Sunday, November 30, 2008

Whangaruru and Tutukaka

Saturday morning we left the Opua Marina at 0700 for a short passage down the coast to Whangaruru Harbour.  Had to skip Whamgamumu for now but hope to visit there on our way back up next April and see the old whaling station.  I developed a healthy respect for Cape Brett as we rounded out of the Bay of Islands and started southward.  It was flat calm and low winds except around Cape Brett, where the waves were at least 3 meters and the winds gusted 20 knots.  I was at the helm and decided that wasting 5 hours sailing way out so that we could tack and sail all the way back in to start southward was a sailing purist attitude that we did not need to share.  So we furled in the genoa, started the engine and cut straight across close outside the cape.  Then we motor-sailed most of the remainder of our trip down the coast.  Winds were just close enough to the bow that it was impossible to sail.  We would have had to tack back and forth all day long.   Bill was feeling a bit seasick and I felt very tired, which is the first indication of seasickness; and we wanted to reach our destination sooner rather than later.  Funny how you can sail thousands of miles and feel perfectly fine and then one day you feel seasick for no apparent reason.  So we motor-sailed on the direct course and arrived at Whangaruru  at 1400.   We anchored at latitude 35.21.26S  longitude 174.20.89E and enjoyed the flat calm, almost-deserted anchorage. 

There was a tiny town on shore and a few houses here and there, a very pastoral scene.  Our boat didn’t even swing on the anchor, just stayed pointed in whatever direction into the current.  Did not see any of the spotted jellyfish that so heavily populated the waters at Opua.  Birds we have seen so far in New Zealand are pristine and very pretty.  We have never seen birds with such perfect plumage.  It is as if they have no parasites or insects on their bodies at all.  The gulls with brilliant red feet and beaks and pure-white heads and bodies with black wingtips and tails are strikingly pretty.  They look so healthy compared to the birds we have seen everywhere else in our travels.  There are also several other type birds that we can’t identify, but they are all pretty and very clean.  A rather strange looking duck of some kind paddled by our boat in the Whangaruru anchorage.  The front part of its body was all white and the rear part of its body was black and it had a brilliant yellow head and down most of its neck.  Bill the duck hunter had no idea what kind of duck this was.

Here is text from an advertisement for a place tourists can stay in Whangaruru:  “At The Farm we have one dorm room, three double rooms, one single room, a double en suite room and a large garden where you can pitch your tent. We have free milk, Internet, a fully equipped kitchen and a free pick-up service from Whangarei or Russell.”  As you can tell from that ad, backpacking is popular in New Zealand.  And there did not appear to be much else to do in Whangaruru except visit a farm.

We had forgotten how beautiful the stars are when anchored in a dark anchorage.

Sunday we again motor-sailed a bit farther south down the coast --- a whopping 21.7 miles.  Bill didn’t feel seasick this day; he was back to normal.  In fact, he read a novel in the cockpit while I manned the helm.  We anchored in the small harbor at Tutukaka at latitude 35.37.005S longitude 174.32.072E with only 8 feet water depth under the keel at low tide.  I do not like anchoring in water that shallow but this was the only place we could fit in this tiny harbor.  Most of the harbor is so shallow that it is off-limits to any boat with a draft greater than 4 feet, and we draw 7 feet.  It was a beautiful clear day and Tutukaka is a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.   Our dinghy is still on the mizzen deck and the outboard engine is still mounted on the rail from our passage down from Tonga.  There was no reason to put the dinghy in the water while we were in the Opua Marina.  Launching the dinghy just to go ashore in Tutukaka seemed rather silly, so we opted to stay on the boat and enjoy the scenery.  There is a small marina in Tutukaka but the charts indicate that it is far too shallow for us to enter, so there seemed little point in going over there in the dinghy.  We planned to stay in Tutukaka only one night and our anchoring spot was in a good location for easy departure on Monday morning.

