SV Saraoni

08 July 2016 | Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada
01 July 2016 | Port McNeil, Vancouver Island
23 June 2016 | Kent's Beach nr Powell River, Sunshine Coast, BC
21 June 2016 | Sechelt, Sunshine coast, BC
15 June 2016 | Sacramento, California, USA
20 May 2016 | Tutukaka, Northland, NZ
14 May 2016 | Off Bland Bay, Northland, NZ
02 May 2016 | Whangaroa Harbour, Northland, NZ
16 March 2016 | Whangarei, Northland, NZ
25 February 2016 | Tutukaka, NZ
16 February 2016 | Taumarunui, King Country, NZ
31 January 2016 | Mt Pirongia, Waikato
27 January 2016 | Huntly, Waikato
12 January 2016 | Tutukaka, Northland, NZ
15 December 2015 | Whangarei, New Zealand
26 November 2015 | Off the Ninepin, the Bay of Islands, New Zealand
25 November 2015 | 107 nm to the Bay of Islands
24 November 2015 | 270 nm to Aotearoa The land of the long white cloud

Big Mountains, Big Rivers and Big Fish Along the Yellowhead Highway

18 July 2016 | Houston, B.C.
Alison and Geoff, warm and sunny
Looking back at the Coast Mountains on a section of Highway 16 near the Hazeltons.

Highway 16, also called the Yellowhead Highway, named after a 19th century blonde Iroquois French fur trapper, starts on the island of Haida Gwaii and runs through the Coast Mountains, across the Fraser Plateau, through the Rockies and across the plains to Winnipeg, Manitoba. We have followed it from Prince Rupert, on the coast, along the huge Skeena River and now its tributary, the Bulkley.

The road has been quite busy, as it is the main artery connecting Northern B.C. with the rest of the country, but it traverses remote wilderness areas with a smattering of roadside towns and First Nations settlements. We have seen more wilderness in this area than any time since we were last in Northern Australia (the great oceans apart!) - conifer forests to the horizon, hardly a fence in sight and always the snow covered mountain chains and the turbulent rivers.

"If you go down to the woods today...." We did get a big surprise yesterday. Not a moose, but a black bear mum and 5 cubs ambling within spitting distance of our tent in the little village of Topley!

The Skeena and its tributaries are major routes for adult salmon and steelhead, a sea going trout. Five species of salmon make their run up the rivers from mid July onwards to lay their eggs in the shallow, gravelly beds many hundreds of kilometres from the sea, then they die.

The first part of the highway, as it wends its way through the Coast Mountains, has a number of small indigenous settlements. Indigenous people have used this area for thousands of years but suffered badly like many indigenous people worldwide during the period of European expansion. The original inhabitants were decimated by disease during the nineteenth century, caught in a pincer movement of colonisation from the B.C. coast and from the east, overland along the river valleys. The survivors were settled on small 'reserves', tiny in comparison to their old traditional land area.

Totem pole at 'Ksan village near Old Hazelton

The 20th century was in some ways worse as the communities became marginalised. Canadian citizenship was not offered until 1956!
They are recovering something of their self respect today, relearning their old culture and flexing their bargaining power over land rights.

The Highway has a bit of a reputation for unsolved disappearances, mainly, but not all, of indigenous young women. No one knows whether these were murders, or whether young people simply left home and went somewhere else, never to contact their families again. The authorities have been criticized for not doing enough to solve the disappearances along the so-called "Highway of Tears."

The Inside Passage and the Great Bear Rainforest

08 July 2016 | Prince Rupert, B.C., Canada
Alison and Geoff; cloudy and cool
Photo shows a lone male grizzly with his distinctive shoulder 'hump' along the Khutzeymateen coast.

We are in Prince Rupert, a busy and slightly seedy port town, a short hop south of the Alaskan panhandle. We arrived a couple of days ago after a 450 km, 15 hour trip at 20 knots on a B.C. ferry from Port Hardy at the top of Vancouver Island. Prince Rupert is supposed to be the wettest, cloudiest city in Canada, and it certainly seems to be living up to its reputation!

