Ricky Puts His Shorts On – Finally

Wednesday 24th May 2017

As I picked myself off the salon floor, made slippery by our sodden boots and lethal by the heavy seas, I felt I had hit, literally and metaphorically, a low point in this passage. We were both very tired, it has been a rough, grey and wet crossing, For a few moments I indulged in a wave of self pity, but it’s just us out here, no other option than to keep going, so we try to smile for each other and get on with whatever has to be done to get us to Fiji.

Rick securing the pole
We finally left New Zealand on Friday. All that week the forecasts swayed from good to bad and back again, each day the decisions onboard each boat swayed too and fro. It started to become apparent to us that there was never going to be a perfect time to leave. We took the decision at the very last minute as we walked to the customs office, swaying from cancelling our appointment, checking out, cancelling our appointment or checking out? We checked out, they are very strict in New Zealand, once you have your exit stamp, that’s it, no turning back.

Now we are hopefully through the worst of the passage it definitely feels like the right decision, the prospect of a Mojito in the Copra Shed Marina Bar in Savusavu, Friday night, encouraging us onward. There were times in the last couple of days  however, when the boredom, indecision and chilly weather of the last few weeks in Opua seemed like a luxury. Almost from the outset we have had messy seas and as the winds built to a steady 30+ knots the waves grew bigger and came round onto our beam. Two or three times a day one would hit us wrongly and crash over into the cockpit. Twice these waves were bid enough to fill the cockpit floor with six inches of water, add in the spray from waves over the bows and frequent showers it has been a very wet and unpleasant few days.

The movement below made life extremely difficult, having to put on and off our heavy wet weather gear, boots and life jackets each time we changed watch was exhausting. The niceties of life, all thoughts of writing a ‘finally left New Zealand’ blog, even trying to read, were quickly put aside. It was all we could do to make sure we ate something and got some sleep. Shares in our seasickness medication of choice, Stugeron, will be sky rocketing.

The hoped for increase in temperatures were also slow in coming, so when we got our first glimpse of sunshine yesterday our spirits rose. This turned out to be premature, the breaks in the clouds did indicate us moving from the NZ high pressure system into the tropical trade winds but it was accompanied by frequent violent wet and extremely gusty squalls. As we watched them track across the horizon our hearts would drop knowing that this ominous blackness was coming our way. In the worst to hit us we registered 60+ kts winds, the last thing we wanted in our bone weary state was to be constantly trimming the sails and fighting the now very rough sea.

Raya of course has, as always, not put a step wrong, she just ploughs on and on, shrugging off the high winds and riding out the large waves. Shame her crew can’t ride out the storms quite so easily.

Now through the front the weather has improved dramatically, the winds are a nice 22kts and with the easterly miles we fought to make early on, we are now sailing comfortably down wind. Rick has his shorts on and it is calm enough finally, for me to write this blog.

Still Here

Sunday 14th May 2017

Although fairly confident that Raya could outrun the approaching deep depression, bolstered by Cyclone Donna’s arrival in New Zealand, yet another out of season cyclone – cyclone Ella has formed and is currently just north of Fiji, the prospect of being sandwiched between the two systems was rather unappealing. So yet again another potential weather window passes us by. We are, with what’s now rumoured to be nearly a hundred yachts, still here.

Bright but chilly in Opua

People with experience of this part of the world are saying they have never known the weather to be so volatile this late in the season. The cyclone season officially finishes on the 30th April, but with above normal water temperatures in the Western Pacific, nature is ignoring such deadlines. Cyclone Donna eventually turned into a category 5 storm the most intense cyclone ever recorded for the month of May. The island populations on Vanuatu are, with the help of aid, having to start picking up the pieces from the devastation it left in its wake and the yachts that risked leaving last week are paying the price. We know of at least eight yachts that are sitting out the stormy weather, precariously anchored, midway between NZ and Fiji or Tonga in tiny remote atolls that give precious little protection. Some boats turned around just beating Donna back to NZ, the ones that pressed on had a rough and in some cases damaging passage.

So when we complain that we had a rather uneventful week, we know it was better than the alternative. And, it had one big upside, a shipment of compact washing machines arrived in Auckland. Friday we hired a car, drove the 3 1/2 hrs to the supplier, picked one up and drove the 3 1/2 hrs back. Then came the difficult bit, getting all 55kg of it from the car, along the pontoon, on to the boat, down into the salon and then into its cupboard in the aft head. It wasn’t easy but with much head scratching and the appliance of science, we, well Rick, got it, in and running by Saturday lunch time without a strained back in sight. Miraculously it turned out to be identical to the old one, so the restraints that keep it in place at sea and the pipes fitted exactly.

Hooray, new washing machine?

Next window, Thursday/ Friday, well maybe?!?

The Fleet Waits

Sunday 7th May 2017

Hardly a wisp of wind blows across the deck, the midday sun is warm, activity in the marina is sultry and slow, a mood of disconsolate acceptance hangs in the still air. The benign weather, nice as it is, unfortunately represents another missed weather window. As the calm centre of a high pressure passes over us, its back edge will bring northly winds closing any opportunity to sail north. As predicted the disturbed systems hanging over the tropics have produced bad weather over the islands. The tropical storm spotted last week, has deepened to produce a cyclone. Cyclone Donna is a rare out of season, destructive, category three cyclone and is currently bashing Vanuatu. It’s future path appears unpredictable, the risks of leaving New Zealand on Friday were too high, so with the rest of the cruising fleet, we wait.

Everywhere jobs that have languished way down at the bottom of ‘to do lists’ written years ago, are seeing the light of day, cars are being hired for day trips and many boats have sailed into the bay to pass the time. Yachts that left for Fiji early last week are being nervously watched by tracker, SSB radio and any other means, they report back high winds and rough seas but luckily all lie east of Donna and are OK for now. The obsessive weather map watching has stopped, departure with the arrival of the next high, due at the end of the week looks uncertain and rest on the shoulders of Donna, everybody is settling in to be here a while longer.

Not that that is too awful a prospect, the nights have been chilly but the days sunny and pleasant. Today Rick is taking advantage of the calm to paint the black side vents, a job that has been hanging over us since being put aside as we rushed to leave Southampton. I’m not sure Raya has ever been so polished.

Spraying the side vents

The previous two days however, feeling a little let down by more delays, we deserted our cleaning posts and decided to get out and about. Friday we went for a walk on the local beach, encouraged by the sturdy boardwalks we walked on around the wooded coastline. The boardwalk stopped but it was a pleasant and varied track, over tree covered cliffs, mangroves and across rocky beaches, we were enjoying ourselves and we walked on. An hour and half later after a particularly steep section, we keenly wanted the end of the track, the town of  Paihia, lunch and a taxi home, to be just around the next headland. Not a chance. There is something about us and walking, normally so organised and well prepared in life, we seem to set out for strolls that turn into hikes. We only had second hand directions of what lay ahead, we didn’t even have a bottle of water, we had on too many layers of clothes for the conditions and my footware was woefully inadequate. Another hour on and we made it across the beach, the last part of the walk, just before the incoming tide cut us off, half an hour later and we  would have been forced to retrace our steps – all the way back. 

Coastal path from Opua to Paihia

Saturday with still sore feet we hired a car and drove north. The car from Rent-a-Dent was mostly dent free but small and uncomfortable, we abandoned plans for the three hour drive to the very northern tip of New Zealand and the dramatic cliffs at Cape Regina and instead stopped about halfway to check out Doutless Bay and the Karikari Peninsular. Here the scenery is very different to what we’ve been use to, flat by New Zealand standards, with wide open white sand bays and the start of the huge sand dunes that stretch up the most northern of New Zealand’s beaches. Dominating the landscape was Pampas grass, an invasive species introduced from South America, it seemed to be growing everywhere, even amongst the woodland and tree ferns. We drove to Maitai beach at the very end of the peninsular and strolled its large curved shore and then stopped in the seaside town of Manganui to eat fish and chips on the harbour front.

Maitai Bay

 Back on the boat I steal a glance at the weather forecast. If the remanents of Donna do dip south enough to hit New Zealand, we will have, yet again, stormy wet weather, this may disrupt the next high pressure system, produce very rough seas and wipe out yet another weather window, I wonder how long we need to be here to become permanent residents!

Deferred Departure

Monday 1st May 2017

Weather, weather, weather, my brain has gone to mush staring endlessly at wind forecasts, pressure charts and swell projections. Each model appears to tell a different tale and each picture changes hourly. Add in our preference to arrive in daylight and not at the weekend when customs will charge exorbitant overtime fees, finding the right time to leave, for the sail up to Fiji, is not an easy task. 

Saturday we decided against leaving today, firstly we have three lots of orders in at the local chandeliers and engineering workshops that didn’t arrive Friday. Secondly, the winds are due to turn northerly a day early, so waiting for the spares and leaving late in the afternoon might have meant not clearing the northerly flow and having to bash into the wind for 24hrs. Finally, the weather for our arrival in Fiji looks very lively, the South Pacific Convergence Zone has moved south, with 25kt winds, 3-4m seas and a developing tropical storm just east of Vanuatu. Once the decision was made we both relaxed, another window is looking to open up at the end of the week and to be honest we have been so busy of late that a few days wait will probably do us good. 

So after finishing our jobs today, laundry and downloading cruising guides for me, inspecting the quadrant and tightening the steering cables for Rick, he is treating himself to an afternoon movie while I am sitting writing this on the forward deck, in watery autumnal sunshine, seeking protection from the chilly southey wind that is blowing directly into the cockpit. The marina is in the throws of major reconstruction and today they are hammering, very loudly, piles into what will be the new wharf. At least the dredger that was in constant use amongst the berths when we were here a month ago has been forced, by the number of boats now moored up, to take a break and sits abandoned at the end of the pontoon.

Working on the new section at the marina

Boats of all shapes and sizes have congregated waiting for the sail north, along with the numerous independent yachts such as ourselves there are now thirty five boats, that are joining the Pacific Circuit Rally, gathering around us. This ‘Rally World’ is reminiscent of our ARC experience a year and a half ago, crews busy working on their boats, nervously comparing notes on what still needs to be done and running around from one information session to the next social event, we feel slightly like intruders. 

They are due to leave on Saturday so the downside of our delay is that it will mean checking out at customs, paying up at the marina office and getting fuel with a huge crowd. On top of that temperatures are expected to drop over the next couple of nights to around 8C, the winter woolies are back out and the call of the tropical sunshine is becoming louder. Fingers crossed, well rested and well prepared, the weather will allow us to escape before the crowds and get away on Friday.

Our yellow brick tracker is still running, so if you are interested, you can watch our progress at http://my.yb.tl/sailrayatracking/

The track of our cruising in New Zealand.

Fixing For Fiji

Tuesday 25th April 2017

Slowly and painfully I unwrap my legs and wrestle myself upright, I have spent the last hour and a half wedged between various bits of rigging and the outside rail cleaning the brightwork (stainless steel fixtures). Fifty six foot seems very large when armed with just a duster and a toothbrush. My stiffness was not helped by the couple of hours I had already spent crouched and bent cleaning the bilge in the bottom of the engine bay. Rick’s in a similar state having spent one half of the weekend bouncing about, mostly upside down, replacing cables and tidying wires in the dingy, the other half dismantling and manhandling a heavy washing machine off the boat and today removing and servicing the water maker high pressure pump. We are not the young flexible things we once were. Why we ask ourselves, after six months in New Zealand is there still a last minute rush.

