A long sharp beak appeared under the fly sheet of our tent, snatched a bag of couscous and dragged it out.
By the time I’d scrambled out there was a couscous trail across the grass, and a weka bird dragging the contraband into thick bushes.
A weka is a small, feisty, flightless bird endemic to New Zealand. And this the first of many weka close encounters.
From tea bags and toiletries, to cleaning clothes, gas cylinders, mug lids, hair grips and sunglasses …. we needed eyes in the back of our heads to catch these reprobates.
And they weren’t the only wildlife we encountered.
Since the last blog
We’ve been living in New Zealand for the last three months because the cyclone season is in full swing.
Living on the boat in sunny Riverside Drive Marina in sub tropical Whangarei, North Island meant being normal.
We’ve coaxed our wobbly sea legs back into land mode with stomping walls, hill runs and Whangarei Park Runs on Saturday morning.
We’ve embraced local life and been to sailor do’s, pot lucks, yoga classes, gigs, an ‘op shop’ fashion show, dentists, doctors, hairdressers, markets and fairs.
We’ve met new neighbours – sailors from Bradford, Stockholm, Canada, America and New Zealand.
And it felt good to stop for a while … but by mid December we were restless and ready to explore New Zealands bush and trails.
So, we hired a cheap Toyota Fielder estate car; filled it with camping kit and food; tucked Baggy up for a well earnt rest and hit the road for 30 days under canvas.
Our eight road trip highlights
1 Tramping The Pinnacles, Coromandel Peninsula, North Island
This was the first and shortest (15km) of three intended walks. It involved two days of walking the original steps of packhorses which carried supplies to kauri loggers and gold miners in early 1900s.
It was dramatic, steep and there were lots of stream and river crossings. Our kit was heavy, the walking tough, it rained and we froze in our flimsy summer sleeping bags. But the views were stunning and we learnt our lessons for the next walk!
2 If you love a swing bridge there are loads out here!
We camped for free, washed in ice cold rivers and had wood fires.
We also stayed in fancy paid for sites, with communal kitchens and showers.
We had a glamping car tent set up for the days we weren’t tramping – with blow up mattress, warm duvet, pillows and chairs. And it was sheer luxury.
4 Visiting Bulls Town
An unbelieve-a-bull place near Palmerston on the west coast of North Island. It’s also known as the town of dad jokes. No bull-****!
5 Christmas in Carterton
We adopted a New Zealand family for Christmas Day – an old UK friend, the lovely Liz Stockley, and her family.
The Stockley’s live in a ‘life style block’, a large bungalow, with outhouses and ducks, chickens, sheep, cows and dogs.
On Christmas morning the family volunteered at a community lunch and our dinner was a BBQ. We met neighbours and family and learnt about Kiwi community life – the nuances of water supply, horse veterinary work and home grown lamb meat.
As a Christmas Eve treat we spent a night in a real bed … our first night in a proper bed for exactly 503 nights!
And we couldn’t sleep. It was too still. Normal sleeping resumed the next night … on a blow up mattress.
6 Meeting Old Mates
On Boxing Day we caught the scenic car ferry to South Island and met our friends, Phil and Helen, enjoying a camper van holiday.
They treated us to a curry in Picton (our first restaurant meal in eight months). We caught up on gossip and visited the wine region of Marlborough, including a free tasting visit at the famous Villa Maria cellar doors.
6 Tramping the Queen Charlotte Track, South Island
Our second walk was 71km over three days and nights. Still carrying all our camping kit.
My bag ripped; Paul got blisters and had to walk in flip flops and we were continually ambushed by wekas.
7 Tramping the Heaphy Track, Kahurangi National Park, South Island
Our third, final and biggest walk was 78.4km, over four days and three nights.
After six hours on a bouncy bus we arrived at the start and shot off with high energy along the wild west coast.
We were tramping camping machines by this stage.
