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.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Whangarei trip; finally leaving Opua

Forgot to mention earlier one more thing about the All Points to Opua Rally.  The winner of the “Biggest Fish Caught On Passage” was S/V ORCA 3.  They arrived in Opua just a couple of hours before the final awards dinner party and they had caught an 8 ½ foot marlin en route.  And they caught it on a hand line!!!  That amazed me.  Marlins like to run and will run a great distance for a long time and are difficult fish to land.  Could not imagine how they managed to wear down this fish and get it landed without a rod and reel.  Then a few days later Steve stopped by our boat and we learned that this was a black marlin.  The black marlins don’t run; Steve said it just floated up to the surface like an old rubber tire.  He said that when the fish was finally brought alongside the boat and they saw how huge it was that they were puzzled as to how they would manage to get it aboard.  They tied lines and halyards around the fish and used winches to pull it aboard.  Steve gutted it and cut away enough to fill their freezer and fridge; then he tied a line around the remaining tail one-third of the fish.  S/V THE DOROTHY MARIE sailed next to ORCA 3 and Steve tossed the line across to Glenn on THE DOROTHY MARIE.  There was enough fish left on the tail portion to fill Glenn’s freezer and fridge also.  So you might say that both boats caught this one marlin.  What a feat. 

Yep, the RadioActive people have arrived in Opua.  The 2 Canadian boats and 1 American boat that travel together so their kids can have playmates have all arrived in Opua.  But here they have a little problem involving their usual constant radio chatter.  In New Zealand you are restricted to only 2 VHF radio channels for ship-to-ship traffic.  We can converse only on channels 6 and 8 throughout all of New Zealand.  There are thousands of boats in New Zealand; at least 400 right here in Opua at the moment.  Obviously that means that these 3 boats cannot tie up the VHF with children’s chatter all day and night like they are accustomed to doing.   And you cannot leave your radios set to USA channels and use those because those channels interfere with the signal repeaters stationed around New Zealand.

Another tidbit to mention is The Yachtie Shuttle here in Opua which is sponsored by the Opua Business Association.  The shuttle is a large van seating 12 passengers.  The shuttle runs from the Opua Marina to the nearest small town of Paihai on Monday through Friday at a very reasonable cost.  You can also arrange shuttle day trips to the slightly larger and more distant town of Kerikeri for more extensive group shopping trips, and they tow a covered trailer to transport your purchases home.  The unusual thing about this shuttle van is that runs on used cooking oil.  It is called a “Frybrid” rather than a hybrid.  Fish and chips are popular in New Zealand.  Local restaurants and cafes that sell fish and chips donate the used cooking oil to run the shuttle and the shuttle owners filter it.  Do not know what other process is required to make this used cooking oil suitable for operating the vehicle engine but assume that something is required.  When they cannot obtain enough used cooking oil then they use diesel.  New Zealanders are extremely environmentally conscious people.

The wind blew 30 knots all day yesterday and overnight, and it has been steady rain.   Only good thing is that the wind in from the northeast instead of from the southeast; being from the north means it is warmer than usual.  This afternoon the wind is predicted to increase to 45 knots with gusts to 55 knots and rain will continue.  Should start improving tomorrow.  Friends left the marina the day before yesterday to sail southward to Tauranga.  Hope they found somewhere to duck in along the coast.  Would hate to be out sailing in this weather.  Very glad we are snugly tied in this marina berth; OTOH, we are getting a tiny bit stir-crazy staying inside the boat

Had my hair cut one day last week and the stylist butchered it.  Supposed to cut off 1 ½ inches and instead she cut off more than 6 inches.  Once she made the first snip there was no turning back; it all had to be cut off.  So everyone will be surprised to see me at Christmas with short hair.  And, no, I do not like having short hair.

