Gorkiewicz Galavanting in New Zealand

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Author:  Pete
Location: North Island, New Zealand

 

My folks had been on the move for several days by the time Miranda and I picked them up at the airport.  They had spent a few days in San Francisco en route to break up the Chinese Checkers game one is required play to get to New Zealand.   They shouldered the jet lag admirably as we explored Auckland the first few days.  Muriwai beach is a short drive away and we got out body surfing to wash off some of the road dust. Gannets nest on the cliffs around the beach and there are paths where you can look down on their colonies, which look like egg cartons with evenly spaced pits and bumps.  Curiously, the birds lay their eggs on the bumps, which seems difficult to keep an egg balanced on the top of.  It must be stressful for the adult gannets, keeping their little fluff-ball offspring from rolling off the precipice like a tumbleweed in the sea breeze.  I’m sure my parents identified with their plight in trying to keep their brood out of danger…

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Miranda and I had been planning a little road trip to see some of the countryside with my folks, and after a few days in Auckland we drove south down the wrong side of the road.  The first day found us Waitomo, a rolling land riddled with deep caverns, most of which are inhabited by alien life.  In the blackness, glow worms cling to the cave ceiling wielding blue-green luminescent tails.  Their otherworldly light attracts cave insects, which are caught in sticky hanging filaments before being devoured by the worms.  I was glad they were only a few inches long.  Nothing worse than being eaten by carnivorous, glowing worms. 

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The bioluminescence attracts not only prey, but also gaggles of tourists.  We weren’t able to resist.  Guides lead oglers into the earth along dimly lit catwalks and cathedrals, and it feels a little touristy until the boat ride.  In small groups, we were ushered onto metal boats.  After each boat filled, it disappeared silently into the dark.  The crafts are pulled along by shadowy boatman along a series of ropes strung throughout the cave.  In the darkness, the collective titter of the group stops completely.  Not a ripple nor a sigh is to be heard; it is what I’d imagine a journey across the river Styx to be like.  To make it more surreal, the glow worms blaze away on the ceiling above, blue-green, spreading out like galactic clusters.  The webbed structure of their colonies reminded me of images brought back by the Hubble Space Telescope.  It’s quite a trip.  Eventually the boat emerges from the gloom and everyone disembarks, blinking in the light and quieted by the experience.  Photography isn’t allowed in the caves to protect the glow worms and the unique experience- a couple of these shots aren’t ours.

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We spent a few hours in the Otorohanga Kiwi House & Bird Sanctuary, which has several live kiwis in circadian-inverted enclosures.  The habitats are made dark during the day so visitors can see the nocturnal birds, helpful if you don’t want to spend the night in the bush with night vision goggles.  Leave that noise to the military spooks.  Aside from the star kiwis, there were flocks of other interesting avians in the sanctuary, some quite friendly indeed. 

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New Zealand has fantastic short hikes everywhere you go.  Between Waitomo and Taupo, our next point of call, we explored some great hiking tracks.  We wandered through tree fern forests one day and to alpine cascades the next.

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The short hikes were a good warm-up for us in preparation for the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.  The approach to the volcanic massif is through rolling steppe covered in tall grasses.  The day-long trek starts by following a wide river valley, then up rocky switchbacks to a saddle between a pair of peaks.  It was a bit of a slog for our withered boat legs but worth the effort for the views.

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The following day, we drove to Rotorua, the geothermal capital of New Zealand, and stopped to soak our achy legs in Kerosene Creek.  Some springs are often lukewarm, but the whole rushing river is hot hot!  At the end of a dirt road, a short walk leads to a waist-deep pool under a short waterfall.  Steam rises from the churning falls and obscures the overhanging trees.  Rotorua feels a little touristy, but Kerosene Creek is still a quiet, local swimming hole.  Aside from a little grit in the swim trunks, you couldn’t ask for a more perfect hot springs experience.

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The plan was to explore Rotorua’s geothermal parks but the weather was delivering the deluge promised by the forecast.  We calculated that a sunny day on the boat was better than a rainy day in a car, so we left a day early to get back to the good weather around Auckland.  After a brief provisioning, Tayrona rode the ebbing tide out into the Hauraki Gulf.  We spent a night in Oneroa and then Hooks Bay on Waiheke.  The weather was fantastic, and we caught a few kahawai.  They put up a good fight.  Kiwis describe them by saying they “punch above their weight class.”  I like that.  We also harvested swarthy green-lipped mussels which we made into fritters.  

