell NZ)

We departed Tauranga on Friday July 22nd. This day had been a long time coming for YWAM (Youth With A Mission). Roughly 3.5 years according to the speech Marty (General Manager) gave to the camera just before we left. He’s definitely rhetorically strong and seems like an all-round good guy. Marty stayed behind and would fly to Fiji. As we started moving some of us assembled on top of the wheelhouse (the monkey island) waved to the crowd which gathered to send us off and a speaker was blasting “come sail away” performed by Styx.


"Come sail away. Come sail away. Come sail away with me". Rocking out as we departed NZ. Next to me: Sam, Steve, and Abby.

The crew was still lacking a Chief Officer before we could enter international waters. But within New Zealand we had everyone we needed. So, we headed up the east coast to Russell in the Bay of Islands. Russell is near Opua which I thought we would go to. The voyage took close to a day and reminded us all that the good ship rolls and pitches a lot even with little swell and wind. The engine shut down during the short voyage, which would be the first of three times during the entire voyage. It was cold in New Zealand so the heating was turned on, which proved too much for a generator and the engine was shut off. With the engine off we drifted for 10-15 minutes before it was up and running again. The second time was when a (thought to be) secured can flew off a shelf in the engine room and struck the key, turning the engine off?!? Yes! What are the odds? And the third time was as we approached Fiji, the temperatures rose and the air-conditioning was switched on. Our brave master and commander was Captain Mark who oozed a kind and friendly confidence with his broad shoulders and gentle personality. We felt safe onboard.


The bridge onboard the good ship YWAM Koha. Often a busy place :)

The Bay of Islands is where British trade first began with the Māori about 200 years ago. The Māori were well settled in the area long before European interference. Apparently, the Māori were keen to trade and also wanted respect, which they so rightfully deserved. With a steady stream of British ships arriving, Russell grew in size and became a pretty lawless place for a while. For a single year Russell was the first capitol of New Zealand before it was Auckland’s turn for a bit more than a decade, and today it is of course Wellington. The Bay of Islands also became the scene for the Waitangi Treaty Grounds which is said to be Aotearoa New Zealand’s most important historic site. In 1840 the Brits had many Māori chiefs sign the treaty, which was to ensure mutual respect but also the take-over by the British crown. Britain was far stronger and the Māori didn’t really have much choice. Some chiefs signed because they believed in the treaty, some signed because they hoped to benefit in trade, some signed because others signed, some left without signing, and so on. I’ve heard many describe it as a very good treaty. However, the treaty wasn’t really upheld as intended and the Brits eventually became the dominant power while Māori culture and rights were watered down. Something which is still being made up for today. From what I’ve seen, things are quite good now. Kiwiland has certainly come a long way. We had a few days at anchorage in the Bay of Islands as the weather was far to harsh for us to make the crossover to Fiji. We also waited for our Chief Officer (who arrived) and some paperwork (which was approved).


Robbie is a deck hand. But also so much more than that. He truly knows the good ship really well. While staring into the bay he shared a story from his childhood. It started like this: “I once kayaked to that island over there. There’s a cave. We were told not to go in there…”


Christ Church in Russell, est. 1836. The oldest church in New Zealand.


Having a beer with some of the YWAM'ers at the legendary Duke of Marlborough in Russell. Sam is next to me (he didn't drink).


THIS MADE MY DAY!! A Blue Penguin showed up at the ship and did a lap around us. A PENGUIN!! :)

We departed New Zealand on July 27th. On that very day I found the chance to make an ultra-short visit to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Entry was free if you were under 18-years. Kiwis could enter for NZD30 and foreigners had to pay NZD60!? I fail to see the logic in having foreigners, who have obviously travelled far at high expense, pay twice the price of locals, to learn about a foreign country’s history? If anything, it should be less for foreigners? The museum was however good. I raced through it and could easily have spent a full day. I also made it out to see the House of Gathering, the Treaty House, and the Flagstaff (all historical sites). While the entry price was steep (to say the least) I could truly feel the significance of the treaty grounds, which in itself is yet another stunning part of an in many ways beautiful country.


The Waitangi flagstaff marks the spot where the Treaty of Waitangi was first signed on February 6th 1840.

