Monthly Archives: April 2016

Right is wrong in New Zealand

Our first order of business when we pulled into Wellington was to find a parking place. I guess I haven’t said much about driving on the wrong side of the road here in New Zealand but I suddenly found myself having to parallel park on the wrong side of the street. Instinctively Yours Truly looks up to the right to check the rear view mirror but of course the rear view mirror is on the left side. The brain side of this is a fairly light load while on the road, except for the Kiwis’ inexplicable love of the traffic circle, but in a city it’s a whole other kettle of fish. Our go-to plan these days is to find NZ’s excellent I-Site tourist info building wherever we are and have them hunt down a room for us and get the lay of the land, attraction-wise, at the same time. But first you have to park. So, where was I? Oh yes, the rear view mirror, when finally located, revealed a longish line of cars impatiently waiting to zip around me. I reached up to activate the turn signal which turned on the wipers but I did remember to turn the wrong way into the parking space in spite of the racket the wipers were making. It’s good to rent a small car in a big city. After turning everything off I looked over and smiled at Marce who said, “Good job, but it doesn’t look like rain to me.” Point taken.

Wellington is a handsome city and in the bright afternoon sunshine we quickly found the I-Site, scored a room that was almost affordable, and in true Kiwi fashion the concierge assured us that there was still time to take a “short Kiwi walk” over to the funicular and ride up to the overlook for a magnificent view of Wellington. But first we had to find our hotel. 

We soon found ourselves at the corner of One Way and No Entry. Every city has one. I decided to go “stupid tourist” and just carry on, eventually looking up and there it was, the Abel Tasman Hotel. We really don’t have room on the boat to store actual luggage, so we just use a collection of canvas boat bags all of which have to come out of the car in the basement lot and get schlepped up to the sixth floor. Finally we were off to find the cable car. 

I have a special affinity for funiculars, having lived up on Mount Washington, a high cliff overlooking downtown Pittsburgh, with the oldest continuously operating funiculars in the USA. I rode one almost every day. The walk through Wellington seemed to take forever and we found it uncharacteristically poorly signed, but then they all know where it is. Finally found, it was fun with colored lights and stops along the way, a far cry from the sober no-nonsense Pittsburgh conveyance. 


The view was indeed magnificent but there was a lot going on at the top of that mountain too, so we walked around until dusk closed in and the hunt for dinner in a strange town could commence. All in all it was a good day where no lawyers or doctors were needed, just a red hot credit card. 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Taking the high road

We’ve driven some crazy roads in rental cars during our travels, most notably Cerro de la Muerte in Costa Rica and the remote and deeply rutted mountain pass from Copan Ruinas in Honduras to Guatemala. Our first inkling that we might be in for another one came when we were stopped by a traffic signal on a narrow quiet road through a beautiful gorge. When we finally got the green light we started noticing that the slim outside lane had crumbled away here and there, whether from flooding or landslides we couldn’t tell, but there were a lot of road crews out shoring up the supports on the downhill side. Luckily we were driving on the inside lane so I was spared the horror of staring into the abyss below. As we gained elevation we could see for miles and realized we were heading for a twisty mountain pass.

At the top of the pass a kiosk informed us that we were on the Rimutaka Hill Road, initially laid out in 1843 as a steep and dangerous bridle path that connects more rural areas to bigger markets in Wellington. The road remains a challenge even today because it has its own weather system as the wind from the Wellington side kicks up through the pass. During World War I about 60,000 soldiers made the three day march over the mountains from the training camp in Featherston to Wellington where they mustered for deployment overseas. It was an epic journey they undertook enthusiastically thinking they were embarking on the adventure of a lifetime, but sadly so many of them never returned home. Today the road is memorialized for having played an important role in New Zealand’s history. 

It was a beautiful drive and we lingered at the top despite the brisk wind in awe of the minds of people who can envision a way over mountains, and sad for so many young men for whom this was their last expansive view of their gorgeous country. 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized


Neither of us has ever been to a commercial aquarium and living as we do in the biggest aquarium in the world why would we want to? For penguins, of course. We’ve caught fleeting glimpses of the little blue penguins native to New Zealand from the boat but we plunked down our entrance fees to the National Aquarium in Napier so we could be up close and personal to these cuties. 

We did the obligatory walk through the exhibits and the big tank but mostly we were waiting for penguin feeding time. 

