Sat May 4 We had numerous people tell us that we would like the South Island even better than the North so we got up early and headed out - no time to waste. The husband of one of Virginia's friends in Santa Barbara is a Kiwi and he had given us some suggested routes; we had followed many of them on the North Island and were very happy with those choices. So we once again took his suggestion and headed towards the east coast of the South Island. At Blenheim we stopped at the Tourist Information Center to stock up on south island maps and brochures. As a side note here - the country has lots of these centers and a wonderful set of free maps and guides to the holiday parks. They will also help with arrangements for tours. We used them frequently to get local information. In the parking lot of this center they were having their weekly Saturday market. There was a mixture of produce, crafts, and swap meet type items for sale. We immediately spotted a Rotary booth and stopped by to chat with the two gentlemen. They were selling wine barrels, kindling, and carpet squares as a fund raiser. We decided to head for Kaikoura to check on the whale watching tours as it was sperm whale season and that's one of the cetaceans we haven't seen. Along the way we saw our first snow-capped mountains - stunning. A bit further south we happened upon a wonderful site that wasn't mentioned in any of our guide books - Ohau Stream. Seal pups travel up stream to frolic at the base of a waterfall. They stay for several days until they get hungry when they return to the sea where mother awaits to feed them. Then they head back up stream. They are so cute and work very hard to scoot up and over the rocks. They have no fear of man and one nearly crawled over Virginia to reach the perch he was heading to. When they get to the falls they have a grand time; we saw them jumping really high out of the water - looked like small dolphins at times. It was a short but lovely walk back into the waterfall. If you are ever near this area, at this time of year - do stop. When we reached Kaikoura, it turned out that all but one whale-watching company had gone out of business and that remaining one was very high end, using helicopters and fancy boats - not our style, so we took a pass. We headed over to Seal Cove to watch the seals frolic in the sea and sun on the rocks. We headed southwest through more ranches - now mostly sheep and deer ranches - and spent that night at the Hanmer Springs holiday park. We decided it was time for a dinner out - well, 'take out' anyway- and we went in search of pizza and beer. It hit the spot.
Sun May 5 Hanmer Springs is a mountainous resort area and on Saturday morning there was a long line of people waiting to get into the Hot springs. The springs are captured and routed into swimming pools, waterslides, etc. It was a bit tempting since the weather was turning a bit cooler the further south we travelled, but we decided instead to spend a couple hours hiking the trails of the forest. They have quite a set of "tracks" of varying levels and they were getting used by hikers, runners, and cyclists. We enjoyed our hike there. It was a gorgeous area - see our gallery for some pics, including the bright orange mushrooms. We took the Lewis Pass over to Greymouth on the west coast. This was the only time we worried that we might run out of gas. We had been warned that we would hit some areas with no gas station for miles and New Zealand doesn't have all the signage we are used to in the US alerting you to the distance to the next station so we got in the habit of stopping frequently. This was the first time the tank got below half and we discovered that the meter was a bit whacky and suddenly jumped to near empty. Dennis took it a bit slower and coasted down all the hills and we made it with only fumes to spare.
A side note here about the roads in New Zealand: most of the roads are two lane highways. There are few stoplights; they use roundabouts. They have lots of rivers and thus lots of bridges to cross those rivers and with few exceptions the bridges are one lane. So the traffic on one side has the right of way and the other has to yield - it is clearly marked and yet we have yet to understand how they decide which lane has right of way, so you really need to pay attention so you don't take the right of way if it's not yours to take. It has the effect of slowing down traffic at these junctures (not sure if that is the main intention). The speed limit signs on curves seem to be very accurate, for lack of a better word. For example, when they said that the road was about to curve and to slow to 65 km (general speed is 80-100 km), that turned out to be the speed that we did indeed need to go in our van. In the US we find that the posted limits are often very conservative and so you get in the habit of always going a bit faster. Not so here. The only problem is you get used to seeing the signs and then you hit a curve that had no limiting sign but should have. We rarely got into a lot of traffic as we were travelling in the off-season. Also, there aren't a lot of billboards along the sides of the road. There is a whole series of signs related to driving safety (e.g., suggesting you stop and take a break if you are feeling drowsy and at some spots even offering a free cup of coffee); the Holiday Parks and tourist information centers have directional signs; a few commercial establishments have signs but they are very simple - usually carved wood with just text; no elaborate huge billboards with colored pictures and definitely no flashing lights. On the other hand there are directional, 'street' signs on the corner posts for churches, clubs, and public facilities that you won't see on US roads. Dennis was usually pretty beat by the end of the day of driving even though we never travelled that many miles each day as you might back home (i.e. 800+ to Tahoe from SB). He attributes his exhaustion to the condition of the New Zealand roads. Not only do most not have any shoulder to speak of, forcing you to really concentrate to stay in the center of you lane, they are also quite rough (as in 'washboard' even though they are paved, including the main highways). This might be a result of how they 'maintain' them regularly with tar and loose gravel layover.
Along the western coast we decided to stop in at an obvious tourist site, Shantytown. It was funky, but we enjoyed it. It represented a town established during the New Zealand Gold Rush; Dennis even panned for gold and came home with a small vial of gold flakes. We stayed that night at the Hokitika Shining Star holiday park. The wind was blowing a bit and the manager directed us to a site that he said would be somewhat protected from the winds. It was near the community kitchen, fortunately, as the winds kept increasing as the evening wore on. This kitchen was in a building that was like a big red sheet metal barn, but with only 3 sides. Fortunately, they had placed it so that the open side was away from the wind. We cooked dinner quickly and took it back to the van, bunking down for the night. The winds got up to 40-45 mph. The van shook wildly most of the night, but we still managed to get some sleep.
