Our destination after Islington Bay was Westhaven Marina, Auckland, in the shadow of the Harbour Bridge and with views of the city which is within walking distance. This is the largest marina in New Zealand with a capacity of 1800 craft and home to various prestigious yacht clubs including the RNZYS (Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron). We were met by a marina launch, guided to our berth where we were helped with our lines and were then taken by golf buggy to the marina office to check in – what a service! Here we were having warranty repairs carried out to our new sails, and took advantage of the opportunity to have the diesel fuel tank emptied, the fuel filtered, and then the tank cleaned out by a very professional Auckland based company. A worthwhile exercise, as it means the tank, fuel and filters are now clean.
Another opportunity presented itself to catch up with sailing friends, this time Jean and Matt on Superted, who were berthed at Pier 21, adjacent to the city centre. We all went to the flicks one evening – ‘The Life of Pi’ was our first sortie into the 3D world of cinema at the huge Queen Street ‘Event Cinema’ complex, and we have the Woody Allen type specs to prove it! Having both read the book, we enjoyed the film, and 3D was worthwhile!
We also watched – in 3D but without the need of special specs – the Westhaven ‘Wednesday night racing’ with its start line just before the Bridge, a well-supported and colourful event with participants from the various local yacht clubs.
The America’s Cup takes place this year in San Francisco, and one of the contenders is Luna Rossa, the Italian entry. Their ‘summer’ base is Auckland, and watching the new AC 72 ft. wing sail catamaran flying along at 20 knots and more is quite a sight! They are designed to sit in the 40kns range with sudden bursts of speed up to 50kn!!! At the same time, a new fragrance for men is being promoted and called … ‘Luna Rossa’.
Having slipped lines at Westhaven, we sailed to Motuihe Island and Waihaorangatahi Bay (such a tongue twister, so also called Wharf Bay!) took the dinghy ashore and walked along well tended tracks to explore the island with its sandy beaches and limestone cliffs. It is now part of the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park having once been a quarantine station in the 19th century for vessels wanting to enter Auckland, a prisoner of war camp in WW1 and a naval training base. A conservation programme is gradually restoring parts of the island, eradicating predatory animals (hedgehogs, rats, mice) and planting native shrubs.
With fine weather and variable winds forecast, we decided to make the short 4 nm passage back to Islington Bay, this time to go ashore and climb to the summit of Rangitoto Island. Rangitoto is the youngest of the various cones and craters in the Auckland region and at 260 metres, the summit provides superb 360 degree views of the Hauraki Gulf and across to Auckland. It was well worth the 1.5 hour hike but we had not expected to be walking the scoria slopes in the arid landscape of black basalt rock that covers 95% of the island. The last time we experienced similar scenery was in the Galapagos!
Our friends Mo & Nigel from Farnham, were nearing the end of their holiday in NZ, and were joining us for their last 5 days before returning home. We had managed to secure a booking at Pier 21, and as we sailed in to Auckland, we passed dozens of boats heading out into the Gulf for the 3 day holiday; it was like sailing into the River Hamble on a Bank Holiday Saturday!
By coincidence one of Elaine’s school friends, Jane and her husband Viv, had flown in to Auckland that day for a holiday, and we were able to catch up with them for a meal at Tony’s Steak House before they rushed off the next day on their tour of NZ.
It was great to welcome Mo and Nigel on board the next day, and whilst it was busy out on the water, they also brought the weather gods with them and for 5 days we had sunshine and fair winds. On Sunday afternoon we slipped our lines and headed for our favourite haunt Islington Bay as it is just an hour or so from the marina area. Next day, Monday, saw us enjoying a lively beat to Woodlands Bay on the north coast of Waiheke and walk ashore followed by a daring swim – daring only because of the cool temperature. A fishing boat that we had seen earlier came to anchor close by, and in exchange for half a dozen beers 4 large snapper were provided. Next evening’s dinner was assured!
We then continued on our circumnavigation of Waiheke and were able to gill around an abundance of little Blue Penguins (Eudyptula minor), the smallest in the world at about 40cm tall, that we spotted swimming close to Pipistrelle. We then anchored in Mai Mai Bay on the south east of Rotoroa Island.
The island was run by the Salvation Army for nearly a century until 2005. Alcoholics and later drug addicts were sentenced there to dry out and it was out of bounds to the general public. It was subsequently bought by a trust and opened to the public in 2011. For a small fee we were able to walk around this beautiful and interesting island and visited the Exhibition Centre, church, workshops, the wharf and Men’s and Ladies’ Bays.
