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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Feb 4 – 7, 2010 – Top of the South Island; Picton to Nelson

Wednesday afternoon we arrived in Picton, which is a charming little
town that reminded us of a US eastern coast seaside town. It is a
popular jumping off point for trekkers going out to hike the Queen
Charlotte Track. The track is a hiker's dream, and can be done in day
trips or in a four-day backpacker jaunt. The primary means of getting
out to the beginning of the Track is via the mail boats. We only
allowed ourselves one full day here, and booked ourselves to make the
one day hike at the beginning of the Track, a 15k hike. We found
rooms at The Admiral, a boutique hotel within walking distance of the
wharf where we were to board the boat for our excursion. We pretty
much had the run of the hotel, being the only 4 guests the 2 nights we
were there. They gave us full use of the kitchen and fed us breakfast
everyday, giving us free Internet and access to the great room. Nice
place – nice people who run it.

Thursday morning we boarded the boat, which first gave us a tour of
the beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound through which we had cruised the
previous day on the ferry ride over. We made a first stop at an
island that has been designated a bird sanctuary. The mail boat
dropped us off to take a 45-minute hike up to the top for a fantastic
panoramic view of the Sound, while he made some mail deliveries,
luggage drops and people deliveries to nearby areas. All natural and
introduced predators such as rats, stoats and possums have been
removed from this island and it literally sings with birds. There are
even a few man-made penguin burrows to allow a safe hatching area for
the little fellows. When we finished our hike and wandered back down
to the pier to await the boat, we saw a couple of penguins swimming
around underneath us, diving and fishing. What a thrill to be able to
just sit here and watch these incredible creatures in their natural
habitat! The boat came along, picked us up and then resumed its
general business of the mail. After a few more mail drops and luggage
deliveries, we arrived at our destination. He dropped us off at our
starting point for the hike. The first half was mostly uphill and
very rocky and "trippy". Although it was hard on the old feet, trying
to be careful to avoid roots, sharp rocks and other debris in the
trail, it was a great hike. At times, it the vistas were
breathtakingly beautiful, making it all worth the foot pain. We
stopped at a halfway point to eat our lunches and were soon overcome
by Wekas! They are these funny looking flightless birds that resemble
a cross between a chicken and a kiwi bird. They are obnoxious! They
kept trying to get to our food and because they are protected, we had
to be very careful attempting to shoo them away in case some locals
came upon us in the process. For some reason they loved to harass
Frank, and were very persistent about it. He kept growling and
scowling at them, and if I didn't know better I'd swear they were
taunting him personally. Finally we threw the rest of our lunch back
into the backpacks and continued the hike. We had been told to expect
to give it at least 5 - 6 hours to make it over to the pick up point
at the 15-kilometer mark. We laughed at them, thinking they must use
really old, decrepit people to set the pace for this deal. We had
seriously underestimated the DOC (dept. of conservation). This was no
walk in the park. It was a great physical challenge for us, and not
one to easily describe to someone who has not done it. We were
absolutely exhausted by the time we reached the bay at the end of the
day. We had just enough time to sit down and have a cool drink before
the mail boat arrived to take us back into Picton. Needless to say we
had an early dinner and then lights out!

Friday, we drove over to Nelson. Marsha and I told Frank and Earl it
was their turn to find a hotel, so they dropped us off in town.
Nelson reminded us somewhat of Boulder's Pearl Street. It is a great
city for walking the street mall, dining and shopping. We happened to
arrive during the Busker's Festival, bringing street performers from
all around. After watching some of the performers and window-
shopping, we met the boys for lunch at an outdoor café. Just as we
were finishing up we realized that a large stage about 30 yards away
was being prepped so we stuck around to see what's up. It was a stage
adaption of a circus act combining acrobats and actors. The theme was
nautical: a ship in peril on the high seas. The weather was
beautiful, the town charming and the day was perfect. The hotel the
boys found was a luxury surprise. We thought that they would go for
something very basic and cheap. Actually it was very, very nice!
Somehow they managed to finesse the price down to $130 NZD per night,
and we got huge connecting rooms that included full kitchens and great
bathrooms. It was across the street from a grocery store, so we went
shopping and stocked the fridge, then settled down to watch The Sevens
(the big rugby tournament) on TV.

Saturday we went to the street market and then loaded into the car for
a drive to the beach. We drove into Golden Bay, through the "hippie
settlements" that are little towns along the way trapped in the 60's.
As we drove along we literally saw lots of dreadlocked, barefoot or
otherwise Birkenstock and tie-dyed clad flower children. Frozen in
time this area is beautiful and quite unique. We walked along the
beach, which was amazingly covered in what looked like river stones,
yet no shells were there. Very different indeed. Back in Nelson we
had an early dinner and then prepared for an early departure for the 7-
hour drive down the west coast to Hokitika.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

February 1 - 3, 2010 – Heading South!

