Category Archives: New Zealand

Our “Endless Summer” Comes to an End

Cheers entering La Paz Channel, February 2008

Cheers entering La Paz Channel, February 2008

I’ve always known that my life was not going to follow a straight and narrow path, but sometimes the curves in the road astonish even me…

Just over 5 years ago, in February 2008, Mark and I left the U.S. and sailed Cheers south to Mexico. Although we had no way of knowing it at the time, it was the beginning of what we’ve come to call our “Endless Summer”. We both worked in chilly Alaska that summer, but returned “home” to the warmth and sunshine of La Paz. We went to Greece for the first time, and then spent that winter working in sunny Baja California. Over the next few years, we lived aboard in La Paz, exploring the islands in the Gulf of California aboard Cheers when we weren’t working. In 2009 and 2010, we spent 6 months of each year in the Mediterranean, working aboard S/Y Panorama, and falling completely in love with Greece. The other half of each of those years was spent working either in tropical Costa Rica and Panama, or back in Baja California. Then, of course, we have this past 18 months; during which we went from autumn heat in San Carlos, to a tropical, northern-hemisphere winter in Puerto Vallarta. Sailing south and west, we found more warm weather in the tropical Pacific, and then arrived in New Zealand in time for the southern-hemisphere summer. We’ve had gorgeous sunny weather for most of our time here in NZ, continuing our “endless summer” for 6 more months. We’ve joked that we haven’t seen any real “winter” weather for a long time! That, however, is about to change.

We’re off on a new adventure, and it’s completely different than the one we expected to be embarking on, just a month ago. In a few days, Cheers and her crew will leave Auckland, to explore some of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf, before sailing down the east side of the Coromandel Peninsula to the Bay of Plenty. By the end of this month, we should be berthed in the Bridge Marina in Tauranga, and deep into passage prep, of a different sort. You see, I’ve been offered and accepted an amazing full-time job that will take me first to Sydney, Australia, then back to Seattle. Since time is of the essence, we’ve decided to load Cheers aboard a freighter, and ship her home to the Pacific Northwest.

Yep, you read that right. After nearly a month of discussion, researching various possibilities and a lot of soul searching, we’ve committed to a big course change that will close our South Pacific chapter, and take us on a new adventure. Although our “endless summer” is coming to an end, we’re excited to be returning to a place we both love so well. Cheers is coming with us so we can still get out on the water, and will be our home for the foreseeable future. We may be returning to a more “normal” life, but neither of us will ever forget our incredible South Pacific journey, and, after all, we’re still pretty much boat bums at heart.

We’ll continue to blog about our preparations for shipping, and the recommissioning of the boat, as a number of our cruising friends have asked us to share photos. Once we’re both settled back in Seattle, we’d love to tell you our stories and share our photos in person, all you have to do is ask.

Hoping that all is well in your world, Michelle

Cheers under the rainbow, Pier 21 Marina, Auckland

Cheers under the rainbow, Pier 21 Marina, Auckland

South and West, NZ Road Trip Final Chapter

Picking up where I left off… Our first almost-adventure happened right in the parking lot of the Christchurch Airport branch of Apex car rentals. We had the keys to our rental car, loaded the luggage, sorted out the maps, adjusted the seats and mirrors, and turned the key… Whoa! I hadn’t realized that the car was a manual transmission, so we jumped about a foot forward, since I did not have my foot on the clutch. At first I thought maybe it would be okay, but I quickly realized that I am useless with my left hand, and was already challenged enough by driving on the “other” side of the car and road. So, back into the office, apologizing for being an American driver and asking for an automatic. Prudence was definitely the better part of valor here. By the time I got back out to the parking lot, Mark had already moved all of our stuff into our new(er) Nissan Sunny, and we were ready to go!

I’d found a great package deal online, for 2 nights in the hot springs town of Hanmer Springs, so we headed north. It was a little out of the way, but was well worth the extra driving to soak away the last remnants of our nasty colds. We headed south two days later, refreshed and ready to explore. From Hanmer Springs, we drove back out toward the coast, and then all the way south to Dunedin, backtracking past Christchurch – again. We stopped for lunch in the little coastal town of Oamaru, and then pressed on. We were due to stay with some friends of a friend in Dunedin and didn’t want to arrive too late.

One stop we did have to make, though, was at the Moeraki Boulders. These spherical concretions formed on a muddy seafloor, and are estimated to have taken 4-5 million years to form. We’re able to see them today because they’ve eroded out of the surrounding mudstone by wave action. While Moeraki is not the only place in the world one can see this fascinating geological phenomenon, it was a first for us.