The ferry trip to here traverses half of Canada's section of the 'Inside Passage', the 1400 km route through mostly sheltered waters that stretches from Washington's Puget Sound up to Glacier Bay in Alaska. The area north of Vancouver Island is a huge and beautiful, almost pristine, wilderness of inlets, rivers, islands, mountains and conifer forest which to date has largely escaped logging and other exploitation.

The Grenville Channel section of the Inside Passage. This 70 km long stretch is only 400m wide at one point. Moose and elk have been seen swimming across, despite the turbulent tides

There are a few settlements, mostly scattered First Nations villages and reputably more bears and wolves than anywhere else in Canada, including the white variety of the black bear called the kermode or spirit bear. Partly for that reason the area has been fairly recently named the 'Great Bear Rainforest'.

Travelling at 20 knots makes photography and wildlife viewing difficult but we did see plenty of orcas, humpback whales, seals and seal lions but no bears, wolves, elk or moose. We were lucky that the rain and fog relented and we had good visibility as we sped North on the comfortable, if expensive, ferry.

We spent today up a remote inlet called the Khutzeymateen, almost on the Alaskan border, and came across 8 or 9 grizzlies, including a mum and her 3 cubs. We also had a chance to watch orcas close up and humpbacks using their distinctive bubble net method of feeding.

The grizzlies are normally hard to see at this time of the year elsewhere, as we discovered in Yellowstone 2 years ago, as they range high up in the mountains after a spring feed in the valleys, but here in the Khutzeymateen and other close by inlets they feed off nutritious sedgegrass growing by the coast. They fatten up later in the fall when the salmon run is on.

Tomorrow we are off cycling again towards the Canadian Rockies, 1100 km away. The 2 crappy bikes and the 60 year olds wobbling along on them are all in good shape so far!

Humpbacks feeding - a mother and calf. They have come back from Hawai'i, where breeding and calving takes place, to these nutrient and food rich waters to feed.

Orca pod in the Seaforth Channel just off Prince Rupert. These are so called 'resident orcas'. They still move fast like their NZ rellies and its hard to predict exactly where any one individual pod might be. Like Ingrid Visser's Northland orcas, many of the BC residents and transients have been identified from their distinctive dorsal fin marks. This pod had several calves and are searching for salmon.

Bald eagle. The eagles were being thrown scraps of fish from the boat we were on, like the kites and sea eagles get treated to, in Langkawi

Looking up the Khutzeymateen inlet. The area up past the end of the inlet has been declared a sanctuary to protect the grizzly population in particular.

Happy Canada Day!

01 July 2016 | Port McNeil, Vancouver Island
Alison and Geoff Williams
Greetings to all our Canadian friends and all those from the Pacific NW who would normally call this home, but are spending time elsewhere. It's bloody freezing here at the top end of Vancouver Island, although we have had 3 days of sunshine as we pedalled through millions of conifer trees and millions of hills up the coast.

The campsite manager here told us to stick all our food in the laundry room "because we are in prime bear country". Actually, we saw more bear poo along the Sunshine Coast highway and haven't been too bothered when we camped wild on the way up here but guess there must be some bears around somewhere although the most interesting wildlife we have seen so far is some huge, black slugs.

Apart from the humming birds which we have seen in many places, we have also seen and heard a lot of woodpeckers, sometimes resonating through the woods like a discordant, percussion orchestra!

The logging industry is very noticeable up here, with plenty of logging trucks hurtling along Highway 19 in both directions and scars all over the beautiful mountain scenery, even close to the snowline. For some reason, the trees are clear felled in discrete patches, then left to regrow.

