Location: Auckland and The Hauraki Gulf
When Pete proposed that we set out on an off-shore sailing expedition, I really didn’t know what to expect. I grew up on a farm in Wisconsin- pretty much as far from any ocean as one can get. My previous boating experience consisted of being pulled behind a motorboat in a tube as a child, which later evolved into beers and catching an occasional fish from a pontoon boat as an adult. I was not exactly primed with a wealth of sailing experience. The schema in my mind of what blue-water cruising actually looked like was akin to that grey, fuzzy screen that appears on your T.V. when the signal goes out. But, I took some sailing lessons, read an obscene amount from other sailing blogs, talked to other sailors we knew, and gradually the grey fuzz started to take on shapes and images. In those first few months in the Caribbean, I learned how to sail and gained confidence in my ability to man a vessel for long stretches, far from land.
But my poor parents. They were supportive and interested and excited for us (Mom and Dad were even reading Sailing magazine cover to cover- some free subscription that came with our ASA lessons). Even after we set sail I can’t imagine their grey, fuzzy screen clarified into anything too much different from the one I started with many months before. They put on a good face, but I’m sure in they were worried. Dad told me once, “I know you guys are smart and will be fine, but often it’s better if I just don’t think about what you must be up against out there on the sea.” I have a sneaking feeling there exists somewhere an extensive catalog of you-will-absolutely-terrify-your-parents karma earmarked just for Pete and I.
So getting to show my folks what really happens aboard Tayrona was huge for me. Huge. Showing them how far I’ve come and what they should really visualize when we are out sailing (no more George-Clooney-Perfect-Storm images) meant the world to me, and I know it set them at ease a bit. And of top of it all, we got to catch up, enjoy each other’s company, and have one hell of a good time together on the water.
We started the trip with a few days exploring Auckland. Another perk of having guests is that it forces you to get out and see some of those touristy (but thoroughly enjoyable) spots you’d been putting off for too long. We toured the Auckland Museum and went to the Auckland Zoo. I was bound and determined to see a kiwi bird while we are in New Zealand, and they were worth the hype. The cutest birds I’ve ever seen! Photos were strictly prohibited in their nocturnal enclosure, so you’ll have to take my word for it.
It was nice for everyone to get their bearings on the boat while it was still tied up to a dock, but soon everyone was itching to get out to sea and away from the hustle and bustle of the city. Just like me, my parents feel like truly “seeing” a place doesn’t mean just strolling through city streets and looking at buildings. It means seeing greenery, animals, and the small towns that make up the real backbone of a culture.
On our only cloudy day of the entire trip, we threw off the docklines and sailed under spinnaker to Waiheke island. Waiheke is choked-full of wineries and cheeky shops, but it sure is beautiful and the libations tasty, so we had to stop.
On our first night, we stayed in Oneroa bay where we were successful in finding a killer lunch spot at Wild on Waiheke winery, but unsuccessful finding some fish for dinner.
On day 4, we had another beautiful sail up to the northeast corner of Waiheke, anchoring in Hook’s Bay.
We were hoping to walk up to the WWII gun battery on the island from here, but couldn’t find the walking tracks from the beach. So, we fished instead. We excitedly watched schools of fish jump out of the water as we anchored the boat, so figured we’d be reeling them in in no time flat. But, no cigar. Even went chasing the little buggers in the dinghy. We didn’t catch anything, but the weather was great and the scenery stunning, so we were no worse for the wear.
Cooked up some very tasty burgers on the grill for dinner, which made us all completely forget about the poor showing we had on the sea.
The next morning, we moved over to Man O’War bay on the eastern side of the island, where we were assured we could find the hiking tracks up to the gun battery.
The views on the walk up were well worth a bit of sweating in the hot sun. Wineries, Lord-of-the-Rings-style boulders, and adorable sheep, all set on a background of crystal blue sea and green, rolling hills.
The gun emplacements were constructed during WWII to guard Auckland from an air raid. Luckily for Auckland-ites, the guns were never fired in battle.