We spent two nights in Dunedin, making a day trip out to the Otago Peninsula in between. We’d intended to visit the Royal albatross colony at Tairoa Head, and perhaps stop into the facility at Penguin Place, but ended up having a completely different day instead. While we knew that the albatross colony was a protected area, we didn’t expect to be greeted by a hostile attendant upon entering the “visitor center”. She grumpily informed us that “your $5 only gets you in this door, and access to the toilets”. If we wanted to see the albatross, that would cost us $50 each, and we’d be allowed ONLY to walk up the path to the enclosed blind. While I’m always in favor of supporting local conservation efforts, I’d prefer to be welcomed, rather than snarled at. Our friends in Dunedin opted to take a day trip with Monarch Wildlife Cruises, and I think that’s definitely a better option. They had great views of the albatross and much more, along with fun, informative naturalist guides.

So, instead of staying at Tairoa Head, we went out for some low-tide birdwatching, followed by a walk to Allen’s Beach. For our efforts, we were rewarded with great views of Royal spoonbills, Spur-wing plovers, Variable oystercatchers, Pied stilts, Red-billed gulls and, my favorite, pukekos. These beautiful birds are listed as Purple swamphens in my field guides, but the Maori name is pukeko (pronounced poo-que-ko). We even saw one of them with two fuzzy little chicks following her around, then darting back under the protective cover of the marsh sedges. On our beach walk, we found several NZ sea lions half buried in the sand, along with a few NZ fur seals on the rockier end of the quiet, pristine beach. We watched and photographed, and then headed back to town for a quick stop at Dunedin’s famous train station.

The following day, we continued south to The Catlins, and found one of those wonderful little pockets of “old” Zealand. We drove on two lane, and then small gravel roads, and were rewarded for getting off the main tourist drag. Finding more birds and pinnipeds, great bush walks accompanied by bellbird and tui song, the dramatic Cathedral Caves at low tide, a “petrified forest” beach at Curio Bay, and, a chance to watch a rare Yellow-eyed penguin for a good long time. Despite the great wildlife and the much needed “nature fix”, I think our favorite part of our Catlins visit was the stop at The Lost Gypsy Gallery, in the tiny hamlet of Papetowai. A former engineer turned artist has created a magical little world, turning various “found” items in to “automated gizmos, with a twist. He’s created a bicycle powered television set, a piano that has each key wired to a different device, an old-fashioned hair dryer that’s become a surround-sound helmet playing gull cries and crashing waves, and so much more. Check out our photos to see some of the wonderful artwork in his Winding Thoughts Gallery.

At this point, we’d been away from home for 3 weeks, and were starting to get a little tired of living out of our suitcases. Unfortunately, we were just about as far away from Auckland as we could get, and still be in New Zealand. So, we decided that we really wanted to at least see the West Coast, even if it meant just driving through. From The Catlins we headed west to Invercargill, then north to Wanaka, over the beautiful, but very narrow, Cardrona Pass. At our hotel in Wanaka, we learned that country music star Shania Twain had property here, and we could certainly understand why. Early the next morning, despite waking to low clouds and heavy rain, we continued on to the west coast, and Franz Josef Glacier. This drive was less nerve-wracking than expected, and took us through some of the country’s most beautiful, lush temperate rainforest. Seeing it on a rainy day actually enhanced its beauty, and we stopped counting how many stunning waterfalls we passed. We arrived at Franz Josef, found a pub and happily discovered the last half of the Superbowl on television! Since the next day dawned crystal clear, we decided to stay for a second night, and hiked out to the glacier face. You’ll see from the photos that we were really glad we did.

The morning that we departed Franz Josef was New Zealand’s national day, Waitangi Day, which is a public holiday. We stopped in to get an early morning coffee for the road, and discovered that the one open cafe in town was adding a 15% surcharge on their already high prices. We almost didn’t buy the coffee, on principle, but in the end, the need for caffeine won. We just had to laugh, though, when we got our surcharge coffees, and found the cups only 2/3 full! Pretty cheeky if you ask me… We also discovered the most expensive gasoline either of us has ever seen here in Franz Josef. 91 octane unleaded (the lowest quality available here) was NZ$2.40 PER LITER! At the current exchange rate, that’s nearly 8 US dollars per gallon. Woof.

From Franz Josef we continued north, all the way to Nelson, on the north coast of the South Island. Although this seemed like a wonderful town, we stopped only for the night, and headed for our ferry at Picton the following day. One night at a quirky, but very quaint hotel in the town of Levin, and then the final 8 hour drive back to Auckland. We drove nearly 1100 miles in just 6 1/2 days, and were so happy to see our little floating home again! All’s well here aboard Cheers, and we hope life is good in your corner of the world as well.

~ Michelle

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Christchurch to Queenstown, and Back Again

Beginning in Christchurch, we spent 11 days escorting two groups of Lindblad / National Geographic guests on a land tour that either preceded, or followed, their trips on the Oceanic Discoverer. Our guide was a science teacher from Invercargill, who really helped us understand so many aspects of his country, from environmental issues to politics, and many things in between.

