Sunday, May 3, 2020

Exploring the Bay of Islands New Zealand.

20th November – 6th December 2019

Our clearance into Opua, NZ was as seamless this time as it was last year. The NZ Customs, Immigration and Bio Security personnel are the best we have come across worldwide. Regardless of the fact that there were 18 boats at the dock eagerly waiting for clearance, the officials were all smiles.

Once our turn rocked around and we were done and dusted we moved GWTW into her allocated berth in the Bay of Islands Marina, the place we’d be calling home for the next couple of days.  Having exhausted our freezer supplies we figured a meal out was the order of the evening. The local yacht club  which we remembered from last year, had a good menu at cruisers’ prices so we strolled on up. Sadly it was closed for a private function, a wedding. Bummer.

Ok, that’s when plan B came into play. We knew the General Store next to the YC did a good pizza, but sadly they had just sold the last one and were now closing up for the evening. Double bummer. The fish and chip takeaway was next on the list, can you guess, yep closing too. Sounds like alfresco canned food dining on the good ship GWTW tonight. Oh well.

Good deed of the day
 So as we strolled a bit further down the road a pale blue convertible came buzzing around the corner complete with bride and groom. The car, a beautiful old Triumph Herald, coughed and spluttered, stopping just across from us, what a way to start married life.

Liam and another passerby came to their rescue pushing the car along ‘till it burst back into life and the happy couple were once again on their way. Good deed done for the day, it was time to go crack that bottle of bubbly and celebrate our arrival back into New Zealand.

The next few days were filled with meeting all the folks from the boats we’d heard over the airwaves on our journey south from Fiji, as well as re-provisioning, washing  down GWTW, doing laundry and generally soaking up all the mod cons of first world living.  We also bought a cruising guide named "Spot X Cruising" which covers the Three Kings Islands and the east coast from North Cape through to East Cape in the Bay of Plenty.

The Bay Of Islands is located in the northern part of the North Island of New Zealand, and is comprised of 144 islands and rocky outcrops. Some islands are privately owned, some are national parkland with numerous hiking trails and others  have the odd house surrounded by rustic farmland with stone walls. The drawcard towns on the bay’s edge are Kerikeri, Paihia and historic Russell, the original capitol of New Zealand way back when.

The first European to visit the area was Captain Cook back in 1769, and this was also the first area in NZ to be settled by Europeans in the 18th century. The missionaries arrived in 1814 and they were followed by whalers toward the end of the century.
These days this area is extremely popular with boaters as well as tour operators, and we were about to go out and see the place first hand.

Our first stop was in Orokawa Bay on the peninsular of the same name. It was a lovely spot, tranquil and very sheltered from the north which is why we chose to anchor here. With only two or three houses ashore there was not a human to be seen. Apparently dolphins and a pair of Orcas frequent the bay, although the only wild life we saw were a few ducks who came a calling several times a day. Our internet provider, “Skinny”, had an excellent signal in this bay so we were well connected to the outside world.

The following day we moved around to the opposite side of the peninsular to Parorenui Bay for a change of scenery as the wind was forecast to come in from the west.
There are no homes here and we were the only boat anchored.

 A pebble beach complimented by a vast expanse of grass greeted us on arrival.
 A stroll ashore in the afternoon provided wonderful views across the bay and islands beyond, as well as a good phone signal from the highest point.

Checking for a cell phone signal

Pebble beach with icy water to dip the toes in

It may seem that we were rushing through the anchorages, but to be honest, when we moved from one to the next it was usually only a stones throw away. We’re talking a few kilometers at most and anything over five or six would be called a long passage, requiring a G&T after the anchor was set!

And so moving on we plopped the anchor down in pretty Omakwiw Cove. Backed by a pine clad shore  and a vast drying expanse of sand at low tide there were a few interesting walks ashore. One path on the left side of the bay led up steps to a trail which brought us out at a very old and interesting cemetery, “Te Rautawa Urupa” perched on the headland. 

