Thursday, 19 December 2002

"Happenings" Number 4 - 2002

Christmas 2002 - New Zealand

How unusual it is for us to be away from Australia, and more specifically Brisbane, at this time of the year; it’s indeed a rare occurrence for both of us. But what a thrill to experience Christmas within a new environment and circumstances in a different country.

And talk about Christmas in a new country; from the day of arrival we got the feeling we were in Lapland it was so cold – even the locals were complaining about it, and as often as Audrey – but when we heard some time later that it was the coldest NZ Spring weather for 35 years, we understood. Fortunately that’s behind us now with summer on the way.

So here we are resting at anchor in scenic Bon Accord Harbour, (the ‘harbour’ moniker no doubt a legacy of the 1840/50’s when this was NZ’s first copper mine) at historical Kawau Island, a day’s sail north of Auckland, making an early start on this year’s Christmas ‘Happenings’ contact, for we realize it will be all go once “Envy” arrives at the marina in Auckland. So much to do and see, with Christmas and all that!

We arrived at Opua in New Zealand on 23 October after a ten day Tasman passage, being just one of the 460 plus international recreational yachties cleared through this entry port alone by NZ Customs to date this year, so you can see there’s plenty of us out there doing it! We spent 22 days discovering this beautiful ‘Bay of Islands’ area, in the country’s north-east, where there are numerous tiny islands all close by, offering perfect shelter in a multitude of snug anchorages surrounded by exceptional scenery.

Every other day offered a new anchorage with superb views. We tramped up steep hills and down, on hiking tracks around some of the most scenic country we’ve ever seen; Moturua Island is simply awesome and a photographers paradise, and our new digital camera has been really working overtime, recording several hundred snaps, which are all categorised on our computer and are already a source of ‘slide show’ viewing enjoyment. There’s no doubt that digital cameras are the way to go! We also have a colour printer on board and Audrey is compiling a great photo album of our NZ adventure as we go.

Another delight (for us) of this area was its Oysters. Never have we seen so many of a good size and easily accessible, and to date we have collected about 500, with 211 our best harvest in one 3-hour session. We eat them raw, or cooked Kilpatrick with bacon or as cooked oyster patties, and enjoyed another cooked meal of them for lunch today. Maybe oysters are not your ‘cup of tea’, but nevertheless, can you imagine what 500 oysters would cost in OZ or the USA? Either raw in the bottle or at a restaurant, $ 000’s!

The Bay of Islands is the birthplace of the nation, for it was here in 1840 that the Treaty of Waitangi was signed. It is where NZ was first settled and has a number of historically significant places, some of which we visited in the company of three different local people who befriended us during our time in the area; they also took us sightseeing on daylong excursions, as well as into their homes for overnight stays. One of these were the Logans, a local yachting couple out for the weekend, whom we had met at RQYS in 2000, and who happened upon ”Envy” in one of the anchorages, so they took us ‘under their wing’ and spoiled us, fortuitously, for it was Audrey’s Birthday. (39 again!!)

It was time to move on so we sailed out of The Bay of Islands and southward to the old whaling station ruins at Whangamumu, an excellent anchorage 14 miles down the coast where we went ashore and inspected the historic stone remains, dating from late last century to the early 1950’s. There were 5 yachts here the first night, one each from the USA, Holland, Germany, NZ and Australia (us), a typical anchorage mix, plus a local fishing boat. A rock pool at the base of a small waterfall 100 mtr in from the stony beach made for an excellent laundry facility, much needed, since we again tramped many hours, over two days, along steep walking tracks.

Meanwhile back on “Envy”, Bruce’s fishing enquiry to the solo professional fisherman anchored nearby resulted in an invitation to take him rod fishing close by for a short while that afternoon, which resulted in 5 good fish, all given to us, and an invitation to join Roy on his 30ft fishing boat early next morning for some ‘serious fishing’.

Away at 3am around to the next bay, and by 4.30am they had run out 2 ½ miles of long-line set with 720 hooks baited with squid. An hour after sunrise around 6.30am the lines were hydraulically retrieved together with the day’s haul of only about 40/50 ‘sale’ fish, mostly Snapper, though many hooks caught undersize fish, baby sharks, stingrays and starfish etc., which were all returned alive to the sea.

Two mornings later saw Bruce join Roy again at 3am and this time the catch was twice as big. The result of all this is that we ended up with the fillets of 17 very yummy fish in our freezer, and Bruce learning a bit more about fishing! No fish tastes better than freshly caught ones, so scrumptious, and the happy knowledge that several more meals await us!!

