Opua and Bay of Islands

It’s been a while since the last post. A lot has happened, and then again, not a lot. Although we have been busy, it seems. We’ve been in Whangarei since Dec. 7. Today is Christmas Day, Dec. 25. We’ll catch you up in a couple of posts, starting with leaving North Minerva Reef.

Thursday, Nov. 17, North Minerva Reef

A New Zealand Air Force Orion buzzed the reef. It circled many times as a young female officer called to all boats on VHF radio to check in. They took an inventory of each yacht anchored in North Minerva Reef that day. We are a large fleet of about two dozen yachts, late in the season, all waiting for a weather window to make the passage to New Zealand. The Minerva Reefs (North and South) are claimed by both Tonga and Fiji, and New Zealand keeps a watchful eye. It’s a bit unnerving to be “inventoried” by any military, but also comforting that – in this case – their concern is most likely search and rescue.

Sunday, Nov. 20, on passage to Opua

We left North Minerva the morning of Friday, Nov. 18 in brisk conditions, wind from the south with lots of white caps and chop inside the lagoon. Very uncomfortable, though not dangerous. Pulling up the anchor required using engine power to advance on the anchor rode while Randy on the foredeck brought it aboard, but as there were no boats at anchor nearby, we had plenty of maneuvering room.

Passage menu

A menu for the passage always helps, especially during the first few days. Note lunch the next day usually repeats dinner leftovers – getting two meals out of one pot.

We might have delayed to Saturday, when conditions were forecast to ease. But a 3-4 meter swell was also rolling up from the Tasman Sea and due to arrive at North Minerva Reef on Saturday. We felt very nervous about being at anchor in a 3 meter swell with a coral reef behind us. Better to face the swell in the deep ocean.

Friday was very windy with SSE wind waves over SW swell, conditions continuing on Saturday. In these conditions life on board takes more effort than usual. The very large SW swell persists today and isn’t expected to diminish until sometime tomorrow. Strong winds from a southerly direction meant we had to sail more west – and even a bit north of west – for the first day and a half. Wind and the long, high swell with a crossing wind swell has meant very uncomfortable, rough conditions. The wind has been slowly backing, as predicted, and as it does we are able gradually to sail more southwest, increasing our angle to more of a reach, which will eventually put us on our course for the passage. And, hopefully, make life on board a bit less tiring.

We’ve been making an average of 6 knots (about 7 mph), which is a full knot faster than our most optimistic speed estimate when planning this passage, and 1.5 knots faster than our “realistic” estimate. At 10:30 today we are already past today’s noon way point, or about two hours ahead of schedule. As Rand keeps saying, this passage is, in essence, a “delivery” passage and this is our mind set: Keeping boat speed up is the priority.

Thank goodness for the pressure cooker. It means that I can prepare a one-pot meal that will do for dinner and tomorrows lunch as well.

Monday, Nov. 21, on passage to Opua

Conditions remain the same and look to remain the same at least until Friday. Bouncing off waves and frequent waves splashing over the deck. Wind 16-18 knots and gusting higher, cross swells at 1m and 1.5m. We’re making an average of 6kt over the bottom under deep reefed main and yankee (the small working fore-sail). It looks to be a faster-than-anticipated passage. We hope to get in sometime on Saturday. Another low bringing high winds is forecast to move over North Cape of New Zealand on Saturday night and we’d like to be secured to a dock in a sheltered bay by then. Working in the galley is a true chore, but at least I have the pressure cooker.

Wednesday, Nov. 23, on passage to Opua

After five days of boisterous and very fast sailing, today we have deliberately slowed the boat down to avoid closing on North Cape and encountering a low pressure trough that is forecast to pass over it this Friday, ahead of the larger low forecast for late Saturday. We’ve made better time than we expected and timing our arrival for the “window” between low troughs is key. Winds under the low are expected to blow between mid 20s to over 30 knots and we would prefer to encounter those conditions well away from a coastline, especially a coastline with which we are unfamiliar.

Over the past five days since leaving North Minerva Reef, Velic has has been making 6+ knots under deeply reefed main and yankee. This speed is nearly constant except when we get slammed by an opposing wave, which causes Velic to stagger briefly before regaining momentum and resuming her hissing race through the sea. Crossing swells have added to the discomfort on board, and spray and boarding waves mean all ports and the forward hatch are closed as well as putting the plugs in the forward dorades (water resistant vents), which hold out the spray but are vulnerable to green water getting below. At least the boat interior remains dry, and we’ve had no gear issues. We are confident of the boat’s ability to handle the conditions.

