Well, we have now been in NZ for three months – about halfway through our sojourn south of the cyclone zone. Much has happened and the time has zipped by like a sailboat running before a gale.
NZ is big. Traveling here is reminiscent of crossing Ontario except that the scenery is perhaps a bit more varied. We've driven up to the northernmost point on the North Island (Cape Reinga) and sledded down sand dunes. We've seen the pits dug by gumdiggers in their search for fossilized kauri tree resin, and we've seen other pits from where 30 000 year-old kauri logs have been excavated to use in furniture making. From land, and by sea we have seen dozens of gorgeous sand beaches crowded by rolling hills. What follows are some highlights of the past few months.
Canada Post is as slow as drifting in the doldrums when it comes to getting packages out of Canada. Our packages sent a month before Christmas to Canada and Denmark all made it to their recipients in time - ditto for incoming mail from Denmark – however we are still waiting for our Christmas presents from Canada. Why's that? Anyone with the answer, please send it to us...er, on second thought, never mind.
While cruising the Bay of Islands area we generally have been returning to Opua for a couple of days every week or two to stock up on groceries and do laundry. Might as well enjoy the benefits of civilization! Of course, each of these grocery expeditions is not quite as simple as driving to the nearby corner store. We anchor off the beach at Paihia, just beyond the swimming area buoys, and hop into ONS (One Night Stand – our dinghy from Summer Fling). A few minutes of rowing or motoring gets us ashore, and if we time the landing right we manage to surf right up onto the beach. The Woolworths grocery store is about a ten minute walk and if we are fetching other things from town like ice-cream or t-shirts then downtown Paihia is about twenty minute's walk. We have to restrain ourselves from buying too many jugs of juice or sacks of sugar, however tempting the sale price might be, as we have to carry them back to ONS and then be able to drag her down the beach for launching. Strawberries have been in season here since December, and our morning cereal is much enriched. Early on we bought a yoghurt maker and it's been supplying us with delicious yoghurt, a litre at a time. Easy to use: pour 4 cups of water into a plastic jar, add an envelope of flavoured mix, shake (oops - put the lid on _first_!) and set aside for about 12 hours. The mix has all the right bacteria and sugar and milk powder, so it's dirt simple. Very popular down here - a couple of Kiwis told us about them.
Saw penguins yesterday in the water! Very neat - I hadn't thought they would be this far north, but I read now that there are 4 species that hang around NZ. We haven't seen them on land yet. There's also these neat Australasian Gannets that fish by soaring a hundred feet in the air. When they spy a fish down below, they dive-bomb right into the water. A few seconds later they pop up to the surface again, with a fish if they've been lucky. It's really impressive to watch these high dives!
We had an enjoyable and festive season. Christmas Day we were anchored by ourselves in a little bay with a sandy beach. It wasn't warm enough to swim, but we did have a nice walkabout after the churkey and before the dessert. What's 'Churkey' you ask? Well, we asked at the butcher's and the smallest turkey they had was 8kg. Tad too big for us (and our oven). They did, however, have a free-range chicken that was half that size so we brought it back to Freya and decided to call it our churkey :-) After stuffing and roasting, it pretty much looked like a small turkey anyway, and tasted great!
Speaking of weather, we haven't been able to build skating rinks like some Canucks, but December and January have been cooler than they ought to. The ocean is still only 17C when it usually is 20 or even 22C by this time, so it's still only on the really sunny days that we jump in, and those are pretty scarce. We have been waiting out the rain for the last couple of days. Oh well.
There's been plenty of excitement anyway. Last Monday we anchored in a bay that had an upside-down yacht in it. Looked kinda interesting (in a macabre way) so we dinghied over and Barb hopped on to the upturned hull for a photo-shoot. The sailboat's keel seemed to have been torn off which left a gaping hole in the bottom, and certainly led to its demise. A boat came by shortly after to let us know that the accident happened only 3 days previously, and a salvage tug was on its way. Sure enough, a barge with a crane motored up and half the folks in the anchorage hopped into their dinghies to watch the proceedings. The anchored power boat that we and several others rafted onto passed around the beers and crackers to all and the mood was rather festive. I'll toss a few pics on the website... It took several hours, but they got the boat flipped right side up and hauled onto the deck of the barge. Lots of flotsam fell out during the operation, so we paddled around picking up stuff like life jackets, jerry cans, a small Christmas tree, and plastic containers. We dropped the goods off at the raft (a lot of it was oily, so we weren't really too interested in keeping it anyway), but we did salvage and hang on to a bottle of Coke, a couple bags of nuts, and a bag of Kit-Kats. [Barb's note: that little floating Christmas tree stuck with me; it spoke so poignantly of the people who had experienced this tragedy, making them real, and reminding us of our own vulnerabilities.] We also spoke with a friend of the ex-owners, who told us what had happened: they were sailing along in fog using GPS and thumped a shallow rock hard enough to break off the keel. The boat sank to the gunwales and flipped in about five minutes and they (mostly uninjured) took to their dinghy. Another boat towed their boat into shallow water at the nearby bay, so it wouldn't sink further. The friend commented that the accident may actually have a silver lining - they had planned on taking the boat offshore, and he thought that the way the keel broke off revealed some construction problems with the hull; it shouldn't have snapped off that easily.