Our first stops were in Christchurch itself, with visits to the small, but interesting, Canterbury Museum and the Christchurch Botanical Gardens. I included the photos from that day in my previous post, in order to more evenly divide my slideshows. For those who may not know, Christchurch was devastated by significant earthquakes in September 2010, and again in February 2011. As of January 17th, 2013, the area around Christchurch has experienced a total of 11,000 earthquakes and aftershocks. Yep, that’s the correct number of zeros after that number 11 – eleven thousand! The city is slowly being rebuilt, but many of the historic buildings suffered irreparable damage. These quakes are due to New Zealand’s geographic location astride two of the earth’s major crustal plates, the Pacific and the Australian, and their movements against one another. In fact, some have called New Zealand “The Shaky Isles” because of this position and the seismic activity the country experiences.

From Christchurch, we traveled across the Canterbury Plain to Lake Tekapo, then through Mackenzie Country to Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park. Along the way, we saw acres and acres of sheep and cattle grazing. We heard stories of the lucrative dairy industry, and how farmers in the arid Canterbury region are investing millions of dollars and converting their rugged sheep pasture into lush, green dairy farms. Rolling through the small towns along our route, our guide fleshed out the story of New Zealand’s historical and current environmental issues. He told us that no self-respecting New Zealander would pass up the opportunity to run over a possum, stoat or rabbit with their car, and he bluntly informed us at one point that, despite the fact that we were looking at rolling countryside, covered in vegetation, he could not see a single native plant. Whoa. Mark and I looked at each other, and finally understood. Lloyd also told us about the country’s massive efforts to eradicate pest species, and to reintroduce and protect native plants and animals. If there’s one hopeful element to all of this, it’s that average New Zealanders really seem to understand and care about their natural environment. As we pulled in to Aoraki Mt. Cook National Park, we looked out on a very different landscape, and Lloyd told us that nearly everything we saw here was native. It was beautiful and rugged, and we felt like we’d finally found one of those bits of “old” Zealand.

We were so fortunate to be able to visit this gem of a national park twice, staying in the Park’s amazing Hermitage Hotel. During our time at Aoraki Mt. Cook, we took several hikes, went out on glacial Lake Tasman in a small boat and I was even so lucky as to join our guests on a ski plane flight that landed on the Tasman Glacier. That nasty cold that I mentioned in my last post dampened our spirits somewhat, but, you’ll see from the photos, we managed to see and do a lot.

From Mt. Cook we traveled south and west, to bustling, but beautiful, Queenstown. The town is set in a stunningly beautiful spot, on the eastern shore of Lake Wakatipu, but it’s become the adventure-tourism capital of New Zealand, and feels a little like a Disneyland for adrenaline junkies. During your stay in Queenstown, you could bungee jump, sky swing, ride a wheeled luge down a concrete chute, jet boat around the lake, paraglide off the mountain, heli-ski, heli-mountain bike, heli-hike, and ride your mountain bike down the steep trail accessed by the gondola. We, however, enjoyed a little more of the region’s nature and history, and a little less of the adrenaline. On one of our evenings in Queenstown, we boarded the TSS Earnslaw, a beautifully restored and fully functional 100-year-old coal-powered steamship, that has been in near-continuous operation for the past century. Mark was like the proverbial kid in the candy store, and I hardly saw him during our hour-long voyage to Walter Peak Station. He hung out in the engine room, watching the engineers shovel coal into the glowing hot boilers, wandered the decks and photographed virtually every moving part of the vessel and finally made his way to the bridge, where he met the ship’s captain. We were especially impressed when she (yes, she…) brought this difficult-to-maneuver ship into the dock, and hustled to power in a second time when one of the shoreside line handlers dropped a line. We went ashore for a great dinner, followed by a demonstration of sheep herding and shearing. Crazy as it may sound, the man who performed the shearing demo, removed the entire fleece from a sheep in about a minute! New Zealanders claim that a good sheep shearer can shear nearly 400 sheep in an 8-9 hour day. Sounds like grueling work to me.

Our other excursion from Queenstown was to the lovely community of Glenorchy, where we took a backcountry drive, a short hike through native beech forest and then a jetboat ride on the glacially fed Dart River. You’ll see a few photos, which hopefully convey the experience.

Our first group left us in Queenstown, and our second group arrived. We did the land tour in reverse, and were back in Christchurch near the end of January. After finishing this second tour, we picked up another rental car, and set out to see more of the South Island on our own. I’ll save that story for the next post, so enjoy these photos in the meantime!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Searching for “Old” Zealand, Road Trip Part 1

After 4 weeks on the road, we’re back home in Auckland. Whew. As our Kiwi friends here in Auckland said, we have “well and truly” seen New Zealand’s South Island, but it was a LOT of driving, and not always what we expected. Or perhaps I should say, much of what we found was unexpected… Let’s see if I can set the stage, and tell the story of our search for what we came to call “Old” Zealand. I’ve chosen to split this tale into 3 parts, because there’s too much to tell, and too many photos to share for a single blog post.

