New Zealand – Bay of Islands, Cavalli Islands, Whangaroa, Mangonui
12th November to 16th December
If you’re reading this now, then Christmas is over and you might have more time for internet stuff. I was trying to be brief but failed….(Summary: sailed lots, swam lots, socialised sometimes, solitary sometimes. New Zealand suits me well: friendly, helpful, world-wise, generous, nature loving, adventurous folk. Plus green places, wondrous flora/fauna, clean air and seas etc…but you knew all that.) For more stuff, read on……..
Henrietta and I have been visiting the more popular sailing areas of New Zealand ahead of the holiday rush, when I gather every sailor in Auckland sails up to these northern shores – long school summer holidays lasting from just before Christmas through to late January/early February. The weather has been unusually hot, dry and sunny (almost tropical sometimes) and some Bay of Island anchorages are already busy. And there seem to be water shortages in some places. Tough for farmers but for me it’s heartening to be back in shorts and t-shirts, and find the sea perfectly warm for swimming.New Zealand?
“No worries, mate”, “Not a problem”, “We can fix that, mate”. “This is a can-do sort of a place”. …..Such is the nature of New Zealanders’ boundless enthusiasm and optimism. They really do seem ready and willing to roll up sleeves and get on with it, whatever it is. In reality this optimism is all pretty absurd and quite ridiculous, perhaps a bit silly – even if it’s initially endearing. The truth is: it is a problem and that’s why I raised it. You may fix it but you don’t say when. And some ‘can-do’ is sometimes some ‘cock-up’.
And so I have to be patient with the boaty jobs that are needed. Essentials, where I needed expert help, have mostly been fixed (excellent sail repairs, adequate spray hood patching, botchy sort of spinnaker track fix). Most of the other Henrietta items still on the lengthy to-do list, I’ll do myself.
I love New Zealand and its people though, for their open-hearted effort and generally cheery no-fuss cooperative approach to the world’s most intractable problems. Plus they are generally outward-looking, interested in the world, generous, welcoming and helpful. Many people really do seem to think they can fix it – not just boat’s bits and local trouble, but really big troubles like global warming, poverty, war; serious stuff where most of us simply feel rather powerless and just get gloomy. One historic example of New Zealand’s international effort and boldness lies near where I write this – anchored among the Cavalli Islands, just off the coast of northwest North Island.
I’m a few hundred metres from a memorial to New Zealand/Greenpeace’s attempts to stop nuclear proliferation and pollution. Greenpeace’s vessel Rainbow Warrior lies near here. (If you are too young to remember, Rainbow Warrior was Greenpeace’s flagship which was threatening to scupper French nuclear bomb testing in French Polynesia. The French Government didn’t like this so ordered secret agents to sink it, and in 1985 it was blown up and sunk in Auckland Harbour [keep in mind that France and New Zealand were supposedly friendly nations at the time]. A Portuguese crew member was killed. Yet only two agents were ever convicted of the sinking, their ten year prison sentences slashed to less than two, served on the Tuamotu island of Hao, after which they were quietly returned to France and honoured. It all seems even more outrageous now than it did then.) After repairs in Auckland, Rainbow Warrior was scuttled in 1987 and is now a dive site near here, and its propellor is prominently displayed on a nearby headland.
New Zealand is the first Pacific country I’ve visited that seems almost free of plastic debris and litter (partly I suppose because it’s outside the main west-flowing tropical current crossing the Pacific further north and not too many people live here). Everywhere else in this gigantic ocean, even the most totally deserted and remote little island, has a fringe of plastic detritus (I’ve mentioned it before). Here, not only are many people trying to limit use of plastic (though no charge yet for bags?), but there are regular clean-up operations (such as happen sometimes on European beaches etc). I have a bee in my bonnet about plastic, you see. If you really must use it, then re-use it lots of times and don’t ever think it comes cheap.
New Zealanders care a lot for native animals too (NB. ‘Kiwi’ plural are birds, ‘Kiwis’ plural are people) ……But not so keen on non-native animals (it’s tough if you’re a dog, a rat, a possum, a stoat or other import)….
And the scenery is legendary – nice anyway (mainly green and empty with a few cows and sheep)….
