12 March 2018 | We are in Gainesville, Florida, while Tregoning is in the Town Basin Marina, North Island, New Zealand
21 February 2018 | Town Basin Marina, North Island, New Zealand
08 February 2018 | Town Basin Marina, North Island, New Zealand
04 February 2018 | Marsden Cove Marina, North Island, New Zealand
01 February 2018 | Motuarohia (or Roberton) Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
31 January 2018 | Opua Marina, Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
29 January 2018 | Mangahawea Bay, Moturua Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
27 January 2018 | Otaio Bay, Urupukapuka Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
26 January 2018 | Whangamumu Harbour, North Island, New Zealand
25 January 2018 | Maroro Bay, Off Aorangi Island, The Poor Knights, New Zealand
24 January 2018 | Urquhart Bay, Mouth of Whangarei Harbour, North Island, New Zealand
21 January 2018 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, North Island, New Zealand
18 January 2018 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, North Island, New Zealand
17 January 2018 | Town Basin Marina, Whangarei, New Zealand
10 January 2018 | The Pūkorokoro Miranda Shorebird Center, Firth of Thames, North Island, New Zealand
09 January 2018 | Seabreeze Holiday Park, Whenuakite, North Island, New Zealand
07 January 2018 | VR Rotorua Lake Resort, Mourea, North Island, New Zealand
06 January 2018 | Parkside Lodge, Napier, North Island, New Zealand
05 January 2018 | Zealandia, Wellington, North Island, New Zealand
03 January 2018 | Stratford Kiwi Motels & Holiday Park, Stratford, North Island, New Zealand

Pollen-City, USA

12 March 2018 | We are in Gainesville, Florida, while Tregoning is in the Town Basin Marina, North Island, New Zealand
Photo: Randall joins Jeff and Susan to watch the sunset from the porch of their house in Cedar Key, FL
We have now been in the US for almost three weeks and the good news is that our various doctors have deemed that our overall health is fine. The bad news is that Randall seems to have developed hay-fever (pollen allergies) for the first time in his life, and this has coincided with not being allowed to blow his nose!

Our flights from Whanageri to Auckland, Auckland to Nadi, Fiji, from Nadi to Los Angeles, US, and from LA to Orlando, FL, all went very smoothly. Some of them and some of the lay-overs were long, but we were glad that we chose to stay in hotels in LA and Orlando, which helped us to start getting our body-clocks adjusted, before driving north to Gainesville. The end of February and beginning of March are a beautiful time of year in North Florida and we have enjoyed some cool nights and gloriously sunny days...or at least I have. Randall has been trapped inside more than me for two reasons, an antibiotic and the pollen.

An alligator enjoys the springtime sunshine at Sweetwater Wetlands Park

A visit to his dermatologist resulted in eight biopsies for very small basal cell carcinomas (non-malignant growths). Five of these were on his arms, neck, and back and so were completely excised in the biopsy sample. The other three were on his face and would require Mohs surgery and stitches, to remove completely with the least scarring. Despite lavish use of sunscreen and wearing appropriate hats and clothing, sun exposure is something of an occupational hazard for cruisers so it is important that those of us with particularly sun-sensitive skin (Randall) pay regular visits to the dermatologist.

During Mohs surgery small areas of skin around the growth are removed and inspected under the microscope to see if the edges are clean of basal carcinoma cells. If they are not, more skin is removed from the appropriate area until the edges are clean at which time the wound is stitched-up. The aim is to minimize the impact of the skin removal while being sure to leave no carcinoma cells behind. Randall's first surgery was on his right nostril and, hence, the admonition not to blow his nose for the two weeks that the stitches would stay in place. Also, for the first week he had to take an antibiotic that would make his skin even more sun-sensitive, so no wandering outside for him.

We arrived in Gainesville in the middle of a spring-season that has had one of the heaviest-ever pollen loads in the atmosphere. With so many plants and trees flowering at once, there is a fine yellow dust of pollen on everything, with the slightest rain producing yellow streaks all over cars and windows. Neither Randall nor I have ever been bothered by hay-fever before but as soon as we arrived, Randall was sneezing, coughing, had watering eyes, and a blocked nose. So being told not to blow his nose due to the surgical stitches was rather a shock. However, we had been in town for long enough that he had tried all sorts of combinations of medicines to combat allergy symptoms and even took to wearing a dust mask outside. Luckily, by the time of his nose-surgery, his symptoms seemed to be easing-up and he has been able to sleep through the night without coughing, which was quite a problem for our first week here.

