Thursday, December 4, 2008

Great Barrier Island and arrived Gulf Harbour Marina near Auckland

Monday, December 1, 2008
Latitude 36.10.32S 
Longitude 175.21.57E
Distance sailed today:   53.4 NM

We departed the small harbor at Tutukaka at 0640.  It was gray and dismal and drizzling rain for half the day.  Winds were too light for sails alone, so we again motor-sailed.  About 3 hours before reaching Great Barrier Island the winds filled in, rain stopped and sailing was perfect until we got between 2 islands at the entry to Port Fitzroy bays on Great Barrier Island.  We anchored behind tiny Grave Island at exactly 1340.  The trip took less time than we had anticipated.  This is a beautiful anchorage, very calm and protected and surrounded by high mountains covered in every shade of green imaginable.  Picture perfect place.  Reminds me of the Pacific Northwest of the USA or parts of Scotland

A weather front moved across the North Island of New Zealand from the Tasman Sea on Tuesday.  Winds blew steadily at around 20 knots from the west for 24 hours.  This did not bother us because we had anchored behind Grave Island for just that reason.  So we were somewhat sheltered from the westerly winds.  But it was cold as all get-out and I refused to go outside all day.  We had originally planned to proceed onward to the marina near Auckland on Wednesday, but since we didn’t do anything all day Tuesday we decided to delay that departure until Thursday when weather prediction would be better for sailing in that direction.

Wednesday morning we finally put the dinghy in the water.  First time the dinghy has been in the water since we left Tonga more than a month ago, and the outboard took a few minutes to decide to run smoothly again.  It was a short ride over to Port Fitzroy, where we hired a car for the day.  Bill had forgotten to bring his wallet so we had to rent this car in my name and they said Bill could not drive it.  The clerk also said that the police do spot-checks looking for unauthorized drivers on the rental cars; so that meant I really was going to have to drive it.   We rented a Toyota Mark II.  It was a small 4-door sedan with diesel engine and automatic transmission.  This was my first experience at driving on the left-hand side of the road, as well as my first experience at driving a car with the steering wheel on the right-hand side of the car.  Driving on the left-hand side of the road was not a problem.  But remembering to use my left hand to shift the car was a different story altogether.   Good thing it wasn’t a stick shift.  My first instinct was to use my right hand on the column (which was the turn indicator) instead of the gear-shift on the floor between the front seats.  Then when I wanted the turn indicator I could never find it.  Just seemed like the totally wrong place for the turn indicator to be on the right-hand side of the steering wheel.

Shortly after we started on the winding mountain road Bill remembered that he had forgotten to take his daily medicine that morning, so we turned around and he went back to the boat and took care of that.  While there he also picked up his wallet.  We then added him to the car rental contract so that he could drive.  But I was enjoying driving this strange little car so we agreed that I would drive until we turned around, and then he would drive back.  That way we each had the opportunity to scare the other person on the extremely narrow winding mountain roads with sheer drop-offs hundreds of feet down.   In the US you would have guard rails on roads like these, but not here.

Great Barrier Island is a fairly large island, but it has very limited roads.  GBI is a backpacker or “tramping” destination.  Tramping is hiking.  GBI is also a camping destination and high-season is December and January.  The entire island is traversed with hiking trails of varying difficulty.  They don’t require well-constructed roads and they don’t need or want a lot of any type roads.  The Department of Conservation wants to keep Great Barrier Island as natural as possible.   Backpackers reach this island either by ferries or by airplanes that carry maybe 10 people per flight.  It is a very laid-back sort of place.  The island has no supermarket, no electricity supply (only private generators and solar panels), no main drainage or water supply (private wells and septic tanks only), most roads are unsealed, and gasoline costs nearly double the Auckland price.  Cell phone reception is very limited and there are no banks, ATMs or street lights. 