Mon May 6 By morning the wind had calmed down. Virginia announced that she was going shopping. Hokitika is noted for its New Zealand Greenstone, nephrite jade. She wanted to buy a jade pendant to add to her collection of remembrances and perhaps some souvenirs for others. And of course we needed to see the downtown main street as one of the travel guides mentioned that they were well known for their wide main street and the numerous speeding tickets written there. We had to wonder the effect that this comment in the travel book had on the town's speeding ticket revenue. There was a nice clock tower in the very tiny downtown area and the shops were deserted so Virginia got lots of service and had her prized possessions purchased in less than an hour. While Virginia was mining for jade, Dennis did a short walkabout and some minor re-provisioning. Off to the Southern Alps.
Further down the west coast, we took the 90 minute roundtrip walk to the Franz Josef Glacier. The path followed the river and was fairly level until near the end. We enjoyed the scenic view of this valley with the Southern Alps rising above us. There were numerous small waterfalls along the way - added bonus. We didn't take the tour out onto the glacier, but the trail took us to within several hundred feet of the glacier. A bit further down the road we took the 1 hour round trip walk to Fox Glacier. This one is smaller, but steeper, and the path ends just about 100 feet from the glacier. We needed our long sleeve shirts and sweat shirts, but it wasn't that cold on the hike to the glaciers. Ideally we would have spent the night at the Aspiring Holiday Park in Wanaka (highly recommended by a friend), but we left the glaciers too late and decided to stop in Haast. The holiday park was right on the beach. We took a walk in the dunes watching for the penguins that the sign warned us about but saw none. We were however treated to a gorgeous sunset that evening.
Tues May 7 We travelled to Queenstown. Along the way we stopped at Puzzle World. You could spend a lot of time there. We only did the Maze challenge, where you have to find your way through the maze to each of the four corners. We found them all, but have to admit that we got some help from one of the children for the first corner! It's a great place. There is a large room with tables set up with puzzles of all kinds where you can sit and play for as long as you like. They also have activities involving illusions - such as the tilted tower in the front of the place where you can take your picture from various points and make it look like you are lifting it up. Definitely touristy, but children especially would enjoy it. We enjoyed the scenery in that area which included a lot of snow-capped mountains. Around lunchtime we saw a sign for a short hike to some "Blue pools". A number of campervans were parked there having lunch so we decided to check it out. The hike involved walking across a suspension bridge that really wobbled and swayed as you traversed it (and even more if you have an adult child with you; wink, wink). The pools were lovely. It was a great lunch break. We spent the night in a holiday park in downtown Queenstown. We needed to do some provisioning so we went to the grocery store near the airport. As we drove into town toward our holiday park we noticed how the city appeared to be long and narrow, like the lake that it sits next to, Lake Wakatipu. We took a walk in the cool crisp evening air. When we got back to the campervan we fired up the space heater. The van provided a small space heater that could be used when we were plugged into power at the Holiday parks and we used it most nights on the South Island.
Wed May 8 Happy Birthday to Dennis' sister Judy! Brrrrrr - we woke to a very chilly morning with frost on everything. Time to head north! We had originally planned on going to Milford Sound and taking a boat ride out on the sound. We had heard reports from friends and family that had visited here that it was one of the things not to be missed. But, we were running out of time and also wanted to do some of the walks on the east side of the Southern Alps near Mt. Cook, so we decided to forgo Milford Sound and save it for some time when we come back during a warmer part of the year! The scenery continued to be stunning - finally had to stop at one point and get a picture of the snow-capped mountains reflected on a lake. There were sights like this around every bend. As we neared Mt. Cook there was snow on the ground - and snowballs flying (Dennis is a better aim so Virginia soon retreated to the safety of the van). We had fun guessing which of the mountain tops was Mt. Cook but when it finally came into view, it was obvious from the shape of the peak.
The walk up the east side of Mount Cook led us to another glacier, but this one has receded so much that it was not visible from the viewpoint at the path's end. From there we headed south for a bit to Omarama and then east out to Oamaru on the coast. Oamaru has the most lavish welcome sign we recall seeing. It included some of the limestone pillars that are a key feature of the architecture of this city. The travel guidebook described it as a ghost town of Victorian public buildings which have been left completely untouched and mostly unused. It was a bit incongruent with the local environment. This area is also known for blue penguins and rare yellow-eyed penguins, but we weren't there at the right time of the year to see them - disappointing. We stayed at a holiday park in Oamaru. The facilities that were right next to our assigned spot were closed, so Virginia had a bit of a walk in the cold air when she needed to get up in the middle of the night. But as that is the biggest complaint we had about any of these holiday parks, you can tell that we had a great camping experience in New Zealand.
Thu May 9 We arrived in Christchurch around 2pm. We had planned on keeping the van until later in the day and doing some sight-seeing in this town that was so devastated by an earthquake a few years back. But we had just gotten word that day that we had lost one of our dogs. Kiwi, had developed a brain tumor and had to be put to sleep. As we mentioned in an earlier post, the dogs were living at Garden Court, a senior residential community in downtown Santa Barbara. They were 'house' dogs, to be shared by all the residents. They got lots of attention. The residents adored them and provided a very loving environment. Even though we couldn't be there with her, she was surrounded by loving friends. Her litter sister Coco will miss her more than any of us - but she is now getting double the attention at Garden Court. Since we were feeling kind of low, we just dropped off the JUCY van and found a hotel near the airport. We had to get up early and catch a 4am taxi to the airport for our flight to Sydney the next day.
Tues April 23 We took the train from Bundaberg to Brisbane, arriving about 3:00pm. Our flight to Auckland was early the next morning so we decided to do a walkabout in Brisbane and spend the night in the airport. Having hauled our luggage from the train station to downtown, Dennis did a little reconnaissance and found a theater with a good selection of movies and times. We decided to put our luggage in lockers at the Brisbane train station to get around town easier, but after we dragged them all the way back to the station, we were told they had taken the lockers out to make room for more retail stores. So we lugged our duffle bags and backpacks back into town and the movie theater. We spent several hours watching Oblivion with Tom Cruise. Around 8pm we took the airtram from the train station out to the airport, bought some dinner, and settled in on the comfy leather couches for a night of restless, occasional dozing.