The small population of fairy penguins here are all rescues, victims of predator attacks, fishing line or net snares or other injuries or debilities. A few are partly sightless, some are missing flippers, one had a head injury, and so on. When the staff rescues a bird, they nurse it back to health and release it into the wild if they can but if the penguin won’t be able to fend for itself it’s kept here, safely cared for and providing amusement for us visitors. And who doesn’t love penguins? They’re just so damn cute and we happily watched them until it was time to hit the road again. 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Deco in the sun

On 3 February 1931 the area of Hawke’s Bay was struck by a magnitude 7.9 earthquake that leveled the city of Napier and killed 236 people. It remains New Zealand’s worst natural disaster. The city was rebuilt using new building codes and since most of the structures were designed and built during the 1930s Napier is considered to be one of the finest collections of Art Deco architecture in the world. 

We started at the museum for an overview of the disaster including some harrowing videos of first-person accounts of the earthquake and the horror of the immediate aftermath and the long-term emotional effects. Then we took off on a self-guided tour of some of the notable buildings. It was a clear and sunny day, perfect for exploring a quiet, charming town and in true Schulz style we made frequent cafe stops along the way. 


Like many cities, Napier has installed pianos here and there with the invitation to “play me.” This young man was quite good and provided an appropriate soundtrack to our tour of downtown. 

Hawke’s Bay is a big wide open body of water compared to the protected, island-studded Hauraki Gulf and we were glad we visited on land instead of by boat. Still, you can’t deny the beauty of that endless beach. 


1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Hot stuff

Our budget doesn’t allow costly tours and concessions but we chose to visit Wai-O-Tapu Thermal Wonderland (yes, I know), a commercial operation of extreme and colorful geothermal features, all named, of course, but concentrated in a fairly small area that made for a nice morning wander, coffee in hand. Neither of us has been to Yellowstone or Iceland and this kind of geology is rare on the earth. 



The self-guided walking tours culminate in a 20-meter geyser that erupts daily — with a little help from a park attendant and some soap — that sets off a flurry of selfie stick activity that eventually drove us back to the parking lot. Still, the scenery was from Mars. 

We did a driveby visit to the Huka Falls in Taupo, picked up picnic foods and enjoyed lunch at Taupo Bungee on the Waikato River. Neither of us has any desire to bungee but it was fun to watch a group of friends cheer each other on and celebrate their nerve, definitely more entertaining than a restaurant meal. 

The day was getting gloomy and we decided to knock off a bit of driving instead of do more touring in what turned out to be a chilly drizzle and we turned toward Napier, watched over most of the way by increasingly large herds of sheep. 



Filed under Uncategorized

Southward again

When we returned from our sail around the islands of the Hauraki Gulf we quickly arranged for a rental car for two weeks, stashed EV back at the Town Basin in Whangarei, threw some warm clothes in a suitcase and took off to explore the rest of the North Island. Our time in New Zealand is getting shorter each day and we don’t want to leave before seeing at least some highlights. 

The first day was mostly driving with a quick photo op stop at the Mt Eden overlook in Auckland. That’s where we encountered for the first time the masses of Chinese tourists we continue to see every day wherever we are, by far the largest contingent. These ladies were excitedly photographing the bronze plate showing the distances to world capitals and each one wanted a closeup of Beijing. And who can blame them? I still have to pinch myself now and again that we’re in New Zealand for goodness sake, 14,197 km from New York. And yes, that’s a volcanic crater right above the city. 


The geothermal region of Rotorua was our first real stop. The town itself lies along a beautiful lake and hot springs are everywhere. It’s hard to turn a corner without encountering bubbling mud and steam and distinctive mineral deposits. The city park even created a footbath, a welcome resting spot for dog-weary tourists.


The Rotorua Museum began life as a public bath where people came from near and far to take the cure in the various mineral waters. The baths were actual bathtubs embedded in unreinforced concrete floors with elaborate piping to deliver the waters from underground. After the wars soldiers were offered free treatment, but eventually the baths closed and the building became a repository for all things Rotorua. 



The rest of the museum was the usual collection of local art and artifacts so we headed instead for the gorgeous redwood forest to walk among the giant trees. Rotorua suffered a volcanic eruption in the late 1800s that devasted the forests and conservationists sought ways to replant. They gathered seeds from all over the world to see what would grow the fastest and revitalize the timber industry. These California giant redwoods were originally planted around 1905. Walking among them is both peaceful and invigorating. 

We ended the day with a soak in one of the the mineral pools of our motel. I think we’re cured!  

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Road trip on the Barrier

Great Barrier Island is too big to explore on foot and too hilly for bikes so we rented a car for the day to reach the far corners of the island in our limited time. The rental process was the same as we experienced in the San Juan Islands in Washington State. The car was waiting for us at the dock with the keys under the mat and a request to fill out the contract before we drove away. We were instructed to leave the car in the same place at the end of the day and to hand the contract to the gas pump attendant when we filled the tank, along with the rental fee in cash. 

