Australs and Marquesas - two islands, two DXCC countries
Inspired by the maximum of solar activity we have decided in 1999 to travel somewhere in Pacific Ocean. First it was supposed to be a two person (SP9FIH & SQ9LR) tourist trip, but after a few conversations in our home club SP9PDF in Gliwice it transformed into a DX expedition. In the beginning we have planned a visit to the Southern and Northern Cook, but when we have calculated our financial reserves and prospective aids it turned out, that the financial means would be sufficient only for Austral Islands and perhaps for Marquesas Islands. Besides there were supposed to be several expeditions on ZK1 in October 2000.
The second, after finances, problem was adjusting the date, in order for it to be appropriate for both participants, who have quite tense duties at work.
Finally we have managed to embark on our journey on the 18th of October 2000. We have taken with us IC 746, TS 570, 3 el tribander, 9 band vertical, 5 el monobander over 6 m, RTTY modem and two laptops. Unfortunately we didn't manage to organize an amplifier. We were afraid especially for the transport of antennas, which were quite a big packaging and resembled a packed cannon, thus the standard question at every airport "Do you gentlemen carry a bazooka?".
The air connection was not very comfortable. That is why the route Warsaw - London - Los Angeles - Papeete has taken us about 40 hours. Tired, just before the sunrise we landed on the main island of French Polynesia - famous Tahiti.
At noon of the same day we departed by local airlines Air Tahiti to Tubuai in the archipelago of Australs, paying through the nose for an over tariff luggage ticket (antennas).
Tubuai Island is 5 km in diameter, it is populated by 1800 people in several villages located at the seaside. One of the villagers, living a laid-back life, rented a house. His carelessness was so great, that he didn't even want to count the money for rental. The bungalow rented from Charles for two weeks was very well situated. Our QTH was located 30m from the shore, on a turquoise lagoon surrounded by a reef with several small islands called "motu". The house, in which we lived, was in the northern part of the island.
We had a good opening through the Pacific to the USA, Japan and Europe on short path. The situation with propagation on Europe via long path was worse, as there are mountains up to 422 m high in the centre of the island.
Right after our arrival, on the same afternoon we have managed to set up all three antennas and we have begun working from 6 m, where only within the first 2 hours we have logged over 300 JA stations. This is how looked our work on Austral Islands, where the pileup was interlaced with long hours, in which we have screamed ourselves silly calling CQ and making 6-20 QSO/hour.
The dead hours usually have been at noon. On the other hand in the morning and in the evening the progresses have been getting to almost 250 QSOs/hour. We have made the most contacts on the 10 m band thanks to a great number of sun-spots.
Unfortunately it turned out that there were not many amateurs listening on the bands. If you are not exactly on 14 195, but on 14 180 it is just as if your are not there at all. If nobody announces you on "cluster" it's just as if you were not broadcasting at all. If you have 100 W and you're calling Eu or W stations on 80 m, nobody pays attention to your weak signal. Nevertheless we had about 100 QSOs with Japan, USA and Australia from Tubuai on 80 m band.
During the time, when nobody wanted to call us out, one of the operators has been changing the microphone for a bike and drove for shopping to the local shop, where one could buy only a couple of tins, eggs and tomatoes. Baguettes were available only until 9 in the morning.
Sometimes, when the sun rose one of us would go and take some pictures or have a dive in the lagoon. For breakfast, usually 1,5 hours before sunrise, we had coffee, and then until 10, local time, there was no time to eat because there was a good propagation for EU and W. For dinner we usually had a baguette with butter or a tin, sometimes rice with eggs and potatoes or scrambled eggs. Afternoon lunch - a baguette with butter, and in the evening, for supper half a baguette in brakes of pile-up with EU and JA. Generally we set making contacts above preparing meals.
More or less at the same time as us, there were several other active expeditions of shortwavers on the Pacific islands: K5K, ZK1YRE, A35YL/A35ZG, ZM8CW, ZK1NJC/ZK1NDK. Competition between them sometimes caused some commotion.
Two or three operated on the same DX frequency or splits from various expeditions meshed. On the other hand during the "dead" afternoon hours one could chat for a couple o minutes e.g. with K5K and know, that one of their amplifiers has gone bad, or that they miss a good old restaurant or in a different discussion, that it is good to dip the radials for vertical in the Pacific Ocean, and the seats of the operators hurt because of their hard chairs.
We have slowly became acquainted with local fauna: cocks were waking us up at 3 in the morning, cockroaches and ants stole our food, mosquitoes and wasps pushed us to making communication faster, and local folk knocked at our windows in the night, that it was time to go to bed and stop shouting "CQ".