We took a bus down to Whangarei on Wednesday afternoon.  This bus was arranged by the Whangarei Sailing Club.  We thought we could bail out of the bus and go visit our friends on S/V FREE SPIRIT who are berthed in the Town Centre Marina in Whangarei.  But the bus trip was so structured that we only had 15 minutes to run by their boat and say hello.  The final stop was a nice dinner at the Whangarei Sailing Club.  We did not win a door prize this time.  Just as well since our boat is not in Whangarei and we don’t plan to visit and stay in Whangarei.  The topography seen from the road on the trip down there and back was spectacular.  New Zealand is gorgeous – the prettiest land we have seen anywhere.  We especially like the ponga, which locals call a tree fern; or what I would call a fern tree.  It is a fern that looks like some kind of palm tree.  Also looks like it is straight out of Jurassic Park.  Really an neat looking tree.  Haven’t seen anything like it anywhere else.
Whangarei has anything and everything that one could want if needing any type boat work.  We have never seen so many boat-related businesses in one area.  It has literally everything and most of it is within walking distance of the Town Centre Marina.  Whangarei is way up a river and is very, very shallow.   Egress is limited by tide times.  Not very attractive at low tide as it is muddy.   Glad we aren't going there because shallow water is stressfull to negotiate when your boat draft is 2.1 meters. 
At the Whangarei Sailing Club we received another Maori welcome greeting from a tribal leader.  It was quite moving to listen to this man recite ancestry and give us the Maori traditional greetings from the mountains and the river and the people and their ancestors.  The Maori believe there is only one Supreme Being for the entire world and all its people.  And that all your ancestors are always with you.  It is traditional for a Maori to always sing a song when greeting and welcoming visitors.  He sang a song that he said was from around 930 A.D.  He said the song was a welcome to us from the land ancestors and from the land itself.  Of course, all this was in the Maori language so we could not understand a word of it.  But it was beautiful to listen to.
Thursday was Thanksgiving Day and the Opua Cruising Club helped us ex-pat Americans celebrate with a special Turkey Day dinner.  The cruising club has been doing this for many years and they know how to do it up right.  This isn’t a fancy dinner because there is not the proper venue in Opua for that.  But they serve a meal that certainly meets traditional Thanksgiving Day expectations:  turkey, ham, dressing, potatoes, green peas, salads and cranberry sauce.  The yachties are asked to bring deserts.  Now, you would think that if people from 50 boats attend this dinner and each boat person or couple brings a desert that there would be far too many deserts.  Logic tells you that fact.  But the sweet tooth fairy must have visited the yachties because we managed to eat almost all of those sweet treats.  When we visited Whangarei the previous day the bus driver agreed to stop at a large supermarket for exactly 30 minutes.  This allowed me to buy some Granny Smith apples, so I baked an apple pie as our desert contribution for the Thanksgiving dinner.  Turned out darn good, if I might be allowed to brag a bit.  We enjoyed the meal and the evening visiting with friends.  Bill asked me at one point where we had celebrated Thanksgiving last year.  Took me a minute to remember that it was in the San Blas Islands of Caribbean Panama.  We celebrated Thanksgiving on S/V BLUEPRINT MATCH (now named S/V FREE SPIRIT).  We had lobster.  Man, does that ever seem like a lifetime ago and a world apart from where we are now.

Friday morning the new nozzles arrived for the injectors for our Yanmar engine.  The mechanic had them installed well before noon.  Both main engine and generator are running smoothly as ever.  The mechanic asked us to run each for about 2 hours today before we leave the dock, just to test everything thoroughly.   The $500 door prize we won was applied against the $525 of labor.  We spent an additional $1393 on parts and spares, including the most expensive cost of injector inspection/service which was outsourced.  None of this was necessary because we were experiencing no problems with either the main engine or the generator.  But having this work done makes Bill feel more secure about the engine and genset, so I am glad we had everything checked out.

