From Northland, New Zealand
Our New Year's resolution was to try to stop rushing around with our heads spinning but just like some people's promised work out routines, we can't seem to stick to it- there's too much to do! We have done some interesting things though.
We did go back to Abbey Caves here in Whangarei with Richard & Ali and had a great time spelunking for a few hours. Abbey Caves was named after the English house that the former land owners had that resembled an abbey. There are 3 caves and all are explorable on your own. We did all 3 and each one was different but the first one was the longest. We walked in for just over 3 football fields worth of cave! Since there were 4 of us, we had plenty of light among us and you could see pretty well. There were the usual cave formations, but no bats or birds. We saw an eel, crayfish and a few huge bugs that I can't remember the names of right now. Water flows through the caves and at times we were up to our waist in water but mostly it was ankle to knee deep and clear. It felt really crazy to be in that far in a cave without a guide but then at the same time it was so open & obvious that you could see what you had to do. Once out of one cave, a pretty trail led you to the next one. The openings were filled with lush green plants and ferns and the air would get cooler as you'd descend into their dark world. The second cave was much shorter with a shallow stream running through it that was the path and then the last cave was very still, more open, but waist deep! Each one had it's won feel. We had a really nice time and there is strength & comfort in numbers so I was never afraid.
From Northland, New Zealand
We paused from our long list of boat projects this past week to steal away in the van for a couple days and try it out for living. We headed almost due west for 2 hours to the Tasman Seacoast of Northland. One thing NZ isn't short on is tourist information and there's a tourist bureau right next to our marina since we are right in the Town Basin, in the heart of Whangarei. We have "heaps" of info and nearly everything looks so interesting. Like a broken record, we all keep talking amongst ourselves that there just isn't going to be enough time to see & do all we want to. We have to either not leave or come back to it.
We went straight to the seacoast to walk on a coastal trail that was said to be really beautiful and it was. The Tasman is known to have plenty of wind and you could see it by the lean of the trees. The beach was covered in Ram's Horns and we picked up a bunch of them just for fun. They are the swim bladder capsules for a small squid that lives in the Pacific. These squid dive to depths of 1000 meters and these little gas chambers help them retain their buoyancy. When they die, the chamber floats away once they decay and lands on the beaches here and elsewhere. In all our years of beachcombing, we've only found 2 but they're known to be here in great numbers so we went out to find them. I took a picture of a design I made with some of them.
Then we went to Waipoua Forest where the most ancient Kauri trees in NZ are preserved. Tane Mahuta (means lord of the forest in Maori) is NZ's largest living kauri. We saw this and several others on pretty trails through the forest. All of the big trees have boardwalks surrounding them since footsteps can damage their roots. It always feels so moving to see something so old and huge and know that so much has transpired in the time it's been standing; so much more than we will ever be able to experience in our comparatively short lifespans.
At the end of the day, we knew it was time to get to a grocery store to buy some dinner fixings but we realized we hadn't seen a store since leaving Whangarei. Hmm... people have to eat here.... well, as we've found, the towns roll up by 6pm-7pm at the latest and just because you'd think something would be nearby doesn't mean it will be. I asked a lady where the nearest store was and she gave me that look and said we'd better hurry for 25km through the park to get to the last one that might be open. We made it, then backtracked at a more reasonable speed to the park campground. That night we camped at Waipoua Forest Campground. It was supposed to be a nice campground by the ad but we were a little surprised at how not nice it was and what you didn't get for your money. No distinguishable campsite to call your own, no fire ring, no picnic table (but I think this is common not to have these things). There was water for a time, then they ran out. There was a kitchen to cook in so that was good, and I guess it wasn't all bad that we couldn't do our dirty dishes that night but... that gave us more time to enjoy being in the van getting eaten alive by mosquitos since we had no netting and needed to have a window open for some air.
