Where are we

Friday 6 December 2019

A little about our time in New Zealand thus far

We've been in Whangarei Marina, Town Basin, Whangarei for over a month now and are really pleased with the marina and the area around. The Things to do in Whangarei site I found gives you some really nice photos of the water front.

The marina spans both sides of the Hatea River with the majority of the pontoons and jetties for boats on the north bank and the main marina facilities and the town on the south side of the river.  There is a footbridge that connects the two sides.  We have direct access to the shore, but for less cost a month you could moor up between piles in the river.  There are quite a few people who row ashore, but we have just a short walk to the green roofed building in the second photo which houses toilets, showers and laundry.

The area along the river is very picturesque and has a walking, running, cycling path that leads down each side of the river and is connected up stream by our footbridge and downstream by a lifting bridge.  It is called the Hatea Loop and is connected the Hatea River Bridges: Te Matau ā Pohe and Kotuitui Whitinga.

You can also walk along river paths further up stream to the Whangarei Falls, a 26 metre high curtain waterfall.  The walk is around 3 hours each way through forest and farm land.  We've only walked half way there so far but we have been busy.

The weather is warming up and we have longer periods when it is fine.  Its still very cool at night but you can really feel the strength of the sun on a clear day.  They have the same sun protection ethos as Australia and I have stocked up on  a couple nice new batches of factor 50 lotion.

One of the exciting things coming to Whangarei that we will miss is the currently under construction, the Hundertwasser Art Centre & Wairau Maori Art Gallery.  I keep willing them to build faster but I don't think it will be done by May.

There is a lot we haven't seen yet like the Kiwi Centre where they have areas where day and night are reversed so day time visitors can see the nocturnal Kiwi going about their nightly routine.

What we have been going is getting things done on Larus.  Tim has done some amazing work installing our new solar panels.

Willis Sails, based in Kerikeri, Northland did a really good job on our new main and mizzen sails and the sail covers. Both the main and mizzen are 'loosed footed' which means it is only connected at each end of the boom rather than having to feed the foot of the sail into a groove in the boom, which was always tricksy and often troublesome.  It also makes for a better sail shapes, so we expect to be able to go faster under all points of sail (wind directions).  Our old sails were 18 years old, stretched and sun damaged, and we are sure to be pleasantly surprised.


The new sails start to go up; Tim and the sailmaker attaching the sail to the slides on the mast; A few days later we tried the sails out and despite the light winds Tim was more than pleased with them.  The sail area of both sails is a little greater than the old sails and we expect our boat speed to be much in proved.

Tim also replaced the reefing lines, which are the lines used to reduce the area of the sail when you reef down. The sail is connected at two points - one by the mast and the other by reefing lines that run through the boom and attached to the outer edge of the sail. Because we have three reefs, we have three reefing lines to change the size of the sail.

We've never had a truly satisfactory way to keep the lines all the lines at the base of the mast until Tim bought two line bags that attach to the mast. Each bag has 3 sets of clips that are clipped around one coiled each. The lines are then tucked into the bag and the bags are zipped up.  The system is tidy and will reduce sun damage on the line.  The main halyard, the line that pulls the sail tight along the boom and one reefing line live in the port bag. The jib halyard and the remaining two reefing lines live in the starboard bag. You can see the reefing lines coming out of the end of the boom (white ,green and orange lines) where they are each fed through a ring sewn into the sail at each reefing point. The line is then tied securely on the boom.  So when you pull/tighten a reefing line at the mast, it draws the sail down to the boom. Our type of reefing is called 'Slab Reefing' as the sail folds down on to the boom in 'slabs' as you reduce or drop the sail.

Once we're finished sailing and are anchored, on a mooring or in a marina, we zip the beautiful new 'linen' coloured sail bag over the sail to protect it from sun damage.  The old sail navy blue covers were as old as the sails we replaced, 18 years. The zips and Velcro had either failed or were on the verge of failing, which made securing and protecting the sail a frustrating process.  Not only are the covers easier to use but they are easier on the eye as that match the sprayhood and the zip in piece between that closes the gap between with the bimini.


Another big job for Tim was to install our new solar panels.  We now have three on the top of the bimini and one on each side.  All the panels are high quality of German make and Tim installed them each with their own controller.  Individual controllers mean that any shadow on one or more panels does not affect the out put of the others.  They are fantastic and Tim can sing their praises in a post of his own.