Most of the various marine parts and spares that we ordered arrived on Thursday and Friday.  The few items that did not arrive yet will be forwarded to Gulf Harbour Marina near Auckland.  We plan to leave Opua tomorrow morning to start southward down to Gulf Harbour.  Last weather forecast we heard this morning indicated that weather should be favorable over the weekend.  Bill ordered new GRIB files this afternoon.  If the GRIBS agree with the radio weather forecast, then we will leave the marina tomorrow morning.  Which means no internet until we reach the next marina.  Wish we had more time to explore the bays all along the coast, but we have stayed in Opua so long that now we need to hurry onward to get settled into Gulf Harbour Marina.   Still have a number of things to do after we are berthed at Gulf Harbour before flying home on December 10th.

We have thoroughly enjoyed our stay in Opua.  This is the most hospitable place in the world for cruising boats. 

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Won $500 door prize! Lucky us!

We won a $500 door prize at the final dinner/party for the All Points to Opua Rally!  The $500 could be used for either parts or labor from a marine engineering company called Sea Power.   Bill planned to do routine adjustments of valve lash for both generator and main engine.  Sea Power works on both Onan generators and Yanmar engines.  So instead of doing this work himself, Bill opted to let Sea Power do it.  Bill also had a few other jobs for Sea Power to do, figuring that we would spend probably $700 and apply the $500 door prize against this work.  Turns out it was a good thing that we hired a professional to do this work.  The generator is fine but the main engine has a slight problem.  They cleaned the injectors and discovered that the nozzles were spraying an erratic pattern.  Cleaning the ports did not solve the problem.  All 4 nozzles for the injectors for the Yanmar 100hp turbo engine need to be replaced.  At $180 NZD per nozzle, that will more than use up that $500 door prize.  The new nozzles had to be ordered so we are stuck in the Opua Marina until these parts arrive, which should be this Thursday if all goes right.  I hope they arrive earlier than that as I would like to get moving toward Auckland.

Weather will be high winds from the wrong direction at least through Monday so we would not have left this weekend anyway.  But I would love to depart Tuesday 11/25 if possible.  There are 3 or 4 places where we can stop overnight on the trip south to Auckland and I would like to have an opportunity to enjoy those 3 or 4 stops and not rush.  We fly home on December 10 and we want to be settled into the marina near Auckland for several days before that departure. 

Bill also won a nice large open-weave nylon carry-bag at the final dinner/party for the rally.  He won this for submitting the best protest.  He decided a few hours before the party that he would submit this protest.  Now, we are not racing sailors and have never seen or heard a protest before.  But the rules stated that a protest could be submitted for anything – the wilder the better.  For example, you could protest that another boat arrived faster than you because they had the wrong color boat; or because they had more crew on their boat; or that they had nicer meals and better brand beer; or whatever.  Bill decided to write a protest on behalf of all marine merchants or marine service providers located south of Opua.  These merchants were supposedly protesting the well-organized Opua rally and festivities that are encouraging yachties to remain in Opua far longer than necessary and spend money with Opua merchants rather than moving southward quickly and spending money with the more southerly merchants.  BTW, we are not “cruisers” here in New Zealand; here we are collectively known as “yachties.”  And our boats are never called boats; we sail yachts. 

The rally organizers loved Bill’s protest.  He hit the nail right on the head as the entire point of this rally is to get us yachties to spend more time in Opua and patronize the local merchants and marine service providers.   We originally planned to be in Opua only a couple of days and then slowly move southward, stopping in many bays along the way down to Auckland over 3 weeks.  Didn’t happen.  For the first 5 days after our arrival we partied at the rally festivities.  Then we won one of the door prizes and stayed another few days to get the work done.  That has turned into another 2 weeks spent in Opua than we planned.  And at least 4k NZD more than we planned. 

Bill has a big shopping list for additional spares and decided since we are here waiting on the injector nozzles that he would shop here rather than waiting until we are in Auckland.  We wanted to shop before our trip home so that we would know what was available locally and what we would have to carry back on the plane when we return in January.   By the time we leave Opua we will have spent at least 4k NZD that we had no intentions of spending here.  So the Opua rally was a huge success in our case.

