Friday, September 19, 2014
Friday, June 15, 2012
In this long overdue blog post I will be covering the highlights of the visit and road trip with my parents, Peter and Marilyn, way back in February.
After a couple months of exploring the east coast of the North Island by boat it was time to do some exploring by land. My parents rented an SUV and we met up with them in what was soon to be our new home base north of Auckland in the Rodney District.
After a couple of days exploring the area and getting over jet leg we headed south for Rotorua, also know by Kiwi’s as Rotovegas. My dad took to calling it Rotorooter, and this comical interpretation of the Maori language soon became a common theme on our trip. I must admit that New Zealand place names do take a while to get used to. Rotorua is famous for its geothermal activity and the tourism industry has really gone all out to capitalize on it, hence the Rotovegas nickname. The city literally smells like rotten eggs because there’s so much sulfurous bubbling going on. We quickly realized that once you’ve seen a couple bubbling smelly mud pools you’ve seen them all. While it was quite fascinating at first, but we soon lost interest. There were many brochures advertising colorful pools and giant geysers to go see but they were all contained in fancy parks that wanted around $50+ per person to get in. We settled on a short soak at a geothermally fed bathhouse type spa and a night time show and feast at one of the several Maori Cultural parks. The soak in the hot mineral pools at the spa was nice with a variety of pools and temperatures all over-looking a café latte colored section of Lake Rotorua. All the other tourists there seemed to be speaking a different language. After trying out a few different pools we settled on the one that was the right temperature for us and there were at least 4 different languages being spoken in that one pool. Later that evening we saw a great Maori show that began with all the Maori men arriving in a big waka (war canoe) on a crystal clear spring fed creek lined with ferns, fern trees and other native bush. After the show we were treated with a huge buffet of food including pork that was cooked using a geothermally heated ground oven. After dinner we got to visit the neighboring kiwi park and see some real live Kiwis and Tuataras, a couple of creatures unique to New Zealand but almost impossible to encounter in the wild anymore. Both have been greatly reduced in numbers since the arrival of rodents. Kiwis are large, flightless, nocturnal birds reminiscent of a character from a Dr. Suess book. The Tuataras are a threatened species of reptile that can live more than 60 years and are the only remaining species in the group called Sphenodontia which has been around since the age of the dinosaurs. After writing this all down I feel confident that we achieved the complete tourist repertoire during our short stay in Rotorua. Jared and I even went mountain biking in some pine forests while we were there. It was a real treat to mountain bike on trails made by mountain bikers for mountain bikers for a change.
On our way to the wine region of Napier, we had a chance to stop at some scenic spots along the way including Huka Falls, Craters of the Moon park, and Lake Taupo. This country really caters to tourism and as a result everywhere we stopped we saw well signed, well maintained parks and trails complete with souvenir shops, toilets, and tourists. This in no way detracts to the beauty abounding all over this country and I love learning about every spot we stop by reading the detailed signs and being able to go pee in a toilet instead of the bushes or a stinky outhouse.
Napier is famous for its wine and its art deco. Back in the 1930s a big earthquake leveled most of the city so they had to rebuild. Art Deco was big back then so the whole city became a relic of that bygone architectural era. It was cool to see but I guess I’m just not that in to art deco because I lost interest pretty fast. The wine tasting on the other hand was a ton of fun! There are enough wineries in the surrounding area to keep a wino busy for at least a month. We only took one day and only hit up 3 winery/vineyards but that was more than enough for us non-wine experts. I really loved picking a bottle or two to buy at each place and then getting to drink it later on during our trip.
Next we zipped down to Wellington and caught the tail end of the rugby sevens madness (drunk people in costumes wandering around the streets) as well as the Super Bowl (go Giants!). We went to all the great museums and gardens and had some very nice meals out. Wellington has a lot more to offer than eating, and museums but that’s all we could squeeze in while we were there. It seems like a really cool city and we definitely need to spend some more time there in the future. There's something about it that reminds us of San Francisco, our favorite US city.