And last but by no means the least, is on the first things we replace when we were still in the marina in Opua, is our anchor.

We had to replace our Spade anchor as its was badly rust damaged.

We would have like to replace it with the same type but they are made in England and buying one in NZ was REALLY expensive.

Instead we bought an very popular Rocna, which is REALLY expensive in England but VERY good value here in New Zealand where they are made.

It doesn't sit on the bow roller as well as the Spade and it needs a nudge into position to self launch, but it sets and holds really well.

This will be the last post for sailing for a few weeks as I am on the road with a friend from Canada.  Susan and I are travelling down through the North Island and into the South Island where Tim will join us for a few days.  My next post will be 100% New Zealand.

And hobbits.  Woohoo!

Tuesday 26 November 2019

Looking back at Tonga from Whangarei, New Zealand.

Hello!  We are still in Basin Marina in Whangarei. Much of our time has been taken up with Larus and her new sails and solar panels.  We are going out tomorrow morning for a couple of days and will be better able to report on how well the sails and solar panels work out of the marina.  There isn’t any wind forecast so there won’t be much sailing but we can admire the sails at anchor and gloat over the our super charged charging system.

I’m the meanwhile I hope you enjoy looking back at our time in Tonga.

South of the Samoan Islands lies the Kingdom of Tonga, and the most northerly island for a visit by cruising yachts is Niuatoputapu. We were much taken by its remoteness and the friendliness of its people.


The island is often described as a sombrero thanks to its silhouette.  The crown of the hat is surrounded by brim of low coastal land and reef.   'The (Nuia) islands,' says Wikipedia, 'are the peaks of undersea volcanoes, towering from the sea,...' To which I reply, 'Ya think?'  The  neighbouring conical island of Tafahi, population 20, left us in no doubt.

The population of Niuatoptapu has been decreasing since the devastating tsunami of 2009.  Most sources I've found say it is currently 2000. Originating from an earthquake near the Samoan Islands, there was no warning before the first of three tsunami hit.  We spent a lot of time with a local police officer come tour guide, Lefai, who told us of his story. It was emotional for him and us, as his father was one of those who died. Most of the population in 2009 lived near the coast.  Nine people died and scores were injured.  Animals that were tethered or penned died; those that were free to roam instinctively ran to higher ground. The concrete foundations of the homes pre-2009, are now abandoned and over grown.  People were rehoused on higher ground, but many of the 'new' buildings are small, two or three room, plywood and timber constructions.  

These northern Tongan islands from the Nuia islands and the  Ha'apai group of islands have some of  poorest people we have visited.  Medical supplies are limited and they are lacking in many basics like painkillers, gout medication and anti-biotics.  Cowboy films for the adults and cartoons for the children are always welcome and we were asked for music as well.

Remote as the islands are, the people are still at risk from diseases being brought in to the country. New Zealand assists these islands in many ways and is sending vaccines and medical staff to Samoa and Tonga. We learned of it via the World Health Organisation - Measles outbreaks in the Pacific

There still are homes along the coast and there is now a warning system in place, which would save lives but the homes themselves would be lost. You can understand why people would choose to live by the sea as it is provides transportation, food and the means to process an important contributor to the economy.

I suspect that now we are in New Zealand our internet searches are less about where we have been and more about this area of the Pacific.  I have just found the most wonderful website that explains a good deal about Tonga.  The Eua Island Website is as charming as it is informative about all things Tongan. I like it allot (sic).  

Particular areas in the site that do a much better job of explaining than I could are:

One if the first activities we noticed in Niuatoputapu was women washing great bundles something at dawn in the sea. I saw the same thing each morning a little later in day the day. Eventually, I twigged that it was the state of tide, low water, that decided the time these ladies (and the odd gentleman) went down to the sea.


Then I saw these long fibres on the beach. A couple of days later I got close enough to see exactly what they were doing.  This was the day the ferry arrived, which might be why there are men washing the fibres as well.  In the second photo you can see the lady in the blue dress is carrying olive green fibres.  The plants along the side of the road in the last photo are of pandanus plants, which are soaked and dried and soaked and dried until...

… as Amanda, my beautiful and talented assistant, is showing you, they are clean, bright and ready to be woven into large mats use in homes or small mats to be wrapped around the waist and tied with a plaited rope as part of their traditional dress.  The middle photos shows how each strand is torn, leaving one end still intact, into strips narrow enough to make a fine woven mat.