We busted out of that campground ASAP in the morning and proceeded to have a great day continuing to tour a little further northward along the coast. Hokianga Harbor was especially picturesque with an incredible trail that looked out over the water across to a huge sand dune on the other side that is of course all park too (seems like everything is). Another park had the Kouti Boulders which are the round
rocks along the shore that stick out like a sore thumb. From Northland, New Zealand
The second night we found a more mom & pop type campground on a farm way back on a mountain road. It was perched on a hillside with a perfect view and their sheep framed the foreground. It was a quiet night for them so we had the place all to ourselves. We parked where the view was the best, and enjoyed the communal cooking area that was all for us that night and enjoyed the view from there. The owners, Nils & Lois, were very talkative and we learned a lot about sheep & cattle raising. In order to keep healthy sheep, you have to give them a bath frequently, especially their backside and especially if they get into some particularly green grass, or else flies will move in and infect their skin. It was fn having the sheep so close so we could study them. They had 2 dogs. One's name was Nell and she was the sheep herder. She was of course very well trained, relaxed and quiet. Then there was the terrier "Ruff" and he was the possum dog. I understand possums are a real problem here especially for the kiwi birds. Anyway, this dog had a hilarious personality and once again, was very well trained. He loved attention and would sit there looking all cute wanting one of our smoked mussels but if Nils motioned for him to go see Lois and leave us alone, he would tear off like a shot.
The second night in the van was just fine since there were no bugs and we slept well. But we did decide that a sleeping platform would double the storage space, we have to get a screen rigged and we do want to pursue being self contained so we can camp wherever. The next morning we left early to head back to Whangarei because we had plans with friends to go to Kiwi North, a museum here in town. We swung by the Bunnings (like a Home Depot) and Jon built a platform in the parking lot so now we have plenty of room for our clothes, backpacks, bikes and food. Jan lent us an air mattress so we sleep on that. We have a camp stove & water jugs too.
From Northland, New Zealand
Kiwi North was interesting but the best part was the Kiwi house where we could get a good look at the elusive kiwi bird, the icon for New Zealand. They only come out at night so the exhibit was kept dark except for black lighting. Kiwis are flightless, about the size of a chicken, with a long beak. They have very interesting, soft feathers. They are the only birds that have a nostril on the tip of their beak and it is used for rooting out bugs & other foods. They will eat fruit too, if available. They are endangered because rats & dogs can kill them and their young or eggs and most every baby born in the wild will be killed this way. The craziest thing is the size of the egg inside the bird's body. It is HUGE! Typically, they lay eggs twice a year, two eggs, 10 days apart and the male will then sit on the eggs for 3 months meaning that half of his life is spent sitting on eggs! In the exhibit, there was one pair of kiwis. Even though they weren't a couple and didn't have eggs to sit on, the female kept making the male get back into the roost as if to care for the eggs and she would root around at will out in the open. When he did come out, you could see him moving leaves around and tidying up the area around the burrow as if doing housecleaning, but not for long before she chased him back in again! The volunteer present with us told us all about this relationship and we learned so much about the kiwi bird. It's pretty hard to get a picture in all that darkness but we'll post one that is sort of OK.
After the museum, all eight of 8 headed over to a gas station that Jon & I had discovered had $1 ice cream cones. For some reason, the girl scooping the ice cream took a liking to us and gave us these humungous cones. We were all cracking up walking out with all this ice cream for $8 but were saddened to find that the special ended the same day.
Anyway, now we're back at the boat getting packed to head out again. We figured out that the van is definitely livable especially with our latest "improvements". There are several of us getting ready to tour the South island at the same time so we hope to meet up some which would be fun. We feel sort of guilty not doing all that needs to be done on the boat but, this place demands exploration. It's SWEET AS!
From Northland, New Zealand
It's time for an update on the going's on for us. Now that we've gotten all of our bags back, we're absorbed trying to get some of the money back that we paid to have them sent here on a much more circuitous route than usual. We can put that toward a replacement pack for Jon & all the phone & internet minutes we've used trying to get anyone to care. Yesterday, I was on a 1 hour call and then a two hour call to American, again, and finally this pleasant customer service lady came to understand why we couldn't just claim for baggage damage from the airline we arrived in New Zealand with since they never saw hide nor hair of our bags. I think the reimbursement is in the works. I feel like I've been back at a desk job, minus the paycheck.
We can't start traveling around until we get the parts for our broken bikes that friends on Mawari are bringing back for us from the UK. There's a popular 150km rail trail on the south island that we want to bike on. We've found that NZ sort of works on island time and island unavailability principles. Can't get the bike parts here, can't get most pairs of trail running shoes sent here- all of these things violate some international trade rules. Some businesses are still sneaking up on the new year and aren't fully rolling again. We'll wait to have ouFrom Northland, New Zealandr anchor re-galvanized until February.
