"Arctracer" Letters

Fiji to Abel Tasman, New Zealand, Dec 1999 - Feb 2000

Summary: Fourteen days from Fiji; Chase boat for America True in Auckland; Tauranga Christmas Party with Jerry's Poem; Tall Ships Race in Russell; Kerikeri; Trip to Nelson; Nelson; Kayaking in Abel Tasman.

Our trip from Fiji to Tauranga was 14 days and included gale force winds on three separate occasions. There was nothing horrible, just uncomfortable, and the boat seemed to take it all in stride. There were also several days of light headwinds, so we didn't set any speed records. We restocked the boat and got some things fixed. The marina was fully booked for this season, with over 70 cruising boats instead of about 10 last year. The price we paid for a slip was more than double last year's, so we're happy that we had planned to cruise the NZ coast this season.

In Tauranga we spent time with kiwi friends as well as cruisers. We went to Auckland and went out on a big powerboat to watch some of the America's Cup racing. We were on a boat belonging to "America True," a team from San Francisco headed by Dawn Riley, the first woman ever to lead an America's Cup effort. At the time we felt that the Italians were the team to beat, as they were winning almost all their races. It was a fun day for us, and I wished my Dad could have been with us. The kiwis were not as excited about the races as we expected, and there were no big crowds. Of course this all changed once the actual America's Cup races started. The New Zealand team just practiced by itself while the challengers raced each other when we were there.

We celebrated our 5th anniversary on December 21st. We went to dinner at our favorite local restaurant, with cruising friends Roger and Marilyn of "Ballerina." Jerry had the owner of the restaurant (The Conservatory) order one-half dozen red roses for me. They were on our table in a large brass vase and looked beautiful. It is only the 2nd time he has surprised me with roses. What a treat and what a surprise!

Over the holidays the cruisers in Tauranga rented the Sea Scouts hall and had a big Christmas party. The kids decorated the hall and tree, and Santa had something for them all. Adults exchanged "white elephants" and dinner was a big pot luck affair. They had a poetry contest, so Jerry wrote most of the following there, and won.

The Cruisers Christmas Party

'Twas a week before Christmas the cruisers went out
To have a big party down at the Sea Scouts.
The tree was all covered with photos and chains,
Above were balloons and wild snowflakes arranged.
The tables were loaded with lovely pot luck,
And everyone ate until they were full up.
The children were checking the presents, all eyes,
While others kept munching on Roger's good pies.
Old Santa was coming, said "Balmacara."
The forecast was good, but he had to come far.
When Santa arrived he had lights on his hat,
A striped bag of goodies, and wow was he fat!
He gave many presents to every child,
While parents with cameras recorded their smiles.
The adults got gifts which made them smile too,
Then "Attitude" gave us some quizzes to do.
Peter led the carols, the kids all played games,
Some people read name tags to learn all our names.
We all had good fun and were glad to be here.
No telling where we will be this time next year.

On Christmas day we had a steak barbeque in a local park with our NZ friends Pat and Jan, then went to "Ballerina" where Roger cooked a big turkey dinner. There are so many fun things to do in Tauranga, plus all the boat work which is easy to do there since there are marine stores and good shopping. It was hard to get away, but we finally left on Boxing Day after being there for a month. We started cruising up the coast of the North Island.

January 9th we were in a Tall Ships Race in Russell, New Zealand. We had an international crew - Chris from Germany, John from England, Yoshi from Japan, and Charles from Alaska. None of them own boats, but were at the boat club here for the morning briefing about the race. They were interested in joining a boat and we were interested in having extra people on board so it worked out well. Seventy- eight boats entered the two races. We were in the tall ships race and came in 15th out of about 35 boats - not too bad for our first race. There were several schooners (we hadn't seen so many since we were in Maine) and three tall ships from New Zealand. It was neat to be out on the water, taking lots of pictures, with so many traditional and classic boats. Some friends of ours, a young couple that we met in Tonga, won the Classic Invitation Boat race that started at the same time and followed the same course. Aaron is from England and Natasha is from Holland, but they are applying for New Zealand residency soon. The boat "Appledore III" won the "Tall Ships Race" on handicap. It was built in Littleton, NH and we think the present owners are from Connecticut.

