Amazing New Zealand

I arrived back on Moondust shortly before Christmas after a wonderful three week visit to my family and friends in South Africa. In my luggage were quite a few items for Moondust, amongst which was our new Genneker, made by North Sails in Cape Town.

It was good to be back and also to again see Rick and Liz, Pete’s brother and sister-in-law, who were visiting from Australia. Rick was very helpful and he and Pete finished a number of two man jobs while I was away.

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It was wonderful to have Rick and Liz on Moondust for Christmas.

EXPLORING THE BAY OF ISLANDS

After stocking up the larder in Paihia we set out to enjoy the Bay of Islands, situated on the east coast of New Zealand’s northern island. This vast bay, where Captain Cook landed in 1769, has 144 islands and a choice of anchorages, sheltered against various wind angles. A very necessary attribute as the winds were very variable and at times, strong.

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A beautiful view over the southern part of Robertson Island.

The Bay of Islands, described as the cradle of the nation, is of historic importance as this is not only where Cook arrived but also where the peace treaty was signed between the British government and the traditional Maori inhabitants, at what is today known as the Waitangi Treaty Grounds near Paihia. Russell, which today is a touristic little hollow, was once the capital of New Zealand.

Bay of Islands

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We thoroughly enjoyed the various hiking routes on the islands.
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We came across this colourful Maori cemetery on a hilltop. The Maori always bury their deceased on a high place from where their souls can easily depart to the afterlife.

Summer at last arrived as a very welcome Christmas gift, so we had a wonderful time exploring the island. After Rick and Liz departed we were itching to try out our new Genneker! With following winds this sail gives us an amazing possible sailing angle of 210 degrees.

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We first repaired the sock before we rigged the crimson sail and enjoyed a day’s sailing with this extremely versatile sail.

We spent New Years Eve anchored off Russell with cruising friends Martin and Carola and Hürgen and Lesley. From that anchorage we had front row seats for the magnificent fire works display at Paihia.

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Sundowners on Lani, Martin and Carola’s fancy Lagoon catamaran.

In between exploring The Bay of Islands we kept doing maintenance and repair jobs. Pete had worked like a trojan horse while I was away, but the list just seemed never ending. Our jobs varied from electronic, electrical, rigging, painting, servicing the dinghy’s outboard engine and sewing to the big nasty; clearing a blocked toilet!

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We even stripped down Pete’s computer to replace its power jack.
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At Kerikeri we visited Stone Store, the oldest stone building in New Zealand. It was formerly part of the country’s first mission station, Kemp House.

Early in the New Year Nicolas and Jaqui, friends from South Africa who currently work and study in New Zealand, joined us for a weekend of fun.

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The youngsters enjoying the moment…
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We hiked the circular route around Moturua Island.

EXPLORING FURTHER AFIELD

Finally we were ready to explore further afield, but not before we stopped over in Deep Water Cove to do the five hour hike to the Cape Brett Lighthouse.

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Enjoying the magnificent view over Cape Brett.

The next day we sailed to Hole in the Rock. Located at the entrance to the bay, this is a popular spot that daily attracts tourist boats from Paihia.

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A tourist boat drifting inside the Hole in the Rock, seen as we sailed south.
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On our way south to Whangarei we caught a Mako Shark. We weren’t at all sad to loose this one!

After our two day sail we enjoyed some time at Urquharts Bay, at the entrance to Whangarei. Here we did some hiking and prepared our spare anchor rode, which had only 12m of chain. We then headed for Marsden Cove where we dropped our anchor chain for re-galvanizing, now having to make do for the next few weeks with this short length of chain plus polyester rope.

Map North Island

GREAT BARRIER ISLAND

On heading for Great Barrier Island, we realised that sailing wasn’t only difficult in The Bay of Islands. The wind in New Zealand this year is extremely fickle and unpredictable. The good northerly that was predicted didn’t materialise, so at 15:00, realising that we would not make Great Barrier Island before nightfall, we decided to turn back to overnight at the Hen and Chicken Islands. We snuggled in between Whatupuke and Huarewa Islands for the night.

The next day the wind varied from light in the morning to none at noon and then finally a strong beam wind pushed us the last little bit to Nagle Cove, on the northeast side of Great Barrier Island. The next morning we were woken by the splashes and blowing of a pod of dolphins swimming around Moondust! After listening to them for about 15 minutes I decided to join them and swam for about half an hour with five of them. They came very close but remained just out of touching distance. However, they frolicked in the bay for the rest of the morning, to the enjoyment of all onlookers.

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Dolphins playing around Moondust.

Since the water in New Zealand is not as warm and clear as elsewhere in the Pacific, we took to hiking and later fishing rather than snorkeling. From Nagle Bay we sailed to Kaiarara Bay, from where we walked to Port Fitzroy where there was a little shop. We also worked out our lazy legs, enjoying the various well-signposted hiking tracks.