The graves were adorned with trinkets, plastic and glass flowers as well as fresh ones and curios from the deceased’s past.

One headstone had a guitar etched into it while others had children's toys encasing the site. Some of the graves dated back to the 1800’s.

 It was an interesting way to spend the afternoon.

Our next stop on the agenda was in cozy Otehei Bay, Urupukapuka Island. We’d read in our guide book that a decent sized cafĂ© / bar sat at the head of the bay, so we jumped in the dinghy to check it out. A meal ashore would be a bit of a treat if they were open and lucky for us they were.

The Explore tourist ferry, we were told arrives at 1240  and it was suggested by the friendly staff that we should put our order in asap, which we did. We chose a table overlooking the lawn with GWTW sitting quietly at anchor as a backdrop.

Right on time the ferry arrived and a goodly number of patrons disembarked. This place is popular with hikers, kayakers, cruisers and the tourists, so it seems. We had a lovely lunch complimented by a chilled bottle of Matua Sav Blanc.  The menu was very good and the prices quite reasonable given the remote location.

Here comes Scoots

The same afternoon our friends onboard S/V Scoots were arriving back from their passage from Fiji and we decided to surprise and intercept them, and escort them into the marina.

We’d been tracking them via our AIS system on board so we knew where they were and how fast they were sailing.

It was a great moment when we saw Vandy and Eric’s happy smiling, but tired faces. They had had a long passage in less than ideal conditions but they had arrived safely home. Now all our ducks were back in a row again.  We too had booked into the marina  so we could catch up and have dinner with V&E and it was just like old times. We love you guys!

Over the coming week we mooched around a few more islands including beautiful Roberton Island, Hahangarua Bay on Moturua Island and Paradise Bay back over on Urupukapuka Island.
By now it was early December and time to start nudging our way down the coast towards Whangarei.  Hoping to catch a nice Kingfish or two on the sail down it wasn’t long before all hopes were dashed as we lost our last Rapello lure when the knot joining the line and trace parted ways.

Above & below the view from the lookout at Roberton Island

This is how the "well to do folks" get to their holiday homes or Batch as they call them here

 We had three more stops before arriving in Whangarei, the first being at the old whaling station in Whangamumu Harbour.

We originally planned to stay the night here but the wind had increased and the bottom holding was rock and shale and that’s not great.

After our mini explore of the whaling station ruins  we decided we weren’t really comfortable staying the night here. So after a bite to eat off we went again, this time heading for Sandy Bay in Whangaruru Harbour, four hours away.

Remains of the whale oil vats

This turned out to be an excellent choice due to the predicted gale force northerlies arriving at zero dark thirty. We put out 130 ft anchor chain in 12 ft of water and we didn’t budge an inch. Hands down, nothing beats anchoring in sand or mud.

As the wind was still blowing dogs off chains the following day, we figured there were worse things to do than just staying put and waiting for the elements to calm down.

On our last ocean passage of the year the fish gods came to the party and just before rounding Whangarei Heads Liam landed a nice size Tuna. 

So fresh sashimi with sundowners that night as sat at anchor tucked up in Urquharts Bay beneath the stunning headland.

All smiles as we head into Whangarei, the headland entrance in the background

Sunset at Urquhurts Bay

Next morning we had a quick haulout at Marsden Cove Marina as we were planning to change our insurance company from Pantanius USA to Pantanius Australia. To do that we needed to have a surveyor come along and inspect the boat and tick all the boxes.

Unfortunately, once the hydraulic trailer pulled us out and it leveled off on the flat of the haulout ramp, there was a almighty bang accompanied  by the odd “what the f*%*k was that?”

It turns out the the repair to the anchor chain locker that Liam had done way back in French Polynesia in 2017 had slowly been delaminating and today was the day it let go. 