Wed April 24 When we arrived in Auckland we made a call to JUCY campers who picked us up a few minutes later. We had decided to rent the JUCY Condo camper which is equipped to sleep four (best if two of the four are children -would have been very crowded with four adults). We didn't need to pull out the second overhead berth. That gave us enough head room to stand up in the van and a place to store our luggage. We were very happy with our choice - the condo van worked out great for us. It had a two burner stove, refrigerator with small freezer, sink, toaster, space heater, and minimal but sufficient cooking utensils. At first sight, Dennis scoffed at the toaster and space heater -little did he know what was to come. It did not have a bathroom - only a port-a-potty (which we never used) and no shower. But we had heard that New Zealand was very well set up for campers and we wouldn't need those amenities. It turned out to be so true. New Zealand has a comprehensive system of Holiday Parks that have small cabins, spots for tents, and powered sites for camper vans and RVs. We were warned that they tend to fill up so we should make reservations. But, we were never sure where we would be at the end of the day; fortunately we never ran into a problem -the 'off' season was just beginning. Nearly all of these parks have community kitchens with stoves, ovens, microwaves, refrigerators, large sinks; some even provide pots, plates, and utensils. We only cooked in the van the first night. Thereafter we used the community kitchens. Cooking and cleanup was much easier and we enjoyed meeting the other campers. We'd take our dinner back to the campervan and watch a movie as there was a flat panel DVD player in the van and Dennis had picked up several DVD's on the first day's provisioning. The bright green and purple van was very distinctive and easy to spot and virtually everywhere, so we JUCY campers waved at each other as we passed on the road. It was a perfect choice for this 17-day trip. But it did confirm for us that when we start Phase II of our retirement we would like to have a small RV - something a bit larger than that van.
That first night we stayed at a park near the Auckland airport. We were very tired after spending the previous night in the Brisbane airport. We provisioned at the grocery store, cooked dinner in the van, and went to sleep to the sound of rain on the roof and thunder and lightning. We had very little rain during our trip, but this first night we had some heavy rain.
Thu April 25 First thing in the morning we set up New Zealand cell phone service and were raring to go. It was a sunny day and we decided to take a tour of Auckland. This would be Dennis' first full day of driving on the left-hand side of the road and he was a little apprehensive of entering a bustling city like Auckland on his first foray. Virginia accepted full responsibility for navigation so Dennis could concentrate on staying on the correct side of the road and that worked very well. One of our travel books outlined a self-guided walking tour. It started at the historic Ferry Building on the waterfront. It was a tall brick building with a clock tower. There were ferries coming in and out and an apartment complex nearby on the waterfront that was built to look like a large cruise ship - strange. As we headed to the second site, we passed the Maritime Museum. We decided to take a quick look. Several hours later we had to run back to the car to put more money in the parking meter and then return to finish up the museum. We left when they closed at 4pm. It was wonderful; especially thrilling was Black Magic which won the Americas Cup a few years ago. They had it on display in the museum with a great system of ramps that allowed you to look at the boat from the keel to the deck. We decided we might have to see the rest of Auckland on our way back south, time permitting, as we were on a fast track to see both islands in our two weeks. We headed out of town towards the northwest on the Kauri Coast route. We arrived at the holiday park at Muriwai Beach after dark.
Fri April 26 We walked out to the beach. The winds were a bit wild but there were surfers out enjoying the day. It evidently is always windy here; they had an elevated protected platform for viewing and sun bathing. We headed up the west coast of the north island through the Kauri forests. We stopped briefly at the Kaipara Sculpture Gardens and then found a scenic viewpoint for our lunch stop - not hard to do. There are scenic viewpoints around every corner in this country. With the exception of a handful of relatively large cities, the country feels like one huge national park dotted with small townships. In Matakohe we visited the Kauri Museum to learn more about one of New Zealand's natural wonders. The guide noted that "although the Sequoia may be taller and older, for sheer wooden bulk the Kauri has no equal." Unfortunately there are few of these trees left due to logging. In fact we understand that both islands were seriously over logged of all kinds of trees and areas of reforestation were evident everywhere. We stayed at the Kauri Forest holiday park and took their night walk in hopes of seeing a Kiwi bird. We heard some, but didn't see any of these elusive nocturnal birds. But it was a very pleasant walk and the guide provided lots of interesting information on the birds and vegetation of the area. It was also our first sighting of a glowworm (more on those later). Most of the holiday parks have playgrounds. This one had several large trampolines for children of all ages - Virginia, who hadn't been on one in decades, had fun.
Sat April 27 We continued to travel north along the west coast. We were expecting to see rolling hills with lots of sheep, but instead we saw rolling green hills with lots of cattle. When we got to the Waipoua Forest - a Kauri Reserve, we took several walks in this beautiful rain forest. We saw Tane Mahuta (Lord of the Forest) the largest living tree in New Zealand (2000 years old, 168 feet high, 45 feet around), Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) the second largest tree in the forest, and the Four Sisters (four trees emerging from one trunk). We decided to pick up some fish and chips for lunch at a small store alongside the road. Dennis noticed an ad on the wall of the store for a local skateboard competition that was happening that day, so we drove there and enjoyed the competition while we ate our lunch. At Oponani we headed east towards the Bay of Islands. Along this route we stopped at the Wairere Boulders. It was a bit of a detour drive on a dirt road. The geology of the area is interesting. They say it is the only known 'basalt boulder' valley world-wide and that the erosion of the rock surface was a surprise to geologists. Prior to this discovery it was thought that basalt did not erode. They believe that the erosion is caused by the unique natural environment of the area - rain accumulating acid as it drips through the Kauri tree canopy. It was a beautiful walk, but Virginia would like to check out the claims with some of her geology professor friends back at the University. They added an element to make it fun for children with a few drops of well-placed paint on rock formations to highlight their animal-like shapes. We enjoy waterfalls and find it hard to pass by one without stopping. Our first such stop was at Haruru Falls. Dennis felt it necessary to climb down the rocks a bit to get a 'better picture' - ever the adventurer. We set up camp at the Beachside holiday park in Opua and did another provision run. Virginia had contracted a cold about day 2 of the trip and was feeling really lousy. Dennis could feel it coming on too, so we rested up the rest of that day. Dennis was a little green with envy as he watched a father and son unload two Laser sailboats from a trailer and launch them for a sunset sail that evening.
