I jolted awake to a loud, wet, sniffy snort in my ear – and it wasn’t Paul.
The Thing breathed in deeply and snorted again. Paul woke and we froze. It scratched. It wailed and hissed with an ear piercing cry. To our horror, the wail was answered.
There were two Things and they were smelling us.
We were camped by a river in a very remote spot in the majestic Whirinaki Forest – 56,000 hectares of primeval, 1000 year old podocarp trees, North Island, New Zealand.
It was idyllic. There were no other people and after a hearty meal round the open fire we’d drifted asleep to the sound of the river.
Another long wet sniff. Were we about to become dinner?
Paul grabbed a torch and stuck his head outside the tent in a dramatic, manly fashion. There were scuffles. Paul went back to sleep. I lay still hardly daring to breathe. A rustle. Heavy thuds. The Things prowled round our camp before disappearing into the night.
The next morning we found a clue. A stinking, rotting possum hanging from a tree trap.
A species not native to New Zealand they’re seen as vermin for eating birds eggs. Traps had been laid along a ‘possum path’ … which led straight to our tent. No wonder they sounded angry.
The next night, determined to see them in action, we went possum hunting under the cloak of darkness and spotted one in our torch beam. Half-way up a tree, startled by the light, it was the size of a small dog with a big wet nose and a mix of gremlin and a koala. It certainly didn’t look like it would eat us.
Since the last blog …
We last blogged back in December 2020 … how four months can fly by. No surprises, we’re still in New Zealand. In fact we’ve been here for 18 months and it was only supposed to be six.
And we’ve been reminiscing. Since leaving the UK we’ve spent:
🌊 105 nights at sea
⚓️ 381 nights at anchor
And as Paul likes to remind me that’s involved eight miles of chain, weighing 30 tonnes, which he’s personally pulled up by hand 💪
🎈70 nights on a mooring bouy
🚿407 nights living in a marina
In total, we’re not far short of 1000 nights into our adventure.
And we reminisce because our sailing around the world plans may be turning back into pipe dreams.
We’re starting to fear we won’t be able to finish what we started.
Our sail or sell situation
Our New Zealand visas have been automatically renewed till end April 2021 and we can then apply for a six month visitors visa.
That’s great, yes, but then what?
Option 1: Sail home via Australia
The cyclone season is ending and with a weather window we can, in theory, sail to Australia. BUT we can’t get a visa, despite applying 12 months ago.
A quarantine free travel bubble between New Zealand and Australia has been announced, but it only includes flights. The border is firmly closed to yachts and we can’t get a visa.
We’re going to ask for a special exemption (for the second time), on the basis we’re sailing direct from New Zealand and our route can be tracked. But we’re not holding our breath for a positive answer.
Option 2: Sail home past Australia
If we can’t visit Australia we have two options for sailing past it – up the east coast, inside the Great Barrier Reef, permission willing. Or outside the Great Barrier Reef through the Coral Sea.
Inside the reef is safer; if an unseasonal storm comes along we can find emergency shelter. And we could rest in the lee of the coral reefs. We could also request permission to collect provisions and water from designated Australian ports.
Outside the reef is more challenging as there would be no emergency refuge or provisioning options. But, the sailing would be more straightforward with less sea traffic and reef navigation, … and the remote diving opportunities would be superb.
Option 3: Sail home via Indonesia
If we sail past Australia we would aim for a stop-over in Indonesia …. though their closest borders are also currently closed.
If the Indonesian border opens we could first sail to New Caledonia (a weeks sail away) where permission to stop for 24 hours and pick up pre-ordered fresh food and water is likely to be granted.
Then, we would go for Option 2, sailing through the Coral Islands Territory to Lombok, Indonesia. Borders and visas willing.
And in case you were wondering …
– going south of Australia isn’t an option as we’d be sailing against the prevailing winds of the southern ocean.
– we can’t go back the way we came as that would involve crossing two oceans against the trade winds
Option 4: Sell Baggy, fly home
The heart wrenching, saddest option.