Why Randall was so badly affected by the pollen we cannot tell. Was this just a particularly bad year, did we arrive in the middle with no gradual build-up, or have we been at sea for long enough to have lost some immunity to the pollen? It is hard to say. We were so paranoid about steering clear of the 'flu epidemic that had hit the US, that we have (so far) managed to avoid catching colds but that is of little solace to Randall as he sniffles and coughs.

The back yard and screened porch at Karen and Bill's house that we so enjoyed in 2016

Fortunately, despite all of this we have been thoroughly enjoying our stay with Karen and Bill in their lovely house in Gainesville, and we have still been able to see many of our friends here. I have been able to go out birdwatching with Karen at the relatively new Depot Park (just south of the town center) and with Susan to the Sweetwater Wetlands Park. On the latter expedition, Susan not only identified two bird species that were new to me, the common snipe and long-billed dowitcher, but we saw a brood of about 20 recently-hatched alligators.

Four of the 15-inch long (38 cm) young alligators hiding in the vegetation at Sweetwater Wetlands Park

Another friend, Katie, has vey generously loaned us her car for our stay, which is extremely kind of her and helpful to us. We have used it to venture to the coast southwest of Gainesville, where we spent a lovely afternoon and evening with Susan and Jeff at their Cedar Key house.

The setting sun seen from Susan and Jeff's porch in Cedar Key

Tomorrow, we set-off for South Florida, where we look forward to staying with Sue and Jerry (if he is in town) in Jupiter. After that, we continue south to the Keys where we will catch-up with Sue from SV Serengeti (is this the year of the "Susans"?), who is now staying with her father-in-law (and we will see Larry back in Whangarei), and Dan and Kathy on Little Torch Key. We are really looking forward to this trip and hope to see other friends along the way. The following week we fly to Denver to catch-up with our family so there will be plenty more to report (hopefully without the medical chatter) after all of that.

Rain stops play…but not work

21 February 2018 | Town Basin Marina, North Island, New Zealand
Photo: Randall rolling the non-skid paint onto Tregoning’s aft decks in the Town Basin
Well, some of our intended playtime activities may be have cut short by the long periods of rain recently but, amazingly, despite continued forecasts for showers, over the weekend (February 17th) Randall managed to paint Tregoning's deck. It was particularly touch-and-go on the second day when he had to do the aft decks, but he was so relieved when it was all over without an interfering raindrop. The paint is a rubberized non-skid product that should reduce the slipperiness of the decks (especially on the bow) as the original non-skid surface has worn rather smooth. Luckily, the paint was water-soluble and dried quickly so a light shower might not have been a disaster. However, the clouds looked really threatening on the second day so we were very lucky and Tregoning now looks much smarter. Somewhat inevitably, the improved deck surface makes the wood that needs re-varnishing look even shabbier but that will be a project for later.

Randall was getting a bit anxious about finding a long enough dry period because February has been rather wet here. The preceding weekend had four days when it rained all, or most of, the day. With the remnants of Cyclone Gita following Fehi to make landfall on the west coast of the South Island, we were expecting to get some nasty weather yesterday (Tuesday). Luckily, in Whangarei it was quite breezy in the morning followed by a narrow band of heavy rain but that was all.

The southern end of the North Island and north end of the South Island, however, received another lashing with winds up to 140 kph (87 mph) and up to 21.2 cm (more than 8 inches) of rain yesterday. Flooding, power-outages, and wind damage were widespread but not as destructive as on Tonga where the cyclone barreled across Tongatapu with sustained wind speeds up to 230 kph (145 mph) and gusts up to 278 kph (175 mph), the fourth strongest storm-gusts ever recorded. We were very sad to see so much damage on that island, with familiar buildings completely collapsed, and we will be looking to see what we can provide in the way of support to that stricken island nation.

Between some prolonged cloudy periods, the sun has been blazing down and with the ozone hole not predicted to be permanently healed and closed until 2050, there can be an unexpected intensity to it. Unlike Randall, I have not been too affected by these Florida-summer-like conditions as I have been concentrating on getting this blog up-to-date (please go to the earlier posts from our trips around the North Island by car in January and to the Bay of Islands by boat end January/beginning of February) and other indoor projects.

Tregoning's repainted forward deck

The social activities continue at the marina but people are starting to scatter. Lauri and Chuck (SV Free Spirit) are driving around the South Island (hopefully missing the worst weather), and others are flying overseas, often because their three-month visitor-visa is about to expire. Gail and Dean (SV Local Talent) departed for the US and Hungary earlier this week which was a sad farewell as it is hard to predict when we will see them again. On the other hand, Eric is recovering well from his heart-valve surgery in California so we hope to see him and Vandy (SV Scoots) back in Whangarei sometime after we return in April.

