Friday, 26 February 2016

Travelling North

St Paul's church, Whangaroa harbour, opened for business in 1883

We've made it to the far north. Or as far north as we have time to come. Whangaroa.  Sounds a lot like Whangarei, doesn't it?  How does it sound though? I hesitate each time about whether to pronounce the Wh as an F, or a W. My brother Nod says it's always the F sound now. Fangarei. Fangaroa. Only recalcitrant Pakeha (white New Zealanders) continue to say W. Wangarei, Wangaroa. (not to mentions the many other New Zealand place names beginning with Wh). Yet Whangaroa used to be spelled Wangaroa.  I wonder what the missionaries and settlers and timber millers who raised the money in the 1880s to build the wooden church up behind the wharf called this place they had made their home so far from Home?

Getting back to the journey.

It seemed like we were stalled , but hey, once you get underway, it's not so far after all.

Before we left Whangarei, we hired a car. Here's Tutakaka from the road...
...and here's how much fun you can have on the road. 

The quiet life - walking the dog near Tutakaka marina

Matapouri is one of a string of lovely sandy surf beaches between Tutakaka and Whangaruru

It's just one hop from Urquhart's to Whangaruru harbour, and then another up to The Bay (of Islands, that is, but apparently it's just called The Bay these days). We needed to sail half way around the world to round Cape Brett on our own boat. You go past the lighthouse and kaboom, there they are, all those islands flung across flat sparkling water, begging to be visited. Isn't that something?

Bottlenose dolphins may or may not have understood the significance of our entry - they appeared on cue, riding the bow wave as we approached the Hole in the Rock, that jaw-dropping arch in Piercy Island which sits just off Cape Brett. Alex sailed the boat between it and Cape Brett which I thought was clever - he says I'm easily impressed.

The northern cliffs of Urapukapuka

Who knows which anchorage is the one to head for when you first come in? Everyone says, 'oh, there are so many places, don't ask me to name a favourite'. We found ourselves in Paradise Bay on the west coast of Urapukupuka. With the wind blowing from the east (again), and our deep draft,  there actually weren't that many choices. About 20 other boats had made the same call. It may be late February, but there's still a reasonable crowd in the Bay.

Many of the anchorages appear to be quite shallow and there are a fair few rocks to dodge. Coming around the south end of Urapukapuka involved navigating a staggeringly small gap between Hat Rock and another rock which charts describe as above water but was drowning under frothy surge. At first Alex flatly refused to believe what the guide books were telling us. Had to be wrong. We've done narrow passes through coral reefs, but with all this glorious water, why the keyhole entrance? Ah, reefs again. The object of this particular exercise was not to go aground on a reef they call Hope. We reassessed.

We took the channel under motor, of course, and it proved good for 10 m, as charted. Best not to watch the surge on the rocks. Later, from a walking track which loops the cliffs and brow of Urapukapuka island, we watched a couple of boats blithely take on that same slip of a channel with sails up. Ah, local knowledge. A wonderful thing.

A couple of yachts prepare to sail through the small channel between 

With the wind in the south-east, we scooted north after only a couple of nights in The Bay. Why leave Paradise, you ask? Well, this summer hasn't encouraged complacency.  The latest scare was that nasty Tropical Cyclone Winston (which beat up Tonga first and then moved west to give Fiji an even deadlier thumping) would do a U-turn as it approached Australia and come roaring back across the Tasman to slam into Northland. Then the meteorologists pushed its course down to Wellington, and now...well, Winston is a spent force who will be wandering lamely near Cape York by late next week. So they say. But we're a bit jumpy about what's out there, so we put our sails up (a pole even) and headed for Whangaroa while we could. That was until the Cavalli islands came into view.

The Cavalli islands are the site of a mythical fishing expedition in my childhood. Nod and I were comparing memories of the steel barge, and the thick schools of blue maomao and trevally when we were at Great Barrier. I didn't imagine I'd ever go back there, let alone be able to stay overnight - the Cavalli anchorages are generally recommended only in fair weather.

