The Tasman Sea, that treacherous bit of water between Australia and New Zealand, has a reputation for being a bit nasty. From where we were on the northeast coast of the North Island of New Zealand it may seem to make more sense to go down the east coast when traveling south. But, the distance is actually shorter going up over the top and down the west coast (in the Tasman Sea). It also avoids the passage of Cook Straight (another nasty bit of water separating the North and South Islands). That said, some people still do choose to head south along the east coast with success.
After a good number of chin wags with locals, we decided on a west coast route. After a week of repainting and retexturing the cockpit, repairing and painting the port side decks, inspecting the steering, filling tanks, and provisioning we left Whangarei Marina with a clear idea of our route, but not of our final landfall destination.
We had a lovely weather window to head to Poor Knights Island, so we took it. Poor Knights is a marine reserve island with clear water, caves under and above water, and masses of fish. We all jumped in for our first snorkel of the season and were in awe of the number of fish to be seen. Poor Knights is not the best place to anchor overnight as it is very exposed to the ocean swell, but with the settled weather we had, we managed one slightly rolly night in the Rikoriko anchorage. The next morning we got to enjoy the spectacle of the tourist boats as they all zoomed in and belched out colorful tourists in dive and snorkel gear, on kayaks and paddleboards. Taking the hint, we moved on.
We decided to drop into Mangonui for a few nights to top up our diesel and try out the world-famous fish and chips shop. Sailing into Doubtless sound was pretty cool. We’d been there earlier this year with my brother and his family, playing in the waves of Cooper’s Beach, and a few years before that, Captain Cook dropped the hook here and spent a good amount of time. At one stage, Mangonui was so busy with American whalers that there was an American embassy there.
The fish and chips did not disappoint and neither did the locals. After zooming by a catamaran in the anchorage with his diesel jerry cans for about the fourth time, Cameron stopped to say hello to the owners who promptly invited us over that evening for a drink. What we got was some great local knowledge about the South Island and a solid plan for our landfall.
The next morning we headed to the Otou Cove, just south of the North Cape where a small anchorage just barely protected us from a generous north eastern swell. We dropped the hook for the night and were up with the dawn to round the cape and begin our multi-day passage down the west coast. It was the first time in a good while that we would be traveling through the night. It was not the best weather window, only because it was fairly light, but that’s not really anything to complain about in the Tasman Sea. We had a great sail … well, there was a fair bit of motoring done. But, generally it was a fantastic passage. We had a few generous stretches of wind at our backs and very moderate seas early on. As we got further south the seas started to get very sloppy, with swells coming in from what seemed like all angles. It didn’t bother us too much with wind mainly coming from behind, we set the sails wing on wing and just rolled a bit,.
Finally the wind died. With some stiffer breezes being forecasted as we were getting further south, we decided to fire up the Iron Genoa (AKA the motor) and give our engine a very good workout. We motored the last 20 hours in really calm seas and made land fall in Totaranui Bay on the Able Tasman Coast the day before Christmas Eve. It was like arriving into fairy land, with misty tropical forests climbing up artfully sculpted cliffs that lead to a post card perfect pink sandy beach.
We had one little scare when, off of Cape Farewell; the engine just stopped. I looked up at Cameron and he looked down at me through the companion way and we both had eyes the size of saucers. Fortunately I could see a sparkle in Cameron’s eye and knew that he had an idea of the issue. After switching diesel tanks and using our filter boss to prime the engine we were back up and running. It was interesting to note that we used more diesel going down the west coast of the North Island of New Zealand than during our whole 3,000 mile Pacific passage!
Christmas and New Years on the Able Tasman Coast
It was a bit blustery on that first day, Christmas Eve, but those hearty Kiwi summer holidayers were still out there walking the beach in 30 knots of breeze and driving rain. We were happily ensconced in our cozy boat. Christmas Day dawned bright and beautiful. The girls made us Dutch Babies (our traditional celebratory breakfast) before we were even out of bed and presents and second breakfast followed accordingly. We had the anchorage to ourselves but the camp ground on shore was busy and we had great people-watching as paddle boarders, kayakers and tubers all scooted by us to see the sailboat. We paddled to shore several times and managed to find one little spot with just enough cell reception to WhatsApp family and wish everyone a Merry Christmas.