We leave for the US bright and early Thursday morning and Sue (SV Serengeti) flies to Florida the following day. Maybe we will see her (perhaps with Larry) when we go to visit other friends in the Florida Keys during our stay. We are all relieved that the remnants of Gita have already gone so they should not affect our flights. Randall and I are flying Fiji Airways so we are initially going from Auckland to Nadi, our first trip to Fiji. The tickets were reasonably priced but we now realize that taking this route during cyclone season is a bit of a gamble, like flying through Chicago in winter.

In addition to visiting our many friends in Gainesville, FL, we are also spending a week in Denver to spend time with Heather and our grandchildren. Martha is coming from California, and Shev and Matt from Minnesota, so we will rent a house near Heather's and it will be our first family gathering in about eight years. We really excited about the prospect of all getting together.

What I am not looking forward to are the US politics and the seemingly non-stop gloomy news (at least to our perspective). It will be tempting to keep my head in the sand and ignore the news as much as possible and focus on the wonderful friendships and family relationships that we will rekindle during our visit. However, some of our friends are pretty motivated to campaign for changes and my intended stance rather self-indulgently ignores the responsibilities of citizenship, so we shall see...

How touching - a kiwi and a penguin

08 February 2018 | Town Basin Marina, North Island, New Zealand
Photo: Fiona meets Sparky the one-legged brown kiwi
There is only one place in New Zealand, to the best of our knowledge, where it is possible for members of the public to touch a live kiwi...the bird, that is. While I was wracking my brain trying to think how we could possibly entertain Kevin and Fiona in a manner that was remotely consistent with the marvelous time they had shown us in the Highlands of Scotland during our "It's Good to be Alive Tour" in 2016, this snippet of information came back to me. Gail had mentioned it in her description of meeting the wild kiwi on Moturua Island and, conveniently, the place was in Whangarei. It took a Monday-morning phone call to set-up an appointment that afternoon, but by the time we left Marsden Cove, we had a plan.

Fiona and Kevin had arrived in their rental car from Auckland on Sunday afternoon and they had most obligingly brought a good supply of beer, wine, and gin, saving us the need to make a special trip to the grocery and liquor stores in Ruakaka. Sheltering in the cockpit with all of the Bimini windows to protect us from the frequent showers, we had a delightful evening catching-up on each other's news and reminiscing about our 2016 visit. Among, that trip's highlights had been hand-feeding reindeer, a ride on a steam train, a short hike to a hill in Aviemore for a picnic, a lovely pub dinner, and a splendid tour of a local whiskey distillery...with the inevitable samples just before getting on the train to Glasgow.

Kevin and Fiona enjoyed the view from Tregoning's bow as we head upriver to Whangarei

This was Fiona's first experience on a large sailboat and neither of them expected to be particularly comfortable in the swell that was forecast at sea, so we had decided that motoring up the river in Tregoning to the Town Basin Marina would be more suitable. Having to remain in the narrow, dredged channel most of the time, and the absence of consistent wind nixed any hope we had of sailing so it was more equivalent to a ride in a diesel train rather than a steam-engine but everyone seemed to enjoy themselves as it is an attractive, two-hour passage. Kevin took the helm for a while and we did not have to wait for the Hatea Bascule Bridge as we arrived there second in a line of several boats riding the flood-tide upstream.

Kevin looking suitably serious having been entrusted with the helm of Tregoning

We kept a look-out for little blue penguins, which we have seen several times in Whangarei Harbour, but to no avail. However, we all enjoyed watching the aerial acrobatics and piercing dives of the Australasian gannets, the frantic antics of the white-fronted terns, and the calm duck-dives of the black-and-white-necked pied cormorants.

With a 3:30 pm appointment at the Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Center, as soon as we had Tregoning securely rafted-up next to SV Maitea, Fiona, Kevin, and I walked around the Basin to retrieve Vandy and Eric's car, Baxter. Robyn and Mark (SV Mintaka) had kindly hosted Baxter so we greatly appreciated their assistance (which Baxter insisted that we express in a nice bottle of New Zealand wine). After a pleasant drive to Marsden Cove to rescue the rental car, the three of us reassembled in Whangarei to find that Kevin's elbow was giving him grief.