This counted as fair weather, we reckoned.  We dropped anchor in Waiti Bay on the south side of Big Cavalli island. I landed my kayak in a hint of surf and climbed to the top of an old pa on the southern headland. For that evening at least, and later, when a startlingly clear full moon rose over the island, my dream-like Cavallis made good on their old promises. The guide book suggested we might hear the sound of kiwis at night (Northland seems to be sprouting Kiwi zones). "What does a kiwi even sound like?" Alex asked. I still don't know.

By morning, the spell was broken. Sometime during the night, the wind shifted further into the south and as day broke Enki was rolling and kicking, pleading to be gone. We too. We hadn't slept well.

And that's where Whangaroa comes in. This is the harbour where you sleep as if on land. Not even a ripple under the hull where we have parked the boat, behind Milford Island. It's eery. The tricky part of course is Whangaroa's comparatively small entrance with its racing tides, but again, local boats go in and out all the time. Except when they know not to.

Looking back at the entrance to Whangaroa harbour....

....and towards its upper reaches with Peach Island ahead of us and St Paul's rock in the distance. 

The view from the top of St Paul's rock, down onto the marina at Whangaroa township and across to Totara North

The better view, out towards the harbour entrance with Stephenson Island on the horizon. 

One of the prizes at the Marsden Cove fishing comp
Many of those local boats are sport fishing boats carrying serious gear. Fishing is huge in Northland.  Marsden Cove marina was seething with fishermen the weekend we left, competing for big prize money. There's a national competition underway all around the country, we learned today. The pennants on the flagpole by the weighing gizmo on the Whangaroa wharf show that yesterday there was one marlin brought in, three more caught and tagged (and released), one tuna brought in and two more tagged, and last (but in my mind not least) a big snapper.

Whangaroa Sport Fishing Club wharf

I put a line down yesterday in the harbour. Nothing even nibbled at my bait. Don't need flags to tell me there are more fish in the sea.

Whangaroa marina - mostly fishing boats

Luisa plums, bought in Whangaroa - my Dad's favourite, and now, it seems, a  popular crop in Northland

Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Circuit break in Whangarei

It's the middle of February, and we're stalled in a marina just outside Whangarei. Hardly over the doorstep. For many boaties (read Aucklanders), Whangarei isn't on the cruising map. Few follow the channel markers through the sandbanks up the river to the Town Basin, a favourite long-term refuge for  international cruisers who love Whangarei for its myriad marine services.  Rather, Whangarei Heads is a waypoint on the journey to and from the Bay of Islands, somewhere safe to stop overnight, probably in Urquhart Bay, tucked just inside the heads, and then move on again at first light.

Easy sailing from Great Barrier to Whangarei Heads

Urquhart Bay (and below)

Looking up the harbour towards Marsden Point and beyond 

We might have done the same after coming into Urquhart's from Great Barrier, though we quickly recognised this anchorage as the gem our friends on Galactic have spoken of. We were prepared to believe them even before a couple of guys who were diving for scallops not far from where we'd dropped the anchor in 10 m gallantly gave us a few of their extras before they headed home. How good is that? As good as the big loop walk around the headland, past derelict gun emplacements and ancient pohutakawas to Smuggler's Bay which has to be one of the most beautiful beaches we know of.

From bucket to table - Urquhart's scallops

Smuggler's Bay is impossibly romantic (and below)

Natives of the area - pukekos

At the beginning of last week, the weather had finally come good i.e it had "settled", and was begging to be enjoyed. But we had had a date with a travel lift in Port Whangarei.

Port Whangarei's new boatyard

We'd discovered the day before we left Westhaven marina that all boats heading to the Bay of Islands from Auckland this summer needed to have a clean bottom  - and be able to prove it. The villain in the piece is a marine invader called the Mediterranean fan worm which is apparently rampant in the Waitemata harbour but has yet to infest waters north of Whangarei (supposedly). The Northland councils think they can fence it off and have decreed that boat owners from the polluted south should have anti-fouled their vessel no longer than six months before they arrive in northern waters, or have lifted and pressure washed within the past month...and be able to show the relevant receipts. Huh?