There was no gaping hole or anything light that,  the repair area had just kind of gone spongy like a wedge had been pushed in between the layers of laminate. It was a sickening sound and a sickening feeling to say the least. Still,  its nothing that time, money and good tradesmen couldn’t fix. And New Zealand is definitely the right place for that to happen.

My dream house

Our last night at anchor was spent in a little bay called The Nook, a few miles up river from Whangarei Heads.

It’s a delightful spot with a
“If I could buy it I would” waterfront house sitting pretty as punch just behind GWTW.

That evening we toasted our good health, a great six months of cruising Fiji and our safe passage back to New Zealand.  There was no reason to dwell on the day’s events ‘cause sometimes shit happens.

Next morning we toddled further up the river to the Town Basin Marina and slotted back into our normal berth as if we’d never left.

It was great to be home again.

Cruisers Info :  “Spot X Cruising NZ”, available online or from Cater Marine Opua or Burnsco  Chandlery Opua and Whangarei. $44.99 NZ.

Catamaran haulout yards in Whangarei : Marsden Cove,                           
Harbourside Boat Works & Norsand use trailers and Port Whangarei Marina uses a travelift.

GWTW has hauled at Marsden, Harbourside and Port Whangarei.

Marinas in Whangarei: Town Basin Marina is the popular choice for catamarans and can accommodate up to 65 feet in length on floating docks.
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Monday, April 13, 2020

On The Road Again : Fiji – New Zealand  Passage 2019.

14th – 20th November 2019

After being handed our clearance papers by Customs, we departed Port Denarau Marina at 1230 pm on November 14th. The run south to Opua on the north island of New Zealand would see at least 1200 nautical miles disappear under our keels. 

Due to an impending weather system roaring up the Tasman Sea we were hoping that the voyage would take five and a half days. 
Our friends on the yachts Scoots, Velic  and Rewa elected not to leave as they were pretty sure they couldn’t out run the front due to arrive in NZ’s north on November 21st.

Nothing beats a shower in the sunshine

So off we went all by ourselves . A power boat had left the marina about an hour before us and called on the radio to let us know that for a couple of miles after exiting the reef pass at Momi Bay the seas were very confused, and they were. Boisterous or sporty we’d call it . 

A few hours later the conditions remained the same so we furled our forward sail, the jib to halfway.

Our boat speed sat nicely on 8-9 knots but the sea state was rough with a swell of 1.5 meters and the wind had climbed to 17 knots.  
A tad uncomfortable.

Day two was much better. The seas had laid down overnight and it was a picture perfect day, blue skies and warm sunshine. With the wind a south, south easter at 15kts GWTW slid along under full mainsail and half jib at speeds of 10-11knots. Our 24 hour run showed we’d swallowed up 212 nautical miles. Yeeha! 
Music time while the washing dries

We kept on trucking along like that all day and night. We were in the groove. The night watch was uneventful except for two fatalities of flying fish landing on the deck. It was clear skies above with the light of the full moon dancing on the waves. Perfect.

Day three and four were much the same with respective 24 hr runs sitting at 209nm and 173nm. Over the course of the fourth day the wind slowly died, the seas flattened right out and the “iron maiden” came into play. Yes, the engine was fired up and motor sailing came into play on and off for the remainder of our passage. 

Eerie haze and sunset from the Aussie fires

We could have sailed, albeit slowly but we are not purists like some especially when you want to make port before the weather turns to custard. 

So far the fish count was still zero but we were being treated to some spectacular blood red sunsets due to the smoke haze from the  bushfires ravaging Australia.

On our last evening at sea the fishing duck was broken as Liam landed a good sized Tuna.

We now had just 87 miles to the finish line and were rugged up to the hilt as the mercury steadily dropped the closer we inched to NZ. The sea temps too had plummeted from 25c in Fiji to a chilly 15c.

At 0930 on Nov 20th we pulled in to the Opua Customs Dock. 

The passage had taken us five days and twenty one hours.