Stay in New Zealand, probably until November and (gulp) put Baggy on the market to sell to some kiwis who will love and cherish her. It’s a sellers market and we’d get a fair price for her … but we’d be gutted to have to do that.
We would fly home.
Option 5: Stay in New Zealand
Out trip has already been extended by a whole, unexpected year. This option would mean trying to extend visas for yet another year in New Zealand, without the ability to secure work visas, hoping that Australian and Indonesian borders will eventually open.
This doesn’t appeal – beautiful as it is here. Without work visas we feel like our lives are in suspension. We never intended (or have the funds) to cruise the world for years on end.
So, for the next few months we bite our nails, make calls, fill in forms and watch and wait.
To have a chance of sailing home we have to reach South Africa by November, before the start of the next cyclone season.
We’ve given ourselves until June as the absolute latest date we can wait to make a final decision.
And right now it’s 50/50 which way things will go.
But … epic adventures have continued
We’ve spent the last four months sailing and exploring the east coast of North Island and its remote outlying islands.
With only locals and no incoming tourists, we’ve had entire islands and anchorages to ourselves.
Our eleven highlights
1. Drinking and dancing our way through Christmas and New Year in the Southern Hemisphere’s largest marina, Westhaven.
Featuring – dinner up the Sky Tower; New Year at a Latino club and fireworks off the Sky Tower; Christmas dinner with our fun cruising friends Sorin and Ana on S/V Mehala.
2. Birthday celebrations on our own remote island finding rich seams of obsidian rock (black volcanic glass); climbing into an extinct volcano and befriending baby Morpork owls. Polished off with a home-made dark chocolate and mixed berry vegan cheesecake 💜
3. Making friends with a fur seal colony and playing with them while diving.
4. Seeing a hammerhead shark swim under our dinghy, a big bronze whaler shark and several short fin Mako shark (the fastest shark in the world). The latter leapt right out of the water and landed next to us with a heart stopping splash.
5. Spending hours with large pods of dolphins that loved playing with Baggy as we sailed along.
6. Becoming surrogate sea bird parents to young gull, Sydney, who repeatedly came to visit us.
7. Diving in dramatic canyons in remote locations and communing with large shoals of extremely friendly fish, moray eels and stingrays.
8. Having a close encounter with a Bryde’s Whale, which kept diving underneath us.
9. Being in the middle of all the America’s Cup action off and on the water. We happily allowed INEOS Team UK to practise their turns around us.
10. Supporting local Park Runs, with special thanks to Auckland for Auckland Zoos roaring lion support.
11. Receiving TWO Tsunami warnings on our phones from Civil Defence, in the space of a few weeks.
The first came while camping just off the beach where there were huge waves and brutally strong currents.
The second was caused by a rapid series of large earthquakes off the coast of New Zealand while we were in the Coromandel area.
Many towns were evacuated and we were told to take to high ground, stay of the water and not go onto beaches. A tough call when you live on a boat. But, we dutifully went ashore in the dinghy, climbed a hill and enjoyed a sunny afternoon drinking flask tea and eating biscuits watching for giant waves.
Basically we’ve had a blast.
Since Christmas in Auckland we’ve been to the Mercury Islands, Slipper Island, Tauranga and Mount Maunganui, Motiti Island, Mayor Island, Waiheke, Mokohino Islands, Arid Island, Great Barrier Island and back to Auckland. That’s ⚓️ 136 nights at anchor and 🚿 46 nights in marinas. You can follow our track on Yellow Brick.
And as Paul has just reminded me – during that time he’s pulled up three miles of chain weighing 10 tonnes, by hand 💪
Our future may be uncertain, but we count our blessings every day. We are SO lucky to be in a country with no restrictions and our hearts go out to everyone in lockdowns around the world.
So, what now?
As I write this we’re planning to sail to the Hen and Chicken Islands for a final diving hurrah. Then it’s back to Riverside Drive Marina in Whangerai to prepare Baggy for long sailing passages home, or a very sad and reluctant sale.
We just hope and pray we can sail home and we’ll keep you posted as soon as we know what’s happening.