I do not know why the ones drying on the line are smooth, and the ones Amanda is displaying are curly.  We will just have to go back and ask.

On out first day out with Lefai, our police officer and guide, he drove us around the island with the couple on Zoomax who had met him in town and arranged the tour.

Slight digression here.  Negotiating the cost of something like this is difficult and often outside our budget.  You want to be fair, but not taken advantage of, but determining the value of something is difficult when you have no idea what things cost where you are.  After our first day out Lefai asked for things like medicines and cereal for the children, which he got.  On our last day, after Tim got a ride into town to clear out with the Chief of Police and then a ride back to the anchorage with Lefai During Lefai had told Tim, that though the cereal was great, they had no milk to eat it with and asked to come aboard (which was fine) and for money.  Giving money makes us uncomfortable, though he was one person I'm sure would have used any money for the intended purpose. Instead, while he sat in the cockpit drinking coffee and eating banana walnut muffins, I gathered up milk powder, tinned vegetables, teabags, citronella candles, non-deet mosquito repellant for the children and anything else I thought would be useful. The value probably more than any amount of cash we would have been comfortable to give him. We had paid cash for our island tour, but were we fair?  We hoped so.

Whatever my waffling infers, we have never felt taken advantage of in any way. They really do not have much by our standards and even, we later saw, by Tongan standards once we had been to the larger islands of Vava'u and Tongatapu. He took very good care of us, we enjoyed his company, he showed us and involved us in things we would not have experienced otherwise. That sounds priceless, doesn't it? Anyway, back to the island tour.

The tour started from the ferry dock where we tie up our dinghy when going ashore.  The ferry arriving is a big deal in the islands.  It is the main way to get people and supplies on and off the island.  There was much excitement that morning on the dock, as, though there were no injuries, a car coming off the ferry was somehow dropped off the ramp and into the water.  The crane on the ferry was used to haul it out onto dry land after all rest of the cars and cargo had been unloaded.


The west coast of the island with Anna, Lefai, Tim and Paolo.

Next stop was the fresh water spring.  It was clear and cold with steps down into the water. The next plan was to walk to the top of the peak in the middle of the island. We saw many churches as we drove there and this was the Catholic Church.


The land around the peak are extremely fertile and the area we are walking through is planted with taro.  In the second picture you can see the peak in the distance and in the foreground, the plants that looks a little like a tomato plants are little mulberry trees. It is mulberry they use for making tapi cloth.  Other crops are mango, banana and breadfruit.

At this point our tour was interrupted by a phone call from the Chief of Police.  Lefai was needed to attend an accident, which turned out to be the car being driven into the sea.

We carried on our tour the next day without Tim.  He had gone over on his ankle walking in Apia, Samoa and must has damaged some ligaments. It took over 3 weeks for him to be back to normal.

It was too bad that Tim missed out as we walked to the top of the 'sombrero' in the middle of the island.

It was a spectacular view.  The climb up was challenging, and the climb down even more so.

I managed to walk up the slope but coming back down was quite different.  There were lots of tree roots and the like to hang on to but one needed to come back down backwards to make use of them.  Everyone else came down sideways but I was not convinced my dicky knee would enjoy that very much and scrambled down in a most undignified way.

Lefai invited us to church and then a meal with his family on the next Sunday.  Three days after our tour we went ashore to wait for Lefai to collect us and take us to church.

Before our arrival in Tonga we had read that Sunday is a day of rest and families stay indoors.


Not a person was seen and the road and waterfront were take over by horses and pigs.  We had never seen so many horses at one time, and wondered what was so interesting to the pigs in the tide pools - sea slugs or snails we found out later.


We were welcomed to the Church of Tonga by their tiny congregation or 10 adults and about the same number of children.  The church is a very small part of the school complex.   As the service was in Tongan, much of our time was spent watching the children and they were worth watching, particularly one little fellow who had to have his traditional woven mat retied regularly.

After the service we walked the short distance to Lefai's house.

We met his mother and all his children and were served roast piglet, fish and pork with coconut cream wrapped in taro leaves and then tinfoil and baked.  Both Anna and I brought cake for dessert.  We ate her cake after the meal and I left my triple chocolate layer for them to enjoy when we had gone.  We heard later fromLefai that they loved it.  It was so sweet!  Only Lefai ate with us as is their custom as is their custom, the rest of the family ate once we had left the table.