On the 6th day of their vacation (have you been counting?), we all decided to venture over to the Coromandel Peninsula, which is a bit more secluded and a bit less touristy than Waiheke.
And we finally caught some fish! Getting just another 10 miles from civilization proved to be key in hooking up with some Kahawai, whose name means “brave water” in maori because of their tendency to jump and fight on the hook. Sure makes them fun to reel in and the fact that they are pretty scrumptious doesn’t hurt either!
After lunch, Mom, Pete and I donned our wetsuits and went out in search of scallops. Pete found the lion’s share, but the ladies contributed one or two along way.
Bacon wrapped scallops and fish packets on the grill for dinner. I attest it doesn’t get much better!
The major settlement on the peninsula is at Coromandel Town, which is located on a large and well-protected harbor. So, the following day we left the boat on anchor and rented a car to see the countryside and explore the opposite side of the peninsula.
Along the way, we found a few beautiful little hikes, located just off the side of the road. I love this about New Zealand. There’s gorgeous nature everywhere, and the Kiwis have done an outstanding job of laying easily-accessible and well-groomed trails to bring it to everyone who might be interested. We got to gaze at several massive Kauri trees, somehow left untouched by the Kauri timber industry of the 1800s and early 1900s.
Then it was time for the major attraction of the eastern Coromandel: Hot Water Beach! At low tide, you can dig a hole in the sand and natural hot springs will fill your little tub with glorious hot water perfect for soaking and relaxing.
Dad took a shot at driving on the wrong side of the road, as we snaked up the coast, stopping for pictures and for some great local grub at a popular pub along the way home.
After our escapades inland, we took to the costal islands north of Coromandel harbor the following day for more sunny skies, killer beaches, and penguin-watching.
The kahawai were loving our lures, as we bagged several along the sail north. Everyone got a turn to reel one in, but we let most of them go. No need to be greedy.
Spent the night anchored in this little cove, and we had the place to ourselves. Did a bit of rock-hopping and digging around for shells ashore before heading back to the boat to feast on fresh fish tacos!
While we were eating, we noticed some odd splashing off in the distance. Grabbed the binoculars and realized it was a pod of dolphins! Naturally, we dropped our tacos and jumped in the dinghy to get a better look. We were treated to a sunset show by a very playful and very large pod of dolphins. It was certainly a drop-your-taco-worthy experience!
We woke to flat water but beautiful sunny skies on day nine, so we made a quick hop to another secluded little spot- Elephant Cove.
The water here was some of the clearest we’ve seen in New Zealand, so we all suited up, sharing a hodge-podge of wetsuits to do some snorkeling.
Dad gets the prize for closest-encounter-with-sealife, as this little eagle ray swam just underneath him, maybe a foot or two from the surface.
Elephant Cove was one of my favorite anchorages in all of New Zealand, but it’s protection was only moderate, so we moved over to the mainland of the peninsula for the night.
The guidebook promised a walk along the beach would offer fossils and gemstones… we found cows instead. Which as a Wisconsinite, certainly aren’t as exotic as fossils and gemstones.
As it was our last full day on the sea, we unfortunately had to leave the Coromandel the following day, and head closer to Auckland. The seas were dead-pan flat, so we motored, but the flat water was great for spotting birds, penguins, and even shark fins on the surface of the water.
For my parents’ last night in New Zealand, we did was we always do best: drank beer, played cards, and chatted about life, sailing, and our adventures on the open ocean.
And then it was time to go back to Auckland. Luckily Mom and Dad had a late-night flight, so we had the day to get cleaned up, do some packing, and have one last meal together at the pub.
I feel like I snapped my fingers and their trip was over. How did it all go by so quickly? In the end, I know that I’m one lucky lady. I have parents who are the perfect blend of supportive mentors but also people that are just plain fun to be around. We get to talk real with each other, but we also get to laugh, live it up, and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. So, the real question- where’s our next vacation going to be?