We are hopping on our last ferry ride in a day or two, if the sun reappears, up to Prince Rupert, near the Alaskan border. Next stop north would be Ketchikan, but we will probably head south east towards the Rockies and leave Alaska for some later time, perhaps when we have bought fur coats (artificial ones of course).

At Willow Point, just South of Campbell River , wood carvers gather to convert raw cedar or oregon log chunks into something artistic. The products are scattered around town and across Vancouver Island.

Keta Lake, one of many along Highway 19 between Campbell River and Port Hardy.

Everywhere on Vancouver island there are beautiful, craggy snowcapped mountains and conifer forest. Lovely weather when this photo along Highway 19 was taken!

A bald eagle along the stony beach east of Port McNeil.

Beauty in the Clouds

23 June 2016 | Kent's Beach nr Powell River, Sunshine Coast, BC
Alison and Geoff, weather improving?
Photo shows a rufous hummingbird. They migrate up the Pacific coast in late spring when the flowers they prefer begin to bloom.

We are now at the end of the Sunshine Coast Highway near a town called Powell River. It has been cold, grey and drizzly, with steady rain last night.

We crossed over on our second BC ferry today and were amazed to see a couple of pairs of hummingbirds hovering around a feeder near the Earls Cove ferry terminal - delicate beauties - with a backdrop of soaring peaks and misty inlets. This area is a huge cruising ground and we regret not having Saraoni instead of the bikes, but that's a whole new ball game to think about!

The BC ferry arrives out of the Sunshine Coast murk at Earl's Cove

We have met some interesting locals and learned about the bears, coyotes, fishing and logging as well as what are called First Nation people here and now at last the sky has sort of cleared, so perhaps the Sunshine Coast will live up to its name! Wonder if it was a Canadian who first gave the nickname "winterless North" to Northland?

Tweedledum and Tweedledee on a Canadian cycling extravaganza

21 June 2016 | Sechelt, Sunshine coast, BC
Alison and Geoff
Photo shows us in our matching $5 Red Cross op shop jackets with matching crappy white bikes at a provincial park on the Sunshine Coast - Tweedledum and Tweedledee!

We are on the oddly named Sunshine Coast on the mainland of the Canadian province of British Columbia, also rather oddly named as it seems more like its big brother below the 49th parallel.

We arrived in Vancouver in the dead of the night from Sacramento with no Canadian dollars and no clue where we were or where our hotel was. Vancouver regularly gets chosen as the"best place in the world to live" but obviously whoever chose the city hadn't been down East Hastings Street, where our hotel was. The streets were grubby and full of sad looking homeless people. The busiest building was the Salvation Army centre nearby with around 200 people queued up outside, presumably for food.

Vancouver has had similar housing affordability problems as Auckland and like the NZ government, neither the BC or the Canadian federal government seems to know what to do about it other than turn a blind eye to the consequences.

Of course, not everywhere was so shocking. Down by the waterfront, there were the famous views across to the snow covered mountains. Vancouver has a large Chinese community, many of whom have been here for years as they have in other cities along the Pacific North American Coast. Chinatown was fascinating with many stores selling stuff we have never seen before and no labels in English, either.

The hotel manager at the place we were staying seemed to echo Vancouver's diversity. An ethic Indian with a Zanzibari (Shirazi) mum and a Gujarati dad, born in Tanzania, a Shia by religion and Gujarati by culture and presumably Canadian as much as anything else after 30 years on the B.C. coast.

We bought 2 cheap bikes from a large store called Canadian Tire, loaded them up with all the bike gear and headed over the Lion's Gate bridge to the mainland and headed west. The route takes us along the hilly Sunshine Coast with a couple of ferry crossings, then we cross over to Vancouver Island, which protects the coast from adverse wind and waves.

We then plan to take another ferry from the north end of Vancouver Island up to the town of Prince Rupert near the Alaskan border. If we haven't died by then we will take the Yellowhead Highway, 1000 km to Jasper NP in the Canadian Rockies. After that, the plan evaporates!