It was an eye opening experience and we felt privileged to be welcomed into their home. It was a lovely way to end our time in Niuatoputapu and when the winds became favourable, we headed south to our next spot in Tonga, the Archipelago of Vava'u.

Sunday 27 October 2019

On the way to Whangarei

We left Opua for an extremely short sail to anchor off Paihia.  We have walked twice from Opua to Paihia on the coastal path so that gives you and idea how far it is, about 8 km. On the last walk, I set my scratched and battered camera down during a rest/water stop and neglected to pick it back up. By the time I noticed I didn’t have it, we were in Paihia and far too pooped to go back and look for it. It is a tough walk for us, but it has been reported lost and I hope that it comes back to me.

(I do have lots of photos to share but they will have to wait till we’re back in a marina.)

We shopped, walked along the bay and got Tim a hair cut. The wind has been cutting enough on the aft deck that neither of us fancied getting the clippers out.

I’m on a permanent search for rhubarb, so I try to shop often in the hope that someone somewhere will have some.  On our first visit to a good sized food shop, I bought two bunches and made rhubarb crumble to my Mom’s recipe, which is far too good not to share. I particularly like this recipe because the main ingredients are in the oral tradition, easily doubled, tripled or quadrupled should you be so lucky to have that much rhubarb and the result is poetry to my palette. You can find it at the end of the blog.

Sadly, there was no rhubarb to be had. The shop where I previously bought it, said they never order it so it had been sent by accident. I asked our driver, Morgan of Raven Taxis, where I could get rhubarb and she told me that in NZ rhubarb is a winter vegetable and I might well be out of luck, but I will not give up the hunt.

As we drove back to Opua, Morgan told us a little of her heritage.  She is a blond, fair skin and narrow featured Maori.  She told us her ancestors pre-date the arrival of the Polynesian Maori and are thought to have been Viking. (Viking! My head is spinning at the thought of that journey.)  Her tribe name is Toe, might be spelled Toa.  They were named after a blond coloured beach grass, Toetoe. There are many tribes or ‘Iwi’ in New Zealand.  List of New Zealand TribesToetoe information sheet.

Yesterday morning we left Paihia and the Bay of Islands along with a huge number of other boats.  Monday, today here in NZ, is a public holiday and the weather has been wet and wild for the last week, so everyone is taking advantage of light winds and flat seas.  We motored out of the bay to the east and are heading south in short half day hops.

Last night we anchored in Whangaruru, which is ‘Sheltered Harbour’ in Maori. It really is a large sheltered harbour and the beaches along the coast are lined with small hotels and B&B and nothing else. The guests fish, canoe and enjoy the unspoiled beauty of the area. Not far from here is an old whaling station in a bay called Whangamumu, a more grisly name than Whangaruru as mumu is Maori for the colour red.

Today we are having a lovely sail with the wind on our beam to Tutukaka. I do love the Maori names, but I couldn’t find a translation for this one.  There is a small marina, sport shops and a residential area in the hills surrounding the bay.  We’re looking forward to the walk from the village to Tutukaka Head to see the old light house.

The wind in due to come up from the south for a few days, so we will hangout here until that changes. Our next stop we be Whangarei.

As promised, Mom’s Rhubarb Crumble

For every 3 cups of rhubarb, use one cup of sugar.
For every cup of sugar, use one egg.
For every egg, use one tablespoon of flour.
For every tablespoon of flour, use one third of a nutmeg.

Put washed, trimmed and cut into 1cm pieces rhubarb into a baking dish, Whisk egg, flour and nutmeg till light and frothy.  Pour over rhubarb and lightly coat rhubarb.  Bake in a moderate oven until a bubbly crust just begins to form.  Sprinkle the oat topping over the par-baked rhubarb and then bake until bubbles are seen in the middle of the crumble. I make a small hole in the middle of the crumble to make spotting the bubbles easier.

The Crispy Oat Topping hasn’t a recipe as such. I toss together at least a cup of oats, a couple tablespoons of flour, 1/4 cup brown sugar and enough melted butter and oil to lightly coat the oats.  Not enough oil and the topping won’t brown. FYI a ‘cup’ is 8 fluid ounces.

