Great Barrier Island

Great Barrier Island  
March 11, 2004

We’ve had more than a week of bright, warm days, nearly all sunny. We took advantage of this apparent anomaly of New Zealand weather to voyage out to Great Barrier Island – our first overnight foray away from the dock since mid-November! Up until now we have been prevented from venturing out by a combination of necessary boat maintenance/repairs and really awful weather. (See the several preceding email messages).

We left for Great Barrier Island last Thursday, anticipating a nice beam reach for the more than 50 mile trip out to the northeast from Auckland. In fact, there wasn’t much wind at all, and we ended up motoring most of the way. (Well, at least we proved that the recent navigation instrument upgrades were all functional.) We anchored in Port Fitzroy, near a small community of the same name. There’s a general store, a gas dock, a school and the Boat Club. A few minutes away (close to where we were anchored, in fact) is the DOC (Department of Conservation) office. While we, from Oregon might call it the "Dee Oh Cee," Kiwis call it the "dock" office. The DOC administers public lands on Great Barrier Island, including trail maintenance, protection of endangered species, and running a few campgrounds.

The gas dock at Port Fitzroy

We learned from the DOC office that the friendly brown ducks that came paddling up while we were anchoring (looking for a handout), were in fact the endangered "Brown Teal" of which there are only 1000 individuals left in the world – most of them at Great Barrier Island.
New Zealand pays a lot of attention to its endangered species, and focuses all sorts of negative energy on interlopers such as bunny rabbits, possum, deer and rats. Neither possum nor deer have yet reached Great Barrier Island, but there were rabbit droppings everywhere (and a few dead rabbits on the road, despite the apparent scarceness of vehicles). There are quite a few young kauri trees planted, in an attempt to make the ancient forests come back. The kauri were a magnificent hardwood tree which once covered the north island. They were ruthlessly cut down in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, both for the wood, and for the gum. There are now very few remaining examples of mature trees.

Great Barrier Island proudly announces on its literature that it has no reticulated electricity. This was a new use of the word for us, so we looked it up – it means networked. In other words, everyone has their own diesel generator. (Another Kiwi word that took us by surprise was "superannuation." It means "pension.")

Abundant sub-tropical foliage



Mushroom seen in a dark section of forest

We took a hike up into the bush to a series of waterfalls and over the top of a ridge. We were astonished, as we have been on other occasions, that there are so many different kinds of plants that we’ve never seen before. It reminded me of a distantly remembered passage of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s "Lost World" where the intrepid explorers are seeing unknown and very large plants and trees, and strange, large birds are flying overhead making unfamiliar noises. A few of the plants were familiar, but only because we have seen small versions in American offices and living rooms.

The New Zealand trail building methods are somewhat different than in the States. They seem not to believe in switchbacks. Instead, the trails go straight up the slope, using wooden stairsteps, sometimes for very long, heart-pounding stretches. On most sections of the trail there is a water runoff ditch carved into the hillside on the uphill side of the trail. Periodically a culvert runs under the trail. This means that the trail is rarely muddy, and erosion is not a problem. But obviously a large amount of labor and money is required to dig and maintain the ditches.



Long uphill trail staircase
  One of the things we’ve really enjoyed about New Zealand is making the acquaintance of its residents. We met Bob and Judith on Omana through a series of chance events. When we returned to the boat after our morning hike, we scraped the dinghy on an oyster shell, and heard the insistent hissing of air escaping. That necessitated a quick return to Sequoia, hauling the dinghy out onto the foredeck, and then a patching job. Craig used a couple of square boat cushions to shade the area from direct sunlight. We went below after the patching job, and the wind came up. The dinghy was tied to the deck, but those cushions weren’t. One went in the water, and we had no way to go and get it (other than swimming, which wasn’t too inviting – not to mention that the wind was blowing strongly enough that there might be a serious question about swimming back to the boat at all!) So we yelled over in the direction of Omana, finally conveying that we wanted them to communicate with us by radio, and then we asked them to retrieve the cushion for us. They were glad to do so, and that segued into drinks and snacks that evening, and coffee together the next morning. Judith is an artist, and she showed us some of her paintings done on the boat this season. (They live aboard most of the time, it seems, and Great Barrier Island is one of their favorite places.) We traded bags of paperback books, and now the only problem is where to put them all (this time we got more than we gave!)
I’ve been experimenting with bread recipes, and while we were home over the holidays, I acquired some "genuine San Francisco sourdough starter." The first batch of bread has been somewhat of a disappointment (not sour enough) so I’ve been perusing the internet for tips on how to make the bread more sour.

That’s about all the news from here. We’re back in Auckland, working on more boat projects, and making plans for car trips, and a possible flying trip to the south part of the south island, where we’ll rent a car and see the sights.

We enjoy your messages, so please do write!

Best wishes to all –

Craig & Barbara Johnston


DOC campground on Great Barrier Island -- Sequoia is anchored in the distance.

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