We’d beaten the weather system, caught a fish, enjoyed some fabulous sailing and arrived  one hour behind boats that had left Port Denarau 24 hours before us.

It was great to be back.

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Saturday, April 4, 2020

Fun and Games over, time to explore the Yasawa Islands

19th September – 14th November 2019

Following a rather hectic week at the Musket Cove Regatta we decided a little bit of chillout time was required. 

We stayed put in the bay for just over a week which my no means was a hardship. and enjoyed all the resort amenities making good use of both the pool and golf course.

With the majority of the yachts having moved on it was nice not to be cheek by jowl for a change.  The highlight of our weeks’ R&R was most definitely the nightly visits by a pair of Giant Manta Rays.
They arrived promptly around 9pm mesmerizing us with their endless graceful tumble turns illuminated by our blue underwater lights.  As they went through their routine they hoovered up masses of tiny plankton. It was magical to watch their antics and we had the best seats in the house. See the video below.

Anchored at RoRo Reef

Over the coming weeks we slowly cruised up and down the Mamanuca and  Yasawa chain of islands. 
Most often we had anchorages to ourselves. We stopped once again at beautiful Ro Ro reef, also known as “Cloud Nine'’ and enjoyed cooling off in the brochure blue waters.

Above & below the Gin clear waters of Ro Ro Reef

From there we sailed up to  Monuriki island where the movie “Castaway” was filmed. About the only thing remaining these days  from the film set are the coconuts spelling out “Help Me”

Anchored off the beach at Monuriki Islands

Weeks earlier an underwater volcano in Tonga  erupted and spewed thousands of tons of pumice into the surrounding waters. That pumice had taken weeks to disperse as it floated west with the ocean currents pushed along by strong easterly winds. 

This is how the beaches of Blue Lagoon used to look before the pumice arrived

As we journeyed north it was beginning to impact western Fiji and rafts of pumice were appearing all through the Yasawa Islands. In particular the Blue Lagoon area was hardest hit with all the beautiful beaches covered in chunks of both big and small brown pumice.

Above and below shows rafts of pumice in the Blue Lagoon area

As we were once again hunkered down by strong winds we signed up with the Natalya resort for a private boat trip to the Sacred caves of Sawa-I-Lau on an island of the same name.

Similar to the Thai Hongs  the open cave roof

One of the stall holders at the cave bagging up my latest jewellery purchase

Swimming in the caves reminded us of being back in Thailand. These caves were similar to the Thai Hongs were the roof of the cave is open to the sky and there are tunnels and narrow swim throughs which take you deep inside the cave itself. The water in this cave was downright chilly compared to Thailand.

The Village Chief & Annie
To the north of Blue Lagoon we visited the village of Malakati where we sort out the chief, who was snoozing at the time, to present our Sevusevu gift of Kava root, also known as Yaqona, along with gifts of rice and sugar and a few pairs of much appreciated magnified reading glasses.

When a visitor arrives into a village for the first time it is mandatory that the traditional Fijian protocol of Sevusevu be performed. The dried root of the Yaqona plant, aka Kava, is pounded into a powder and mixed with water to produce what resembles very muddy water. This is then poured into a large bowl known as a Kava bowl and passed to the village participants now sitting crossed legged in a circle using a communal bowl.

The drink is mildly intoxicating and causes various degrees of relaxation the more that  is drunk. Both men and women drink Kava and  it is usually drunk in the evening after dinner.
Below are some village photos

Me with 80 year old Lily

Liam giving the locals outboard fuel as they had run out

Moving further north to the top of Yasawa island we stopped at Cololeva Bay with its dazzling white sands and aqua waters where we sat out a few days of heavy wind. A few locals came by one arvo and after a bit of monitory negotiating came back after dark with a truck load of fresh lobster. Sadly a goodly number were way undersize. Needless to say both parties were very happy with the outcome.

