You may have noticed that we haven’t posted to the blog in the last 4 weeks while sightseeing, hiking, taking kids to school, fishing, boat projects and hosting friends. We’re having an incredible experience so far here in New Zealand.
For the first couple months here we are on a dock at the Opua Marina. While I love anchoring out, I have to say the convenience of jumping off the boat without having to dinghy in to shore has been a big luxury. Also, with all the boat projects we’re catching up on, you can’t beat our location at the end of the Ashby’s Boat Yard dock.
When we arrived, we cleared customs Tuesday morning just before Game 5 of the World Series. Needless to say, our first priority was to find a place to watch the game. Six of us squeezed into a tiny beater of a car we borrowed and drove to the Roadrunner Tavern where we enjoyed some of the best burgers we’ve ever had and watching the Sox win.
How could it get any better than a Red Sox World Series championship? David Murray, what a brilliant idea you had to watch it again while cooking on Thanksgiving. Wish we could have too.
It may surprise you to learn that Jamie has always wanted a minivan. I on the other hand, although I fondly remember great times driving one with my friends and sisters during high school, have always loathed the idea of getting another, so it figures that the best cheap used car here was a 2004 Kia Carnival, and we are now the proud new owners of this sweet ride.
With new wheels and a sense of adventure, we headed off to explore the Northland with Fred and Frank, our wonderful crewmates who stayed for some vacation in New Zealand after our crossing from Fiji.
We hopped a ferry to the quaint town of Russell and visited the museum, Pompellier Mission and Duke of Marlborough Tavern that served up some amazing local fried oysters.
Russell is also home to Christ’s Church, the oldest church in New Zealand.
The Pompellier Mission is remarkable. They still operate the tannery, printing press and book bindery that has been in operation since the 1800s. We got a demonstration of the entire process and history from a Maori guide. Leo and Hazel tried out scraping leather and typesetting.
In Kerikeri we stopped by the Stone Store, the oldest building in NZ.
It’s spring here and flowers are in bloom. Everywhere in the Northland looks like a gigantic English garden.
We headed to the west coast to see the giant Kauri trees. En route, we stopped near Opononi at the lookout over Hokianga Harbour for our first glimpse of the Tasman Sea.
On our way to Waipoua Forest, our “two day old” car lost power and then overheated going up a steep hill. We discovered the radiator cap blew off and had to wait for the car to cool down. We managed to go another few kilometers before it overheated again. Almost every car that passed us stopped to check and see if we needed help. Kiwis are so friendly! Luckily we broke down within a few kilometers of the only garage in the area, so we enjoyed a great lunch at Morrell’s Café in Waimamaku while the mechanic checked out our car.
It turned out that there was no coolant in the system, only water (Jake our used car guy rectified this and more back in Opua and also paid for our garage stop). The Carnival ride has run perfectly since, for a minivan that is.
We wanted to get the car back to Opua, but we were so close to the Kauri forest that we made a quick stop to see Tane Mahuta, the biggest Kauri in New Zealand. It is huge! The forest reminded us of our road trips last year to the Olympic and Redwood National Forests, only more tropical.
We made a second trip to Russell to watch the annual Russell vs. Waitaingi rugby match. Our bartender at the Duke of Marlborough plays for Russell and told us about the game, and they won!
Leo and Hazel got into the action too.
We spent a low key Halloween at the Opua Cruising Club here in the marina. The kids made their own costumes including drawing their own face paint. Some local friends aka supermoms we met at the Cruising Club took them trick or treating around the neighborhood in between dumping rain showers and then gave out little handmade bags of candy to everyone.
We heard such great reviews of the local school that we decided to enroll Leo and Hazel for the last 6 weeks of the term. Opua School is quite used to cruisers joining classes this time each year and they welcomed us with open arms.
The kids love being with so many children and learning about New Zealand culture. We were a little overwhelmed with school activities and being back on a schedule the first week. On their first day we learned that they needed costumes for Show Day the following day. Luckily we found some supplies at the two dollar store in Whangarei while the kids were at school. That night they designed and made their own costumes for the second time in less than a week.
Hazel went as a strawberry and Leo was a bunch of carrots.
The theme for Show Day was “5+ Fruits and Veggies a Day” and included a school-wide costume parade and dance party. Some students also decorated their bikes and scooters.
Show Day coincided with Guy Fawkes Night and the Melbourne Cup, so the kids got to stay up late with us to celebrate with dinner, horse racing, and fireworks at the Cruising Club.
