Second Time Around






On our return from the Rail Trail, we had a few days for a brief exploration of Dunedin itself and of the Otago Peninsula, which forms the southern side of Otago Harbour. Considering how close it is to Dunedin, the Peninsula is quite a wild place and full of wild-life. At Sandfly Bay the wide, white-sand beach was littered with dozing sealions, a few of which were animated enough to wave a nonchalant flipper at us as we passed.






At the Tairoa Head end of the Peninsula is a limited access reserve which includes a major breeding area for Royal Albatross. It was just possible to get glimpses of albatross chicks from the viewing area. Fortunately we had already had far closer views of splendidly soaring adults off Southwest Cape.














The Peninsula turned out to be a great spot for bird viewing. With at least two different species of penguin and – much to our surprise – spoonbills feeding on the mudflats of Otago Harbour.





Our one-day passage up the coast to Akaroa Harbour was also pleasantly blessed with creatures. We were delighted to be greeted at the entrance to the Harbour by a pod of the small, but elegant and perfectly formed Hector’s Dolphins.





Akaroa is an anomaly in New Zealand in that it was a French enclave in an otherwise British colony. Though its Frenchness was short-lived, the town retains some French flavour and at least a few words of the language, at least in the street signs, on which there is many a ‘rue de’, and even on the signs of some of the businesses.


Akaroa is a very convenient stop on the east coast of the South Island. The club there is welcoming and leaving a yacht on a mooring there is far safer and more secure than doing so at Lyttleton, the port for Christchurch. Though the latter is some distance away, hiring a car in Akaroa for the drive does also give an opportunity to tour the scenery of the Banks Peninsula and perhaps to do some hiking – as we did.






Another very good reason for our stop in Akaroa was to catch up with our friends Kit and Rob Grigg who we had last seen in 2000 during our first circumnavigation of the country. They have now sold the farm on the other side of the Peninsula at Hickory Bay and built a very beautiful house in Akaroa itself. Rob continues her work as a judge in the environment court and Kit continues to sail the elegant Stewart sloop, ‘Leda’.





We had hoped to make a long hop from Akaroa right up and around East Cape, then across the Bay of Plenty. In the event, having passed Cape Kidnappers, we heard an extremely unpleasant forecast for very strong northerlies and so made a smart turn to port and into Napier for a quiet day and half while the weather blew past. We then had a pleasant sail past East Cape until we reached the western Bay of Plenty, where the weather closed in and we made landfall at Slipper Island in driving rain and 100m visibility.








Once the weather cleared we began a gentle cruise of the offshore islands, visiting the sheep on the beach at Great Mercury and the fantastic rock formations of the little cove at Rakitu, or Arid Island, off the northeast corner of Great Barrier Island.








The pleasant weather settled in and we moved around to Port Fitzroy and Smokehouse Bay. As its name indicates there is a smokehouse in the bay, which is used to provide hot baths for visiting yachties, in this case including ‘Sunstone’s’ crew.


The noisy Tuis at Whangaparapara attaracted the notice of Vicky’s camera. Tuis are distinctive New Zealand birds, more for their lilting song than for their appearance.


Moving on to Hook Bay on Waiheke we had a chance meeting with Ross and Maxine Bannan and all the children aboard ‘Kiwi’. As you can see the wide open cockpit, stern and side-decks of ‘Kiwi’ are ideal for the kids to have a great time.









Before heading back to Auckland to complete our tour of the country we stopped briefly at Coromandel Harbour to visit cruising friends Tony and Dawn and then at Onetangi Bay for a few quick (losing) rounds of wine bottle checkers with Steve Alloway.





One of our favourite aspects of settling back into Westhaven is the opportunity to go racing any Thursday afternoon with the Stewart 34s for Ponsonby Cruising Club’s (PCC) Rum Racing. The racing is almost always very close as well as being seriously social.


The Stewarts celebrate their 50th anniversary as a class this year. Interest in the class has stayed so strong over the years partly through the devotion and efforts of men like Bill Miller (left in the photo), but also because the design was so far ahead of its time, being light and quick enough for highly competitive, match and harbour racing and strong enough for shorter offshore races like the Coastal Classic.



One reason we had hurried a little in the last stages of our trip was to get back to Auckland for the annual race to Tauranga.

As it turned out we might have taken things more slowly. Though the race started in delightful conditions under the shadow of the Skytower, a 40 knot squall soon blew through causing wide-spread carnage – even with us, when we unwisely chose the moment of maximum wind to gybe and broke two blocks in the mainsheet system. Having jury-rigged a substitute, we continued, but were then bogged down in light airs all the way down the east side of the Coromandel Peninsula. Definitely a ‘rating credibility’ race.






However, we did have a pleasant time on the way back, with an anchorage at Rabbit Island, a brief stop at Whitianga and a quiet night in the Cove at Great Mercury, where we saw and admired a potential ‘retirement cottage’ – though we are not ready for it yet!







We had thought about doing the last of the Gold Cup races, the night race to Coromandel and back, but were glad to race with Ross Bannan instead, especially in the very light airs.


We also returned to our regular patronage of the Cavalier pub in order to watch the rugby. The pleasant late summer and autumn weather gave us the chance to pull our bikes out of storage to take regular rides out along the Tamaki Drive bike route.






We slowly began the transition from temperate cruising boat and racer to tropical cruiser.


Beating us to it were our friends, the Bradfield family, aboard ‘Carneza’. Charles had raced the boat in the Round North Island Race, when we first became friends. It was his dream to take the entire family, including all six children, on an offshore cruise. After much careful preparation they set sail for a two-month cruise in Tonga, on 1 May. Unfortunately Josh, the eldest, had exams which meant he could only join for the passage back.







For some time we had planned to re-visit Tonga and Fiji, particularly the latter, as we felt we had seen fairly little of the country back in 1999. However, the antics of the military-backed government put us off somewhat and the more we looked at the plan the more we felt that Tonga had less to offer than we first thought. Our ideas turned to Vanuatu, which we had loved in 2001 and to the northern reefs of New Caledonia, which we had missed altogether. This firmed up into a plan and we began scurrying about to re-gather the charts and guides we would need.


It was also time to get on some good coats of varnish to prepare for the tropical sun, to bring the bookshelves back aboard and stock up with reading materials for three months. We knew we would need lots of gifts and ‘traders’ for Vanuatu and Vicky worked hard at lowering ‘Sunstone’s’ waterline by the weight of tins and other stores. We bought a new solar panel to help with charging in anchorages and mended our long-unused bimini. We were ready to go for our winter cruise to the Islands!