Early Monday morning, on February 1st, we readied ourselves to catch the ferry into Auckland City Centre where we would jump onto the Airport Express Bus for our flight to Wellington.   Although Gulf Harbor Marina personnel had assured us that the ferry would be running in spite of the fact that this day is a holiday, no ferry arrived.  The weather was deteriorating even by 6 AM it was raining pitchforks and devil babies!  Fortunately, the security staff at the marina is very helpful assisting us in finding transportation to the airport.  We took a private bus service, arriving with time to spare for our 12:30 departure.  On arrival in "Welly", Ken and Wendy, our friends from "Cop Out", met us at the airport and somehow managed to stuff us and Earl and Marsha with all of our luggage into their 5-passenger station wagon.  We looked like the Beverly Hillbillies!  Ken and Wendy had sailed "Cop Out" down to Wellington last year.  They spent some time cruising the Sounds and then during the NZ winter, they berthed the boat in Wellington and flew back to Canada for 6 months while the rest of us had sailed up to Fiji. Now they were back and we were very happy to see them again – it had been a full year since we'd last gotten together with them.  Frank and I stayed aboard with Wendy and Ken, while Earl and Marsha took the opportunity to stay in a "honey-moon" hotel in Wellington.  The rains had followed us south, so we spent the afternoon in the Te Papa museum.  It was fantastic!  Each area of the museum is dedicated to something unique and to the history of the country, its culture, its fauna and flora. One of the highlights for us was the marine exhibit, showcasing a HUGE, well preserved giant squid that had been captured somewhere in the Antarctic and brought to Te Papa.  The museum was interactive and had many attractions that we could participate in, including a 3-d film of the capture of the squid, and an earthquake re-creation room. We stayed until closing time and then went out for a delectable meal at a local Indian Restaurant.  Afterward we dropped Earl and Marsha off at The Bolton and returned to Cop Out where we stayed up late chatting and catching up with Ken and Wendy.

Sunday morning, we picked up Earl and Marsha and headed for the Botanical Gardens, the historic cemetery and just generally strolled around the beautiful city of Wellington, as Ken and Wendy pointed out landmarks and government buildings.  Being the capital of NZ, Wellington has some impressive architecture, including everything from Parliament to the famous theater where Lord of the Rings held the world premier.  We did not have time to visit WETA studios, but covered as much as we could in the short time we had there.  That evening we feasted at an authentic Mexican Restaurant.  Wow!  It wasn't Tex-Mex, but as good as it can get for New Zealand.

Monday morning we boarded the "Interislander" ferry for Picton, on the South Island. The ferry ride lasted about 3 ½ hours and was a treat.  It was as large as a small cruise ship and just as nice. We were overcome with wonder and amazement as the vessel entered the Marlborough Sounds.  The surrounding beauty of the reflective waters and the green, green mountains and little islands is an awe-inspiring sight to behold, and one that can only be experience by arriving on the water.  Here, our South Island adventure begins.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

January 12 – 31, part 2 – Round and Round We Go!

When all was in order, we set sail once again, leaving Gulf Harbor after fueling up.  This was to be an overnighter all the way down to Tauranga.  We were weather-hopping; trying to make quick runs down the coast in between weather patterns that would make for rough seas.  If we timed it right and had winds as predicted, then we would have a good trip down.  Well, we planned it to suit the weather gurus, but in spite of our best efforts, we had fair winds for only half the day.  Because it was to be just one overnight, our bodies were not prepared for the shifts and watches, hence we both stayed up late and then just began taking short relief periods.  The winds had become very slight and the night turned black as pitch. Because it was so dark we had chosen to divert eastward around the Mercury Islands instead of navigating through them. Sometime during the wee hours we made the turn to head back south after having cleared the islands, and a short time later the bashing began!  Yes indeed, the gods of the winds and seas turn on the agitation cycle and we got slammed.  Because the seas had been so slight and the winds so fair during the first 12 hours of this leg, I was (against all good & rational judgment), unprepared below decks for the onslaught.   I had been asleep when it hit.  I was jolted out of my short rest by three terrifying events that occurred seemingly all at once:  I was thrown from the bed, something crashed in the salon, and most frighteningly something above me made a tumbling and then loud thud sound.  I flew up the companionway in time to see Frank recovering from being tossed across the cockpit (yes, he was tethered in).  He groaned as he told me that we lost another board from the companionway.  We were still varnishing the one that had been commissioned in Opua.  This newly lost one was the middle board with the beveled glass and the IPY logo etched into it.  Well, it wasn't the worst that could happen so we just shrugged and then got down to business trying to get the boat and ourselves re-secured.  But the tidying job was not to be.  Rough conditions persisted until we arrived at the channel into the Bay of Plenty as daylight peeked out over the horizon.  We sluggishly made our way into the anchorage at The Mount, set the anchor and went down for a much-needed sleep.  Mahurangi limped in about an hour later and did the same.

