In the interest of boat-bound crew sanity we teamed up with the Toucans mainly for a change of scene, shared a Rent-a-Dent and headed up to Kerikeri to replenish provisions at the Countdown, a large modern supermarket. It’s either that or the little general store in Opua. Once the car boot was filled we showed the Toucans the Old Stone Store at the head of Kerikeri River, then found our way to something we’d heard a lot about and wanted to see, the municipal toilets of Kawakawa. Really. Toilets. The municipal kind. Turns out the distinction, apparently, is that the Kawakawa municipal toilets have been designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. Let me help you here. Friedensreich Hundertwasser is an Austrian architect who fell in love with New Zealand and settled here in the 70’s, disdained straight lines and in Yr. Humbl. Skprs. opinion is Austria’s answer to Gaudi.
After the toilets went in the town went nuts, taking a fashion forward stylistic cue from Herr Hundertwasser and Bob’s-your-uncle, the whole town is now kinda whimsical and fun. You just can’t take yourself too seriously when you’ve got a big grin on your face and now I can proudly state that I’ve pee’d on a real Hundertwasser.
Here we sit. A lot of boats took advantage of a less than perfect weather window two weeks ago and ended up motoring much of the way up to Minerva Reef. We weren’t quite ready — although I suppose we could have rushed to get out — and now we’re sorry we missed the opportunity. It’s been an endless stream of nasty weather marching across Northland making a passage impossible until there’s enough of a break to get clear of the coast before the next system moves in.
Normally we’d get all zen-like and enjoy the time waiting it out, but right now we are up against our visa expiry date. Immigration is unsympathetic and tell us we must apply for an extension, an exercise that is costly, time-consuming and requires chest X-rays and doctor’s certificates, which are not possible here in Opua. There is no provision for a short-term weather extension. We will work around it and hope we aren’t carted off in handcuffs before the weather gods shine on us and we can point Escape Velocity northward.
Meanwhile, we meet friends ashore at the cafe in the morning, or at the Cruising Club for drinks and dinner once or twice a week. We do laundry, replace the provisions we’re consuming while we wait, and take on more boat projects.
On EV we bit the bullet and bought a VHF antenna splitter, which allows us to share our mast-top radio antenna with the AIS transceiver, making us visible to ships from a further distance, and allowing us to see ships sooner rather than later. That’s good for our peace of mind while we’re at sea. Our original AIS antenna, mounted on our cockpit roof, has become less and less effective over time, and after a near lurid moment with a cruise ship on a passage in French Polynesia we needed to improve our range. This was the perfect, though not inexpensive, solution and we’re happy with the results.
To keep the cabin warm I’ve been using the oven more than we do in the tropics. Cookies, casseroles, lasagna, bread, cake, any excuse to fire up the propane and take the chill off the late autumn air. Our weather sources all say to sit tight for the rest of the week and we make no argument against that. Two hours ago another front passed through with 30 kt winds that stirred up the water in the anchorage and reduced visibility down to about 15 yards. Out on the coast the wind was at least 10 kts higher with serious damaging waves and we’re happy to stay here with our anchor securely embedded in the dense Opua mud, drinking a glass of wine and eying the last of the chocolate Irish whiskey cake.
Appropriately enough we slipped our lines from the poles of Whangarei Town Basin for the last time on another damp and overcast day. “Pole dancing” at a marina is just not our thing but we accomplished a tremendous amount and had a good time doing it.
All morning the VHF radio was buzzing as more and more boats left to ready themselves for the very serious passage north to the jewels of the South Pacific. Queen’s Birthday storm ring a bell? We waited for high tide which fills the basin with about three meters of much needed water and allows you to go with the flow instead of fighting it, but that leaves you without much daylight at Calliope Bay near the bottom of the river. It’s become a tradition for us to anchor overnight in this beautiful bay. One after the other, each of us called the very polite and responsive bridge controller to ask for the award-winning — for its design not its readiness — bascule lift bridge to lift. I don’t know about you but I always add a meter to our mast height just for good measure. The clearance always looks so close up there.
It’s a circuitous route down Hatea River. It’s not just a “gimme.” One has to pay attention due to the channel wandering around and of course just like the driving down here, it’s marked backwards from the USA. Two boats in front of us missed a mark and I suspect a little embarrassed, suddenly veered back behind us. Calliope is the place that our good and much-missed friends Diana & Alex took us for a hike out on the headlands. It’s a beautiful spot, from the land or the water.
Our plan, if you can call it that, is to check out different harbors on the way back up to the Bay of Islands where we will clear out of New Zealand and wait for a weather window. As we sailed out of the river the wind is — all together now — on the nose and the sea state had a nasty chop with a big swell running on the beam so we thought we’d get as far along as we could tolerate the conditions and that turned out to be another classic Kiwi Bay.
