Day 7 - Arrival in Opua!
28 November 2016 | Opua, NZ
SCOOTS romped along toward her destination on a glorious beam reach. As she entered the Bay of Islands, one of New Zealand's premier boating locations, Eric and I were momentarily overwhelmed by the sheer number of boats moving around - small speedboats zipping here and there, ferrying fishermen or dragging kids on inner tubes (how they could enjoy swimming in 67 degree water is beyond me!); sailboats riding the midday breezes; tour boats shuttling visitors to sightseeing locations; a car ferry plying the water between Russell and Paihia...after being the only boat for miles around for the past week, in fact, for months being one of only a very few other boats, it was a bit of a shock to suddenly see hundreds of other boats in such a small area. We kept a diligent lookout as we continued moving into the bay toward Opua.
Seabirds of all kinds flew nearby, going about their business on the bay – every single one of them a new bird sighting for me. My head was on a swivel as I trained my gaze on birds moving in every direction, trying to commit their appearance and field marks to memory, for later identification: A huge, black-and-white booby-like bird! (a gannet?) dove into the water just ahead of us; gulls! with bright red feet hovered nearby; large black-and-white cormorants! flew by, intent on getting somewhere; a small, fat, gray, penguin-shaped bird! (some sort of petrel?) alternately fluttered then glided over the waves....
It was a birdwatcher's dream! And it was going to be like this for me, for our entire stay in New Zealand. So many new kinds of birds awaiting me!
We took our sails down and motored past the little town of Paihia, where our daughter, Kelly, had rented a kayak and paddled out to some small islands, when she was visiting the area with friends a year ago. At that time, when she told us about her adventures, New Zealand had seemed - and in fact was – very far away. Now here we were!
We deployed our fenders and docklines as we neared the long customs dock at Opua, ready to tie up there to clear into the country. As we glided past the small gray building housing the Opua Yacht Club, a group of people standing on the deck cheered and waved exuberantly, some of them shouting, "SCOOTS!" A gaggle of cruisers who had preceded us into Opua were gathered on the yacht club deck, cheering each boat as it arrived. What a wonderful and unexpected welcome!
Eric brought SCOOTS deftly alongside the customs dock, where Randy from s/v Velic, a boat that had arrived just prior to SCOOTS, caught our line and tied it up to the strange ring-shaped cleats that New Zealand employs on their docks instead of the usual two-horned cleats. We'll have to get used to these.
As we waited for the Customs officials to arrive, more waving and shouts of "SCOOTS!" greeted us from shore. Cruising friends - some whom we'd last seen many weeks and thousands of sailing miles ago – had noticed SCOOTS tied to the dock, and were happy to see us. We waved back, excited to see them, too, and looking forward to spending time with them again.
The Customs and Immigration official came first, a friendly woman who politely and pleasantly checked our paperwork, stamped our passports, and welcomed us to New Zealand. A little while later, a duo of men from Biosecurity arrived, ready to see what nasty foreign critters we might have brought with us into New Zealand. We were prepared for their inspection, having learned in advance what sorts of items they'd be looking for and confiscating. These included eggs (we'd finished the last three in our breakfast omelette); honey; any meats that weren't clearly marked as being from New Zealand (we'd eaten almost all the meat we'd brought with us); fresh produce; seeds; feathers, bones or unfinished wood products; and many other similarly dangerous items.
We knew they were also twitchy about any life forms that might be living on SCOOTS' hull, so we'd spent a couple of days scrubbing her bottom while she was anchored in the clear, warm water of Port Maurelle, Tonga, just prior to leaving for New Zealand.
Like the Customs official, the Biosecurity officials were pleasant and polite as they asked us questions - "Do you have any evidence of termites, ants, spiders, roaches, or other insect infestations?" "When and where did you last have your boat's bottom cleaned and painted?"- and went through our fridge, freezer, and food cupboards, searching for unacceptable items and tossing any they found them into a giant black trash bag. We lost several containers of leftovers, a bag of garbanzo beans, half a pound of bacon, all our fresh produce (which by now numbered only four small tomatoes, a coconut, a small pumpkin, two lime halves, and two garlic cloves), but were allowed to keep two jars of preserved Meyer lemons, all of our cheese, a Tupperware full of baked pumpkin left over from our Thanksgiving feast, our butter and milk which were of New Zealand origin, and all of our canned items. All in all, it went pretty much as we'd expected. They took our trash, too, along with our dangerous food items, which was a nice perk.
After the Biosecurity officials left, we untied from the dock and motored out into the large anchorage that stretched as far as we could see, dropping SCOOTS' anchor in 30 feet of light green water, feeling it set well in the mud at the bottom. After tucking SCOOTS in (putting the sail cover on, securing the halyard, setting the anchor watch, and all the other usual arrival tasks), we poured ourselves a couple of arrival drinks - shots of sipping rum, our usual cold beers less inviting in the cooler temperatures of NZ, than in the steamy heat of Mexico or Polynesia – clinked glasses, bumped fists, and with feelings of relief, excitement, and accomplishment, settled into our princess chairs in the back of the cockpit to survey our new surroundings.