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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Tauranga and White Island, NZ

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Author:  Pete
Location: New Zealand

 

The girls and I boldly cowered from the gale for three days in Tauranga.  For ye purists out there, gales are generally classified as having 30-40 knots of wind, where storms have roughly 50-60, almost a hurricane at 70+ knots.  Since wind power increases exponentially with velocity, gales are rough, but storms are serious bad news.  When people talk about storms, they generally mean gales.  But I digress…  After ripping in from Mayors Island we had a heck of a time tying up to the slip with uncooperative current and twenty stubborn knots of wind yanking on Tayrona.  It might be said that this was the worst job we’ve ever done.  At one point, the dockhand helping us wrangle the boat said, “What are you feeding this beast!?”  A steady diet of rusty docking skills drizzled with adverse weather conditions!

Once Tay-Tay was properly secured with every line aboard, the finger pier looked like it had been descended upon by Spiderman on a meth bender.  Good thing too; the gloomy forecast didn’t disappoint.  Concerned yachtsmen showed up from a hundred miles away to add more lines and fenders to their beloved vessels.  Hushed whispers of the fifty-knot gusts predicted haunted the wharf.
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The wind built steadily through the night and into the next day without sign of easing.  Tayrona was not in optimal position with the brunt of the wind blowing rudely in from aft.  Her high windage gave purchase to the gusts, and all day our lines grumbled audibly under the strain.  I added a few extra just for kicks.  As the gale progressed, the rain adopted a trajectory more commonly seen from an open fire hydrant.  We watched nature’s fury from the comfort of the salon over coffee.

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There was a pronounced hour in the night where the raging wind subsided leaving only biblical rainfall.  Mixing with darkness, the torrents so completely engulfed poor Tayrona that at some point I assumed we had sunk at the dock and were in fact underwater.  Finally the morning skies cleared.  Though some low clouds still clung child-like to Tauranga’s skirts, the sun peeked out and dried the decks. 

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We walked three kilometers into town to stretch our legs and enjoy the prodigal sunshine.  On the way back we stopped at Bobby’s, a legendary fish market dive that fries up big platters of battered seafood and french fries.  “Bes fushn’chups n’a country!”, a passing gent with a tray of crispy goodness said to us as we wafted into the market.  Consulting our Kiwi-English translator we realized that he meant, “Best fish and chips in all the land!”  We translated, “Thank you very kindly, sir”, and replied, “Cheeyas mayte!”

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We were up before sunrise the next morning, making coffee and throwing off dock lines. Tayrona eased out of the slip without recollection of the ordeal it had been to get her in.  We made for the pass and snuck out of port like a thief in the night, heading east towards White Island under favorable winds.  Named Whakaari in Maori, which means ‘dramatic island’, the island is the Kiwis’ most active sea volcano, constantly spewing gasses from its active crater.  We were going to keep the drama queen company for a day or two.

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The day couldn’t have been more perfect.  We had a gorgeous fifty-mile spinnaker run, escorted by dolphins, and trolling for kingfish.  Morning wind from astern started light built throughout the idyllic day.  Soon we were making eight knots, almost expecting the hulls to clear the water as we barreled over the long-period rollers.  The only marring of the blue sky was a lone cloud at the horizon, eventually a dark mass appeared beneath it, Whakaari belching its vapor plume.

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We already had permission to tie to a mooring in Te Awápuia Bay, content with the pleasant passage and our interesting anchorage.  The air of elation aboard was quickly replaced by noxious fumes from the venting island.  Seems we were directly downwind of the crater.  Nostrils puckering and eyes watering, we took refuge in the boat and dogged the hatches.  Eventually the wind shifted and the the island ceased its chemical attack on poor Tayrona.  One never fully lost the drifting scent of sulphur from the unapologetically off-gassing island.  I thought the situation might lend itself to an evening of my own unapologetic off-gassing, but Miranda thought differently.

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The next morning the gannets from the nearby colony flew formations overhead.  The bay was clear of the green sulphur plumes sometimes ejected into the waters by the island’s volcanic vents.  Apparently they come and go in a dance depending on the swirl of the currents and the gastric temperament of the island.  The rippling bottom of the anchorage is a dark volcanic sand, low density that would make anchoring a pain.  I was glad to have been on a mooring the previous night.  Fish and rays hugged the bouldered drop off.

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The island is privately owned and under close scientific study due to its activity, which makes landing prohibited without a guide.  We organized to meet up with White Island Tours here before we left Tauranga. They picked us up in a RIB in the afternoon and ferried us to the pummeled remnants of a wharf to explore.  The crumbling remnants of an nineteenth century sulfite mine haunted the flats near the landing area and great pillars of steam stood tall in the crater.  Craggy terrain painted up with yellows, oranges, and reds stretched from crater floor to rim.  We slapped on gas masks and hard hats and followed our guide into the plumes.  Even through the respirator the air’s bite made one’s throat scratchy.  We poked around the mud pools, steaming vents, and hot runoff rivulets.  In the center of the island a lake of acidic mud roiled, throwing blue sulphur dioxide plumes that rose several hundred feet into the air.  We explored the volcanic island and the old mining site for a few hours and then were ferried back to the boat.

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Woke in the middle of the night to an onshore wind and building chop.  The anchorage wasn’t exactly cosy to begin with and now our gassy host was shaking us awake and telling us to get lost.  Under a full moon we ditched out of the bay and happily rode the twenty-knot downwind breeze back towards the Coromandel.  Ducking rocky islets and freighters along the way we covered what had previously taken us three days’ sail in sixteen jostling hours.  We dropped hook on Great Mercury Island and slept like the dead in the flat anchorage.

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Dragged ourselves begrudgingly out of our berths the next morning for a fifty-mile run to Motuihe, just off Auckland.  The wind was still providing us a favorable run, this time more comfortable (read: slower) under spinnaker.  The leisurely pace gave us time to address the significant corrosion wrought by volcanic gasses on the stainless.  All our glittering steel had turned to russet corduroy.  It thankfully came off, but not without a good deal of scouring.  It’s glamorous, the life of a sailor.

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After a quick stopover night in Motuihe we motor-sailed back to our comfy Beach Haven mooring.  Just as we were coming into the harbor the starboard engine overheated at the exact moment that we were descended upon by a thousand race boats from the Wednesday night Auckland regatta.  I shut down the engine and jumped in the pit and Miranda took the helm, slaloming through the oncoming traffic.  I’m glad she was driving; I’ve never been too adept in an arcade, and it felt like a giant game of Tayrona Asteroids.  Fast moving ferries, maneuvering container ships, and a bottleneck at the Auckland Harbor Bridge added to the maelstrom.  It was all very exciting. 

By the time we reached our old mooring I had replaced the impeller on the raw water pump and the thermostat and we were back in business!  Still, we tied up on only one engine until I could verify all was well with Belinda.  The next morning I tore down the whole cooling system and also went up the mast to scour the rigging back into shiny shape.  Always something fun going on aboard Tayrona!

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