Arising late morning, we did what we could to straighten up and get our thoughts together.  We decided to find a custom Plexiglas or acrylic shop in the area to cut us a plank for the companionway.  We had only intended to make a stop at Tauranga long enough to get some rest and then continue southward, but with our repair needs and those of Mahurangi, we stayed around for three nights, which is not hard to do in this beautiful area.  It is like a little La Jolla with its beautiful beaches, trendy shops and restaurants.

We made the best of our time in Tauranga/Mt. Maunganui, by hiking up to the top of the mount one day and then soaking in the salt water spa baths in the afternoon, browsing shops, taking long walks into town and of course eating great food while waiting for parts to be delivered.  We also spent this time re-strategizing.  Studying the weather and sailing forecasts for continuing south we finally threw in the towel and decided that, rather than beat ourselves and our boats up trying to sail down we were going to fly to the South Island.  We set about looking for airfares and travel routes and dates for our over land journey.  We booked a flight to Wellington for Feb 1st, giving ourselves plenty of time to get the boats back up to Gulf Harbor.  We also decided there would be no overnight passage back, so we arose early to make a day sail over to Mercury Island.  We ducked into a pleasant enough harbor, however, found out that the bay was private, Maori-owned, and we would need to obtain permission to go ashore.  We didn't see that there was much of interest for us here so we spent a quiet evening on the boat and made an early departure for Great Barrier Island's Port Fitzroy.  The winds were slight so it was a sail/motor/motorsail day.  Upon approaching GBI we received a hail on VHF 16 from Bill and Val aboard Ivory Quays.  They were out fishing and promised to join us in Port Fitzroy that evening for dinner.  We found GBI much more crowded with various sizes and types of watercraft as we meandered through the pass, but that's alright there was still plenty of room in this popular area.  We got anchored and then went ashore for a nice ling hike.  That evening we spent with Earl, Marsha, Bill and Val at the boat club having dinner and catching up with each other since last seeing them.  Then the next day we moved the boats over to Smokehouse Bay, where you can smoke your freshly caught fish for free.  Frank and the others went to shore for happy hour while I stayed on board to finish my book.  The next morning, Earl and Marsha left for Auckland but we stayed on and toured the Barrier Gold honey factory with Val and Bill.  Of course we bought all kinds of Manuka and Kanuka honeys, oils, balms and soaps.  Then after lunch we moved the boats over to yet another big harbor for an afternoon hike, guided by Bill and Val.  I cannot say enough times how much we love hiking New Zealand's beautiful trails!  At the end of the day, we bid adieu to our fiends and went to bed early.  We needed to get a good early start for Auckland's Gulf Harbor before the office closed for the day.

Arriving at Gulf Harbor on Thursday, January 28th, after a perfect day of sailing, we managed to get the same berth we'd had previously.  And as a bonus we received an email from Jan and Dave (Baraka), saying that they were flying into Auckland today and were going to pick up their car, "Caraka", which had been left with their Kiwi friends during the cruising season*.  We arranged to meet them for dinner on the 29th.  I spent my time at Gulf Harbor doing laundry and my part to prepare Destiny to be left closed up for a month.  Frank of course did his part on the outside and with the systems.  We enjoyed a great dinner with Jan and Dave, Marsha and Earl on Friday night, and as we said goodbye, promised to try to rendezvous again in the South Island.  Jan and Dave were driving down from here and were booked on the ferry from Wellington to Picton just a few days ahead of us.


*  Dave and Jan had left us in New Caledonia to sail to Oz.  They had put Baraka on the hardstand in Brisbane and flown home to Seattle for a couple of months, and then flew to NZ to land tour for 2 months before returning to Baraka.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

January 12 – 31, 2010 – part one – Mangonui to Gulf Harbor

Following a nice day of sailing we arrived at Whangamumu (prounounced "fawn-ga-moo-moo) just in time to set anchor and get settled in before dusk.  We spent two nights in this beautiful harbor.  Our one full day there we packed a lunch and took a long hike through farms and across pastures full of sheep and beautiful horses, remembering that all of New Zealand's lands are public access, meaning that land owners are not allowed to restrict access to walkers and hikers across their property.  I think there may be an exception for certain Maori owned areas.