Oh yes, whilst the excitement with the sunken yacht was happening, about 5 large (12 feet?) dolphins decided to cruise around the bay for half an hour. They were playing and slapping their tails, and coming very close to the boats and dinghies. Quite a wondrous sight! There were also blue penguins swimming about the bay, just to top it all off...
About a week ago we anchored in Kerikeri inlet. The town of Kerikeri is up a river, but it's too shallow at low tide for Freya, so we hopped into ONS and motored the four miles or so up to a stone house and a wharf. It's quite a scenic little trip through the winding waterway, and lasts a bit over an hour at the max 3 knots that ONS can handle. There are lots of nice houses along the banks, various boats moored to pilings, kayakers paddling, and even a smoky steamboat that chugs tourists down and up the river. We tied up and went ashore, heading for the park across the road where we had been before with Robin & Cheryl. We tramped up to Rainbow falls, which was picturesque but not amazing, and then headed into town. Our goal was the New World grocery store and a phone booth. We had thought of getting ice cream too but it wasn't all that warm out, so we settled for three pints of fresh strawberries. On the walk back we quaffed a couple of Cokes and then putted back in the dinghy. A head wind had blown up, so once we left the river to cross the bay over to Freya we hunkered down in the bottom to decrease wind resistance; singing kept us entertained and warm(ish). At top speed we could just keep up with the kayaker who was also heading in the same direction :-) Our excuse was that we were now loaded down with groceries...
Barb got me a book on NZ birds for Christmas, so now we can put names to a few of the ones we've been seeing. There's one that we've christened the 'Staplegun bird', as part of its call sounds just like the ka-thunk of a staplegun. At other times, it makes a squeaky bed-spring sound, and we have also heard a nice 5-note melody. This bird turns out to be the 'Tui' and is adept at mimicking other birds and even humans. The Tui is well-regarded here, as there is a beer named after it And the NZers do love their beer!
We spent New Year's at Urupukapuka Bay where we had been a few weeks earlier. We had returned because it has a great scenic beach and good tramping on hills ashore. We had also been alerted by Barbara & Neil (whom we met in Hilo, Hawaii) that friends of theirs, Geoff and Diane, were going to be camping there over New Year's and that we should look them up. Well, there was about thirty tents scattered about the beach, but it turns out that everyone knows the Hintons since they have been coming there for the past 23 years. The first tent we asked at referred us to the right spot, where we introduced ourselves and were promptly offered a beer (we declined, as we had planned ahead and brought 5 ciders and 2 bags of chips). We ended up chatting with these fine folk and their kin for the rest of the evening. They have a dairy farm farther south on the North Island, where they also raise pigs, blueberries, and of course, sheep. The next day we invited them aboard for tea and they gave us some fresh scallops and fillets from a 15 lb snapper they had caught earlier. When my folks get here and we go traveling, we are supposed to stop in at their farm and stay a day or so - should be neat, and the blueberries might be ripe too!
We transported ourselves and Freya around Cape Brett and along a very pretty section of east coast to Whangarei, where we would tackle some of the bigger boat repair jobs on the list. We paused at the famous (in NZ, anyway) Hole in the Rock for some photo opportunities. Bjarne was relegated to camera duty in the dinghy, while Barb made a few passes with Freya of the scenic tourist lure and tried to make sure she was looking her best.
The marina in Whangarei has been a good place for us to get work done, as many other cruisers are also working on their boats. Thus, there is a lot of sharing of knowledge, and more importantly, power tools :-) There are also many opportunities to socialize. Someone coming by the boat and telling you what time it is - “it's beer o'clock” - can be a deterrent to getting one's work done :-)
We have been enjoying pancake breakfasts every week or so. This morning we started at the civilized time of 0830 and Canadian maple syrup was a big hit. Ray, the marina owner, has considerately covered three picnic tables with a large tent and provided a BBQ grill for all to use. Friday nights are potluck dinners and we have recently added breakfasts to the events list. Last time someone shopped 'The Mad Butcher'; there must have been a good sale on sausages as they arrived with a 6 foot long chain of breakfast links. The whole crowd was well fed. As added entertainment to these communal meals we have competitions: last Friday there was a paper sailboat race in the river and this week we are to have a kite-flying event.