Next stop was another 15 miles south to the attractive coastal village of Whangaruru, for a couple of days then on across the Bay for six miles to isolated Mimiwhangata Beach with its grassy parklike hills running down to golden sands, and famous amongst the locals as the picturesque venue of a royal BBQ for HM The Queen during a 1960’s visit. We stayed here only one day and night, since its exposed situation cautioned prudence.

With absolutely no wind about, “Envy” motored on another 15 miles south to the slightly larger coastal village of Tutukaka which, surprisingly for its tiny size (1 corner store), has a new marina, but little else. Several international yachts shared this anchorage overnight.

We sailed out early next morning for the 55 mile run to Great Barrier Island, a lovely day’s sail, other than for our arrival during a heavy rain squall ‘whiteout’ when we couldn’t see anything and had to navigate blindly into the port on GPS co-ordinates for an uncomfortable, though short time.

Great Barrier Island is another picturesque place whose volcanic origins and relative isolation have endowed it fauna and flora not found elsewhere in NZ, a colourful history and remains of past Kauri logging glory, and some awesome hiking tracks that test ones stamina. We walked a few of these tracks, including one with steep grades and steep drop offs up to the old historical kauri dams which, when released, sent all the huge cut kauri logs cascading down the watercourse to the bay below for onward delivery to distant sawmills. Quite ingenious engineering. This mountainous densely timbered island offers many splendid anchorages in numerous small bays, several of which we visited, including Whangaparapara further down the coast, where we spent the night in company with the luxury superyacht ‘Persus’ being one of many here in NZ for the America’s Cup.

But the highlights of our eight days here were; surprise, surprise -- Bathing and Fishing!

At a small cove named Smokehouse Bay, there is a crude establishment privately donated for the benefit of all, which comprises a room for smoking fish (very popular here in NZ), and a tin shed bathhouse, together with the welcoming sign ‘Smoke and Soak here.’ A wood-fired donkey boiler provides abundant hot water to a big old clean bathtub, where Audrey soaked blissfully in seventh heaven.

Bruce, now fully qualified and an authority on the subject following the earlier reported 2 days experience with Roy, the professional fisherman, decided to have a go at drift fishing in 30/40 mtr deep waters across Port Abercrombie and was duly rewarded with a catch of 15 Snapper, of which three were quite good sized fish. Eight of them were cleaned and frozen whole for later baking, and the remainder were ‘taken into stock’ as fillets.

Favourable conditions on Tuesday 3 December saw us depart Great Barrier Island heading back 30 miles towards the mainland, to beautiful and historically significant Kawau Island, home of NZ’s first mining operation (copper), and the famed ‘Mansion House’ home of early New Zealand Governor Sir George Grey. We anchored in Lavinia Cove also known as Schoolhouse Bay, site of an 1860’s school for the miners’ children, provided by Grey.

Over the following 6 days we enjoyed discovering the island, walking several of Kawau’s tracks through tall forest trees, fern shaded paths and around pretty shingly bays to the old copper mine site and the stately Mansion House, whose park-like manicured grounds contain a long established (1860’s) arboreal mix from each of the world’s continents. The two storey Mansion House is now owned by the National Trust, open for public inspection, and is magnificently fully furnished in period style; it is simply stunning inside with its Kauri columns and wall panelling. Few people today, 140 years on, could boast such luxuriously grand accommodation.

So we returned again to the real world of our little floating home, and indulged ourselves once more with oysters for lunch and grilled Snapper for dinner. ‘Envy’ enjoyed two more different anchorages around Kawau before moving on to Auckland a few days later.

This city is alive with America’s Cup activity, & some of the visiting overseas mega yachts are just unbelievable. Absolute dream machines, both motor and sail, from America and Europe, which you only ever see as glossy photographs in upmarket boating magazines. On our way into Auckland Harbour we passed several of them heading out to watch the days Cup racing, and also several of the Cup contestant yachts as well. It’s one thing to see these boats on the telly but awesome to pass them a stone’s throw away on the water.

We arrived at Auckland’s West Park Marina, some 22km out from downtown, on Monday 8 December and rented a small car the following day. So here we are, catching up again on some boat maintenance jobs, as well as looking to buy a vehicle of some sort, as we try to find our way around a new city amidst all the usual pre-Christmas helter-skelter. What we’ve seen of NZ so far confirms all reports of its attractive natural beauty, and we hope to discover more of it soon.

That can be the subject of our next ‘Happenings’ contact. Meanwhile, from each of us to you go our best wishes for a