Next stop was the familiar bay of Tutukaka, where we had anchored last year with Tom and Mary when they sailed with us.  A front of bad weather was moving in and this harbor was sheltered from the prevailing winds.  Boats packed into the small bay all afternoon long, causing us to feel quite cramped and a tad bit uneasy about the proximity of some of our new neighbors.  By evening, it had turned very foul and our plans to go to shore for a nice dinner turned soggy.  The winds whipped the boats around the anchorage and howled like crazy, but we felt comfy and cozy in our little cocoon, held firmly by our Rocna anchor.  We love that new anchor! The next day cleared enough for us to go ashore and do a little exploring, but the front had brought quite a drop in the air temperature making conditions unpleasantly cold and very windy.  We had dinner at the yacht club and then bundled up for the dinghy ride back to our boats for an early bedtime.  We had a long day of sailing ahead to make it to Kawau Island in time to get anchored for the next blow.

Sailing south to Kawau Island, in the Hauraki Gulf across from Auckland, was a great day in spite of reports of impending high winds and rough seas.  As we were approaching the channel, our friends Julia and Ian on Moasi hailed us on the VHF.  They were making their way to the same anchorage that we were.  Wow!  We had not seen them since last April.  They had gone to Tonga last season when we sailed to Fiji.  We knew that they had come back to NZ in November '09, but were missing them everywhere. Not this time. We anchored just behind them, and they invited us to join them for dinner.  We spent a too short evening with them, eating and visiting into the night, and then bid them farewell as they prepared for an early departure up to Whangarei (prounounced "Fawn-gah-ray") the next day.  We slept in the next morning  - finally – and then dinghyed into shore with Marsha and Earl (Mahurangi) for some exploring.  The island has a lot of history and miles of beautiful hiking trails.  We chose the one that ended at the famous Mansion house.  Marsha and I toured the mansion while Frank and Earl did whatever boys do when girls tour mansions.

After our two-night sojourn at Kawau Island, we made a 3-night stop in Auckland's Gulf Harbor.  We had serious need of provisions, since we'd been delayed in the journey to the S. Island and had been without a decent grocery store in over a month.  We also had piles of laundry to get done and a date with the "dinghy spa" for Destiny's tender, which was in need of a makeover. 

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

January, 2010 – There goes another decade!

New Year's Eve in Whangaroa was fabulous!  The Kingfish resort buffet dinner was a veritable feast!  Platters upon platters of every kind of seafood we could stuff into ourselves, and then of course, there were the platters of succulent New Zealand lamb, turkey, ham, grilled veggies, amazing salads and desserts that made us want to explode from all of the gluttony.  We were the only Americans that we know of, except for a few of the crew of that gargantuan yacht anchored out in the bay called SuRi.  It was hands down the ugliest yacht we have seen.  But it had all of the toys – numerous launches and all the normal stuff that goes with a multibillion dollar yacht, including a helicopter.  We had been watching the crew play and "heli" around all day.  Rumors were flying that this was the luxury yacht of Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes, and while the owners are away….well the crew played and played.  We didn't much care, because none of us care much for Tom Cruise, but the Kiwis were buzzing with speculation.  Apparently, these beautiful hidden anchorages are the playgrounds of many Hollywood and otherwise celebs, since they feel they can vacation in NZ relatively anonymously.

Frank, Earl and Bob enjoyed after dinner Scotch's and Cuban cigars while the band played and the people danced.  We girls were struggling to stay awake and by 11:30, we piled into dinghies and headed for the peace and quiet of our own little yachts.  Are we old farts, or what?

January 1, we spent the day hiking and relaxing.  January 2nd, we were back on the phone with Chris trying to get a clue from him about the disposition of our outboard.  No news there.  One day, Marsha and I borrowed David's car to go into Keri Keri for some provisioning of fresh foods, propane and to run errands for the guys.  We continued to enjoy fresh oysters, clams, green lip mussels and all that the bay had to offer.  Finally, on January 7th, Chris admitted defeat and told Frank that if he would come and get it, we had a new outboard motor.  No more fussing around.  Glory Halleluiah!  So, for the third and final time, David loaned us his car – or rather to the boys.  They returned with smiling faces with our new 15 hp Yamaha. 

The morning of the 8th we finally departed the beautiful Whangaroa area, getting underway we sailed north to Mangonui, along with "Northern Winds" and "Mahurangi".  The trip was a perfect sail!  Beautiful, blue-sky day.  We arrived in time to dine at the famous Mangonui Fish Shop, where the Fish and Chips is king!  We spent the next day hiking up to the top of the local mount and strolling the artsy boulevard along the waterfront.

By this time, after all the waiting we had missed our window of opportunity to sail over the top and make our way to the South Island via the Tasman Sea, so we decided to turn back around and make for the South Island via the east coast.  We made an early departure for Whangamumu.