Magical sunset in the Yasawas

One of the bigger Lobsters from the nights catch
White sands and aqua water of  Cololeva Bay

We had gone as far north as we could so it was time to turn around and backtrack down the chain. 
As we mooched back down from Cololeva Bay we  were accompanied by pods of dolphins , at least twenty if not more. 

Sunset in Namatya Bay
 After dropping the hook in scenic Namatya Bay we jumped into the dinghy to snorkel the reef and came across a fisherman and his daughter spearing fish in the shallow waters.  We yelled hello from the  dinghy and the gentelman beckoning us over introduced himself as Pastor Simi from the local village. 

After a bit of a chat he said he was in need of some bigger fish hooks, so of course fetched some from GWTW.  

Liam asked if there were lobster in the bay and the Paster said that tomorrow he and his two daughters would come and show us where. 

Pastor Simi's ever smiling daughters

Next day they turned up on the beach around ten and while Liam and Simi went hunting I entertained his very well mannered daughters on board Gwtw.

Eventually many hours later and with all my guitar skills exhausted and  two packets of  chocolate biscuits devoured by the girls Liam showed up with three good sized lobsters. The good Paser also took a few home too. 

Simi asked if we ever back this way could we bring them a couple of swim fins and goggles. The girls put in a request for a guitar if that was possible, but not a new one they added
Well we will certainly pack some if we make it back to Fiji again.

 Stopping for a few nights at the cruiser friendly Octopus Resort on the north west side of Waya Island. 

We enjoyed snorkeling the reefs and partaking in the resorts Happy Hour. The resort is super friendly to cruisers and the bay is a great anchorage with 30ft of water over sand. We highly recommend this as a stopover when sailing up and down the  Yasawa island chain.

Sundowners at Octopus Resort

From here it was back down to the anchorage off the Manta Ray resort where we indulged in their ever so sumptuous Friday night Pizzas. Pizzas are cooked to order starting from 4pm and as a bonus happy hour goes from 5pm to 7pm.

With just one more stop before heading back over to the big smoke of Port Denarau, stopping for the night at Castaway Island made for the perfect last snorkel of the season.

As luck would have that night we received an email from cruising friends we'd met by chance while anchored in Coff's Harbour way back in 2006, We'd just left Sydney and  were making our way to Darwin to begin our sailing adventure around the world.

Well Greg and Lisa had loosely stayed in touch over the years but apparently followed our blog site and our tracker which showed us currently being in Fiji. Their son Lachlan was to be married at Plantation Island this coming week and they kindly invited us to the wedding.

We lept at the chance to see them again after all these years. Honestly where have all those years gone. So off we went to help celebrate. It was a great couple of days meeting up with all the family again. And the beach  wedding was just perfect with the sun setting as the Lachlan and his new bride took theirs vows in  beautiful Fiji.

Us with Greg and Lisa
What a place to get married and the bride below wore a vintage gown

The whole gang after the ceremony

It was now early November and time to start looking for a suitable weather window to head back down to New Zealand once again. 

With our berth previously booked at the Denarau Marina team GWTW nuzzled into the dock and settled into life on the land and all that comes with it.

There were regular get- togethers with fellow cruising friends in the various restaurants around the boardwalk of the port and intense studying and discussions of the weather patterns.

 Last minute trips on the bus were made into Nadi town for supplies for the upcoming passage south and arrival forms for NZ customs, Immigration and Biosecurity were downloaded, filled in and sent on their way through cyberspace to the various border security departments in the Land of the Long White Cloud.

Then the whole thing became a waiting game. Some boats took off on what they thought was a great window only to get the crap kicked out of them halfway to NZ. It’s a nasty piece of ocean sometimes. 

 Others including us patiently sat and sat and sat until the magic window appeared. For us that window was a narrow gap which saw us depart Fiji on November 14th. 

We’d spent four wonderful months plying Fiji’s waters and mingling among her tremendously friendly,smiling, happy people They say all good things come to an end and for us this was it 

So until we meet again it’s Moce Fiji and Vinaka.

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