We had noticed how swollen it was when they had first arrived and they thought it was the result of an insect bite that might have been infected. The swelling and discomfort had seemed to diminish over time but something about the boat-ride, walk, and car-trip had aggravated it, and Kevin was quite concerned about the pain and golf-ball sized lump. Once we got him to the White Cross Clinic (a "doc-in-the-box" as they call such walk-in clinics in the US) and learned that there would be a 90-minute wait, Kevin insisted that we leave him alone and the rest of us continue to the Bird Center as planned. In the end, he was diagnosed with bursitis and was encouraged to use over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain-meds as well as keeping the elbow as straight and immobile as possible. Luckily, it was his left elbow and since Kevin is right-handed, these exhortations and the compression bandage did not inhibit his ability to raise a beer bottle to his lips...

Meanwhile, Fiona, Randall, and I had a splendid time at the Native Bird Recovery Center which is on the west side of Whangarei, next to the museum and nocturnal kiwi house at Kiwi North. While the Recovery Center is open to visitors for free on weekday afternoons and some mornings, only a limited number of birds can be seen in the outdoor aviaries. By making an appointment and agreeing to pay $10 each (and by the end, I suspect that most of these "donations" are greater), Robert will give a guided tour that includes a personal meeting the brown kiwi, Sparky.

Alison meets kiwi Sparky who is held in Kiwi Robert's arms

A retired truck-driver, Robert is a marvelous character who is an endless source of information about New Zealand's native birds and an enthusiastic story-teller. He and his wife, Robyn (of course), have always been keen on rescuing injured birds and they established the Recovery Center as something of a hobby. Once they received their first kiwi, Snoopy, which had lost a leg in a gin-trap intended to catch possums, there followed a bit of a show-down with the national conservation authorities over the permits necessary for keeping kiwis in captivity. Eventually, Robert and his wife prevailed after it was revealed by the officials that they would have to euthanize the bird, to which Robert responded by inviting national television stations to witness the confiscation of the kiwi. Appropriate permits were forthcoming and their charitably funded Center is the approved destination for all sick or injured wild birds found north of Auckland.

With an avian veterinarian on-call and a well-equipped bird hospital on-site, all sorts of birds have passed through the Recovery Center, especially when big storms disrupt the seasonal flights of migratory birds or knock nestling to the ground. Most birds are brought directly to the Center, rather than having to be collected, but often a phone-call to Robert about a particular find will result in his advice to leave the fledgling be, or assist it in some manner in place. Robert told us that after particularly bad weather, they may have to accommodate about 200 birds of many different species and sizes.

Most birds that are suffering exhaustion or from fixable injuries, will be released back into appropriate habitats but a few that will not survive in the wild (such as one-legged-kiwis) are kept at the Center both as educational tools and as "hosts" that help to calm-down newly arrived patients. Some of the less-common birds that do not survive their injuries, such as albatrosses, owls, etc. are sent to the taxidermist and the tour ends on a surprisingly uplifting note despite standing in a room surrounded by these beautiful but unfortunate birds.

Among the Center's permanent residents are a pair of tuis that were taught how to talk by another, now deceased, tui. Their vocabulary is fairly limited but the words are quite distinctly used in reply to Robert's questions. We also got to see three temporarily injured swamp harriers (mostly hit by vehicles) that were being reassured by a crippled, permanent resident. There were also some about-to-be-released New Zealand pigeons, and a young gull and non-native myna bird hung around the center hoping to be fed occasionally.

Is Sparky looking for food up Robert's sleeve or feeling a bit shy?

However, the star of the show was undoubtedly Sparky. Another one-legged survivor of a predator-trap, Sparky took over as the ambassador for New Zealand's wild birds after Snoopy died at the impressive age of 15. Snoopy received a posthumous Conservation Award from the national Department of Conservation.

A Snoopy had done, Sparky makes guest appearances around the North Island and particularly in schools, not only to allow people an opportunity for an up-close encounter with a kiwi but even a chance to touch him and see what his feathers feel like. Apparently, he has become used to the interruptions to his normally nocturnal life-style and will happily probe the soil for worms once we have finished petting him and while Robert tells his story and answers our many questions. He returned to his little hutch after our visit and would have plenty of time that night to hunt for more worms in his enclosure or eat the supplemental food provided.

Sparky probing for earthworms

Sparky is very sensitive to having his long curved bill touched but, otherwise, he was quite content to let Robert pick him up to move him around or to expose the strangely truncated, bristle-tipped vestige of a wing (or hand) that is well-hidden under the kiwi's coarse, loose feathers. We asked Robert whether the intensive handling of the wild birds needed to treat them, and the period of hand-feeding, created problems after they were released. He did note that the resident tuis had been found hanging around houses after they were released and were at risk of predation by domestic cats so were recaptured. On the whole, however, most birds stayed for a short time or they were fed more remotely. If they had been handled quite a bit, usually a week of being left untouched (just fed through a trap-door) was enough for their intolerance and fear of people to return. The subsequently rather bad-tempered birds were quick to make their escape when it came time for their release.