On returning to Pipistrelle we all managed another bracing swim and then a BBQ of the snapper we had been given – a tasty supper prepared by the men.
Time was running out for Mo and Nigel so to be within easy sailing distance of Auckland, we had planned to spend the night at Matiatia Bay on the east side of the island. On the way we had a lunch stop at Te Whau (Putiki Bay) before heading to Matiatia where there is constant ferry traffic to and from Auckland and thus some swell from the wash. We enjoyed a last dinner together at the Mudbrick Vineyard and Restaurant – mudbrick because of building materials used. The restaurant has superb views across the water towards Auckland, and fine dining with additional choice ingredients from the kitchen garden or ‘potager’. It came as a top tip from the owner’s brother who we had met quite by chance on the hill overlooking Squadron Bay, Coromandel and fell into conversation with him and his family.
From the anchorage we were able to see some of the Headland Sculpture in the Gulf exhibits – large and wacky sculptures by NZ artists dotted along the coastal path. This is a major biennial tourist attraction for six weeks in the summer.
And so, the circumnavigation complete, we were once again bound for Westhaven marina, where Mo and Nigel departed in a very swish corporate taxi, and we reverted to the mundane jobs of provisioning and laundry, not forgetting the odd bit of maintenance! After two nights we left to return to Waiheke, this time to anchor and tour the island in a rental car.
As background, Waiheke is a 93 sq.km. island just a 35 minute ferry journey away from Auckland. Its population of about 7,000 swells to around 30,000 during the holiday season with tourists, enjoying the microclimate, sandy beaches, cliffs, hills, dales and pastureland, cafes and bistros, boutique wineries and olive groves. Over the last thirty years the face of the island has changed from an alternative hippy scene to one where those preferring the bohemian arty life have millionaires with luxurious residences as neighbours.
We were immediately struck by the road signage that leaves much to be desired and appears to be endemic in NZ. No problem for the locals, but we were literally going round in circles at one stage and the map provided with the car was no help! Once we found our way out of the maze we left the heavily populated west of the island and were soon driving on unmetalled roads through rambling hills and farmland in the centre and east. Our first stop was Stony Batter, where the Kiwis spent a considerable sum constructing underground tunnels to help protect Auckland from a Japanese invasion in the last war. Unfortunately though, cost delayed construction and work was finally completed in 1944 but it was never manned by the army or used in anger. We were amused that the Kiwis could not understand why the British design and specifications for the size of tunnel or drainage system should be followed, so took short cuts. This in turn led to minor flooding, and having to mine greater width later on, when they found they could not manoeuvre guns into position! NZ is renowned for its DIY attitude!
The end of our brief visit was timed to try out the Man o’ War winery with its beachside location at the bay of the same name, where Captain James Cook landed some centuries before. After tasting the wines on offer, we enjoyed a rather good bottle of Viognier plus a snack lunch. Our return took us along the south coast, again through stunning scenery, but parched due to lack of recent rainfall. Most rural areas across NZ rely on rainfall to be collected from roofs for all their water. It has been so dry that the islanders were running out of their own supplies and there was a three week waiting time for delivery by ‘Aqua’ lorries, of which we saw a number.
We had refit work scheduled at Whangarei on the 11th February, so we made tracks via Rakino Island for Gulf Harbour, where we berthed on A pontoon. Having looked at Stephen and Katherine’s blog (the previous owners), it was interesting to note that once again Pipistrelle was in exactly the same place 11 years later! Here there was yet more socialising. Bob celebrated a milestone birthday which means he has joined the elite club whose members collect a monthly allowance from HM Government. To mark the occasion we dined at a restaurant aptly called ‘Carpe Diem’. We met up with Graeme and Lynne from Adamite who we first met in Fiji; Michael of Raconteur and Bruce from Alaria; and Patricia and David from Chameleon who provide a fantastic service running Gulf Harbour Radio, a weather forecasting service that we listened to in Tonga and Fiji.
Our next stop was Kawau, where we had arranged to meet up with Geoff and Pat from Duetto, who we first met in Tahiti, and then saw by chance in Islington Bay. Whangarei was a 50nm passage in light winds, and we met up again with Matt and Jean on Superted by chance, and shared an anchorage and sundowners together off Limestone Island, before they were hauled at Dockland 5 the next day, and we made our way to the marina at Town Basin.