Nautical miles made good at these speeds: 144 nm noon-to-noon both Mon and Tue, and 127 nm Tue-Wed. We are now aiming to arrive at the Q (quarantine) dock in Opua on Saturday by mid-day. Other boats that left Minerva on Friday and Saturday will start arriving in Opua tomorrow, depending on their size, type and course followed. Larger and faster boats sooner, smaller and slower boats later.

We are looking forward to showers, which might even have the novelty of being hot for a change.

Approaching Cape Wiwiki, the north cape of the two that guard the entrance to the Bay of Islands. The south one is Cape Brett.

Approaching Cape Wiwiki, the north cape of the two that guard the entrance to the Bay of Islands. The south one is Cape Brett.

Friday, Dec. 2, Opua, New Zealand

To catch up a bit: We arrived in Opua last Saturday in the morning. The Q dock is obvious and, aside from a brisk cross wind blowing off the dock, spacious and easy to get to. It is just below the Opua Yacht Club, so anyone and everyone standing on the veranda or looking out the large windows may observe yachts coming in after the long ocean passage as they tie up to the dock. Tying up was a bit of a challenge: There are no cleats for mooring lines, rather, there are metal “eyes” in place that require a round turn or two through the closed loop, under load, to secure the boat that is already drifting in the tide. Not easy to do quickly. And easing the line under load is difficult to do safely. We prefer horned cleats as it is easy to quickly wrap a line under one horn, across & under the other so that it can be eased while under complete control as the yacht is positioned. The “eyes” do not allow for this, and are cumbersome to tie to, as well.

But this is a small complaint about an otherwise very well constructed marina.

Customs and bio-security officers were friendly, fast and efficient. The Bay of Islands Marina staff were just as efficient and friendly, and obviously accustomed to visiting cruisers from around the world. The marina is clean, well-run, and pleasant as a place to stay, with very good showers, a large laundry facility, and clean, well-maintained modern restrooms. A fuel dock is nearby and includes a pump-out station. In some significant ways, being in a modern and developed country is wonderful. New Zealanders strike us as easy-going and friendly. The country itself, what we’ve seen of it so far, is beautiful: Very hilly and mountainous with dark, dense forests surrounding velvety green fields.

A newly arrived boat on the Q (quarantine) Dock waiting to clear in. Taken from the deck of the cruising club: Arrivals and departures provide the entertainment on deck.

A newly arrived boat on the Q (quarantine) Dock waiting to clear in. Taken from the deck of the cruising club: Arrivals and departures provide the entertainment on deck.

Last weekend was full of social activities as by then the last of the cruisers coming south for the summer season were arriving. Dinners, barbecues and impromptu get-togethers filled our weekend. Ruth didn’t get to laundry until Monday. Gallatee is on the same dock as Velic, and it’s been nice to spend some time with Shu-in and Laurent.

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The Q dock is in the distance. Beyond are yachts on mooring buoys. The Q dock is quite long, with plenty of room for several yachts to tie up at one time while waiting for clearance. Customs and Bio-security are nearby and watch for approaching yachts, so there is no waiting as they come right away from their shore-side offices in RIBs. The nearer dock is for fueling.

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Cruisers’ BBQ and potluck. That evening a big dinner was held at the Opua Yacht Club for three New Zealand boats returning after completing circumnavigations. We didn’t get any photos of the dinner, but it was good!

On Thursday we shared a car with a Swedish couple – Sven and Lise, on Randivig – to scout out other marinas in Northland of New Zealand. We wanted to decide whether to stay here in Opua or move to one of the many other marinas/boat yards in Northland. Opua is lovely and there are many boat services available here, but it is a bit removed from anywhere, almost rural, and you must rent a car or use infrequent bus service or catch a ride with someone if you need to get anywhere else. After talking with four different marinas, we have decided to put the boat in the city marina of Whangarei, which is within spitting distance of the boat yard and lift at Whangarei’s Riverside Drive Marina, where we will have it hauled for new bottom paint and perhaps a few of the other projects we have on the list.

Randivig's crew, Sven and Lise, with Ruth on CityBasin boardwalk

Sandals and Christmas Trees: Randivig’s crew, Sven and Lise, with Ruth on Town Basin boardwalk in Whangarei.

The current plan is to leave Bay of Islands Marina the day after tomorrow, Sunday. We want to spend two or three days cruising down the coast to Whangarei, where we expect to arrive no sooner than Wednesday and possibly not until Thursday.