Sun April 28 The Bay of Islands is beautiful but the main attraction for us was hooking up with some of the friends we made crossing the pacific who went to New Zealand for the cyclone season (while we chose Australia). We drove over to the Opua Marina after lunch. We learned that there was going to be a seminar on cruising Vanuatu that evening which would be a good time to catch any other cruisers in that marina. We visited Phyllis and Don on Solstice whom we first met in the Marquesas. They walked us over to the boat yard to see Doug and Zulenka (La Luz) who were working on their new boat - appropriately named Sulenka (how could they not buy it when they learned the name!) Leaving Doug and Zulenka to their boat projects, we went out to the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. It is a beautiful spot with a wonderful view out over the Bay and some interesting history. It is considered the birthplace of the New Zealand nation as it is where the Maori chiefs signed the treaty with the British. The treaty has since become a point of contention as it subsequently allowed the takeover of much of the land occupied by the Maori but it insured the future of influence and close relationship with Britain. Intricate Maori wood carvings adorn the Meeting House and the 114 ft. long war canoe which is hauled out by 80 rowers to celebrate Waitangi Day. We had a very pleasant walk through the beautiful grounds. There were no Maori cultural performances that day, but we had plans to catch one further south. We caught up with several friends at the seminar that evening and had dinner at the yacht club with Don and Phyllis (Solstice) and Judy and Jordan (Sea Turtle). It was a short, but nice visit. Regrettably everyone who chose to sail to New Zealand are not in a position to join the Indonesian Rally, so we had to say farewell again to all those there. But we couldn't/shouldn't linger and headed south and took our cold germs with us.
Mon April 29 Happy Birthday Kathleen (the 'other' grandma)! We drove south to Whangarei, driving through town and then taking a scenic detour on a loop out to the east coast. Along this route we saw more cattle ranches and in fact encountered one group of cows being herded down the road in front of us. The "cowboy" was seated on an ATV and motioned for us to follow him closely as he made a path through the herd for us. We stopped at Tutukaka to watch the surfers. Found another waterfall (Whangarei Falls) which had a nice trail down to the base of the falls and was a good lunchtime stop. We took a second scenic loop out to the east coast at Wellsford through the Dome Forest. We stopped at Sheepworld, considering going to the sheep shearing demonstration, but after a quick look around decided to pass. We camped at Orewa (Red Beach) holiday park that night.
Tues April 30 As we headed south we realized that we had now been in New Zealand one week and we weren't done with the north island yet. Thus, when we reached Auckland we drove across the famous Auckland bridge (instead of walking it), decided to forgo the rest of the walking tour of the city, and headed for Mt. Eden. We didn't want to miss the reportedly wondrous view out over the city and we were not disappointed. It was also interesting to look down into the defunct crater. We have visited several extinct volcanoes in the past couple years and none, until now, had green grass growing in it. Must be awfully rich volcanic soil. We headed southwest to Waitomo. Southwest of Hamilton we took the walk back (and down) to Bridal Veil waterfalls. We got a bit lost finding it, but were determined to see it. This was the tallest and largest falls yet. The downhill part of the walk (lots of stairs at one point) bothered Dennis' knee, but it was through a lovely rainforest with beautiful plants. Determined to see a Kiwi, we visited the Otorohanga Kiwi House and Native Bird Park a bit further south. The 'houses' are very dimly lit so that you have a chance to see these nocturnal birds during the daytime - success! We stayed at a holiday park in Waitomo - home of the glowworm caves.
Wed May 1 The Waitomo caves were formed by earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. We decided on the walking tour (versus a boat) where we got to see stalactites and stalagmites as well as the infamous glowworms. As the pictures in our gallery attest - the limestone formations were so beautiful and unbelievable. Some of them were such thin ribbons that you could see through them if you held a light up to them. The arachnocampa luminosa (glowworms) are a spider-like light-producing larva. After hatching, the larvae build a nest and put down a series of lines. The tiny larvae emit a light that attracts insects and the sticky substance on the lines traps the insects - their food. We have some good pics in our gallery that clearly show the lines. Next stop was Rotorua so we headed north back to Hamilton - only time we retraced our path - so that we could hopefully get to our next stop in daylight by taking the main road. At this point Dennis had gotten quite comfortable with driving on the left-hand side of the road. There are lots of roundabouts in New Zealand and he handled their left-hand flow with great adeptness. We could think of many places back home where roundabouts would be preferable to stop lights. The only time he experienced any problems was at night. It was disconcerting to see headlights coming at him on his right - he had to fight the urge to swerve right.
We arrived in Rotorua at dusk. It is the cultural center of the country for the Maori and is one of the most active thermal areas in the world. We were surprised to learn that there are only three areas in the world with active geysers, Rotorua in New Zealand, Yellowstone in Wyoming USA, and Iceland. So we only have one more to visit! We wanted to attend a Hangi feast, where the food is cooked in the ground by the thermal heat, and a cultural performance. We checked into the evening ones, but they involved quite a drive from our holiday park which was a ways out of town to avoid the omnipresent smell of sulfur and Dennis was beat from a long day of driving and his cold was now in full force. So we opted to chill in the van that night.