Simply Stunning! California's Sierra Nevada

15 June 2016 | Sacramento, California, USA
Alison and Geoff, cool and cloudy
Photo shows Yosemite Falls in the Yosemite Valley in California's Sierra Nevada

We are in Sacramento, California's state capital, a historic, but otherwise seemingly dull, widely spaced out city with its streets conveniently (for us) labelled numerically and alphabetically so we can't get lost! We are hanging around tapping away in the public library before getting the Amtrak (train) to San Diego, then Vancouver in Canada.

We have had a busy week, landing in L.A. and setting off straight away to see our old yachtie companions between Australia and the Med, Judy and Dave ex Freebird. They swallowed the anchor some time ago, but have steadily made their way closer to the Pacific Ocean again, settling on the coast between San Diego and L.A.

Yikes! The I5 (interstate) - the busy 6 lane freeway in Southern California

We made our way up to the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range that separates California's central valley and the Nevada desert. It has the world's largest trees, the giant sequoias and the highest mountain in the lower 48 states, Mt. Whitney.

General Sherman - one of the world's 2 largest trees by volume. It's not the oldest, which is another giant sequoia, estimated to be 3,200 years old

We were lucky with the weather and got to see many of the remaining old giants in Sequoia National Park, then the waterfalls and granite walls of Yosemite. Around 7 million people visit Yosemite National Park every year, twice the number of tourists that visit NZ every year. It seemed that there were nearly that number in the Yosemite Valley the day we were there and it was bumper to bumper at times, but the views were phenomenal.

Click here for an
interesting update on comments about effects of climate change made by U.S. President Obama on a visit to Yosemite a day ago

Half Dome at Yosemite

Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

The Yosemite Valley from the entrance tunnel

We found more space in the higher parts of Yosemite towards Tuolomne Meadows, where we found our old friend, the Pacific Crest Trail. It passes this point on its rambling way between Mexico and Canada. According to the notice on the Tuolomne store door, three times as many hikers are tackling the PCT after the film "Wild" was released.

Black bear cub in Sequoia NP near the Lodgepole campground.

Cheeky ground squirrel at the Glacier Point lookout, Yosemite

Mule deer buck near Yosemite Valley roadside

Every time we have visited the U.S. there is a mass shooting. The country is going through another bout of agonising after the latest killings in Orlando. The fact that the somewhat farcical lead up to the presidential election is taking place makes the discussion about gun control and Islamic extremism more potent.

The U.S. is certainly a more complex place than it might seem from outside and we are not sure whether we undesrtand its collective psyche any better this time round. It will be interesting to compare and contrast this huge country with its northern neighbour.

The cocks crow, the warm wind blows and the sun shines in Niue

28 May 2016 | The Island of Niue
Alison and Geoff, warm and sunny
Photo shows one of Niue's tiny coral sand beaches across the narrow fringing reef near the Alofi police station.

A budget Air New Zealand flight and a quick decision whisks us away from the cold winter storms of northern New Zealand to the shorts and t-shirt weather of Niue and it's not even too hot as the trade wind blows constantly. It's almost home away from home as yachts drift in and out of the picturesque anchorage nestled below the coral cliffs in crystal clear waters.

Some of the ARC yachts on the Niue Yacht Club moorings off Alofi

The only way to get small boats in and out is with a winch because of the swell waves crashing on to the reef

Niue is a single independent nation some 20 kilometres long and 15 kilometres wide. It has become famed as a whale watching destination between July and September but at the moment apart from the daily movement of the 1300 population the only other sounds are the early morning cockerels crowing 2 hours before dawn and the sounds of the waves crashing on the coral cliffs.

Much of the Niue coast is riddled with huge caves, part of the upraised atoll sea wall.

Even though it can be prone to cyclones it will never be affected by global warming as the island sits on a raised coral platform embedded in sea caves that rise up to 30 metres from the sea. The highest point is 69 m.

