February – Part II

Although we could have spent the entire time sailing with the Batterberrys, we decided to do a last minute road trip on the North Island. As you may recall, we had a 7-seater Kia Carnival. And now we were doing a road trip with 8 people. Hmmmmm. Troy did an awesome engineering job using Spectra line (stronger than steel) to harness a kid car seat to the floor between the front and middle seats. We loaded up and headed south. First stop Rotorua. I have to say, from a tourist perspective, New Zealand iSites are the best. In almost every town there is a center with extremely friendly and knowledgeable helpers. Rotorua is a beautiful although touristy town that smells like rotten eggs due to geothermal activity.

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We followed the NZ Frenzy guide and hiked up a nearby trail to catch a glimpse of the geyser.

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Most of the attractions in this area are geothermal and the geyser was just the beginning. Our next stop was Kerosene Creek, a 90 degree stream with waterfall. It’s amazing to just drive up to a place like this, walk two minutes from the car and hop in the warm water. Wonderful!

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Kerosene Creek

At lunch, Jamie taught the kids a few trick shots.

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Then we headed to Wai-O-Tapu, the most colorful of the local geothermal attractions. Despite the entrance fee, I highly recommend stopping here. It was amazing. We crossed narrow wooden boardwalks and paths through an active volcanic site. The colors were out of this world and these photos hardly do it justice.

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The fluorescent green Devil’s Pool is surreal.

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Afterwards, Maureen, Troy and I hunted down a hidden waterfall while Jamie and the kids waited by a locked gate at the beginning of the road. We located an overgrown path, climbed through the brush and finally found the falls, along with a DOC sign warning of the risk of amoebic meningitis so we decided to stay out of the water. On the way out, we all stopped at the famous Mud Pools. This is a hilarious roadside mud splurting, blurping and belching extravaganza. We didn’t have high expectations, but just couldn’t stop laughing once we saw it first hand.

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There’s nothing like 100 degree Celsius mud flying at you!

Tongariro Crossing

One of the primary reasons for our road trip was to do the Tongariro Crossing, considered the best day hike on the North Island. We were a little reticent at leaving the kids with a completely unknown babysitter for the day even though the iSite recommended her, but we dropped off the kids and a ton of food for them and off we went.

Troy and Maureen plus James and Maureen (Jamie’s college friends who also came to visit us in NZ) joined us for the hike. Here is a before picture on the bus ride to the start of the track:

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Oh yeah, smiling faces all around. This was soon replaced by a few expletives when the hike transitioned from the relatively flat beginning to what’s known as the Devil’s staircase — 50 minutes nonstop uphill stair climbing, my favorite. The views were amazing though.

Boardwalk across the alpine flowers and stream.

Boardwalk across the alpine flowers and stream.

Happy faces at the start.

Happy faces at the start.

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Made it to the first checkpoint.

Made it to the first checkpoint.

Mt. Ngauruhoe, aka Mt. Doom

Mt. Ngauruhoe, aka Mt. Doom

This hike was incredible and definitely lived up to all the hype we read in advance. We also had a spectacular day with mostly sunny weather.

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Near the top.

Near the top.

View of Mt. Ngauruhoe from Mt. Tongariro

View of Mt. Ngauruhoe from Mt. Tongariro

Cute couple on Mt. Tongariro

Cute couple on Mt. Tongariro

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We took a yoga break near the Mt. Tongariro summit.

The inspirational Maureen.

The inspirational Maureen.

It’s easy to put everything else into perspective when you’re surrounded by substantial beauty.

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Mt. Tongariro summit

Ridge walk from the summit.

Ridge walk from the summit.

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This reminded us of Georgia O'Keefe.

This reminded us of Georgia O’Keefe.

By this point in our road trip, we were accustomed to the boardwalks or barriers keeping us off or out of dangerous areas. This was entirely different. We literally slid down a gravel hillside in an active volcanic area.

Danger Will Robinson!

Danger Will Robinson!

Steam nearly blows off James' hat.

Steam nearly blows off James’ hat.

Path to Emerald Lakes

Path to Emerald Lakes

Making our way down the slippery path.

Making our way down the slippery path.

 

Emerald Lakes

Emerald Lakes

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Happy trampers.

Happy trampers.

 

Blue Lake

Beginning the final descent. (we hope)

Beginning the final descent. (we hope)

Lake Taupo emerged in the distance as we began the climb down.

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Te Maari

All in all, an exhilarating day came to a close with a long downhill trek through the forest. Troy and Maureen had finished the hike early so they picked up the kids then Troy FTW circled back with the car and cold beer.

Made it to the finish line!

Made it to the finish line!

Celebration beer.

Celebration beer.

Meanwhile, Maureen took the kids rock climbing.

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Hazel is fearless.

Lake Taupo

On our way home, we stopped for snacks at a café on Lake Taupo and checked out the plane outside McDonalds. Lake Taupo is the biggest lake in New Zealand and home to many tourist attractions. We took in the view at Huka Falls, which according to guide books makes your heart sing. Yes, it does. It is also one of the many New Zealand rivers where you can ride a high speed jetboat through the rapids, but we didn’t see any during our short visit.

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Karl, this one is for you.

Karl, this one is for you.

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Huka Falls

Craters of the Moon

Caroline and Johannes met up with us again for a tour through Craters of the Moon (aka Golum’s lair). This a mini version of the Tongariro Crossing for the kids, with plenty of geothermal activity.

Happy on the boardwalk.

Happy on the boardwalk.

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While not as colorful as Wai-O-Tapu, Craters of the Moon was definitely worth the trip. The kids had so much fun exploring all the thermal jets steaming up around the path. Leo even did the optional hill climb near the end of the track.

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Happy kids

Happy kids

Happy family

Happy family

Happy Batterberrys

Happy Batterberrys

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Happy girls

 

Happy couple

Happy couple

Happy Troy.

And no NZ road trip would be complete without some unusual road side attractions and kids passed out in the car…

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We had an incredible time on the road with the Batterberrys and loved sharing so much family time together.

Birthday Fun

To round out festivities in February, we celebrated Hazel’s 6th birthday in Auckland. We couldn’t be more proud of this little girl who is growing up right before our eyes.

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Opening presents.

Opening presents.

After a breakfast of pikelets (mini pancakes) donuts and fruit, we headed to the Parnell Baths, large outdoor saltwater pools, then stopped in Remuera for lunch and some fun crafts at Seedlings.

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Parnell Baths

Parnell Baths

On the phone for birthday wishes from the USA.

On the phone for birthday wishes from the USA.

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In the evening, we walked over to the Silo Market for a low key party. The Silo Market runs every Friday night in the summer and is like the Roulottes in Papeete, Tahiti but with a wider variety of local gourmet food trucks and more dance music. Hazel assigned outfits (starting with herself) so that meant fancy dresses for most of us.

Birthday Girl!

Birthday Girl!

Silo Market

Silo Market

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Jeff and Melody from Double Diamond

Jeff and Melody from Double Diamond

James and Maureen

James and Maureen

Jamie and Chris

Jamie and Chris

Girls in dresses

Girls in dresses

Alex and Ella

Alex and Ella

Misti and Abi

Misti and Abi

Troy

Troy

Thank you Misti for the delicious cake, and everyone for the gifts and most importantly joining us to celebrate. Hazel loved it!