Also, the water heater developed a tiny leak a couple of months ago --- only a few tablespoons every few days.  Supposedly this leak was from the heating element, which can be replaced.  Bill ordered a new heating element.  But while installing it he noticed some rust inside the tank, so he decided to replace the entire water heater rather than chance having a problem later.  He returned the new heating element and ordered a new water heater.  This was the exact same brand and model as our original water heater.  Of course, as usual with boats, the replacement “exactly the same” water heater wasn’t exactly the same.  It was supposed to be the exact same dimensions.  The tank itself was the same dimensions, but the “new and improved” protrusions from the heater made just enough difference that the new water heater would not fit where the old water heater was mounted.  It took 3 days and several modifications, including some stainless steel welding and removal of the external mixing thermostat, but we finally have hot water again.  Good!!!  I do not like showering in the marina showers and prefer to shower on the boat.  Always took cold water showers in the stifling heat of the Caribbean, but it is freaking cold here in New Zealand and hot water is a necessity!

We took a day-shuttle trip into the small town of Kerikeri on Wednesday.  Thanks to Renee on S/V SCARLETT O’HARA for arranging this outing.  We stopped at a WalMart type store and a small Home Depot type store and then had several hours to wander around Kerikeri on our own.  Then we stopped at a marvelous chocolate factory on the way back to Opua.  Delicious!  While in Kerikeri we opened a bank account.  Man, that was easy.  The US should take lessons from the Kiwis on how to operate a bank.  We obtained wiring instructions so we could have our bank in the US wire funds to establish this account.  But we did not need to wait for those funds to be transferred.  We left the bank with an account number (zero balance of course) and ATM/debit cards and online banking arranged.  As soon as our US bank wired the funds then this account became functional.  Never had it so easy when dealing with banks at home.  We have always had to wait for the ATM/debit cards to be mailed and waited weeks.  This was ever so easy.  BTW, the bank here in New Zealand is paying 7% interest on a 5-month CD.  That is way, WAY, way more our US bank is paying right now.

So now we have a local cell phone and a local bank account.  And plan to buy a used car as soon as we have time to look for one when we reach Auckland.  Almost sounds like we might be here awhile, doesn’t it?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Death of a sailor friend--shot by a pirate

We are very saddened to learn of the death of a fellow sailor we met last year.  The day we arrived in New Zealand and got WiFi internet access I read Houston Chronicle online and learned of the death of one of the nicest men we have ever met.  He was a fellow sailor and a fellow Houstonian, but the Chronicle article never mentioned that he was a local guy.

We met Ken and Cathy Peters on S/V CHILL in Carriacou in May 2007.  They were the kind of cruisers who actively gave back to the communities they visited.  For example, they volunteered to design and build a childrens playground on one island at no cost to the local residents, even for the construction materials.  

In late June 2007 we sailed in their company along with 5 other boats from Grenada to Porlamor, Isla Margarita, one of the islands north of mainland Venezuela.  Bill and I felt an instant rapport with these 2 fellow Houstonians.  

As you know, we sailed on westward.  Cathy and Ken stayed in the Caribbean, mainly because they felt the need to be near their elderly parents in case health issues should arise.  We lost contact but last we heard was that Ken and Cathy were enjoying Venezuela very much.  As has been reported on many of the sailing blogs, the conditions for all foreign sailors in Venezuela have deteriorated during summer of 2008; and Ken and Cathy were preparing to leave.  The only reason they had not left earlier was because of the death of Cathy`s mother a month or so ago.

They, in company with another cruising boat, S/V I Lean, had sailed to the state park of Mochima, anchored so they could clean the hull and  planned to depart Venezuela the next morning. and sail to the Dutch ABC islands.  Around sunset a small panga (local boat) with 3 men approached and asked for water.  Ken was handing down 3 bottles of water when one of the men pulled a gun and shot Ken twice in the chest.  Ken died instantly.  When this shooting happened, Steve's wife ran below below and brought up his shotgun and Steve fired into the panga.  There are varying stories as to whether he killed one of the assailants and wounded another or whether any or all 3 men were wounded by the shotgun blasts.   It doesn`t really matter.  The important thing is that this cruiser did manage to chase away the assailants after they killed Ken.  Score one for carrying a shotgun on your boat when sailing in Caribbean waters.