This is NOT Enki -  what fan worm looks like, from government website

Surely Westhaven marina could have posted such information on the gates of the pontoons. It was only by chance that we picked up a government fan worm edict on the counter of the marina office as we paying our bill. New Zealand's biosecurity is tough, and we don't object to that, but if you're going to make regulations (and we hear the fan worm ban has been strictly applied this season, with boats being randomly dived on in marinas and in anchorages in the north), then get the word out where it needs to be heard. In Auckland's biggest marina, for example. We checked on the cruiser's website Noonsite - nothing there. We'll make sure it is very soon.

We had Enki lifted and washed at Port Whangarei, and guess what? No sign of Mediterranean fan worm. "The cleanest boat I've seen in a long time," the water blasting guy commented. Ah well. At least she'll go faster. And we've got the bit of paper.

The Micron 66 applied in April 2015 in Curacao has performed well

From Marsden Cove marina, we called an electrician to fix the freezer which we'd discovered wasn't working after we'd loaded it up with meat for several weeks' cruising. We've put that behind us, but let's just say that the vacuum packer (bought in the Canaries in anticipation of catching more fish than we could eat or freeze) came in handy.

The freezer job wasn't complicated. A loose connection, it turns out.

While the electrician was packing up his kit, Alex asked him about an anomaly he'd noticed in the charging system. Perhaps he wishes he hadn't asked, though it isn't in his make-up to ignore a potential problem. After four days of checking and re-checking connections and batteries and chargers, no-one  - least of all the professionals, it seems to me - is any the wiser, but I guess we won't be leaving port unless Alex is satisfied with the situation.

Whangarei Town Basin life (and below)

While this has been happening, bad weather has blown in for a few days.  If Saturday morning is fined as forecast, I'll be torn between getting on our way or going into Whangarei for the luscious produce at the Growers' Market again. We met Marce and Jack at the market last Saturday - Escape Velocity is parked in the Town Basin between the piles as are many many other overseas cruising yachts. It was a thrill to be with them again. We'd left them behind in Bora Bora in September, fully expecting to see them in Tonga soon after, but by the time they reached Tonga we were on our way to NZ. And then back to Sydney.

Marce and Jack at the Whangarei Growers' Market (and below)

Smuggler's Bay
After the market we drove Marce and Jack out to Whangarei Heads so they could see what we'd seen. If we could only show our friends all the places in New Zealand that have given us pleasure over the years, but everyone travels at their own pace. They're busy getting Escape Velocity ready to be lifted tomorrow. There's work to be done.

So they didn't come out with us to see Martha and Bryce's new rural venture. The Ferns are done with boating. They've circumnavigated, and now they are onto another project. They're digging, building and will soon be planting kiwifruit.  They're game, very game.

Martha and Bryce's best paddock, from the top (where Martha wants to site a house)

You start with a barn, tools and willing labour

Home for the Ferns, for this winter...

Plenty of room to store boat parts - Silver Fern's huge canoe-style boom

Bryce's biggest toy - Martha drives the digger too

Did anyone mention that it has rained a lot this summer?

The barn doubles as an entertainment space

You can take the girl out of Boston but....

Their boat, Silver Fern, is parked in Marsden Cove for the time being,  and in due course will go up for sale. Rhombus is in here too. She too has circumnavigated - Annette and John Lee and baby Tui are moving onto a dairy farm soon.  Gonzalo flew in briefly from France to say goodbye to Kazaio which sold before he had even put her on the market. There's a real end-of-the-road feeling about Whangarei in that regard. This is where a lot of people hop off. It'd be a smart place to buy a boat, I reckon.

Tui was born in the Caribbean, a cruisy baby - she's nearly one now. 

And for us, it's probably the last time we'll feel like cruisers. Part of the tribe. In April and May, those going on will head up to Fiji or Tonga, having prepared their boats over the summer months for further passage-making. It's good be amongst them for a few days longer.