Polishing the brightwork

Fiji everybody assures us has quite good shops and services and it’s unlike leaving Panama, sailing out into the unknown, we now know we can easily survive on very little, life at anchor is in fact a very simple affair. Still, with a possible weather window opening up early next week, it’s difficult to resist one last visit to the big shiny supermarket, one last purchase of possibly essential spares or one last download of books on to our Kindles.

Preparations have been mostly going well, stores are topped up and stowed, Rick has completed a dozen tasks that he’s been meaning to do for months, I have started cooking and freezing passage meals and routes and cruising research is well underway. However, there have been a couple of untimely breakdowns, firstly the battery of my trusty iPad has started to fail. As anyone who has spent time on the boat with us knows, I love my iPad using it for everything from downloading weather and emails, to keeping up to date with friends on Facebook and writing my blog. At sea it’s our connection to the satellite, it acts as a secondary chart plotter, it gives us vital information on tides and distances and its Goggle Earth app helps us navigate through treacherous coral reefs. We decided we couldn’t risk being without it, so, fingers crossed, it’s ordered replacement will arrive Thursday and I will find time and enough Internet to download everything we need to get us running again.

Not so easy to replace is the second breakdown, the washing machine which has seemingly been on its last legs since we left the UK two years ago, finally gave up the ghost on Friday, it’s corroded inners irreparable. It’s a compact model, it’s diminutive size essential to allow it to get through the door of the bathroom where it lives. After an extensive search it appears there is only one such model sold in New Zealand and the country is completely out of stock. So life in the islands will be further simplified, it seems the best we can do is to replace my washing machine with a bucket. Cleaning the length of the boat with a toothbrush suddenly seems quite easy.

Dead washing machine

Easter Moon

Tuesday 18th April 2017

Friday night we were treated to a spectacular moonrise, the sight made even more amazing by our not so spectacular surroundings. Okowawa Bay had served us well, protecting us from the wind and rough seas associated with Cyclone Cook, high hills roll into the distance, dark water, that will be one of my lasting memories of New Zealand, surrounded us and just four yachts sat at anchor. Rick was keen to get stuck into the generator, despite all the work that has been done on it over the past few months it still had a fuel starvation issue that irritatingly stopped it regually every couple of day, the flat calm of this bay was a perfect place to tackle it. My job for the day was to delve deep into all the provision lockers to find out what exactly we had lurking in their depths and then put together the big “still have access to good supermarkets” shopping list to stock up for the next few months.

As we worked we were aware of boats arriving and were surprised at the amount of activity around us. It dawned on us this was not any old Friday it was Easter Friday. Families were arriving by boat to fill the holiday homes (Bachs) that line the bay,  numerous bags were unloaded, children skipped excitedly up the beach, quad bikes, ribs and paddle boards appeared out of garages. When we emerged for morning coffee we saw a sea plane landing, one couple were arriving in style.  

Sea plane taking off from Orakawa

Slowly but surely the bay filled with boats and by the end of the day at least thirty vessels were crowded together. Shrieks of enjoyment, jet skis and dingies whizzing around, BBQ’s giving off delicious smells, everyone enjoying their time off, as we worked below we felt out of place, a bit like we had come to a funfare to mend the car.

Night fell, lights and chatter filled the bay, the songs of Queen drifted on the air from one of the parties ashore. We sat on deck trying to ignore our neighbours, when we noticed a bright haze of light appearing behind the hill. We were treated, to a dazzling, sharply defined, moonrise. As we gasped at yet another marvellous natural event it felt wrong that nobody else was watching it, the partying continued, it was if it was rising just for us.

Moonrise over the hills

The next the morning we moved out to Oke Bay, a bit of ocean swell was creeping in from the open water beyond, which made it a bit rolly but the lack of crowds, clear sea and lovely beach made it worth the slight discomfort. That was until we tried to get some sleep, at two in the morning and still awake we weren’t so sure. However, we looked around, the rain of the past week had created a small waterfall, a favourite large tree, its bent gnarly branches covered in a distinctive bark hung over the beach, the familiar dominating cliffs and a chilly swim to shake off our grogginess, Oke Bay still comes out top.

Fantastic trees on the beach at Oke Bay

And so our cruising in New Zealand has come to an end, this morning we came back into the marina in Opua. Provisioning, last minute maintainance ( fingers crossed the generator is fixed), cruiser gatherings, the preparations for the exodus to the tropics begins.

Cyclone Cook Passes Us By

Thursday 13th April 2017

It has been a rather tense twenty four hours, the whole of NZ battening down the hatches in anticipation of yet another storm. Tropical Cyclone Cook took a dramatic south turn from the tropics and is currently skirting down the east coast of the North Island. We are tucked away in Orakawa Bay in the Bay of Islands and thankfully so far the storm force winds have stayed out at sea, here it is suspiciously calm our wind gauge mostly hovering between 0-7kts. We have had plenty of rain, infact almost continuos heavy rain, I’m sure once we have enough internet to see the news some poor areas will have had a much worse time than us and flooding and land slips will be plaguing the mainland yet again. It is slightly ironic that having sailed south to New Zealand to escape the tropical storm season, Tonga and Fiji are coming out of the summer relatively unscathed while we have spent the last six weeks hiding from one storm after another.

Cyclone Cook missed us in the very North but still forecast to make landfall over the Coromandel and the Bay of Plenty

Tuesday lunchtime we waved a fond farewell to Taryn and Greg at the fuel dock in Opua. Their last few days were rather drizzly and grey but we did manage a few final adventures. The most pleasant of which was spent in what I think is my favourite of the bay’s we have visited here – Oke Bay. We had spent a lovely couple of days there in November and it didn’t disappoint this time either. Dramatic hills almost completely protect it from most directions of wind, it is open to northerly swells but last Friday was calm there was just a gentle roll creating a relaxing rock. The beach at the head of the bay is sandy and dingy friendly, as we stepped ashore we were greeted on the beach by an affectionate dog who followed us around demanding strokes and tickles. We were not sure where he came from but he obviously couldn’t read, on the track leading down to the beach it clearly stated ‘ no fires, tents or dogs allowed’.  Walking up the track we were surprised to discover how narrow the peninsular was, just a hundred metres away, over the top of the hill, was the rest of the Bay of Islands. Taryn and Greg climbed higher into the hills and were rewarded with fantastic views. 

On Saturday we set off for the Cavalli islands and Whangaroa Harbour, the wind was light and directly behind us, so disappointingly, yet again, it was on with motor. It was a scenic trip however, the sun put in a hazy appearance, the islands are surrounded by striking craggy rocks and the cliffs of the mainland are topped with green rolling hills. We spotted, on top of one of the cliffs a distinctive sculpture, after a bit of research we discovered it was the memorial to the Rainbow Warrier. This Greenpeace boat was sunk by the French Secret Service in Auckland Harbour in 1985 while it prepared to set sail in protest at the French testing of Nuclear weapons on remote Pacific Atolls. It was salvaged, towed and resunk in 26m of water off Motutapere Island, to create a new home to colonies of coral and shoals of fish and an exciting dive site. 

We passed through the narrow entrance to Whangaroa Harbour to find yet more incredible New Zealand scenery, deep inlets encased in dramatic rocky formations. It was extremely quiet, there was hardly any movement of boats and the small quaint town was almost deserted. We did find some life at the friendly Sports Fishing Bar but there was a definite feeling of being in the back of beyond.


Most evenings since Taryn and Greg have joined us, with the weather not clement enough to be on deck, we have settled down at the salon table and played bridge. Despite all being very much beginners we’ve had great fun, our brains struggling to keep up with rules that Rick delights in reading out to us from the Learn Bridge book, just when we think we are getting the hang of things. I can see the mantra of. “come over for a sundowner” spoken by all cruisers when anchored in a bay together, will have to be increased to “oh and, do you play bridge?”.

The sail back to the Bay of Islands was messy with the swell ahead of the cyclone effecting the coast. Yet again, I was caught out not keeping my level of sea sickness medication high enough and spent the last hour of the journey feeling terrible. However it was great to give Taryn and Greg a final trip with the sails up. We even managed to deliver a goodbye sighting of dolphins, a spectacular display, the dolphins jumping high into the air. 

It felt odd to have Raya back to ourselves, we anchored off Russell and stocked up with food. We both felt tired, it’s been a busy few months, so treated ourselves to an afternoon of TV. We regretted not sailing on, we were woken the next morning to the boat rocking violently in the wake of the early morning ferries from Paihia and the start of the rain. We avoid sailing in the rain if we can but we needed to get ourselves somewhere well protected from the forecast high winds so we dug out our wet weather gear and in deteriating visibility motored around the headland to Orakawa Bay where we have sat more or less windless but wet for the past day and a half. 

Very wet anchoring

Checking the forecast it seems we have escaped the worst of the cyclone which is now just south of us and I can even spot a bit of blue sky!

Tea, Tides and Torrential Rain

Wednesday 5th April 2017

The air felt heavy as dusk approached, an errie quiet after a day of torrential rain, the atmosphere tense as everyone in the marina awaited the coming storm. The remenants of Cyclone Debbie, the cyclone that has been reaking havoc across Eastern Australia is now over New Zealand. We are back in the Bay of Islands Marina in Opua, the location of the start of our New Zealand adventure nearly six months ago. A good place to sit out the bad weather but not quite where we wanted to be. The last month or so, especially with guests onboard, it has really emphasised how much our lives are determined by the weather and tides.

Friday morning, on the incoming tide, we sailed into Marsden Cove Marina to spend a day on domestics – shopping, laundry, cleaning and a quick visit to explore Whangarei. We wandered up and down the lively town basin, visited the small clock museum and sat on the waterfront for lunch. 

Lunch in Whangarei

Having been away from ‘cruiser world’ for a while it was nice to spot a few boats we knew in the Basin Marina and bump into a few faces we knew on the boardwalk. Everyone’s talk turning from their plans in New Zealand to weather windows and preparations for the sail back up to the tropics.

However, first we have a few more weeks cruising left here to enjoy. Sunday we had planned to sail up to Tutukaka Harbour to join a dive boat out to the Poor Nights Islands and their reputed world class dive sites, but the weather and tides had other ideas. The forecast for wet stormy weather had come forward a day, from Wednesday to Tuesday, and the combination of north winds, large swell, torrential rain and shallow water restricting movement within the harbour, persuaded us to push on up to the Bay of Islands.

Rounding a mist topped Cape Brett

It was quite a long days sailing, so we slipped into the first anchorage we came to – Deep Water Cove. The sun held out long enough to tempt even me in for an invigorating swim in the clear, dark blue water. We were the only boat in the bay and there were no buildings in sight, the silence only disturbed by the bickering Pied Cormorants roosting in a couple of Pohutukawa trees. It was another lovely spot and it was with regret that we left Monday morning to catch the high tide to ensure safe entery into Opua Marina.

A less than perfect docking at the berth set the scene for the next couple of dreary grey days. Tuesday morning the heavy rain arrived as promised, one of the reason for coming into the marina was so we could at least get off the boat, we hired a car with Taryn and Greg and drove to the small town of Russell. Russell is easily reach by car ferry from Opua but I thought I’d been told the long way round, the hour route around the Wikare Inlet, was a nice drive. In retrospect I think I was told it was an interesting drive and interesting it certainly was. The tarmaced road quickly turned into a bumpy gravelled track that twisted steeply up and around the hills of Russell Forest with generous amounts of rain added into the torturous mix.