On the way back north now, our day in Whanganui was spent on the famous Wanganui River on a jet boat tour and a short hike to the Bridge to Nowhere. We went back and forth for a while on whether or not to do this trip and boy are we glad we did. It was beautiful and a really great way to see a lot of the river in a short time. Our jet boat driver was really knowledgeable and we learned a ton of cool stuff about the history of the region, both human and natural. Even though we were on “scenic” tour, the jet boat was quite exhilarating and we even got a 360 at the end. Of course I was the only one who got wet! Did you know that the guy who invented the jet boat is a Kiwi?
Tired of always being on the move, we decided to book a house in Raglan for the next 4 nights but the weather was so nice while we were driving up there that we stopped in New Plymouth on the way up for a quick look at the surf, I mean beach. It was our first black sand beach of the trip and boy was it hot! New Plymouth is in the shadow of the picture perfect cone volcano of Mt. Taranaki which has been used in movies as Mt. Fuji since they look so alike. It was yet another very beautiful corner of the country yet distinctly different than anywhere else. I really look forward to going back to “the naki”, as New Zealanders call it. I would love to hike up the mountain and surf all the surf breaks!
Raglan was epic. We stayed in a sweet house called the “Lava Lounge” complete with ocean views, hot tub, and surfboards. We surfed every morning and explored or chilled every night. I only regret not being able to convince my dad to rent a board and surf with us, but he had a ton of fun body surfing of course. Another place I can’t wait to go back to!
Since we skipped it on the way down, we zipped over and up to the Cormandel Peninsula for a couple of nights and had an awesome sea-cave tour aboard a mid-sized RIB. The owner/operator was a local guy with a ton of great knowledge to share about the region. We thought we might get rained out, but instead we had beautiful weather. We even got a quick snorkel in at a reserve and saw some of the biggest snapper we’ve seen yet! We hope to do some cruising in the area on Architeuthis next summer (your winter).
For the last two nights it was back up to our boat and out to Kawau Island which is only a short distance off-shore. We tied up to a mooring right outside the bed and breakfast type lodge my parents had booked and had a rainy but relaxing last days there. The owners of the lodge cooked us some great meals, including the fish Jared speared, and we became fast friends. They even helped us find the place we are now living! We had a lovely sail back to the mainland and a final goodbye under sunny skies overlooking the bay. It was a full and wonderful adventure and it was so so great to spend time with my parents. I can’t thank them enough for spending all that money to come out here and to treat us to so many wonderful things along the way. Can’t wait till next time! There’s still so much left to see and do!
Wednesday, January 18, 2012
There are big sharks in New Zealand. I'd heard about the bronze whaler sharks and how they're attracted to spear fishing but now I'm a firm believer. We headed out to Great Barrier Island on January 15 to check it out while we still have time to do that sort of thing. I shot a couple of smallish fish (a butterfish and a blue cod for those of you keeping track) at one anchorage on the east coast with no shark sightings. A couple of days later at Rakitu island (a small island off the east coast of Great Barrier), a 7 foot bronze whaler startled me a bit by surfacing about three feet behind our dinghy while I was leaning over its transom to clean the blue moki I'd shot earlier.
A couple of days later we were anchored in Miner's cove on the west coast of Great Barrier. There was a nice little pinnacle right outside the cove so we rowed the dinghy over and got in the water. Christine had her camera and I had my speargun. I eventually found an 80 cm kingfish to shoot. He was a little reluctant to die so there was a good deal of stabbing going on and that resulted in a good deal of blood in the water. We didn't want to put the bloody fish in our little dinghy with the two of us already in there so we decided to tow the (mostly) dead fish back to boat. Given the proximity of the large group of people playing on the beach just inshore of Architeuthis, that may not have been the most thoughtful decision.
We started to think about sharks about halfway back to Architeuthis. My plan was just to stop briefly at the boat to pick up my knives and whatnot and then head in to the beach (with the kingfish still in tow) and clean it there. That would minimize the mess in the dinghy and on the boat. As I was on deck getting my stuff together Christine said, "Hurry! Get the fish. Shark's coming!" I had to drop what I was doing and jump back into the dinghy. The shark - probably 8 feet or so - was only a foot or two from the fish when I yanked it out of the water. At that point I just had to accept that the dinghy was going to get a little bloody because storing the fish in the water was no longer a viable option.
