|Second sight - NZers have till 24 March to vote in a new flag (left) or keep the old.|
Perhaps this story will illustrate what makes New Zealand a surprise, even when you think you know it well, and especially when you get out of the city.
|Kicking back in the islands (and below)|
We were back in the Bay of Islands on a rainy Saturday, and still looking for somewhere secure to leave the boat so we could drive down south the following Thursday to join my mother for dinner on her 81st birthday. We'd missed her 80th, being in the Caribbean in 2015, but this year, we felt, should be manageable. All my siblings would be there with their spouses, and in the scheme of family matters, sitting around a table with them and my mother would count as a minor miracle.
|A quick scamper with camera to the top of Robertson Island...|
|...to see this.|
In the previous week we'd tried to line up a berth at Opua marina, the obvious first port of call, but they had nothing to offer except for a one-side tie-up at the end of the commercial wharf, next to where the car ferry comes and goes between Opua and Russell until late at night. There were strong winds forecast for the days we wanted to be on the road, and add that to the ferry wash and a strong tidal flow, and secure didn't seem to apply. We knocked that one back.
|The commercial wharf at Opua|
Kerikeri has a yacht club which advertises casual berths, though it's known to be always full, and moreover the marina is in a very shallow inlet. Worth a call but no-one answered the phone over the weekend.
|Kerikeri's quiet side - down by the old Stone House|
On Sunday, brother-in-law Andy sent a text. Thought he had a possible berth in Opua for us. Friend of a friend. Several hours later, he sent a phone number. Give Lindsay a call, he said. My contact's name is Murray W.
I did that. I explained what we were looking for and why, and Lindsay came straight back. Sure, he said. He'd be leaving the marina on Tuesday afternoon. Come in any time after that, he said. How much should we pay you? I asked. Aw, don't worry about that, he said. Any friend of Murray's is a mate of mine.
But I'm not a mate of Murray's, I reminded him. He's a friend of my brother-in-law's. Lindsay laughed. Just enjoy, he said. He'd let the office know we were coming in, and we should go and see them once we were settled. There would be a bit of paperwork. (Of course there would be!. The proviso of being able to enjoy the facilities of Opua marina is that you can produce evidence you've washed Mediterranean fan worm out of your life. But I digress...).
Next up, we needed wheels for a couple of days. There aren't too many options at Opua, but Wayne, who runs one of them, said he'd have a car waiting in the carpark on Thursday morning.
He did. It just wasn't the car we were expecting. Turns out someone was late bringing that rental car back, and since Wayne's fleet is very small, he brought us his wife's car instead, apologising for the dog hair on the seats, and offering to vacuum the interior if we had enough time. No contract signed, no payment discussed. "He doesn't even know my full name," Alex told me as we drove out of Opua towards Kerikeri. "He's an old 18 footer skipper." Ah, that explains it. Alex had been a fair while picking up that car from the carpark, I'd thought. He and Wayne had obviously exchanged stories if not other pertinent details to car rental.
On our return we left the car unlocked in the carpark, with the keys and some cash in an envelope under the mat. That was Wayne's suggestion.
It obviously doesn't work like that in the Big Smoke, but out of Auckland, life can be pretty quiet and the people, well, they err on the side of trusting each other.
|It's far safer to see the Hokianga harbour by road...the sand hills at the north entrance|
|Looking down from the southern headland...|
|...where a fishing boat braves the swell|
|Looking north again - the wild west after weeks of easterlies|
|Smokehouse Bay anchorage in Port Fitzroy harbour on Great Barrier island|
|Omakiwi anchorage in the Bay of Islands|
|Enki II at anchor in Whangamumu harbour, off the old whaling station|
|Whangamumu harbour (Enki's mast in foreground) and looking south|
|Boating in the Bay of Islands (and below)|
|Fishermen like to party....Smokehouse Bay on a busy night|