It was a windy night for candles.

It was a windy night for candles.

That was yummy!

That was yummy!

The tables were made out of doors and sawhorses.

The tables were made out of doors and sawhorses.

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The light during magic hour was perfect for these shots of Jamie and Hazel. Pure love. He’s even wearing her necklace. :-)

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An incredible finale to an extraordinary month. Have we mentioned lately how lucky we are?

February – Part I

It turns out that when we entertain friends, move the boat and sightsee like tourists on vacation I have no time to photo triage or blog. We have experienced an enormous amount of jaw dropping scenery during the past 10 weeks. A couple posts won’t do justice to it all, but I have tried to capture some of our favorite moments here.

We spent February and March cruising the Hauraki Gulf, the Coromandel Penninsula, Auckland and Waiheke, Great Mercury Island, Great Barrier Island, plus an impromptu road trip on the North Island. We feel so lucky to have great friends to share this with. Troy and Maureen, Vicky and Chris, James and Maureen, Caroline and Johannes, Alex and Chris, Misti, and Jeff and Melody all joined us for parts of this amazing journey. Here are some of my favorite memories from the month of February…

As part of their Sophie School education, Leo and Hazel have started to help more with the cooking. Mealtime is one of our favorite family activities.

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One day, we stumbled into a biking safety celebration in Auckland and the kids loved having their faces painted.

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In the first half of February, Maureen and the kids joined us for some sailing and beach time on Sophie. We saw heaps of dolphin on the way to Great Mercury Island, one of our best sails of 2014 so far.

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On Great Mercury Island, Maureen and I took Cora on a hike to find the waterfall. We didn’t have great directions so we ended up missing a turnoff across the stream and hiked up a huge mountain road to the edge of a private forest before we realized we were in the wrong place.

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After retracing our steps we finally discovered an unmarked path across the stream and made it to the waterfall.

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Meanwhile, the kids had a blast on the beach. Peachgrove Bay may be their favorite beach in New Zealand. Leo and Hazel were both boogie boarding in style.

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Hot Water Beach

We anchored Sophie on a calm day outside the surf line at Hot Water Beach. The swell was big enough that we couldn’t make it to the beach in the dinghy, so Jamie ferried us in small groups to some rocks at the side of the bay and we scrambled over the rocks to shore. It was almost low tide when we landed so we borrowed a shovel and hurried to dig a hole near the hot streambed. It’s easy to miss the hot water and fill up a cold pool, but we kept trying and eventually found what we were looking for, pink bums and all. I had a hard time standing on the beach in less than an inch of water for more than a few seconds where the stream emerged. Boy is that water hot!

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After digging holes and playing at Cathedral Beach too, were all glad to drop anchor near Whitianga and head into town for a pizza party.

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The kids love riding in the dinghy and I love these shots of the girls with the wind in their hair at sunset.

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On our way back to Auckland, we stopped at Waiheke Island and Maureen and I took the kids on steep climb to the Stony Batter Reserve. We had read that the trailhead was on the east shore of the cove, but at first all we found were trespassing warning signs to stay off private property, the road and beach. Jamie finally located the DOC trailhead and punted the dinghy, then carried each of us to shore so our sneakers wouldn’t get wet. To start, we scrambled up a steep and slippery hillside that showed almost no evidence of a trail except for orange triangle markers on posts every 50 feet or so. These hopped over sheep fences multiple times going up and it wasn’t until we arrived at the top and crossed one more fence that we discovered that our trail was actually closed for lambing. Wish they would have posted that sign at both ends of the trail! Luckily Hazel only had one major meltdown and everyone else marched up like little soldiers without any whining after we promised a treat to all kids who made it to the top. Peanut M&Ms make all the difference on tricky hikes.

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We had read that the Stony Batter tunnels were worthwhile, but this was one of the most incredible places we have seen - a series of World War II pitch dark underground tunnels you navigate using torches (Kiwi for flashlights), and gun enplacements.

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The Batterberry clan also joined us for Sophie School. It was so much fun teaching with Maureen and the kids managed to do a full week of lessons while we were out sailing.

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Hazel and Cora also learned that although sharp plastic toys work great as scalpels when playing surgeon, they should pretend instead of really cutting through skin. Yes, this is Hazel the smiling surgeon and Cora the smiling patient.

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While the Batterberrys and Johnsons traveled on the South Island, we spent a few days on Waiheke before moving to Gulf Harbor where we finally had our watermaker ETD repaired. Hooray, we have unlimited water again on Sophie! While we were there, Caroline and Johannes (formerly of Orkestern) came for a visit and helped us sail Sophie back to Auckland.

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Jamie also replaced a cracked main cabin hatch so all four windows are operational again. And the best part is he got to use this:

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When the Batterbarrys and Johnsons returned, we had a fun grown-ups only winetasting day on Waiheke. You know things are off to a good start when you find pants by the side of the road!

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After the ferry and a bus ride out to our first vineyard, we discovered it was closed for a private function. No problem, we thought. We could just hop through the fence and cross a pasture to the next place. Of course it was raining and I was in heels, but the thick grass didn’t stop us.

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The second one was closed too, but they took pity on us and poured a full flight for us. Then the rain stopped and we continued our fantastic day. Obsidian held our tasting in the work shed complete with tractor. We followed that with an indulgent 7 course lunch at Casita Miro. Amazing!

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We managed to sneak in a sunset walk on the beach before dinner. I love watching the sun go down while squishing sand between my toes!

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Great friends and an amazing place. Who could ask for more?

To be continued…

We Leave for Fiji in Exactly One Month, So Time to Get into the Car(s) and Explore New Zealand!

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Believe it or not, our great New Zealand Adventure comes to an end in just 30 days, when Sophie points north and begins the 1,080 nautical mile return trip to Fiji.

It’s been 5 short months since we arrived in this wonderful country, and we’ve seen and experienced so much here. The last 2 months have been especially busy and have included visits from the Batterberrys and the Dannelly-McKennas, the celebration of Hazel’s 6th birthday on the Auckland waterfront, and our sitting through post-cyclone Lusi and her 50+ knot gusts while securely anchored at Great Barrier Island.

Jenna is sorting through 20,000 high resolution photos she has taken since January to assemble another awesome photo essay for all of you. In the meantime, what is the best way for us to celebrate having just one month left in Aotearoa?

ROAD TRIP! To the South Island and beyond.

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The foundation of this trip is the car. One of the reasons why we bought our wonderful Kia Carnival minivan, pictured above, for NZ$5,500 (with a guaranteed “Cars for Cruisers” resale price of $3,500 when we depart the country on May 1st) was to enable us to go on an extended tour of New Zealand’s South Island.

So off we go.