Robert reveals Sparky's bristle-tipped, vestigial wing usually well-hidden under large feathers

We were very glad to hear all of this because the co-headliner of our visit would eventually be released and we did not want to think that our contact might have been detrimental to its survival. An unexpected treat (because it depends on what birds are being treated), Robert introduced us to a little blue penguin that had been found on a beach totally exhausted and lacking its usual water-proofing. The latter oils are produced and preened back into the feathers once the bird is healthy but without them this expert swimmer would undoubtedly drown if submerged.

Fiona finally meets a little blue penguin

Randall and I have seen many of these penguins in the sea or coming ashore on the South Island but it was extraordinary to actually touch one. Having failed to see any on our morning's cruise through Whangarei Harbour, it was especially delightful for Fiona to see how small this fully-grown penguin was. It might become irritable with human contact, after a week of isolation before being released, but now when Robert tickled it under the chin there was no doubt that the little penguin was absolutely loving it.

Robert knew just how to make this little blue penguin happy with a good scratch under the chin

Although we were sorry that Kevin had missed such a marvelous experience at the Recovery Center, he seemed to be very pleased that Fiona had been able to coo and fuss with me over these amazing native birds. It was close to equivalency with the hand-feeding reindeer experience but we fell a little short in only being able to provide this treat to Fiona (and ourselves).

That evening, Kevin and Fiona kindly treated us to a delicious dinner at The Quay Restaurant overlooking the marina. Not a very imaginative choice but the food and view are excellent so why not stay local? Since we were sitting at tables on the deck outside, several cruisers walked by and cheerfully welcomed us back to the marina, including Gail and Dean, and Renate and Martin.

Whangarei Falls in splendid sunlight

The following day, we drove to A.H. Reed Kauri Park where we showed-off the magnificent kauri specimens that can be seen from the canopy walk there. We then strolled up the Hatea River until we reached Whangarei Falls which were bathed in sunshine and suitably supplied with water. Needless to say, as soon as he spotted some submersed aquatic plants, Kevin was keen to photograph, sample, and identify them. You cannot take an aquatic botanist to any freshwater site without them getting excited about pulling something slimy out of it (Kevin was the supervisor of my doctorate on freshwater weeds).

Kevin cannot resist documenting these submersed freshwater plants

I walked back downstream to get the car while the others climbed to the top of the falls. We then drove part of the way towards Whangarei Heads before stopping at the Parua Bay Tavern for a pleasant pub-lunch on the sunny but breezy lawn...hang on to your lettuce! On the way back, we detoured to drive to the top of Parihaka where the views over Whanagrei town and harbour were particularly clear and extensive. Given that Fiona and Kevin had been roasting during the rest of their stay in New Zealand and that some rainy weather was in the forecast, it was particularly fortunate that we had enjoyed such delightful weather once we got them to Whangarei.

They left on Wednesday morning, heading south towards the Coromandel Peninsula and then on to Rotorua. In the spirit of equivalency, we had offered to take them to a local vineyard for a wine-tasting session that morning (to match the whiskey distillery) but reports from friends who had made one such trip had not been particularly encouraging. We also did not think that drinking wine mid-morning before driving south was a particularly sensible idea, whereas riding a train at 11 am while a little tipsy from whiskey samples had not had quite the same potential risks.

We had thoroughly enjoyed their visit and they seemed to be pretty pleased as well. Those of you who know my competitive tendencies, may not believe that we were not really intending to create a competitive arms-race of visitor activities with Kevin and Fiona...but the stakes on both sides have now been raised pretty high... We wonder what fabulous experiences our next meeting will entail.

A wild and rapid ride

04 February 2018 | Marsden Cove Marina, North Island, New Zealand
Photo: Waves crash against the base of the easternmost pinnacle of Bream Head
If the forecasts were suitable, we had intended to leave the anchorage at Motuarohia Island before dawn. We would have several hours of motoring to get around Cape Brett so it would be light by the time we unfurled the jib. In the end, we decided to wait until 7:30 am before raising the anchor. This gave us plenty of time to thoroughly check the forecasts, and heading out in daylight seemed much less stressful. It took us about 30 minutes to go around the south ends of Moturua and Urupukapuka Islands and, once we left their protection, we were motoring into the wind and waves to get to Cape Brett. With occasional waves up to 4 m (13 feet), it was much better making this slog during daylight than in the dark. It took us a further 2.5 hours to finally get around the Cape but, at least, we approached the waves at a suitable angle and their shape was such that the bow of the boat rarely slammed down, a sound and feeling that is quite disconcerting.