There is on active investigation by the Venezuelan police into this murder and attempted robbery, but  I do not think I have violated any private information in relaying what I have written here.  The same information has been posted by others in the comments section for the article published by the Houston Chronicle online.

Our very deepest sympathies go out to Cathy.  We hope she has God`s grace to sustain her under such a burden.  This was so totally senseless.

All Points Rally to Opua

First, to recap our passage to New Zealand:  On the final day, Monday, we sailed 122.3 miles.  That totals 1046.5 miles made good for the entire passage.  Actually we sailed more miles than that but we only track MMG.  Any miles sailed that do not bring us closer to our destination don’t count with us.  I know that won’t make any sense to the landlubbers, but sailors understand that sometimes you must sail in the wrong direction in order to get to the right destination.  Passage duration was 0730 Monday through 0130 Tuesday of the following week, for a total of 7 days and 18 hours (8 nights at sea).   A 46-foot British boat left Tonga at exactly the same time we did and they arrived in Opua about 16 hours after us.

We arrived at the Quarantine Dock in Opua and were tied off at 0130 Tuesday morning. Of course there was no one around to help us with the dock lines but that was simple and we did not require assistance to dock.  We followed a German boat in through the channel; then they drifted around because they couldn’t figure out where to go.  It was misting rain and difficult to see in the pitch-black night.  We nosed around until we found the Q Dock (it is back behind the old wharf and south of Opua Marina).  After we were tied off then the German guys followed and tied up behind us.  This Q Dock is quite long and could easily accommodate 20 to 30 boats.  It is a long floating dock and is not attached to land.  Bill and I ate a very late dinner of the final 2 bowls of chili; had a hot shower; and went to bed.  We were up and dressed at daylight because had no idea when Customs and Quarantine officials would arrive to clear us in.

Two Quarantine officials arrived at 0800.  After all the stories about how difficult Quarantine can be in New Zealand, I was greatly relieved with how very simple it really was.  The men were very polite and helpful.  One of the men carried a heavy-duty black plastic bag into which he placed our garbage bag and the few items that they removed from our boat.  The second man wrote down each item that they removed.  We had no fresh or frozen meat to dispose of, and they did not take one single can of any canned meat because ours did not contain bones.  They did say that many canned chicken products are prohibited because things like canned chicken chili or turkey chili contains ground bones.  Mayonnaise is often removed but I had Hellman’s and that brand is not a problem.  Several other people later told me that Quarantine removed all their mayonnaise.  The country of origin didn’t seem to be the deciding factor.  The officials seemed more concerned about the brands.  Guess they know what they are looking for. 

Since we have only microwave popcorn, they let us keep that.  Regular loose popcorn kernels are prohibited, but microwave popcorn is okay.  They approved all my spices because they are all in bottles and commercially prepared.  I usually do not buy local spices and had none onboard.  They did not take cheese, butter, canned milks or UHT boxed milk.  Powdered milk is not allowed but UHT is okay.  The things removed from our boat were:  3 boiled eggs, 1 orange, tiny bit of leftover baked boneless chicken and 6 bags various dried beans.  And it was convenient for us that they took away the garbage accumulated during the passage.  So, moral of this story is to ignore those oft-told stories of difficulty of clearing into New Zealand Quarantine.  It was a breeze.   BTW, we arrived with about 1 case of beer.  Bill did a pretty good job of drinking up or sharing those 25 cases we had aboard in mid-March in Panama.

