A gale force, katabatic wind is like a demonic creature coming to eat you.
And this devouring monster doesn’t hunt alone. It arrives with its sidekick … torrential downpour. They’re menacing bullies.
As I write this a sub tropical low has arrived close to New Zealand, an angry whirl of red on the Met Forecast report. A howling demon snorting gale force gusts on the ground.
Baggy violently sheers off and snubs at her anchor chain in an attempt to run away. We lie awake, boards in, windows tightly shut, clutching at the duvet willing them to go away.
Thankfully, we’re tucked up in one of New Zealand’s safest and most sheltered harbours – Whangaroa, North Island.
While four metre swells are reported outside, we’re in a safe anchorage, with nooks to hide in and flat calm waters.
But bush clad hills and ‘Land of Mordor’ rocks tower over us. These channel strong down drafts – sometimes called williwaw’s – particularly at night.
As the wind changes direction, we hide Baggy in a new sheltered spot.
This cat and mouse routine went on for days till the monsters eventually heading off to look for new victims and we were able to escape.
Since the last blog …
We’ve weathered New Zealand’s wet and windy winter on a comfy mooring at Riverside Drive Marina in Whangerai, North Island.
And then we ventured out to sea to enjoy summer cruising around this country’s stunning wild islands and bays.
It is SO beautiful. On sunny days the coastal farmland is emerald green and the heavy scent of manuka bush hangs in the air. There are long untouched sandy beaches, rocky foreshores, caves and countless sheltered anchorages
Project Island Bird Song means there are pest traps and bait boxes everywhere … but the result is a thriving population of native (and non-native) birds.
Living so close to nature we’ve become keen twitchers and daily spot – Tui, North Island Tomtit, Fantail, Bellbird, NZ Robin, NZ Pipit, Whiteheads, Silvereyes, Kaka, Kakariki, Gannets, Puketona, Saddlebacks, Riflemen, Variable Oystercatchers, Kakapo, Kingfishers, Banded Dotterels, Pied Shags …….
But, let’s catch up first. Since last August we’ve had lots to celebrate.
👍 Covid 19 is practically non existent in New Zealand. Apart from a short spell on public transport there’s been no need for masks or restrictions. Compared to what’s happening around the the world we are VERY lucky to be here.
👍 Our visas have been automatically extended until mid February 2021 Fears of having to sell Baggy and fly home have, for the moment, been suspended.
👍 Australia has got it’s Covid 19 act together. Travel borders have opened up between Oz and New Zealand.
We have to wait until the cyclone season has passed (around April/May 2021) there are promising signs we’ll be able to complete our circumnavigation and sail home ⛵️
👍 We’ve been very ‘productive’ with our time … ahum 🤣
👍 For a few magical minutes I WAS an octopus 🐙 with my octopus friend Ana from S/V Mehala. We danced to a ukulele rendition of ‘Octopus’s Garden’ at our Marina Music Festival.
👍 I sold my guitar and bought a ukulele … songs are being crafted …
👍 We have a new crew member – Gerty. She’s made of coconut cream and a secret NZ culture. Requiring just a jar and a decent room temperature, she is extremely enthusiastic about her new role as ‘boat yoghurt maker’.
👍 We’ve eaten a lot of free 🥑 avocados. Special thanks to our crop picking cruising mates on S/V Mehala ⛵️
👍 I’m studying for a Herbalism Diploma and have been foraging for free food. Who knew that ALL New Zealand seaweed is edible 😋 vs 🤢 ?!
👍 We made new mates: Meet Donald and Doris, who we fed every day, twice a day, for several months
👍 We ran a lot and I blagged all the free, gym trial offers that Whangerai had to offer.
👍 We enjoyed another Waiheke Island holiday (our third): Thank you Linda and Karli; we had the BEST time.
And before we knew it, the winter had passed and the weather had warmed up. With only six months left in this beautiful country we didn’t want to ‘waste’ a minute more.
We executed a mammoth, essential provisions mission to set us up for four months ‘off the grid’ – using the dinghy instead of a car – and then we were good to go.
And on Saturday 17 October … with Baggy sitting significantly lower in the water (Paul’s beer) … and a sentimental tear in our eyes … we slipped our lines and motored down the Hatea River (playing Rod Stewart’s ‘We Are Sailing’ at full volume).
Our rough plan was to explore the cruising grounds of the North Island, up the east coast.
Sub tropical lows aside, it’s been glorious. We’ve had a lot of high pressure weather – sunshine, light breeze, calm seas.
We discovered deserted anchorages; tramped through thick, jungly bush; ran on sandy beaches; swam and snorkelled and dived down to visit old sea friends.
Eight random highlights …
1 Little blue penguin 💙 spotting. SO tiny and SO far from land … they pop up, then speed off. Photos near impossible, until we found several dead on the beach.