It was first inhabited in the 9th century by intrepid Samoan explorers who somehow clambered over the rugged, indented cliffs onto the relatively flat platform above. It was scorned by European explorers who couldn't find much to plunder. At that time they couldn't have stayed long enough to discover the fresh spring waters lodged in the ground topped up yearly by the 4.5 metres of rainfall. No need for chlorination here.

In the early days up to 20,000 residents inhabited the island but many drifted to New Zealand, Australia and the U.S. seeking work and a different life but many still maintain family ties and homes on the island.

The island was a NZ colony, initially grabbed by the British at the end of the 19th century until 1974 when a referendum decided its fate which was to be self-governing. However all Niueans have NZ passports and drift between the two countries on the twice weekly flight.

No age group seems to dominate the island, just a mix of young and old. The monthly ship brings in all supplies and of course tropical fruit and vegetables grow prolifically throughout the island.

It has a few unusual species such as the nocturnal coconut crab, the uga, and the deadly banded sea snake known in Niuean as the katuali.

The Niuean banded sea snake or katuali is very common and VERY friendly, or just plain nosy. It also has 10 times the venom of a cobra!

Whales use the island's sheltered waters in the southern winter to raise their young before migrating back south in October to feed in Antarctic waters. Some are so well known that they have been given names, recognised by their distinctive tail fluke patterns.

We have already biked 60 kms. of the coast and are renting a car for a day or 2 to see the rest of the island. A dive has been scheduled for this afternoon.

The Penguin Pad

20 May 2016 | Tutukaka, Northland, NZ
Geoff and Alison, cool at night, warm in the daytime
Photo shows the outer harbour beyond the breakwater (foreground) from Saraoni's spreaders. Penguins are nesting in the cracks between the large rocks that make up the breakwater. The nearest and loudest pair is nesting under the flax bush at bottom right.

We are back behind the Tutukaka marina breakwater and so are the penguins.

These are (little) blues and are a little smaller than the Galapagos penguins we saw last year in Isabela. In fact, they are the world's smallest penguins. The pairs share the incubating and chick caring, once eggs are laid a little later in the year. They make a hell of a noise just before dawn, a sort of braying, donkey like noise. Once they start up, it's hard to sleep. The closest pair to us is using a large clump of flax just metres from our bow. There are 5 other pairs at last count along the line of rocks towards the fuel wharf.

The penguins normally head out of the main harbour offshore to do their feeding just before dawn and return on dusk, but for some reason or other, only one penguin is jumping into the water each morning out of the whole colony at the moment. The others seem to be staying in their rocky holes all day and night. Perhaps they are moulting, which takes 2 - 3 weeks every year, but that normally finishes much earlier - around Feb or March, so we don't know what is going on! Perhaps they are too busy on Facebook? Nigel, Whangarei DOC's bird guy, speculated that they may be busy "cementing their relationships", whatever that means!

For all the usual imported predator reasons, plus human disturbance, road kill etc. there are not many of NZ's 3 species of penguins nesting successfully on the mainland. Most of them are now only nesting on predator free offshore islands. It looks as if the Tutukaka penguins nest here because of the structure of the breakwater. Dogs and feral cats can't get at them and ad hoc local predator control keeps the stoats away. The famous Oamaru (SI) penguins, where visitors can see up to 200 little blues arriving in the evening, took to nesting in an abandoned quarry. Perhaps because the income from visitors goes towards controlling potential predators, that particular colony is doing ok.

In the winter season, there are far fewer boats moving in and out of the marina, so the local wildlife has it more to themselves. The bottom of the food chain are the large schools of sprats and pilchards, which are kai for just about everything around here. The feeding frenzy starts just before dawn, with trevally and other predators chasing the little bait fish. Then, as the sun comes up, pied shags and black cormorants, gannets, terns, white faced herons and kingfishers take over.