We felt fit and strong. Paul had new shoes, I had a new rucksack and we’d packed with military precision.
And then we camped in Sand Fly City – wondering why we were the only tent there.
The female flies bite for blood to feed their eggs and it’s excruciatingly itchy. No amount of mosquito coil burning, citronella or attempts to cover up stopped the relentless attacks which left us half demented and scratching till we bled.
8 We camped at a manuka honey farm
This magical place had a hidden, deserted, canyon amphitheatre. Only reachable by narrow track along a river it was full of wild ponies, goats and honey bees.
Six Kiwi Curiosities
1 Huntin’ shootin’ fishin’
Hunting is a way of life out here and no fun if you’re a red deer, goat, pig, duck, black swan, goose, hare, rabbit or possum.
The promotion of guns came as a surprise, not to mention the gruesome top shelf of the corner shop magazine rack.
2 Caught in a trap
Hunting might be a favourite pastime, but so is protection of endemic species. The Department of Conservation runs a full on operation with stacks of signs and shoe wash stations to protect the threatened native Kauri tree being killed by disease.
And there are THOUSANDS of traps to catch stoats, rats … and hedgehogs (sadly they’re not native and eat the eggs of nesting birds).
3 Silly Shopping
On a happier note, we can still buy ‘English’ baked beans; ‘Manchester’ (which apparently means linen) and ‘My Mate’ the Ozzie/Kiwi brand name for real marmite.
4 Foot Fashion
When shopping its de rigueur to wear your ‘jandles’ (flip flops) – either under your feet, or hanging off your ankle. But preferably, Kiwis go bare foot … everywhere and at every opportunity … work and school included.
5 Swing your Shoes
If not wearing shoes then it’s common to hang them off of powerlines, fences and trees.
It’s apparently done in remembrance of people who have gone away. Though the police theory is that it marks cannabis-selling ‘tinny houses’ at the tops of roads. And if you get lost there are handy road signs.
6 Paul’s favourite pub
In other news …
It’s been unbearably hot – reaching over 35 degrees on some days. The other day I had to get help for a bin on fire outside a shop.
And the effects of Australia’s horrific forest fires have been felt here too. South Island’s had an eerie orange smoke haze, the glaciers have turned caramel pink and the sun a red gold depending on the smoke thickness.
Refit, refit, refit
It hasn’t all been play. We’ve had work to do.
Boat owners will know that the list of jobs is endless. Our list has included installing new standing rigging throughout, sanding and staining all the deck woodwork, servicing the engine and fitting a new galley worktop.
Baggy was lifted out of the water for the first time in two years. And her spa treatments included a good wash down, copper coat touch up, changed anodes and polished and waxed topsides.
And we’ve been spring cleaning. Tidying, decluttering and buying kit for the 18 month journey home – from suncream to navionics charts.
New Crew Announcement
We need to announce a change to the Baggy crew list. Sadly, Baloo, our much loved dinghy, has been sold, along with the occasionally temperamental outboard engine.
After his annual appraisal it was clear Baloo wasn’t going to make it through the rigours of the next 18 months.
A new Baloo II (and outboard engine) have been appointed and given responsibility for all shore trips and diving expeditions, with immediate effect. We will report back on progress and performance following their six monthly review.
Late February Sail to bohemian Whaihiki Island – famous for its vineyards, food and art – to house/dog sit for our lovely friend, Linda Simpson, a week.
March Cruise and dive the Haraki Gulf.
April Cruise and dive the Bay of Islands.
May As soon as we get a weather window, sail 1000 nautical miles to the remote and rugged South Pacific island archipelago of Vanuatu.
Stretching over 1,300 km this is a place of rumbling volcanoes, deserted beaches and world-class diving. And the majority of its people still live a village lifestyle.
I’m pleased to say our trusty and dusty tracker Yellow Brick will be back in action as soon as we leave the marina.
And we have to confess. As much as we have loved our land adventures, the sea is calling us back.