Please remember that any text below that’s in color is a link to another interesting webpage. Click the word(s) to check them out.

Around 85 million years ago, the landmass that is now New Zealand was one of the first bits to break away from the supercontinent known as Gondwana. “Zealandia” was much larger than modern New Zealand, drifting off to the north and east for more than 20 million years, as the Tasman Sea filled the gap. Since this separation occurred relatively early in the history of life on earth, Zealandia carried an ancient flora and fauna, which then evolved separately from that on other continents. Around 20 million years ago, this continent of Zealandia sank, almost entirely, beneath the Pacific waves. Even today, geologists say that some 90% of this original continent is underwater. Although it’s likely that a few ancient land mammals were onboard at the time of the original breakup, there’s little evidence of their survival. A few species of bats arrived as immigrants from Australia, and New Zealand waters are rich in marine mammals, but these oceanic islands appear to have had no native land mammals. For this reason, birds filled most of the ecological niches occupied elsewhere by mammals. Wonderful flightless birds like the kiwis and moas, foraged on the forest floor and browsed the foliage of Zealandia’s unique plants, with no mammalian predators to worry about. Only the giant Harpagornis, or Haast, Eagle preyed on the larger moas, and must have been an incredible bird to see. There were a few native lizards, and the fascinating tuatara, the only surviving members of a reptilian order that flourished 200 million years ago. Over the millennia a fascinating insect fauna evolved, including the weta, cricket relatives that often grow to enormous size. This unique land remained off on its own until just a few hundred years ago, and was the planet’s last major landmass to be “discovered” by human beings.

And that seems to have been the beginning of the end. Sometime between 1200 and 1300CE, a series of Polynesian voyaging canoes arrived on the shores of this untouched land. These early people came from the tropics, in impressive feats of navigation, and were well prepared to permanently settle here. They brought dogs and Polynesian rats, which quickly exterminated some of the defenseless ground-nesting birds. Maori hunters killed all of the large, and presumably tasty, moas prior to the arrival of Europeans. With their primary prey gone, the Harpagornis Eagles also went extinct. Early Maoris also cut and burned sizable tracts of New Zealand’s native forest and tussock grassland, for settlements, and cultivation of kumara, the South American sweet potato that they brought with them from the tropics. This impact, however, was nothing compared to what was to come.

Although Dutch explorer Abel Tasman had anchored off the north coast of the South Island in 1642, it wasn’t until James Cook’s 1769 circumnavigation of New Zealand that a real European presence was felt. The usual progression of settlers arrived, primarily from the British Isles, and in 1852 New Zealand became a self-governing colony of the Crown. A major gold rush, timber harvest and large-scale conversion of native bush to pasture for farming filled New Zealand’s next century. “Acclimatization Societies” introduced European animals, birds and plants, in efforts to reproduce the familiar “comforts” of home. Rabbits were introduced for sport and food, quickly becoming a noxious pest that decimated native vegetation. Stoats, ferrets and weasels were introduced to control the rabbits, but quickly developed a taste for defenseless native birds instead. Australian brushtail possums were brought to start a fur industry, but they’re voracious herbivores that continue to damage native vegetation to this day. In short, the history of New Zealand is the history of much of the colonized world, but the small size of the country, and its unique evolutionary history have made the impacts even more apparent.

Understanding only the most basic aspects of this story,  we set off on our road trip. We wanted to see New Zealand’s famed South Island and, hopefully, find some of its unusual flora and fauna for ourselves. Although we did manage to see a number of wonderful native birds, and found some beautiful native bush walks, our trip was really a month-long education.

Stopping first at Tongariro National Park, we then continued down to the capital city of Wellington. There, we spent a very stormy day exploring the country’s excellent national museum, Te Papa, and the following gorgeous sunny day walking in the Botanical Gardens. We paid a visit to the Oceanic Discoverer, the ship that Lindblad Expeditions had chartered here in New Zealand, and met with friends Richard White, Larry Prussin and Mike Nolan. We ferried across Cook Strait, just ahead of a frontal passage, and then drove through heavy rain and strong winds down the Kaikoura Coast to Christchurch. Unfortunately, we both managed to catch a really nasty cold, that stayed with us for the next two weeks. Boo!