There isn’t much to say about the passage itself. It took a few days, for some of our twenty beating hearts onboard, to find their sea legs. It was quite a bumpy ride. I slept a lot, we saw a bunch of movies in the lounge, we ate three times a day, and there was plenty of time for conversations too. I really love that ship. YWAM Koha was built in Germany back in 1968 and a lot onboard looked like it might have been fifty years old. On one occasion I helped the Chief Engineer look for an adjustment valve in the German manuals from 1968. I speak and read a bit of German. It was heavy reading but we found something. Fun to be onboard such an old ship. Kind of felt like the "good old days" when we were chasing ships in the Caribbean.


Looking through the porthole. The water was all murky after the storm with all the sand that had been mixed into it.


Nate and Shelby were the only couple onboard. They were usually busy but I caught them for a moment resting in the lounge.

The good ship started as a buoy tender in Germany, then found herself on South Africa’s coast, moved on to Pitcairn Islands, and now operates as a “hospital ship”. The good ship also featured in the Hollywood production “The Meg” with Jason Statham in the lead role. One day while crossing to Fiji a flying fish flew through the porthole of Lai’s cabin and landed on his table. Lai along with Meli were the only two Fijians onboard. I shared a cabin with Meli and with Antony who’s from New Zealand. Other nationalities included the UK and the USA (with both Alaska and Hawaii represented). I kid you not when I say there were only good people onboard. I could write a page about each and every one of them. Such diversity.


The youngest onboard was Sam at 13 years. The only minor and basically just onboard for the experience. Cool kid. Many brought their bibles onboard and some would read daily. Being a Christian organization there was daily prayer and worship. We were a mix of crew and passengers with some being “traditionally Christian” while others onboard took Christianity very seriously. I really liked Jono who’s a 29-year-old medical doctor with long hair, really good energy and a believer in creationism. As such Jono was convinced that our planet is around 6,000 years old. I subscribe to that it is closer to 4.5 billion, which led to some good long conversations, because how do we really know anything? I can say something fancy like “Carbon-14 dating”. But how does that even work? I have spent some time reading about it in the past and it breaks down to how atoms slowly decay over time, and I understand the explanation – but how do I know that it is true? As I’m no geologist I arrive at a dead end where I say I trust/believe the consensus amongst scientists. Can I prove what I believe? Hardly. Can Jono prove that God created the earth and everything in it 6,000 years ago? Hardly. I’m better positioned to argue my case against a “flat earth believer” as I can observe why the planet isn’t flat. But Jono isn’t a flat earth believer. Thousands of years ago Socrates may (or may not) have said: “I know that I know nothing”. Jono is a smart guy with an opinion which differs from mine – so we had some great conversations as the good ship rolled and pitched.


Antony and I shared a cabin. Great guy!


Our cook was Shai from Hawaii. Absolutely no complaints! ;)

There were many good conversations onboard. Many good people. I would reason that it must be because volunteers who want to do good on this earth mostly stem from the same "branch". Back in July when I announced that I would be joining YWAM’s ship to Fiji, several people reached out to me and told me to look forward to the journey exactly because of the many good people. I was not disappointed.


So happy that they both agreed to this photo. Amazing guys! Thanks to YWAM Ships Aotearoa and all onboard. I wish you all: fair winds and following seas!

Yeah, so, after quite a bit of rolling and pitching the good ship made it to Suva which is the capitol of Fiji. Somewhere around mid-December 2019 I did that for the first time when Fiji became country no. 192. Imagine that? I have twice within my life disembarked a vessel after arriving to Suva. To make the logistics work there will also be a third time and possibly a fourth. Fiji is the regional powerhouse with the highest GDP, the largest population, and also the largest by size. In fact, Fiji is one of the few Pacific Ocean countries, I could have made a lot of if we had become stuck in Fiji for two years during the pandemic and not in Hong Kong, which I now consider my second home. I miss my friends in Hong Kong. Anyway, as Captain Mark and his brave crew steered the good ship towards the pilot station outside Suva, we got our first good view of the city. Towers were rising within the little capital which is a clear sign that Chinese investors are being active. First the pilot came onboard. Soon after Suva Covid Response Team came onboard and took every one’s temperature. Once we came along side immigration came onboard. We were at the pilot station at 08:00am. Along side in Suva at 09:40am. Cleared to leave the ship around 3:00pm. Welcome back to island time :)


This friendly customs officer demanded that I took a photo of us (with my phone) and shared it with you all saying: Fiji customs welcomes us!

