We have just wrapped up a month-long playtime in the Hauraki Gulf (How-raki). Often, there is a tendency to do boat maintenance and boat projects all the time. We’ve found that a good break from the never ending list of jobs keeps the cruising dream alive and prevents the fatigue that every boat owner feels at times. This last month has been a much-needed break from boat work and a welcome embrace of the oncoming summer.
After re-bedding our re-welded stem fitting, and installing our inner forestay and staysail furling system, we headed out of the Whangarei Town Basin Marina on October 18th with some good solid fun planned. We were helped in this plan by our dear local friends Sue and Andy Stuart. We met them in Opua and became fast friends. They offered to show us around during their spring cruising trip into the Hauraki Gulf. Not one to pass up a local’s offer of showing us their favorite haunts, we happily planned to meet up with them and spend about three weeks seeing the sights.
Our first stop was Kauau Island (pronounced kow-wow), a beautiful island in the northern part of the Hauraki Gulf. Many a cruiser has arrived here and decided that a land-based life in this corner of the world would be lovely. Prolific nautical writers Lynn and Larry Pardy were two of them. It is a unique spot, close to Auckland but feels a world away. We explored the Governor’s Mansion, the copper mines, and made friends with the local peacock.
We sailed further south into the Hauraki Gulf and stopped for lunch at Tiri-tiri Matangi Island, known for its preservation efforts and varied bird population. We got to see the little blue penguins molting in their burrows, hiked to the lighthouse, and added a few new bird species to the growing list of birds we can identify. The coolest thing about traveling with locals is that you quickly meet other locals and feel like you’re one of the crowd. We didn’t make it back to our boat before being hailed for coffee on SV Camelot. They had a dog so the girls were in heaven. From there, we headed on to Rangitoto Island, which formed only 800 years ago during an explosive volcanic eruption. It attached itself to an older land formation, so the two sides of the island have drastically different geology. We mustered our strength to hike the iconic peak, which looks out over all of Auckland. It was a fairly epic hike; we (the adults) earned our cocktails at the end of the day.
Andy and Sue love to pile everyone on their boat and motor them around the bay. They call it the Tiki Tour. We jumped on Catbird Suite, their 64 foot catamaran (with a unique rig – an A framed mast structure that holds three furling sails), and went for a Tiki Tour around the Auckland Harbor. We sailed under the Auckland Harbor Bridge, dipped our nose into the Viaduct Basin where the America’s Cup Headquarters are, and slipped along the scenic city waterfront. Andy and Sue both came from Auckland sailing families so we heard multi generational tales of racing, grounding and re-floating events all over the bay.
After so much play, some work was in order (not boat work). Andy’s sister Fiona had enlisted Andy’s help in constructing an outdoor shower for the use of volunteers on the island of Motuihe. Fiona, Cameron, and Andy tramped off to throw some hammers. When Cameron returned, he was confident he could build us a house with the knowledge he’d gained. The next day Fiona took all of us on a tour of the island, sharing its varied history. Currently efforts are to restore the island to its pre human state and reintroduce some of New Zealand’s more endangered bird species.
We continued to Waiheke Island, a bit of a jewel in the Hauraki Gulf, known for its wine production and hipster culture. The island has flash houses on one side and beautiful farmland on the other. We dropped in to provision, and I fell in love with the feel of the place. After a few days of bay hopping, we settled into Man o’War Bay, where the Man o’War winery sits looking out over the water. We met up with more of Andy and Sue’s friends, enjoyed the fruits of the winery’s labor, celebrated Halloween, and had a ball.
Soon after, we jumped across the Firth of Thames to the Coromandel Peninsula, which juts out and protects much of the Auckland area from the incessant Southern Ocean swell. The quaint town was a welcome sight; it was the first time we’d dined out in about a month! We enjoyed a little seafood and bought a new fishing pole so that Cameron and Adelaide could try and keep up with Sue! Most afternoons, they could be found in the dingy, tied up to the mussel farms pulling in snapper after snapper.
Soon after, we made the jump across the Collville Straits to Great Barrier Island. We’d dropped into Great Barrier briefly just before the COVID lockdown started but hadn’t explored much. It was great to be back there with Andy and Sue. We took the Tiki Tour around the sheltered harbor, which was very much like an inland sea with anchorage after anchorage.
We settled into Smokehouse Bay. There are places out there that just have gravity, and Smokehouse is one of them. Set up as a place for ‘boaties’ to relax and recharge, it has several amenities; smokehouse, bathhouse, pizza oven, laundry tubs complete with clothes ringers and lines. We watched several small keelboats tie along to the pilings rammed into the sand near the beach. When the tide goes out, the owner might clean his bottom, repaint, or repair. A central fire ring beckons all in the anchorage to come along, sit down, and meet your neighbor. It is owned by a generous soul who built up Smokehouse in memory of a relative and for the benefit of everyone. It is the most fantastic place.
Upon arrival, we met several of our friends from the Bay of Islands and Whangarei who had come down to the Barrier to enjoy a taste of the oncoming summer. After a short stay, Andy and Sue continued home to the Bay of Islands, while we succumbed to the gravity of Smokehouse.
We celebrated Isa’s birthday there with a pile of kids. The girls and I made a piñata out of balloons, newspaper, flour, water, and origami paper. It turned into a Kiwi (appropriate), which the kids had a great time smashing (it didn’t take much, the poor thing wasn’t quite dry). Pizzas were baked, and fun was had by all.
The following days were filled with fishing and then smoking the fish with the helpful advice of many willing locals. We also took a tour of a Manuka (tee tree) oil distillery nearby. It was so cool to see the actual process of distilling oils.
The end of November was sneaking up on us, and we all started planning our Thanksgiving feast. After a few days of cooking and baking, we celebrated a very memorable Thanksgiving 2020. Smoked oysters, smoked turkey, smoked lamb, gravy, sweet potatoes, green beans, stuffing, salad, rolls and pies, pies, pies! It was great to meet up with fellow Americans (and one stray Kiwi couple who stumbled in on our feast) and celebrate all our blessings. One boat mom handed out slips of paper with beautiful questions to inspire conversation around gratitude. We were all blessed by the place and by each other.
These days we are feeling the call of the South Island. So, after a month of fun, it’s time to head back to the dock and get a few jobs done. We have supplies to pick up, my newly minted passport should have arrived, kids need to see a dentist, and we have a list as long as my arm before we feel safe braving the Southern Ocean swell.
We’ll update you on our jobs list quite soon, but in the meantime, we pray you are all well and navigating these very challenging times with grace and love for your family and neighbor. We feel very blessed and thankful to be here in New Zealand, but we do miss all of you and wish we could be closer.