I looked over at the group on the beach (around 10 to 15 people). They were at least 500 feet from us but some of them were in the water. One guy was looking over at us so I gave him the international hand signal for shark (a hand sticking off the top of the head like a dorsal fin). He seemed to understand because the kids all got out of the water in fairly short order. In retrospect, I should have just put the fish in the dinghy to begin with. There probably wasn't any real danger in the whole situation but I think it was kind of rude of me to unnecessarily chum the water near someone's beach outing.
Bronze whalers are big but they're not particularly dangerous as sharks go. There are somewhere around 30 recorded cases of these sharks biting people and I don't think any of the bites were fatal. From what I understand, these sharks have only bitten people who actually had a dead fish attached to them. People used to (and I guess some people still do) clip the fish they've speared onto their weight belt and then continue to swim around. In that situation it's not too surprising that a hungry bronze whaler might try to eat the fish and accidentally get a chunk of human along with it. When I spear a fish, I put it on a float line as quickly as possible and make sure that it's trailing out a long way behind me. If a large shark wants to take the fish before I have a chance to get it out of the water, I won't argue.
I eventually took my fish to shore and cleaned it. I went ashore as far from the other people as I could get and I didn't throw any of the fish parts in the water until they'd already left. Christine said that there were two sharks that circled Architeuthis for a while after I'd gone to shore. I'm sure they were quite disappointed.
We weren't quick enough on the draw to get pictures of the sharks but here are some other photos of Great Barrier:
Saturday, December 03, 2011
When thanksgiving time rolls around in New Zealand nobody gives a crap. Well, nobody except for the Americans who are over here. ...and of course that makes perfect sense because it's an American holiday. We had enough Americans around us here in Opua to necessitate some sort of thanksgiving dinner so the crews of Piko and Britannia went nuts and decided to organize dinner for around 13 people on a 36 foot boat. Aside from Amanda, Krister, Lauren (girl), and Lauren (boy) from Britannia and Piko, we had Alex and Ryan from Shalimar, Ivan and Josefin from Kuheli (they're Swedish but we explained that thanksgiving was all about eating too much food and they seemed game), and several members of Krister's family that were visiting from the US. Anyway, we all enjoyed the traditional thanksgiving chicken (turkey is really expensive here) and had a good time. People were distributed throughout the boat so the pictures don't really do justice to how many people there were in a such a small space.
After thanksgiving, Christine and I took Architeuthis out to the islands to check things out. We spent several days on our own. I spent as much time in the water with my new speargun as the water temperature and my insufficient wetsuit would allow. So far, the fish here in NZ seem to be a lot larger and easier to shoot than the fish in the tropics. In fact there are several species around (like the Red Moki) that are large and fairly tasty but they are just too damned easy to shoot with a speargun. After taking one of those "execution style" (basically setting the spear tip on the back of its head before shooting), I have decided that I'm going to leave them alone (unless I'm really hungry and feeling really lazy and really shameless). Aside from that, Christine and I just did some hiking and general relaxing.
After a few days on our own, we ran into Kuheli in an anchorage on the south side of Urupukapuka island and, after being there for a day or two, decided to follow them over to another island called Moturua. Motorua had a really nice hiking track all the way around it that we went and checked out with Ivan and Josefin from Kuheli. After that we went back into Opua to buy some groceries and get ready for some friends that were coming to visit.
On the weekend of December 3rd, my friends and former coworkers Will and Chad came to visit and brought their new friend and coworker, Evan. They had all come to New Zealand for some meetings down in Auckland and I talked them into come up to have a weekend out on the boat. Chad is really into the whole spear fishing thing so that became the main goal of the outing. Chad really wanted to get a kingfish so we chose to head out to a place called deep water cove (or Maunganui Bay depending on who you ask). Maunganui Bay is actually closed to fishing right now so we anchored Architeuthis in there and took Squib (our dinghy) out around the corner so that we were to the north of the closed area. While Chad, Evan, and I went out fish killing, Christine and Will hiked out a little way on the trail that goes out to Cape Brett. Sadly, we didn't see any kingfish but we got a bunch of other fish including Chad's delicious John Dory.