Today is another sunny, cool and lovely day in this beautiful country. The Opua General Store – really more of a convenience market – advertises home made pizza available Thur. through Sun. Think we’ll indulge in a “Friday night” pizza and movie this evening.

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Sunday, Dec. 4, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

We left the Bay of Islands Marina this morning for a few days of exploring these cruising grounds as we make a leisurely passage south to Whangarei.

We enjoyed what is possibly our last meal with a fellow cruising couple, Shu-in and Laurent on Galatee, at the Opua Yacht Club last evening. Good food, and good conversation. Like a number of cruisers we know, they will leave their boat on a mooring here in Opua while they return home. On Friday afternoon they invited us to tea and crepes and to look at their pictures of cruising France, Spain, Senegal and the Atlantic islands. Very inspiring.

Today is sunny and cool with a few puffy clouds dotted around the sky. There was a light breeze this morning blowing against us as we backed out of our marina slip. The current was still running upstream, flowing past our bow, but was almost nil, as we were near high slack tide. The breeze has built a bit this afternoon and we can see whitecaps outside the bay. We are at anchor in a small bay on Motuarohia Island, or Roberston Island as the early settlers named it. This spot is close to Opua and the mainland, and convenient to local boaters who are drawn by both the ease of access and the lovely scenery. There are more than 25 other boats, large and small, power and sail, here in this small bay this afternoon, and a gathering of dinghies and people on the sandy beach.

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Checking us out from the dinghy perch. These white gulls have bright red beaks, legs and feet, and are the most common we see.

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Back on the boat, Randy decides to try fishing. This gull spotted Randy rigging his pole and decided to drop in for a visit, standing for several minutes perched on a solar panel before deciding nothing was on offer and taking flight.

Dotterel

New Zealand Dotterel. In breeding season they develop an orange breast and are quite assertive about guarding their territory, hunching their shoulders and dashing at any perceived threat.

tui

This is a Tui. About the size of crow, they have a distinctive tuft of white on their necks, like a cravat. Their call sounds something like R2D2. We hear them everywhere in the bush, and sometimes see them, although not this one: This photo, and the next one, are taken from the web.

new-zealand-fantail

The aptly-named New Zealand Fantail. Another common small bird, delightful to see.

Monday, Dec. 5, Bay of Islands

We’ve decided to stay a second night anchored here in this beautiful bay at Motuarohia.

It’s certainly popular; boats come and go, carrying tourists, locals out for a long weekend, and long-distance cruisers who’ve discovered how lovely it is. I guess the last group could be considered “tourists” as well. It really is more like staying in a designated park than anything else.  New Zealand, at least this part of North Island, really is beautiful.

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Margansie’s no-spill snack dish. Bought new for the boat and never, we were assured, used by a dog.

Late yesterday afternoon we were invited to join Margie and Simon (of Margansie) for a hike up to the viewpoint and after for drinks on board Margansie afterward. We first met Margansie’s crew in Tonga. Margie grew up in New Zealand and only left as an adult to live and work in England. So coming to New Zealand is coming “home” for her. She shares my interest in birds and identified several that I was unfamiliar with, including Tui and Fantails. I would like to find a field guide, maybe an app for her phone similar to the Peterson’s guide.

We rowed ashore again this morning and made the viewpoint hike a second time. It really is worth doing, and isn’t that long. The walk through mixed conifer and leafy forest is interesting and the views from the top are so beautiful. One of the shrubs that grows on the hills where there’s sun is called Manuka. It grows to about the size and shape of a juniper bush. It’s in bloom now, the tiny cream colored blossoms grow in clusters at the ends of branches and emit a heavy sweet smell that really does make me think of honey. We could smell it in the air, as soon as we pushed back the companionway slide this morning. Each bush is swarmed by hundreds of honey bees.

We also walked along the beach, which is mostly finely ground shells. We saw bleached lobster remains, and many types of shellfish including mussels, clams, scallops, cockles, and one small abalone shell, which I picked up and kept.

We will enjoy another day and night here. The plan now is to pull up anchor early tomorrow morning and head south along the coastline. Randy thinks we will stop tomorrow at Tutukaka for the night. It’s on the east coast about 2/3 of the way between here and Whangarei.

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3 thoughts on “Opua and Bay of Islands

  1. I’m enjoying your vivid writing, and following your movements via Google Earth! All the best, blessings in the New Year! Uncle Dave Williams

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  2. Merry Christmas kids. 2 degrees F and 2 feet of snow here. Kids were able to join us. The big news is we are going to be grand parents in July.

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