As we left Port Fitzroy (which consists of whopping 9 buildings including residences and businesses), we encountered a young couple walking on the road.  So we offered them a ride.  Heck, this is an island with only one road.  We must be going wherever they are heading anyway.  Turned out these kids were from Woodstock, New York.  This year they have been hiking in Iceland and in the Philippine Islands, and just recently arrived in New Zealand.  We haven’t seen very many young people from the USA traveling about in the Pacific, but have seen hundreds of European high-school and college age kids bumming about.  They usually travel on a very low budget.   Wish the American kids would get more into this travel-while-you-are-young idea because visiting other countries and cultures provides such a valuable life experience.   The Woodstock kids got out when we reached the Windy Canyon Trail, and we continued on our way.

I drove all the way to the southern end of the island.  We stopped at the Claris Texas Café for lunch.  Texas, it is not.  Texas taste, it did not have.  Texas food items, it did not have.  We have no clue why it was called Texas Café.  Kiwis are sometimes strange.

We switched and Bill drove all the way back to the northern end of the island.  We saw some spectacular views along the way --- the type views you saw in The Lord of the Rings movies.  Also looked down on some beautiful white-sand beaches.   However, about two-thirds of the road was unpaved (or unsealed as they say here); and we got tired of bouncing about on the loose gravel and were glad to turn in that rent car.  The only thing that I wish we had seen were the natural hot springs.  But that required another hour on the unpaved road plus one hour walk in and one hour walk back out.  Our time was limited because we wanted to be back on the boat before dark.  So we opted to forgo visiting the hot springs

Back to the boat for a steak dinner.  We checked latest GRIB files and weather looks good for the trip to Auckland area tomorrow.

December 4, 2008 Thursday
Latitude 36.37.267S
Longitude 174.47.491E
Distance sailed today:  45.3 NM

It was a beautiful day; bright sunshine and calm seas with light winds.  Dozens of dolphins (porpoises) played around the boat.  When we were about 10 miles inside the Hauraki Gulf a whale crossed our path about 200 feet directly in front of us.  There might have been 2 whales but we only clearly saw one of them.  Great day for a leisurely sail with beautiful scenery.  We motor-sailed with poled genoa and arrived at Gulf Harbour Marina shortly after lunchtime.  Gulf Harbour Marina is located on the Whangapararoa Penninsula about 13 miles north (across the water) of downtown Auckland proper.  We went straight to the fuel dock first and filled up.  We will not need fuel for months but the reasoning is that partially empty fuel tanks will get condensation inside and foul the diesel with water.  We never had to worry about this before because we have always been in hot climates where condensation does not form.  But with the cold nights and warm days here in the Auckland area, this condensation would be a problem.  BTW, diesel is very reasonably priced in New Zealand.  Much, much less expensive than gasoline locally.  

A very nice guy helped us at the fuel dock and then guided us to our assigned slip.  Since we are transient and liveaboard, we were assigned a slip on ‘N’ dock which is across the waterway from the yacht club, shops, offices and boatyard.  At least there is a toilet and shower facility right at the end of our dock; all other amenities require a dinghy for access.  After we were tied up in our assigned slip the nice man gave us a ride across the waterway to check in at the marina office.  Guess we will have to put the dinghy in the water so I can do laundry before our flight home next week.  All marinas in New Zealand are located in “no discharge” areas which means we cannot operate our clothes washer while in the marinas and must use the marina laundry facilities.  And the laundry facilities are across the waterway.  Taking the dinghy to do laundry seems so strange.  Not something we have ever had to do in any marina.

Supposedly there are a couple of small eateries and one very small grocery store within 20-minute walk from our slip.  And there is some kind of market held on weekends at the construction site of a new store being built near the end of our dock.  Since we will only be here less than a week before flying home, the limited things within walking distance or dinghy distance will fill our needs for the moment.   All other stores will require a car, a purchase which we will research after we return in January.  For now we are settled into our temporary home until April in slip N4 at Gulf Harbour Marina and very glad to be here.