At night, normally just after sunset or just before dawn, we can hear kiwi calling: a male and a female in the bush above the marina and several others from the Te Maika area across the harbour. A female kiwi was making her harsh call in the bush just above the marina office half an hour after dawn this morning. One wonders just how many kiwis (the human variety) have ever heard or seen a wild kiwi. More common are the morepork owls (ruru). About half a dozen call all around from the bush: they seem to spend more time yakking to each other than hunting!

The other obvious creatures here are the rays: short tailed and long tailed rays wander around inside the shallow shores, looking for crabs and molluscs and occasionally eagle rays or bottle nosed dolphins find their way into the marina.

We are getting the boat bedded down for the winter before we take off and checking everything we need to do when we have more time when we get back. We have also managed to resurrect our sailing dinghy, the rig of which has survived 10 years in the Kaitaia backblocks with the cows jumping all over it.

Tutukaka has 9 small beaches of its own, separated by rocky headlands and Philip Island in the middle. They're just right for a sail and a sundowner, although by 6 it's already dark and too chilly to hang around!

Kukutuwhao Island (Lighthouse Island) at the end of the Tutukaka DOC reserve

Tutukaka harbour from the lighthouse on Kukutuwhao Island

Last of the Summer Wine?

14 May 2016 | Off Bland Bay, Northland, NZ
Geoff and Alison, warm and calm
Photo shows Saraoni in the sun off Bland Bay with Cape Brett in the distance

Just left Whangamumu harbour on the way back to Tutukaka. It's not far off the official start of winter here in NZ, but the sun is shining with a light northerly breeze and plenty of blue sky. It's been so warm that we actually jumped in the water yesterday with the dive gear to clean the crap off the hull.

The media and the NZ Metservice has been predicting the "end of autumn" for some time, and for sure the winds have turned to the west after what seems to have been weeks from the east. Westerly winds tend to be prevalent when the high pressure systems that pass from west to east move to the North of NZ - a winter pattern. Easterly winds are more common in summer when the high pressure is to the south. Whatever, it makes for a smooth run along the Northland coast with only a very gentle swell.

Saraoni will be put to sleep in its Tutukaka berth while we head up to Niue by Air NZ in just over a week. Think we will miss out on the first humpbacks arriving, but we'll have a look out on the way up!

Whangamumu from the head of the harbour. It was a whaling station for twenty years or so at the beginning of the twentieth century - southern right whales unfortunately swam close by on their annual migration, but got trapped in nets laid for them just inside the harbour heads. Southern rights were hunted like many whales to near extinction.. They are now very slowly recovering. Whangamumu is surrounded by public conservation land and is a lovely anchorage in westerlies, slowly reverting back to nature.

Toetoe Days on the Northland East Coast

02 May 2016 | Whangaroa Harbour, Northland, NZ
Alison and Geoff, warm days and cool nights
Photo above shows toetoe grass on the slopes above Whangaroa

It is Autumn here on the east coast of Northland and many of the hills and valleys are covered in the bleached seed heads of toetoe grass - a lovely sight.

We have been whanga* hopping up the coast, without any specific aims. It is an area we know well. In fact we learned to sail on this coast in the late 1980s. The coastline between the Coromandel and Houhora is NZ's easiest coastline to cruise with hundreds of possible anchorages. It doesn't have the mountainous splendor of Fiordland or the empty spaces of the Marlborough Sounds, but it is our free, beautiful back yard. It is now too cold and nights too long to bother with camping out in the bush, so it is easier just pottering around the bays in Saraoni.

We have been tapping away of course to earn some money for our offshore trips this year. Later this month we will be flying up to tiny Niue for a week, courtesy of an almost ridiculously cheap return flight by Air NZ. We missed Niue on the Pacific crossing last year as we took the northern route but those who stopped there enjoyed their stay and it's one of those places where it's easier to visit by plane! We'll only be back for a week before flying off to Los Angeles and heading for the Californian Sierras and then up to British Columbia.

