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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