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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The Pashouwers meet Tayrona

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Author: Miranda
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.  

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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. 

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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.

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On day 4, we had another beautiful sail up to the northeast corner of Waiheke, anchoring in Hook’s Bay.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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Bacon wrapped scallops and fish packets on the grill for dinner.  I attest it doesn’t get much better!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?