Russell a picturesque seaside town was very soggy, so we headed for the Pompallier Mission building as a dry option to pass the time. It was set up by Bishop Pompallier to print and disperse bibles and prayer books, written in Maori, in their drive to convert the locals. Inside we were treated to a fascinating guide to the production of these small books, that included the original press, the binding rooms and the tannery that produced the leather to cover each volume.

Raining in Russell

The storm did bring plenty of rain but the winds were not as bad as forecast and we seemed to have whiled away the couple of days quite easily, copious amounts of tea have been drunk and our Bridge skills rekindled after some thirty years of dormancy.

Cruising a Sunny Hauraki Gulf

Thursday 30th March 2017

We have had a a great week sailing between the Islands of the Hauraki Gulf, the weather has been mostly kind, the sea calm and the wildlife friendly. In fact our guests, Taryn and Greg, seem to have bought the Aussie sunshine with them. Taryn, who before this holiday had never sailed, is beginning to wonder what all the fuss about seasickness, rough seas and difficult conditions below, is all about. 

Taryn enjoying the wind in her hair

Tuesday we had one of those cruising days that make the difficult days all worth while. We were in Bostaquet Bay on the south of Kawau Island, Monday evening had been stormy, we were caught out with the dingy in the water and had to venture out into the cold torrential rain to raise it before it completely filled with water and then had a sleepless night listening to the wind howl and the thunder crash. Tuesday, however, dawned sunny, fresh and calm. Just as we prepared to raise the anchor five large bottlenosed dolphins arrived and proceeded to feed right next to us. They worked together circling their prey creating barriers by producing bubbles, once corralled the bait ball of fish were easy pickings. They gave us quite a show diving under and around the boat and swimming past on their sides eying us up.

Watching the dolphins fishing

Eventually we said goodbye and set out on the 30nm crossing back to Great Barrier Island. We had a perfect sail, calm seas, 15kt winds on the beam and sunshine. Four hours later we arrived in Tryphena Harbour and dropped the anchor in pretty Puriri bay. After a pleasant afternoon of swimming, reading and fishing (Greg is another of our guests that can catch and cook our dinner), we went ashore for supper at the Irish Pub. To call the collection of buildings a village would be an exaggeration, a small grocery store, a cafe and shop, a few houses and the pub. The pub was full, a friendly bustling atmosphere greeted us and the food was great. A very good day.

Pretty beach at Tryphena

With the sun still shining, the next day, we motored up to Port Fitzroy winding around the dramatic headlands, narrow ravines and rocky outcrops. The harbour in the clement conditions was looking much lovelier than a few weeks ago and it also provided us with another close up wildlife encounter. We were befriended by a small duck who took up residence on the deck, following us around, accepting food from our hands and when we were below, poking his head into the nearest hatch to try and find us. We identified him as a rare brown teal, endangered in the rest of New Zealand, 60% of the population live on Great Barrier. His protected status had to be frequently impressed upon Rick, as the decks gradually became covered in duck poo.

Douglas the duck, hoping for some tipbits


Great Barrier couldn’t give us wall to wall sunshine but was hugely improved from our last visit and we enjoyed a nice walk to a waterfall. The path lead through native forest, thick with the scent of the surrounding pines and steamy from recent showers. The waterfall, despite the seemingly high local rainfall, was modest, the pools and stream way below their spring level marked on the sides of the gulley, but the scenery through the pines, kanuka and tree ferns was lovely.

Warrens Track Waterfall

Team Raya

Our sail back to the mainland was across mirror seas so calm that the light winds could even pull Raya along, for most of the crossing we kept up a steady 6kts in scarcely 8kts of wind. We approached our next destination, Marsden Cove Marina near to low tide and decided not to risk the 3m sand bar at the marina entrance and instead dropped the anchor near by in Urquharts Bay. Looking into the bay was a typical New Zealand scene, a scattering of boats, a small town and dramatic green hills, however behind us the setting sun highlighted the not so scenic Whangarei Oil Refinery.

Crowded Week

Friday 24th March 2017

Entering Auckland

As we sat waiting for the brilliant Adele to come on stage, I realised how quickly our time in New Zealand has passed. I bought the tickets for Adele Live back in November just after we had arrived. Then this concert seemed such a long time away and was a marker for the final part of our New Zealand stay. The plan now being to start slowly working our way north, back to Opua, where we will look for a weather window early May to sail up to Fiji.

Adele was of course worth waiting for, belting out her familiar songs, joking with the crowd and making the most of her extensive set, she was the true showman. Add in the buzz from the near 50,000 people seated in the Mt Smart Stadium, the chance for a good sing along and the mostly efficient organisation – we had a great evening.

Adele Live

It has been a very busy week, Sunday morning we sailed into the centre of Auckland. It was maybe not the best of days to have chosen, Auckland has the nick name ‘City of Sails’ due to the large number of marinas, one in three Aucklanders own a boat, on this pleasant Sunday morning I think most of the them were out enjoying the sunny weather. Navigation was hazardous through the crowded channel and the water choppy with wakes. We eventually worked our way through all the craft, big and small, everything from a car ferry to a guy fishing from his kayak, and tied up at the Viaduct Marina. We are stern to the dock underneath the main walkway through this busy city waterfront area. It’s a bit like being the exhibit at the zoo as hundreds of people wander past looking at all the boats. Although the smallest yacht in this part of the marina, our Southampton registration is attracting attention from the many Brits who are visiting or live here. 

Rush hour past the boat

Fun as it is to be in the middle of things, restaurants and shops a mere stroll away, the true attraction is the large chandleries and miriad of  yacht services at our finger tips. For the first time in over a year we can get things done quickly and easily, Rick has jumped at the oppotunity. Amongst other things the generator has been serviced including refurbing the injectors and hopefully sorting out the last of the problems caused by the dirty Tongan fuel. The dingy engine has also been serviced. Rick has replaced the seized dingy gear cable and the broken main outhaul and furling buttons in the cockpit.  The boxes of spares have been sorted, topped up and the inventory updated. We have cleaned inside and out, everything was ready, Raya back in tiptop condition for another season in the Pacific Islands.

Well, until last night that is, on our return to the boat, to our dismay, we noticed the fridge had stopped. Days more at the zoo were imagined, disapointed guests, friends Taryn and Greg arrive this evening, having to waste precious days of their holiday waiting around, doom and gloom accompanied us to bed. But no, this is the centre of Auckland we had an engineer onboard by 2pm, a small leak and blocked filter discovered by 2.30 and a working fridge by four. Plan A back on track.

Shaking off the Cobwebs

Friday 17th March 2017

We were well rewarded for our week of wet and stormy weather by a couple of cracking day sails as we cruised around the Hauraki Gulf. Monday morning, with the storm moving out into the Pacific Ocean and keen to start south towards Auckland while the winds were still northerly, we stuck our nose out from the protection of Great Barrier Island to find the sea less rough than we had expected. With the 15-20 kt wind just forward of the beam, Raya made short work of the exhilarating 45nm to our next stop and we arrived with the sun still high in the sky. The anchorage was calm and still, protected from the wind the warmth of the afternoon felt good after the chilly sail and the last couple of stormy days.

Rick trimming the sails as we race southwards

We were anchored in Ranger Bay near the entrance of Te Kouma Harbour on the inner Coromandel Penisular and the next morning we all got into the dingy to explore this long narrow inlet. At the head of our small bay was a grey sandy beach with rocky sides, each rock was coated in a jumble of oyster shells. Each shell looked to be empty but was still cemented firmly to the rock creating a sharp and bumpy surface underfoot. Further up the inlet the water became very shallow, the low tide revealing gravelly mud flats and incongruent bright red rocky outcrops. The hills that lined this natural harbour were of green grassy meadows, vivid and smooth in appearance, looking almost as if they had been covered in snooker table baize.

Oysters cover every rock, nook and cranny of the shore.

Wednesday we headed for a Waiheke Island and again we had a fantastic sail, this time in higher winds on the port quarter. We were heavily reefed and sailing conservatively, until that is, we spied another boat on the AIS coming up fast behind us. True to the old adage that a race is two boats sailing in the same direction, Rick couldn’t resist putting out some more canvas, we stormed along at over nine knots making it to the headland a mile in front.

We settled down for a couple of nights in Oneroa Bay, a pleasant seaside town with some much needed facilities, we restocked the fridge and rid ourselves of a weeks worth of rubbish. Unfortunately there was no where to dock the dingy, so trips ashore were taken in shifts and ideas of dinner out abandoned. 

Enjoying lunch in Oneroa Bay

So that evening while eating supper in the cockpit, we noticed the boat was covered in cobwebs, small spiders appeared all over the deck. We realised the webs were floating past in the air and catching in the rigging. Jane had read about the phenomena of  ballooning spiders, where spiderlings launch gossamer threads to create a makeshift parachute that is lifted by the wind, wafting them sometimes for hundreds of miles, in the hope that they will land in new surroundings suitable for colonisation. Fascinating as it was to see, we are hoping that sailboats aren’t one such environment.

Spider web threads caught on the rigging of the boat next door, catching the sunlight.

We have just dropped Janie and Peter ashore, their time with us having come to an end, we had a fun final day with their daughter Domini and her two children onboard, sailing an hour west to Woodlands Bay where we had lunch and the kids swam off the back of the boat. On returning to Oneroa Bay, we discovered the anchorage rocking, with a lively swell and from a large noisy garden party taking place in the house on the cliffs above us. Our lunch spot had been calm and quiet, we dropped our passengers on the beach and motored back there to enjoy the sunny evening in peace.

Stormy Weather

Sunday 12th March 2017

It’s funny how only bad weather forecasts turn out to be correct, it is now Sunday and we have had nearly five days of high winds and continuous torrential rain, the complex low pressure, dishing up today, as a final fling, a lively northwesterly storm. 

We had moved around to Nagal Bay on Saturday, ostensively because it was sheltered to the north and west but really because we just wanted a change of scene. We had sat in Port Fitzroy confined below playing scrabble and rummikub, reading, watching movies and obsessively checking on the weather. On the couple of occasions the rain stopped for a couple of hours we dingyed in and walked up to the shop, one evening we escaped and went to eat at the restaurant. The rough weather had however stopped the ferries, so supplies dwindled quickly, a chocolate ration has had to be imposed onboard.

Stocking up on essential supplies

Friday after a morning of high winds, suddenly, all was calm, the quiet was wonderful after the noise of rattling halyards, wind whistling through the rigging and waves hitting the stern. The stillness after the violence of the last two days felt precious and sitting in the fresh air, on deck, was a delight. The rest of the crew were snoozing having retired to their bunks in disgust a few hours ago, I enjoyed the peace knowing the rain would be back very soon. We are using the NZ Met Office, live time, rain radar images, good as you watch the rain move away but depressing as you watch it build back up yet again.

The whole boat feels damp, we are working hard to keep everything dry because once something is wet that’s the way it stays. As Rick discovered when he dived in fully clothed to rescue the dingy, which a crew member, who shall remain nameless, had inadvertently left unsecured. His washed sweatshirt hangs festering and dank two days later.

It really felt like we’d had enough when, checking first thing, we saw the Gale warning for this morning had been upgraded to a Storm warning. We let out another 10m of anchor chain, tied down the Bimini and everything else that was lose on deck and held on tight. Our wind gauge peeked at 48kts even in the protection of the northerly hills. Water was whisked up from the surface of the sea, waves crashed on the leaward side of the bay and the rain fell horizontally. As we twisted and rolled, we watched our smaller nieghbour being battered and were glad of our full 33 tons. 