Jenna threw an extraordinary amount of effort into planning our family road trip, and assembled the following itinerary:

Day 1: Matamata (Hobbiton tour, the film location for the Shire in “The Lord of the Rings” movies)
Day 2: Wellington (this country’s capital)
Day 3: Motueka (after taking the ferry to the South Island and exploring the north)
Day 4: Motueka (hiking in the Abel Tasman National Park)
Day 5: Kaikura (amazing coastal driving with spectacular ocean views)
Day 6: Christchurch (we were blown away by the 2011 earthquake devastation …)
Day 7: Christchurch (… and the next day we experienced our own 4.0 earthquake, the first earthquake ever for the kids!)
Day 8: Westport (hiking up abandoned rail lines on the West Coast)
Day 9: Hokitika (site of the big NZ gold rush and greenstone carving)
Day 10: Franz Josef (glacier snow, hiking)
Day 11: Franz Josef (more glacier snow, more hiking - Fox Glacier)
Day 12: Wanaka (Toy Museum, which for the kids means “YAY!, NO HIKES,” alpine drive)
Day 13: Queenstown (Jenna’s 32nd birthday)
Day 14: Queenstown (Luging, Shotover Jetboat)
Day 15: Te Anau Downs (Hiking)
Day 16: Milford Sound (Spectacular Views)
Day 17: Invercargill (Heated Swimming Pool, Albatross, Penguins)
Day 18: The Catlins (New Zealand Stuff, Penguins!)
Day 19: Dunedin (“Roast Meats and Malt Beer!”)
Day 20: Mount Cook (New Zealand’s Mount Rainier)
Day 21: Mount Cook (More Rainier, more hiking)
Day 22: TBD
Day 23: TBD (wineries?)
Day 24: Wellington (after the ferry North)
Day 25: Auckland (where we hold the BIG Goodbye celebration with lots of folks)
Day 26: BACK ON SOPHIE! (Yippee)

We are currently in Franz Josef at the YHA Backpackers and just walked to the glacier, which according to the schedule is the end of Day 10 after driving here from Hokitika.

It’s been a great trip so far, except for the fact that our Kia Carnival totally died on us between Abel Tasman and Kaikura on Day 5. As cheap NZ cars go, the Carnival has been good to us since we bought it in November. It has run every errand, including hauling all of us plus four Batterberrys on a 3 day mini-tour of the North Island in February. It’s done dozens of grocery and airport runs. It has a ton of room. It is a nice silver car.

As I mentioned in earlier posts, I have always wanted to own a minivan, and this Carnival has been doing a decent job at fulfilling all of my minivan dreams and fantasies.

Until the South Island.

Five days into our trip, and after a couple of days of hard driving over South Island mountain passes, the Carnival began to produce occasional engine knocking noises while going up steep grades. Then it started to occasionally stall in parking lots and at stop signs. We assumed (meaning we hoped) it was simply the situation of a car straining to go up the steep mountain slopes. Until the Carnival finally decided to actually, really overheat the next morning on the road back to Nelson on our journey across the island.

This overheat situation happened suddenly, and when it happened we immediately stopped by the side of the road. We popped the hood, I pulled the dipstick, and saw a jet of steam coming out of the dipstick hole, a jet of steam not unlike the jets of steam we saw on our traverse of Mount Doom a month earlier.

Not good. The jets of steam on Mount Doom are produced by magma near the surface of the earth. As far as I know, there is no magma deep inside the internals of a Korean minivan engine block.

Fortunately, we are members of AA, which is New Zealand’s equivalent of AAA but without the “American”, and within 30 minutes of our telephone call a flatbed towtruck with a beater Toyota on the back pulled up right ahead of us. The towtruck operator Paul could legally only carry 2 people in the cab with him, and he really didn’t like the idea of carrying additional passengers in a car attached to the back of his flatbed. So he brought a loaner car with him for us to use to follow him back into Richmond, the town near Nelson where his garage was located.

He rolled the loaner off his bed, he winched the Carnival up in its place, we hopped into the loaner, and followed him into town.

In case you were wondering, Richmond is the home of Sprig and Fern, the best brewery in New Zealand. They produce a helles lager that makes me feel like I am back in the Wiesn, and their ginger lager is forcing me to rethink many things in my life that I thought were already concluded.

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Anyway, we get back to Paul’s Boutique garage, where he told us what I already knew and feared: we had blown the Kia Carnival’s head gasket. The repair would be between NZ$1,500 to NZ$4,000, and they couldn’t get it repaired for at least a week.

Among other things, this created a great teaching moment for Leo, because it presented his parents with the opportunity to demonstrate to him a practical application for ALL of the arithematic he was learning in school. The factors in our real-life math equation included:

  • The potential cost of the repair
  • The walkaway value of the head gasket-less Carnival (~NZ$500)
  • The rental cost of a car during just the repair
  • The rental cost of a car for the entire time we need to finish the road trip and return to Sophie (in the event we choose the gasket-less Carnival walk-away scenario)
  • The NZ$3,500 we will get for a repaired Carnival on May 1 in Opua
  • The potential hotel and holiday park cancellation fees if we choose to remain in Richmond and enjoy Sprig and Fern for a week while the Kia Carnival was being repaired (not an altogether unattractive scenario from my perspective, but Jenna had prepaid our lodging fees for a number of the 18 remaining nights on our trip, and cancellations would potentially result in a not-insignificant cost)
  • The cost of the emotional pain and suffering we would incur resulting from a decision to not continue our awesome road trip.

(Btw, Jan Gray, if you are reading this and are willing to accept a challenge, I will give you a Sprig and Fern T-shirt in exchange for your posting, in the comments section of this blog, the mathematical equation that documents and helps us prove the solution to this problem.)

Jenna and I are both from Massachusetts and can occasionally be wicked smart, so we thought about this for about two minutes (and of course discussed it with each other in a caring, open, non-stressful, nurturing, and empathetic way) and decided to rent an equivalent beater minivan for NZ$55-NZ$69 per day (depending on the length of the rental.) For us it was more important to continue with the road trip. The fact that I could purchase Sprig and Fern lager throughout the South Island (which I learned during our 2 minute discussion) had absolutely nothing to do with the outcome of this shared decision.

Meanwhile Leo — who had been begging us to take him to a McDonalds or a Burger King at least once in his entire lifetime — pointed out that there was a Burger King next door to the repair shop. It was noon, we were hungry, and we had 40 minutes to kill before Warwick from the beater minivan rental agency would come to pick me up so I could get our replacement car. We (I) had also promised Leo that at some point on this road trip we would go to a fast food joint.

I must confess that I personally have not patronized a McDonalds or a Burger King since a late night-delayed flight-layover in Minneapolis with Tami Reller and Darren Laybourn on our way to Fargo, North Dakota. That was probably ten years ago. Jenna can’t remember the last time she ate this type of food at one of these places.

But a promise to Leo is a promise, so we went up to the Burger King, ordered our food, and ate it. It was horrible. That’s not just the parents’ view, even the kids thought it was horrible.

Warwick eventually showed up to accompany me to our new rental beater minivan, and Jenna stayed behind in the Burger King with Leo and Hazel and took advantage of the opportunity to have a teaching moment with the kids, laying out for them the bad things that bad food can do to your bodies.

They apparently believed. Hazel has been lecturing us on the importance of eating salads and avoiding fats ever since. Score one for H!

Meanwhile, I got the replacement minivan. The new ride is a Toyota Enima, and it is sweet!