Kay in the tiny tourist info hut suggested an itinerary, starting with the steep winding road up from Port FitzRoy to a surprisingly level plateau past a small airifield which, judging by the number of comfortable squatters, doesn’t seem to be used much. 


Our first stop was the trail to Windy Canyon. We weren’t sure what to expect but after many long flights of narrow stairways we found ourselves in a place exactly as described. The air was biting cold and we were occasionally hit with gusts that might have blown us off the mountain had we not been paying attention. The view from the top was spectacular and despite the wind we stayed awhile to appreciate the perspective that comes from altitude. 


Back down we drove through painterly pastureland, sometimes sharing the road with local residents. 


We saw very little vehicle traffic most of the time. Good thing, too, because the twisty mountain roads were really only a lane and a half wide with no guard rails and only the occasional curbing along steep drops. Consequently we had a running bicker fest for much of the day. 

Me (staring over the abyss, gasping in fright): Move over! You’re too close to the edge!

Jack (emulating Lewis Hamilton’s late braking technique): Oh, come on! When did you become a Nervous Nelly?

All. Day. Long. 

Ok, he did brake early for the cows. 


Most of the day was the usual car touring routine of stopping, taking photos, getting back in the car and driving on. The island is breathtaking in every direction with a surprising variety of landscapes. 

Kay recommended the hike to the hot springs in the center of the island. It was a level track, at first through open woods and then across fragile wetlands, often on boardwalks to protect the delicate flora. It took nearly an hour to reach the hot springs and I was happy to kick off my shoes and soak my dogs in the warm water. If I’d come prepared I’d’ve done a full-on pedi. 




Land dwellers always recommend beaches but we boaters see a lot of beaches, albeit from the wet side. Still, the Barrier has some good ones. As Schulzes and as Escapees we end up at cafes more often than not. The Wild Rose Cafe provided our post-lunch coffee drinks and a very fine almond croissant, even if it was the most expensive cafe visit in recent memory. 


Since the island has barely a cell signal in places and no cell data to speak of we made a half hour stop at the main airport where we could get online for email and bill paying. While we were there a few other people came in, sat down with a phone or iPad, did a little online business then left. 

It was just after 3 o’clock when we left the airport hoping to make two more stops on Kay’s suggested itinerary, which she promised we’d have ‘heaps of time’ to accomplish. But no. The roads are twisty and slow and we needed to get back to Port FitzRoy before the filling station closes at 5. No matter. We just continued to appreciate the natural beauty of the island, and at least driving back I wasn’t on the cliff side of the road and could relax my death grip on the arm rest. I might have sprained my braking foot, though. 


Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Look out

The weather always makes our decisions for us. We knew the wind would turn against a sail back up to Whangarei at the end of the week and that left us with only three days to explore “the Barrier,” as the locals call it. Great Barrier Island is not to be confused with Great Barrier Reef, which is in Australia and something else entirely. We first became aware of the Barrier from an episode of House Hunters International, a TV show that fed our longing for faraway places while we were saving our pennies and planning to sail away. I was entranced by the idea of an island off the grid, where residents generate their own power, increasingly with solar panels but also with wind and diesel or gas generators. No matter what, we didn’t want to miss visiting this place and it really delivered on our expectations. 

We started with a stop at the tiny tourist office in Port FitzRoy and a long talk with Kay, who gave us a rundown on don’t-miss sights. With an afternoon ahead of us the first day she steered us toward the FitzRoy House and Glen Fern Reserve, a gorgeous walk through replanted forest and farmland. 


As always where there are Kauri trees there are washing stations to reduce the possibility of spreading the die-back disease that threatens the young trees and is carried on footwear to the delicate roots.  



I’m a forest person. It’s in the forest that I feel most at home, maybe because I spent so much of my early adulthood camping in various forests throughout North America, or maybe because in the forest there’s everything you could possibly need to support life — shelter, water, food — or maybe it’s just because I find the trees beautiful and powerful. Whatever the reason, I never grow tired of walking in the woods. We’ve come to appreciate the New Zealand Department of Conservation, who make the landscape accessible without altering it. 


Steep and narrow walkways lead to a medium-sized, 600-year-old kauri that survived the logging that mostly wiped out the forest in earlier, less-enlightened times. A swing plank bridge provided touching access, and there was even a ladder and platform should you want to sit in the tree and appreciate the view from the steep cliff. That was a bridge too far for Jack and me, but we did at least walk up to the tree to pay tribute to its strength and longevity.