So we've been splitting our time traveling around locally and diving into boat projects. We have a Toyota Estima Emina but a friend of ours nicknamed it the Enema so that's it's name now. It's working out great. We've been on some great hikes, a really nice bikeride to Abbey Caves (but we decided not to ride the bikes anymore until all the parts are fixed) where we're going back tomorrow with friends to actually go farther into them than we did on the first attempt because our lights weren't bright enough. We did see a lot of glow worms and the trail that winds around the 3 caves has very unique rocks & scenery- a real jewel of a landscape. We spent a day with friends off the sailboat Chautauqua whom we first met in Columbia several years ago and recently found out they'd sailed in to Whangarei after 3 years in Australia. It's so fun staying in touch over the years and then meeting up again like that. It happens time & time again. We moseyed around town going to the Botanical Garden, library, Quarry Gardens and then hiked a trail back again before crashing at a picnic table with an ice cream cone that could've been three times bigger. The Quarry Gardens were interesting in that it was once a quarry but then the land became a park & community volunteers developed extensive gardens complete with trails that encircle the residual pond of the original quarry. Aside from feeling absolutely baked by the sun that day, it was a really nice spot. We find that the sun is very strong here- much more intense than coming across the Pacific islands. When it hits your skin, it feels like you're cooking. We keep reminding ourselves to be super careful. Must be that hole in the ozone layer?
From Northland, New Zealand
We've had some great cruisers get togethers too. Recently we went to a potluck and it was bring your own meat to toss on the grill & then a dish to pass. I think we're all still going through produce withdrawals since everyone brought a fresh salad. You should have seen all the bright colors on our plates- no rice or pasta anywhere! Today was Saturday, the day of the popular Whangarei Growers Market. We got there at 7:30 and it was in full swing. There were loads of colorful tables laden with pretty much everything I could think of. We got fresh plums, peaches, lettuce, avocados, eggplant, parsley & honey. Then we headed off with Jan & Rich to go to lunch since we'd all bought half price Groupon vouchers for a restaurant. But this brings up another thing we've noticed.... store hours can be very short or non-existent! The place was closed today for some reason. So we found an alternative, then went for a hike. We decided the biggest deal in NZ so far is McDonald's 50 cent ice cream cone.
The boat projects we've been doing remind Jon of the Butterfly Effect. Not familiar with it, he looked it up tonight on Wikepedia for me. Broadly speaking, it just means that the smallest thing can evolve into or affect something else much bigger a little later. One example is on the passage here, the masthead navigation light burned out so we flicked on the deck level ones but found that one of those was out too- it's no wonder with the waves they have to endure.When Jon took that one apart right before we left for the US, the socket disintegrated in his hand from corrosion, so we brought back a replacement, plus got the masthead light repaired while in the US. Upon taking the wires apart to fix it, we discovered they were brittle and in need of replacement too so that meant taking off the whole bow pulpit to run the new wires through. Well it would make sense to pull up the stainless fittings that hold the pulpit in place since we had that off so he went about removing the bolts for those when one broke in the hole. So off to buy more bolts & nuts, then try to drill the old bolt out. Couldn't get it all out so instead filled the hole with epoxy, let that cure and then put in a shorter screw. We finally got the thing back together today after 2 ½ days and that was just one of the frustrating projects we've been doing the past few days. One thing just leads to another, then another, including a few more trips to the hardware store and a few more hours before we can call it complete. But we are getting things done. And the hardware store personnel know us pretty well now. I just finished compounding the hull and realized I have a big lump on my upper arm from all that waxing on & waxing off. It also took me over 2 days to get it done. Brother, I am getting old!
Right from the boat, there are a great set of trails that are perfect for running including a steep climb up to a view of Whangarei and well beyond- you can actually look all the way out to sea. It is so beautiful. We really like this town. This week, we dinghied down the river with our spinnaker pole to bring it to a different boat yard for an extension. It felt so nice to be in the dinghy and reminded us of how fun it is to be able to zoom around on the water. We do miss being underway sometimes. We've been enjoying a lot of green lipped mussels. It works out that they're $1.30/pound. They've got a beautiful shell and are so tasty. New Zealanders know how to make cheese too and Jon, who wouldn't eat unmelted cheese for the first 40 years of his life, now can't get enough of the stuff. He always says that I'm his conscience (well someone has to be!) so he doesn't overdo.
I guess that pretty much sums up the life of the Evergreens right now. More to follow....
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.