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Oh, in my discussion of the blown head gasket in the mountain passes, I may have forgotten to mention the amount of stuff we are hauling with us: 4 bikes, 4 clothing duffle bags, 4 backpacks, 1 food box, 1 food bag, 4 other duffle bags, 1 bike helmet bag, 1 Yeti cooler (thank you forever, Steven Fell!), 4 towels, and 1 laundry bag. I am certain this gear had nothing to do with the strain on the Kia Carnival’s engine as we climbed 8% mountain grades, and we are thankful that the Enima can hold all of this gear.

We were also surprised to learn that New Zealand is a dumping ground for used cars from Japan, which apparently has strict insurance requirements for cars that are 7+ years old. It makes sense for used Japanese cars to come here, since new cars in New Zealand are very expensive and both countries have a drive-on-the-left infrastructure. Our Enima is definitely from Japan, which means the FM radio only goes up to 88.0 and many of the buttons on the instrument panel have labels written in Japanese.

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But the new set of wheels handle the New Zealand South Island mountain passes and coastal straightaways with ease. This photo above is similar to one I took for the blog 15 months ago in Texas when we crossed the USA in our BMW X5, except this time the gauge displays 100+ KPH as opposed to 100+ MPH. Same idea, though. I am not sure if the “Keep Left” sticker is there to remind tourist drivers of New Zealand’s primary road rule or to prevent them from dwelling on the fact that their beater rental minivan has 220,000 KM under its belt.

In the good news department, we learned today that the repair shop in Richmond (did I mention that Richmond is the home of Sprig and Fern, the best beer in New Zealand?) now thinks that the problem with the Kia Carnival may not involve the entire head gasket but simply a single cylinder. This will hopefully contribute towards a lower repair cost.

Regardless, our road trip will continue. We left Sophie on a dock in Opua, where we are having some final repairs done in our absence, including the installation of the correct diesel heater parts and the completion of our 230v inverter swapout. We will also have the folks there install a propane line that runs to our transom, so we can mount a permanent gas barbecue on our stern rail to more easily cook all of the fish we plan to catch upon our return to the tropics.

In a few short weeks we will be back onboard our beloved Sophie, and we will sail her 60 miles south to Whangerei to haul her out of the water for a week and have her bottom painted. We plan to use the week she is out of the water to reintroduce our children to structured Sophie School while also provisioning the boat with all of the things that you can buy here in New Zealand that you can’t buy in the tropics. (Mainly lamb and NZ$11/bottle pinot noir.)

Then we will be joined by our Seattle friends Ravi and Alison, who haven’t done any offshore sailing but are adventurous souls who quit their comfortable jobs in America to spend a year backpacking the world.

DAN

We will also be joined by DAN ROGERS! He is the Best Man from our wedding, the person who shares a birthday with Leo, the person who taught me how to fish, and the person who helped us guide Sophie from San Diego to the Marquesas. He caught what I now realize is a really big trevally, pictured above, when he was with us in the Marquesas.

The seven on us will depart New Zealand on Sophie on May 1 (weather permitting) and head for Fiji. Since the prevailing winds down here tend to blow from the southwest, it is theoretically easier to head north than it is to head south in this part of the world. We hope to do the passage less than a week, similar to the amount of time it took us to head south to New Zealand last November. We also plan to take advantage of Sophie’s motoring range and will be quite happy to exchange diesel fuel for safety in order to get up to the tropics more quickly.

Waiting for us in Fiji will be our friends Ian and Becky, you know, the couple who became famous for being hooked on fishing. And they are bringing with them a brand new Relaxation Station — a floating inflatable conversation pit —  which we hope will become Sophie’s own portable version of the former Fiji surf resort “Cloud Nine“.

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Let the (Southern hemisphere) winter begin!

Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

 

 

One Year Out …

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This week marks the one year anniversary of the day Jenna, Leo, Hazel and I  — along with the capable support of my brother Rich and our friend Dan — left San Diego to begin our Pacific crossing. It’s been a crazy and amazing and wonderful year for us on Sophie, and here are some of the things we are currently thinking about as we mark this milestone.

I Love Lusi
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Sophie is currently anchored in Kaiarara Bay on Great Barrier Island, riding out the remnants of ex-cyclone “Lusi” as it travels down the New Zealand coast throughout the day. We’ve had gusts up to 55 knots today, and the weather forecast calls for continuing strong winds through tomorrow. But we feel pretty safe right now. We are in a relatively sheltered anchorage and have 90 meters of heavy chain and a big anchor holding us fast to a muddy bottom. There is one other boat anchored with us in the bay, so we don’t have to worry too much about someone else breaking loose and hitting us. We also have been tracking our position on the chart since we set the anchor yesterday afternoon, and we haven’t budged the anchor an inch since we set it.

We like to tell the kids that there are 5 core rules about life on Sophie:

  1. Safety
  2. Safety
  3. Safety
  4. Safety
  5. Safety

Sometimes when we are entertaining guests or playing on beaches, we can lose sight of the fact that doing a family circumnavigation on a sailboat can be a dangerous business. Days like today are a good reminder that we always need to be following the 5 rules. We feel pretty safe right now: we spent time in town talking to locals about conditions on Great Barrier during storms, we picked our anchorage based on the forecasted wind direction, we have a large amount of chain out with a second anchor ready to be dropped in seconds, we stripped cushions and other things that could break in the wind from the outside of the boat, we are tracking our position on electronic charts, we are listening to the radio (lot’s of boats dragging in other nearby harbors), and we are keeping watches.

Over the last year we’ve tried to be safe, and other than a couple of fish or hook-induced cuts we’ve had no major accidents. We reef early and often, we tether in when offshore, and we try to be conservative in our planning. We’re thankful that we’ve had some good luck, but we’ll continue to live by the 5 rules.

Role Models

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When Jenna and I planned this trip, we implicitly just knew that we would approach it from the perspective of being equals who shared all of the work that fills your day on a circumnavigation with kids: cooking, cleaning, boat repairs, maintenance, home schooling, keeping watch, navigating, anchoring, planning, etc. We were also well aware that each of us we coming into this adventure with different skillsets and perspectives. I had more sailing and boat repair experience than Jenna, who rarely gives herself enough credit for “only” having 10 years sailing experience heading into this trip. On the other hand, before we left Jenna threw herself into planning for how we were going to homeschool Leo and Hazel for the next 5 years. And I am not sure going into this trip if either of us fully anticipated how much effort homeschooling was going to require, although I bet she had a much better sense for what was in store for us than I did.

So for the first year, we each “took a kid” for home schooling and then divided up the rest of the work on a relatively informal, ad hoc basis. As a system it worked reasonably well for the first year, but Jenna kept thinking we weren’t doing enough to educate the kids and I kept thinking that we weren’t doing enough to maintain the boat. And please don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to create the impression that Jenna doesn’t like doing “the boat stuff”, because she most certainly does. But in the last couple of weeks, we switched to a model where Jenna manages homeschooling for both Leo and Hazel at the same time, and during that time I focus on boat projects. Jenna is a wonderful, empathetic and patient teacher with the kids — that’s not just my view but the view of friends who have been with us during the last month and have watched her in action. When I was teaching Leo, I would hand him his spelling book, say “do this assignment” and then try to sneak away to fix a toilet. Jenna actually teaches him.

