From Northland, New Zealand
Greetings from New Zealand. Usually I like to write about our travels but this time it's more like our travails. Hope everyone who reads our blog had a great holiday and that things are looking good for this new year.
We had a nice visit back home in the US but we did realize early on that our home really is where the boat is and 2 months would be too long without a place of our own, especially in the winter months when we can't be on our land or using our camper, etc. So we changed the tickets to go back a month early, which then of course changed the amount of time we had to spend with loved ones as well as to order a ridiculous amount of boat parts to bring back to NZ. We found that we couldn't get it all in so we missed seeing a lot of people but we did the best we could. It was great to wrap our arms around our parents after many months apart. Our truck started right up on the first crank, so we had our own wheels for the time we were in Vermont. The windshield had cracked so we got that replaced and now it feels like a new truck... well almost! The camper is as we left it, like new and we hope it'll stay that way for when we return next, which is undetermined but will be in the SUMMER! We learned that lesson anyway. We got to take some pretty winter walks with my mom & dad but there was no snow for skiing that early in the season. We made up for it with chatty happy hours and good eating. We did get down to Boston to see Dan & Liz and cute little baby Cairenn, and also John & Cindy who are living the "house under construction" life that I said I never wanted to live but know I will if we ever have a house. Things are looking very good though! We swung by our old jobs at MGH & Oracle and remembered how easy it was to earn a paycheck when we worked with such great people. Our last stop on the Boston area tour was our old marina to drop in on John & Karen who are the glue that holds the place together I think. Incredibly, nothing has changed there at Shipyard Quarters!
We spent the second half of the month in Vero Beach with Jon's parents. A highlight outing was taking a very thorough tour of the Piper plane factory, right in town. They do custom small passenger planes and have been in business for many years. It was a really interesting, over 2 hour tour of the plant. Jon is now hot on buying a plane at some point- probably less safe than cruising I would think... Meanwhile, I ran all over Jon's parents neighborhood, enjoying the seabirds and balmy air. Jon's uncle & aunt Gerald & Irene, joined us for Christmas as sort of a building tradition (we were together there last year as well), which was fun.
Behind the scenes during all this time, there was a constant ordering & receiving "business" going on. We were ordering boat parts & things we'd accumulated on a long list over the past year. Shipping things back for repair, pushing vendors to meet our timeline and fretting about whether everything we ordered would arrive in time; that's the way we lived. I kept feeling like I had to apologize to the UPS man every day when he'd arrive with another pile of boxes that we'd open & add to the stack of stuff we'd be carrying back to NZ. Jon's dad would shake his head & for a little bit I started to wonder about us, were we really as crazy as we looked? But the truth is, to any cruiser, this is not abnormal and we can also cut ourselves some slack since part of the reason why we had so many bags is because we were trying to bring back our folding bikes & all of our backpacking gear.
Anyway, this mountain of stuff became too much to fit into the car to go back to Orlando so we had to bring the eight 50 pound checked bags to a baggage service the day before our flight, then return the following day with ourselves. Given the holiday season, there weren't any rental cars available so this was the easiest thing to do. We said another painful goodbye and started a very long, arduous trip back to New Zealand. Here, I will try to compress the frustration.
We flew on points to Los Angeles via Texas on American Airlines but had to pay $600 in baggage overage fees, I believe the most of any airline. But when we got to LA, all 8 bags were still sitting in Texas for no apparent reason. We filed a report and were assured "no worries, it happens all the time" but after a 5 hour layover, still no bags. We boarded the plane for Australia, did the 14 hour flight on the fantastic Virgin Australia, and when we arrived in Brisbane, were told that the bags would probably beat us to Auckland given we had an 11 hour layover. Eleven hours became 13 hours as the plane was delayed so we got a really good feel for Brisbane's airport. We'd envisioned leaving the airport for the day to explore, even if in a stupor but it turned out we would've needed an advance visa to do that. Meanwhile, we get a call from Jan & Rich on Slip Away, who are in Auckland to pick us up and wondering where we are.... well, the Cheapo reservation agency we used to book the tickets has a bug in their automated itinerary maker that sent us the wrong info for our arrival date, not accounting for the dateline change so we weren't actually going to be in Auckland until the next day! So they made arrangements to stay overnight with friends so they could get us in the morning and we begged & pleaded with the hotel we'd reserved to let us come the next day, rather than the day we just no showed. We then flew to Auckland and arrived at 2am and guess what? NO BAGS! The whole time, every dealing with American Airlines was met with incompetence & no empathy whatsoever. We filed yet another report. The bags were just sitting in LA, the original report was never entered.