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Forty knot winds toss our neighbours dingy in the air

Gradually things have calmed down, the sun even made an appearance this evening. The forecast is for a much better week ahead – a good forecast, can we trust it?

Stuck Inside On a Shiny boat

Wednesday 8th March 2017

Torrential rain pours down on us, high winds swirl us around our mooring bouy, hail, thunder, lightening, we’ve had it all. What is it with the weather in New Zealand. I can’t help thinking we aren’t seeing the best of the islands. We have picked a safe spot to sit out the weather, deep inside Port Fitzroy protected from the worst of the wind and swell by surrounding headlands and islands. The highest recorded gust we have had has been 30kts, the water is reasonably calm, I have just picked up a storm warning for the area , released a couple of hours ago, 50 gusting 60kts, with a 3m swell, so we grin and bear it here in relative safety.

Not too inviting in the cockpit

Sunday after a drizzly six hour crossing we arrived at Great Barrier island to a clearing sky.  We were in a pretty bay – Overlook Bay, overlooked by a huge wedge of granite 200m above us, Mount Overlook. We settled down to relax in the sunshine, Peter with his fishing rod in hand, not only caught supper he cooked it for us too. Sautéd snapper delicious.

Anchored in Overlook Bay, Great Barrier Island

The next morning we lowered the freshly pumped up dingy into the water for the first time in four months, amazingly the engine started first time. Unfortunately the control cable that changes the gears had seized, we managed an exploratory trip around the bay but eventually it broke. With no engine on the dingy we are stuck onboard unless we are happy to paddle it, no easy task. So Rick set to work and cleverly rigged a system that gives us forward and reverse but no neutral. We can get to shore ok but parking is very interesting. 

Anticipating the change in the weather we motored around the corner to the protection of Port Fitzroy. Tuesday dawned extremely calm, calm before the storm. We ventured into the wharf and up the road to the small shop. There was a pleasant, sleepy ambiance to the place, the shop 200m up the one road from the dock and a bit further on a small bar/ restaurant, unfortunately only open Wednesday to Saturday, a few huts and a couple of houses hidden in the wooded hillside. We enquired of the shop keeper as to the best place to hide from the incoming easterlies, he very generously offered us his mooring bouy tucked under the eastern side of the inlet.

So that is where we are now, stuck below, anchor alarm on, hourly checking the forecast for some let up. Currently the wind is due to drop in the next 24 hrs but the rain looks like it could stay around for the next four or five days. Joy!

 Shiny Boat

Friday 3rd March 2017

This afternoon Raya went back into the water and we are back living onboard, it feels good to be home. We didn’t quite get everything finished in time to make the tide to motor up the river today, so we are tied up to the pontoon holding our breath that everything will be ok as we sink into the low tide mud.

Raya back in the water, approaching low tide on the Mahurangi River

Sunday we started the last leg of our road trip on another very different river. We opted to drive north on the Whanganui River Road, a scenic drive. We now know that scenic route in New Zealand means steep hills and hairpin bends, cliff rock falls, pot holes and gravel tracks, sheer drops and precarious bends but also magnificent  views. This road was no exception, it folllows the deep v-shaped valley of the Whanganui for over 60 kilometres .

Whanganui River

On our final day we went to Waitomo Caves, it was a shame you can only explore them as part of a tour, the group effect taking away the ambiance of these extraordinary spaces. We first visited the glow worm caves, tiny lights cover the roof of the dark caves, every bright spot a glow worm using bioluminescence to attract insects that they capture in spider web like threads.The second cave we visited was full of stalactites, hanging from the ceiling like giant icicles. Whenever we visit caves, now setup with lighting, steps and walkways we wonder how incredible it must have been when the first explorers discovered them, turning their lamps to reveal this magical underworld.

Aranui Cave

We have had a great time over the last few weeks, the scenery on some of the drives has left us speechless, but after so long on the road we were more than ready to get back to Raya. She was looking very shiny, her keel cleaned and repainted with antifoul, the topsides polished and the superstructure buffed. The staysail furler leak has been diagnosed and sorted out, the gouges on the transon filled and polished, the anchor chain regalvonised and the anchor cleaned, the windlass serviced, the rigging checked and one of the boot tops repainted. An impressive list, unfortunately an impressive bill came with it. Everything here seems to take longer than it should, so labour costs are high and parts are also expensive, all of this highlighted by the weakness of sterling.

To save some money we finished some of the jobs ourselves, including me winching Rick up to the top of the mast to detach the topping lift so it could be shortened and then winching him back up to reconnect it a day later. I was pleased to discover that the almost paralysing fear I had the first time I did this has decreased, I was a picture of calm.

Ricks sister Jane and husband Peter, join us tomorrow and we start our cruise of the Hauraki Gulf.

Heading North

Saturday 21st February 2017

We are on our way back to the North Island, having had a fantastic time in the South but looking forward to getting back to Raya. Sitting on the Interislander Ferry I finally have time to catch up to date with the blog.

Wednesday as we drove through the  Hass Pass towards the West Coast the clouds thickened, the rain started and the biting sand flies came out. We pushed on, this was one of the longest drives of the trip and the conditions discouraged us from stopping more than necessary, even if the rain eased up as soon as we opened the door the pesky biting flies were on us in seconds.

The West Coast is a thin strip of land that runs nearly the whole length of the Island sandwiched between the Tasman Sea on one side and the Southern Alps on the other. Except for the odd glance we could see neither, the first part of the road was cosseted by high banks of ferns and moss covered rocks. If a couple of pixies had appeared from the undergrowth they would have seemed completely at home. Instead of pixies we passed a young Chinese couple, their car very much stuck in the ditch. We had had no phone signal for hours even in the small town of Hass where we had stopped briefly for lunch, we had past very few cars, so we put on our hero hats turned around and drove them the half hour back to town so they could organise a tow.

Finally we reached our lodge in Okarito, a wetland area famous for its bird life. Unfortunately, our rescue mission had meant we had missed the low tide that reveals the mud flats that attract the birds but the rain had stopped and I enjoyed a walk along the beach that was made up of the most wonderful pebbles. With the pale grey of the beach, the darker grey of the sea and the bleached white of the strewn driftwood, all bathed in the low hazy light of the early evening it was as if all the colour had been washed out of the world. The scene was surprisingly restful, if slightly stark.

The beach at Okarito

It has to be said that the lodge here was also rather stark. Little more than a metal clad wooden shack, it was nicely decorated in places but it was as if someone had stopped the process a third of the way through. The advertised ” wake up to wetland and forest views ” was only true if you happened to wake up stood peering out of the small corner window at the other end of the room. Luckily the bed was comfortable, the shower large and all was clean and tidy.

The next morning we continued our drive north on State Highway 6, stopping for a coffee with some old friends from Cranbrook who we had discovered would, bizarrely, be driving the same road, at the same time but south, as we have experienced before this is a small world. As the day wore on, the sun fought through the haze and the road became more exciting, climbing around headlines, dropping into valleys and often clinging to the very edge of the coast.

West Coast

We stopped to admire the Pancake rocks, a headland composed of layered sandstone and mudstone. The softer mudstone has corroded away more quickly than the sandstone leaving rocky stacks that look a bit like piles of pancakes

Pancake rocks

Finealy Thursday afternoon we reached Blenheim our final stop on the South Island. This is Marlborough wine country and you know you have arrived because suddenly every acre of suitable land is planted with vines, rows and rows and rows of them. 

Miles of vines in the Marlborough region.

 But before exploring the vineyards we headed out to the aviation museum. A large collection of restored and replica first and second world war planes. Another superb New Zealand museum, each aircraft was shown along side personal stories from the airmen who had flown them and many of them had been displayed like film sets with figures and props made by the Weta Cave Studios.

A portrayal of the capture of the WW1 flying ace The Red Baron, the plane is an exact replica.

Culture requirements ticked we head for the wine trail, each vineyard has a cellar door open for tasting and it is easy to drop into one after another, a bit like a posh pub crawl. Between the familiar names of Cloudy Bay and Stoneliegh are smaller boutique producers and it was these we selected to visit. We had a great few hours trying out everything from the  Sauvignon Blanc this area is famous for, through a few reds, half a dozen sparkling wines to my current favourite crisp dry Riesling. We were very restrained the car boarded the ferry only a couple of boxes of wine heavier than our crossing a few weeks ago.


Tuesday 21st February 2017

Queenstown, the birth place of bungy jumping, promotes itself as the adrenaline fuelled capital of the world. Sitting on yet another fantastic glacial lake, surrounded by high mountains this is a place bursting with high octane activities. Being way too old and sensible for such things we take the soft option of the gondola ride up to a 450m terrace high above the town, below us the area throbbed with exciting pursuits.

The surrounding rivers present opportunities to jet boat through cannons or raft down rapids. The lake offers trips in everything from a sedate vintage steamship, through parasailing to rides in mini submarines. Joining us on the Skytrain up the mountain were many looking for a more exciting decent, lines of cyclists helmeted with bikes strapped to there gondola pods take a steep mountain track back down to town, others leap shrieking from a precariously perched platform tethered to bungy ropes and swooping below us, using the thermals swirling around the cliffs, paragliders fly down to ground level. On the opposite bank of lake Wakatipu are the Remarkables a range of mountains full of walking tracks, that in winter turn into a huge ski field.

Queenstown from the Skyline terrace, with a paraglider below us and the green bungy platform to the right

Rick still coughing and not up to the planned walk in the hillside, we decided to drive the length of the lake to the small settlement of Glenorchy for lunch. The scenery in this area, as marvellous as ever, is the back drop to many a movie, most famously the Lord of the Rings. You can of course, this being Queenstown, take an off road tour in four wheel drive trucks or quad bikes, up into the hills to see the exact spots of each scene. However even from the road you can easily imagine Frodo and his retinue walking over the ridge and down into the valley.

We are beginning to learn that these quiet small places don’t do sophistication, after a stroll around the wharf we rejected the slightly dubious cafe and in the only store bought snacks and ginger beer and drove out to find a quiet spot on the lake side. The place we found was a little bit of heaven.

Perfect lunch spot on the shore of Lake Wakatipu

Brimming with visitors we were surprised to discover we rather liked Queenstown. The coaches of tourists were well diluted with youngsters on gap years, sport enthusiasts and a generous smattering of more elderly couples. Sipping a drink, people watching in the sunshine, snippets seemingly of every language filled the air, everybody happy and tolerant of their fellow promenaders. The lake glittered in the evening sunlight, people relaxed on the grassy banks and music drifted from the bars.

Tuesday we headed off on the long drive across the Haas Pass to the West coast, but Queenstown had one final surprise for us. About ten minutes out of town we turned on to the Crown Ridge road, this, we learn, is the highest main road in New Zealand, reaching an altitude of 1121m. As we approached we could see the hairpins zigzagging up the hill in front of us, surely this wasn’t our road but yes it was. We climbed and climbed until right at the top there was a pull off the road for an amazing photo before the 2hr decent to sea level.

View from the Crown Ridge road

Milford Sound

Saturday 18th February 2017

Majestic, superb, awe inspiring, just some of the discriptions of the road leading down to Milford Sound from Te Anau, “a destination in itself” screams another guide. Expectations sky high we set off Saturday morning in clear hot sunshine. We had been warned if we wanted to avoid the plethora of tour busses we should leave after eleven so we treated ourselves to a late breakfast, in my case, of a huge raspberry and cream cheese muffin, the New Zealander’s seem to like cheese in everything.
The route started along the picturesque shore of Te Anau lake at 65km long and 340m deep it is he largest of the Southern lakes and created, as all the lakes and deep U shaped valleys here, by the huge forces of ice age glaciers. Gradually climbing, the road turned away from the lake and we entered dense woodland. The trees high on each side of the road would suddenly clear to give spectacular views of snow capped mountains, wide valleys of tussock grass or fast running babbling brooks.