Later that week Jamie and I attended the Opua School Tea Party fundraiser. Jamie won best dressed man (of course!) and a raffle basket of Christmas goodies. Without gloves and a fur, I didn’t stand a chance, but thanks to Becky Hoppins who brought me some beautiful vintage white gloves I could be a contender next time. The food was fabulous and all handmade from scratch by moms in the PTA. The school performed a Maori Kapa Haka for us and Jamie and Frank danced with some of the girls during the ballroom dancing demonstration.
One weekend we walked on to the car ferry and hiked to the Omata Winery with Frank and our friends Jeff and Melody from Double Diamond, a Lagoon 440 from Kirkland, WA. The wine wasn’t our favorite, but the food and view were spectacular.
We are working our way through the AA list of 101 things all Kiwis must do. One must see is the Wairere Boulders, a valley of basalt rocks that claims to be the only place in the world where you can see basalt erosion. It was a beautiful hike and the kids loved searching for boulders that looked like animals.
Jamie and I took the kids on another hike to Rainbow Falls in Kerikeri.
One day I volunteered to help chaperone Leo’s class on a field trip to Adventure World, an amusement park in Pahia run by former circus performers. Leo and his friends absolutely loved it.
At first, Jamie and I weren’t sure what to do with all our “free time” while the kids are at school. We started with a deep clean and organization of everything inside Sophie and then some boat cleaning and maintenance projects. More on this in another upcoming blog post. We also started short day trips to hikes and restaurants. One day we ate lunch at the Duke of Marlborough Restaurant before streaming the Pats game.
Another day we walked from Opua to Pahia on the coast track (90 minutes one way) followed by lunch at 35 Degrees South, then walked back again following the beach almost the whole way since the tide had gone out.
Another day after morning boat chores we stopped at Marsden Winery for lunch. Feels like we’re dating again. We had just started tasting when Jeff and Melody walked in with a couple friends so we had lunch with them.
We also did the coastal drive to Whangaroa and hiked to the top of St. Paul’s Rock. Both have spectacular views in all directions.
We spent the week before Thanksgiving attending the All Points Rally in Opua, going to seminars, catching up with friends we’ve made across the South Pacific, and meeting a lot of other cruisers who came to NZ for the season.
We have been so fortunate this year to have so many friends and family join us for parts of our voyage. Becky Hoppins and Ian Campbell joined us for Thanksgiving (Becky also did our initial ocean crossing from Seattle to San Francisco last year). We hiked up Flagstaff Hill in Russell.
The next day while Jamie worked on the boat, I took Becky and Ian to Hokianga Harbour and the Waipoua Forest to see more of the Kauri trees.
On the way back, we stopped in Kawakawa to see the famous Friedensreich Hundertwasser toilets. Yes Frank, we finally made it there.
The weather has warmed up significantly since we arrived and it almost feels like summer again. After almost a month on the dock doing boat projects, we were so happy to take Sophie back out on the water for fishing one day while the kids were at school. Jamie caught our first red snapper and it was delicious.
Last year we spent Thanksgiving in Monterrey, CA on Sophie with just the four of us. We’re mostly observing local customs, but it didn’t feel right for the kids to just do a regular school day on American (or “amirican” as the Kiwis say) Thanksgiving, so we took them out for a couple days and anchored out in the Bay of Islands for a proper celebration. The dolphin seemed to like this. Becky and Ian did too.
We decided to have our Thanksgiving meal at the same time as everyone in the states (Friday here in NZ). We anchored at Roberton Island and ate fresh fried snapper for lunch and then paddle boarded and played on the beach while preparing Thanksgiving Dinner. Instead of turkey we had roasted lamb with baked kumara pie, stuffing and corn bread, and started with fresh oysters Jamie had just pulled out of the water plus some 1997 reds from the cellar.
In her eagerness to see the stingrays, Becky inadvertently hooked her own foot while diving into the water. She didn’t notice until she got back to the boat. Luckily it was only skin deep and we were able to clip and remove the hook. In a surprising reversal of roles, Jamie played surgeon this time instead of me. Never a dull moment.
We watched some of the slideshows from our trip on Becky and Ian’s last night here. It struck us how much healthier we are now than when we left a year ago. “Who are those big people? Oh my, that was us.” Jamie is steady at 100 push-ups a day and I’m holding my own. After the slideshow, Becky told us the photos that we’ve posted to the blog aren’t nearly enough given all the amazing things we’ve seen so I promise more going forward.
We feel so fortunate to have so many great people in our lives and hope all the rest of you can join us soon. Everyone should try cruising. We’re back at the dock in Opua, relaxing and playing games with the kids who have two more weeks of school before summer.