Autumn has been very peaceful weather wise along the Northland coast. There has not been much wind with just the odd rainy day. It is definitely getting colder at night but we are still wearing t shirts and shorts in the daytime.

We are currently anchored off the little town of Whangaroa, in the well protected harbour of the same name. There are hardly any boats around now and just as few in the Bay of Islands, 30 miles to the South. The Bay of Islands is filling up with those who are heading North to the islands this year. Some have already gone, dodging the odd late cyclone and tropical storm. We'll be following in their wake next year at this time, so we are watching their weather with interest!

Saraoni at the Poor Knights marine reserve, 12 nm NE of Tutukaka

Whanga hopping up the coast - this is Mimiwhangata bay, to the South of the larger Whangaruru harbour. Whangaruru means "harbour of the morepork owl!"

Cape Brett, the rocky Southern entrance to the Bay of Islands

Whangaroa Harbour from St. Paul's Rock above the township. Whangaroa means "long harbour"

A praying mantis found on the side of St. Paul's. This is a "springbok" mantis, a South African accidental import and judging from the bulge in the abdomen, a pregnant female. The clueless NZ native male mantises don't know the difference between their own females and SA ones. Apparently they try and mate with the wrong ones and then get their heads chewed off! As with so many native species here, the NZ mantises are not surprisingly in decline!

Another unfortunate NZ endemic, the nocturnal, carnivorous kauri snail. This one found alive on the way to Wairakau Creek. Rats and pigs like eating them!

Dogs aren't welcome unless they have gone through kiwi aversion training - a jab with an electric prodder while sniffing kiwi!

The Duke's Nose (Phillip's that is) from the Wairakau valley.

Saraoni peacefully at anchor off Totara North in Whangaroa Harbour. St. Paul's rock, a volcanic plug, in the background.

Murals painted by Chris Wilkie on the tin shack walls of the Totara North museum, depicting the early timber (kauri) extraction days in the harbour. It took less than 40 years to decimate Northland's kauri forests and replace them with dirty dairy - NZ's equivalent of oil palm!

*Whanga - Maori for harbour, bay, inlet (fa(n)ga in Tongan, Samoan, hana in Tahitian and Marquesan) - it's a common place name on the NZ coast - Whanganui, Whangaparaoa, Whangarei, Whangaruru, Whangamumu, Whangaroa, just to mentioned a few.

Class of 2010

16 March 2016 | Whangarei, Northland, NZ
Alison, wet and warm
Yachtie reunion at Bryce and Martha (Silver Fern)'s farm at Whatitiri, 25 km inland from Whangarei. From the left: Alan (Jean off picture: Tuatara), Vivienne and Alastair (Largo Star), Geoff (at the back), Peter and Catherine (The Southern Cross), Bryce and Martha (Silver Fern). Alison was taking the picture!

One of the nicer aspects of long term cruising is the people you meet along the way and the friends you make, often because of shared experiences that few people on land could appreciate. After 9 years of circling the planet, we have met hundreds of people, many of whom have been on the same long pathway around the globe as us. Because much of the cruising that's done is from east to west around the tropics, it's inevitable that we keep bumping into each other.

We met Peter and Catherine on the East Coast of Australia in 2008 and many times since somewhere around the planet, most surprisingly in the middle of the Virginian woods! Tuatara, Silver Fern and Largo Star were part of the fleet that crossed the Indian Ocean at the same time as us from Thailand in 2010, then conquered Pirate Alley and the labyrinth of the Red Sea. We have all made it to NZ safely one way or another and at different times and all of us are pursuing different challenges in the coming years ahead.

Whangarei is one of the main global crossroads for international yachties and many end up staying here for months or even years. Saraoni is currently in the Town Basin, here because the marina is so close to everything this busy little provincial river city can offer, and we have been meeting up with yachties from our past year's Pacific crossing as well as many that we haven't seen since South East Asia.