We put our heads on the pillow at 3:30am after a very long trip and slept a few hours before Jan & Rich picked us up in our van to take us back to Evergreen. It was so nice to see their smiling, warm faces.
All was in order with the boat and it felt incredibly wonderful to be home to it. The past month has been so stressful and emotionally difficult, to be torn between family ties & our own cruising life on the boat, not to mention the hassle & expense to get there & back again.
We remain absorbed with getting all of our bags back. Multiple phone calls, false hopes and frustration. But yesterday, we did get 7 bags delivered to Whangarei airport and there is one supposedly coming soon. Our ghetto luggage (purchased at thrift shoppes from around the country!) made it although most were torn & tattered. The bikes were damaged but should be fixable and we wonder why TSA left pockets unzipped so that parts could fall out. Yesterday we unpacked our stuff and it felt like Christmas. In between the preoccupation with baggage, we've been also getting out to see a few things.
From Northland, New Zealand
New Zealand is as incredible as we remembered it. We love it here, top to bottom so far. We spent a whole day walking all over Bream Head Scenic Reserve and I posted a few pictures. We took a great run up to a lookout on a beautiful trail right from the boat. We had dinner with Slip Away & Victory one night and we have more plans to get together with other friends today & tomorrow. Yesterday, we walked around town to get more of a feel for it and were surprised that most of the stores are closed at 5 or 6 pm. THAT will take some getting used to! The weather has been beautiful and all around the boat there are ducks quacking. When I hear a quack, I have to decide whether it's Jon this time or a real duck, since he's so good at animal calls.
We did get the last bag today- Jon's hiking backpack and it has been through hell. We will try to claim for damages. No replacing it here. This morning we went into town to get our bikes checked for repairs and I swung by a sports store to check for shoes. A pair of Keen's is around $200 NZ. Well now that is just a tad more than I budgeted for! I guess I'll stick to my slick soled trail running shoes. Who needs tread for that money? Since it was such an incredibly lovely day, we took a great hike to Whangarei Falls right from the boat. It stays light until 9:30 and makes us feel like we need to be out enjoying every bit of it. There is a lot to enjoy here, that's for sure. Will keep you posted on when we head out to start touring. First we need to make the van livable & then figure out how we're going to actually live IN it!
From Northland, New Zealand
It was nice to visit home and it's nice to be back home again. They are both home in their own way.
From Opua, New Zealand
I'm writing this from 33,000 feet, moving at 568mph and it is -37 degrees F outside the glass of my window seat. Quite a change from the stats we're used to. We're on our way to LA and then onward to Vermont with nothing short of a marathon of sitting left to go before we get there. I have to say though, Virgin Australia scores a big 10 so far since this plane is huge, new and basically a big entertainment center. Everyone has their own interactive touch screen with a multitude of movies, music, TV shows and games to pass the time. We just had a nice dinner and I'm sipping a glass of complimentary wine. Plus, we somehow lucked out and got these seats which are off to the side, only 2 seats in our row, right next to the water fountain, head, our own overhead bin and no one behind us so there is no inching your seat back hoping the person behind you won't notice that they now have no space left to move. Plus they have the course map up so I know we only have 8 ½ hrs left of this 14 hour leg.