We’ll see how this new model works out. The kids seem to like it more, and the boat is definitely looking better. Most importantly, we both get to gravitate towards roles that we really enjoy doing while still maintaining the spirit of sharing that we had when we started the trip.

Another way to think about this is to simply say that Jenna is a much, much better teacher than I am.

Friends Are a Great Source for Stories
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A few weeks ago, we hiked the famous Tongariro Alpine Crossing with two other couples, our Seattle friends Troy and Maureen and my college friends James and Maureen. The hike is a 20 km trek across a barren alpine landscape that includes some mountains that were used for scenes in the Lord of the Rings movies.

As day hikes go, this is a loooong hike. We left our kids along with Troy and Maureen’s kids with a sitter for the day. It was going to be a grownups-only trip, which was a welcome relief for those of us who wind up carrying kids for long distances on day hikes.

Anyway, Troy and Maureen are both runners and set off on a much faster pace than the rest of us. They were soon long gone in the distance. We ran into them again at mid-day returning from an optional side trail to a scenic outlook summit just as we were beginning to ascend it. I realized that they could be done with the trek hours before the rest of us, so I gave Troy the keys to our minivan so they wouldn’t have to sit around in the parking lot waiting for us.

We hiked for another 5 hours, traversing across some spectacular countryside. (Jenna is working on a post with lots of photos.) But we were getting tired. When we were an hour from our destination, I said to James “You know, I bet Troy and Maureen finished their hike an hour ago and drove back into town. Maureen picked up the kids and is watching them, while Troy went to a store, bought some cold beer, and is waiting for us in the parking lot.”

James looked back at me and replied “You know, Jamie, I really enjoy this fantasy world that you sometimes inhabit. But there is simply no way that is going to happen.”

When we got to the parking lot, there was Troy standing there with his hands on his hips and a big smile on his face. Maureen was in town watching the kids, and there was a 12 pack of beer sitting on ice in the back of the minivan.

Score one for Troy!

We love our friends and family, and they are a great source for stories on this trip: Rich and Dan, Max and Becca, the Riebelings, the Fells, Randy and Susan, Troy and Maureen (trip 1), Frank and Fred, Ian and Becky, Troy and Maureen (trip 2) with their kids, then James and Maureen. These are just the folks who traveled halfway around the world to join us over the course of the last year.

We’ve also reconnected and made new friends in Auckland, Opua, Fiji, Tonga, and of course, with the members of the Swedish Navy. They all have good stories to tell!

The Fells in particular did something especially cool: they pulled together a book containing photos from their Tonga visit and along with our years of cruising together in Seattle before we left.

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If you ever have the chance to visit Sophie, you’ll have to check it out. It’s amazing.

Keeping Connections Back Home is Easier Than I Thoughtpicture004

In addition to the monthly visitors/spare-parts-mules who have flown out to stay with us, we’ve had good Internet connections in Fiji and New Zealand over the last 7 months, making connections back home easier than I thought they would be. I find myself using Facebook more now than when I lived in the US. I am hanging out on baseball websites more now than back when I was working. (I did used to work, you know, and I worked pretty hard.) We Skype with friends and grandparents. Even though we are far away, we don’t feel remote.

You Can Buy Food Anywhere
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I’ve mentioned this before in the blog, but it’s true. It’s really true! You can buy food anywhere!

Here is a shot of our salon fridge. (Jenna wished I had reorganized it before taking a photo for the blog, but that will have to wait for the next school day.) It contains meat, cheese, milk, eggs, veggies, syrup, dips, hummus, jam, sauces, spices, and spreads. It looks pretty much the same way it has looked since San Diego.

I popped into the small Port Fitzroy general store with Hazel and Leo yesterday to do some last minute provisioning before the storm. As we walked in, Hazel asked “Dad, can we get some marshmallows for our camping party that we are planning with Mom?”

“No,” I responded, “they don’t have any here.”

The lady behind the counter looked up and said “Yes we do, they are right over there on that shelf.”

You can buy food anywhere.

Sophie is Simply a Collection of Systems
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The boat seems much simpler now than it did a year ago. We haven’t added any significant new equipment, and we have reorganized where we put things so our storage system seems more sensible for us.

But what contributes most to this sense of simplicity is the growing understanding that the boat is merely a collection of systems, systems that we have debugged and rebuilt over the course of the last year and a half. Sails, engines, AC, DC, watermaker, toilets, genset, nav, stereo/AV, propane. That’s pretty much it.

This view makes it easier for us to figure out when something is wrong, how to most easily isolate the problem, and how to best go ahead with a repair. It’s one thing to assume that you are going to know the boat much better after you live on it for a while, but it’s another thing to actually do so.

In other words, a toilet repair that used to take me 4 hours to debug and fix now takes 20 minutes. That’s progress!

There are ALWAYS Bigger Fish
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We ran into this group of fishermen weighing their catch just around the corner from us at the Port Fitzroy pier this week as we were heading up to the Boat Club for their Wednesday Pizza Night. It’s a 105 kilo striped marlin caught in local waters.

There is absolutely no reason why we can’t land a marlin this size on Sophie.

I will.

24 x 7 x 78
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We have been living with Leo and Hazel all day, every day for about 78 weeks since we left Seattle. That’s a long time and is EASILY the best part of this trip for me and Jenna. When we left, Hazel couldn’t read. She now has Alice in Wonderland and The Hobbit on her Kindle. Leo is growing up in so many different ways in front of us every day. From an age perspective he is halfway out the door to college. But that’s OK because we get to hang out with him all of the time.

Leo and Hazel have become great friends with each other, they bicker with each other, they basically do almost everything with each other. We get to see it all, and it’s all good because I feel overall that they are building a connection with me and Jenna that will last long after this trip is done and people have stopped reading this blog.

Have I told you lately how lucky we are?

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Kicking Off the 2014 Season of “Sophie Adventure Cruises”

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Jenna and I drove out to the Auckland International Airport last night to pick up our friend Maureen and her kids Cole and Cora. They flew 20 hours from Seattle in order to join us for a vacation on Sophie in New Zealand.

With this airport pickup, the 2014 season of “Sophie Adventure Cruises” has begun.

Readers of this blog know that for me and Jenna, one of the best things in our life these days are the times when we can host friends and family from back home on our cruise around the world. We jokingly refer to this as “Sophie Adventure Cruises” because for our guests it’s like going on an exotic luxury vacation, and for us it’s an opportunity to throw lots of energy into swimming, fishing, exploring, cooking, drinking, dancing, and celebrating the overall sense of joy in our lives on the water with the people we love.

2014 is filling up fast! We plan to remain in New Zealand through the end of April. Maureen and kids will be joined by her husband Troy at the end of the week and will cruise with us off and on through the end of this month. Troy and Maureen joined us sans kids in Fiji in September, making them our first repeat couple on the cruise! My college friends James and Maureen will then join us in the first week in March for a week, and Seattle friends Ravi and Alison will cruise on Sophie later that month.