Six-buck meals – how good is that? A local bar called Danger, Danger has a nightly offering of $6 entrees. You can choose between steak, lasagne, and battered fish; each comes with coleslaw and good fries. For an additional $3.50 you get a glass of draft beer. As a bonus, they are within walking distance of the marinas. Naturally this spot is a popular one with ever-frugal cruisers.
Another good deal is the internet and video game emporium Klose Enkounters. These friendly folk offer computer terminals and laptop connections at a mere $3/hour. Putting this into perspective: for the same price as a 36-second phone call from Penrhyn we can surf the internet at high speed for an entire 60 minutes. Wow.
Our Mast is now Up! Last week we finished our two-week fiberglassing, woodworking, and sanding marathon (in between cheep dinners and cockpit parties). Our compression post, a teak beam standing between the deck and the keel, takes the force of the mast and keeps the deck from collapsing. Unfortunately the base that the post was sitting on had rotted, which allowed the post to bend and sink, which put a dent in the deck and loosened our rigging. The sinking had been happening for a long time, probably years, but became notably worse during some wet and thumpy weather. We shored it up in Niue and continued on until we could investigate and fix the problem. Here in Whangarei we have finally had the time and materials to dig into the problem, so to speak. After pulling the mast off the boat we ripped up the cabin sole around the post, dismantled an adjacent drawer, pulled off the heads door, and took out the compression post. All this activity happens of course while we are living aboard, which leads to daily rituals of moving construction materials into and out of our V-berth and dining table. What did we see after the dismantling? Rot had destroyed the block of wood sitting on the keel that supported the compression post. We chiseled and ground out the old base and constructed a new one of high-density foam and fibreglass. The old compression post was re-glued straight, epoxied on top of the newly-built base, and surrounded by replaced cabin sole. Fourteen days after pulling the mast off we motored over to Culham Engineering to have them hoist our mast and plunk it back on the deck. Anxiously we crossed our fingers as the crane lowered the mast onto our deck. Yaaaay! The compression post held and the mast did not push down into the deck. Our worst problem now is that the sections of replaced cabin sole are so much cleaner and brighter looking than the old surrounding floor. I suspect a few months of bare feet stomping on the sole should fix this problem.
Cockroaches stowed aboard Freya way back in Nuku Hiva, we suspect. They've been living the high life – munching on crumbs and assorted sea rations, now supplemented by land food. Usually there were none to be seen during the day, but each night we'd spy one or two or three of the critters when we'd turn on a light. (Shameless advertisement: our food is generally stored in Tupperware(TM) and we have not yet seen any bugs IN our food, just in our storage lockers.) In consultation with other cruisers (the majority of whom have also had cockroaches at some point) we found out that this particular species is the 'German Cockroach' which is especially fond of warm places and damp spots (like in our galley). Enough free-loading. Time to evict the suckers. This is made difficult by all the crooks and nannies found on a boat. We bought a can of roach spray and several cans of Australian (these folks know how to deal with unwanted critters) Flea Bomb, which has the same active ingredient as the roach spray. The eviction drill consists of unscrewing our ceiling panels, stacking our cushions, pulling up the floorboards, sealing off all openings to the outside, removing our food and utensils, and then spraying known hiding places with the aerosol. We place the 'bomb' in the middle of the floor, push the nozzle on, then sprint for the exit and seal the boat up. The bomb sprays its killing mist into the air and roaches that can't hold their breaths long enough die. This procedure needs repeating about three weeks later to catch the ones that have hatched since the last bombing.
Eeeek! Enviroterrorists approaching... we shamefacedly bought a car. This Nissan Bluebird is meant to assist us in touring around the country when my parents arrive in February. The diesel engine is an advantage in a country where diesel costs about 50 cents less a litre than regular petrol. Like all silver linings, this one has a small rip; diesel car owners have to pay a kilometrage road-use charge to the government in lieu of taxes on their fuel. We paid a mere $NZ2700 ($CDN2480) for this white 5-passenger sedan with 220 000 km on the odo. Our first day on the road we drove (left-hand side!) to Opua to check for overdue Christmas parcels, whereupon we immediately met with two disappointments: there were NO prezzies waiting for us; and the car commenced blowing steam from under the hood on our return journey. We pulled over, waited for the radiator to cool a tad, and contributed our drinking water to the thirsty engine. Turns out that the glue patch on the radiator (there when we bought the car) had softened with the heat – as we thought might happen, only we had hoped it might last a bit longer, like three months :-) The next day we visited Murray & Judy's Radiator Shop and for only a couple hundred dollars we had a new top put on the radiator. For those of you technically inclined: rads in NZ generally have a plastic top (instead of a metal one like in Canada) which has a lifespan of about three to four years. Since they fail so often, there's a good infrastructure down here for yanking the tops off and pressing new ones into place. Keeps the mechanics busy I suppose.
Is that the sound of people gathering for brewskies? Time to go....