I was a man with a mission. Once I had both feet on the ground I dashed up to Colonial Lodge, where I had stayed back in 2019. The case being that I was looking for low-cost accommodation as well as my box with personal belongings, which I had left behind years ago. I figured I would be back to retrieve my box before August 2020. But the pandemic broke out, I was stuck in Hong Kong, and with time I lost touch with Colonial Lodge. A lot of business in Fiji is dependent on tourism and with the pandemic in full swing it has, and still is, tough times for many. I reached the lodge around 3:15pm, knocked on the door and was let in by Josh. Once inside I met his mother Suzie and explained myself. The lodge clearly wasn’t operational any longer. Suzie shared that they had just come back at 1pm and barely spend anytime at the lodge anymore. So, it was quite remarkable that I showed up two hours later. Furthermore, they had renovated and if I had left a box in 2019 then it was likely no longer there. I asked if we could check the closet and Suzie led the way. She opened the closet doors and sure enough it was empty. But I remembered that the box was stored behind the upper closet doors. And sure enough: there it was! Quite dusty having been there for more than 2.5 years.


Proof that I was in Suva back in December 2019. My flag as well as a Once Upon A Saga sticker was still to found at Colonial Lodge.

We sat down and had chat. It turns out Suzie and I first met during the week I stayed at Colonial Lodge back in December 2019. The memories began to come back. Sadly, Suzie had lost her father not long ago. I remembered him. In fact, I was able to find a photo on my phone of Suzie’s father sleeping on a couch by a window. He was once the President of the Fiji Red Cross. We agreed that I could stay at the lodge although it wasn’t officially a guesthouse anymore. The future of the beautiful colonial house is uncertain as it may be rented out, sold, or something else.


Niko follows the Saga, recognized me, and welcomed me to the Yacht Club :)

My next stop was Royal Suva Yacht Club. According to what I’ve been told, sailboats are currently heading across from Fiji to Vanuatu. And reaching Vanuatu was the original plan when we left New Zealand. But since then, both Samoa and Tonga have opened their borders, which gives us more options to play with. At the yacht club I met Meme, a beautiful woman who immediately showed kindness and wanted to help. A moment later Niko showed up, looked at me and said: “hey, I follow you online!” Meme and Niko told me that a few boats had just arrived and that they would see if they could help. Fijians are so kind. Really kind in fact. Walking about in Suva it is super easy to strike up a conversation.


Tuvalu is now the greatest challenge. Their borders are still closed. So if you know someone who can open a door for us then please let me know.

I returned to YWAM Koha for a last night onboard. That evening I learned that Swire Shipping had a vessel arriving the next day, which the day after would head to Samoa (which had just opened its borders on August 1st). Could I join the ship? I reached out to my friend Paramesh who promptly connected me with Swire’s regional manager Mr. Shyam Reddy. Mr Shyam was very kind and quick to look into possibilities regarding the ship. A friend of mine in American Samoa is well connected and began working on getting me authorization to enter Samoa as a passenger on a container ship. Travel without flying is far more complex than air travel. While Samoa is open for tourism, it might only apply for tourist who fly in. I rarely consider myself a tourist but there is no box to tick for adventurer/explorer.


Marty delivering an emotional speech. He explained that they are an NGO. Their presence in Fiji is a gift from the people of New Zealand to the people of Fiji.

The managing director of YWAM Ships Aotearoa, Marty Emmett, had flown in to Suva a week ahead of our arrival and greeted us onboard the good ship as we arrived. Marty had also convinced me to hang around the following day for the official Fijian welcome to YWAM Ships Aotearoa. No small thing with ministers, chiefs, officials of all sorts, and the Fijian Police Band. It was quite emotional to hear Marty speak, but for me the highlights were Māori Chief Ray Totorewa’s speech/performance, which was nothing less than powerful, impressive, and inspiring! And the Fijian Police Band which was so unbelievably full of joy, life, mischief, fun, and of course music!! My goodness! If you want to fall in love with Fiji then just watch them for a few minutes. I had tears in my eyes and could hardly contain my emotion. The official Fijian welcome conflicted with two of my meetings. But it all worked out in a mix of rescheduling and island time.


