By Land and Sea
Sitting on Gadabout’s deck in the Sea of Cortez, Mexico (more on that in our next post), I’m reflecting on our time in New Zealand so many months ago. We shared our experience with the hospitality and generosity of Kiwis (the people, not the birds – I doubt the birds are that generous) in our last post but the natural beauty of the country deserves a mention, as well. We had visited New Zealand a couple of times prior to arriving via sailboat in 2019 but we were excited to see some places we had missed on previous visits. In addition to sailing destinations, we looked forward to road tripping on the country’s network of curvy, narrow roads. Used cars are cheap in NZ so we purchased a 2005 Volvo and strapped the surfboards to the roof… We were ready.
We started with a land tour of the Northland, the very northern region on the North Island. It is a beautiful area visited much less often than more popular destinations south. We first headed to the town of Mangonui, which is little more than a strip of land between the main highway and the water but chock full of charm, with several good restaurants, an interesting history, a beautiful waterfront boardwalk for an evening stroll, and a variety of places to stay.
A drive to the very northern tip of the island brought us to Cape Reinga (Te Rerenga Wairua in Maori), a magical place where the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea meet. It is deeply spiritual for the Maori people who believe this is where spirits of the dead enter the underworld.
A day of surfing in what we would consider frigid water and a scenic drive home via the west coast of the peninsula rounded out the trip.
Back on the water, we sailed down the east coast of the North Island, stopping in a few anchorages along the way, then to Great Barrier Island, 45 miles northwest of Auckland. The trip there was a sporty day of upwind sailing but once inside the protected bays of Great Barrier, the world was calm again and the many anchorages provided a diverse mix of geography. The mood was quite festive and there were A LOT of boats as we were there for New Year’s.
Our next stop was the town of Whitianga (pronounced “fu-tee-angha”) on the Coromandel Peninsula. The crossing from Great Barrier Island to the Peninsula reminded us that conditions in New Zealand can change quickly and get quite rough. Gadabout, however, simply thought it was a fun sail. Whitianga is a cool town with a fun vibe. Visiting with good friends made it even better. The yellow tint in the first picture below was caused by the haze from the wildfires in Australia, 1400 miles away.
We left the Coromandel and made our way to Waiheke Island, where most of Auckland goes to vacation, party and tour the many wineries. With help from friends from Auckland, we tried our best to do as the locals do. We’re pretty sure we succeeded.
Heading back toward the mainland, we visited a couple more coastal islands.
Tiritiri Matangi Island is home to a bird sanctuary. It was a drizzly day when we visited but the walk through the forest to the lighthouse was quite pleasant and we saw a few birds we hadn’t yet encountered.
Bon Accord Harbour at Kawau Island was a pretty and popular anchorage. Daily tours were offered at the mansion of former governor Sir George Grey (1862), an interesting piece of history. And the Kawau Boating Club was a great place to grab a bite and beer while taking in the scenery.
Taking a break from sailing, we left Gaddy at a sailboat spa (marina) and headed out on another road trip. We decided to do a west coast tour down to Wellington, then up through the middle and back to Auckland. First stop, Raglan… This place is famous for surfing. The town has an awesome, laid-back vibe (no surprise). Good restaurants. Chill coffee shops. Local radio station. Friendly people. And, great surf breaks. The swell was small when we there but we still hit the water for a little fun.
We could’ve stayed a lot longer. But it’s a road trip…
Further south, as we pulled into the city of New Plymouth, we noticed something very strange. The road leading into town was lined with AMERICAN flags. Every street in the city had AMERICAN flags flying. WHAT is going on here?! When we went to the information office to check out lodging options for the night, we found out… our visit happened to coincide with the annual Americarna Rally, a rally for American classic car enthusiasts in New Zealand (you’d be surprised how many there are!). Fortunately, we found a B&B; unfortunately, it was available for only one night. So, we had a wonderful, albeit short visit in this coastal gem. We borrowed the bikes from our B&B for a tour of the city, had a fantastic dinner at a cool Asian restaurant, and hit one of the nearby trails.