New Zealand is going into a La Niña weather system, which brings warmer than average air and sea temperatures, particularly around North Island. This means fish stay in deeper, cooler water. Apparently La Niña has happened earlier and more rapidly this year – climate change related? The experts think the penguins can’t find the fish they need to eat and are starving to death. It’s a heart breaking tragedy.
2 Wreck diving HMNZS Canterbury, a former navy warship on Paul’s birthday. We were the only divers on the wreck.
Then enjoying post-dive, rum soaked birthday fruit cake 😋
3 Several wreck dives on Greenpeaces’s Rainbow Warrior, Cavalli Islands. It was bombed by the French SAS in 1985. We were the only people there each time!
4 Climbing up ‘The Duke’s Nose’, a rocky outcrop in Whangaroa Harbour.
5 Walking to Cape Brett and it’s famous lighthouse.
6 Visiting the largest Cavalli Island – Motukawanui. Remote and rugged with crystal clear water.
Free of possums and cats it’s listed as one of only a few islands globally that has a chance of saving some of the worlds most threatened species. And, yup, we had it all to ourselves!
7 Celebrated my 600th dive – just before our diving compressor blew up!
8 Just living a very simple life afloat in the Bay of Islands. Slowing down enough to enjoy meeting all kinds of new insects, fish and birds, save bees and take time to smell the flowers.
Remembering how to live off the grid ….
Since our jaunt to Great Barrier Island, way back in April, we’d become marina softies.
Oh yes. The $2 showers were hot and strong; the washing machines were big and powerful. We were hooked up to the electric and enjoyed the luxury of a kettle, blender, iron and and hair dryer. We could fill up on fresh water whenever our tank ran low and all we had to do was step off the boat to go ashore.
Living ‘on the hook’ has changed all that. And for the better because we’ve remembered to appreciate all luxuries and live a much simpler life.
Water: we’re back to rationing our 240 litre water tank and 4 x 20 litre jerry cans by using pumps dispensers at the sinks.
We wash with marine friendly soap in the sea and rinse on deck.
Laundry is avoided by wearing less clothes, hand washing (water willing) or waiting till we can find a launderette.
Bizarre ‘watering up’ scenarios have started. Above is our first ever water buoy – a precarious operation. The water came from an underground spring and was supposed to be boiled. We’ve been drinking it unboiled. So far, so good. 🤪
Electric: we’re reliant on our 180 watt solar panel, sunshine willing (when the engine’s not running). We use it just for the fridge and charging up devices.
Most days the New Zealand sun is strong and the fridge can be put on in the morning, left on all day and turned off at night. We’ve had a few lumpy soya milk and warm beer situations, but otherwise, so far, so good.
Gas: Our 4kg cylinder lasts around three weeks for all our cooking and boiling needs. It will, of-course, run out in the middle of cooking and to get a gas refill we need to go the mainland. So, we have a back-up meths Origio stove; but it can’t bake cakes!
Food: Bananas don’t get on with tomatoes, oranges and lemons need to be kept separate from everything. Cucumbers keep better out of the fridge. Pumpkins and cabbage last forever. Carrots like it better in the fridge … and so it goes on. We wrap, darken, chill, cool, air and separate everything so everyone’s happy. Meals are based around eating up whatever looks the most unhappy first.
Going ashore: we put everything in a waterproof bag and dress fully prepared to get wet. We climb into the dinghy (Baloo 2), after negotiation with the red billed gulls, and motor or row to the nearest shoreline .. looking out for submerged rocks.
We time beach landings with surf roll, then lift the dinghy (and engine!) and carry it up the beach, observing tide situation and tie it up to something. Oh, the simple pleasure of a front door.
But, hey, we’re not complaining. The air is fresh; the sun is warm; the sea is clean; the scenery breathtaking; the wildlife flourishing. And … seriously … where is everyone?
So … what’s next?
We’re sailing down to Auckland for Christmas and New Year celebrations; staying in Westhaven Marina, the biggest marina in the Southern Hemisphere.
Should be great, except a tropical depression has formed near Fiji and it may well turn into a full blown tropical cyclone, arriving on Christmas Eve!!
Then, throughout January and February 2021, we’re off exploring Great Barrier Island, Hauraki Gulf and Coromandel Peninsula, Mercury Islands, Poor Knights, Mokohinao Islands and Hen and Chicken islands.
Come March 2021 – everything crossed – we’ll be ready to start preparing for the 1200 mile sail across to North Australia 🇦🇺, possibly via New Caledonia 🇳🇨
We may have had to add an unexpected extra year to our plans, but – wow- we are SO thankful to have this amazing gift of time in beautiful New Zealand.
You can follow our erratic cruising on Yellow Brick. We’re sending out a position ping from every anchorage we visit.