We have had a magnificent time in New Zealand, although five months has proved nothing like long enough to do everything we might have wanted. How we could ever have thought Chris might spend time in gainful employment we cannot imagine!
Our first two weeks in NZ gave us a taste of the cruising potential here and we planned much more. For Christmas and the New Year we took the boat south to Tauranga, where Chris was brought up. We made the passage down from Auckland in one leg, arriving on Christmas Eve after 30 hours sailing, to prolonged gusts of 40 knots outside Tauranga Harbour. We had full sail up after an otherwise rather quiet passage which made for quite an exciting landfall! Christmas day was spent with cruising friends An Cala and Kiwel Meleya. Adrienne from K M also comes from Tauranga, and was returning home after 20 years in the USA. We were all invited to Christmas with Adrienne’s Mum – who turned out to have worked with and remembered Chris’ father! We spent the next few days checking out various sites of historical (Wallace) interest in and around Tauranga – several former family homes, the high school, and other haunts. Tauranga – in the heart of Kiwifruit country – seemed a thriving and affluent town. with its individual detached homes set in spacious well-tended ‘sections’, making it look like a rather up-market British suburb - which I subsequently discovered is what quite a lot of New Zealand looks like. From there we visited Rotorua to stay with friends, and to view the extraordinary sights of this area, seething and gurgling alarmingly with geo-thermal activity. We then headed back towards Auckland at a more leisurely pace, stopping off along the way. First Tairua, where Chris’ father had first lived and worked in NZ in the 1920s when he originally came to New Zealand - and where the harbourmaster now patrols on a jet-ski! Not quite the tranquil or picturesque haven I had anticipated, but we had an excellent night out with friends there. On up the eastern side of the Coromandel Peninsular to the Mercury Islands – the most scenic cruising you could wish for – rocky outcrops and islands all along the coast, backed by the mountainous peninsular. Fishing is massively popular in New Zealand and all along the way were small fishing launches ‘parked up’ fishing or chugging purposefully around. The voluntary coastguard service provides a full VHF watch which is in constant use – the variety of predicaments needing attention providing us with great entertainment! Finally, via Colville a classic alternative New Zealand settlement, before heading back into Auckland, past landmarks beginning to feel familiar – Waiheke Island, Rangitoto, the Skytower – it felt a bit like coming home. Sadly, other than a very pleasant day sail with friends out to the island of Motuihe, that is all the cruising we have managed to do – despite the fabulous cruising opportunities all around Auckland.
We remained based in Auckland – ‘City of Sails’ and the America’s Cup - during our stay in New Zealand. Not only very convenient for all things sailing, but also where Chris has friends from university days. Auckland has a fantastic setting on the Hauraki Gulf, surrounded by the waters of the Waitemata and Manukau Harbours on a rolling landscape from which pop up small volcanic hills all over the city. The city sprawls over a gigantic area – nearly a third of the inhabitants of New Zealand live here in typically spacious New Zealand style. It has an exciting and cosmopolitan atmosphere with an interesting ethnic mix - Maoris, Pacific Islanders and Asians – notably the Chinese – Strangely enough, sushi seems to be the staple diet of downtown Auckland! There has been plenty to do and see here whenever we felt we deserved time off from our boat labours – the museums and art gallery, the Skytower (my birthday dinner in the revolving restaurant was a memorable occasion), the volcanoes and lots more. We also managed to get a look at the America’s Cup, proudly esconced at the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron, and were lucky enough to be invited aboard the QE2 when she berthed here. Reassuringly her officers seemed almost as anxious about avoiding yachts on the high seas as we are about avoiding her!
The boat has been marina-based during our time here – we had hoped to berth her in mud up a creek in the upper harbour at the end of a friend’s garden. However, although we managed successfully to get her up the creek on the highest tide of the month – with the water at low tide about 6 inches deep and a couple of feet wide – the attempt at berthing failed. Over the course of two incredibly nerve-wracking low tides we realised that there was not, as we had thought, enough mud for the boat to sink into and stay upright at low water. Having lurched terrifyingly first in towards the bank and then outwards and then downwards, we decided to abort the plan, not feeling confident that we could ever get the boat settled enough there to be able to live and work on board or leave her for any length of time.
We decided that our major touring of New Zealand should be by land – for a change – and spent a fantastic three weeks or so travelling south from Auckland, first by bus to Wellington for a few days and then over to the South Island. Wellington is a jewel of a place in its stunning setting on the steep slopes of a volcanic caldera which encompasses the almost landlocked harbour. I have never seen such a hilly city – some of the streets consist entirely of steps, with romantic looking Victorian wooden villas perched higgledy-piggledy all over the place. It has an intimate atmosphere, despite being the capital city, and I loved its rather Mediterranean ambience.