Perfect reflections at Mirror Lakes on the road to Milford Sound

As we climbed higher the trees thinned out and the sheer, bare mountain sides became streaked with waterfalls. To make Milford Sound accessible by road, in the 1960’s, Homer tunnel was carved through the bedrock, a single lane of tarmac takes you through the dark, dripping centre of the mountain. You emerge into an immense gully, walls of stone guide you the steep, final ten miles down to the coast.

The road down towards Milford Sound.

Then as you round the final bend you are greeted by – carparks, three large bustling carparks full with cars and camper vans, the view of the Sound somewhat diminished in the background. But like everything here, there is no need to worry, it’s all organised, take a few steps down the well thought out walkway and there is the iconic view of Mitre Peak that Milford Sound is famous for.

Iconic Mitre Peak

The only way to see the Sound properly is from the water so we signed up for one of the many cruises. We wound our way out through the narrow opening, dominatining cliffs two thousands meters high either side of us, eventually out into the Tasman sea. From outside the overlapping peaks completely hide the entrance and Captain Cook, unusually, missed the opening twice as he charted the area. It wasnt discovered by a European until 1823 when a sealer, searching for shelter from a storm, sailed inside, naming it after his home town of Milford Haven in Wales.

Apparently it rains here two out of three days so to be cruising in bright sunshine was a rarity, the furs seals basked enjoying the warmth on ledges above the water, looking tiny against the enormity of their backdrop. The humans just gawped in wonder at the scenery around them.

The narrow Pass into Milford Sound

And we still had the two hour majestic, superb and awe inspiring drive back to our hotel in Te Anua.

Into the Mountains

Tuesday 14th February 2017

As I said in my last post, seemingly at every turn in New Zealand there is an amazing vista 

Buller River

And some are especially amazing 

Driving over Arthurs Pass

But today we came over the brow of a hill and swept around a bend to the view to challenge all views.

Southern Alps

We set off Saturday morning south towards Murchison and on to Brunner Lake. This is logging country and the steep hillsides are lined with pines, areas of cut trees scar the otherwise rich scenery. Cutting through the hills are deep canyons worn by fast flowing rivers, impressive even at this time of year, the vast dry river beds indicated how powerful they must be during times of high rainfall. The Buller is one such mighty river and like the rest of the area has a history of gold prospecting, early in the twentieth century a daring plan was implemented to build a bridge to reach the untouched potentially gold rich rocks on the opposite bank. The longest swingbridge in New Zealand it’s modern version is a tourist attraction.

Swing Bridge at Murchison

We woke the next morning to drizzle and temperatures of just 11 C. We were crossing the Southern Alps driving through Arthur’s Pass and as we approached the mountains loomed threateningly through the gloom. Somehow the scenery still delivered, the pines had been replaced now by native mountain beech, the tops of the mountain above the tree line was of sheer grey rock and the valleys rough browning grassland. The road climbed steeply to its highest point of 920m before dropping down more slowly towards the east coast following wide winding river valleys. 

As we descended the weather began to improve and we decided to stop off to explore the huge sandstone boulders at Castle Hill. Reminiscent of Stonehenge, these were natural artefacts of the areas mountain building past. Up close they were much bigger than we appreciated, they were great fun to clamber round and very photogenic.

Boulders at Castle Hill

As the weather had dissuaded us from stopping at the top of Authurs Pass we had a bit of extra time and decided to take a detour into Christchurch. We were surprised to see the centre of town is still in ruins from the large earthquake that hit the city six years ago. It was sad to see the extensive damage and continued deterioration of the Cathedral and surrounding old buildings, it appears that wrangling between the Church and the City council has led to years of inaction.

Ruins of Christchurch Cathedral

We have spent the last two days back in the Southern Alps and sorry to repeat myself but the scenery is just incredible. High plains of varied grasses and gorse like shrubs, backed by snow capped mountains, the tallest of which is Mount Cook at 3754m and punctuated by large lakes created by the damming for hydroelectric power of the many rivers flowing out of the mountains. If that wasn’t enough theses lakes are a remarkable blue, a result of ‘rock flour’ – finely ground particles of rock brought down by the glaciers and suspended in the melt water. After the clouds of yesterday we woke to a view of Lake Tekapo with Mount Cook in the distance.

Lake Tekapo

Todays plan was to walk right up in the mountains. We drove around another ridiculously turquoise lake, Lake Pukaki, oohing and aahing as the peaks came closer and closer, up to the base of Mount Cook. 

Approaching Mount Cook

The weather in the mountains is very unpredictable, we had a glorious morning, chilly but bright and sunny, in the thirty minutes it took us to walk towards the Glacial lake that feeds the Tasman River, however, the clouds had descended and the rain started. We took a few pictures of the icebergs that break from the glaciers in summer, zipped up our waterproof jackets and headed back to the car. Much fitter and braver people than us walk for days on the tracks that crisscross these mountains, wet and cold we felt like we had experienced a miniscucle bit of their adventures.

Icebergs from Tasman Glacier

North Shore of the South Island

Saturday 11th February 2017

The roads in New Zealand, so far, have been fabulous, not only are they in good condition, they are almost always empty and there are a continuous succession of wow moments around every corner.

We started our exploration of the South Island taking the Queen Charlotte drive, a scenic route along the coastline of the Marlborough Sounds affording magnificent views of this stunning area.

View from the Cullen Point lookout


We stopped at one of the many lay-bys and took a short walk along a track through rough bush, it led to a lookout over an inner arm of the Mahau sound. The water was calm and tranquil and a deep green turquoise, reflecting the surrounding hills. The trees were so full of cicadas that their singing was almost deafening, this summer chorus is common throughout New Zealand but unlike where we have come across them before, with the singing starting as the sun goes down, here they sing day and night.

From the hills of Marlborough we dropped down into the lowlands around the city of Nelson, replacing the heavily wooded slopes with farmland. Acres of vines, hops and espalier trained fruit trees lined the road of this obviously fertile area. We ate a very pleasant late lunch in the shadow of the quirky wooden Nelson Cathedral and then made our way to our accommodation for the next two nights on a small island just off Motueka.

Transport to The Beach Retreat


It was a very peaceful spot, with glorious evening sun warming our supper table and bird song accompanying our breakfasts. Less welcome visitors were a cheeky rat that blatantly scurried across the terrace to clear the crumbs from under our table and the sanflies that seem to be everywhere in New Zealand and keep us coated with deet day and night.

Again in pursuit of the less crowded spots, Friday morning we set off for Wharariki beach on the far northern tip of the South Island. The route took us over Takaka hill winding steeply to a height of 860m, an incredible road of sharp hair pin bends, precipices and expansive views.

The Tasman valley from the top of Takaka Hill


After two hours of driving we turned up a dusty gravel track, six kilometres and one very dirty car later we arrived at the car park and prepared for the half hour trek to the beach and what a world class beach we found. Miles of white sand washed by the Tasman sea, caves, arches, rock pools, even a few fur seals lounging on the rocks. The only thing missing was the sunshine but this wasn’t a beach for sunbathing it was a place to explore and we spent a great couple of hours paddling, clambering and delving into caves.

Wonderful Wharariki Beach

Sadly just a few miles away on the other side of Farewell Spit four hundred pilot whales had stranded themselves on the sand. Being so close we did wonder if we should drive over to try and help but decided the last thing the experts needed was more inexperienced onlookers so we stayed clear.

Today we head South and into the mountains, we are expecting more dramatic drives to come.

Rotorua and Wellington 

Wednesday 8th February 2017

We entered Rotorua feeling a little jaded, it had been a long day, but our apartment was nice and we had the prospect of the Polynesian spa that sat on the lake front, to look forward to. Rotorua town didn’t tick the boxes for us, very new, obviously built with tourism in mind, it lacked soul. Our spirits dropped further as we entered the spa, the foyer was crowed with people and was rather tacky, the feeling of uncleanliness not enhanced by the sulphur smell emanating from the volcanic hot pools. We hastily paid to upgrade to the ‘luxury ‘ experience but luxury wasn’t really what came to mind. The pools were hot and would have been relaxing had they not been so full of people, the lake views were minimal and the closeness of the swalking seagulls slightly disconcerting . We stayed for half an hour put the expense down to experience and rapidly retreated back to our apartment. The tourists in Rotorua seemed to be mostly Chinese, viewing New Zealand in tour buses, we planned our next day around where we thought the tour buses might not venture.

The main attraction of Rotorua is its geothermal activity, most of the parks feature geysers that go off in the mornings, so hoping to do what everyone else wasn’t, first thing we headed for the Redwood forest. We were treated to a relatively empty walk through the trees but this wasn’t an ordinary walk, here they have strung an elevated walkway 12m up through the mighty Redwood pines. Way above us we had the spreading green canopy of the redwoods, below we had the forest floor covered in shrubs and ferns and at eye level we had the incredible, fiborous bark of the massive Redwood trunks and the vivid green tops of the black tree ferns.

Suspended tree walk at the Redwood Forest, Rotorua

Each platform and walkway is suspended by cables and straps around the largest of the trees, no nails or other destructive methods have been used in its construction. Rick took mental notes, the design of his next tree house taking shape in his mind. Surprisingly these huge trees, unlike their Calfornian cousins that take thousands of years to reach their large size, are fast growing and only a hundred years old, planted  by the growing demand for timber at the turn of the century.

Next we moved on to Orakei Korako, a geothermal park 70k from Rotorua and hopefully not teeming with people. The drive itself was worth the trip, the day was clear and sunny and the landscape etched by its volcanic history, fascinated us. In between the large ranges of hills were areas full of steep sided perfectly conical hillocks, we speculated without conclusion how they may have been formed.

We drove into a half empty car park and let out a silent cheer. In front of us was a tranquil lake, created in the valley by the damming of the Waikato river, all around were lush forested hills and on the opposite bank was the white silica terrace. The silica terrace has formed over thousands of years by chemically saturated, hot ground water gushing to the surface and running into the valley, it sat like a scar in the otherwise picture perfect setting.

Silica terrace running down to he Orakei lake

Brightly coloured, heat resistant algae amazingly live in the very hot water

The afternoon had become hot and the walk around the terraces, bubbling pools and native bush was often steep but it was very much worth the effort. A fascinating afternoon to end a great day.

Monday morning we headed south for Wellington on the very bottom of the North Island and a six hour drive. The volcanic experience peaks, literally, as you past Tongariro park. The tallest of the three mountains, Ruapehu, incongruously in the near 30 degree heat of the plain, is still topped with snow, while Ngauruhoe, that at times still vents super heated gases, is the perfect image of a volcano

We found a side road and stopped for today’s cup of tea with a view.

Ngaunuhoe volcano

Unfortunately as we approached Wellington the weather began to close in and we entered Wellington in the drizzle, the wind had turned to the south and the temperatures dropped ten degrees. We got the impression that it was probably a handsome city with its long waterfront area and pretty Victorian terrace houses perched in the surrounding hills but it was difficult to be sure through the dank gloom.