After about four days, we sailed south only a few hours to Awaroa Bay where we spent another several nights with the bay all to ourselves. Like many bays in the Able Tasman, Awaroa has a huge estuary to explore. As we slipped further south we did the obligatory circumnavigation of Tonga Island, a marine sanctuary for the largest seal population in the Tasman Bay. The baby seals were adorable and made the strangest noise. The larger seals liked to come out and swim around the dinghy.
The Abel Tasman National Park has a network of trails and the lodges and adventure companies have figured it out. People get ferried around in water taxies from remote bay to remote bay, kayaking (always down wind) from here to there or hiking a lovely stretch and then getting picked up and taken back to their lodge, or possibly staying in one of the well equipped DOC campgrounds. The trails are beautiful, well worn, but still have a wildness to them. There’s also just enough cell reception in each campground to keep us connected during the holiday.
We decided to join the maddening crowds for New Years and sailed into Anchorage Bay. After having the place to ourselves for 10 days or so, it was quite a shock to be surrounded. We settled on a spot at the outskirts of the anchorage field and within hours we were surrounded by boats. One huge motor boat seemed only a few yards off our bow. With an uncharacteristic sangfroid, Cameron played it cool dumped out another 50’ of chain and didn’t appear to be worried by the masses.
We’d finally downloaded some emails on the way to Anchorage and I’d received an email from Jan, a family friend in Dunedin. She mentioned that her son and another family friend of theirs where down in the Able Tasman on boats and to keep a look out. Andy and Sue (from our Hauraki Holidays) had also given us a few boats to look out for. Within hours we’d spotted these new friends, made contact and plans were made for drinks on the beach and get togethers in the cockpit. Jan’s son Mike came over to Banyan and we happily corrupted him by encouraging his cruising and boat buying dreams.
When midnight on New Year’s Eve came, we were surprised by what was an amazing fireworks show. In this remote location with no access roads, it was quite cool to have such a fantastic display. There was a small collection of summer homes (called baches here in NZ), accessed by boat only, in one of the bays and a resident put on the show each year to the delight of all the other bach owners and boaties.
After a few more restful days of watching the anchorage empty, participating in the local “Sports Day” and exploring Cleopatra’s pools, we decided to keep heading south. We anchored off Adele Island for a few nights and listened to the healthy bird population sing their songs. Since it had been almost a month since we’d provisioned and the fruit was long gone, we did a quick re-provision amidst the chaos of Kaiteriteri before leaving Abel Tasman behind and crossing the Tasman Bay to D’Urville Island, the westernmost section of Marlborough Sounds.
It was like a totally different world, grey granite cliffs with crashing waves and ripping currents met us. We sailed up into Port Hardy, wild country rising up on both sides and not a tourist in sight. Once all the way up inside the sound we settled on a mooring. We joined a yacht club the month before so we can take advantage of moorings rather than always anchoring in deep deep water here in Marlborough Sounds. Within no time we’d met a neighboring boat, had an invitation to his vineyard in Marlborough and got some great advice on Fiordland.
After a few days in this paradise, we headed out toward Greville sound, but not until we tried our hand at catching some cod! After getting some great intelligence on blue cod fishing from Todd on Manessa, we dropped the sails at the mouth of the inlet, right off the rocks and put the hook in the water. Cameron and Adelaide were in heaven and caught a few nice little cod almost instantly. They are fully hooked themselves…. I’ve never seen Cameron quite so comfortable drifting so close to rocks! But the delicious white fleshy fish made it worth it so I’m not complaining.
We stayed a few nights in Greville sound before heading deeper into the Tasman Bay to Nelson. We had a berth for Banyan while we drove south to a week long Suzuki violin camp for Isa. The whole family is attending and it made for a nice little break from boat life.
Happy New Year Everyone! Wishing you all a wonderful 2021.