The Hauraki Gulf, east of the city of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, is a popular playground for tourists as well as local boat owners. It is also the venue for the iconic 2021 America’s Cup sailing challenge. Despite Covid restrictions on tourism from overseas, we had freedom of the Gulf on Moondust.
This area is extremely popular, being close to Auckland, as it features a number of islands, most of which are also accessible by ferry. We had previously visited Great Barrier Island, so this time, sailing from Whangarei, north of Auckland, our first stop was Kawau Island.
Covid-19 has certainly touched everybody’s lives, in different ways. Some lost their lives, others their livelihood and many are suffering the hardships of lockdowns. We were certainly fortunate to have been in New Zealand during these unprecedented times, but even we have not escaped the challenges of this pandemic.
Enduring the cold NZ winter
We certainly did not expect to still be in New Zealand, in fact if it wasn’t for Covid we would have been snorkelling in warm tropical water much further north right now. Instead we have to brace ourselves against the cold, wet weather and accompanying storms.
Whanga (pronounced Fanga) means harbour in the Maori tongue and since we left the boatyard in Whangarei seven weeks ago, we have visited two other harbours further north and found that Whanga could just as well have meant beautiful. Whangarei, Whangamumu and Whangaroa are all spectacular, with lovely hiking routes that offer breathtaking views.
Since Moondust splashed back into the water in Whangarei, we’ve been busy provisioning the boat with food and technical spares for the months to come. We are still hoping that Fiji and other countries on our route will open in time for us to continue our voyage this sailing season.
We felt we could not leave Whangarei before enjoying some of the popular hiking routes and visiting the Whangarei Falls.
Having been stationary for so long, I unfortunately got seasick upon heading into the waves at the mouth of the Hatea River. Luckily it was a short 30 nautical mile sail to Tutukaka, where we could find some shelter, albeit in a rolly anchorage but somewhat protected from the big, nauseating swells of the ocean.
We planned a ten day trip to New Zealand’s South Island to coincide with Moondust standing safely on solid ground at the Norsand Boatyard in Whangarei. To save time we flew from North Island to Christchurch, halfway down the east coast of South Island, from where we rented a little car to explore its enchanting natural wonders.
We mostly stayed in the Top Ten Holiday Parks, which have a variety of accommodation options, and opted to share communal ablutions as well as cooking and dining facilities. We were pleasantly surprised by these neat and clean facilities and thoroughly enjoyed the cooking experience in ‘Master Chef’ type kitchens, with its chance to meet fellow travellers.
Flying back to Whangarei in mid March, after a delightful 10 day jaunt spent touring South Island, the Corona storm clouds continued to gather. Repeated airport announcements advised travellers from overseas that they were obliged to self-isolate for two weeks and quite a few passengers were wearing face masks. I had already decided not to risk the trip I had booked to South Africa at the end of March.
We arrived back on Moondust that evening amidst chaotic evidence of earlier uncompleted tasks and the next morning commenced frenzied activity to get ready for re-launch in 10 days’ time. Days coalesced as we made slow but steady progress, focusing on the most important tasks first. Continue reading “Locked Down ‘On the Hard’”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.