The egg, flour and sugar bakes into a custard, the crumble is crisp and oaty and it’s made with rhubarb. What more could one want. For me there is no dessert like it. It’s good warm with vanilla ice cream and equally delicious cold straight from the fridge.

Wednesday 16 October 2019

Getting to New Zealand

We left Tonga for a 200 mile sail to Minerva Reef in the company of Bruno's Girl, upping anchor within minutes of each other.

We had a late morning start, so that we'd arrive at around noon after two nights at sea.

After a mixed passage of sailing and motor-sailing we arrived at Minerva Reef on the 1st of October.

We had expected to find other yachts there but we had the place to ourselves.  It is an easy entrance, wide and clear of any obstructions.  The reef is huge and it took us over a half hour to motor from the entrance to the South East corner.  We were expecting reasonably strong winds from the SE and anchoring close to the reef kept the seas flat.

We also expected the reef to be more of a feature.  On the chart it is perfectly round and quite clear of obstructions.  There are coral heads but they are widely spaced and we had no trouble anchoring.  As we were the only boats there, we did have a lot of choice.

Reef at low water (with Claudia) and reef at high water.  The water was a remarkable deep clear blue.  We had expected to stay a couple of nights at least but with a forecast of ever decreasing winds, we decided to press on after only one night and start the 800 mile passage to Opua, New Zealand.


We had a lively start, but that didn't stop Bruno's Girl and ourselves from doing a bit of photography. It isn't often that you can get good photos of you and your boat under sail so we made the most of it.  You can see that we are both well reefed down - Larus with just jib and reefed mizzen and Bruno's Girl with a reefed jib and 3 reefs in the main.  The swell from the South was quite large but we were catching it on a good angle through the trough and across the peak.  The last photo is of Larus taken when Bruno's Girl was at the bottom of a trough with a wave in the way. Taking photos of a moving boat from a moving boat is not easy!  It is Tim's favourite though and I had to include it.

By the next morning the winds had dropped and then popped up from the SE. Later they swung around to the SW, so first we tacked East and then we tacked West.  After sailing 80 miles in 10 hours we were only 25 miles as the crow flies south from where we first started.  What was interesting was that Bruno's Girl had chosen to motor due south and they had covered about the some distance so were still only a few miles apart.


Our first full day on passage.  That might have been an albatross we saw, or possibly not.  We definitely saw squalls all around us but we never felt a drop of rain.  The sea view through the window in the roof of our sprayhood taken by me from my perch on the windward side of the cockpit.  We were trying very hard to keep some south in our direction in a SW wind.  Sea spray and Tim sitting comfortably on the leeward side of the cockpit.  A pretty sunset to end the day.


The second full day where we had little wind or no wind at all.  Day three started with a sunrise with squalls that never came near us but generate a little wind which did give us 10 knots of wind on the beam.  In the flat seas, we easily managed 6 knots of above.

Tim calculated we used motored for just over half the time, but we were quite contented with our easy journey to New Zealand.


Our first view of Bay of Islands, New Zealand.  On the Quarantine Dock at Bay of Islands Marina, Opua.  The dock is not attached to shore, but after being visited by Customs and Immigration and Bio Security, were able to go to tied up to our berth in the Marina.

We spend the first few days putting the boat back in order, washing off the salt, doing laundry and making use of the free wifi in the Crew Lounge.

There is a local shop but the it is very expensive so when we finally got a warm and sunny spring day we took the coastal route to Paihia, the next town which had an actual supermarket.  The 8km needs to be walked during low tide because parts are under water at high tide.  It was a long lovely walk.


The walk from start to finish.


Last but not least is a plug for the local Fish and Chip shop.  The fish and chips are really good.  I like Bluenose best though Tim prefers the Snapper.  What is really special about this shop are the pies, particularly, in my opinion, the Pork Belly and Apple Sauce with strips of caramelised crackling on the top that stick to your teeth like toffee.  This is Heather, the owner of the shop and maker of the most beautiful pies.

Today we will be leaving Phillip, Claudia and Bruno's Girl in the marina while we head out to do a little exploring of Bay of Islands.  This will probably be the last time we will see them before they head back to the UK for an extended stay.  Wah! We've spent a lot of time together since we first met in Curacao at the start of the Suzy Too Rally. Wah! We will miss them.

Nancy and Tim