Towards the end of April, Dan (the famous tattoo dude from our crossing to the Marquesas) will fly to New Zealand and help us sail Sophie the 1,000 miles back up to Fiji. We’ll be greeted there in May by Ian and Becky, who had so much fun getting hooked in the Bay of Islands that they are coming back for more punishment, this time in an area with much warmer water.

Later on in May I will fly to Boston to attend my son Max’s graduation from law school, and Max will return with me to spend the month of June studying for the bar exam while watching every World Cup soccer match from various backpacker beachfront bars throughout western Fiji. Later on in June, we will be joined by Jenna’s sister Julie and her husband Silas for a couple of weeks. Julie and Max spent a summer working together in a boat cleaning business back at Elliot Bay Marina in Seattle, and even though they are now (or soon will be) respectively a physician and an attorney, Jenna and I both hope they have not walked away from their past and still remember how to properly apply wax to fiberglass and metal polish to stainless steel.

In July, we will all fly back to the United States to reconnect with friends and family in Seattle, New England, Pennsylvania, and Michigan. There will be a family wedding in Maine as part of the trip. For Jenna and the kids, it will be their first visit back to the US since we left San Diego almost a year ago.

In August it’s back to Fiji, and our Seattle friends Mark and Cathy will join us for a week or two. In September, my daughter Sara and her friend Julie will join us and we will finally resume our westward journey and head to Vanuatu and it’s volcanoes. From there we are thinking we’ll head to the Solomon Islands and then to Indonesia. We are not sure how much time we will spend in Papua New Guinea on the way. But that is over a half a year out, and if there is one thing we’ve learned from cruising so far, it’s that plans rarely remain firm when they are a half a year away.

Except, of course, when it involves family and friends traveling halfway around the world to join us.

That pretty much summaries our thinking of how we plan to spend our next year. There is some talk of Jenna organizing a “Girl’s Week” in Bali. We also hope that more folks from back home take advantage of the few remaining slots in our calendar in 2014 and join us. But overall we have a pretty good sense of where we are going, and who will be joining us.

In terms of last night, all four of us get pretty excited when our visitors are about to arrive.

For starters, it gives us an excuse to clean up Sophie, both on the outside (here is a shot of Sophie back at Auckland’s Viaduct Marina)…
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… and on the inside.
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Most of our guests stay in “The Yellow Room” — formerly “Julie’s Room”, “Holly’s Room”, “Sara’s Room”, then “Richy’s Room”, then “Max and Becca’s Room” etc. – the list of names of that room has turned into an honor role of guests that goes back to the beginning of Sophie.

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And the aura of that room continues to grow, because in the process of cleaning it this week I discovered a Victoria’s Secret black bra — size 36 C — lodged underneath one of the drawers at the foot of the bed. It was right next to a kid’s swim diaper. Every woman who has slept in that room since we left Seattle in September 2012 denies ownership of the bra. For all we know it may have been there for years. We used to have some pretty fun times hosting friends on Sophie for the Thursday night “Downtown Sailing Series” races back in Seattle, but Jenna and I never realized some of our crew had that much fun.

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So if you happen to have spent some time on Sophie and inadvertently misplaced this bra, please let me and Jenna know. We will handle all inquiries with the appropriate level of discretion.

Leo got into the cleaning act and actually cleaned his room because he will be sharing it with Cole for the next week.
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However, in order to protect his stuff he built a Lego security keypad, which he mounted on the wall.
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He also posted the appropriate warnings on his door, for safety purposes of course.
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Not all of the preparation we do in advance of visits is skin deep. I spent 5 hours troubleshooting the lighting in Maureen’s Room (formerly “The Yellow Room”) because the darn lights wouldn’t go on. I assumed that since the French builders used an orange (meaning protected) cable, there was a hidden fuse somewhere behind the walls. There wasn’t, it was a bad connection on the switch by the bed, a switch I had completely forgotten about. But it’s fixed, and that’s what counts.

I also usually have to clean out all of the filters in the head (bathroom) sump pumps, which in Hazel’s case involved extricating a cocktail of ponytail rubber bands, necklace beads, and glittery hair from the spot where the drainage hose enters the sump pump filter. In other words, another hour or two of bilge yoga, just to make the sinks work.

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This is a photo of the sump pump with the filter below it. The hose going into the filter is not attached, due to the need to remove the aforementioned cocktail.

But there is a quid pro quo involved in our hosting friends and family from back home, because they usually carry with them A LOT of stuff that we need. In Maureen’s case, she carried two duffle bags weighing 100 pounds in total — in addition to her own luggage, two young children and their respective car seats — on her flights halfway around the world.

For Sophie and her crew it was a nice hall. Christmas presents, school books, spare parts, cleaning supplies, and stuff you just can’t easily get in New Zealand.

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For example, it turns out that it is quite difficult to find Mr. Clean Magic Eraser pads in New Zealand, and these things are worth their weight in gold in terms of their ability to easily remove stains and moldy spots from fiberglass and rub rails.

But the TSA must have wondered why Maureen was carrying 30 of them in her luggage, because 4 of them had been neatly been torn in half, I assume during their physical inspection of her duffel bags.
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Nothing but solid Mr. Clean Magic Eraser magic here.

Jenna and I also want to make sure that we have the right equipment on board to maximize the “Sophie Adventure Cruises” experience for our guests, and we have made two significant additions in this department in advance of the 2014 season.

For starters, Jenna and I bought each other folding, full-sized mountain bikes for Christmas. I hauled them back from the U.S. last week. They claim to be made with something called “Military Technology”, but they seem reliable and are much faster than the small-wheeled folding bikes we had ten years ago.

They fit nicely under the hatches in each of Sophie’s engine compartments.
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Jenna can easily lift them off the boat and onto the dock.IMG_0557

And from there they easily snap together and are ready to go. We’ve only had them for a week, and that have already helped us immeasurably in dealing with the logistics of provisioning and getting from point A to point B.

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We hope that our friends and family will enjoy using them to easily explore different spots along the way of our journey.

Our second big addition for 2014? Dinghy Wheels!

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These babies could have come straight off of a Boeing!

I bought them on the spur of the moment at a West Marine in Seattle two weeks ago, and they are simply awesome. We have a heavy dinghy, and we often visit beaches with a gradual slope, significant tides, or big surf. Jenna and I could barely move the dinghy by ourselves, and this eventually limited which beaches we could visit and when we could visit them. But with the new wheels, I can easily move the dinghy by myself up and down 100 feet of beach with no problem at all.

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We put it to good use today (and nice photo bomb there, Leo).

But the best thing about hosting friends and family from back home isn’t having a clean boat, it isn’t the receiving of loot from back home, and it isn’t the ability to play with new types of water toys. For us, the best thing about these visits is the ability to simply go out sailing with people we love, and then anchor in a quiet harbor and play in the water.

That’s what we did today with Maureen and the kids. Cora and Cole hadn’t been on Sophie for over a year and a half, but they felt right at home when they got on board last night. It was well after midnight, and they had been on planes for practically a day.

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They seem right at home.

Maureen has been sailing on Sophie pretty much since we got her six years ago, and it was great seeing her and Jenna work the foredeck together as we once again sailed away from Auckland on a day with weather MUCH NICER than the snow they were getting back home in Seattle.