We had seen two sailboats scurrying towards Opua when we first left the anchorage but we saw no other vessels at sea after that. The motor behaved flawlessly but at all times we had contingency plans, using the sails and anchor, should the engine fail before we rounded Cape Brett. Once we were clear of this headland, however, we could turn south, unfurl most of the jib, turn-off the engine, and enjoy the passage now that it had become much more pleasant.

With the wind and swells behind us, we flew along at more than 7 knots and the motion was still bouncy but much more comfortable. We saw gusts over 30 knots but Tregoning handled it well and we did not fare too badly either. We have sailed in stronger winds, between islands in Hawai’i and leaving Great Barrier Island for Rangitoto, but for most of those passages we were sheltered from the open ocean swells. This trip to Marsden Cove was fully exposed to the swell and if anything serious had gone wrong it might have been difficult to get to shore safely.

After six hours of exciting sailing, we rounded the cloud-shrouded pinnacles at the east end of Bream Head and found ourselves suddenly in relatively flat water and weak wind. We quickly started the engine and furled the jib so that we could continue westward in the protection of the wide headland. It was just as well that we had not left the sail out because every so often a brief but freakishly strong gust of wind whistled over the ridge and flew past us. If we had still had the jib out, not only might the sail have been damaged but Tregoning might have been slapped over sharply to one side.

With a flood tide to help us enter the mouth of the estuary and carry us past Marsden Point, we reached the marina around 6 pm. The wind in the marina made it a little difficult for us to get alongside the face-dock at the first attempt. Fortunately someone drinking at the nearby fishing club took pity on us and cycled down to the dock to help us by catching a dock-line and helping to pull us in. It had been an exhilarating ride but we were very relieved that it had ended well and we certainly slept soundly that night.

The following day, while we were clearing-out the stuff stored in the forward cabin and tidying-up in anticipation of the arrival of our guests, the remnants of Cyclone Fehi slammed into the west coast of the South Island. High winds were felt as far north as Wellington but most of the harm from flooding and wind damage was reported from Nelson (South Island’s north coast) to Dunedin (southeast coast). With the winds subsequently turning southerly, as predicted, we had been very lucky to complete our wild ride to Marsden Cove on Fehi’s coattails. Many people on west coast of the South Island, however, must have felt anything but lucky after the storm had raked over them.

On and off plans thanks to Cyclone Fehi

01 February 2018 | Motuarohia (or Roberton) Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Photo: Looking across one of the sand-spits on Motuarohia Island to a boat in our previous anchorage at Moturua Island
On arriving at Opua marina, we had hastily used the internet to check the weather models to see what Cyclone Fehi was doing. This cyclone had formed just south of New Caledonia and appeared to be heading towards New Zealand. With Fiona and Kevin from Scotland joining us on Tregoning on Sunday (February 4th), it had been our intention to leave the Bay of Islands and sail south to Marsden Cove Marina on the preceding Thursday or Friday. Although we could meet our guests just as easily in the Bay of Islands and we would be happy spending more time exploring the area, we also had more dental appointments in Whangarei on the following Wednesday, which would require renting a car again. We also planned to leave Tregoning in Whangarei during the six weeks that we would be back in the US, leaving on February 22nd, so, against our better cruising principles, we were feeling a little pressured by the calendar.

Feeling a bit anxious about the possible conditions if the cyclone took a northerly track across New Zealand and learning that the Opua Marina had only two berths left, on Tuesday morning before we left for Whangarei (and the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere), we reserved one of those berths for two more nights. The fees at Opua are non-refundable in the summer so we knew that it was a bit of a gamble but it seemed like fairly reasonable insurance if the storm tracked northward.

By Wednesday morning, however, Fehi's predicted track had become more southerly and wind conditions did not look particularly threatening for the Bay of Islands. In fact, if we were bold enough and the storm moved in the direction and at the time predicted, we could use the northerly winds that it would generate in our area to sail south to Marsden Cove. We debated our options for some time and finally decided to leave Opua Marina that morning, forgoing our extra two-nights' worth of fees. The deciding factor was that the winds would swing around to the south by the end of the week and remain in that direction for the foreseeable future, making the next possible date for a passage back to Whangarei look very uncertain.