A good indoor attraction was what was needed and we weren’t disappointed by the To Papa museum. It has to be the best museum we have ever visited. Full of colourful, informative exhibitions covering New Zealand’s geography, wildlife and social history., we spent four hours with our sore feet the only sign we had been there so long. The most absorbing section was a special exhibition about New Zealand’s role in the disaster that was the battle for Gallipoli in the First World War. The story was incredibly well told, concentrating on personal accounts from the time and illustrated by actual artefacts and unbelievable larger than life models of the individuals whose narrative we were following. Created by the Weta Caves Studio that produced the special effects for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies the detail was amazing from the accuracy of the clothing to the hairs and wrinkles on the hands and faces. An extremely moving experience that really bought home the futility of many of the First World War battles, in fact the futility of all battles in all wars.

Model from the Gallipoli exhibition – Gunner Corporal Friday Hawkins and Private Rikihana Carkeek

Today we have arrived in Picton in the South Island after the ferry ride across from Wellington, unfortunately the weather is still bad so there wasn’t much chance to appreciate the scenery as we came in. Forecast to improve tomorrow, fingers crossed.

Up the River

Saturday 4th February 2017

Motoring up a narrow river was certainly novel for us after over a year of the open sea. We had one eye on the fantastic landscape that slipped closely by either side of us, while the other was firmly and anxiously on the depth gauge.

Motoring down the Mahurangi River

Wednesday morning we said a final farewell to Gulf Harbour. It hadn’t been our favourite spot, we seemed to have been plagued by cold SW winds for most of our stay that had whistled into the cockpit and kept us often huddled below and our berths location would have been a complete disaster without the use of Ricks sister’s car. But having been there since the middle of November it had come to feel like home, our boating neighbours have been great as always, full of friendly advice and generous with offers of help, it has been useful to be relatively close to a big city and all that brings with it and of course was a safe and secure spot to leave Raya while we were back in the UK.

And it did feel great to be out at sea again especially as the day was bright, warm and sunny. There was little wind and what there was, was not in a great direction but we were unworried, we had decided to use the two hour trip as a sea trial for the newly refurbished engine. It certainly sounded great, smooth and quiet – hooray.

Robertson’s yard, where Raya will be for the next few weeks, have a mooring bouy at the entrance to the Mahurangi river, we picked it up and relaxed. Conrad would be joining us tomorrow to pilot us the final few miles up the river on the midday tide. We were surrounded by rolling hills, holiday homes were scattered through the woodland, each with fantastic views, many with inviting seating areas and steep steps leading down to rickety jetties. Flocks of White Fronted Terns fed on the obviously plentiful fish and Australasian Gannets, looking rather like large, white, ungainly ducks, drifted by contentedly on the tide.

For us this same tide was at first rather disconcerting. When at anchor or on a mooring buoy in the absence of any significant current, the normal situation for us in a bay or nontidal harbour, the boat swings to windward, so we are use to the wind coming over the bows. However being in a river estuary with significant tides the currents are strong, so along with all the other boats we swung with the cycles of the tides, it felt odd to have the wind often hitting us on the beam.

At 11.30 the next day Conrad was dropped at the boat and took the helm. We motored up the rapidly narrowing river surrounded by reedbeds and now hidden by the high water, lethal mud banks. At its shallowest the depth gauge read only 0.3m under our keel. We held our breath anxiously but Conrad confidently pushed on winding down the narrow central channel. With a sigh of relief we arrived at the boatyard and Raya was safely lifted from the water and chocked securely ready to be cleaned, antifouled and polished.

Raya being hauled out at Robertson’s Boatyard

Rick spent the next morning discussing a myriad of other jobs to be done, amongst other things hopefully  we will return to a working fridge and freezer, a regalvanised anchor and chain, replaced seals on a leaky electric winch motor and staysail furler, a couple of new stopcocks and a retuned rig.

Shuddering at the potential cost and a little worried about leaving while all this is going on, we packed our bags and waved goodbye. We have a busy three weeks ahead, first stop Rotorua.

Enroute to Rotorua, a cup of tea with a view.

Oyster Cleaners and Oyster Catchers

Monday 30th Jan 2017

Saturday morning we sat, slightly envious, watching a mass exodus of boats from the marina, boats big and small, sail and motor, classic and modern. The weather has finally improved and this is a long weekend here and everyone is heading out to the islands. Except for us, while the rest of Aukland plays we are cleaning mould from curtain rails, removing a years worth of bacon fat from the kitchen fan, tracing leaks behind a cupboard and joy of joys pulling apart a slow flushing toilet. Such is the truth behind the glamorous life of living on a yacht.

These jobs would be horrible enough under any circumstances but being on a boat everything is impossible to get at, we contort our bodies to reach into unreachable corners and twist and turn to get ourselves into far too small spaces. Happily the combination of Ricks knowledge of the boat and his screwdriver skills, with my joint flexibility and polishing talents means we now have a very clean boat, well half a very clean boat, the delights of the forward heads and cabins are yet to be tackled.

(Warning photo below not for the squeamish)

Urine and sea water combine to calcify the pipes – lovely.

When not cleaning and fixing, we are trying to take advantage of having the use of a car for a few more days. We have been getting a few heavy transporting jobs done, gas cylinders have been refilled, repeated visits to the chandlers have taken place and our provisions store cupboards are partially restocked.

Rick has revarnished the cockpit table and directors chairs, while I have spent hours booking a succession of B&Bs and hotels throughout New Zealand for our trip South. A surprisingly difficult job but now complete, except for the very last night that has so far defeated me.

Yesterday to get away from the boat for an hour or so we walked five minutes around the corner to the beach. It’s an interesting spot, nobody else seems to visit, it’s not a place to sunbathe or swim. There is a combination of fascinating geology – flat slabs of sandstone and siltstone that run down to the beach from layered corroded cliffs and huge fallen trees that have been left high and dry by the demise of there footings.


Rocky beach a short walk from Gulf Harbour

The remains of a pier run out to sea from an old disused pathway that is lined by an overgrown garden bank resplendent in blue agapanthus and flaming orange kniphofia. Oyster catches, red footed gulls and cormorants enjoy the isolation.


Oyster Catcher

Tomorow is our last day in Gulf Harbour as Wednesday we sail up to Mahurangi Bay to await our pilot, who will help us up the river to Robertsons Boatyard where Raya will be lifted out. The logistics of moving both boat and car are quite complicated, I haven’t driven for over a year so my part in the procedure could be quite challenging, an exciting few days ahead of us.

Engine Enigma 

Friday 4th November 2016

Unfortunately, we still don’t have a working engine, after eighteen months without so much as a hiccup, the dirty fuel has created a problem that no one can identify. Currently, after a week of work, the thinking is that it has to be the injector pump but when running it in isolation this afternoon everything seems fine. Our planned departure for Auckland on Monday is now delayed, we have a weekend of engine testing to do and the costs are mounting up. On the upside Opua is rather nice, the locals have all been friendly and extremely helpful,  more of our friends sail in each day and we finally seem to be acclimatising to the cooler weather.

Isolating each pump and filter to try and identify the problem.

Last Monday, unaware of the engine problems yet to come, we borrowed a car from the Island Cruising Club and ventured out for a few hours. The countryside around the Bay of Islands is like a gentle Devon, slightly rounder hills, smaller cliffs and being in the lea of the weather, has calmer sea. The countryside is very green and the vegetation subtropical, the air is full of the scent from the dominating pine trees. 

Our destination was Kerikeri, a town 30km from Opua, where “the shops are a bit bigger”. Well, as it turned out, not much bigger but we did find a nice butchers, a small chocolate factory that sold delicious handmade truffles and had a great lunch at the Ake Ake vineyard, where we stocked up on wine. 

On the way to Kerikeri we stopped at the Haruru Falls, a small waterfall just outside Paihia and our first New Zealand attraction, a pretty spot but with a cool wind whipping up the valley it was too cold to stay for more than a few clicks of the camera. 

Haruru Falls

So far everywhere has been signposted very clearly, the sights are all accurately marked on the maps and the many walks, or tramps as they are called here, are graded from easy to expert with information on duration, suggested experience required, track conditions that will be encountered and even type of footwear needed. Rick was pleased to discover as we entered the Haruru Falls car park, that this track was classed as easy, it was in fact very easy, a gentle five minutes stroll, flip flops would have been adequate. Our first impressions are that New Zealand may be rather prescriptive and full of rules. The marina has a long list of do’s and don’ts, as does the harbour, the roads have different speed limits around every bend and even the sights are full of instructions. It might be just that we are so use to the freedom we have had over the past year, but we are feeling a bit controlled.

Back onboard Raya we have been busy using our time to get as much done as possible while we are stuck in Opua. The sails are back on looking clean and very smart, Rick has replaced the shore power sockets on the stern, we have a new altenator and while working on the engine it has been completely serviced and new engine mounts put in place. With the boat full of oily men, diesel fumes and noise, I have spent my time mostly cleaning or trying to find a small calm space to catch up on admin and when possible doing some trip plannig, guide books, maps and cruising guides abound. 

Rick has been tempering his frustration at the undiagnosed engine problem with the amount he has been learning head deep in the engine room, up to his elbows in diesel. If only with his new found knowledge he could work out why the damm thing keeps stopping!

Don’t Forget to Turn Off the Gas

Friday 2nd December 2016

Packing almost done

I have just checked us in on our flight, the packing is almost done, a tingle of excitement runs through us, even as we are, knee deep in laundry and last minute boat jobs. Excitement with a tinge of anxiety, Raya is somehow so much more to us than just a home or a form of transport, we can’t help being a little worried about leaving her for two months. 

To allay our fears our preparation has been thorough. Many lists have been written and items running from , ‘Turn off the gas!’ to ‘Crack off the halyards’ have mostly been ticked. We have cleaned everywhere including the bilge, which after all the problems and work on the engine, was full of a lovely gooey, water/diesel mix. The toilets and grey tanks have been sanatized with a mixture of fluids all promising to banish bad odours and the freezer which typically, has, now we don’t need it, perked up in the cool New Zealand waters and taken two days to defrost. The watermaker has been pickled and for the first time in twelve months the AIS has been turned off. On deck the sails are neatly furled, all the lines have been tidied and secured and the dingy has its cover back on.

Unfortunately we can’t leave knowing the engine problems have been solved. The injectors and pump were sent a couple of weeks ago to be serviced, whatever was in our fuel had caused substantial damage and they will not be ready until the beginning of next week. Rob the local engine man who took them off, will come onboard to fit them back on in our absence, he will also check Raya is OK for us every week. Fingers crossed we will return to a fully working engine. We have heard of quite a few boats arriving from the Pacific Islands with fuel problems this year but there is no consensus on how to prevent picking up dirty fuel, especially as in our case when the contaminant breached two layers of filters.

In between the cleaning I have been trying to rationalise the 9000 or so photos we have accumulated into watchable small albums for the lucky folks back home. This has taken me hours, as I have tended to dawdle through them, reliving all the great times we have had getting to the other side of the world. What will, no doubt to everybody else, appear to be yet another white beach, tourquoise sea or green mountain, is to us a memory of a particular outing, snorkel or special moment. I have inevitably included way too many.

It has also been a reminder of all the fantastic friends we have made, many of whom we will hopefully bump into again when we all return to the Pacific islands next year. But for some Australia or New Zealand has been the end point of their adventures for awhile and it has been sad saying goodbye.

Another amazing beach at Mangawhai Head, farewell walk and lunch with Lyn and Steve from Nina.

However, all our old friends and family await us in the UK and we can’t wait, just the fridge left to clean, a few last bits to pack and ‘Don’t forget to turn off the gas!’