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Tayrona carried us fifteen miles east to Coromandel peninsula to find the fruitful scallop beds off of Motuwi Island.  My dad and I dove for the tasty mollusks until the current threatened to blow us out to sea.  We raked in a good dozen or so and then sailed to Chamberlains Bay on north side of Ponui Island where we celebrated our hoard like pirates after a raid.  The night was cloudless, and we slurped garlic scallops under star-encrusted skies.

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In the morning we motored in a light headwind to Rangitoto, a volcanic infant right in the mouth of Auckland Harbor.  After dragging dinghy up the landing ramp, we tromped a few hours through the sharp scoria to the summit.  There were more tui birds than we could count on our hike.  The chortling ramble of their calls reminds me of R2-D2.  In the late afternoon we made the summit, rewarded by the sixty meters deep crater lined with climbing vegetation and the panoramic views of the Hauraki Gulf.  Rangitoto also has some neat lava tubes that we explored with head lights before heading back to the boat.  Breaks in the earth let the pseudo-spelunker hike through passages melted out by lava tendrils only five hundred years ago when the bulk of the island was formed.  Tubular.

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Even had an owl sighting on our hike back to the boat.  This little guy is a New Zealand native called a Morepork.  I’ll have some more… pork!  Gotta love that name.

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In the morning we hauled anchor and sailed back under the Harbor Bridge in Auckland.  New Zealand had been voting on a referendum to change the nation’s flag.  For the last months the bridge has sported both the current flag and the new proposed banner, but as we rode the tide in only the old Union Jack flag flew.  We are certainly creatures of habit.  Back at Hobsonville Marina we rustled up some hot showers and lunch before my padres took off to the airport.  It’ll be a long trip back home for them.  Their transportation home to Charlevoix will include a sailboat, ferry, bus, several airplanes, and a long car ride.  We have some fanatically supportive parents to come so far to see us.  We were so happy that we got to explore New Zealand together!

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Coromandel to Great Barrier Island, NZ

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Author: Pete
Location: Coromandel and Great Barrier Island, New Zealand

 

Coromandel is the rugged peninsula that forms the eastern side of the Hauraki Gulf near Auckland. We motor-sailed in scant wind heading east in calm seas and tucked in behind Whanganui Island just off Coromandel Town where Jessica would be leaving us the following day. We soaked up the rest of the afternoon on the boat and had a lovely farewell dinner watching the sunset.

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After dropping off our precious cargo and poking around town, we pulled anchor and sailed out of Coromandel Harbor in light breeze and raking summer sun. Swimming off the bow was an obvious choice on a slow sail, floating between the hulls, climbing up the transom and then hucking off the front again in a mismatched game of leapfrog with Tayrona. We did have the good sense to leave one person on the boat at all times. Once anchored off Rangipukea, we went ashore to stretch our legs, keeping a watchful eye on the ‘fully functional’ bulls that guarded the beach.

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The next day brought winds from the south, solidifying our tentative plans to go north. We put up the spinnaker and scooted happily along the Coromandel then across the Colville Channel to Great Barrier Island.

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Great Barrier Island has only a few roads and no electrical grid or internet connectivity. Despite the island’s isolated feel, she sure didn’t seem lonely as we settled into Whangaparapara Bay. Kiwis, the mammalian variety, had flocked from all over to spend New Years on the island. We tracked down the Kaitoke hot springs, hidden in the interior of the island, about two hours hiking from Whangaparapara. The headwaters of Kaitoke stream are fed by volcanically-heated upwellings so the whole stream is steaming hot. The Maoris used to bath in the river as a ceremonial cleansing to return to normal life after warfare. The stacked stones that created pools in the river were quite possibly as old as human habitation on the island. Even in the crowded ‘silly season’ around Christmas, Miranda and I had the pools to ourselves!

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We heard that there was a New Year’s to-do in Port Fitzroy, the next anchorage north so off we sailed in and out of the rocky islets along the coast. The day dawned clear with piled, poofy clouds on the horizon. Soon, high altitude cirrostratus clouds moved in; they’re almost invisible when looking aloft but show up as distinct halos around sun. I remembered that the halos are almost always harbingers of imminent inclement weather and my novice meteorological skills didn’t disappoint. The forecast for the next three days predicted thirty-knot winds with gusts to fifty. We pulled in close to shore just beyond a silty drop-off and laid double anchors out in chest deep water to make sure we weren’t going anywhere. Then the weathermen made good on their predictions and the winds howled in. It was more than a little unnerving to see the anchor chain pull almost horizontally out of the water when the gusts hit and we were sitting on a low tide.

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Dionysus must’ve had a word with Zeus about the night’s proceedings because the celestial levee held for a few hours into the new year before the deluge came down in buckets. We were back on the boat by then holding on with Tayrona through the gale. Welcome to 2016!

