Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Hens and Chickens; Sharks and Penguins

The Hens and Chickens is a group of islands off the north-east coast of New Zealand's North Island. And that was the stop after leaving Whangamumu in the Bay of Islands. Bad weather was coming so we wouldn't be able to stay in this area for more than the night as it is labeled a "fair weather" anchorage in our cruising guide. But Lady Alice Island, where we anchored for the night, was a lovely stop – very remote and pretty. It is a Department of Conservation island and you were not allowed to land on shore. They are trying to bring back many indigenous plants and animals – so they minimize impact from humans, dogs, and other critters that may hurt the environment. We saw lots of blue penguins on the way to the island and two were swimming by the boat quite closely in the bay where we anchored. You could also hear the calls of what we believed were kiwi birds. It was a really pleasant stop with the exception of no fish caught on the 40 mile trip to get here. We did sail much of the way – but had to motor a bit due to lack of enough wind.

The next morning we headed from our little piece of paradise to Great Barrier Island about 30 miles away. We had light wind and sailed with the drifter for a bit … fishing the whole time. Dave was good about changing lures regularly – but we didn't get a hit – Lorna still has the only landing of the little big eye tuna. We did have a very, very large shark eying the lure – a spoon (or perhaps spotting a fishy about to hit the lure). It was large and moving slowly. We were hoping he wouldn't bite the lure (though Michael thought it would make a good photo). The sail was slow and easy and we got to Great Barrier around 1500 (3 pm). We anchored in Oneura Bay and had the place to ourselves. The wind was very gusty all night hitting 28 knots as a high – but we held well.

The next morning we made the long trek (about 2 miles) to an area called Smokehouse Bay. This is a very popular anchorage and there were at least 40 boats anchored in the large bay. It was quite deep as well, so we headed just past it to a spot around the corner and anchored. By dinghy we came to Smokehouse and saw why it was such a hot spot! There are hot baths and showers available. The property has been donated by the Webster family for boaties to use and is now in the Queen's Trust in perpetuity. On shore there are a few buildings maintained with donations and labor from boat owners. The buildings house tubs/showers, a water tank and outside is a wood burning stove that heats the water. Boaters collect and cut the wood for the stove and heat the water and people can take hot showers. There are also six washtubs complete with ringers for clothes washing with the available fresh water. The water comes from a stream and can get low – but with the recent rains, there was plenty of water. Clotheslines are also available. Nearby is a small dock where you can tie a boat, wait for the tide to go out, and then clean your bottom totally. A boat was taking advantage of this when we arrived. Besides all the cleaning facilities for bodies, clothes and boats, there are also some great (though very steep) walking trails as well as a fire ring surrounded by benches and many tree swings.

We explored the area in the morning with some swinging, hiking and visiting with other boaties. In the afternoon, Dave went snorkeling in the area and saw some rays, lots of urchins, eels and fish. Lorna and Michael went to the showers (they say not together). They helped with cutting some wood and learned a lot about the area from a guy who's been there 45 times! Lorna also did a bit of laundry (albeit with shampoo). They came back to the boat all sparkly clean! Dave and Barbara showered the old fashioned way off the back of the boat.

The weather is still not great with big winds – and we have to get to Auckland by Monday or Tuesday. We finally got a booking at a marina (whew!) for the trip to the States.

Who knows what we'll do today!

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Sunday, January 13, 2013

New Zealand Exploration

Sorry for the lack of entries – it's been a busy few weeks aboard Astarte. We survived the remnants of Cyclone Evan over the holidays, holed up in a few anchorages in the Bay of Islands. We mourned the loss of Michael's mom and made plans to head back to the states for the memorial service at the end of January. And, we welcomed our frequent boat guests, Dave and Lorna from cold Ohio to summer in the southern hemisphere.