Thu May 2 In the morning we drove into town to Whakareawarewa, a "living Maori village". Since we had attended feasts involving underground cooking on hot stones in both the Marquesas and Tonga, we decided to experience our underground-cooked meal in this village which is located in the middle of a thermal area. So instead of hot stones, they use the thermal heat to cook. This would add a little something different. It is called a "living village" because the Maori's actually live in the village, as opposed to some of the other tourist attractions where the village is a mock-up. We spent quite a bit of time here touring the village, eating our thermal-cooked lunch, watching the mud pots and erupting geysers, and enjoying the cultural performance. The eyes play an important role in their dancing. They accentuate the singing with 'wide-eyes' (look at the pictures in the photo gallery to get the full effect). One of the dances was the famous Haka which was used to stir up the warriors before they went into battle. These days the famous All Blacks New Zealand rugby team performs it before each of their matches. We would have loved to see that. In the afternoon we headed south to try and make some headway towards Wellington. We had to scurry past many wonderful sites due to the shortness of our visit, and be satisfied with a wonderfully scenic drive. We passed by Lake Taupo and through the Tongariro National Park. We saw a variety of landscapes including some reforestation, flat plains with mountains in the distance, and rolling green hills - with sheep this time - and of course a waterfall. The Raukawa falls was not very tall, but a tremendous amount of water was pouring over the falls, making it quite thrilling to watch. We camped at Wanganui that night on the west coast. In addition to all the regular amenities, this park had an herbal garden available to the campers from which Virginia scored some dill, parsley and chives.
Fri May 3 We hit the road that morning to travel the final miles to Wellington - in the rain. We had rain the day we arrived on the north island and now a second time on our last day on that island. We arrived in Wellington around noon. We first stopped at the ferry terminal to arrange for our trip across the Marlborough Sounds to the South Island. We planned to see some sights in Wellington, including the botanical gardens, that afternoon and take the ferry crossing the next morning. But the rainy dreary weather coupled with our eagerness to get to the south island had us deciding that if there was an opening that afternoon, we would take it. They did have an opening 2 hours later, however they commented that it wouldn't be a very pretty crossing with the rain. We ate our lunch waiting in line to get on the ferry (not the most scenic of our lunch spots). By the time we loaded the ferry and left port, the rain stopped and we had a lovely calm trip across the sound. We found a spot in a Picton holiday park that night.
G'day from Australia -
It's been awhile since we posted. We haven't been doing much that we consider exciting but we do have some progress and changes to report. It's the rainy season here and the weather has been a contributing factor for delaying us on the projects, most of which required work outdoors.
First of all, we've been eating very well. There's a farmer's market on Sunday that we have visited every weekend. We are able to get a very nice variety of fruits and vegetables which prevents us from missing the meals we enjoyed regularly back home. The available meats and fish are every bit as good as well and the lamb is cheap, so we've been enjoying lamb chops regularly. We have had to cut back on our ice cream ration as ice cream shops are not as plentiful (nearly on every corner in the South Pacific) and our freezer is not currently operating while we are out of the water.
Dennis has spent considerable time fine-tuning the design of our bug screens as the mosquitoes and midges have been voracious here. They go after Virginia more than Dennis for some reason. At one point Virginia had more than 200 bites on her arms and legs and was really worried about getting it under control. She switched to a repellent that had 80% DEET and covered herself with it that day; ended up with DEET poisoning. She had vertigo for three days and Dennis had to assist her getting on and off the boat. A pharmacist gave her an antihistamine to take each day as she gets an allergic reaction - her bites get really red and swell up. She is now using an all-natural DEET-free repellent. Things are much improved - especially with Dennis' impenetrable screens.
Virginia's been doing 'inside' projects so she can be behind the bug screens. She sewed new curtains and cushion covers for our salon. In one of the photos you can see the little challenge that we are still pondering....one of the seatbacks is curved and it bugs her that she can't get the wrinkles out. We tried to get a bit more contemporary than the 1980's harvest gold. She also finished a Sunbrella fabric shade structure for the bow of the boat that Dennis designed, complete with rain gutters so it can double as a water catcher.
The dripless propeller shaft seal had started to drip so it needed to be replaced (they are usually good for five to ten years and this one had gone about six -not bad considering all the motoring we had done on the various Baja Ha-Ha's and on this voyage through Mexico and Central America). It requires removing the shaft from the transmission and that requires clearing away other engine-related equipment. While Dennis had all the equipment removed, he decided to change the transmission fluid as well. Sounds simple enough until you try to find the specified transmission fluid (Type "A" FYI) for a 25 year old transmission. Most of the clerks in the auto parts stores he went to weren't even born when the transmission was built. Eventually he ended up at a farm equipment shop (the engine/transmission was one originally used in farm equipment) and there was an old guy who could help. "Type "A" isn't made anymore", the old guy explained (duh), "but here's a fluid that will work for you."
Standing rigging was due for replacement as promised to our insurance company. Dennis has to replace the rigging in two stages so that the masts always have some support - we aren't out of cyclone season here yet and could get a big blow. After several trips up the masts (weather permitting), he sent the first half off to the rigger in Brisbane (no qualified rigger in Bundaberg!!!) and it took several weeks to get it back. While installing it he discovered a few problems (all rigger errors) and it took a few days to sort them out and get new parts shipped up to us. He has now sent the second half down to Brisbane and we are hoping they will give us a quicker turnaround on this batch. His repaired knee gets a good workout on this project and hasn't slowed him down a bit.
The stainless steel welding shop finished up the repairs to the frame for the back swim step. We couldn't find any teak in town to replace the cracked slats so Dennis decided to use a different type of hardwood and redo all the wood slats; it looks gorgeous. The bow pulpit which was damaged along with the swim step (see Marquesas blog entry) was sent off to the shop at the same time but the welder was scheduled for a three week vacation and didn't have time to finish it before he left, so this week we are expecting to receive that piece repaired so the boat doesn't look like it's been in a fight.
Dennis is now sanding the bottom of the boat in preparation for painting. This is the first time we have painted it ourselves. He has a friend who is a boat builder and is advising him as he goes, so if we decide to have others do it in the future (most likely!) he can watch and know if they are doing it right. He has to be completely covered while doing this project as the paint dust is quite toxic (that's how it keeps growth off the bottom of the boat) and can really irritate soft tissue. We can't actually paint it until a few days before we are ready to go back in the water. Bottom paint doesn't like to be out of the water for long. He is also grinding out the fiberglass around the hinges that connect the rudder to the skeg as we noticed some cracks there. Found a small void filled with water so he'll fill that in before painting.