The trail left the dense canopy and we found ourselves with a commanding view of the harbor, and of course, Escape Velocity way down below in the tiny anchorage. Funny how we boaters will go to great lengths just to take a photo of our beloved homes in exotic places. 



Filed under Uncategorized


It’s about 45 sea miles from Waiheke Island to Great Barrier Island with light winds predicted. Lucky for us it was the end of daylight savings time so we gained an hour and were underway by 7am.  

 Our light breeze was beautiful, if a little too close to the direction we were heading, but nevertheless we sailed well with our newly sanded bottom and lightened load. As an additional bonus the sun came out and we reveled in the kind of perfect day on the water all sailors dream about.  

 By early afternoon our wind picked up, then a squall materialized over Little Barrier Island and we reefed the mainsail down a notch just in case. It amounted to nothing but did take the sun away and by the time we dropped all sail and motored toward the tiny Man o’ War Passage it was starting to feel gloomy again, like so many of our days in New Zealand. 

We poked our way slowly through the narrow gap into a wide bay with a half dozen possibilities for an overnight stay. A few places seemed full of boats and we wanted to be on our own and in a quiet place after four days of constant ferry wakes and a bang in the night. Plus, for the first time in a while we were facing west and the possibility of a sunset view at anchor lead us to drive around for a half hour testing the depth vs. view quotient until finally we dropped the hook between two islets with a view of the pass to the west.  

Drinks in hand, sweaters on against gathering damp, we drank in the peace and quiet. On deck the only manmade sound was the slight rattle of our solar ventilators in the bathroom hatches.  

 When the sun set we were treated to a crystal backdrop of stars and only went below when the air grew too cool for our light clothing. All night long there was barely a ripple on the water and I woke every once in a while just because it was so still. Once I even imagined we were back in the boatyard, so profoundly motionless was EV. 

These are the moments that make our hard work worthwhile. 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Things that go bump in the night


What was that?! 

But I knew exactly what it was. Earlier that day, after walking what felt like most of Auckland, we stopped on the way back to Escape Velocity and invited a neighbor for sundowners. While sipping my Tui, I remarked that the blue boat behind us was anchored too close and he’s not even French! Just as I said that the skipper walked up to the bow and started to crank up his anchor. With weather moving in I was relieved, but we watched in disbelief as he went around us and anchored to windward, even closer. Not good.

On a boat, things that go bump in the night are usually other boats. Sure enough, gaining the cockpit, I saw the blue monohull dancing around alongside us a meter away, bobbing and rolling in the wind and rain. Marce had the presence of mind to bring up a flashlight to shine into his portlights to get his attention — as if the impact wasn’t enough — while I made a beeline forward to the bow lockers to grab a couple of our larger fenders. (Note to self: don’t tie up the kayaks on top of the bow locker hatches!) Finally M roused, let’s agree to call him the Wild Man of Matiatia. Overgrown gray hair sticking out at every odd angle, tangled like a fright wig, growing in a semicircle of male pattern baldness gone bad, with the social skills of a troll. He just stood there, staring at the water. We waited. 

Finally Marce yelled over, “What’s your plan?” He still just stood there scratching his stubble, then said, “I see what’s happening” while staring down at the water. 

Mind you we’ve had our share of close calls while at anchor and the proper protocol is to (1) apologize profusely, (2) start your motor, (3) apologize profusely, (4) fend off if necessary, (5) apologize profusely, and (6) make yourself very scarce, while (7) apologizing profusely. Once in Hiva Oa’s rolly nightmare of a harbor our stern anchor let go in the middle if the night and we spun around between two boats, touching nothing, but terrorizing two crews. We were blissfully asleep, awakened by powerful flashlights through the portlights. Proper protocol was observed and we banished ourselves out beyond the jetty. 

Our Wild Man continued to stare at the roiling water between our boats, ignoring protocol. Finally Marce and I looked at each other then back at him and yelled,”MOVE YOUR BOAT!” He looked up as if noticing us for the first time and asked, “How much longer will you be here?” Bewildered, we said “maybe two days” and he said he guessed he could hang on for two more days, then reluctantly moved the boat fifty feet and dropped his anchor again. 

It appears that the Wild Man of Matiatia has an unnatural attraction to this specific spot of water. Well, there goes my night. I stood anchor watch until the wind calmed down. 
The next morning we moved EV. I’m reluctant to come between a man and his passion, however strange it may be. We don’t judge. 

Leave a Comment

Filed under Uncategorized