Location: Bay of Plenty, New Zealand
The wind gods must’ve been just still breakfasting when we departed in the morning from Great Mercury because the seas were pancake flat. We motored lazily to the Alderman Islands sunning ourselves like fat cats on the deck. Navigation is dangerous in the jagged chain which abounds in rocky upwellings and is only to be anchored in overnight during settled weather. Sticking up like shark teeth. Full sun and flat seas yielded water the hypnotic kind of blue that if gazed upon too long could lure a sailor right off the bow and siphon him down to the bottom.
Dolphins welcomed us to the island like overly energetic Walmart greeters and distracted us as we anchored gingerly in the kelpy boulder field. We suited up for snorkeling along the broken coast and once we were in the squirrelly porpoises came to see us. They’re not your standard, Caribbean dolphin. These guys are beefy, thick and powerful. Swimming amidst the pod brought me back to my early childhood. Everyone is bigger than you, faster than you, and laughing at you for being uncoordinated. I’m sure they’re smarter as well. With some of the clearest water since Fiji we were in sub-tropical paradise. Made it back to the boat in time for a gorgeous sunset over the island.
With no wind to speak of the following day, our next passage was as flat as the previous. Mayors Island, also known as Tuhua, is an old hunchbacked island with a long history of volcanism; it hides a massive crater and hot springs in its interior. It’s also a protected island as introduced pests have been completely eradicated for some time. Landing is allowed only with permission from the department of conservation care taker on the southeast bay of the island.
After going ashore and obtaining permission to trek we hiked through the tall canopy along the crater rim to the Devil’s Staircase, a craggy traverse flaunting exposed seams of shiny obsidian. The Maori tribes used to wage war against each other over possession of the island as a source of material for making stone blades and implements. The glittering sable glass has a remarkable presence and even without the need to fashion tools from it we felt the urge to hoard the multifaceted stones we found along the trail. Some of the pieces, even raw off the ground were sharp enough to fillet a kingfish. Pretty as they may have been, I did have the good sense not to put any of those pieces in the pockets of my hiking pants.
In addition to terrestrial interests, Tuhua sits in clear water that incubates a good deal of marine life. I tried my best to soak up the superb snorkeling and spearfishing. I picked up a couple of tasty crustaceans for dinner. Saw a few stingrays hoovering the sand; hammerhead and bronze whaler sharks passed at a distance.
We intended to return the following day to find the hot springs but the wind had kicked up and seas were too rough to land the dinghy. We were sorry for missing a hot Valentine’s Day soak but made up for it with heart-shaped chocolate chip cookies made from beer-can cookie cutters. Classy, I know.
The weather was predicted to turn ugly for a few days. Glassy-eyed mariners spoke of two tropical lows that were soon to be moving over the Tasman Sea, obliterating the calm for several days. Miranda and Tayrona were ready for the fight, but as captain I gave the order to bravely turn tail and run for the cover of Tauranga, a nearby booming port town. Batten down the hatches! Fetch me a burger!