Saturday, May 10, 2014

Cruising Great Barrier Island

How could something so cute be endangered?
We arrived at Great Barrier Island in early April – fairly far along in the fall season.  For those of you who don’t know, New Zealand has opposing seasons to the United States – so their summer runs from December through February.  Wouldn't it be weird to have Christmas in the middle of summer?  In Seattle we all know how wonderful it is when we get a true “Indian Summer” – especially if it lasts into October!  I’m happy to report that is exactly what we experienced at Great Barrier Island.  While the days were getting shorter and it would definitely cool off the minute the sun went down, the days were mostly sunny, warm and wonderful.

Early morning fog lifts at Wairahi Bay
Our stay at Great Barrier focused completely on the area around Port Fitzroy.  From Waiheke it’s about a 7 hour sail and thankfully ours was uneventful.  Our first stop was Oneura Bay, located on the western side of the island.  When we first arrived the bay was perfectly flat and completely deserted.

Unfortunately we found out that was likely because it gets a little rolly at night.  I felt like I was back in the La Cruz area with all the rocking and rolling we did!   In the morning we both looked at each other and said enough of that!  So off we went, motoring the short distance to Wairahi Bay where we suspected our friends on Mazu were anchored.  We were happy to find not only them, but our friends on Exit Strategy too and happy hour was quickly organized for that evening.  Thanks to Mazu for hosting - it was great to catch up with both boats since we hadn’t seen them since Tonga.

Unfortunately the next day I came down with a minor cold, so Brett had to go hiking without me.  While I was definitely sorry to miss his trip up the Wairahi River (which sounded pretty great) I will admit to enjoying a lazy day of reading and napping all by myself.  Thankfully I was fully recovered in just a few days and was soon investigating the area on my inflatable paddleboard.  Even though the water was pretty murky I spotted three different manta rays within about 20 minutes.  Cool!

Hiking up the Wairahi River
We spent four nights in Wairaahi bay, but eventually decided we should probably see something else in the area, so we started up the motor and reset the hook in nearby Stony Bay.  This spot is exactly the kind of place Brett and I love – a tiny little nook that you can tuck away in that is small enough that no one else can anchor right next to you.  Absolute bliss!  It’s amazing how much this area reminded us of cruising in the northwest – especially up north in the Broughtons.  We felt right at home….except……there are penguins here!  Yes - actual penguins!  How cool is that?  They are called Blue Penguins (Korora) and are very small – maybe 8-12 inches long – but boy do they make a racket as the sun goes down!  It’s pretty funny to listen to them and you can almost imagine they are bellied up to the bar boasting to all of their buddies about the adventures they had that day.  They are that loud!

Who knew this little guy could be so loud!
While in Stony Bay we reunited with some new AND old friends.  After our first night we were joined by both Katie M II and Mystic Moon.  Martin and Angela (Katie M) were nice enough to come over and tell the rest of us all about Fiji, including loaning us some charts that we photographed and put on our iPads (don’t you just LOVE technology!).  It was great information and got all of us very excited to get there.  In fact, we were so excited that that we’ve decided NOT go back to Tonga and just go straight to Fiji.

How cute is this Brown Teal Duck???
Since the wind was forecast to turn around we had to move again, so all three boats moved over to Kaiaraara Bay before the first big blow was supposed to come through.  Since Exit Strategy was also there we hosted everyone on Bella Vita for drinks.  Yes – it’s true – we CAN actually fit 8 in our cockpit and a good time was had by all.

We ended up meeting a fascinating local – a Brown Teal Duck (Pateke), which is actually endangered.  This little guy was so cute we were immediately taken in by him.  They are amazingly friendly – especially when you…..ummmm….feed them.  Our little buddy popped by to see us every day and he definitely had our number.  This was clearly not his first rodeo and he was highly skilled at working the anchorage.  But damn he was adorable!

The amazing Kaiaraara Dam
There are some fantastic hikes to do in this area – the island is just covered with an amazing trail system.  I continue to be  astounded at how much time and effort the Kiwi’s put into maintaining hiking (trekking) trails all over the country.  We took a great hike up to the Kaiaraara Dam – an old dam used in the early 1900s to push logs down the river to the bay below.  While we didn’t make it all the way up to the top of the mountain (ran out of daylight) we did make it to the dam and were VERY impressed with the feat of engineering it proved to be. 

Brett crossing a huge suspension
bridge while hiking up to the dam.
Sadly, our days at Great Barrier had to come to a close.  They were forecasting a big storm (40-45 knots) and we decided we didn’t want to get caught at GBI for it.  The time had come to head back to Whangarei for final provisioning before sailing north to Opua, so off we went two days before the bad weather was forecast to hit. 

Unfortunately the 15-20 knots of wind showing for our trip across ended up being more like 25-35 with extremely lumpy seas (imagine being inside a washing machine and you’ll know what it was like).  Since it was only an 8 hour trip I had decided I would be fine without seasickness pills.  BIG MISTAKE!  I was fine for the first couple of hours, but suffice it to say the next five hours were pure misery.  I have NEVER been that seasick in my life!

Feeling GREAT while hiking!
For those of you who have never been really seasick (I’m not just talking a little queasy here), let me describe what it feels like – at least for me.  First my head starts to feel a little funny – almost like a sinus headache.  Then my stomach starts to feel off with added pressure in the head.  All I want to do is sleep.  Then the nausea gets much worse and I head for the rail, hoping it’s short lived.  After a couple bouts of this I realize I am freezing cold and no matter how many blankets or coats I wrap up in, I just can’t get warm.  It’s shocking how quickly you can go from fine to feeling really, really weak.  It can be completely debilitating.

I don't like being completely useless as a first mate and Brett hated watching me feeling so miserable.  Suffice it to say that I've learned my lesson about assuming I’ll be fine just because it’s a "short" trip.  From now on I WILL take the drugs, no matter how short the trip – thank you very much!  But the thing that really gets me fuming?  I’ve been getting worse instead of better!  WTF???  But it’s true!  I never used to get sea sick and have done countless trips with no problems.  And yet the longer I’ve been out cruising the more issues I’ve had – even in conditions I used to scoff at!  How bizarre (and frustrating!) is that?

This is how they build some bridges,
one piece at a time.  Impressive!
I’m happy to report that we did eventually make it into Marsden Cove without me going overboard or anything breaking on Bella Vita.  And the predicted big storm did come and it was just as bad (if not worse) than predicted, so even though we had a terrible, nasty trip, we were glad we went when we did as it could have been much worse.

Regardless of how it ended, we LOVED cruising Great Barrier Island and only wished we had more time to spend there exploring all the nooks and crannies it had to offer.  Maybe some day we’ll be back to do just that. 

1 comment:

  1. We have linked your blog to Great Barrier Island on Good Anchorage for fellow mariners to have access to local knowledge & reviews.

    Look forward to you sharing more anchorages & reviews for fellow mariners.

    Good Anchorage Team