Shortly after the Quarantine officials left then the Customs guy dropped by to deliver a gift bag to us.  Now that is a first!  Certainly never had an arrival gift from Customs anywhere else we have visited.  This gift was a nicely decorated heavy straw bag containing all sorts of useful information about the Opua area and New Zealand.  Even had some discount coupons for coffee shops and bakeries and the like.  Soon 2 Customs officials arrived and we did the paperwork dance.  Turns out that we indeed should have that Multi-Entry Visa that we tried to obtain both in Niue and again in Nuku’Alofa and were told that we did not need.  They said we will need this Visa when we clear back in at the airport in January because it proves that our later departure on a boat is guaranteed.  We will try to take care of that before we fly home on December 10 but I am not very hopeful that this will be accomplished. 

The complete clearing in process with both Quarantine and Customs took less than half an hour.  Then we moved the boat a very short distance to our slip at Opua Marina.  Other people arrived worn out from their passage but we felt well-rested and ready to do things.  We tidied up the boat and went walking to check out the local shops.  Opua is a tiny, tiny “town” with only a few shops so that did not take long.  We stopped at the Bluewater Café for a burger.  My hamburger had lettuce, tomato, grated carrots and beets.  Both Bill and I opted not to have a fried egg on our hamburgers which is the normal way burgers are served both in New Zealand and in Australia.  New Zealanders don’t do pickles on sandwiches.  In fact, I don’t think they eat pickles at all.  Instead, they use beets for that tangy taste.  Unusual, but not objectionable.  At the café we met a couple we had talked to on the VHF radio the day before.  They are New Zealanders who have returned after 11 years doing a circumnavigation.  They walked with us down to the office to register for all various activities for the All Points to Opua Rally.

The All Points to Opua Rally is held each November, and the Opua to All Points Rally is held each April.  November is the time that boats leave Tonga, Fiji and Vanuatu to sail down to New Zealand to avoid the cyclone season; and anyone doing so should register online for this rally.   The arrival celebratory activities are wonderful.  These rallies are sponsored by the extremely active Opua Cruising Club.  The club seems to constantly have something scheduled.  Most of the rally activities are held in the clubhouse and their hospitality is phenomenal.  Monday night was free pizza night for the rally participants, but we obviously missed that since we did not arrive until 0130 Tuesday.   Tuesday night was free seafood night and it was great.  Enjoyed meeting up with people we haven’t seen for a couple of thousand miles.  Wednesday morning was a breakfast at a local café, which we skipped since Bill can’t eat eggs anymore.  Wednesday night was a barbeque dinner at a local restaurant, free transportation provided.  (That dinner was not so great but we enjoyed the companionship.)  Thursday night was a free wine and cheese tasting and then a trip to the Waitangi Northland Culture Show held at the Waitangi Trust Treaty Grounds, the birth place of New Zealand.  Tonight is a free beer and bangers barbeque at a local boat yard.  Bangers are Kiwi sausages.  And tomorrow night is Pig on a Spit and Rally Prize Awards, followed by live music entertainment.   There will be a number of awards like biggest fish caught on passage here, best gourmet meal served on passage, best story and things like that.  Each thing must be documented with a date-stamped photo with no photo-shop doctoring.  We will not submit any entries, but this should be fun.  And the door prizes listed are fantastic.   Heck, one of the door prizes is a free haul-out, water blast cleaning and launching.  We could use that one since we don’t plan to haul-out for bottom job until April.

