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.


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.
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!