In Christchurch, we began the first of two land tours, escorting groups of Lindblad Expeditions guests on a 5 day journey to Queenstown, and then back to Christchurch. That, however, is a story for the next post, so stay tuned! Here are some photos from our travels between Wellington and Christchurch, and there will be more following soon.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

New Zealand Road Trip, Tongariro NP

It’s been pointed out to me that I haven’t posted anything since Christmas. And that’s nearly a month past now. I’d apologize, but I’m fairly certain that most of you have been busy with your own holiday and new year activities, and we’ve been pretty darn boring anyway! We had a few “small world” encounters in Auckland, meeting up with friends from our Lindblad days, and having them over to Cheers. We spent a day with our friends Michael and Sara’s daughters, Leah and Holly, building sandcastles on the beach and having a massive fish ‘n’ chips picnic in the park. Otherwise, we spent our time on more boat projects and navigating the bureaucracy of extending Mark’s Visitor Visa, and trying to cash the check the insurance company sent us as settlement for our stolen car. Woof. The friends, sandcastles and picnics were great fun, the messy boat projects and bureaucracy, not so much.

About a week ago, though, we set out to explore some more of New Zealand. By land. In a rental car. No more car ownership for us for awhile. We headed south from Auckland, and had an incredible drive to Tongariro National Park. Tongariro was one of the first National Parks ever established in the world and is now designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, plus, it’s the location of Mordor, from the Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. One of the volcanoes erupted just last November, and the northern part of the Park is still closed to hikers. You’ll see in the photos that the Te Maari Crater of Mt. Tongariro is producing plenty of smoke and steam, giving geologists and vulcanologists good stuff to watch.

We felt super fortunate that our day of arrival at the Park was sunny and warm, so we were able to see the three volcanoes of Ngauruhoe, Ruapehu and Tongariro, even if it was just from the bottom. The next day, the day we’d planned to hike to the summit of the Red Crater, at the mid-point of the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, started out drizzly with low clouds, but was forecast to improve. We set out on our hike, and loved every minute of it; however, we were enveloped in cloud the entire day, and saw none of the features we’d hoped for. At the summit of the hike, we had visibility of 50 meters, or less, and winds howling at 30 knots or better. It was cold and wet for sure!

From Tongariro we drove down to Wellington, and are now on the South Island in Christchurch. Enjoy the few photos from Tongariro, and I’ll try to be better about updating this blog as we travel on the South Island.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Christmas in New Zealand

Okay, so it’s now Boxing Day, the day after Christmas. I started this post yesterday… Just one quick note here. Any words or phrases that you see in color are links to other web pages. I did this on my last post as well, with links to pages on New Zealand’s birds. Click the links, and see where they take you…

It’s Christmas morning here in New Zealand. What’s left of Tropical Cyclone Evan is in our neighborhood, bringing wet and windy weather to our holiday. It’s such a gift to be tucked into a slip in a marina during this kind of a blow. Instead of fretting about an anchorage, I got to spend the day cooking up a big Christmas dinner, and then sharing it with our friends from S/V Wondertime.

It’s been both wonderful and strange to celebrate the Christmas season here in the Southern hemisphere. Strange, because it’s definitely summer, and Christmas is celebrated as a summer holiday. It’s not so much the temperature, because we’ve been in sunny Baja California for many Christmases. It’s more that the days are long, and the smell of Auckland Christmas isn’t pine, or pumpkin spice, it’s jasmine. We’ve watched all the locals celebrate this holiday by taking their boats out, going fishing or camping and lots of grilling. Much like the August holidays in Mexico and Europe, businesses close and everyone takes off for the two weeks from December 22 to January 7. It seems like a time for friends and families to just relax, and enjoy each other, rather than getting so caught up in the gift-buying madness. Anyway, it’s different, and we’re loving it. I’ll confess though, that we caved yesterday, and made a trek to one of the few Starbucks in town, just to order Gingerbread Spice Lattes…

One of the wonderful aspects of spending Christmas in a city presented itself while we were walking to the police station the other day, to report our stolen car. We saw a billboard advertising a performance, that night, of Handel’s Messiah. Found out that tickets were available and inexpensive, so we decided to go. What a night! The performance was held inside Auckland’s old Town Hall, now converted to a beautiful performance space, with the most incredible, enormous, pipe organ at the far end of the hall. There were nearly 100 singers in the choir, a dozen violins, two harpsichords, and four very talented soloists, all filling that entire hall with gorgeous music. And that organ! When the organist hit the low notes, I could feel it deep in my gut. About ¾ of the way through the performance, when we were well primed for it, came the Hallelujah Chorus, and it was as incredible as you might imagine.

Last Friday evening, we joined our friends Michael, Sara, Leah and Holly for A Christmas Night at the Auckland Museum, which was another fabulous urban holiday event. Since they left most of the galleries darkened, or with lights dimmed, the experience was sort of like Night at the Museum meets visit with Victorian-era Father Christmas meets holiday craft fair. Throw in the Polynesian holiday choir, Ebenezer Scrooge wandering the museum muttering “humbug” and a small military brass band, and it was quite the eclectic evening.

