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.
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.