The cultural stage show last night was good.   This was written, produced, directed and acted by Maoris.  The show covered the history of Maoris since the arrival of the warrior/voyager Kupe in New Zealand from Havai-iki in French Polynesia (Bora Bora or Raiatea depending on which source you read) around 800-900 A.D.  The Maori name for New Zealand is Aoetearoa.  Visitors to the show arrive in a large group at the carved Maori meeting house and are greeted in the traditional Maori warrior fashion.  The meeting house holds the tribe’s history and ancestry.  This is depicted in the elaborate carvings and the weavings on the walls.  The tribe for this particular meeting house traces its history back 2000 years including time before they arrived in New Zealand.  Our group leader selected 3 men volunteers to be symbolic visiting chiefs.  The warriors approached our group from the porch of the carved meeting house.  They were doing that fierce Haka thing with spears twirling about and making all kinds of guttural noises and yells and jumping about while making the ugly faces with bulging eyes and tongues sticking out.   It sounds silly but in person these guys would make anyone stop and take notice.  They seemed fierce.  When they were within 30 feet of our 3 “chiefs” then they stopped and made a challenge by laying some things on the ground.  Each of our chiefs then approached the challenge offering and picked it up.  You are supposed to maintain eye contact at all times while picking up the challenge offering.  One of our chiefs lost eye contact with the warrior opposite him and the warrior went ballistic acting out how a real Maori warrior in olden times would have killed that visitor.  Losing eye contact meant the visitor was weak and should not be allowed.   Once the challenge offering was picked up and the warrior felt that the visitor was not threatening, then the 2 men pressed their noses together as symbolism that they were friends or “as one.”  

After the warrior greeting then we all proceeded to the carved meeting house and removed our shoes before going inside for the show.  There was a lot of warrior dancing and weapons-use reenactments.  The women did singing and dancing and twirling these white ball things on strings.  None of it looked easy and obviously required many hours of practice.  The story covered the Maori arrival here, the Europeans arrival, the Waitangi Trust Treaty of February 1841, and the later war that resulted because the English signed an English version of that treaty and the Maori signed a Maori version of that treaty and the two differed somewhat due to language translations.  The Maori have claimed since day one that they did not sign away their rights to their lands.  The English interpreted the English version of the verbiage differently.  Same thing that happened in the United StatesEngland signed a treaty and then reneged on it and changed the interpretation to be what they wanted it to be.  The treaty still exists and the Maoris continue to fight legally to get the treaty ratified but that has not happened yet.  As you may guess it all comes down to money and land values.  The Maori want their land or some of their land because their culture places highest value on the land.  They believe you cannot be a complete person unless you own the land.   We enjoyed this cultural show and would recommend it to other visitors.  I did not bring a camera but will try to get some photos from others who did.

We love New Zealand.  Could happily live here if they would let us, but they won’t allow people our age to immigrate.  They don’t want us old folks even if we bring plenty of money.  The climate is better than Sausalito on its best day.  And the people could not be more friendly and hospitable.  And they speak English!  Love it here.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Best night in Tonga -- Birthday party for Earl's 60th and son Andrew's 12th

All things happen for a reason.  If we had not turned around during our first attempt to sail to New Zealand and returned to Nuku'alofa then we would have missed what turned out to be the most enjoyable night during our entire visit to the Kingdom of Tonga. 

Sixtieth birthday parties are a big deal in Tonga.  Cause for elaborate celebration.  Saturday was Earl's 60th birthday and it was quite the celebration.  Earl's son Andrew also celebrated his 12th birthday on Saturday.  How nice that both father and son celebrate their special day together.  Earl is married to Big Mama and they own Big Mama's Yacht Club on the small island of Pangaimotu near Nuku'alofa.  Pangaimotu is where all the cruising yachts are anchored.  There are 50 boats now here at Pangaimotu waiting to depart for the passage to New Zealand as soon as weather cooperates.

Earl and his son were dressed in traditional Tongan celebratory attire.  The mats wrapped around their waists and hips were made of the finest woven matting material that we have ever seen, very fine weaving and very white in color.  They also wore scarlet red clusters of beads and other materials around their necks and waists.  They looked magnificent.  Andrew was very solemn throughout the evening.  I think that this was culturally expected behavior for a male for a 12th birthday.  Earl was dignified and extremely gracious.  There were about 300 people at this party.  A delicious traditional Tongan feast was served and 2 fantastic chocolate cakes.