Our Christmas Day was one of the most relaxed we’ve ever had. I spent the day in our tiny galley, cooking up a holiday feast, while listening to Christmas music and watching the 1970 version of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It was great (even if it does take a bit of juggling to prepare multiple dishes)! Our Christmas menu included ham with a marmalade mustard glaze, mashed kumara (Polynesian sweet potatoes), green beans with porcini mushrooms and sliced almonds, rice and sausage “dressing”, and a Kiwi-style “cranberry mush”, with pomegranates, grated ginger and fresh mandarin orange slices. Sara brought a delicious homemade sourdough loaf, baked brie and a waldorf salad. Dessert was pumpkin pie, made completely from scratch since there’s no canned pumpkin to be found, and Sara’s amazing Russian teacake cookies. Can you say stuffed? I have to admit, that, like most cooks I know, I completely melted when 3-year old Holly pronounced my pumpkin pie “super good”.

We’re sending you warm holiday wishes wherever you are in the world, and sincere hopes that 2013 is a wonderful year for you. I’d also pass on one small bit of wisdom gleaned from a fellow sailor this year. On this man’s “boat card” (similar to a business card, but with boat name and contact details), was the advice “Do something you’re afraid of, every day”… If there’s one thing I’ve learned this year, it’s that the rewards for doing so are immense.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Passage to Auckland

Great Barrier Island turned out to be one of those magical places, arrived at serendipitously, and very difficult to leave. It felt as though we’d stepped out of time for a few days, and into a peaceful green world, where we saw very few other people. I think both Mark and I had imagined the island would be something like the San Juans or Gulf Islands of the Pacific Northwest, with great anchorages and charming small towns. What we found though, was a VERY sparsely inhabited island, with miles of hiking trails! After spending our first day just enjoying the peace and quiet, as well as the beautiful view from the cockpit, we inflated the dinghy and rowed ashore for a hike. Talk about a humbling experience! After 9 months on a boat, our leg muscles and aerobic fitness are definitely not what they used to be… We hiked for about 7 hours, on trails that climbed from lush, green stream bottom to arid pine and manuka (tea tree) covered hilltops. After listening to the new birdcalls from the anchorage, we finally met the singers – encountering our first tuis, piwakawakas and even a kakariki. The photos tell the story of the flora, so many new plants to learn! Back in the anchorage, we delayed departure by another day, just to soak up as much of the place as possible. We finally got a good look at two of the birds that we’d seen from the anchorage, the kereru, or New Zealand pigeon, and the kaka, or Bush parrot.

Finally, it was time to leave, and our passage from Great Barrier to Auckland could not have been more perfect. Well, we could have had a little wind, and actually sailed across, but… As it was, we had a stunning day, motoring on a mirror calm sea. We’d read that the Hauraki Gulf is a productive place, and conditions were perfect, so we scanned and watched, and scanned some more. For me, it was like one of those days on the Sea Bird or Sea Lion, spending hours on the bow with the other naturalists. All of us with binoculars glued to our eyes, conversing with each other, but always scanning the horizon. Even when the last guest had retreated indoors, we’d stay, each imagining that we were “working”, but really not wanting to miss anything. And, like so many of those days on the ships, the scanning paid off. We saw Little (or Blue) penguins riding low in the water just off the starboard side. Wilson’s storm petrels rose daintily as we approached, then did their graceful dance across the water’s surface, leaving tiny ripple marks where each foot touched. Large flocks of Fluttering and Buller’s shearwaters either swam lazily off to one side and allowed us to pass, or waited until we were right on them, and then flapped away as a group. Australasian gannets sat singly, or in pairs, some with brilliant yellow-gold heads, just daring me to get a decent photo.

At one point, I’d been watching and photographing, and Mark was working on his project lists in the cockpit. Standing up on the cockpit coaming for a little more height, I saw a faint rippling wake, about 100 meters ahead of us. There was certainly something under the water, but I couldn’t tell what. Then a fin appeared for a brief second. I shouted for Mark, “There’s a shark up here, get up, there’s a shark!” Sure enough, an 8-foot long hammerhead shark rose to the surface, not 15 feet off our port side, turned towards us, and then swam away off our stern. There are so many times when I love my polarized sunglasses, and this was definitely one of them. We could see the entire animal so clearly below the mirror surface, and then just shouted in disbelief. Holy cow! We just saw a decent sized hammerhead shark! In New Zealand! On approach to one of the country’s major metropolitan areas! Unbelievable. We actually saw three hammerheads that day, believe it, or not.