Further Afield

Gulf Harbour is located on the south coast of Whangaparaoa Peninsula, a long thin finger poking out into Hauraki Gulf. Aukland commuter land, it is full of shiny new housing. A typical modern marina complex with hundreds of boats that people hardly seem to visit, blocks of identical waterside apartments and a souless village centre. However modern does also mean, solid well maintained pontoons and berths, good security, reliable electricity supplies, easy parking etc. etc. And wandering a little further a field we have discovered a rarely visited beach just a five minute stroll away, a National Park a five minute drive away and a British Pie shop (pies seem to be a big thing here), right on our doorstep. In fact we are beginning to discover that wherever you are here, beautiful landscapes (and copious pie supplies) are never far away. 

Last weekend dawned, yet again, grey, cold and drizzly. We drove through the housing estates of suburbia, past the retail parks and shopping centres that are in abundance here and reflected how quickly the excitement of these attractions has worn off. Then suddenly we were in the countryside and even on a day such as this it is spectacular. We were enroute for supper with Domini and family and driving through the green hills, past woodland, farmland and babbling brooks we could see the attraction of making your home here. It was nice to be back for an afternoon in a family environment, we enjoyed playing with the kids, we used their unlimited, full speed wifi and in true Kiwi style, despite the weather, the BBQ was lit and we were treated to delicious ribs and pavlova.

Right at the end of Whangaporaoa peninsula the houses stop abruptly and you are in the Shakespear National Park, a protected area of wild beaches and rolling hills. With the sun finally putting in an appearance on Sunday we drove the short few kilometres into the park to stretch our legs. Te Harui Bay has soft sand, backed by small grassy dunes and today was full of wind and kite surfers enjoying the breezy conditions. We climbed high into the hills above the beach to watch their hairaising antics and enjoy the views over the Gulf, its islands and just through the haze the high rise buildings of the city.

What a difference the sunshine makes, for the first time since our arrival here we have been able to shed our jumpers, get on with some jobs outside and even sit in the cockpit. It also means the other boat owners on the pontoon have been out and about. We were still worrying about Raya being hauled out in our absence and this was being made worse by the lack of meaningful communication from the yard doing the work. On discussion with our neighbours it seems everyone here uses another boatyard an hour up the coast to have haul out work done, Robertsons Boats comes highly recommended. Looking at the charts however didn’t bode well, the yard is a couple of kilometres up a shallow winding river. We were due a day out so we decided to go and take a look.

We took the Hibiscus coast road that winds past the town beaches of Owera and up through the hills and deep river valleys that line the coastline. 

Above Waiwera River

As the road turned inland we were surrounded by dense woodland which to our European eyes was a fascinating mix, tall dark pines, rounded lush disicduous trees, spiky firs and the ever present stunning tree ferns. We entered the small town of Warkworth and on to the boatyard which stands on the banks of the Marhurangi river. Our hearts sank, a scarily narrow, brown stream of water trickled through the mud flats.

As we looked more closely, we could see larger, deep keeled boats chocked up on the hard and after a fifteen minute chat with the owner, Conrad, we were sold. A family run business the place had a friendly, caring feeling to it, the work being carried out looked of a good quality, they were happy to run out to the harbour mouth and pilot you in during the high tide window that you can use to get up river, they even offered to run us back to Gulf Harbour to pick up the car. So we are back to plan A, Raya stays here in the water while we are in the UK and then beginning of February we sail to Warkworth and she is worked on out of the water while we tour the South Island.

Spirits buoyed we drove on to Matakana, described in the travel guide as a quirky village frequented by the Auckland chattering classes. We didn’t see any obvious city folk but we did have a fantastic lunch at the refurbished heritage pub, accompanied by locally brewed beer and rosé from the vineyard around the corner. There was also a proper deli, the first we have found in New Zealand and perfect lunch fare for our friends the next day.

Oh yes, and we bought an inflatable kayak, looks like fun.

Visiting Auckland

Downtown Auckland, city on the sea

Saturday 19th November 2016

We were woken just after midnight on Monday morning to a strange rocking movement. Gulf Harbour Marina is probably the most protected place we have been since we left, there is little or no water movement, many of the boats berthed here don’t even use fenders. We listened for high winds, maybe some violent gusts were blowing through, but there wasn’t so much as a rattle of a halyard or a whistle through the rigging. Rick went on deck to investigate, we were rocked again, all the boats in the marina were bobbing about. He assumed, although he could neither see or hear anything and odd as it might be in the middle of the night, that a large vessel was passing through or near the marina. We woke of course to the news of the earthquake that had hit South Island, the tremors, that were hardly felt this far north, must have been amplified by the water or it was the small tsunami waves radiating into Hauraki Gulf and on to us. Whichever, we were relieved not to have been any further south. 

Hauraki Gulf is the large bay on which Auckland stands and has, since we have arrive, slowly been filling with Navy vessels from throughout the world , all here to celebrate the New Zealand Navy’s 75th anniversary. So luckily there was if needed plenty of help on hand to evacuate the people trapped by the landslips that followed the quake and were exacerbated by the days of heavy rain that have followed.

This same rain has together with a cold wind dampened our week too. The tropics seem a million miles away already. Our heating systems, mothballed for eighteen months, despite Ricks constant tweaking, are only working on and off and the small amount of sky we can see between the motor yachts that crowd us on both sides, have been mostly grey. 

Feeling a bit hemmed in

It’s a gradual process but we are slowly converting back to normal life, the yachties uniform of shorts and t-shirts or more lately sailing boots and jackets has been replaced by rather smarter attire. My sun bleached haystack, that has past for hair this last year, has been tamed somewhat at the hairdressers and I have dug out my handbags. We don’t leave the boat without our phones, I am even wearing a watch, I forget to look at it of course but strangely these things seem to be suddenly essential.

Monday we ventured in to Auckland, we took the ferry that leaves throughout the day from the marina into the city centre. The sea was surprisingly rough and made us, the ocean sailors, surprisingly queasy. So feeling slightly under the weather we  emerged onto the busy streets, traffic, tourists, lunch hour office workers and the racket from a huge construction site. A cold wind blew off the water front and the sky stayed obstinately grey. I had the overwhelming desire to be back on a Tongan beach. We pressed on and gradually got into the swing of things, finding some charming lanes with quirky high priced clothes shops and small restaurants. The sun came out and we sat people watching as we ate the best food we have had since Panama. As the day wore on we were inevitably drawn back to the waterfront and the city centre marinas. The outer berths were lined with super yachts including Pumula the beautiful Royal Huisman yacht that we were next to in Tahiti. We discussed the idea of spending a few nights here next March when we start cruising again, we have never moored right in the middle of a big city before.

Marina at the Viaduct

Friday we returned to the waterfront area, this time by car, to explore the hundreds of marine shops and services in the area, if it has anything to do with the water you can buy it here. I explored the book shop for cruising guides and charts for next years adventures, while Rick perused the biggest chandlery we have ever seen and we started to investigate buying a kayak, an exciting solution to our problems getting ashore when it is difficult to beach the dingy and another way to keep us fit.

Back onboard we are slowly working through the job list and Rick has been busy talking to everyone in the boatyard. Raya will have to come out of the water at some point to clean and anti foul the hull and service all the underwater  fittings The large yacht lift and good hard standing in Gulf Harbour was its main attraction. The plan was to wait until we returned from the UK and manage the lift and initial organisation of the tasks that need completing before leaving on our road trip through the South Island, returning to complete a few of the jobs ourselves. However, we have been made an offer we are finding hard to resist, the yard has a lull in its job list just after the New Year and have given us very competitive rates if we haul out then, unfortunately that will be before we return from the UK. The question is can we bring ourselves to trust them with our precious boat while we are the otherside of the world?

A Tranquil Day in Oke Bay

Sunday 13th November 2016

A steady stream of unseasonable, closely packed weather systems continue to cross the North Island of New Zealand. This not only persists in trapping the few remaining cruisers still in tropics but meant that our planned five day sail to Auckland from Opua, day hopping from bay to bay, had to be cut short. If nothing else this life style has taught us to be flexible, not a trait that was obvious in my personality a year or so ago.

We left our berth in the Bay of Islands Marina as soon as the weather and tide allowed, the winds had continued to blow through Tuesday but Wednesday dawned much calmer. With the sun warming our backs, at mid-tide, we motored over to the fuel dock to fill with nice clean New Zealand diesel. We guessed that the sea beyond the bay would still be rough from the previous days gales, so we opted to stay within the Islands for the night.

Oke Bay was open to the north and looked like a good choice in the forecast south westerly winds, it was also on the outside of the Islands and so a good jumping off point for our sail of just over 100nm to Gulf Harbour Marina, a few miles north of Auckland and our home for the next few months. The bay proved to be extremely tranquil and very pretty, cliffs surrounded it on all sides and a sandy beach lay at its head.

Anchored in Oke Bay

We had a perfect day, the sun shone, there was a mere whisper of a breeze and a gentle swell rocked Raya comfortingly. In the morning we dropped the dingy and explored the rugged shoreline, in the afternoon we read, snoozed and watched the birds, our only companions in the deserted bay. The Red Billed Gulls squawked as they fed, flashing their  equally red feet and legs as they flew by, the Pied Cormorants sunned themselves on the rocks and a group of Welcome Swallows gathered on our rails at dusk. We also spotted two less abundant characters, a Spur Winged Plover waded along the shore line as we approached in the dingy, during the breeding season they can apparently be quite territorial and aggressive, sometimes striking with the sharp yellow spurs they have on their outer wings, luckily this one was busy feeding and appeared happy to share the beach with us. Out in the middle of the bay, we were entertained by a large Australasian Gannet that repeatedly plunged head first into the sea, boobie style, to catch its lunch. We have a long shopping list for New Zealand but we are enjoying the wildlife so much that a good telephoto lens is becoming a priority, my blurred distant efforts to capture these birds are not worth including here.

Trees are easier to capture, a magnificent gnarly specimen at the back of the beach

We did manage one avian photo however, in fact it would have been impossible not to get the shot. Thursday late afternoon we reluctantly roused ourselves and left Oke Bay for the 14hr overnight sail to Gulf Harbour. The first few miles as we pounded into the rough waters around infamous Cape Brett were slow but very scenic. Then as we rounded the outer rocks we saw a patch ahead in the water we couldn’t quite identify. As we closed in we realised it was a dense flock of hundreds of birds massed above what must have been a huge bait ball of fish. The birds frantic activity filled the air and churned up the sea, so engrossed were they that our arrival was hardly noticed as they swooped, dived and screeched all around us.

Large flock of gulls feeding off Cape Brett

Clear of the gulls we unfurled the sails, the acceleration zone created by the headland provided us with a good wind on our stern and with our downwind rig flying we enjoyed a fantastic sail as the sun slid behind the cliffs and hills to our west. Unfortunately the wind disappeared  with the daylight and soon we were back motor sailing. The engine was still stuttering occasionally and so the night was spent on tenterhooks, alert to the slightest change in engine note. Dozing wasn’t a problem during our watches, as it also had been a while since we had sailed so close to the coast at night, there was plenty of shipping to keep us vigilant and numerous lighthouses marking the many rocks and islands that abound here, to avoid.

