There’s a kiosk ashore where upcoming events around town are posted and I make it a habit to check often for anything of interest. Last week I saw that a drummer from Ghana was performing Friday night at a venue called the Old Stone Butter Factory, and giving drumming and dancing workshops earlier in the day. I mentioned it to Bruce and Di on Toucan and Di lit up like a candle. It seems in her previous land-based life she belonged to a drum circle and misses it. She instantly signed up for the workshop and we all agreed to meet in the evening for the performance.
Jack and I always thought we’d see much more live music in our travels but sadly when we do come across local musicians they’re covering the same songs you hear on the radio in America, and except for the magnificent Heiva festival in Fakarava and a few impromptu gatherings elsewhere in French Polynesia we’ve heard precious little native music. So Ghana is not New Zealand, but at least it promised to be authentic and we were excited.
The venue is intimate and friendly with a good bar. We got there early because I was sure it would be crowded and I wanted to get a good seat. It wasn’t and we did.
The drumming was magnificent by Robert Koffie Fugah and Jimi Dale and a woman whose name I didn’t catch.
The dance workshop participants needed no encouragement to get up and show what they’d learned and Di and the others joined the drummers onstage for a hypnotic performance. It was pretty cool all around and I can see why Di finds it meditative.
I love this town. I love any town, really, but New Zealand towns are wonderful, and this one is especially nice. There are bookstores and cafes on nearly every block, marine chandleries, auto parts shops and DIY stores, big groceries and health food stores. We’ve been able to get things we’ve only dreamed about since our trip back to the states over a year ago. There are beautiful walking paths and bike trails and lots of places to go and things to do inbetween boat projects.
My favorite store is an eclectic jumble of what-have-you called Arthur’s Emporium, a mind-boggling array that can leave you feeling exhausted or exhilarated depending on whether or not you found that elusive item you didn’t know you needed at a bargain price. Silicone egg rings at $2 for two? I definitely need those.
One of the first stops on our shopping tour was the marine chandlery, mostly just to see what they have and to plan our projects. I found hatch covers that looked suspiciously like the exact size we need to replace the badly degraded ones over the storage areas in the cockpit. Replacing them is on our “someday” list, not the “must do now” list but these were on sale for about a third of the price we last saw so we snatched them up.
Jack got right on it and after a few hours of scraping old caulk, drilling new holes and recaulking we have a much better looking cockpit. You gotta take it as it comes.
We spent one quiet night in Urquhart Bay and Jack took the opportunity to get some of the New Zealand marine growth off EV’s waterline. We’re long overdue for a haul out and antifouling but for now this will have to do. It’s way too cold to get in the water.
We motored a few miles across the Bay and anchored just outside the entrance to Marsden Cove Marina, where our friends on Macushla and Silver Fern are docked. For the first time in weeks we had a social gathering for happy hour at the marina bar and caught up with all the doings among the fleet. Jack and I continue to be surprised that since we arrived in New Zealand our social life has diminished instead of increased. This is largely because many of the cruisers parked their boats almost as soon as they got here and took off for home, wherever home is. Others found a comfortable place to tackle the long to-do list and have their heads down, working on the boat. That’s what we should be doing, and we’re headed for Whangarei to get started. Cruising is hard on all the systems and we have a lot of maintenance to do.
Whangarei is twelve miles upriver and the weather cooperated for the trip.
We haven’t been up a river since the Hudson in New York in September 2012. For us it’s like a homecoming because we spent our land-based life on the rivers in Pittsburgh. This river got narrower and shallower as we motored upstream, with just a few feet under the keels in places.
Just before our final destination is an opening bridge, our first since leaving Florida in April 2013. It always looks like a squeaker from deck level.
We requested a pile mooring instead of a dock and with the help of our friends on Toucan we got EV settled in for a long rest.
We really needed some fruit and vegetables and took a long walk around town to orient ourselves before hitting the grocery store. Not much was open but we got the sense of the place, and as per protocol, celebrated our temporary new home with ice cream.
Another evening, another beautiful but unpronounceable bay to lie at anchor. As we work our way south down New Zealand’s eastern coast I marvel at this amazing coastline and the profusion of gunkholing possibilities. It would take years to get to know just this northern island but the big island, the South Island is the one with the truly spectacular scenery, as seen in the Lord of the Rings movies. Let’s see, where was I? Oh yes, unpronounceable. Like all things Polynesian every letter is to be pronounced, no freebies here, my friends.
Just to recap, dear Escapees, after our stormy belated New Year’s celebration with Macushla in Waitapu Bay we ran up the mangrove river to the waterfall in Rere Bay just off Pekapeka Bay. Then, with questionable logic and a small weather window, we went further north up to Mangonui where we watched it rain and blow ninety percent of the time.
We eventually capitulated, giving up on our touring plans which included the ancient huge Kauri trees and the northernmost cape of North Island, turned south and took refuge in tiny Waiaua Bay just south of the Cavelli Islands, anchoring in the rain.
Next we rounded Cape Brett, what felt like just a few meters off spectacular Hole in the Wall, while Yours Truly did an in-field repair of the starboard engine’s coolant hose, limped into charming Whangamumu Harbor where we stopped to catch our breath and wait for favorable winds.
The winds stopped but the rain didn’t so Marce said we’ll give it to 10:00 am to clear up. We never start a passage in the rain. It’s kind of a rule we have, so M. called a lay day and we settled back to a nice relaxing day of yacht maintenance.