We motored up a lazy river in the northern part of the North Island to Kerikeri, where the first missionary settlement in NZ was established in the early 1800s. Now the old buildings are tourist attractions. The real power there then was the chief of the local tribe. Hongi Hika, who persuaded the missionaries to set up their houses beside his fortified village ("pa"). Then he went to England where he met King George and helped scholars at Cambridge produce Maori in written form (which they promptly used to make Maori Bibles). On the way back to NZ, his ship stopped in Australia, and Hongi sold most of his presents to buy many muskets. Upon his return he gathered his tribe and proceeded to attack the other tribes for several years, gaining dominance over nearly half of the North Island before his death. He protected the missionaries, and learned agricultural techniques, etc. from them, but none of his tribe was baptized for many years. He said Christianity was not suitable for warriors. The history books are not written by Maoris, and don't give him much credit for anything, but he sounds like quite an amazing guy to me.

Kerikeri was a very quiet place to tie up for ten days, far from the ocean swells and protected from all strong winds. We used a couple of pilings free even though it's normal to pay $20 per week for such an arrangement. The people we met up there were a super collection of characters we'll remember for a long time. There was Rob, who has never held a regular job but has built several boats. He is currently living on one while finishing off another which will be the focal point of his charitable foundation "MEND" (Mobility Equipment for the Needs of the Disabled). He invents and builds wheelchairs, and has furnished many to disabled people on Pacific islands and in India. Then there was Yoshi, who sailed with us in the Tall Ships Race, who lives with Richard and Corrine and their two kids who sailed around the world in a boat they built and now are building a house in the orchard they have planted. Bob and Ann Stowell are originally from Cabot, Vt., but he taught history in NZ universities until retiring. John is building a big wooden (Kauri) boat in the shed behind his house. The new boat will replace the old Ferro cement one he built and sailed around the world. He and Nancy have a lovely house and orchard. Next door is a woman whose husband Gerry Clark died this past year on one of his many sailing expeditions into the Southern Ocean, where he often helped scientists study birds and other wildlife. Then there was the Roberts family on "Auralyn II" next to us. Pat grew up in British India, then farmed in England and Rhodesia before finding Kate from Ireland teaching school for the Saudi royal family and convincing her to go cruising. Emma is 10, and has lived on boats all her life. I helped them buy a computer and get started using it, and they took us to Whangarei for a day. Our cruising friends Jerry & Helen on "Pegasus III" from Detroit were up there too. Kerikeri has an ice cream shop to rival Ben&Jerry's, with wonderful freshly made waffle cones. In short, it was a lovely place which we thoroughly enjoyed, and where we could easily have stayed longer.

Leaving the Bay of Islands, we worked our way north, and stopped for two nights on the very tip of the country, between North Cape and Cape Reinga. We then sailed down the west side of the North Island to Nelson, at the top of the South Island. The Tasman Sea has a reputation as a mean and nasty body of water, full of gales, but it treated us very kindly. There was a high just to the west of the North Island when we left North Cape on the 5th of February. This generally means a spell of light winds and "fine" (NZ word for "clear and sunny") weather. There are famous shoals and tide rips off Cape Reinga. Mike Golding ran his boat aground there in good weather and broad daylight last year when leading the "Around Alone" race, and had to drop out of the race to fix his boat. We decided to go around there while the high passed over, even though that meant light headwinds for the first day or so. Well, that high fooled us, and just hung out there in the Tasman instead of passing over NZ as expected. So the light headwinds continued for nearly a week! We were unable to point our bow closer than 30 degrees to Nelson until we passed Cape Egmont on the 12th. This was a bit frustrating, but it wasn't uncomfortable. It is sometimes necessary to be patient in a sailboat, as you know. On the 12th the wind finally turned to northwest, so we eased sheets and started sailing straight towards Nelson. That afternoon the wind strengthened to 25 knots as we passed into the waters of South Island, so we did get a fast and splashy ride for a few hours. When we got into the wind shadow of the mountains of Abel Tasman Park the wind died completely. We ended the passage by motoring the last dozen miles into Nelson on the 13th. As the albatross flies it is only 400 miles, but our GPS logged 632 miles, and it took us over eight days. In summary, it was pleasant and easier than we expected, though longer.