When we got back to the boat the New Zealand police had anchored right near us and came right over to see what we were up to. They had a guy filming the whole thing too and we forgot to ask why. They wanted to make sure we knew about the fishing closure and luckily we did. They were pretty darn nice about the whole thing, just like all the Kiwi's we've met so far, and it was pretty funny that a boat full of people who work on marine reserves were out killing a bunch of fish only to then get lectured about marine reserves. It would have looked pretty bad if we had been fishing in the closed area and I am really glad that I went through all the trouble it took to find out exactly where it was (since it's a new closure, the information on it was not readily available on the interweb yet).
As forecast, the weather got a little bit unpleasant on our trip back to Opua the next day. The first part of the trip was open to the ocean swell and managed to make our guests feel pretty uncomfortable. Fortunately, we were able to alter course and get in the swell shadow of some of the islands and make everyone feel better. Then, also as forecast, it started raining. It rained a lot. The guests all hid out in the cabin while Christine and I got test out our foul weather clothes (again). We spent the night tied to the guest dock at the Opua Cruising Club trying to dry ourselves out and get ready to take a ride down to Auckland the next day.
Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Since arriving in New Zealand we've been staying in the little harbor town of Opua. There's a slightly bigger town called Paihia just north of here and there's a nice little walking trail that goes up there. We were in need of exercise so we decided to check it out. It's not very far but by the end of it we were painfully aware of just how in need of exercise we really were. At any rate, the photos will give you some idea of what it looks like around here.
Friday, November 18, 2011
Now that it's over with we can admit it. This is the passage that we were most afraid of. Lots of people sail from Tonga to New Zealand every year and, while they may encounter some unpleasant weather, it usually turns out fine. However there are some notorious exceptions. There was storm off of New Zealand in November of 1998 that hit the people who were making this same passage and it was nasty. Boats sank and people died. In preparation for this trip we read a great book called "Surviving the Storm" about how to read the weather condition and hopefully avoid that sort of thing and how to give yourself the best chance of survival if you do find yourself in really deep sauce. A large portion of the beginning of the book is a detailed description of how that storm developed and what happened aboard the boats that got into trouble. It was quite informative and useful to read but, despite the foreword by the authors that tries to reassure you that this sort of thing is exceedingly rare, it does tend to scare the crap out of you when you're planning to do that same passage yourself during the same month. There, I said it. Aren't all of you friends and family glad I didn't tell you about that before the passage?
So there we were in Tongatapu with Shalimar waiting for a weather window. Shalimar had decided to shell out the money for professional weather routing on this passage so, rather than just pouring over the weather faxes ourselves and hoping we were interpreting them correctly, we just had to wait for Shalimar to get an email from a professional and hope that he was interpreting the data correctly. Okay, actually we looked at the weather faxes and grib files too but it definitely was nice to share Shalimar's weather routing info. Since Shalimar was sailing with a few jury rigged repairs and a broken finger, we were looking for a good weather window rather than just a possible weather window.
We ended up waiting quite a while. November 7th rolled around and by then our standards had slid a little bit. There was a window on offer and we took it. The forecast called for a few days of light wind halfway through and a little more upwind sailing than we wanted but it still looked pretty good. We left on the 7th and started heading SW in winds that were just a little E of S. Those of you that sail will know that going upwind isn't too comfortable. For those of you that don't, I'll tell you. It's not too comfortable. The boat heels way over so that you just about have to walk on the walls when you're below, it seems colder and windier than it really is, the rig is under a lot of stress (which stresses me out as I worry about things breaking), and the boat lurches and jerks as it rams into oncoming waves.