So agreeing that we would thoroughly review the forecasts and options before heading out to sea the following day, we left Opua Marina on Wednesday morning (January 31st) and headed for an anchorage that would be sheltered in the northerly winds. This was the southern bay at Motuarohia (or Roberton) Island which we had checked-out just a couple of days before. Gusts were able to sweep into the anchorage over the low sand bars between the island's several sections but the water was relatively flat. Several boats came and went during the afternoon with day-trippers but overnight there was just us and one other sailboat.

It took us two attempts to set the anchor. Knowing that it was a smooth sand bottom, we were a bit surprised when the anchor dragged the first time but we soon saw the reason why. When the anchor came up it had an old sail-bag caught on it which had prevented the flukes from digging into the sediment. Judging by the attached marine-life the bag had been there for a while. We could not in good conscience throw the nylon bag back so we had to try to wash-off the growth and bundled it up in a garbage sack for disposal ashore.

An old sail-bag and attached marine-life that had caught on Tregoning's anchor

Just after we had finally set our anchor, Randall commented that the large powerboat, which had had been well ahead of us and to our right, seemed to getting closer. I thought it was just the way we were both swinging but within 10 minutes it was obvious that the vessel was dragging anchor. Usually I am the one who notices this while Randall denies it, but he was correct this time. Fortunately the boat stayed away from us but we wondered how quickly it would move once it was dragged into water deeper than the length of anchor rode. The captain raced ashore in his dinghy to pick-up crew members from the beach and his large outboard would have been fast enough to catch-up to the powerboat even if it was drifting with no anchor but we kept an eye out to make sure that they returned all right, which they did.

I had really wanted to go ashore because there is a good track to a Pa site and the views from there are supposed to be particularly stunning. There was also an underwater trail for snorkelers on the other side of the island which sounded interesting. However, the view was not going to be very clear, the underwater trail was being pounded by waves from the north, and it would have been really hard work to row the dinghy into the wind from Tregoning to the shore. Randall offered to install the outboard motor but the whole effort seemed too much considering that we wanted to make a very early start the next day.

Approaching the main anchorage at Motuarohia Island from the southeast

Although we did not get to shore, I was pleased that we had at least visited the anchorage at Motuarohia Island. Captain Cook had anchored off the island in 1769, his first landing after leaving the Thames estuary just southeast of Auckland. A less pleasant story was that, in 1841, a European family was murdered there by a native man who was subsequent tried and hanged in Auckland, the first execution in New Zealand under British law. Luckily, this story did not give me nightmares so that despite the gusty wind, we both slept reasonably well and woke around 5 am to decide whether to head out to sea or not.

Longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere

31 January 2018 | Opua Marina, Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand
Photo: The longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere seen from the estuary’s northern shore
During our second night at Mangahawea Bay, the wind started to become quite gusty so we were not entirely sorry to leave on Monday morning (January 29th). Once we left the shelter of Moturua Island we found that the wind was whipping-up a good chop from the east-southeast. After taking a quick look at the usually popular but now exposed anchorage on the south side of the neighboring Motuarohia Island (a.k.a. Roberton Island), we flung out the jib and sailed downwind towards Opua. In the messy waves, I was a bit surprised that I could see a little blue penguin merrily fishing.

Opua is tucked up an inlet in the southwest corner of the Bay of Islands. We sailed around Tapeka Point but were soon in the lee of the peninsula and had to furl the jib. Across on the west side of Kororareka Bay, we could see the Waitangi Treaty Grounds with their neatly mown lawns, the 1832 home that became the Treaty House in 1840, and the tall flagstaff proudly flying the New Zealand flag. I was looking forward to visiting the Treaty Grounds and learning more about the pivotal event when the first 43 Maori chiefs signed the Treaty of Waitangi with the British Crown. Eventually more than 500 chiefs would sign the treaty but not without some misunderstanding and eventual regrets. However, this stay in the area was not to be the time of that visit as we had more pressing priorities.

The flagstaff and Treat House at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds

On the east side of the bay we passed a small cruise-ship, Caledonian Sky, which was anchored off Russell. We had noticed cruise-ships entering or leaving the Paihia/Russell area almost every day of our visit to the Bay of Islands, so it was a popular stop. In winds forecast for the next few days, the passengers were guaranteed an exciting ride ashore in the tenders.

We made a quick detour to get a closer look at Russell, a small town that we had visited by road with Martha. Located on the site of the fortified Ngapuhi village of Kororareka, in the early 1800s, the Maori tribe had permitted Russell to become the first European settlement and it soon attracted fleeing convicts, drunken sailors, and whalers. By the time of HMS Beagle's visit in late 1835, its population had developed such an appalling reputation that Darwin describe the town as being full of "the refuse of society". All that has changed now with this popular tourist destination being full of gift-shops, coffee-houses, and boutique B&Bs. There were so many boats moored off the attractive beach and with small ferries nipping in and out of the busy pier, that we satisfied ourselves with a rather distant viewing. Still, it was enough to stir our recollections of what we had seen there, including the nation's oldest church (from 1836) and the historically famous Maiki, or Flagstaff, Hill.