Okura Bay, deep green, wooded, with bright green grass like a meadow, craggy mountains, rocky spires sticking out of the water with little rocky islets artfully dotting the surface, every detail arranged so perfectly that you’d swear some crazed landscape artist had composed it. This is not an exception. Every bay, every turn, every anchorage is perfectly composed and stunningly beautiful. The vast beauty of this place has become almost commonplace for us now. It’s going to be a hard act to follow. Let’s not mention the climate though.
Another day, another bashing with W.O.N. (Wind On the Nose). After rounding Cape Brett, threading the gap between the cape and Motukokako Island which is the one with all the artistic holes in it, we passed our boat yard neighbor going the other way.
We decided to divert to something with protection from expected heavy weather from the northwest. Urupukapuka Bay would fill the bill, but first we would have to tip-toe through reef strewn Albert Channel while being buffeted by nasty wind and cross waves. Finally, rounding the rocky spires that shield Urupukapuka Bay from view, we felt the wind and the waves lose it’s grip on us and Escape Velocity glided into a bay so still and peaceful that it was hard to believe what we’d just been through. Craggy mountains, check. Dense forested hills, check. Bright green grassy meadows leading down to half moon beach, check. Tasteful rocky bits, seemingly randomly strewn about, check. Beautiful yes, but virtually no internet. Maybe more peaceful than we’d like but our friends Toucan joined us for the rapture of this stunning bay.
Next day we anchored in Roberton Bay which has an amazing lookout view but only after a steep Kiwi hike up a mountain.
A view that magical tends to stay with me awhile but the following morning I noticed a few hardy souls splashing about in the frigid water only to realize they were swimming with a large pod of dolphins. I had never seen the cooperative feeding behavior of dolphins before. With repetitive tail slaps they formed a semi circle, jumping, diving, and constantly tightening the line until they were practically on the sandy beach. It was no fluke. They did it several times. Once you’ve seen it you’ll never forget it.
With high winds predicted we opted for protection from the northwest and it’s hard to beat beautiful Orokawa Bay for that. Marce and I launched our kayaks, Jean and Frank, for a spot of paddling in the sunny bay.
We did get some wind but it wasn’t too bad so the following morning we stopped off for lunch at Russell, one of our favorite towns. In the early days it was known as Hell Hole with grog shops and many houses of ill repute. Nothing in evidence these days.
As we work our way towards Opua to clear out, even the wifi is getting marginally better but I still wonder why something this beautiful has to be in such an overcast, cold, and wet, climate. Just doesn’t seem right.
When I ate the last lonely passionfruit from our visit to Martha and Bryce’s friends’ orchard, I knew it was time for us to move on.
Our visas are about to expire and the weather’s getting colder every day and we need to get a move on and sail back up to the tropics. That means a concerted effort to work through the rest of the maintenance and repair list and provision for the coming cruising season. Now that we know what is and isn’t generally available in the island nations we’ll be visiting we can be more judicious with what foods we stock up on. Still, I have a tendency to fill every nook and cranny with whatever catches my eye on the day until there just isn’t room for even one more jar of pickles or packet of olives.
As time grows shorter I remembered that I hadn’t fully commemorated our epic journey to New Zealand in the usual Polynesian way, with new ink. I nearly put it off until we got back to the islands but in the end I found a Maori artist who worked with me to design a small but meaningful tattoo. (Photo when it’s completely healed.)
All the boats in Whangarei have started watching the weather and getting things stowed and sorted, us included. We put one of our paddleboards under the cockpit roof and stowed the other one uninflated below. The kayaks are tied on deck forward and I bought storage bags for the bikes so they can also be secured on deck but still protected from the weather. Unfortunately the other day Jack’s bike was stolen from its lockup on the dock, so after a couple of euphoric months with two bikes and the freedom that comes with them, we are down to one and will have to hope another one comes our way again soon as effortlessly as this one did.
A few days before our planned departure from Whangarei the marinas and local marine services hosted a farewell dinner for all the boats who’ve called this welcoming town home for the past six months. It’s a chance for us to thank the vendors and services for their good work, and for the services to show their appreciation for the business we cruisers bring. We enjoyed a delicious dinner with our friends Bruce and Di from Toucan, reconnected with others we’ve met along the way and met some new friends, too. There were speeches and commendations and a marina representative from Fiji, a destination for most boats, and the evening ended with entertainment from a local music and dance troupe, and of course, a farewell haka.
We even won a bottle of wine in the drawing at the end of the evening and that tied a ribbon on our six month sojourn in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Now it’s time to make our way back up to the Bay of Islands where we’ll join the other boats in the daily ritual of weather watching and stress management. Going to sea is always stressful, more so when it’s been so long since the last time. And yet we’re eager to be on our way again. It’s a good stress.