The weather turned miserable almost as soon as we snuggled into Nelson's little marina. It was windy and rainy for several days. However, it turned lovely again just in time for a visit by sister Polly and her husband John. John was returning from his 19th trip to the South Pole, which always goes through the Antarctic Center in Christchurch. (Is he a commuter or is this migratory behavior?) Polly had never visited NZ, and took this time to see the place with him. They arrived Friday evening in time for dinner at a Nelson restaurant named "Faces." The food was excellent, and the conversation even better. They slept aboard that night at the marina. On Saturday we all walked into town and they spent a couple hours at the outdoor market. That is a regular Saturday event here, and there are many local crafts, foods, and flea market booths, so they had fun. We went to the special sale at the Order of St. Vincent de Paul, where we bought four plastic grocery bags for $1 each and then stuffed the bags with second-hand clothes. We got clothes mostly for the people in Fiji and Vanuatu, where they will be valuable gifts. We will be given gifts of fruit and vegetables in return for them. The people running the sale thought that was a great idea, and gave us a fifth bag free. We all went to the tourist information center and made reservations for a kayak trip. We bought food for the kayak trip, then walked around the town and seashore. Saturday night we relaxed on the boat with fish (Bluenose & Tarakihi) and chips, and went to bed early.

Sunday morning started earlier than usual, with coffee and cereal on the boat. We had all our camping stuff in the car and were heading out of town by 6:30. It was a nice morning to drive up the west side of Tasman Bay, past vineyards and apple orchards loaded with ripe fruit. We arrived in Motueka about 7:30, where the tide was out and the boats were sitting on the mud. The tidal range in this area is over 12 feet, the greatest in New Zealand. At 8:15 all the Sea Kayak Company customers were assembled for an introductory talk. About 20 were there for just one day, two guys (Chicago & Iowa) were going for two, and one family of three was planning a 3-day trip. The four of us signed up for five days, and selected one double kayak and two singles. From the company's base we drove to the start of the Abel Tasman Park at Maharau. The end of the road is the starting point of the Abel Tasman Coast Track, which is the most popular walking trail in New Zealand.

By 10:00 we had our clothes and sleeping bags inside waterproof bags, and all our stuff inside the watertight compartments of the kayaks. We were surprised at all the room there was in the kayaks to store our food, tents, sleeping bags, etc., especially in the big double kayak. We would have brought more clothes and drinks if we had known, but had time enough now to dash to the local store and pick up some wine. Melissa (our instructor) gave excellent instructions on how to do everything, making sure all of us knew how to do everything properly. Polly & John own a double sea kayak, but the two of us had never been in a kayak before. Soon we had on life jackets and spray skirts (which fasten to the kayak and keep water out) and were paddling away. Instructors Melissa and Shannon went with us for the first hour to give more instruction and make sure we were all doing well. We practiced landing on a beach, and then we took off on our own up the coast. It was lovely weather, with little wind, so we made good progress. It was good to have experienced kayakers like Polly & John with us. We stopped for the night in Watering Cove, named for the visit by French explorer D'Urville over 350 years ago. We got there in time for a nice hike on the Coast Track to Torrent Bay, which was full of day- trippers and campers. Despite the flotillas of kayaks launched by half-a-dozen companies, there were only a couple others staying the night at our beautiful campsite. We set up our camp stoves on the rocks beside the peaceful sea, picked green-lipped mussels off the rocks, and stuffed ourselves. There was a beautiful full moon this evening.