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We had a nice broad reach for about 13 miles out to Waiheke Island and enjoyed the opportunity to use our favorite sail.

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On the way we made sure we took the time to admire some of the local Kiwi lovelies.

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As soon as we were anchored at Waiheke, we dropped our newly-wheeled dinghy into the water and headed to the beach. The kids loved the opportunity to play with their boogie boards…
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… especially when they conned one of the grown-ups to play speedboat and pull them along the water’s edge so they could skim at a high speed. This was done over very short distances.
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By the time we got back to the boat, it was 6:30 PM. We made a quick dinner (curried chicken, rice, kale, green beans, apples, pinot noir). The younger kids crashed relatively quickly. Leo stayed up and played UNO with Jenna and Maureen while I wrote this blog.

It was a long day, but we collected our friends, got out of the city and made it to a nice anchorage. We even had a bright rainbow followed by a nice sunset. Tomorrow we’ll head 50 miles around to the other side of the Coromandel Peninsula and hang out on the beaches of Great Mercury Island. These are beaches we love, and we are with people we love.

Have I mentioned lately how lucky we are?

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Exploring the Hauraki Gulf

Happy 2014 everyone! Sophie has seen a good deal of activity over the past few weeks, celebrating holidays with friends in the city followed by spectacular island cruising. We like it so much that we’ve decided to stay around the Hauraki Gulf and Great Barrier Island until at least early March. Here is a photo essay of our recent adventures.

We kicked off the summer season here with our first ever tropical Christmas. It’s pretty low key and many people just barbecue at the beach for Christmas. While living on the boat we tried to keep up most of our family traditions. We found a German bakery and sausage store in Auckland and enjoyed a quiet Christmas eve dinner with the four of us.

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The kids were thrilled that Santa managed to find Sophie using the Sky Tower as his homing beacon.

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We enjoyed Christmas dins at Misti and Abi’s house and celebrated with new friends Annie, Scott and Nigel.
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One new tradition this year is Skyping our family. We loved catching up with everyone and my cousin Holly surprised us with this most excellent costume!

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On New Years Eve, we spent a low key night on Sophie with friends dropping by for the sunset, trampoline races and fireworks.

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Annie gave lessons on how to hold your dress down during a race.
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Hazel and Leo both wanted to stay up for the fireworks, but they were exhausted so we convinced them to go to bed and promised to wake them up for the fireworks, which we did. Leo rallied from midnight to one but Hazel told us she was too tired to get up so she skipped the fireworks and went back to sleep. In the morning she didn’t remember doing this and was so mad that she missed the dance party on the roof.
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After all of that, what could possibly follow? An awesome day sail around Auckland of course. We haven’t sailed with this many people on board since Tonga. With wind and completely flat seas we ended up going over 10 knots. Sophie is a happy boat!
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Hazel even managed to fit in a few art projects during the day. Painting and glitter necklaces – two of our favorites on Sophie!
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This boat was our next door neighbor on the Viaduct and we watched them rig it before going out.
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A couple little racing sailboats turtled as we passed by. They both eventually managed to flip upright.
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Our first bridge since the Golden Gate in San Francisco! We just made it under.

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As often happens during a party, a few brave soles sail when it starts to rain and the rest party inside. Luckily it only sprinkled for a few minutes.
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After all of our holiday festivities, we were glad to get back to our regular routine of Sophie School in the mornings and family fun in the afternoons. We explored a few of Auckland’s best playgrounds.
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My favorite was Snakes and Ladders, a life-sized version of Chutes and Ladders. It works just like the game. You roll the dice and then follow a series of stumps and spaces up the hill. When you land on a ladder you climb up, and when you stop at a slide you go back down. Although they were a little skeptical at first, after more than an hour we had to drag the kids back to the car.
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At one point, Leo decided slides should go either direction.
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The kids had fun on the grownup playground equipment too.
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Hazel reached a new milestone at the “cactus playground,” crossing the monkey bars on her own for the first time.
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Did I mention that Jamie absolutely loves playgrounds? It’s hard to tell.
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We also took the kids out to practice riding their two wheel bikes. For Leo this was mostly a refresher but Hazel had never been on one and we thought it would be good to just throw her into the deep end without training wheels. We ran all around the field in Victoria Park bent over holding her steady. Our backs are thankful that training wheels will be going back on. Luckily the allure of the playground trumped bike riding after a while.
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We also had time to visit the Auckland War Memorial Museum, the Maritime Museum and the French Market.
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Leo observed that this map of how languages spread across the pacific is quite similar to our trip in reverse order.
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Hazel’s favorite room was the Weird and Wonderful room that had hundreds of drawers filled with different creatures.
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One night at dinner, Hazel drew this for Jamie. “This is Daddy spear fishing in his black wet suit and his blue fins.”
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Leo completed his science project from Opua School. His plant grew one green bean. It was delicious.

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And of course we’ve been watching the Patriots in the playoffs.IMG_0315 (800x600)

Despite all the fun we had being city mice, we were all ready to get back on the water. After picking up a spear gun and two weeks of groceries, we headed out. The kids were quite impressed at the amount of groceries Jamie carried by himself across town.
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Our first stop was Islington Bay at Rangitoto Island, a few miles outside of Auckland. It felt so good to be at anchor and there were only a handful of other boats there. In the afternoon we hiked up to the top of the volcano. The kids got a bit tired, but then Hazel rallied a short distance from the top, took the lead and practically ran up the final hundred steps to the lip of the crater, with magnificent views of Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf.
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The water turns brilliant turquoise in the sun.
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On the way down we explored some lava tubes. The kids had a blast navigating one all on their own.

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Hazel scored a piggy back ride on the way home.
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One of our best sailing days ever was the trip to Great Mercury Island. It was a 50 mile sail around the tip of the Coromandel Peninsula and out into the “real ocean,” ending with one of those perfect downwind runs in the sun that doesn’t get any better.
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Here is the little friend who welcomed us to Huruhi Harbor at Great Mercury Island. Our first penguin in New Zealand!
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The beaches on Great Mercury are fabulous, white sand with pohutukawa trees lining the shore.
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Leo and Hazel cooperated to build a wood sculpture in Parapara Bay.
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We spent a couple afternoons in Peachgrove Bay. This is the prettiest beach we’ve been to and we will definitely go back in February.
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Jamie speared his first fish! (Yes, that is indeed a fish he is holding.) He bagged a snapper the next day and has fallen in love with underwater hunting. 
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On our second afternoon there, after dropping the kids off to build sand castles with some friends, I went paddle boarding while Jamie spear fished. Across the bay, some people on a nearby boat told me a shark was nearby and pointed ahead. I expected to see a small reef shark like the ones we’ve snorkeled with so many times, but was quite shocked when I realized the shark was over 3 meters, and longer than my board. I pulled my paddle out of the water and stood very still as it came towards me and swam right under the length of my board. Luckily it was just curious and kept on going. I lapped back around the bay to where Jamie was spearfishing and let him know about the shark. He had just caught a snapper and decided to call it a day. I stayed next to him as he swam back to Sophie and then paddled into the beach where the kids were playing. Everyone was excited to catch a glimpse of the sharks (the first one apparently had a friend) and we could see them occasionally across the bay swimming in 2 meters of water. They never came close again, and at the end of the day Leo and I swam back to Sophie. Business as usual.
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That afternoon we sailed south to Mercury Bay along another stunning coastline.
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The outline of the hole through the bottom of this island looks familiar. Hmmm… we didn’t realize the bat cave is in New Zealand.
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Mercury Bay is renown as the location Captain Cook observed the transit of Mercury in 1769. Today the river town of Whitianga is touristy, lined with palm trees and limestone cliffs.
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The kids thought this rock looked like a growling cougar:???????????
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Our primary reason for going to Whitianga was to watch the Patriots game on a big screen, so we stayed on a mooring for a couple nights.
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Smitty’s Sports Bar turned out to be the perfect place. We had two tables in Jonah’s Corner right in front of a huge screen and they turned the volume up high. Awesome game.
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That night a front passed through with 30 knot winds. Unfortunately, with the tidal surge in the river, the boat ended up spinning in circles and slamming a bit when the wind and tide were in opposite directions. No harm done, but we were glad to get out of there.