Our hosts recommended follow-on accommodation a short way down the coast, which turned out to be an amazing place, a picturesque villa set on a bluff overlooking the ocean. Apparently, it was also favored by a few famous rock stars. On the way there, we even caught the parade of classic cars heading to New Plymouth for the rally as we lunched in the small town of Hawera.
After a brief stop in Wellington to visit friends, we traveled inland to the town of Turangi. Wags was pretty bummed he didn’t have his fly rod with him when we discovered this area to be a world-renowned trout-fishing mecca. And we’re not talking small trout. These suckers were huge. Also, unlike in the States, it is not catch-and-release. But I digress… rather than fishing, we rented mountain bikes and got in a fun trail ride before heading to our next destination, Rotorua.
If you’ve been to Rotorua, you know that the main activity centers around sulphur hot springs. So, we held our noses and enjoyed a soak.
Leaving Rotorua, we drove west to the town of Mount Maunganui. This coastal beauty was a treat. A morning hike on the mount was invigorating with a perfect view of the city and harbor. We had to share the trail, of course, but everyone was respectful.
Heading north, we stopped in for a lovely lunch with friends before continuing on to Auckland for a night, then back to Gadabout in the Bay of Islands. As always, we needed more time. And, as always, the time we had was a blast.
Bay of Islands
This was our home base during our time in New Zealand. It is also New Zealand’s premier cruising grounds. Each summer, hundreds of boats make the trip up the coast from Auckland to spend time in the beautiful anchorages, hiking island trails, swimming and fishing in clear, warm water, and exploring the small towns of Opua, Pahia, Russell, and Keri Keri. It is also where we checked into the country and where Gaddy would end up being stored for 18 months. Suffice it to say, we spent enough time here to develop a few favorites.
Urupukapuka Island – this was our favorite island in the Bay of Islands, with its beautiful anchorages, lush green hikes and perfect picnic spots.
Omata Winery – good wine, good food, and a fantastic view. The best part was Oscar, of course, and the owner let us take him on bush walks for our dog fix!
Russell – this place is packed with tourists in the summer for good reason. It’s the perfect waterfront location to relax, enjoy a good meal and watch the day turn into night.
Keri Keri was our go-to place for shopping, good eats, wonderful butchery and our favorite local hike, a beautiful trail leading to not one, but two waterfalls! It is also the location of Stone Store, New Zealand’s oldest surviving stone building, originally built in 1832 as a mission. It’s a great place for a history lesson in the upstairs museum.
When the COVID pandemic began and New Zealand announced the first lockdown, we hightailed it out of the marina and headed to Whangaroa, a short sail north of the Bay of Islands. Whangaroa is a stunning fiord-like bay with protected anchorages, great hiking, and calm water for exploring via kayak and SUP.
The coolest part of this place, though, is the water buoy provided and maintained by the local Coast Guard auxiliary. The buoy, situated in the middle of one of the coves, has a hose attached to it that runs from a sand filtered natural spring on the hillside above the cove. We tied up to the buoy, filled our tanks from the hose, and left a donation in the can!
We spent five weeks in Whangaroa. At week three, we were running short on provisions so we got in the dinghy and drove five miles up a river, turned creek, turned small creek, turned ditch with water in it, to the nearest town with a grocery store, donned our homemade face masks, and resupplied. The woman at the checkout had a small chuckle when, after remarking that we bought enough for two weeks, we told her that’s because we’re on our sailboat, in Whangaroa. And we got a couple of odd looks as we dragged our heavily laden wagon down the street and loaded our haul into the dinghy in the ditch.
After leaving Whangaroa we spent the rest of our COVID lockdown in the Bay of Islands. When restrictions eased, we completed a partial refit on Gadabout to get her ready for her next ocean crossing.
We had a great time exploring the nooks and crannies of the North Island. We left a few places on the table but that’s just an excuse to return.