Virginia is researching possibilities for land trips in Australia and New Zealand. In our last posting we mentioned that we had hoped to tour Australia in late March, but due to delays in getting our boat projects completed, we are more likely to tour New Zealand first, maybe mid-April. Our plan is to tour both the north and south islands for about two weeks in a campervan. For Australian land tours we'll probably take a short trip south to Sydney and then another trip after we have started our cruising for the season and are in Darwin in the Northern Territory. She has also researched and purchased the cruising guides we'll need for this next season, which brings us to our next change.
Our plans for the upcoming cruising season had to be modified. We had hoped to hightail it from here in Bundaberg, Australia to Singapore when the cyclone season ended (April/May) in order to put Libertad on a freighter headed for the Mediterranean - and then sail the Med this season. But.....we finally had to admit to ourselves that there is not enough time after cyclone season ends here in Australia to safely get to Singapore as the last freighter headed for the Med leaves May 15. We were holding out hope that they would add a June boat, but that isn't going to happen. In addition, we'd miss 2-3 months of Med sailing season by leaving so late and not giving any of our family and friends much time to catch up with us there. So, here's the plan for the upcoming season.
June 2013 leave Bundaberg, Australia to sail through the Great Barrier Reef, making numerous stops along the way to enjoy that miracle of nature.
July 2013 arrive in Darwin, Australia and spend about 3 weeks there getting our liferaft recertified, our visas and other paperwork in order, and doing some land travel south of Darwin to Kukadu National Park, Ayers Rock (Uluru), ... via car or bus.
end of July 2013 - end of October 2013 Join the Indonesian rally (see www.sailindonesia.net for the route and other rally details) which starts in Darwin and winds through western Indonesia
end of October 2013 sail the short distance to Singapore
Nov - Dec 2013 join the Malaysian rally for the segment of that rally that goes from a spot near Singapore to Langkawi
(see http://www.sailmalaysia.net/passage-to-langkawi/rally-schedule.html )
From Langkawi in Malaysia we will sail to Phuket Thailand. We will leave Libertad in Malaysia or in Thailand while we go back to the states for a visit somewhere in the Dec-Mar timeframe. We will put Libertad on a freighter headed to the Med in March 2014. We will meet Libertad in Turkey about 16 days after it boards the freighter in Thailand. And that will be the start of our season to sail the Mediterranean!
One other change since our last posting is that we both had a birthday and are a year older. We went out to dinner in Bargara for Virginia's birthday. Dennis' birthday was on Easter Sunday so Virginia tried to make sure he had a US type Easter basket filled with the goodies he enjoys. They do celebrate Easter here in Australia, in fact it is a 4-day weekend with both Good Friday and Easter Monday being holidays for government offices and many places of work. And they do sell candy, but it is all chocolate. It fact it is all Cadbury chocolate (which is made in Australia). Virginia searched for some of the non-chocolate items common in the US and finally found one bag of jelly beans. But the biggest disappointment for Dennis was no marshmallow peeps! She had to make 'grass' for the basket by cutting up green bubble wrap. We're both 62 now. We pass a bulletin board when we take the bus into town which shows an "older" woman on a surf board, with the heading, "Aging is Optional". We strongly aspire to this philosophy!
We flew out of LAX on February 6 and arrived in Australia on February 8 (due to an overnight flight and crossing the date line). We had taken the bus from Bundaberg to Brisbane on our trip home so we thought we might like to try the train on the return trip. Researching schedules while back in the US we found that the trains weren't running to Bundaberg due to flooding of the tracks. So it was going to be the bus again. We were advised to purchase our bus tickets once we arrived as plane schedules change and there were plenty of buses each day and empty seats on every bus. From the Brisbane airport we took the Airtrain to the Central Transit Center. It wasn't a long walk from baggage claim to the airtrain but with nearly 90 pounds of boat supplies, whenever we couldn't use a baggage cart (known as a trolley in Oz), it was a challenge. Thank goodness Dennis' knees were up to the task! Once there we asked for the next bus to Bundaberg and we were told that that would be a long wait as they weren't running until March as now the roads were too flooded. But the train had just restarted its run the day before. Lucky for us! We had several hours to wait and so we started to call hotels in Bundaberg as we would be arriving too late to go to the marina. One after another they reported being booked due to emergency personnel that had come into the area to help with flood recovery. They were trying to be helpful though, saying they had an email list where they were sharing info on who had openings. But with each subsequent call...no room at the inn. We decided we might have to go to the marina and try to scale the fence to get onto the boat! It was quite a pleasant train ride, until near the end when a young couple boarded who were either high on life or some controlled substance and were laughing loudly and dancing in their seats right immediately in front of us. In addition, the conductor announced that the train had slowed from 60 kmh to 20 kmh due to a technical difficulty with wheel traction -didn't even want to ask what that meant! But there was lots of room and we could move about. We didn't get into Bundaberg until 11:00pm. Jimmy, a taxi driver, took us under his wing and said he knew of several hotels outside of town that likely had spots and he would drive us around until we got a room. The first hotel had a cancellation and one room available for the night. Lucky us! After travelling for what we estimated was about 32 hours, we slept well. Jimmy came back early the next morning to take us over to the marina.
Libertad had been moved from dry storage to the working yard so that we could live on it and do some boat projects. Given that we have to climb a 14 foot vertical ladder to get on the boat, Dennis rigged up a harness for Virginia to use so that if she lost her footing she wouldn't fall all the way to the ground, but dangle on the end of the line about three feet from the concrete. When she complained that it was awkward and the line was getting underfoot, she was reminded that she had made Dennis promise to wear similar gear each time he left the cockpit at night to adjust sails on the forward deck; her complaining ended quickly as she didn't want him to go back on that promise. The boat is not located very close to the restroom (especially when they lock the vehicle gate) and the fact that we must scale a ladder each trip is a combination that we hope we do not have to endure long -those late night and early morning runs to the restroom are quite tedious. We just hope that there will be a slip for us when we are ready to go back into the water. Every day another boat is being hauled back from being washed down the river and either put into the marina or hauled out and put in dry storage.