That description of sailing upwind is also a fairly accurate description of the whole 11 day passage except for the 40 or 50 hours we spent motoring because there was either no wind or there was wind blowing directly from where we wanted to go. We also got to experience the joy of only covering about 60 miles over a 24 hour period. All in all it was a mildly annoying and uncomfortable passage but, given the spectrum of things that can happen out there, I will gladly accept it. We made it in a reasonable amount of time, didn't get rained on very much, and nothing broke. I had a bit of a scare when we got to Opua, New Zealand and I found a bunch of oil in the bilge. For a short while I thought we'd blown the main seal on the engine or something but it turned out to be nothing. The engine just doesn't seem to like to run while we're heeled way over. We ended up motoring with the sails up quite a bit to keep our speed up and I guess the crank case breather is low enough that it'll blow oil out when it's leaned way over. So anyway, nothing broke and Architeuthis did good. We got into Opua on the 18th and Shalimar made it in one day later.
We didn't really realize how good we had it until we'd been in Opua for a few days. We saw some old friends in the boat yard here that we hadn't seen since California. They'd also just sailed across be we missed them all the way across because we were on different schedules. Anyway, it turns out they'd made the passage a couple of weeks before us and broke their boom and one of their spreaders and almost lost their mast. They had to turn back to Tonga, tie everything down, buy a ton of diesel cans and motor the whole way to New Zealand. Then some good friends of ours came in about 4 days after us and it turns out they had all sorts of problems you can read about here.
At any rate, we're damned glad to be here and glad that Architeuthis has been such a sturdy (and lucky) little boat.
Friday, November 04, 2011
We hadn't originally planned to go to Tongatapu. We were hoping to just leave for New Zealand from somewhere in Ha'api but we weren't seeing the weather window we wanted and Shalimar had some problems so we decided to go into Nuku'alofa (the largest town in all of Tonga) to repair, resupply, and wait for a good weather window. While typing this, I realized that people might not know where this stuff is so here's a map that I borrowed from the lonelyplanet website (hopefully they don't mind):
We had heard some not so favorable things about Nuku'alofa. It was kind of crowded and a bit on the dirty side and some of the locals looked a bit scary (in a gangsta kind of way) but we had a good time and found that people were really friendly - even the scary looking ones. Apparently California has the largest population of Tongans outside of Tonga and we met a lot of people who'd lived in California and spoke english very well. (English and Tongan are both official languages in Tonga but, English seems to be running a distant second in many areas). We met one guy who told us he'd lived in Oakland, California for several decades but had been thrown out of the US for drug dealing. He definitely had that Oakland drug dealer look about him but was super friendly and we had a long talk about Oakland (I lived there for a couple of years) while we were waiting for the bus. On a different day, two rather large, somewhat drunk, and heavily (and not very skillfully) tattooed guys were blocking the sidewalk with a bicycle as we approached. Once they noticed that the bike was in our way, they immediately moved it and apologized profusely. My favorite example of the disconnect between the tough-guy look and the friendly demeanor were the guys that I photographed in their car (see the picture in the slide show). I was in the harbor parking lot trying to get a photo of Architeuthis tied up on the other side when those guys saw me with the camera. The driver got out of his car, ran over to me, and in broken english asked me to take his picture. He then ran back to his car, got in, and assumed the most 'gangsta' pose he could manage. I showed him the picture and he seemed a bit dissatisfied and asked me to take another. When I showed him the second picture, I told him he looked totally gangster and he broke out in a huge smile. Right after that, I had two other groups of locals come over and ask me to take their pictures (the guys on the sinking boat and the three little kids - also in the slide show).
We spent a lot of time tied up in the harbor fixing things on our boats and going into town to buy supplies for the crossing. We took one bus trip out to the western side of the island to see the blow holes but for the most part we stayed near the harbor. I'm sure I could think of more stuff to write if I tried but I'm trying to get caught up so the pictures will pretty much have to do. Once we had done the necessary repairs and shopping and were reasonably confident that a weather window was on the way, we went out to anchor at Atata island near the pass that we'd take to get on our way to New Zealand.