It was very hard to say goodbye to 'ol Evergreen after such an intense year of togetherness, not to mention the way we've been hustling to get it spruced up now that we're out of the tropics for a few months. We accomplished a great deal since Nov 9th when we arrived in Opua. Lots of delayed maintenance & TLC as well as a date & location for a haulout, a decision for a new sail or 2 (we need to improve our downwind sailing capability) and some repair work. We had a great time in Opua since it was the culmination of the Pacific crossing for this year and a reunion of the "moving family" we've sailed with over these past several months. They catered to us "yachties" as we're called, since New Zealand knows we're all showing up with broken stuff and cravings for civilization after so many months of island unavailability. When we were ready, we left with Mawari to make the 2 day trip to Whangarei. It was a short but beautiful trip through the Bay of Islands and around famous Cape Brett, down to an incredible anchorage called Whagamumu. I hadn't realized how strong an influence the Maori culture is in New Zealand and most of the names of places are Maori so we continue to not be able to pronounce anywhere we're going. The anchorage was stunningly beautiful and there was nothing there at all but park and 5 cruising boats. We took a great hike that afternoon marveling at it all. There were calla lilies growing wild in fields of the brightest, lushest green. The following day we beat all the way to the opening of the Whangarei River and pulled into a marina for the night to top up with fuel, empty the anchor chain onto the dock for washing and fix the windlass since a wire up in the bow had corroded from the rough passage. Then we continued up the river later the next day to our temporary home at Town Basin Marina. The coastline was so pretty and bold looking and we hope to have time to cruise it more before leaving. Not that it made sense, but we drove back up to Opua for a Thanksgiving dinner put on by the local yacht club because lots of our friends were going. It was very good and they even had a women's chorus come to belt out a few songs.
From Opua, New Zealand
So the tourist information didn't lie. We are totally impressed with Whangarei so far. The waterfront area is beautiful, the marina is top notch and we feel good about where the boat is. Everything is at your fingertips and the running & walking right from the boat is fantastic. We haven't gotten to the museums, botanical garden, caves, quarry or Whangarei waterfall yet (all free) but we did get in some great trails, one nice run for me and a visit to the canopy walk which is a high, elevated boardwalk in the treetop canopy of ancient Kaori trees. We did this walk the day before Bob & Sue headed back to England, sort of for tradition. We got together with Jan & Rich on Slip Away whom we haven't seen in a few years and they're now minding our van while we're gone. Jan gave us her used suitcases since they just came back from the US with eight 50lb bags and now we're bringing some of these back with us since we have a list a mile long of things to buy, because one thing about NZ, most things aren't cheap. And we need a LOT of boat parts. I'm still getting used to the little packages of everything too. So we took one big suitcase, filled it and then nested it in another even larger one so that we could get it back to the US since it's a great bag, except for the floral print. But then it doesn't roll so well since it came from the Salvation Army, and it weighs 50 pounds so maneuvering it is quite embarrassing but so funny! We've had numerous legs on this journey so far and we're not even half done. Rowboat to dock, to bus to Auckland, to another bus in the city, to a van, to a hotel for the night, back in the van at 4:30a, to the airport, then thankfully checked the bags. If someone goes to search this heavy bag with an autopilot pump and various other large metal objects, they'll first notice that there are not one, but 2 suitcases there! Ridiculous! Oh well, this is what we do: haul things around all the time. If it wasn't this, it'd be laundry, diesel, propane, groceries or water!
Our impression of NZ is that it is all it was worked up to be. The countryside we've seen is strikingly beautiful with rugged volcanic coastline and rolling, green pastures & cultivated lands full of cows, sheep and flowers. The amount of trails for someone who likes to do all the trails in a park is overwhelming and what we don't understand is how they finance such elaborate trail systems. Even all the roads seem new and it's easy to get around & find things because everything is set up for you to tour around on your own. There seems to be a lot of ground to cover once we get back and it's hard to consider leaving it anytime soon. Although come May, winter will be around the corner and we'll have to move on to Fiji or figure out if we can stay.
I regret not keeping a daily log for this past year since it would've been nice to pull it all together with some stats but I'm not much of a recorder and neither is Jon. But it's been a great year, with lots of intense memories and a good sense of accomplishment for something that we've been working toward for a long time. Previous cruises were building toward this one. Jon seems to have added line fishing to the mix since we actually caught things this year and he did get some spearing in too so he didn't get too rusty. We did so many multiday passages we can't count, and we all comment that if we have one that's only 3 days, we don't even think twice about it so it's become easier. We visited 8 countries, numerous island groups and while islands do have their similarities, you can appreciate the cultural differences of each or special things they have to offer such as wildlife, diving, whales, mountain hikes, and local festivals. And when we tired of these things, we sailed over the horizon to someplace new. The freedom & peace of that is addictive.
