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Touring New Zealand 2012 - Part 10

We take up the story as we leave Picton on the Ferry to north Island. We had a fairly rough ferry crossing in a strong Southerly but even so we found seats underneath on of the overhead power sockets and Pauline managed to get some of her OU marking done. Pete sorted out our more of our pictures and added them to another of the web pages. We got off the ferry just before 1800 and then went up to Levin for an overnight in a cabin.

The following day was Pete's birthday so he got to wear his Pounamu Taonga (Greenstone Treasure) then it was an early leave for Wanganui because we hoped to go out on the old steam riverboat the Waimarie after catching up with Dave McDermott who was instrumental in the Waimarie's restoration for the Millennium and the more recent restoration he with three friends completed of the Waiuta.

We had time for a stop at Foxton on the way - as we were passing we saw a bookshop we had not noticed before and did a quick U turn. It was not open till 1000 so we went back to have a look at a rather new looking windmill and the centre of Foxton which is off to the side of the main road so one normally bypasses. It was a real find and we will make it a regular stop. We walked round the area they are restoring and down to the river where there used to be a major port complex with many wharfs according to all the information boards. We then went into the wind mill which was only built a few years ago using knowledge help and some materials from Holland. It is run whenever the flour stocks are low and the wind is the right strength. We had a long chat and bought a bag of the stone ground flour. It was then on to the bookshop where again we spent to long and talked too much and bought too many old books! But it was Pete's birthday.

It was then a rush to Wanganui as we were running late. We went into the Riverboat museum and asked for Dave who has been the manager for as long as we have been going to Wanganui but were told he no longer worked there. From what we could gather in the Museum it seems there is a new Trust Board who have installed a new manager and Dave is now concentrating on the Wairua which he and 3 others have restored almost entirely with there own hands. We gave him a ring and had a long chat. Unfortunately there were no trips planned on the Wairua in the next few days as it was late in the season and most trips were group bookings. We had just missed one for a picnic at Hipango Park which was a shame. We decided it was inappropriate to go out on the Waimarie in the circumstances so we decided to go up the Whanganui River Road that afternoon rather than stay in Wanganui for the night as planned. The forecast was for very heavy rains overnight so it a trip up the River Road really needed to be that afternoon slips etc could easily make it impassable.

We have written about the Wanganui, the Waimarie, the Wairua and the Whanganui River Road several times and there is a full web page covering the area so we will say no more here other than to note that the figs were not yet ripe at the Kawana Flour Mill.

We stopped at the Holiday Park at Raitehi rather than go further as the weather was deteriorating and there was torrential rain and very high winds overnight - it was so bad we decided to stay another day which turned out to be a good move as many of the roads were closed and Wanganui which we had just left lost power for many days. The floods and power loss causing great problems to farmers who could not milk their cows. Raitehi was, in fact, one of the few areas to still have power all day although we lost it by the evening. Roofs were torn off many buildings especially in Patea where half the buildings were severely damaged and in one case the corrugated iron was wrapped round a telegraph pole. We were well away from the coast. it gave Pauline a chance to do most of her marking and Pete to do some writing up and fortunately the power held up until we had just finished and were about to get supper. We got the stove in from the van and cooked in the room as the cooking was electric and power was off in the kitchens.

The rain finally cut back so we decided to head for Rotorua as a first stop on our way North. We traveled up the West side of the central mountains past as as we passed them the cloud lifted enough to see they were also covered in snow. On our way past Lake Taupo we stopped to pick up a fresh stock of pumice for ourselves and for Christine who had asked for some more. We decided it was time to go round one of the thermal areas again and chose Wai-o-Tapu which has always been one of our favourites. It always seems to be very busy judging by the large full car parks but it never seems full enough inside for other visitors to be intrusive - many just seem to dash round the 'inner loop' and off whilst it takes an hour and a half to two hours to do justice to everything, especially now more walks have been open up. I will add some new pictures here and update the section on Rotorua and Wai-o-Tapu in the New Zealand Thermal Areas page with some of them as they are all pre-digital pictures with only 400x267 pixel resolution.

In the afternoon we did our usual circuit round the lakeside thermal areas and Kuirau park starting from the Polynesian pools - despite the rain all the paths were open unlike the last visit although it was obvious the lake had been very high as there was a lot of sand swept over some sections by waves on the lake and ate at the Pig and Whistle in the evening

The plan for the following morning was a walk and shopping round town then across the Pyes Pa road to Mills Reef Winery for lunch. We rang up some friends who lived near Waiuku before we left and arranged to drop in and see them at their farm which we had not seen before so we decided on an early lunch. We got to Mills Reef just before half past eleven and they were already serving food but that was a bit early so we spent half an hour sampling the wines. They are always very good and we ended up buying 6 bottles and then got an extra one thrown in when we found there was 15% off if you had lunch. The only disappointment was that the triple lemon dessert was not on - they try to vary the menu but said there had been so many comments that it would have to be put back on again. It was a bit early anyway so we shared a scallop starter and just had two mains. It was Pauline's turn to drive so Pete also had the Elspeth 'paddle' of wines to try - they do a number of selections of 4 x 60cc glasses delivered on a paddle so you can taste with food. All the reds were all good but the Elspeth Syrah was outstanding - we however would not buy the Elspeth 2010 Chardonnay - we preferred the reserve at half the price.