Te Matau a Pohe (Pohe's fish hook) - the Whangarei harbour opening bridge - opens up as we approach the Town Basin. It's not quite so cooperative when it gets hot!

Many of the yachts that ended up here for the summer cyclone season are now readying themselves for the annual migration North to the tropics, with Cyclone Winston ravaged Fiji being the most favoured next stop, at least for those who arrived here last year. For once, we won't be leaving with them, but we are flying to Canada via California instead for the winter.

We will be visiting British Columbia for a long cycle ride via the Canadian Rockies, the Pacific Coast near the Alaskan border, the Inside Passage (by ferry), Vancouver Island and the Gulf Islands South to Seattle - or at least that's one of several sketchy plans!

400 kilometres of the Long Pathway completed

25 February 2016 | Tutukaka, NZ
Alison and Geoff, hot
Photo shows Mt Ngauruhoe in a spell of fine weather, seen from National Park village

We are now back on a damp and mouldy Saraoni at Tutukaka after backtracking via Auckland from the centre of the North Island. The TA map shows that we reached the 1134th km at Mangahuia campsite, which means we were 800 km by the official trail from Tutukaka. In fact, we have missed out most of the so called TA "connectors" which are the bits of road and highway linking the off-road sections, so we estimate we walked around 400 km in the last 6 weeks - enough for the moment!

After the Timber Trail through the Pureora Forest, we had a few days of rain in Taumarunui, which meant we couldn't walk the Traverse 42 stretch of the trail into Tongariro National Park, as the two fast flowing rivers coming off the volcanic plateau (Mangatepopo and Waione) would have been impassable. We stayed in National Park village until the rain cleared and then walked the Tongariro Crossing in "reverse". We had always avoided this famous (in NZ) one day walk as it is easily the most popular in the country and attracts thousands of people. In fact, the last time we hauled up on to Tongariro was in 1979 when hardly anyone visited the volcano trails.

Despite the large number of people all setting off at the same time at 8 am it was certainly a spectacular walk. The trail rises up into the volcanic field surrounded by the three main volcanoes of Mt Ngauruhoe (aka Mt. Doom of Lord of the Rings filming), Tongariro and Ruapehu to the South. The 2000 m plateau is home to a number of beautiful blue and green crater lakes as well as lava flows, fumaroles and steep ridges. The weather on the crossing was for once near perfect and the views were fantastic.

Looking back to Ngauruhoe and Ruapehu from the Tongariro Crossing

Mt. Ruapehu from National Park

It was a bit of a challenge to complete the 20 km walk in less than 8 hours to reach the shuttle pick-up, but we managed it with time to spare. We were pursued on the downhill stretch by an endless flow of overseas young visitors representing many European countries - Germans in particular seem to be everywhere - and we suspect most kiwi walkers have chosen less crowded trails. Right near the end, just as we were wondering where the car park was, a large sign announced a lahar pathway in our tracks and advised us to "keep going without stopping" for the next 700m!

Lakes Taupo (in the distance) and Rotoaira (foreground) from the Northern side of Tongariro.

We are going to come back at a later date to walk the round Mt Ruapehu Circuit and canoe down the Whanganui River, which is also part of the TA. Our next trip, apart from sailing to various spots in NZ, is to the US and Canada in June - probably mainly cycling.
Vessel Name: Saraoni
Vessel Make/Model: South Coast 36
Hailing Port: Tutukaka, New Zealand
Crew: Alison and Geoff Williams
Saraoni is named after an island in Milne Bay which guards and protects one of our favourite anchorages - Kana Kopi Bay - frequently occupied by us while we were teaching in Alotau, PNG. We have lived, cruised and worked for the last 30 years on two very different boats. [...]
Extra: CONTACT DETAILS Telephone /SMS number +64 (0) 21 072 5262 Email
Saraoni's Photos - Train journey from Budapest to Istanbul
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Romanians contribution to global warming
Added 6 March 2011