Western Bay of Plenty, New Zealand

KeyDolphins
Author:  Pete
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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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North to Mercury Islands, New Zealand

KeyMerc
Author:  Pete
Location: Mercury Islands, New Zealand

 

We dropped our Beach Haven mooring in the morning and rode the tide out of Auckland amidst the hum of morning ferry traffic and belch of container ships.  The seas remained flat even out of the harbor, sheltered from the swell by Waiheke Island.  As usual, the wind blew from the exact direction we intended to go, but it was a beautiful day to work on our withered line handling skills so we spent the afternoon tacking upwind.  An agreeable fifteen knot breeze blew and Tayrona stretched her hydrodynamic legs and rumpled wings happily.  As the crow flies it’s only twenty five miles to Ponui Island, but with all the tacking it felt like fifty.  Our tribute seemed to please the wind gods who rewarded us with a still evening, a mirror anchorage, and a blazing sunset.

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Weighing anchor early the next morning we sailed twenty five miles to Port Jackson on north end of the Coromandel Peninsula.  We ripped along easily on a perfect beam reach and even picked up a good sized kingfish on the way.  There’s nothing like being back in blue water after a stint ashore.†

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Pulled into Port Jackson’s wide bay and anchored in the lee of the land with a brawny-looking commercial fishing boat.  I landed the dinghy on the long beach and ran the path through the rolling hills along the coast.  Well, it was intended to be a run; at times it was more like a plod.  I used to run like the wind, but now it’s more like broken wind.  Fried fish tacos with our “kingy” for dinner was reason enough to not wander too far inland.

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Light winds barely stirred the seas the next day and we were forced to motor the twenty five miles to the Mercury Islands.  Great Mercury is stunning, with clear water, sandy beaches, and steep silvery cliffs.

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We were greeted by dolphins who swam around Tayrona.  They must’ve been excited to see us because as soon as we donned jumped off the transom in snorkel gear they started copulating under the boat.  It’s got to be tough when your partner is slipperier than a oiled beachball and you have neither hands nor gravity to work with.  Apparently they do it in the midst their companions as often a third dolphin will help hold the female in position on the bottom but we didn’t see that happen.  No dolphin threesomes for us.  🙁

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After our voyeuristic snorkeling session we took a hike up to a promontory on the island that afforded sweeping views of eastern shore’s sheer cliffs.  The next day we explored the rocky protrusions that stuck up out of the heather-covered hills.  The place conjured up battle scenes from Lord of the Rings and left me wanting for my sword and leather boots.  Later we stumbled into an archeological excavation of a Maori village site just over the hill from our anchorage and I wanted for my fedora and bullwhip.  That night another gorgeous sunset left us wanting for nothing.

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† I love this intro paragraph from Moby Dick.  It always comes to mind when I’m going back to sea after some time landlubbering ashore.  Makes me wish people still wore top hats so I could methodically knock them off of peoples’ heads!

“Call me Ishmael. Some years ago – never mind how long precisely – having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen and regulating the circulation. Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off-then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.” 

-Herman Melville. “Moby Dick”