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View over some of the outer islands off Great Barrier Island.
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We came across these magnificent Kauri trees on one of our hikes. In previous centuries Kauri’s were harvested on big scale as they were ideal for sailing ships’ masts.
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Since the Kauri population on Great Barrier Island suffers from Dieback Disease, the Department of Conservation has installed ‘cleaning stations’ on the tracks where hikers have to clean and spray their shoes.

Anchoring with rope proved to be quite a bit more challenging than our normal procedure using only chain. Most inconvenient, we could not use rope on the windlass and had to pull the anchor up by hand. Further, following our experience in Hiva Oa where the rope on the stern anchor chafed through on a rock, Pete initially preferred to buoy the rope, despite the cumbersome procedure, to keep it clear of sharp objects. We later found that by using satellite images of each bay, we could ensure that the sea bed was clear of rock and so could dispense with the buoys, which had resulted in several midnight disturbances and one swim to untangle the bouyed line from one of the propellers. Luckily for Pete’s peace of mind, we had not yet encountered any of the large sharks that we saw later.

It had taken us a while to realise that, for the first time in ages, in fact all our time in the Caribbean and Pacific, we were now able to catch fish in shallow water and eat them without any fear of Ciguatera fish toxin. One of the local fisherman advised Pete that the mussel farms were good fishing spots, and after buying squid for bait, we dinghied over to a nearby farm at dusk with our fishing rods. The snapper were abundant and hungry and with no bag limit, it was nice to be in an area where we could fish to our hearts delight!

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We mostly caught Red Snapper, a tasty and succulent fish.

After picking op my driver’s license in Tryphena, at the south end of the island, I could start planning our land trip to South Island. Both our driver’s licences had expired since we left South Africa but fortunately I could apply for a new one during my visit and have a friend pick it up and post it to me.

On the way back to the northern bays for some more fishing, we stopped over at Whangaparapara and did the hike to its well-known Hot Springs. We also spent a delightful evening with Dennis and Joan, a local cruising couple who left South Africa 25 years ago on Mossie, their 35 foot homebuilt sloop, with their two teenage sons.

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I thoroughly enjoyed the warm water of the Kaitoke Hot Springs!
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In spite of the current drought the Kauri Falls was still beautiful.

At Oneura Bay, just inside the Man of War Passage, we anchored near another mussel farm and went fishing daily. Pete even went twice on some days, and we were glad to fill the freezer up with delicious Red Snapper as the larder had run low on almost everything.

On one occasion a 3m shark repeatedly surfaced around us. Back on Moondust it appeared again, nosing up the edge of the sugar scoop, inches from Pete’s toes, but only interested in feasting on the leftovers from the fish cleaning. Apart from the harmless whale sharks at St. Helena, it was the biggest shark that we have seen in all our travels.

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Pete was in his element, catching Red Snapper.

It was time to sail back to Whangarei where we had to haul Moondust out on 27th February. Apart from anti-fouling and picking up our re-galvanised anchor chain we had quite a few jobs which would keep us busy.

Since Marinas are very expensive and we previously couldn’t find a secure mooring, we decided to do our trip to Southland while Moondust was safely on the hard.

 

 

Challenging passage from Tonga to New Zealand

It was Monday when we pulled up the hook in Tongatapu and, with scant breeze, ghosted west across the inter island waterway, luckily aided by the current. We had delayed our departure waiting for the right weather, as this passage is well known for its challenges and we’d heard that a sailor had just lost his life close to New Zealand after getting it wrong.

We chose to set sail despite the wind being forecast to be forward of the beam, but, as it was calm Karin would not get seasick. For 36 hours it was delightful and we averaged over 5 knots, using the time to stitch in some much need patches on our dinghy’s sun cover.

From the forecast we knew that the wind would turn a full circle back around the compass and my slumber was curtailed at 01:30 on the second night as Moondust reacted to the new wave and wind direction which reached 25kts at 03:00, forcing me to reef down and roll in the genoa a bit. Now we were moving well through the water at around 5-6kts but into adverse conditions of current, waves and wind, thus only making 4 knots over the ground. At dawn we approached Minerva North (there are two reefs about 20nm apart) and finally neared the pass at around 15:00.

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Tonga: the friendly islands where time begins

We reached Vava’u, the most northerly group of Tongan islands, just before sunset on 18th September 2019. We were exhausted from our very difficult 16 day passage from French Polynesia and were very tempted to break our first golden rule: never enter an unfamiliar anchorage at night. However, we opted to round the northern point of Vava’u and seek shelter in Vaiutukakau Bay on the north-western side, taking three hourly watches to make sure we didn’t drift out into the current and rougher water.

At first light we sailed into the scenic waterways of Vava’u and passed a number of islands, heading for the main port, Neiafu, where we had to clear in. We tied up to the main dock and were informed by the friendly customs official that we had missed a day along the way. Tonga is the first country west of the International Dateline, which meant that we were now 11 hours ahead of our family and friends back home, instead of 11 hours behind.