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Moorea, Society Islands

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Author: Pete
Location: Moorea, Society Islands
Date: June 25, 2015

 

We decided to make the most of our down-time waiting for the autohelm part to come in by sailing to Moorea, three hours from Papeete. We had spent a few days ordering our autohelm part, salvaging data off a dying hard drive, and working on a dinghy cover. The sun does wicked things to the material over the years, so often canvas covers are put on to extend the lifespan of the noble work horse of Joe Schmoe Cruiser. Gringos call the covers ‘chaps’, but I like the Spanish equivalent, ‘pijamas.’  I love the idea that the dinghies tied up at the dock in their pajamas are really attending some sort of nautical sleepover with terrycloth robes, slippers, and night caps.

It was a lot of work; we made a pattern out of clear plastic in Galapagos and worked on the real thing on the mooring at Marina Taina. It’s tough to work on a project like that on a rolling boat with limited space to maneuver meters of fabric. At least that’s going to be my excuse if anyone calls me out on a few spots of rough tailoring. Most of the time we worked with the dinghy suspended from the davits and occasionally I had to get in it to work. I only once fell out of the tippy dinghy into the harbor. Miranda thought that was great.

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Several of the days were pretty windy and rough when we were on a mooring ball in Taina. We had gusts to thirty knots and once breaking waves in the mooring field. One afternoon as we were working on the dinghy cover, a big catamaran broke free from its mooring and went zipping sideways downwind through a dozen moored boats. No one saw it until it was right next to us. I put the dinghy in the water and went tearing after it, without thinking about what I was going to do in my poorly idling, nine horsepower dinghy once I caught the 30 ton catamaran in 20 knots of wind. Miranda was smarter than me, as usual, and called the marina. They dispatched a launch and with the assistance of another dinghy we wrestled the boat to another mooring ball and tied it up. Miraculously, the vagabond boat didn’t ding a single other vessel out of the dozen it zipped by in the mooring field.

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Then it was happily time to piss off to Moorea for a few days while we awaited the autohelm part. We motorsailed the fifteen miles across because the wind was on our bow. Of course it was the first day it had blown from that direction in a week. It was light and the going was easy. We passed Cook’s Bay, named after the popular Captain Cook who explored the area, and turned in at Opunohu Bay a few miles west. The two bays cut deep into the island of Moorea, making it look like a heart with two divots in it.

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Had to hand steer the three hours over, which seems pretty easy, but is a chore when you’re used to someone else driving for thousands of miles. Motored easily through the pass with the backwards French buoy marking. The pointed teeth of Moorea’s peaks made for fantastic scenery.

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Oop. That’s fanny-tastic scenery! We anchored just inside the protection of the coral reef in ten feet of water.
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We put the dinghy down with gusto and took off to go snorkel. It had been three weeks since we’d been in the water. Well, except for the time I fell off the boat working on the dinghy cover. Three weeks?! We LIVE on a boat for crying out loud. How does that happen?! It was good to be back down undah. A couple chill sea turtles paddled by near the drop off and we saw some of our old friends from other boats out there too.

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Came back to the boat in a nice flat anchorage and slept like babies.

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The next morning we met up with friends who knew the low down of the island. Paul and Andy from Talulah Ruby showed us the secret snorkeling spots. The first spot hid seven sunken carved tikis. Legend has it that the first missionaries made the craftsman throw them in the lagoon when they came. Snorkelers keep them free of marine growth so they are in great shape. A little spooky to see under water!

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Our next delight of the day was Stingray City, a sandbar in the lagoon where the stingrays (and reef sharks) congregate in the shallows. We anchored our dinghy in chest-deep water and the rays came out to play. They swam in and around us, looking for handouts. Apparently some dive operators feed them, so they were very cordial with us. They nose around you and are happy to be petted. Their skin is velvety, an unparalleled combination of smooth, slippery, and soft without feeling slimy. It’s a cool enough sensation and interaction to dissolve your speech into unintelligible, involuntary chortling. From all across the sandbar the sound of our group of friends giggling like school girls though their snorkels rang out. It’s a precious thing to hear a posh, collected fifty-year-old British man tee-heeing giddily at the thrill of a natural petting zoo.

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We ended up going back the next day armed with tuna. The rays were really excited to see us then! Reminds me of a great Mitch Hedberg quote: “I find that a duck’s opinion of me is heavily influence by whether or not I have any bread.” That guy was a genius. We brought our gringo friends Rick and Lara from SeaKey, and Dutch friends Pete and Liz from Suluk.

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The 28th we sailed back to Papeete with the hopes of picking up our much awaited part!