Tutukaka is a popular dive area for tourists and this area is quite popular with eco-tourists.  Tutukaka is part of the Poor Knights Marine Reserve and the wrecks HMS Tui and HMS Waikato are supposed to be great dive destinations off the Tutukaka coast.  (Personally, I cannot imagine diving in this cold water.)  Kayaking is also very popular in Tutukaka Harbour.  The Poor Knights Islands are about 11 miles off the Tutukaka coast and are internationally recognized.  These are the real reason for the tourism popularity of Tutukaka and there are many day trips out to Poor Knights.  The “young” (only 11 million year old) volcanic islands offer a myriad of spectacular drop-offs, walls, caves, arches and tunnels.  The Poor Knights are touted to be inhabited by an amazing array of underwater life.  The islands are the remnants of ancient volcanoes that erupted in the Pacific Ring of Fire.

Warm waters wash down through the Poor Knights Islands from the Coral Sea.   Converging warm water currents around The Poor Knights Islands, a micro-climate and thousands of years of separation from the mainland have resulted in a unique biodiversity out there. Tropical visitors - some larval, some larger - arrive in the summer months, brought down on the East Auckland current. Originating from tropical waters off the Australian east coast, the current passes Lord Howe Island and Norfolk Island before turning southeast to run parallel to the northeast coast of New Zealand and direct to the Poor Knights Islands.  Some of the tropical visitors in this current take up permanent residence on the few reefs around the Poor Knights Islands.  The area has been a marine reserve for more than 20 years and is home to more than 125 species of fish.

The water depth around the islands is around 2500 feet and the entire area is a marine reserve.  The island lands are a nature reserve and the breeding grounds for many species of birds are on these islands.  The islands are on the migratory path of a number of species of whales, including orca, minke, Bryde’s and pilot whales.  We have seen enough whales so this feature did not attract us to sail out there, although we admired the islands as we sailed by them from a distance of about 7 miles.  Species have evolved differently on those islands and insects and plants have grown larger than on the main New Zealand islands.  The islands are home to a wide variety of rare and endangered native insects, reptiles and mollusks. The vegetation on the Poor Knights Islands also has evolved differently than on the main islands, and the plants are larger than on the main islands.  Sounds sort of like a tiny version of the Galapagos Islands, doesn’t it?

The islands were declared tapu (taboo) by local the Maori almost 140 years ago after a bloody massacre. Over 400 people used to live on the islands, with pa sites, marae, and terraced gardens. Left to nature almost 1 ½ centuries ago, the archaeological remnants are now considered to be the most pristine in New Zealand’s heritage.  The islands are home to Maori tragedies but I haven’t found any specific information yet describing those tragedies.  Have no idea why the area was declared tapu.

From one of the guide books:  “After the initial Maori settlement was abandoned in the 1820’s, and the island was rid of the remaining pigs in 1936, the native bush began to flourish as it once did. There are still stands of ancient forest, and the secondary bush has regenerated strongly from them. One of New Zealand’s largest pohutukawa forests exists on the islands, and predominates the seaward slopes.  The pohutukawa explode in a vibrant sprinkling of red over the top of the island every year during November and December.  Known as the New Zealand Christmas tree, their bright red flowers blanket the island.  These supposedly reminded Captain Cook of his jam covered “Poor Knights pudding”, hence one story behind the naming of the islands.”

Tutukaka Harbour has half-dozen small pretty beaches.  Summer is not yet into full swing but there are already plenty of tourists here.  Lots of snorkelers and kayakers all around the bay.  Do not know how they stand it.  Even in a wetsuit, getting into that cold water is tapu for me and Bill.

Tomorrow we sail out to Great Barrier Island.  Plan to stay there a couple of nights while waiting for winds to shift to different direction before heading to the marina near Auckland.

1 comment:

  1. Hi - I've just stumbled across your blog and am enjoying reading about your time in New Zealand. We currently live in NZ and will become full-time yachties this summer so it has been really useful to read about where you've sailed to here, especially in Bay of Islands and down to the Hauraki Gulf (where we currently sail).
    Cheers - Ellen |


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