What is the passage from New Caledonia or Vanuatu to Australia like ?

It is well documented that the passage to New Zealand is potentially the hardest leg a cruiser will ever make as you are heading into southern latitudes and to a very small destination target.

The passage to Australia is usually very predictable, weather windows are typically longer in the later part of the southern hemisphere spring (September - November) and Australia offers a huge target! This of course means that if needed you can change your port of arrival at any time to suit the conditions you encounter you are able to do so.

Typically, favourable weather windows of around 5 days for sailing from New Caledonia to Bundaberg (the shortest passage distance to a port of entry) are found in mid September  to early November. It is however worth mentioning that cyclone season in Australia officially runs from 1 November to 30 April, however, tropical cyclones can form at any time of the year so do take this into consideration when planning your passage.

Which Australian port of entry is best ?

You can choose to head to a port on the central east coast such  as Coffs Harbour or Newcastle but in our experience this passage can be a challenging one as the distances are further, making the passage times longer and the your passage weather forecast less reliable.

Another reason to choose a more northern port of entry is the weather phenomenon know as a "Southerly Buster". Should you encounter a Southerly Buster when you are approaching the more southern ports of entry you are going to be in for a very uncomfortable period of large seas and strong headwinds. To learn more about these "Southerly Busters" click here.

Brisbane is also a port of entry however the port is located in the mouth of the Brisbane river and as such requires you to navigate the busy shipping lanes of Moreton Bay. Moreton Bay also requires you to navigate through the shoal waters and at times you will be sharing the channels with some very large commercial vessels. Not too much of a problem in the daylight and when you are well rested but after a 5-6 day passage the last 12 hours or so of your passage are a bit more stressful than is necessary.   

The better option in our opinion is to arrive in Bundaberg and then if you are wanting to head south you will find that the voyage south can, in the most part, be made up of day sails with very few overnight passages needed and as such the ability to time the voyage based on the best conditions.

To see more reasons why we recommend you choose Bundaberg as the Australian port of entry for the Go West Rally - Click here

Passage New Caledonia to Bundaberg

Bundaberg has the advantage of being the closest port to arrive at from Noumea being approx 790nm downwind. Sailing conditions are usually 15-25 knot SE trades. Richard Chester of Rocket Cruising Guides to New Caledonia & Vanuatu  has made this passage many times and here is what he has to say about it:

"The passage from Noumea directly to Bundaberg is an easy run and the one least likely to run afoul of bad weather. The further south you go on the Australian east coast in October & November the greater the chances are of getting nailed with a nasty headwind. Bundaberg is the safest possible landfall from Noumea. Your course takes you due west to pass north of Fraser Island and then SW to the entrance of the Burnett river. Expect a 5 day downwind run with no significant ocean currents or hazards. If you are uncertain of the weather but have to go anyway head for Bundaberg."

Passage Vanuatu to Bundaberg

  • Port Vila to Bundaberg.

Richard Chester of Rocket Cruising Guides to New Caledonia & Vanuatu  has made this passage many times and here is what he has to say about it:

"Use extreme caution going from Vila direct to Bundaberg north of New Caledonia. It is best to go around the north end of Entrecasteaux reefs. Many yachts have been wrecked on the northern reefs of New Caledonia."

Vanuatu to Bundaberg via Chesterfield Reef

"A truly memorable 5-day stop-over at Chesterfield Reef"

Graham & Dianne Keating of s.v Maunie of Ardwall were participants in the 2016 Down Under "Go West" Rally and they have provided the information below including waypoints and the email address to send your request for permission to visit.

Chesterfield Reef makes for a perfect stopover for those on passage from Vanuatu to Australia in settled weather.

Prior to Visiting

Vessels wishing to visit the reef should first e-mail the Department de Affaires Maritime in Noumea for permission.

A friendly reply came back on the next working day, requesting a trip report after the visit (to include details of activities undertaken at the reef, species of fish caught (if any), any islands visited and any other environmental information).

Navigation and Anchoring

The reef is very large and, in the most part, 25 – 35m deep. The centre of the (very wide) eastern entrance is at 19deg 45’S, 158deg 27’E and the western entrance some 11nm away is at 19deg 50’.7S, 158deg 17’E .

The southern anchorage, described below, is nearly 11 miles from the line between these two points, so you should be aware that there may be considerable wind chop in the lagoon due to the length of the fetch. We arrived in 20-24 knots of southerly wind and had an uncomfortable beat to the anchorage.

Two anchorages that we used were as follows:

1. East side of the lagoon 
Position: 19 deg 52’.9S, 158deg 27’8E

We anchored in 10m of very clear water in sand (good holding) with some small coral outcrops easily visible in good light. This anchorage gains some shelter from a row of small islands in E or SE winds, but was rolly in a southerly and would be very uncomfortable in moderate westerly winds.

Note that there is a large and shallow coral outcrop rising from about 20m depth at approximately 19 deg 18’.3S, 158 deg 27’.7E which poses a hazard - but which also provides excellent snorkelling opportunities. It is visible on the biggest scale Google Earth images.

2. South tip of the lagoon
Postion: 19 deg 57’.4S, 158deg 28’.4E

We anchored on a wide, flat sandy shelf in 5m. This was our preferred anchorage at the head of the ‘V’ shaped reef, so it benefits from less roll in SE to W winds and the white sand turns the water into a dazzling turquoise colour.

Note that there is a large and shallow coral outcrop almost on the direct line between the first anchorage and this one, at approximately 19deg 54’.2S, 158deg 27’8E, again visible on Google Earth.

Many other anchorages are available and there may well be other uncharted shallow patches, so a good lookout is strongly recommended when navigating within the reef.


Once here, the chief delight of the reef, apart from the obvious respite from the passage-making, is the incredible variety of bird and marine life. The small sandy islands of the reef are nesting grounds to terns, boobies, gannets and many more and they are unafraid of humans so, moving slowly and with care, it’s possible to photograph them at very close quarters; we were there in mid-October which seemed to be prime nesting season.

In the water there were Loggerhead turtles mating and the females were making their way up the beaches to lay eggs.

Other boats reported good spear-fishing opportunities (though we have read warnings of cigutera poisoning in the reef on other websites) and we saw black tip reef sharks and large sea snakes. Be advised that the spear-fishers reported Tiger sharks (one around 3m long) around the anchorage when they were gutting fish and that even the reef sharks were boldly inquisitive when they were snorkelling, so be very cautious if anyone is spear-fishing in the area!

Graham Keating
s/y Maunie of Ardwall

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