Sure enough by 11:00am the rain stopped and the sun tried to peek through the low-lying clouds. New plan! With not a moment to lose, we ran about EV reversing what we had just reversed or, not to put too fine a point on it, we rigged for blue water passage-making. We just might make it to Tutukaka harbor which was our penultimate stop before our goal in Whangarei where most cruisers do any serious refitting and we are no exception.
Escape Velocity seems reluctant to sail. It feels as though we’re dragging our very own botanical marine garden on her keels. Finally, as the scudding leaden clouds parted we saw the opening to Tutukaka Harbor directly across from the Poor Knights Islands. Anchoring in the rain is apparently another rule we seem to have.
We fell asleep to the pitter-patter of rain on the deck but we awoke to the sun streaming through the portholes. Things are looking up in good old Tutukaka Harbor which features a hotel, convenience store, marina, pizza, and hiking trails. There’s not a moment to lose.
We splashed Cat Nip and took a nosey, as the Kiwis say, of the marina and resort shops, managed to avoid buying anything and just walked around soaking up the sunshine. After a quick catch-up with friends on Saraoni tied between two poles at the marina, we rolled our eyes at the $18 four-slice pizza and dinghied back to EV. Soon we were way too relaxed to go for a hike up into the hills so trekking would have to wait for tomorrow.
Ah, you Escapees are way ahead of me. Rain, lots of rain in the morning and when it finally stopped we looked at each other and said let’s get out of here. It being quite late there was not a moment to lose. We ran about EV stowing things and rigging for passage making.
The wind was with us for a change, at least until we rounded Cape Bream Head where we dropped sail and motored around Frenchman’s Island into Calliope Bay. The full effects of Whangarei’s ebb flow began to slow us down and it became obvious that we could barely make headway against it, even with both engines running, so we ducked into the shallow but wide and beautiful Urquhart Bay and dropped anchor. Sundowners await, there’s not a moment to lose.
Life in New Zealand has not been all that we expected so far. The weather is almost always cold, damp and rainy. Locals are also complaining and tell us that this is most unusual and by now it should be warm and sunny. Unfortunately we’re here now, boatbound more often than not, unable to tour — who wants to hike a muddy trail to a view shrouded in mist? — and too far away from civilization to either knock off our household shopping list or acquire the boat parts and services we need for attacking the to-do list.
During our time in Mangonui, in a place that should have been a perfect staging point for both shopping and a day tour of Cape Reinga, the most northern point of New Zealand, we spent most of our time aboard in pouring rain in an uncomfortable swell. We took care of some admin and some cleaning chores, but other than that, these were wasted days.
One afternoon the rain abated and we dashed ashore to the local takeaway shop for fish and chips, then walked through the small town and along a trail that lead up the bluff to a view of the harbor. We only got a few hours in before we were chased back to the boat by rain. We wouldn’t mind so much if we were in a larger town or at a marina and could get ashore without a wet dinghy ride, but this is life at the moment. We sure hope New Zealand shows us some sun soon.
I’m like the sundial that says “Count none but the sunny hours.” You won’t find me with a smile on my face curled up with book and steaming tea on a rainy day. I’m the guy that paces back and forth like something feral as if there’s nothing on earth to do even though you Escapees know there’s plenty to do but I just can’t concentrate.
We finally made it to Macushla for a wonderful New Year’s celebratory evening, two days late, and even then we were in full foulies head to toe through driving rain, chop, and spray just to get to Sue and Mark’s boat a couple of hundred meters down harbor from Escape Velocity. It was a great evening but the return in the dark wind and rain was challenging but somehow fun, it’s kind of a thrill when you realize you’re about to do something stupid but you are going to do it anyway.
The sun came up the following morning, the wind abated somewhat, Macushla headed south but we wanted to explore Rere Bay at the entrance to Whargaroa Bay even though more heavy weather was again on its way. Anchor down tucked in beautiful Rere Bay, bathed in sunshine I suggested a sunset cruise up a meandering river I’d noticed on the chart at the head of Rere Bay marked only with “Mangrove.”
Cautiously we carved our way around the meandering curves upriver and after a while, rounding a turn revealed a double waterfall from an amazing height on the ridge high above us. Each turn brought us closer until the outboard chunk-chunked on the gravel bottom. I turned the the engine off and we drifted, listening to the distant roar of the waterfall. Pure magic.
After a quick tour of a couple of boat-only accessible lodges in the lower bay, we toasted the setting sun knowing that an early departure for Doubtless Bay — named after Captain Cook in passing was said to quip,”there’s doubtless a large bay there,” no kidding — due to more heavy weather coming in.
We were punching our way northwest up the coast to Doubtless Bay by 08:00. We had dreams of having a nice relaxing sail but with little breeze and what little we had was, all together now, on the nose, we motor sailed until we turned down into Doubtless Bay where we could just sail and turn off the engine. But just before we entered Mangonui Harbor we were swarmed by a sailboat race. If this has ever happened to you, you know what I’m talking about. Madness. Boats were everywhere, all trying to derive some advantage from a moving road block. These kiwis go pretty fast up wind.
Finally, with our anchor down we dropped Cat Nip and dinghied into Mangonui, but without fail the wind began to pick up, the sun clouded over so exploring this cute little town would have to wait, maybe for several days.
There are rumors that the best chippie joint in NZ is on the waterfront. We struck out for EV through the wind, rain, and the spray to wait out the forecast bad weather. I’ll have to watch from EV, pace when I can, and count none but the sunny hours.