After 9 days of working, logging 15 000 QSOs, including 1000 on RTTY, when completely no one wanted to call us we have decided to go to a different DXCC country, to Marquesas Islands. The decision was difficult because of two reasons: significant increase in costs and the necessity to pack all antennas and set them up in a completely different and unknown place (...and what if there is no place for antennas...). Charles drove us to the airport (actually a take-off field) in the back of his truck in a warm tropical rain.
Several hours of flight and we're in Papeete - the capital of French Polynesia, and because we have some time before departure to Marquesas Islands, we have decided to rent a car and go round Tahiti Nui on the seaside road and a part of Tahiti Iti. On the road we have stopped in interesting places in order to look around and take some pictures. A shame, that we didn't have more time, as the high mountains seemed tempting (the highest peek Mt Orohena is 2241 m high), situated in the centre of both parts of the island. Tahiti is composed of two, pretty round islands stuck together, that is why it resembles a digit "eight" on the map. Nui is bigger and more populated, Iti is it's little sister, not so big and living in a more idle way.
The botanical garden along with Gauguin's Museum are worth visiting, although, the majority of originals of the famous artist's compositions are in different galleries. In the gardens of the Museum there are three "tiki" stones brought here in the thirties from Raivavae in the archipelagos of Australs - the greatest of them weights 2110 kg. Several renovated stone "marae" attracts, apart from some tourists, thousands of hungry "nono" flies, similar to Siberian black flies, much more severe than mosquitoes. Polynesian cottages in the old style, with their walls and roofs made of pandanus leaves are typical for the islands of the Pacific Ocean and well adjusted to hot and humid climate.
We visit some big waterfalls and stop by the so called "blowhole", where water from the Pacific Ocean pushed under great pressure into rock ravines gushes in a geyser on a dozen meters. We drive, thanks to Rafal's abilities, to the height of several hundred meters above the ocean and watch the exotic panorama of mountains covered with palm trees in the lower parts, and rocky in the upper parts. The whole route around Tahiti Nui is about 120 km, but the trip is not boring, as after each turn we encounter fascinating views, well marked tourist attractions, various kinds of restaurants and stalls, where one may extinguish thirst with a fresh coconut juice. Late evening, when the sun has already gone down behind Matavai Bay, where Wallis, Bougainville, Cook and Bligh usually anchored their sail ships, we reach our guest-house.
At dawn we go to the Faaa airport, we board a small ATR, which takes us to Nuku Hiva, almost on the equator and then it turns out, that at noon the heat knocks us off our feet, the cocks can be even louder, mosquitoes more annoying, cockroaches - bigger, and the population of the island greets us with CQ DX they acquired from different expeditions at the sight of our antennas. Second part of our travel has begun.
Nuku Hiva, the biggest island in the Marquesas archipelagos is very differentiated in geographical terms. Irregular coastline, which consists of many bays, spit and capes is very well visible from the plane on approach. Mountain interior of the island and the lack of roads with hardened surface resulted in the fact, that the most frequently used vehicle is a terrain car with four-wheel drive. Deep gorges are often filled with rivers, falling from the rocky thresholds in the form of picturesque waterfalls. In the north of Nuku Hiva the rain and wind have shaped incredible basaltiform pins.
The trip to Marquesas Islands began unfortunately. We had transceivers, laptops, personal luggage, but unfortunately the antennas were lost. As the result of long clarifications we have received an assurance, that they would be here on the following day. We have received them after another day of waiting, and several thousand contacts haven't been made.
In order not to waste more time, we have visited the biggest village on the island, populated with about 1000 villagers Taiohae located next to a beautiful bay of the same name, surrounded with high rocky mountains. After quite a long searching for an appropriate place for our three antennas, we have chosen a small bungalow with a big garden full of tiare bushes (which white flowers are worn stuck behind an ear, or as a necklace on the neck), grapefruits and bananas, where we have managed to also plant our antennas. QTH on Marquesas Island was unfortunately in the south of the island, as the result all the important DX directions were occluded by the mountains, vertically placed right behind the village.
During our couple of days absence on air being the result of a QTH change from OC-125 to OC-27 and awaiting for the lost luggage the propagation conditions have considerably worsened. Strong geomagnetic storm appeared and on 6 and 7th of November the A index was 42 and 39 respectively. Very good openings were present only to the Northern and Southern America.
Only another half a day of packing the antennas in a warm shower, packing the luggage and we are on our way to the airport, to the other end of the island, once again crossing the mountains with a jeep. Buggy and narrow road runs through eroded sides of long inactive volcanoes, rising up to 1000m over the ocean according to the altimeter built in Wranglers jeep.
During the road we have summarized our activity from the Marquesas Islands. We know what to do better: other QTH, an amplifier and a little different time of departure. Let us hope that our health and sponsors allows us one day to make 30000 QSO from the Marquesas Islands again. We hope, that our experience from both locations will result in a better expedition in the future.
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