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The anchorage at Neiafu.

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Difficult passage to Tonga

It is 03:30 as I write this on my night watch. We are running before 20 knots of wind with an almost full moon casting its bright track on the ocean. I’m trying to make sense from our diary and log book of the confused blur of the past fourteen days.

Finally our visa time had expired in beautiful French Polynesia and it was time to sail on. Early on Monday, 2nd September I was woken by the sound of the water taxis passing very close, and was surprised as we had anchored well out of the small craft channel across Uturoa in Raiatea. I got up to start the day only to find that we had inexplicably dragged our anchor, were now right in the channel and within 10m of a rock on which the small boat channel marker was erected, with a reef behind it.

With some quick work we got the anchor on deck, where after we sailed across the lagoon and out of one of the western passes. Once beyond of the lee of Raiatea we had 3m swells and about 23 knots of wind which gave us a good start on the 1300 nm passage to Tonga. Sadly Karin’s seasickness kicked in and she needed to remain lying down to prevent vomiting, although with her determination, she always does her share of night watches and sail changes.

Tuesday saw us with more good wind and 4m swells, which aggravated Karin’s condition. Nevertheless we made good progress until at 15:00, when the genoa suddenly started flogging. I grabbed the wheel but felt no resistance and immediately knew that our steering had failed. A trail of hydraulic fluid in the aft lazarette confirmed this. Stunned, we dropped the main sail and rolled in the genoa, dug out the emergency tiller and I wasted quite a bit of time trying to figure out how it worked.

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The Society Islands

From the Tuamotus it was a three day and night sail to the Society Islands, the last French Polynesian (FP) island group that we were to visit. As we didn’t have any business to do in Tahiti and my visa time for FP was soon coming to an end, we chose to sail past busy Papeete (the capital of FP) and head west for the quieter and less touristy Huahine.

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Tahaa and Raiatea are clearly visible from the west side of Huahine.

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Scenic Marquesas

Each of the French Polynesian archipelagos has its own unique character and we shall remember the Marquesas for their scenic beauty with majestic mountains, hiking routes, exquisite waterfalls, abundance of fruit and friendly Polynesians.  Of the six inhabited islands, just a spec in the Pacific Ocean halfway around the world from South Africa, we visited five: Fatu Hiva, Tahuatu, Hiva Oa, Nuka Hiva and Ua Pou.

Marquesas map

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The long haul to the Marquesa Islands

It took us 36 days, plenty of wind and sail power and just three litres of diesel to cover the 4 044 nm (7 300km) across the Pacific Ocean from Panama to the Marquesas. On weighing Moondust’s anchor at 06:15 on Easter Saturday at the southern end of the Panama Canal, the white full moon still hung in the sky to starboard while the sun peeped through warm orange cirrus clouds to port.

We had a pleasant start to the longest passage we will encounter in our circumnavigation (across this first stretch of the Pacific Ocean) with no seasickness on my part, light winds and a beautiful Mackerel on our fishing line!

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Panama Canal

A fast sail down from Cuba brought us within sight of Colon by the late afternoon of the sixth day with just enough time to anchor before dark. The adverse current had meant sailing for an additional 200nm through the water making the passage length just under 970nm against the 766nm over the ground. Now we were at the approaches of the fabled Panama canal; a small boat about to venture amongst the leviathans of the oceans. The approaches to the canal were clearly marked on the chart and evidenced by these huge ships entering and exiting in front of us. We were sure to keep well clear!

A radio call to Cristobal Signal Station advised us to turn to starboard after the breakwater and anchor off Shelter Bay Marina, close to about six other boats. We looked forward to an unbroken night’s sleep.

We knew that the Panama interlude would prove to be hard work with boat spares to be sourced, important maintenance to be done, the larder re-provisioned and the Canal transit to be organised. All of that had to be done from the Shelter Bay area, a one hour bus or boat ride away from Colon and much further from Panama. Then there was the matter of the canal transit itself and Karin’s French Polynesian visa to be organised once we were in Panama.

Panama map

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Fascinating Cuba!

We found Cuba to be absolutely fascinating and very different from any of the other Caribbean islands. It felt like we had taken a big step back in time, before the days of modern cars and a permanent connection to the virtual world.

 Cienfuegos

 After two weeks when we were finally ‘snorkeled out’ at Jardines de la Reina, aided by a good breeze, we sailed overnight for Cienfuegos, 160 km to the northwest and situated in an enclosed bay. We anchored off another government run Marina Marlin, where, after a lengthy but friendly check-in we were free to go ashore and enter the ‘time warp’.

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Walking down a wide, quiet double lane boulevard towards the town centre we were immediately struck by the beautiful old cars and how little traffic there was.

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