The engine prevailed and we now find ourselves back in Marinaland, a world of creaking warps, shower blocks, laundrettes and very close neighbours. In fact Ricks deserves a Gold Star for parking we are sandwiched between two large motor yachts with just a few inches to spare on either side. Gulf Harbour is completely full and we have been put on an outer berth on the far side of the marina and with our dingy trapped on its davitts at the back of the boat we have no means of accessing all the services in the main area that is a two mile walk around the marina village. Luckily Domini (Ricks niece who lives close by) has saved the day by lending us a car, it feels extremely odd to have the freedom to go anywhere, as and when the fancy takes us, shops, cinemas, restaurants here we come.

Northland Giants

Tuesday 8th November 2016

We have good news and bad news. The good news is that we have run the engine for four days in every configuration possible with not so much as a splutter, the bad news is that no one has actually identified what the the problem post dirty fuel has been. We have decided that we will just have to hope that whatever the issue was it has resolved itself, time to move on.

Saturday, mid testing, we abandoned ship, hired a car and spent a day on the road. The marina has two carhire businesses, Rent a Dent and Cars for Cruisers, we opted for Cars for Cruisers and for $60 got ourselvess a wreck for the day. Not the most comfortable car but it started, managed the hills, just and the AC worked, it was good enough.

We headed west for the Waipoua Forest and its giant Kauri trees that lie on the opposite coast of North Island. As we drove away from the Bay of Islands the rolling hills gradually began to get bigger and steeper, the slopes were covered in livestock, partitioned with hedges and copses of trees. As we climbed higher, expansive views of the countryside spread out before us and tree covered mountains appeared in the distance.

In the hills near the small town of Oue

After an hour or so of driving we knew we were approaching Hokianga Harbour but it was surprisingly well hidden behind the hills. It was worth the wait, as we rounded a bend it finally appeared and the sight was amazing. The North Shore of the harbour is lined with giant sand dunes and in the midday sun they literally shone. We had lunch in the beach front cafe at Opononi and admired the view.

View of Hokianga Harbour from Opononi

We spotted in the travel guide a walk out to the headland, so we drove a few miles to its starting point in Omapere and the Ari-Te-Uru  Recreation Reserve. Again the track was classified as easy, a surfaced pathway lead out to the end of South Head. This is our type of landscape, rough seas, cliffs and rocky beaches. Bracken, flax and eight foot high hebe bushes lined the path, great views of the Tasman sea, the harbour and the miles of dunes greeted us at every turn.

Dramatic Ari-Te-Uru reserve, Omapere.

Suitably invigorated by the sea air, we turned South towards Waipoua. The road through the forest wound sharply, climbing steeply then dropping into valleys. Thick woodland encased the route, the huge Kauri dwarfing all other trees and the exquisite pre-historic tree ferns arched out of the undergrowth. Kauri Trees are another of Northlands giants growing up to 50m tall and 16m in girth, some specimens are believed to be over 2000 years old. Kauri forests were once common all over the North Island but over the last 200 years they have been decimated. Mostly to blame are the early European settlers who felled them for timber, exploited them for the rich gum they produce and cleared them to create land for pasture. All Kauri trees are now protected, Waipoua, saved by its mountainous location, is their largest surviving refuge and contains Tane Mahuta, thought to be one of the oldest and at 51.5m high with a 13.8m girth, the largest remaining tree in New Zealand. 

Tane Mahuta

Magnificent as the Kauri were, I was more taken by the numerous different ferns that were everywhere, their fonds gently unwrapping, fresh green for the start of summer. The fern leaf is of course a symbol of New Zealand, 200 different species grow throughout the islands and Waipoua Forest is home to many of them small and large.

Ferns of all different sizes amongst he Kauri trees

Back in the marina the weather has turned windy, the boats dance back and forth on their warps and their occupants hide below decks. We recorded a gust of over 39kts early Monday morning and it is approaching that again today. The forecast is for things to calm tonight so we are hoping to depart for the outer bay tomorrow and then down to Auckland overnight Thursday.

Birthdays and Blisters

Sunday 30th October 2016

Normally on arrival at a new place we take a couple of slow days to rest and acclimatise before tackling any tasks that need doing, the problems with the engine, however, have meant this time we found ourselves immediately embroiled in boat maintainance. We have had little time to reflect on our return to civilisation, forced to enjoy and cope with the dramatic changes to our life style while we work busily to get things sorted out. As the New Zealanders get excited about the signs of the summer about to begin, we are shocked at how chilly we feel. As we take delight in the quality and variety of food, we grapple with the concept of using credit cards and phones again. We are in constant surprise at the ease of communication and the amount of services around us, while having to hobble from one workshop to another. After nearly a year of freedom our poor feet are struggling to cope with being contained, they are covered in blisters and even with copious use of plasters it is a choice between cold toes or pain.

After Bruce and his guys got the engine cleaned and restarted, the dirty job of emptying and cleaning the contaminated fuel tank began. Up came the table and floorboards of the salon and for hours a continuous train of full smelly jerry cans were carried up the companionway and out of the boat. Time for me to escape, nowhere glamorous unfortunately, just to the quiet of the laundrette and another task completed.

In the meantime Rick had found a North Sail loft that would valet our sails and replace the degraded UV strips that protect the edge when furled. We decided with the facilities so close by we might as well get them sorted out straight away and we were pleased to hear that with the protection in place and a bit of stitching the sails should be good for another 20,000nm. While the sails are off the boat, we have checked, washed and repaired all the running rigging and the outhaul car for the mainsail is at the stainless steel shop being refabricated. Rick has serviced the generator and we have cleaned and dried out the leaky forward cabin that had taken a bit of a bashing on the sail down.

Sending off the Genoa

It’s not been all work and no play however, the marina is surrounded by gentle rolling hills and winding water ways. It has a very pleasant cafe that does brilliant breakfasts, especially a delicious eggs benedict and the Opua yacht club has a terrace to sit and appreciate the view. They are both gathering places for all the yachties and we have been bumping into familiar faces as everyone gradually trickles out of the tropics, like us arriving in New Zealand to escape the cyclone season.

View from our berth at Opua Marina

Wednesday we were kindly taken by locals and Island Cruising Club managers Mike and Lyn, the five miles into the nearby town of Paihia. A pretty tourist town where the ferries and tours leave to explore the Bay of Islands. The sights from the car and the sea front are lovely but our attention was focussed on the long awaited trip to the supermarket. Walking in the door the choice and quality of the products was almost too much, it turned out to be nearly as hard to buy a complete meal as it had from the empty shelves of Tonga. We came away with six bags of unrelated but scrumptous items from asparagus and advocados to blue cheese and sausages to fresh milk and bottles of local Riesling.

And on Friday it was Rick’s birthday, to celebrate we got a taxi back into Paihia for dinner. After a year of early tropical sunsets we are really enjoying the light evenings and spent an delightful hour drinking at the wharf overlooking the bay. Then despite what we thought was a burning desire to eat somewhere sophisticated, we ended up being tempted by a Indian/Thai restaurant, Greens, it turned out to be an extremely good choice, the food was fantastic. 

Celebrating his 60th Birthday

We plan to stay in Opua for another week before sailing down to just North of Auckland, Gulf Harbour, where we will base the boat while we return to the UK, tour the South Island and lift out to redo the antifoul. So with our feet on the mend and jobs on the boat in hand we are hoping to try and have some time here to be tourists before we leave.

Alternative arrival to New Zealand

Tuesday 25th October 2016

Monday lunch time, after a week at sea, we tied up to the customs dock at Opua Marina. Unfortunately this was not the arrival in New Zealand we had imagined, for we arrived curtesy of  the local coastguard. A real trip of extremes, we had calms so still it was difficult to believe we were at sea, a blast from Antartica that bought cold strong winds and then an engine failure just as we thought we were home and dry.

After the two windless days we saw building, on the horizon, a long grey smudge. As we got closer it gradually became more and more ominous, this was the front that we had been expecting, a dramatic and sudden change from the bright sunny weather to a line of cloud bearing heavy rain. The rain didn’t last long but the weather behind the cloud was in complete contrast to the past few days, the wind turned to the south and grew in strength. At first it was a relief to turn off the engine and we turned west as planned to ride out the weather. The winds and the sea gradually built and within a few hours things were uncomfortable, the wind veered to the SW making it impossible to sail even vaguely towards our destination. So back on came the engine, to help us sail as close to the wind as possible.

Ominous front on the horizon

We were both well dosed with seasick pills, a pre-prepared meal sat on the cooker and we hunkered down, every bit of warm clothing we owned layered under our jackets, telling ourselves it was only for 24 hrs. It was a long 24 hrs however, especially the hours of cold night watches and rather depressing to see our VMG (velocity made good – the speed at which we were going towards out final destination) at only 0.7kts. The sea was never really huge just messy, rocking Raya unpredictably as she slammed into the oncoming swell, the chilly wind whipping around the corners of the sprayhood.

Chilly in the cockpit

Gradually through Sunday the wind decreased and the sea calmed and although chilly we began to enjoy the trip once again. We spotted our first albatross, their huge wingspan disproportionately long for their bodies, seemingly never moving as they swooped past the boat and low over the waves. We got out the cruising guides and started to read about the entry into Opua, we even shared a beer sitting out at the back of the boat watching the sun set.

In the early hours of Monday morning with the wind dropping yet again, our engine which had been doing such a sterling job for us on this difficult to sail passage, suddenly stopped. We knew the fuel we had picked up in Tonga was dirty, Rick had been emptying and changing filters for the whole trip. This time however there was also oil leaking from the turbo charger, he began to think maybe it wasn’t a fuel problem, he worked through the night while I managed to get us sailing in the light winds. Finally the engine restarted , we left it running at very low revs to see if it would keep going, no such luck it stopped again after an hour. We sailed slowly onwards until a few miles out from the rocky shore of the Bay of Islands the wind completely died. This far from the coast we were in no danger, but we thought it prudent, with no knowledge of the tides and currents, not to try and enter the Bay until there was a steady enough wind to give us steerage. The wind dropped further, the dial read 2kts, Rick tried a few more things, questions fill our heads, there was some fuel coming through the system but how much fuel was enough fuel, had problems with the turbo shut down the engine as a precaution, if we got the engine running would it fail again in a more enclosed and dangerous space?

We had a cup of tea to consider our options and at eight in the morning we called the marina to see if they could arrange for some help for us. Typically, it turned out this was a bank holiday in New Zealand and no commercial help was available, an all stations radio call was put out for assistance to no avail, finally it was suggested that they contact the coastguard. So it was we found ourselves being towed at great cost, the coastguard here, unlike in the UK charge for their services, through the Bay and the channel towards the marina.

Preparing to Tow

They dropped us at the customs dock to check in, we thanked them and they rushed off to help someone else. The customs official was waiting for us and the entry procedures started. This includes the requirement to pass a Biosecurity Inspection. You are not allowed to bring in any meat, vegetables, fruit, seeds or dairy into the country, so the contents of our fridge, freezers and many cupboards were thrown into black rubbish sacks. The process was conducted efficiently and with a smile and before long with the help of Bruce from Seapower, a marine engineering company, we were safely tied up in our berth. Finally we toasted ourselves with the traditional ‘ got here beer’, too tired to venture out for food and with little else available, we opened a tin of beans, had a glass of wine and slept for twelve solid hours. 

In the morning Bruce was back with his engineers, the Tongan fuel was the culprit, every filter and pipe was clogged and the injectors blocked, it took a few hours but they got the engine running again. It was a relief that we didn’t have to replace the expensive turbo charger, frustrating that the fuel providers in Tonga could get away with selling such a filthy product but mostly thankful that the engine failed when it did, our situation could have been far worse.

OK, New Zealand here we are, what have you got to offer us for the next few months?