And meanwhile, I’ve been sometimes very sociable with the many friends I’ve met and meet along the way, and sometimes totally solitary in exquisite and empty anchorages. I’ve seen tasteful touristy stuff (chocolate factory, woodwork workshop, historic sights, mind-muddling museums, ‘old’ buildings, Mauri relics, Waitangi history et al), dull domestic stuff (shops and cafes and bars), and colourful local goings-on (markets, a Christmas party, Kerikeri and Opua Cruising Clubs, Bay of Islands sailing races, school camping teenagers). I’ve walked many miles of island and mainland paths, all – well, almost all – beautifully marked and maintained by NZ Dept of Conservation. And now I have an old bicycle as well, I’ve sweated and puffed up and down a lot of hills – New Zealand is rarely flat.
But, although I believe Kiwis to be industrious, no-fuss, get-on-with-it, refreshingly open and all round fantastic folk, I might have got it all completely wrong. Perhaps I have totally misunderstood the people I’ve met, and all that I’ve observed and thought, and heard and read. It could be that New Zealand is doomed because it is so overwhelmed by China – which has over 300 times as many people – and because it has relatively few natural resources, and is too dependent on tourism, and it’s a million miles from anywhere else. And also because property prices, at least around Auckland and this area, are crazily inflated (it’s not as if they are short of space either), public transport is almost non existent, commercial radio is total crap and an advert in a national paper tells me the “Best Christmas Gift Ever” is an electronic bidet – complete with warm water wash, warm air dryer, soft closing lid, heated seat…blimey! (Kiwis I chat to are sure this will never catch on – such gadgets, they say, are only for posteriorly-challenged Koreans and Japanese.)
…and Henrietta has a few words too…
Looking back I can see I’ve had a pretty good year. Lots of sailing in the sun, which I like. No sitting about feeling unloved and forgotten. Since M owned me, we have sailed just over 25,000 miles together. Our little trip from England to New Zealand took us 16,223 miles (if you believe these satellites). If I was a rocket and M an astronaut we’d be a tenth the way to the moon by now (see ‘supermoon’ photo below!)
Generally I’m having a lovely time pootling about New Zealand too. We’ve visited many spots in the Bay of Islands (which is a pretty small area anyway), rolled about a lot in the Cavalli islands, and had a really lovely gentle stay in Whangaroa Harbour, a spectacular large natural harbour with high hills all round and verdant textured trees around its shores. And then we anchored among the moorings in Mangonui Harbour which was horrid for me (crapping seagulls) – though M wandered the Heritage Trail and liked his fish and chips….
While carrying on my traveller’s life and in Opua earlier, some of my worn out bits were fixed, and M cleaned me up and, soon, with some polish and a bottom scrub and deck clean-up and sheet replacement and engine service and gelcoat repair and some varnish and a few other odds and ends, I’ll feel fine and look as beautiful as new (which is more than can be said for my skipper). We’ve sailed to so many pretty anchorages in Bay of Islands, Cavallis and Whangaroa Harbour that I’m dizzy.
Alas! if I’m totally honest I do have a few problems with my skipper though. One: He’s started to load all sorts of junk and stuff on my deck. To start with there was just a kayak, but that was nicked ages ago and replaced with a step ladder (which he’s used only once in the past year). Now in one corner of my deck, there’s a big ugly NZ gas cylinder with pipe, a fender, an old marker buoy from Tuamotus, a spare bower anchor, and a bicycle, and, through it all, the lines to control my Hydrovane. Look at the photo! …(I start to resemble one of those scruffy narrow boats you see on Britain’s canal system, a jumble of old logs and assorted scrap on the roof, where an old hippy and downtrodden dejected mongrel go nuts.)
Number two problem: his relentless, profound and chronic indecision means we never seem to know what we’ll do next, who we’ll see, where we’ll go, when to go there, how to get there or anything. It gets on my nerves and wears us both out. Yet I suppose it does mean life is always full of surprises. From which you must conclude we haven’t a clue about next year……
M is probably a lot happier than a year ago. He has days when he’s what I’d call ‘motivated’ and gets up early and does useful things like cleaning the cabin and tidying up cupboards and planning where to go and fixing things and sailing us somewhere new and going for a swim and walk and cooking and having friends aboard for a meal or a drink. He also has days that I’d call plain bone idle when he seems to get up long after dawn and then sits or lies around reading a book and festering, just drinking tea and wine and eating up leftovers, maybe chatting to folk. Also he gets a bit gloomy and rather glum when he’s alone and reads too much international news. (A lot of sailors get like that.)Pretty and ubiquitous waterside and roadside colour: Pohutukawa and Agapanthus grow wild and everywhere
Never mind! We’ve had a generally wonderful varied fascinating rewarding healthy year in 2017. And, although I know that life is not so easy for every boat or everyone, we wish you all