Just around the point from Whitianga is Cathedral Cove, with a spectacular natural arch and limestone cliffs.
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After we anchored, we took the dinghy to explore nearby sea caves and Hot Water Beach. There is a natural hot spring so at low tide you can dig your own hot tub in the sand.
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It’s hard to tell from the pictures, but the surf was way too high and steep to land a dinghy safely so we just checked out the “red bum” scene from the water. We’ll come back another day in kayaks for the complete experience.

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The sea caves along the Coromandel Coast are incredible. Around every bend we saw caves or arches or both. We took the dinghy inside one and were surprised by all the colors inside. We’ve swum in many caves across the Pacific, but this was our first time driving our own dinghy into one. Travis, Jenn, Holly and Rachel, it reminded us so much of the Galapagos a couple years ago. So fun!
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As we returned to Cathedral Cove Jamie spotted a Nordhavn in the distance and said, “That looks like Dirona!” and sure enough it was. They dropped a hook next to Sophie and we enjoyed connecting with James and Jennifer Hamilton for the third time in NZ. (We both worked with James at Microsoft back in the day).
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Cathedral Cove is simply stunning.
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Late afternoon we sailed to New Chums Beach, recommended by two guys on a sport fisherman. They described it as a hidden gem of the Coromandel, and they weren’t kidding. We settled in for a dinner of Mediterranean lamb chops with green beans and candied kumara along with a bottle of D2 – another perfect anchorage with long sandy white beach surrounded by lush green mountains.
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After a productive morning of Sophie School, we headed to shore.
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There are two streams that run through New Chums Beach. The kids tried boogie boarding down them but it was pretty shallow. They had better luck in the surf and stuck to building dams and sand islands in the streams.
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After showering off post-beach, we realized that we were ridiculously low on water and our watermaker wasn’t working. Too much laundry, dishwasher, and stern showers!Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a big deal and we’d just head to a nearby dock (several within 10 miles of us) to fill up in the morning. But we had also picked New Chums Beach because it was very sheltered and a storm watch was in effect with 40 knots of wind predicted the next day. We weren’t going anywhere. For the first time on Sophie we rationed water – drink as much as you ordinarily would, salt water for dishes, no showers, dishwasher or laundry, and quick rinse for brushing teeth. Jamie even swapped our toilet over to salt water! Roughing it, I know. We also had 12 bottles of bottled water just in case the tanks ran dry.

The front brought 30-40 knot gusts as expected, but there was no swell and the boat held solid so we felt much more comfortable than on the river mooring a few days earlier. It was hot and mostly sunny with big wind gusts so after school we debated going to the beach again, but ended up playing Settlers of Catan followed by “Fantastic Mr. Fox” for Friday family movie night instead.
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Yesterday we sailed back to Waiheke and filled up with 1,000 liters of what a man fishing there called the best tasting H2O in the Hauraki Gulf at the Orehei wharf. Jamie started the dishwasher while I was still in the middle of filling the starboard tank. Our water tanks never did run out, so it turned out to be good practice in case we ever have a problem on a crossing. The kids were super helpful and considerate with their water usage the whole time and who knows, maybe they’ll think more about how much they use going forward. We anchored for the night in Hururi Bay on the southwest side of Waiheke Island. Today is Sunday and we will go back to the Viaduct in Auckland, heading to The Fox again first thing Monday morning to watch the Patriots and then the Seahawks games live. Go Pats!

A Day at the Races

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Jenna and I attended the annual Boxing Day horse races at Ellerslie track in Auckland yesterday, and we had an absolute blast. Leo kept referring to the event as the Boxer Day races, but it was more about horse racing than men’s underwear. We actually had a babysitter for the kids and spent the entire day in an outdoor summer Christmas party. What could be better?

For starters, it gave us a chance to dress up, something that we have done exactly once so far on the cruise.

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I went with the same ensemble that won me the best-dressed male at the Opua School fundraising tea, except I swapped out the skinny gray tie for a wider silver checked tie from Barney’s. I also wore cufflinks fashioned from 5 cent kiwi coins that our host Misti gave me for Christmas earlier in the week. Jenna wore the coral dress she wore for my 50th birthday party along with vintage white gloves that were a gift from Becky and some Prada platform wedge stompers.

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We all liked the way her shoes complemented her ray tattoo.

We attended with our friends Scott and Annie, and Nigel and Misti. We actually had tickets to a lounge area that featured a series of fashion contests throughout the afternoon in between the horse races.

We arrived too late to register for the competition, and which was a shame because I think my skinny jeans would have put up a decent fight in the men’s group.

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But we were really there for the ponies, and we would sit around our table and diligently go through the data on each horse and then bet on the one with the coolest name. Jenna was especially good at that. It was the gloves.

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We would then go outside and sit on a balcony to watch the race. We had never been to a horse race before.

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The races were run on grass and varied in distance.

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It was SO MUCH FUN. Here is what I looked like after my horse Abideswithme won his race.

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Any horse with a name that refers to The Big Lebowski requires a bet, and I had him to win and to place.

Jenna got into the winnings as well. She liked it.

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But as much as we were enjoying the horse racing, the more we were there, the more we realized that the day was all about the clothes. In the women’s fashion contests, the successful strategy was to go vertical.

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Those aren’t hats on their heads, by the way. They are called fascinators. Some were pretty elaborate.

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We are obviously a long way from Tonga.

We’ve written in these pages about our good friend Randy Daniels from Seattle. He has developed a brilliant habit of posing with interesting-looking people at parties around the world. I decided to channel Randy’s spirit and do the same. Here is a shot of me with the model who posed for the event poster at the top of this blog. She didn’t enter any of the contests, but her dress was stunning.

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Here is a shot of me with Paris Hilton and her friend.

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Even Jenna got into the action and posed with a couple of guys whe had entered the best-dressed contest.  The guy on the right is named James and was really bummed he didn’t win. He had a nice cane, though.

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All in all it was a day of silly fun, capped off with Jenna’s Minnie Driver imitation from “Good Will Hunting” She won the overall competition for best dressed at the event. At least in my view she did.

Have I mentioned how lucky we are to be on this trip?