We made a car trip to Auckland (3 hours) to pick up our guests with Michael adjusting quite well to the driving on the left style here in NZ. The roads luckily aren't too busy, but they certainly are quite narrow and curvy. We accomplished a few errands as well having access to the rental car – including getting our propane tanks tested – a requirement here in NZ if the tanks are older than 10 years. We stayed overnight at a hotel with a giant Kiwi (the bird) on the roof. Dave and Lorna arrived after their 18 hour flight from LA bright and early at 0650 and we managed to make it to the airport to meet them. We then trekked back to Opua and Astarte stopping along the way so that our guests could stretch their legs after sitting for so long on the plane followed by a long drive.

As always, it was like Christmas when we got to Astarte as the bags they were loaded down with included many of the bits and pieces, parts, electronics and rain gear that we had bought and had delivered to their home. They kindly "muled" all the stuff to NZ for us. Of course, Dave and Lorna also brought us some of the Gibson chocolate from his store so we have been indulging (actually over-indulging) in yummy chocolates of many varieties.

After settling on the boat and dining out at the Opua Cruising Club, we all crashed. The next day we did a little wine tour of Ake Ake, one of New Zealand's many wineries here in the Northland. Here we learned an important NZ lesson. When the hostess at Ake Ake yelled, get the chicken out – it doesn't mean "get the chicken out of the oven" but rather, "get the live chicken out of the restaurant". In fact, they even have a bottle labeled "chook spray" which is a spray bottle filled with water. So, if they roam into the restaurant you aim at the chicken and spray. We did a wine tasting there and then had a lovely dinner (not chicken). We also saw some pretty landscape on the drive to and from the place with a short shopping stop for some left-behind jeans for Lorna and a camera bag for our new toy. The next day we headed to the Kauri trees in the Waipoua Forest on the other coast and saw the Tasman Sea as well as the giant trees. Here we saw Tane Mahuta. "Lord of the Forest" in Maori. This is the largest living kauri tree and is quite impressive. We also saw the "four sisters" and Te Matua Ngahere, "father of the forest", who is the oldest living kauri tree. These trees are 2000 years old and it is quite moving to be in the presence of something that large and old and still living. In fact, there is such a pressure to keep these living monuments healthy, and the fact that the Kauri has sensitive root systems, you must spray your shoes to keep unwelcome dirt, spores and fungus from getting to these old giants. It made for a good photo opportunity.

It was a fun day with stops at various viewpoints to see the Tasman Sea, lunch spots and ice cream shops.

The next day was an errand day – not much fun. We went to Whangarei, about 45 minute drive away, to pick up our propane tanks, other parts and look for some stuff. After too many errands, (and a lost city map – but that's a whole story Lorna won't want to tell) we did make it to Abbey Caves to look for glow worms. These are actually Arachnocampa luminosa, which are a larva of a small gnat. We have seen glow worms (actually fire worms) in the Caribbean which were a very different critter. Michael and Lorna managed to make it into "Organ" cave to see these luminescent critters, climb rocks in the dark and get wet. Dave and Barbara took a pass and explored other areas. It was a nice hike along the path as well. Lots of rocks to see!

The following day was provisioning day and a bit of shopping in Kerikeri. We loaded the boat up for some actual boating. It was a challenge to buy enough but not too much as we have to clean out the refrigerator and freezer before leaving the boat in a marina for the trip back to the States. We returned the car and then headed out to explore the Bay of Islands. First stop was Omakiwi. Then we went to Whangamumu which is an old whaling station. This was a lovely harbour where we spotted several blue penguins and took a nice long hike to the remnants of the old whaling station, a waterfall, a viewpoint and then back. It was a good workout and a beautiful day to go hiking and exploring. It was very interesting. Our intrepid explorers Mike and Lorna climbed all the way up the waterfall.

Now, we are on our way to a group of islands called the "Hen and Chickens" where we hope to spend the night. It is a 40 mile trip so should take us most of the day. We have spotted several penguins already and possibly a seal or sea lion. Lorna caught a big-eye tuna but it was a bit small, so it got to live another day to grow larger.

The weather has been quite lovely for their visit so far and we have enjoyed a bit of everything. The goal now is to spend some time in the Hauraki Gulf islands before making it to Auckland where we will get the boat into a marina before we all leave for the States.

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