Then across to the South Island, via the stunningly beautiful three hour ferry trip from Wellington to Picton – at least on the day we did it - with the notorious Cook Strait in benign mood. The South Island is awesome. From Christchurch – as remarkably flat as Wellington is remarkably steep – with punts on the willow-banked River Avon – more English than England – we drove west over the Southern Alps. Moving from the parched east coast where both fields and sheep are the same curiously yellowish-grey colour, we arrived at the lush, green luxuriant bush of the west coast - where it rains a lot. We spent half a day on Fox Glacier, feeling very intrepid with crampons and alpenstocks – in pouring rain. We spent a night on the majestic Milford Sound in Fjordland – incredibly lucky to be there in sparklingly clear weather just after a period of torrential rain so that the thousands of waterfalls which gush into the Sound were in full spate. We spent a day in Queenstown – the capital of extreme sports – as spectators rather than participants. Luckily we are far too poor to face the choice of bungy jumping, zorbing, or other such horrors. We observed Blue Penguins and amazingly opulent stone buildings in Oamaru. We spent a very convivial day wine tasting in the Waipara Valley. We walked a lot – the Department of Conservation here is an absolutely admirable organisation which keeps thousands of miles of walks maintained in brilliant condition and provides information and support on all sorts of aspects of the environment. Unfortunately we didn’t have time for any of the great classic walks, although we did spend a few hours on each of the Keppler and Routeburn Tracks. We drove over 1,000 fabulously scenic miles – far too much to describe here.
The highlight of our visit to New Zealand must be the hospitality of so many friends. Chris’ friends in Auckland, Rotorua and Wellington have been incredibly welcoming and supportive with innumerable meals and places to stay. We cannot thank them enough – especially Alison who kept us provided with a base and a car for most of our stay. Chris’ brother Richard was in New Zealand and it was good to spend time with him and his sons. I had a great time catching up on some far distant relatives - our South Island tour was in cousin Ed’s car – for which many thanks again. We enjoyed splendid hospitality in Wanganui from Cairncross relatives I had never met before.
We have also kept in close touch with our cruising friends. Many of those who arrived in New Zealand when we did, have decided to stay on – maybe forever! We will especially miss An Cala, the boat from Bristol who have been such fantastic friends to us. However, there will be reunions with others – Vagabond in Australia are already emailing about our reunion dinner! We look forward to seeing other ‘old’ friends there too. A ‘new’ friend, Tara III, is really an old friend – Chris has known Jane for many years. She is now cruising and planning very much the same route as us over the next year.
I absolutely loved NZ. Apart from home I can’t think of anywhere else I’d rather live. It is certainly far more scenically beautiful than I had ever realised. I loved the exotic mixture of English and Maori place names – Henderson, Te Atatu, Queenstown, Te Anau and only wish that New Zealand would change its name to the Maori ‘Aoteroa’ – land of the long white cloud. The news reporting of Maori affairs – the death of the Tainui leader for example, make it far more different and diverse place than its ‘England-20-years-ago’ image at home. I found it fascinating to be in a country so ‘young’ and with such a tiny population – about one twentieth of the UK’s in a slightly larger geographical area. You feel everything must be possible here – so much to be learned from the mistakes of older countries and so easy, surely, to administer such a small population. It seems a very happy and well-meaning sort of place, working out its own identity as a Pacific, rather than an ex-colonial state. Of course, this could well be the benign female influence – Governor General, Prime Minister, Chief Justice, Attorney General – all women! There is the Maori ‘problem’ of course and while it is fascinating to observe much of the population struggling to resolve its historical origins, this ‘problem’ seems hardly to compare with those of Northern Ireland, Yugoslavia or many far more intractable national problems. There is also the conundrum that, wonderful though New Zealand is, too many of its trained and educated population are leaving. My impression is that people generally are materially far better off here than at home – we have been in homes which have seemed positively opulent by our standards. However, maybe sunshine, views and a comfortable lifestyle is not enough?
I ‘popped’ home to the UK for a four week visit primarily to spend time with the family, but also spending some tedious time tracking down various boat parts and checking out the house, which is so far surviving its tenants rather well. It was good catching up with a very few friends and I was sorry not to have seen more, but the family was my top priority – it was the first time I had ever met Sam, born while we were mid-Pacific!
A great deal of our time here has been spent on boat jobs – that New Zealand jobs list finally had to be faced! Chris has made a couple of quite major engine repairs, ‘shrunk’ the fridge, fixed the broken wind generator and checked and serviced just about every piece of equipment on board. He also valiantly had the boat hauled out while I was away, for anti-fouling and hull maintenance. I spent several weeks on sewing projects – mainly a new sun awning – also various repairs, covers, cushions and courtesy flags. I also varnished every varnishable surface. We have had work done on both sails, bought a new anchor chain and had our life-raft serviced. We now also have our own onboard email which means we can send and receive messages anywhere at all – even mid-ocean - which is very exciting. It works via the short-wave radio which means that messages to and from us must be reasonably short, but don’t be deterred! All in all we feel the boat is now in better shape than she has ever been – certainly better than when we left Bristol. At last all our UK pre-departure jobs have now finally been ticked off the list!
Possibly – hopefully – the crew are also now better prepared – at least a bit more experienced. We’ll need to be. The months ahead look fascinating, but also quite daunting. First the Tasman – how any stretch of water stretching 1,000 miles can be called ‘Sea’ I don’t know. We do know that anything can happen in 1,000 miles at these latitudes. Then the Great Barrier Reef, then the Torres Strait (a look at the chart left us aghast), then the pirates, heavy shipping and close coastal navigation of Indonesia (not to mention the political turmoil). It’s going to be interesting.
We are currently sitting safely in our Auckland marina raring to go, first north and then west to Australia. However, following a period of pleasant and settled weather, the wind is now blowing hard from the north, it is pouring with rain and there are three metre seas out there – so we’ll be waiting a few more days yet.