A little breeze arrived by mid-afternoon, so we unfurled the jib and motor-sailed the last 10 nm into the channel. I was finally able to get a halfway decent photo of a Blue penguin, as we saw nearly a dozen of them as we were approaching the main navigational channel. It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon, so the harbor was ridiculously busy. Guess we had less-than-perfect timing for our arrival… In any case, we made it into our slip, had a fabulous hot shower, closed up the boat and hit the town! We’re loving it here, and have already explored our new neighborhood. Check out the introductory photos for now, and I’ll post more details as we get settled in.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Course Change

I’m writing this from a beautiful anchorage in Kiwiriki Bay, Great Barrier Island, New Zealand. We hadn’t intended to stop at Great Barrier on this trip, but are sure glad we did. Just 54 nm from Auckland, Great Barrier is the largest island lying offshore of New Zealand’s North Island, and is part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park. It feels like a world away, and is proving to be a great nature fix on our way to the city. Let me back up a couple of days, and fill you in on how we arrived here…

We’d waited for a series of nasty fronts to pass (perhaps you saw the news of tornados in Auckland?), and pulled out of our slip at Opua Marina very early last Sunday morning. It was calm and clear, and looked very different from the day we arrived! We motored out through the Bay of Islands, and then picked up a little breeze as we rounded Cape Brett. We watched some of the local tour boats stop for photos of the picturesque lighthouse, and then thrill their passengers by running through the “Hole in the Wall”, a large sea arch in Piercy Island, just offshore of the Cape. With the forecast calling for variable winds to 10 kts., we weren’t sure what to expect for the day’s passage, but were hoping for some good, mellow sailing down the coast. What we got, was wind right on the nose. Not too much, just enough to make motoring into it slow going, so we hoisted the sails, turned off the stinkpot and tacked our way down to Whangaruru Bay. This bay is only 30-ish nm to the south as the crow flies, but 43 nm by our zigzag route. We’d planned to turn back to the north, and anchor inside Whangaruru Harbor, but the wind had enough south in it, that we thought another alternative might be better. Looking at the chart, we picked out Mimiwhangata Bay, at the extreme south end of Whangaruru Bay, and it turned out to be beautiful! At first, we joked that we’d sailed into The Shire (if you’re familiar with the Lord of the Rings movies), but then decided it looked more like the green hills of Point Reyes with the gnarled, stunted trees of the San Juan and Gulf Islands lining the rocky headlands. Add in a long, white sandy beach stretched out next to a tropical turquoise sea, and you have Mimiwhangata Bay. It really was beautiful. We thought we might stay another day, but then decided that we should get south, while the weather was in our favor.

So, next morning, we slept in a little and didn’t raise the anchor until almost 10 a.m., thinking that we were just going a short distance. However, we once again discovered that “variable 10 kts.” meant wind from the south-southeast. Another day of tacking down the coast, and then motor-sailing when the breeze dropped. We passed our intended anchorage at 2 p.m., so decided to keep going and make some more miles. By 6 p.m., we were rounding Bream Head, a striking headland that marks the entrance to Whangarei Harbour. Our plan was to drop the hook for the night in Urquhart’s Bay, just inside the Head and only a short distance up the channel. The late afternoon light was beautiful on the trees and headland to the east of us, but we were more than a little surprised to find an oil refinery on the shore to the west. Oh well, it was a good spot to stop for the night, like a roadside motel with no view, but a clean and comfy bed.

Next morning we were up at dawn and underway early, planning to cover nearly 60 nm to arrive at either Kawau or Tiritiri Matangi Island, just offshore of Auckland. Now, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 25 years of wilderness trips, working on expedition ships and sailing Cheers, it’s that sometimes nature “encourages” you change your plans. It wasn’t that the wind was particularly strong, or from a terrible direction, it was just turning into our third day of tacking down the coast. The wind was forecast to be southwest, but turned out to be more south… again. I looked at Mark and said, “Maybe we should just fall off this wind, and head out to Great Barrier Island?” Of course, he’d already spent a good long while planning various routes and plotting as many possible anchorages as he could find, but this wasn’t one of them, so his immediate response was slightly less than enthusiastic. However, after a short 15 minutes reading up on the island, he was all in.

A course change of 40 degrees to the east made all the difference in the world! Now we were flying at 6.5 kts. on a beam reach, on a very slight sea. It was a beautiful run, and by 4 p.m. we were approaching Port Abercrombie, a large bay on the west side of Great Barrier Island. Along the way, we passed Little Barrier Island, which reminded us both of San Pedro Martir Island, but covered in shrubby trees rather than cactus and guano. At the back of Port Abercrombie, we turned south through a narrow channel and motored down the length of Port Fitzroy, one of the most protected harbors in northern New Zealand. Rounding a couple of small islets and passing through another narrow channel, we entered Kiwiriki Bay, and just started laughing at our good fortune. The hillsides around the bay are covered in native vegetation such as tree ferns, kanuka and pohutukawa trees. Late yesterday, and early this morning, we watched Pied shags diving for fish, while a few Australasian gannets plunged into the water right next to us. The birdcalls coming from the forest are beautifully varied, and completely unfamiliar.