Swire Shipping was the agent for YWAM Koha and invited me into this photo with some of the "top dogs" from YWAM Ships Aotearoa.

The next thirty-six hours were labor intensive and stressful. Were we going to pull it off? Was I going to join New Guinea Chief to Suva? Mass coordination between Swire Shipping in Samoa, Fiji, and Singapore. My friend in American Samoa was on the case. Updates, progress, requirements, research. There were four elements we had to sort: 1) green light from authorities in Samoa, 2) green light from authorities in Fiji, 3) capacity onboard the good ship, and 4) a negative PCR-test. If I could get on that ship then we would soon be in Samoa with five countries left. From Samoa there’s a service to Tonga and we could be down to four! And believe it or not, Tonga could connect us to Vanuatu and we could be down to three!! Tuvalu is the odd one out as they are still tight as a drum. But if we were left with only three countries then that might be incentive for Tuvalu to open a door and let me quarantine on arrival. The good ship New Guinea Chief was due to depart on August 4th around noon. You cannot imagine the amount of phone calls, emails, and text messages this involved.


That evening Suzie invited me to join her and Josh at Suzie’s aunts place for dinner and grog (kava). Kava is kind of the tourist name for the mildly sedative drink made from crushed roots and enjoyed widely across parts of the pacific. Fijians call it grog or yaqona (which you pronounce yang-go-na). I missed an opportunity to try it back in 2019 and have always been curious. But with everything which was going on it seemed wise to kindly decline. Oh, what the heck! I accepted the invite and joined them for a lovely dinner in a small local home. Afterwards, Josh prepared the grog by straining the crushed roots with water and serving it in a large communal bowl. Then we each took turns drinking from our separate small bowls. There is much tradition and culture involved. The large communal bowl is “opened” with a gesture, and the first small bowl of grog is only ingested after having said “bula”. And you have to finish the large bowl! As such you just keep drinking until there is no more. I guess I had around ten small bowls of grog and never felt a thing. I did however like the taste as well as the tradition. It was a lovely evening in good company.


Having some fun with Swire Shipping in Suva! :)


Mr Aranesh Dao was excited when I showed up at Swire's office. He follows online. He grabbed FJD20 out of his pocket and insisted that I took it. Thank you :)

The next day came and it was still not clear if I was joining the ship. As noon approached, the departure was pushed later into the day, making it a long and stressful day. Mr Shyam was in and out of meetings and could not always be reached. When would the ship depart? Did we have enough time? All of a sudden there was bureaucratical progress. Samoa’s Ministry of the Prime Minister and Cabinet produced an “authorization to travel and enter Samoa” signed and stamped by the Government of Samoa Immigration Office. Boom! Solid progress. Swire Shipping however still required confirmation on Samoa’s Health travel requirements. And the internet was down at an office we needed to communicate with. Bad luck. Swire’s Global Operations Manager got involved and at 7:30pm he (Ajay) could tell me that the good ship was about to leave without me. But assured me that we would work on another solution for next week.


I'm still Mr. Negative. Let it continue so I can get onboard the ships and enter the final countries.

Time is a valuable commodity. All of these small delays have added up to years. I am no fan of any form of delay. It is my hope that we will be done with the Pacific Ocean, which I am very fond of, by the end of this year. And then we will have two countries in the Indian Ocean before I can return home, something many of you already know, I have been wanting to do since 2015. Well, here’s the thing, this would have been far more unbearable if Fiji had not been such a wonderful place. And as a final twist as things have developed: we are set to join Swire Shipping’s good ship Tuvalu Chief to Samoa, departing around mid-August. So, we now have ten days in Fiji during our second visit. A country we are likely to visit four times to make the logistics work. I read this on a cup this morning: "be the reason someone smiles today". Not a bad goal.



I would like to thank our esteemed partners for their invaluable contributions to Once Upon A Saga: DB Schenker Denmark, Kameli, Red Sand Solutions, Salomon, the Danish Red Cross and Ross DK / Geoop

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