Hello everybody! We are in Whangaroa harbour, near the top of the North Island of New Zealand, waiting for a good weather window to run down the west coast to Nelson at the top of the South Island. We hope to be down there before Christmas and then to spend most of the summer exploring the South Island. It is one of the interesting things about New Zealand that somewhere between 600 and 1,000 foreign boats clear into the country every year, and of those only a handful ever ventures south of Auckland. The cruising boats all cluster in the top quarter of the country, and most of their owners spend the cyclone season recovering from the Pacific crossing and doing boat work rather than touring New Zealand. Until now, that has included us - this is our second visit and we have spent a total of more than a year in this country and never been south of Auckland. Now we are on our way, to the glaciers, fjords, mountains, and wilderness of the South Island.
We left Auckland three weeks ago for the last time and sailed north to the Bay of Islands, which is where we made landfall after our passage from Tasmania last March. The annual exodus from the tropics to New Zealand is in full swing, with hundreds of boats arriving in the last few weeks to get clear of the South Pacific cyclone season which begins in earnest this month. At this time of the year, this area becomes a locus of cruising activity, with boats converging on it from all parts of the Pacific. We've spent the last few weeks socializing with friends last seen several years ago in Chile or Iceland or Ireland or the Caribbean. Each of them has chosen a different route to get here and has a different story to tell.
When we were just south of the Bay of Islands, we heard a familiar voice on the radio and called MAHINA TIARE. John Neal and Amanda Swan-Neal run adventure/sail training expeditions in their 46-foot Halberg-Rassey. We last saw them in Kinsale, Ireland in September of 2000, the season before they went up to Spitzbergen, an island north of Norway and above the Arctic Circle. They returned to the Pacific through the Panama Canal a few years ago. This year, they did a loop from New Zealand through the South Pacific and back again. They had arrived from Fiji a few days before and came into the harbor where we were with a group of six enthusiastic charterers aboard. We got to spend a pleasant day with them including a family style dinner aboard MAHINA TIARE before they headed south toward Auckland.
We last saw our British friends Ann and Graham Evans on their 40-foot cat ketch, FYNE SPIRIT, in Reykjavik, Iceland in July of 2001. Since then, they sailed down the length of the Atlantic to the Straits of Magellan and then north up the Chilean channels. We missed them by only a month or so when we were on our way south for our second run through the channels. They spent six months hiking around Argentina and working in England before they left Puerto Montt for the Pacific in May of this year. They are both medical professionals and will spend a few years working here before they decide what's next in their sailing lives.
Our friends Pablo and Aude had the smallest boat when we were in the Chilean channels. We last saw them and their 24-foot aluminum cutter, MILONGA, in Puerto Montt, Chile in October 2002 when we headed south down the Chilean channels. They headed north and east for the Pacific Islands sometime after that. They are both French and PhDs in biochemistry, and they spent much of the last year teaching biology to high school students in Tahiti. They were living on beautiful Moorea island and commuting on a ferry to Tahiti to teach for three days a week. They got paid extra for this "hardship" duty, and they didn't have to pay any taxes at all. Not a bad deal! But you do have to be French
The harbor where we are now is a huge inlet entered through a narrow channel between two rocky headlands. Inside, steep cliffs reminiscent of Bora-Bora rise in vertical walls above the trees. More than a dozen anchorages can be found in five large arms radiating off in different directions after you come through the entrance. These vary from rugged and mountainous to low and pastoral. A small town lies at the southernmost end of the harbor at the base of a large hill capped by a rounded rock several hundred feet high and sheer on three sides. Compared to the low islets and sandy beaches to be found in the rest of the Bay of Islands, this harbor feels completely out of place, as if someone had mistakenly fitted a puzzle piece into the north of New Zealand that really belonged in Norway or Scotland.
Unexpected surprises found around a headland - whether breathtaking vistas or old friends last seen many miles ago - keep us moving on to the next place and the next adventure. We look forward to seeing many of you in the year to come as we make our way across the Pacific and back to North America. We hope that this message finds you enjoying family and friends as the holiday season approaches, celebrating light, life, and love, and full of thanksgiving for the blessings of the year just past and exciting plans for the year to come.
With all the season's joy, Beth and Evans s/v HAWK