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


  1. New Zealand looks so beautiful! Wish we were there with you..... hope to see you in Sydney before we leave for Sea Cloud xx

  2. You will, all going according to expectation. You have a great voyage ahead of you!

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