Friday, May 9, 2014

Finally Cruising New Zealand!

The view from Cable Bay Vineyard
A classic example of a one-way bridge in New Zealand
seen while hiking.  These are found everywhere!
After many, many weeks spent working on the boat and getting it back into ship shape condition after almost two years of cruising, it was time to leave Whangarei and FINALLY get out and do some exploration of the great Hauraki Gulf.  So we waited for high tide and off we went down the long Hatea River and back out into the Pacific Ocean once again.  It had been just over 4 months since Bella Vita had passed through Bream Bay after traveling all the way from Tonga and she felt like she was chomping at the bit to get back out there.  We were happy to oblige.

A view of Sandy Bay
Our first stop was little Kawau Island, about 40 miles south of Whangarei Head and about 20 miles north of Auckland.  Kawau Island is slightly famous among cruisers as this is where Lin and Larry Pardey have a home where they spend the majority of their time when not traveling.  For those who don’t know them, they are probably two of the most well known American cruisers of all time – having traveled over 200,000 miles by boat – all under 30 feet with no engine!  Not exactly my choice of how to cruise, but you have to respect people that have seen that much water under their keel.  We happened to anchor in the bay in front of their house (North Cove) and through a series of coincidences, ended up actually meeting them.  While we didn’t spend a lot of time together, they seemed nice and were certainly kind and very interesting to talk to.

Islington Bay on Motutapu Island before the hordes
from Auckland descended - people outside Auckland
call them JAFA's (just another #$%^ Aucklander).
After a few lovely days at Kawau, we made our way down to Gulf Harbor Marina to take care of a few last projects that we couldn’t finish in Whangarei – namely a problem with our genset and another issue with our radar.  Thankfully, we were able to take care of both issues quickly and also got to enjoy some time visiting with some friends that left the year before we did.  Next stop – Motutapu Island!

The back side of the gun battery on Motutapu Island
Where the gun sat, looking out towards the Pacific Ocean.
Motutapu is just a short 5 miles or so from Auckland, so you can imagine how many boats pop over for the weekend.  That said, we were lucky enough to spend some time there during the week when it wasn’t as crowded.  We actually stayed at three different spots – Sandy Bay, Waikalabubu Bay and Islington Bay – all of which were pretty great in their own ways.  But the best thing about Motutapu Island are the hikes you can do from almost anywhere you decide to anchor!  Once again, New Zealand displayed the amazing array of hiking trails that are kept up almost anywhere you find yourself and we definitely took advantage.  The coolest thing to do (IMHO) is to visit the Motutapu "counter-bombardment” Battery – an old gun station that was build in 1937/38.    There were two huge gun sites, long since abandoned, but still interesting to see.  Unfortunately (or fortunately!) the site never saw any action and was deconstructed after the end of World War II.  The best part was exploring the pitch black ammunition magazines that had been build underground – pretty neat how them made that all work.

Looking down into one
of the magazine areas.

After thoroughly exploring Motutapu, we made our way over for a week or so at Waiheke Island – located just a little to the southeast.  What a great island to explore – so many different things to see!  Being a short ferry ride from Auckland and absolutely chock full of great wineries it is a VERY popular spot for city dwellers to get away for a day or two.  We stayed in three different bays on Waiheke – Oneroa, Rocky and Man O’War Bay.  We loved all three for very different reasons.  Oneroa was our first stop and this is located right off the main “town” on the island (aptly named Oneroa!).  Think quaint but upscale seaside village and you will have the picture in your head.  Very sweet with lots of little shops, caf├ęs and expensive restaurants, not to mention a bus service that will take you to one of the dozen or so wineries on the west half of the island - how great is that?  The all day bus pass is only $14 NZD.

Reading to start tasting!
We did decide we should check out a few of those wineries, so with our friends from Mersoleil we set out for the Cable Bay vineyard – about a 15-20 minute walk out of town.  What a spectacular setting and some beautiful architecture showcasing some fairly decent wine.  As everything in New Zealand that has to do with food or alcohol is fairly expensive, we did not make any purchases – but we DID decide to give some of their small plates a try while we sampled a full glass of wine before returning to the town.  I can honestly say that the food we had at Cable Bay was some of the best we had in all of NZ – almost as good as the food back in Seattle!  Of course, being of a British lean, the food here tends to be a little on the bland side (sorry to our our English friends, but it’s true!).  But I digress!  Cable Bay Winery was a great spot and I highly recommend a stop if you are in the area.

A great sunset at Rocky Bay - note Auckland to the left!
Rocky Bay was a sweet little secluded spot with nary another cruising boat in site.  We basically had the place completely to ourselves for the few days we were there and we reveled in the time alone.  It’s amazing that we could be just an hour away from the biggest city in New Zealand and feel so far away from everything.  We did have a little excitement though when I discovered that our visa’s (as in immigration) were going to expire in just 4 days and we hadn’t sent in our renewal request yet!  Thank goodness there was a bus stop right next to the anchorage and I was able to take our paperwork into town to be overnighted to the immigration office.  Nothing like waiting until the last minute, eh?

Mussels galore!

The great mussel gatherers.
Our last stop on Waiheke was to re-join our friends on Mersoleil in Man O’War Bay on the very eastern side of the island.  We were blessed with more fantastic sunny days and so organized a trip out to the local mussel farm to harvest about a gazillion mussels for a big feast.  Joined by friends on Anniara, Mersoleil and Allegria we all took our dinghy’s to do a little harvesting.  Apparently the mussel farms are fine with you taking anything on the outer barrels, away from their main growth area.  Sweet!!!  In about 15 minutes we had enough mussels to feed about 15-20 people – which meant the 11 of us definitely would not go hungry.  Only down side was that we had to clean and de-beard them all, but they were well worth it.  It was a great night and we were thankful to spent the time with new and old friends before taking off for our next stop – Great Barrier Island!

All done cleaning - do we get to eat them yet???
Stay tuned for more on
cruising in New Zealand…..

Hiking on Motutapu Island - incredible views!

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