FROM THE LOG
Change of Plans
(Click on any photo or map for a blow up)
Things do not always proceed according to plan. Our intention was to sail down to the South Island before Christmas.
Unfortunately, at our first anchoring spot, which was at Whangarei Heads, we discovered that there was something seriously wrong with our anchoring windlass.
Our next departure was in mid January 2008. This time, on the second day, heading from Whangarei Heads towards Great Barrier Island, we discovered that there was something seriously wrong with the autopilot.
Before we reached Rusell we had to tuck in to seek shelter for a couple of days, while the remains of a cyclone passed by.
We arrived in Rusell on the 23 of January and my first task was to go and check my mailbox at the internet café. There I found a 10 days old mail from old friend Taavi, who wrote: "... will be in Paihia 23-26 January". Instantly, I sent him an SMS message on the mobile, and in two minutes got a reply: We're here across the channel and can see your masts! The world is small even here Down Under, but timing is obviously essential!
A few weeks later we received more unexpected guests. Ippa and Derek had decided to get married on the beach in Russell, and a couple of days later we celebrated aboard Scorpio. At this date we had already moved Scorpio from Russell to the port of Opua two miles up river.
We had, by now, realized that it was too late to sail to the South Island and decided to drive there by car instead. We covered 4.000 km in 2 weeks and it was a very successful journey. The roads are sealed almost everywhere and in good condition, but mostly very winding, because of the hilly terrain. There was not too much traffic either, except around Queenstown and the larger cities.
On the way south, we stopped for a day in Auckland and made a quick visit to Boat Show. Then we drove to Lake Taupo, NZ's largest lake at 606-sq-km, lying in a caldera formed by one of the biggest volcanic eruptions ever. The views are very scenic, but we carried on to Wellington early next morning. The purpose of our trip was, after all, to visit the South Island.
The nature of the South Island is outstanding. We particularly liked the regions on the top of the island, between Nelson and Picton, where we arrived by ferry from Wellington. The views over the fiords from Queen Charlott Drive are stunning.
The west coast gets a lot of rain and there are rain-forests, while the east coast is dry with large desert areas. A third of New Zealand is protected as national parks.
Up in the mountains there are two big and very deep (400m) lakes, Lake Hawea and Lake Wanaka. We had unbeatable views from our motel terrace across Lake Hawea.
Queenstown is New Zealand's premier tourist destination. Set on the slopes beside Lake Wakatipu, with splendid views of the lake in several directions, Queenstown is surrounded by mountains. The stunning scenery makes the place popular with movie makers.
New Zealand is known for all the various adrenaline-pumping activities, and particularly so is Queenstown. There are dozens of hyper-activities, such as bungy jumping, skydiving jet-boating and white-water rafting. We had no desire to defy gravity and the whole place was too touristy and really not our cup of tea. We felt content with a trip on the cable car to the summit, with spectacular views across lake Wakatipu.
Queenstown is virtually surrounded by bungy cords. This sport was made famous by A.J. Hackett, who dived from the Eiffel Tower in 1986. He then established the world's first commercial jump site at the scenic old Kawarau Bridge, where we stopped to watch people lining up to trow themselves down.
The guy cheering on the photo above to the right couldn't be more than maybe 12 years old!
We decided to skip Milford Sound and the rest of Fiordland, even though many say that it is a Must See! We suspected that the place and the roads leading there would be over crowded by tourists and tour busses.
There are around 30 mountains in NZ stretching over 3.000m high, and 22 of them are in the Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park. About one third of the park has a blanket of permanent glacial ice and snow. The highest peak is the mighty Mt Cook known to Maoris as Aoraki - at 3.755m, the highest mountain in Australasia.
Mt Cook is a wonderful sight on a clear day, and we were lucky - the next day was cloudy and the mountain had disappeared. On the photo at the top of this page you can see the view from the window of the chalet we rented.
This is where Edmund Hillary practiced before going on to become the first to reach the summit of Mt Everest. Here is now a museum dedicated to Sir Ed, as he is affectionally referred to by the Kiwis. By the way, Sir Ed died only a couple of months ago and we watched the ceremonies at the state funeral on national TV.
At this stage of our journey we were already heading back north, this time along the east coast. The last region before returning to the ferry terminal at Picton was the large wine district around Blenheim. The top of the South Island gets the most number of sunny days of the whole country, and combined with the rich volcanic soil this produces perfect wine growing conditions.
Trying to avoid back tracking as much as possible driving north on the North Island we took a more westerly route than on our way down, now leaving Lake Taupo to the right. Just before we reach our "home port" of Opua we spotted the familiar signs at Kawakawa for the Hundertwasser Toilets, the most photographed toilets in NZ. Kawakawa is just an ordinary Kiwi outback town, but the public toilets were design by "ecoarchitect" Friedensreich Hundertwasser.
We had rented a mooring in Opua harbour, where we will be semi permanent until our departure to Fiji at the end of April, early May. We are also temporary members of Opua Cruising Club. Our mooring is almost exactly on the extended starting line of the Wednesday Club Races. The Kiwis take their sailing seriously and it was fun, sometimes hair-risingly so, to watch the crews maneuver, trying to outsmart each other.
Our biggest remaining boat project before take off for the tropics is the installation of a second autopilot. That will be worth it's own story at a later time.