On Monday morning Polly and John saw a gorgeous sunrise, but we just slept until 8:00. Then after coffee and cereal we paddled for 2 and 1/2 hours to Bark Bay. This took us past the unprotected stretch called "The Mad Mile" which can get very lumpy in strong winds but was no problem in the calm weather we had. We saw seals, quite close, at Pinnacle Island, and laughed at some floating lazily while holding a back flipper with a front flipper. After a lunch of salami & cheese on pita bread, we set up tents, then tried switching kayaks. The single kayaks are very tippy compared to the big double, and we decided to stick to the double after that. We explored the estuary behind our camp at high tide, then went for another long walk. We got cockles out of the estuary sand at low tide, and ate quite a few before having an elaborate noodle dish. This campground had potable water, and was larger. Many other kayakers (some on guided trips) and backpackers doing the Coast Track shared this beautiful campground. At night we heard the Moreporks (owls).

The only animals to beware of were the black flies, or "sand flies" as they are known here. They were around even in daylight, but got especially bad at nightfall. We had insect repellent, but still got many bites which itched for a few days. Polly & John were well-prepared for camping, with a good tent and foam pads. We bought a big old tent in Nelson which was good enough, but the ground was cold and hard without pads. Fortunately, John & Polly had a couple of space blankets which they loaned, and these helped us to keep warmer and get more sleep.

Tuesday was windier, and there were some waves when we launched. When we reached the unprotected water the waves looked uncomfortable, so we decided to turn right around and skip kayaking further north. Landing was tricky in waves, and we managed to get tipped over on the beach in our double kayak, nothing dangerous, but we got wet. It was a good day for a long hike. We saw many of the curious little Fantails (birds), and finally saw a Bellbird singing its lovely song. When we got back to the campground we sat around a fire in a fireplace with Kim & Dan from Hamilton, NZ, Paul from Denmark, and Roger from Switzerland, all interesting people. We showed them how to find and eat cockles, placing them on a piece of steel over the fire until they opened up, cooked in their own juices. A bit of lemon from a nearby tree was the final touch for these tasty tidbits. Then we shared a pot of ham, peas, onions, garlic and rice.

On Wednesday the wind was back down to nearly nothing, so we had a peaceful paddle back down "The Mad Mile." After stopping for a snack on Observation Beach, we paddled around Adele Island, seeing a colony of shags (cormorants) and some New Zealand Pigeons. We lunched at Stillwell Beach, then paddled through some tight spots among rocks, under a natural bridge, into a cave, and finally to Watering Cove. Polly & John took a long hike to Pitt Head, while we took a little nap before dinner. A Dutch couple and a young couple from Canberra (the capital of Australia) shared the campground with us. We had another superb noodle dish, and finished the wine.

Thursday morning was again nearly windless. We ate breakfast on the rocks, and again watched the Red-billed Gulls who come around in hopes of an easy meal. They are dominated by a very grouchy individual that Polly named "Oscar" who tries to chase all the others away so he can get all the food. The chicks are as big as the adults, but still have juvenile plumage and beg food by harassing their mother until she coughs up. We paddled along Adele Island again, where the Oystercatchers were working on the sandbar at low tide. Then it was around Fisherman Island, and way down to Split Apple Rock. By the time we got there the breeze was starting to build, so we headed back to our original launching site and took the kayaks out for the last time. John retrieved the car from the secure parking lot at Old Macdonald's Farm, where there were all sorts of tourist facilities as well as animals. We packed up and drove away about 2:00. It was a nice ride back to Nelson. We really enjoyed the hot showers at the marina. Dinner was at the Nelson Yacht Club "Latitude 41" restaurant, with a view of the harbor entrance. The food was excellent, and portions were tremendous. Entertainment was provided by the local swimming club racing around the buoys and then the Sea Scouts in Optimist dinghies. Our beds felt exceptionally soft and warm.

(view photos of Abel Tasman & Kayaking)

In summary, it was a fabulous trip. It is difficult to imagine better weather conditions or better scenery. We had a good mix of kayaking and hiking, and really feel we got to know the Abel Tasman Park. The next few days we did boat projects, and visited with some cruising friends who reached this place by car after hiking the famous Milford Track. We hit the town's best restaurants together. We saw a bit of America's Cup action, sitting with the locals in the Tasman Bay Cruising Club. The black boat looked awesome, and Jerry predicted their defense would be successful. It really was a national effort, with some of the people from Nelson involved as (minor) officials and volunteers. It's an impressive accomplishment for a country with fewer inhabitants than Brooklyn.