Our friends Brian and Juliet on SeaWings are still here. They stayed in the marina through the cyclone and had a wild ride. They saw houses, boats, and lots of debris floating downriver with the 40 knot current. The Mid-Town Marina further up the river, near downtown Bundaberg, was totally demolished in the flooding. It was located on the riverside with a rail system for hauling boats, so when the river rose 15 feet, everything there was washed away. We had considered leaving our boat there because the cost would have been significantly less, but worried because it didn't look as secure as the Port Marina. When we asked about the possibility of a flood, they tried to assure us that they adequately secured boats by tying them to trees -hmmm. In the end, when we provided specs on our boat, they said Libertad was too big for them to handle. Lucky us! When we walked down to the slips to visit SeaWings our first day back we were surprised to see that the marina had lost a few slips on the end of the last finger - and one of those spots was where we had been before we decided it would be safer to haul the boat out to dry storage. We were stunned to see a sunken sailboat in the spot where we had been housed (see photo above). Again, lucky us! While we hated to miss Thanksgiving in the US with family, we are so glad we took the time first to wait out a good weather window to get to Australia and then to research the best place to leave the boat.
SeaWings bought a car and have really gotten to know the area. They have been generously driving us around and are a wealth of local information. Our first outing was a sight-seeing tour to show the areas hardest hit by the flooding and all the damage done to the residents. Of course with similar flooding only a few years ago, no one has been able to get flood insurance and it's heart-wrenching to see the loss. But many businesses are getting back on their feet and we've been able to go out to dinner several times allowing us to catch up on our separate adventures, where we went home to the US to visit family and they had family visiting here. Juliet has now left to go back to the UK for a few months to visit family and friends. Brian is working so he stayed behind. He's a boat builder so he'll be a good consultant for some of our projects and we'll enjoy having a friend here.
Boat projects are proceeding, though slowly. Dennis has started removing the rigging, which we need to do in stages so that we continue to support the masts and have a reference for tuning the new rigging. It's another part of the boat that he will soon know intimately. The boatyard could not recommend a rigger in Bundaberg, so we have to send our old rigging to Brisbane where the rigger will measure it and swage fittings onto new wire to match and send it back. Fortunately Dennis had planned on removing and installing the rigging himself, so that has balanced the extra cost of shipping it to Brisbane. We want to get the bow pulpit and swim step that was damaged in the Marquesas repaired but there seems to be only one stainless steel welder in Bundaberg and with all the damage caused by the flood, he is booked up for weeks. With the flood waters, mosquitos and other nasty flying creatures have become a real nuisance. So securing the boat from mosquitos quickly rose to the top of the project list (and we purchased a bug zapper to assist). We also need to send our liferaft to Brisbane to be serviced (need to do that every two years). Virginia has taken measurements of the salon seating and started her search for fabric locally to do her reupholstering project. The original 1982 harvest gold upholstery is finally giving out after two years of constant liveaboard use. It's exciting shopping for new fabric but we can tell it's going to be quite a large project. The boot stripe (the waterline stripe) and the bottom needs repainting and Dennis wants to do much of that work himself for future reference. And the list goes on.
It's windy and raining today so Dennis won't be going up the mast to continue the rigging project. We'll take the bus into town to check on fabric options and work off our growing list of pieces and parts we need to purchase. We hope to get our projects done this month so that we can spend March doing some land travel in Australia and/or New Zealand. Virginia is spending time researching routes we can take in eastern Australia to see the most in the shortest amount of time.
Our plans for getting to the Med are getting a bit firmer. The Seven Seas freighter that we thought was our best bet is leaving from Phuket, Thailand May 15. Since we can't leave here until April 1, we were worried we wouldn't have enough time to get there. Turns out that they have a pickup in Singapore, which is a little closer to Australia, and it's at a little later date, May 20. There are rules in Singapore harbor that require us to hire a pilot to steer our boat in the commercial side of the port, but it may be a more doable timeframe.
New wildlife sightings on our first day back in Oz. As we were driving to dinner with Brian and Juliet, we saw the sky darken with what we at first thought was a migration of thousands of birds. There was a solid stream of them crossing over from the other side of the river. We pulled the car over to watch. There was no end in sight and upon closer inspection we saw that they were flying foxes, aka fruit bats. For about fifteen minutes we watched the estimated population of between 100,000 - 200,000 fill the sky. After an Internet search we discovered that the bats originally took up residence in Gayndah at Christmas time (a township further up the Burnett River) but have since moved down river here to Bundaberg in search of food. They are somewhat controversial as the local fruit farmers want to guard their crops but the bats are a protected species, being an important environmental element as pollinators.
Our son and his family enjoy the song of frogs each spring as rain fills the marshy preserve near their home. We don't have frogs here but rather a variety of toads that are quiet, but quite bold and do not flee upon approach. We have seen bright green ones and brown ones (or maybe they can turn colors for camouflage). They come out at dusk and in the morning you'll find several on the road that didn't make it back home.
Dec 3 we arrived in California. Since we crossed the dateline from west to east on our trip 'home', we experienced Dec 3 twice (Home is hard to characterize as we become even more nomadic than when we are on the boat). From LAX, we shuttled to Long Beach where Virginia's mother graciously stores our van and offers us a base for further excursions to visit family & friends. We divided our time between Long Beach (Virginia's siblings all live in that general area), La Mirada (to visit Dennis' mother), Santa Barbara (to visit our son, his family, and other friends) - generously housed by Tom and Deanna Robbins, with a quick trip up north to see Dennis' siblings and additional family & friends. Highlights included:
Frequent trips up to Santa Barbara to see Darren, Carrie and our granddaughters Kira and Devin, including attending their jogathon, watching them receive academic awards, a trip for all of us to the Santa Barbara zoo and a special 8th birthday celebration where Devin spent the morning with Grandpa J and Grandma J bowling, winning tickets in the arcade, and lunching. It was a bright, sunny, warm winter day, so then we were joined by her 10 yr old sister Kira for enjoying the remote control cars they had gotten for Christmas. Grandpa brought along his own car (a present to himself)....so you can guess who lobbied for that particular gift for the girls. We were happy that Kathleen (Grandma P) was doing so well after her ordeal with breast cancer and joined us several times.