There was a 12-piece band comprised of the local Tongan police force.  Glenn on THE DOROTHY MARIE joined the band and played his saxophone.  Steve on ORCA III also joined the band and played his harmonica.  The band sounded pretty good to us but you must remember that it has been a long time since we have heard a live band.  The crowd was dancing the night away and it was a great evening.  The place went nuts with dancing when the band played "Achy Breaky Heart."  It was so odd to hear country music played by a local band in exotic Tonga.  Not what one would expect to hear, but they did play quite a bit of country music.  Also darn good with blues.  The Tongan women had a ball dancing and the cruisers really got into it. 

Two young Tongan girls danced one of the traditional dances with all the graceful hand, hip and head movements.  They were wearing traditional dancing costumes and their bodies were oiled.  Most of the cruisers did not understand at first what was going on but Bill and I knew from our previous visit to Tonga what was expected.  Bill gave me a small denomination pa'anga (money like a dollar bill) and I went up and stuck it on the shoulder of the youngest girl.  This prompted others to do likewise and soon both girls had money stuck to their oiled shoulders and arms.  By the time they finished their dance the bills were falling onto the sand and their older women relatives were standing nearby to collect all the fallen money for the girls.  The youngest girl was about 7 years old and did not know the dance movements well and constantly watched her older sister to mimic the movements, but the oldest girl knew exactly how to move.  It was so nice to see the local traditions being continued with the youngest generation. 

This was a special evening and we feel fortunate to have had the opportunity to share it.

Friday we had gone into town for lunch at Friends Cafe and to walk several miles just for the exercise.  We brought a laptop and logged onto the internet while at Friends.  It costs 5.50 pa'anga for one hour internet access (about $2.80 USD).   We tried to log onto our bank's website to check recent activity in checking account and VISA card charges since it had been weeks since we last checked on this.  We waited 37 minutes and the bank logon webpage was still trying to load, so we gave up. Others had warned us that the connection at the restaurant was so slow that by the time a webpage loads you are ready to kill yourself --- painfully, painfully slow. 

Friday night there was a Halloween Party at Big Mama's and the regular Friday night buffet.  About 20 cruiser kids were running around wild while their parents stood around chatting.  Most of these little cruiser kids are extremely well-behaved because they have had to adapt to living in very close quarters on their boats.  But when a few of the not-so-well-behaved kids join the group then they all start acting like little hellions.  They do need to run off some of that young excess energy but the restaurant really was not the place for that and the parents should have made an effort to divert their little darlings outside.  Some of us present at the party who do not have little kids did not appreciate being knocked about by running kids and getting sand all other our clothes.  Sort of reminded us of being in casual restaurants in the West U area at home where the parents think anything their little darlings do is okay and to hell with anybody else.

For the buffet meal we shared a table with 2 couples whom we had not met.  One couple from Canada and another couple from England.  These were the first anti-Americans that we have met out here.  I was somewhat taken aback and did not know how to respond when the very first words out of the Canadian woman's mouth were:  "I have never liked Americans.  But then we sailed down the west coast of America and stopped in many small harbors and met lots of Americans and I realized that the Americans aren't really bad people; it is just your government that is truly horrible."  Now, what are we supposed to say in return to that kind of remark!  I said nothing and Bill told her that all governments do things that some of the people being governed might object to.  The English woman was equally nasty and unpleasant and critical of anything American.  Bill tried to make some humorous comments during the meal to lighten the tone but was not very successful.  How silly this attitude seems.  And how superior these people felt themselves to be over we low stupid Americans.  This was as silly as the Dutch guys in Papeete telling us that the worst problem in America was the fact that we allow people to own guns.  Yeah, sure.  The worst problem in American isn't illegal drugs, poor education, lack of jobs, racial division, poverty, poor medical care, etc., etc., -- the worst problem is that you can buy a gun.  Don't you love the way the "intelligent" people of the world judge a country they have never visited and know nothing about.  And we are supposed to be the stupid ones.  Thankfully one rarely encounters such uninformed judgmental people and can avoid those few who do pop up now and then -- which is exactly what Bill and I will do with both these couples. 

Still hoping to depart for the passage to New Zealand tomorrow morning.