My favourite destinations have been the lightly inhabited offshore islands, notably Great Mercury and Great Barrier Islands.
These are mostly bathed in clean ocean water and some areas are covered in pristine forest. The whole of Great Mercury Island is owned by prominent businessmen Sir Michael Fay and David Richwhite who both generously permit the public to come ashore. Through a sustained program of pest eradication involving bait stations and ongoing monitoring, the rat and feral cat populations have been eliminated, enabling indigenous birds to flourish. During one of my runs through parkland-like surroundings I met the woman who monitors the 600 odd bait traps on the island and began to appreciate the scope of her never ending task.
Upon my first arrival I was greeted by six dolphins which frolicked around Moondust for the rest of the day, leaping out of the water close enough to splash me standing at the bow. To me these creatures epitomise tranquillity, always ready to come alongside Moondust to say hello. The larger of them sometimes hook their fins across one of Moondust’s bows, their bulk actually nudging the boat sideways as they ‘lock in’ to get a free ride and peer up at me with their delightful grins.
I had decided to sail there after Xmas as fable had it that the island’s owners hosted a New Year’s eve party onshore for all comers and I was curious to see how this unfolded. With about 50 boats at anchor around me in Coralie Bay I once again realised that too many of us in one place tend to make people impersonal; friendly enough but less conducive to meaningful interactions.
The vibe here was pleasant but a far cry from the amazing camaraderie we had experienced in one of the most isolated anchorages on the planet – Minerva Reef. The cruising sailors gathered in that totally isolated and unique reef had so much in common that in no time we were able to connect, trading experiences and knowledge.
Great Barrier Island is by far the largest island off Auckland and its presence minimises the effect of the Pacific swell on the Hauraki Gulf, the offshore area around New Zealand’s largest city where the America’s Cup was contested. This island is my favourite spot along this coast, offering shelter from all wind directions with excellent anchorages. There are many first rate hiking trails, all on manicured paths, most of which meander through forests shaded by tree ferns and large indigenous trees. A full day tramp up to Mt. Hobson which tops out at 627m is a good a challenge for most boat bound yachties.
The fishing there is usually excellent and I was able to re-stock my freezer quite easily with Red Snapper and some Kawahai. Smokehouse Bay, accessible only by boat, is another highlight on Great Barrier Island. This was generously established in the 1960s by Eric Webster and today boasts a gravity fed fresh water supply, bath, shower, wood fired hot water cylinder, clothes washing tubs and wringers, BBQ fire-pit, fish smokehouse and my favourite, a genuine pizza oven. Not surprising that many boaties congregate here to meet new and old friends. I discovered a dough recipe in my bread maker manual and made many pizzas, sharing them with friends.
It’s always great to meet other yachties and so friends Ulla and Pelle on the Swedish yacht Loupan suggested that I volunteer to assist in the America’s Cup Race. This event contests the oldest sporting trophy in the world and I met some interesting people and learnt how to sail the AC 75 race yachts on the simulator.
Learning to play the ukulele
Pelle is a competent lead guitarist and following Ulla’s lead, I also bought myself an ukulele as my 70th birthday present which has proved to be an absorbing and enduring challenge. I downloaded song sheets of about 30 of my lifetime favourites and continue with my efforts to master, but sadly mostly massacre, them.
Following the America’s Cup I was awaiting a wind shift that would give me a comfortable ride over to Great Barrier Island. One morning I heard voices passing Moondust, went up on deck and greeted two passing kayakers who pulled in to chat. When Dani and Pixie heard that I was heading for Great Barrier Island they implored me to take them along. In the course of conversation, they both appeared to be decent youngsters and on impulse I told them that if they could be ready in two hours they would be welcome.
We sailed first to Kawau Island for the night and then on to Great Barrier Island the next day. They were ecstatic to be on board and were very keen to learn to sail and help wherever they could. Pixie had her travelling trumpet and they both had their ukuleles, encouraging me with tips. We had no firm plans and each day decided what to do. They were on board for two weeks; fishing, paddle boarding, snorkelling, hiking, baking banana bread and relaxing.
Finally, it was time for them to move on, and with conditions perfect, we sailed to the Mokohinau Islands where we spent two nights before moving on to Whangarei where they disembarked.
Around this time, having spent 18 months in the country and prospects of another winter in New Zealand on an unheated boat not being that appealing, I had been chatting to yachties about the feasibility of spending the hurricane season in Fiji. Three major cyclones made landfall there in 2020 and one yacht was lost. However, I learned that it would be possible for Moondust, with her shallow draft, to go far up one of the rivers and shelter amongst the mangrove trees; their roots providing good holding for the many lines that she would need to secure her. Unless the eye of the storm with its terrific winds passed directly overhead, we should be safe.
With that information, and the hope of a bigger chance that Fiji would allow Karin to join me again, almost overnight I went from holiday mode into full scale preparations, making a reservation for another haul out at Norsand Boatyard in early April. There was plenty to be done and this was quite daunting as I would not have my usual helper on board. However, I hoped that I would cope with careful planning and fortunately Whangarei had proven to be a great area in which to do this work as local suppliers usually stocked what was needed and if not, it could be brought up from Auckland within a day or so.