We were disappointed that weather prevented us from arriving in Australia in time to fly back to spend Thanksgiving with family but end-of-the-year holidays were soon upon us and our time was well spent with family during Dec. We went out to dinner in early December with Dennis' mother for her 92nd birthday then were in Long Beach with Virginia's extended family for Christmas Day. We celebrated with our son's family the following weekend and took a trip up to northern California around New Year's to see Dennis' sisters, with his brother accompanying us. We experienced the full gamut of California winter weather on this trip; from freezing daytime temperatures forcing us into our ski parkas in Placerville, to an outrageously warm day in San Francisco wishing we had shorts on, to finally running the gauntlet of snow and sleet on the Hwy 5 Grapevine as we slipped back into LA before they closed the route behind us.
Schedules magically fell together and we were also able to catch up with our multitude of friends at the various holiday parties for our boating club, Dennis' Rotary club, and Virginia's former office/staff.
Dennis' knee surgery. Weather having kept us in New Caledonia longer than planned, we missed the pre-op appointments for Dennis' knee surgery that were scheduled in June before we left to resume our voyage from Tahiti. In addition, what was wrong then was not wrong now. The loose tissue that was floating around his knee had lodged itself somewhere so that his normal walk would become occasionally so painful he'd have to stop and sort out the knee to continue. Missing those appointments provided an opportunity for a new consultation with the surgeon to discuss the best new course of action. The earliest the surgery could be rescheduled was late in January, not providing much time for recovery before the scheduled flight back to Australia. He had an arthroscopic treatment, so it is possible that recovery will be quick and we can return to Australia on Feb 5 as originally planned. But if not, we will just postpone our flights. The boat will be in the work yard when we return, ready for us to start our projects such as re-rigging, in which Dennis will be ascending the masts in addition to just walking up a ladder to get on and off the boat. Kathleen joined Virginia for the 2 hour wait in the surgery family waiting room and they had a great chat. A gentleman, John Wiley, was waiting for his wife and joined in on the conversation as he found it interesting that he and his wife were on a retirement adventure that was similar in some ways to ours. He is a pilot. They bought a plane and have been visiting all the states in the US, all territories in Canada, and are deciding on the next area to tackle. We exchanged blog addresses. It is now 4 days post-surgery and Dennis is doing well. His mom took good care of him those first days! He's anxious for his appointment later this week where the decision will be made....to travel or not to travel on the 5th.
Relocating the dogs. We have had two great friends care for the dogs to date. Bill Abel took them the first year. April and Jeff Reeves had them this past year. In our search for a new home we were approached by one of Dennis' fellow Rotarians who is the Executive Director of a senior living community. They had been in communication with the local shelters, searching for some house dogs that were older, calm, friendly, healthy, etc. -hmmm sounds like Coco and Kiwi! That type of situation hadn't crossed our minds. When we visited Garden Court it seemed like it could be a wonderful situation for both the dogs and the residents. We have spent a lot of time transitioning the dogs, taking them to the vet for their routine shots, getting teeth cleaned, purchasing a supply of food and supplements, etc. And the dogs have been at Garden Court since January 9th as a trial. The residents voted yesterday to keep the dogs. There are a couple concerns that we need to address - keeping them out of the dining room and keeping them from running out the front doors and into the street. Since we aren't living there we can't provide the consistent training needed so we decided to hire a professional trainer. We are all optimistic that things can work out. They seem very happy there; they get lots of attention!
On our trip to northern California we toured Sutter's Mill near Placerville, went to the Science museum in Golden Gate Park, walked the Mission District of San Francisco to see some of the more than 500 murals that adorn walls/fences/garage doors, went to Punchline Comedy Club downtown SF, visited Dennis' niece and family on their new ranch (they are so happy to have the horses with them instead of boarded elsewhere), and visited our friends Elaine and Michael in Atwood to see their new house.
Of course the needs of the boat have been on the backs of our minds during our stay in CA. Before leaving the boat, Dennis dismantled the steering gear at the helm which had been showing some wear and turned it over to a machine shop in Santa Barbara for some refitting. He's also been procuring a variety of parts easier to obtain here (watermaker filters, autopilot drive motor, sailing hardware, etc.) that we will have to figure out how to bundle up in our baggage for the flight back. He's also purchased over 60 dvd movies to add to our already handsome collection.
Cyclone Oswald has hit eastern Australia, including Bundaberg where we have our boat stored. We heard from the marina that our boat is fine. None of the boats in storage have had any major damage; a couple (not ours) just had some tarps and covers damaged in the high winds. We have some friends there who are staying on their boat in the marina and say it has been a wild ride. The marina is on a river and the river is flowing at 40 knots. They saw a house float by one day and were told that a pig farm was flooded and they might soon see about 2000 pigs floating by, sadly. They may be asked to get off the boat if the water gets any higher. Our plan is to do some boat projects when we return....may be doing a bit of land travel first and projects later - have to assess that when we get there.
We arrived at Bundaberg Port in Australia in the late afternoon, just in time to check in. We finally got wind our last day and so sailed into the harbor. We were battling it a bit as it was directly out of the west, the direction we were heading. But we welcomed the wind. We'd had enough of motoring. Going to give up on the marina internet and go into town on the bus and get some connectivity so we can connect with family and friends and get our flights home! We spent our first day here, yesterday, going around to various boatyards and finding a place to put Libertad 'on the hard' while we are gone. This marina is very nice, but isolated and not even close enough to use our bikes for most things. More later when we get internet.