Looking north from Opua towards Okiato with the arriving ferry's wake just right of center

By the time we had crossed the paths of the busy car ferry from Okiato (which for a year was the nation's first capital city) to Opua, we were getting a bit nervous about the 25-knot gusts of wind and how they would affect our ability to get into the slip that we had booked at Opua Marina. Fortunately, a member of the marina staff was waiting for us and Randall skillfully turned Tregoning into the narrow slip without mishap. With winds over 30 knots forecast for the following day, we were quite relieved once we had dock-lines secured all around Tregoning.

We had not planned to visit the marina because of the wind but it was just as well that we had made reservations because there were few available berths as other boaters decided that anchoring was not going to be so fun for a few nights. The marina had recently expanded so it is quite large but clearly it had filled-up quickly. We enjoyed wandering around the area that evening and the following morning I explored a bit further afield during my run around the small town and up and down the hillside on which it is perched.

Opua Marina (new docks to the right)

The real reason for tucking Tregoning into the marina was that we were renting a car and driving to Whangarei for the day. It was not because we could not bear to be away from our friends at the marina for more than a week but because Randall had a dentist's appointment that we needed to keep. We combined that trip with stocking-up on groceries, picking-up our new inverter that had finally arrived at the Town Basin Marina office, and a little sight-seeing. This included driving the coastal road to Whangarei through Tutukaka (we just had to go to a place with a name that cool, although it is really just a small marina and a large hotel) and, at the end of the day, cruising through Paihia, the seaside town just south of the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.

The real highlight of the trip, however, was something that we had noticed on our detailed maps of New Zealand, the longest footbridge in the Southern Hemisphere. Who could resist seeing that? So we wound our way down a rather long, twisty, unsealed road to Whananaki South. Here the road terminated at the end of what was, indeed, a long footbridge.

Randall starts crossing the long footbridge from Whananaki South

The original bridge was completed in 1947 using local labor and kanuka timber. It was rebuilt with treated pine in the 1960s and it is 395 m (almost 1,300 feet or a quarter of a mile) long. It was constructed so that the school teacher did not have to row across the estuary twice a day to ferry children from Whananaki South to the school in Whananaki North. Now it not only serves as a footbridge for residents who do not wish to drive all around the head of the estuary, but is a tourist attraction and part of the Te Araroa hiking trail. Te Araroa (The Long Pathway) is a 3,000 km (1,875 mile) trail between Cape Reinga (northern tip of the North Island) and Bluff (at the south end of the South Island). It is one of the longest hikes in the world and its construction was completed mostly by volunteers who worked for a decade at joining together various existing tracks. It sounds like an amazing trail but hiking from one end to the other is probably just a bit too ambitious for us...walking across the footbridge and back was a perfect sampler.
Vessel Name: Tregoning
Vessel Make/Model: Morgan Classic 41
Hailing Port: Gainesville, FL
Crew: Alison and Randall
About: We cast-off from Fernandina Beach in north Florida on 1st June 2008 and we have been cruising on Tregoning ever since. Before buying Tregoning, both of us had been sailing on smaller boats for many years and had worked around boats and water throughout our careers.
Extra: “Tregoning” (rhymes with “belonging”) and is a Cornish word (meaning “homestead of Cohnan” or “farm by the ash trees”) and was Alison's mother’s middle name. Cornwall is in southwest England and is where Alison grew-up.
Tregoning's Photos - Main
136 Photos
Created 29 January 2018
94 Photos
Created 15 October 2017
190 Photos
Created 21 June 2017
73 Photos
Created 12 February 2017
116 Photos
Created 12 February 2017
132 Photos
Created 24 January 2017
Extra photographs from our three-week campervan tour of the South Island from November 15th to December 5th 2015
217 Photos
Created 4 January 2016
Random pictures from our month spent on the islands of Hiva Oa, Tahuata, Ua Pou, and Nuku Hiva
45 Photos
Created 18 July 2015
Random pictures from our month spent in 4 Tuamotu Atolls; Ahe, Fakarava, Tahanea, and Toau
32 Photos
Created 1 July 2015
Some of the birds, fish, reptiles, and mammals (and others) that we have seen in Mexico
74 Photos
Created 5 May 2014
18 Photos
Created 18 November 2013