Since our slip in Auckland isn’t available for a few days, we’re in no huge hurry. So, we’ll likely stay and explore Great Barrier a bit, and then head for the city either Friday or Saturday. For now, we’re loving being the only foreign boat in sight, and discovering a place that more than one Kiwi boater has told us is a “must see”.

Northland New Zealand

Time has flown by, and I can hardly believe that we’ve already been here 2 weeks! It’s been great to catch up with phone calls and emails, spend some quality time surfing the internet and just be land based for a bit. I’ve done so much laundry, it’s ridiculous, and Mark’s knocked quite a few of the “immediate attention” projects off the list. We’ve also managed to explore the area a little, driving our new little car to the nearby town of Kerikeri for groceries, lunch and even a movie date… Yes, we went to see the new 007 movie… Talk about culture shock!

Now it’s time for us to move on. Opua Marina is gearing up for their busy summer season, so our slip is only available until tomorrow. We have a berth reserved in Auckland, but it’s not open until the 14th… So, we’ll spend the better part of the next week poking our way down the coast from the Bay of Islands to the Hauraki Gulf. The weather looks to be decent for the most part, once the cold front that’s over us now moves through, so we’re looking forward to seeing a little bit of the coast. It’s less than 200 nm total distance, so we’ll just make a few day hops, and anchor every night on the way. The guy we bought the car from offers a delivery service, so our car will arrive a day or two after we do. We’re REALLY looking forward to some city time, and Auckland is supposed to be a great, walkable, city. I’ll let you know when we get there.

In the meantime, here are a few photos of the Opua area, just to give you a little idea of what it looks like here. We’ve commented so many times that it reminds us of the San Juan and Gulf Islands of the Pacific Northwest coast of America. See what you think!

More later, Michelle

P.S. WordPress has changed the way I can display photos, so click on the first photo and it should bring it up as a slideshow. This will allow you to see larger images.

Thanks Giving

We’re  here.

Aotearoa. The Land of the Long White Cloud. New Zealand.

After days of little, or no, wind, and mere hours after my last blog post asking folks to wish us some wind, a fine easterly breeze arrived. Thank you, thank you, to all of you who wished us a little breeze. We’d spent much of the night and early morning coaxing a few knots of forward progress out of very light wind, then motoring for two more hours on the little diesel we had left, so I cannot even express the gratitude we felt when we got a solid 15 knots of breeze at 11 a.m. yesterday. In a matter of minutes, we went from barely making 3.5 knots of boat speed, to a solid 6 knots. The wind increased to 20, then to 25 knots, and we had a rocket ride to the Bay of Islands. We covered 45 nautical miles in just 7 hours, giving us a record average speed of 6.5 knots. That may not sound fast, but, trust me, when the wind is blowing 25 knots across the deck, and the seas have built to short, steep 8-footers, and when you’ve been slogging along for days averaging 4 knots or less, it feels super fast. We’ve never seen our GPS distance log tick off the miles so quickly!

Anyway, at 4 p.m. yesterday, after hand steering in gusty wind and sloppy seas for a couple of hours, I spotted land. Emerging from the clouds and fog, about 10 nm to the southwest of us, Cape Brett was just visible. An hour later, we could see Purerua Peninsula, marking the northern entrance to New Zealand’s Bay of Islands. As we approached land, the bottom came up, the seas got steeper, and Mark was having the time of his life surfing Cheers into the bay. We’d already seen a couple of albatrosses (yay!) earlier in the day, and the previous afternoon, but we had a gorgeous Black-browed albatross circle us repeatedly just then. Once inside the arm of Cape Brett, the seas calmed a little and a profusion of seabirds appeared. All of a sudden it seemed, we were surrounded by Little shearwaters, Australasian gannets, Wandering and Black-browed albatrosses, Cook’s petrels, Black petrels, and, I think, Common diving-petrels! It was a naturalist’s birding bonanza. As we got closer to land, we saw rocky headlands and green, tree-covered hills. The air here is deliciously cool and moist, and it really feels like we’re back in Southeast Alaska or the Pacific Northwest. It’s the middle of Spring here, but felt sufficiently autumnal that we decided it was a perfect Thanksgiving Day.

I’m afraid there will be no turkey or cranberries for us, in fact, we’ve got to get to a market, and probably go out to eat today, because I’ve got next to zero food on board. I knew that the Quarantine inspector would take any fresh food, as well as some dry stores, so I’d essentially planned to run out, but we really are down to the bottom of the pantry and fridge. However, we have SO much to be thankful for. For having the time and means to take this year off and make this voyage. For our continued wellbeing and that of our fabulous boat. For the love and support of good friends and family throughout this past year. And, perhaps most importantly, for each other. We’re still in love, and still great friends, even after living in such close quarters for this past year, and I don’t think I have to tell you how grateful I am for that.

Happy Thanksgiving, Michelle