New Zealand Summer

February 16, 2004

Westhaven Marina, Auckland, New Zealand


(Some photos on this page are by Ian Johnston.  See more of his New Zealand photos at his webpage.)

Awaroa Bay, Abel Tasman Park

Dear Friends and Family:

We had expected that by now we would be cruising to the various lovely destinations on the coasts of New Zealand.  But slow repairs on the usual broken boat bits and some wild weather have left us mostly on shore.

First has been the weather.  The saying goes, “Only in New Zealand can you experience all four seasons in one day.”  We’ve found that to be quite true, although we have yet to see snow or freezing weather.  At the moment, we’re tied up to U-dock in the Westhaven Marina.  It’s raining lightly, and we’re rocking gently back and forth in the swell coming in through the north opening of the marina breakwater.  But last night we had sustained winds in excess of 40 knots, thunder and lightning, and violent rocking against the mooring lines, which fetched up hard two or three times a minute.  Needless to say, it was not a night for a lot of sleep.

Two days ago we said goodbye to Ian and Sibyl, who joined us here for two weeks.  We had hoped to take them sailing for at least a week of that time, but several navigation instruments were still out for repair and upgrading, and then the weather deteriorated.  But we did get in a good car trip to the South Island. 


New Zealand is much bigger than we expected.  Looking at the map, we thought we could easily drive from Auckland to Wellington in one day.  Accordingly, we weren’t very speedy about our departure, and left Auckland around noon.  We didn’t count on the motorway turning into a winding two lane road about sixty kilometers south of Auckland.  The scenery is quite lovely and changeable, verdant hills with plenty of sheep and cattle and many hairpin turns.  What looked like the fastest route had a symbol signifying “no rental cars” so we decided it might not be prudent to go that way.  The lanes seemed to narrow on the winding roads, and there were many sharp intakes of breath by those of us who were trying hard not to be backseat drivers.

We took the ferry across the Cook Channel between the North and South Islands, for an astonishingly large sum of money.  Then, we again underestimated the driving time, and barely made our date with the “Aqua Taxi” which was to take us to Awaroa Lodge in Abel Tasman Park.  The Aqua Taxi headquarters is located above tide flats, which are awash for at least a quarter mile.  So the method is that the passengers climb onto the boat, which is on a trailer in a parking lot at the headquarters.  The trailer is attached to a big tractor.  The tractor pulls the trailer down a seafront road, down a boat launching ramp (which is dry, top to bottom) and out onto the tide flats.  A quarter mile out, the water is finally midway up the tractor wheels, the tractor driver launches the boat, and then he becomes the boat’s skipper, leaving the tractor and trailer standing in three foot deep water.  Not to worry, the tide’s still going out, and he’ll be back to retrieve them before the tide changes.
We had a fairly bumpy ride up the coast, and then waded ashore in Awaroa Bay.  The lodge is set back, behind a section of coastal bush.  It’s reachable only by water taxi or from the Abel Tasman track (hiking trail).  It’s quite sumptuous and eco-friendly, and was a good place to relax for a few days.  They have a vegetable garden on premises, but otherwise, everything comes in by barge.  The food was delicious, and served in the typical New Zealand upscale fashion: everything stacked precariously in the center of the plate, with bright sauces drizzled artistically around the edges.  The lodge is staffed by a group of enthusiastic and friendly young college students, including a few Americans.
Although it was mostly raining, we did find some dry moments to explore the trails and spend time on the beach.  It was, all in all, a very pleasant, relaxing interlude before resuming the long trek back to Auckland.  We spent the night in Nelson (stopping to see the eye-popping “World of Wearable Art” museum), and then once again took the ferry across the channel.
We’ve spent some time exploring Auckland, occasionally for sight-seeing purposes, but mostly to find things we needed on the boat.  We have every electrical device necessary to do internet by wireless modem from the boat.  This includes plugs and transformers so that things acquired in New Zealand (220 V) can be plugged into the boat’s AC system (110 volts).  We know where hardware stores are, marine equipment suppliers and repair shops, and of course the grocery store and post office.  Driving on the left side of the road in rush hour traffic is a never ending challenge.  We have a mantra, given to us by other American boaters:  “Look right, stay left.”  It covers most situations.
Our favorite district is Ponsonby Road, where we have eaten at a number of wonderful restaurants.  For Craig’s birthday, we tried the “Fuji Teppanyaki,”  which involves flying knives, spatulas, bowls, and running jokes (“yum yum sauce, yum yum butter, yum yum rice, yum yum garlic, chicken tonight” etc. etc.) The owner (who was also our chef) had worked at Benihana in Tennessee for a couple of years, and decided to open his own place in Auckland.  We were attracted by the hilarious laughter we heard when we had eaten in the upstairs Thai restaurant (also very good, but less hilarious).
On the day before Ian and Sibyl left, we did get in one day of sailing, in a very gentle breeze, around Auckland Harbor.  We waved to the tourists on the harbor cruises, and they waved back.  No one was waving back, however, from the America’s Cup boats, which have been turned into tourist rides, and take sails around the harbor, everyone harnessed up.  What seemed to us like a gentle breeze was enough to give the tourists on the America’s Cup boat, with its humongous sails, an exciting ride.

We’re trying to plan what’s next.  While we’re still in New Zealand, we hope to do some cruising in the Hauraki Gulf (near Auckland) and possibly in Marlborough Sound (north end of the South Island).

It now appears that Dockwise is definitely going to have a sailboat transport ship sailing from Brisbane to Vancouver in August, so we’re going to sign up for that (speaking of astonishingly large sums of money…)  It gives us more of a chance to cruise in the tropics than if we were to sail all the way back to the Northwest (a long, fairly rugged uphill trip).  It should also involve less wear and tear on the boat and its owners.  We’ll leave New Zealand around the first of May, after the danger of tropical cyclones has lessened.  We’ll then travel to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu, New Caledonia and end up in Australia by the first of August.

When the sun shines here, it’s quite glorious.  The intensity of the sunshine reminds us that we’re definitely closer to the equator than in Portland.  We also wonder whether the issue with the hole in the ozone layer over the Antarctic means that there are more ultraviolet rays getting through.  People here seem quite aware of the issue, and there’s lots of talk about using plenty of sunscreen (not to mention the huge billboards with anorexic – but tanned – young models, holding a bottle of expensive sunscreen…)

I’m starting to think about provisioning for the next season’s cruising.  There are some things that just can’t be obtained here (canned chicken, dill pickles) and there are some intriguing things here that can’t be obtained in the states (squeeze tubes of chopped herbs, alternative seasick medications).  It’s a never ending quest to keep the boat clear of accumulated space-hogging junk, and to find convenient places to store essentials.  I’ve just discovered a new space for storage that I didn’t know existed, and I’m sure there are more waiting to be discovered.

Best wishes to all of you!

Craig & Barbara Johnston

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