We're excited to come home for the holidays and see the people we've been missing all these months and recognize it's a privilege we're allowing ourselves to do to stay connected. I'll put the blog on hold since I hope our communication can be more personal for these next 2 months! It's been a great way to stay in touch and we'll pick it back up once we get started touring in February. Best wishes to everyone for a great holiday!
From Opua, New Zealand
I can't believe it's been only a week since we arrived in Opua. Getting here seems like it was so long ago. Boats are continuing to arrive but the bulk of the fleet is here. The boat that was asked to turn back in the storm (they were 2 days behind us initially) to rescue the crew on the sinking boat Windigo arrived today to the Q-dock- Adventure Bound. Everyone has been anxiously awaiting their safe arrival since what they had to do- turn back in 30 foot seas & 40-50 kt winds to cover over 30 miles back to windward was a monumental task. When the real rescue ships finally arrived & released them of their duty to stand by, they had no choice but to continue on where they left off, now exhausted, still in heavy conditions, but by then that meant they'd have another gale to contend with before reaching Opua! It's the kind of thing you have to do but you risk your life & your boat doing it. They received a warm welcome from all of us.
We'd all joined the Opua All Points Rally before jumping off for New Zealand and it was held throughout last week here at Opua Marina where we're staying. It was a fantastic welcome to New Zealand with tons of get- togethers with free food & drink, seminars, specials on gear and services and outings. We've been busy getting estimates on sails, working on the varnish, fixing broken stuff, looking at substitute supplies and making plans. We'll be switching varnishes, bottom paints, etc since the brands and availability are different here! The weather has been good but it is chilly- during the day when the sun goes behind a cloud, the breeze is cold & we're not used to it. Since electricity here is 220V, we had to buy a transformer so we could get power at the dock but Jon did get it set up so we don't have to run the generator for our power needs.
From Opua, New Zealand
We've taken some nice walks and done some exploring. There are hikes everywhere you turn and really beautiful scenery. The climate supports wooded forests with fir type trees but they are amongst huge palms, fern trees like we've been seeing throughout the Pacific and also bromeliad type plants way up high in the branches. Flowers everywhere. Meanwhile, the Bay of Islands (Opua is part of it) reminds us a lot of Maine. Low tide exposes lots of beach and rocks and there are cedar trees along the cliffy shore. It really is a unique spot, at least to us. We've had local oysters on the half shell (provided free at the rally), we steamed green lipped mussels one night and we're enjoying locally made cheeses after so many months of the flavorless wax they called cheese in the islands. We visited a historic area in Keri Keri where New Zealand's oldest building is located, enjoyed the beautiful gardens and walked up to an impressive waterfall. So far everything we've seen is wonderful. We can't wait to visit the south island.
We scheduled our trip home to the US and will be leaving Nov 27th, planning to return here the end of January. Since Feb/March are the best months for exploring NZ, we want to be back in time to do that. It doesn't seem like enough time. We bought a car today! Never thought we'd be the proud owners of a minivan but after going round & round trying to decide whether a camper van was feasible & wondering how we were going to shop for one without actually having a car, we just broke down and got the van since it's the most popular thing going and we can now move forward. We've got wheels now and can also start getting it set up for the road trip we plan to start as soon as we get back here. There's a guy named Philip right here at the marina complex who runs a business called "Cars for Cruisers" and he's got sailors figured out. He gets inexpensive vehicles in good working condition and sells them to us with a buy back in 6 months less a fee. So in effect you get a car for 6 months for less than the price of a rental and no worries when you're ready to leave the country- he takes it back, or you can keep it. He knows you have to keep going to the ATM each day until you have enough money but he lets you take the car right away. He'll even store the seats that we're going to take out of it to make room for a bed & our backpacking gear. Anyway, I'll get a picture of it. This rod is our camper now and is complete with 2 sunroofs and built in curtains. It won't be a thing like the lovely Scamp we have sitting in Vermont but it'll do. It's so funny because everyone is buying cars right now since we all have similar plans and timeframes. We're still moving in a herd but it's been so fun, like a moving family.
So that's the update. Tomorrow we're headed down the coast 80 miles to Whangarei, where we'll be keeping the boat for the season. We're very excited to meet up with our friends Jan & Rich on Slip Away and to get the boat tucked in. Plus, I have some more TLC to give it before we leave. I want it to fare well in our absence.