We then had the long drive across to close to Waiuku which was the other side of Highway 1. It was an interesting navigation exercise through a network of small roads on a grid system so even with the GPS one was never quite sure where one had been or was going - we got there in the end without any major diversions. It turned out to be one of the most memorable times we have had. Berta and Fidel have a dairy farm and we were totally ignorant about dairy farming so we ended up being invited to stay over night and to go out milking and making cheese in the morning. More of that to follow when we have done some homework so we do not display more ignorance than we need to.

They had a meeting in the morning so we left at about 1000 and had a quick look at Waiuku before heading onwards. It was a nice little town which used to be a fairly major port and at the end of a portage. It seemed to have a good selection of shops and a nice atmosphere. We had a look at one of the reserves close to the town where one of the bigger wharfs used to be. There was a small museum but it was not open that day. We must return for a better look.

We then passed through Auckland heading for the Bay of Islands and stopped at Whangarei at the camp site right next to Whangarei Falls which are worth a diversion to see anyway. In the morning for a surprise it was raining most of the way North. We rang ahead to make sure we had a cabin at Russell then overshot the ferry and went through Paihia where we stopped for couple of hours. It was interesting that the shops had a lot of good Pounamu at very reasonable prices. We also found a very small book about Pounamu but one full of information about the history, carving and types all for $10.

We continued to Kerikeri partly as we knew there were some very good stalls to stock up with fruit, we collected 5kgs of spray free oranges for $6 to add to a big bag of avocados for $4. We had a quick look at the familiar sites like the Stone House but only from outside. We then backtracked to Opua for the ferry to Russell where we stayed for a night at the Top Ten Holiday Park. Rain was by now torrential so we decided in the morning to head back to Auckland a couple of days early as it was obvious we were not going to be able to camp at Whangaruru and do any fishing.

We had a couple of pleasant days with Chris and Ralph one of which we spent in Auckland seeing Rob at Charterlink and looking round Devonport, a small town opposite to Auckland which can be reached over the harbour bridge or by ferry. It has an excellent bookshop called 'Evergreen', a fish and chip shop serving snapper and a little way out round the 'point' there is an ice cream shop which claims to serve the largest ice-creams in NZ with up to 8 scoops of different flavours balanced on your cone - we normally restrict ourselves to two or three. We continued from the ice cream shop to the the coast and found a number of bays and beaches we have missed in the past. Devonport is a favoured and very expensive area to live with some lovely houses.

After the two days with Chris and Ralph we were off to Waiheke Island using the vehicle ferry from Half Moon Bay. We like to stay with Jennie and Kev and the kids, but this year Pat and John were also visiting, and staying in the flat/rental under the house. Jennie offered us their cottage 'Patangatanga' instead, which was between tenants. It was great - a very nice 3 bed roomed traditional Kiwi bach, but with all the necessities of life – fridge, freezer, washing machine, TV, barbeque and a big fig tree in the garden. There is a beach nearby but not as nice as the small and almost private beach below their house. The only problem was that it was quite a long walk in the evening back from Jennie and Kev so we tended to take it in turn to drive back.

Th plan was to stay for nearly two weeks with a big chunk of that spent sailing - Kev had arranged for a good length of time of work and wanted to go up to the Bay of Islands but the weather was not cooperative and on top of that the nice big and stable dingy we had a half share in with Kev had just been stolen - the chain had been cut through leaving only a very small tender only suitable for the calmest of weather with more than one person. Eventually a replacement was obtained - this time a bit smaller making it easier to get out of the water and onboard but less easy to tow in rough weather - the other one had been outstanding and we had towed it to and from Great Barrier on one occasion. The anchor winch had also seized up which was a problem as Shanti has an excellent anchor, very heavy and with lots of heavy chain which is just what one wants when there is a winch to get it up but a lot of hard work by hand so we also needed it looked at.

Whilst we were waiting for the weather, everything to be sorted and Kev's time off to start we spent time unpacking the van and sorting and packing our storage boxes ready for storing until we return. There was also the provisioning and packing ready for sailing. We spent several days out round Waiheke. Our first day out started with a trip to the west of the island to Stony Batter where there is a big underground fortress built in the Second World War to defend the approaches to Auckland. It had three 9.2-inch battleship guns allegedly capable of firing a 1500 kg shell 45 kms. They were only fired once on test to 20 kms but never in anger. Somewhat poetically they were reputedly sold to a Japanese scrap firm after the war. On a previous visit we spent a long time talking to Pam who has been one of the main instigators in the restoration and we learnt all about the progress in bringing back typical engines to drive the generators, hydraulic systems etc. Various parts have been obtained from similar batteries round the world, such as Gibraltar and the massive diesel engines (called Tom, Dick and Harry) which last visit were under tarpaulins in the local supermarket car park awaiting an offer at the right price to transport them the last few kilometres are now on the site and the first is being installed. We always have our own torches as there used to be a separate charge for torches on top of the entry but we were given use of one of their new LED torches anyway this time. They seem to have a couple of very tame sheep and one of them marched in and made herself at home in the kitchen/administrative area after wandering round the little museum in the hope someone had food.

There seemed to be a lot of work going on underground including the installation of the engines and pumps and some extra tunnels have been opened up to allow access for installation of the engines. They are also working on restoring the plotting room - there were various spotting stations which relayed the targets and shot fall to the plotting room deep underground in the complex. There were three gun sites but only one was open for access from below - under certain weather conditions mist can rapidly spread through the tunnels if anybody leaves a door open so one was locked. It is apparently quite unpleasant when the visibility drops to a few metres and you only have a torch to find your way around. When we left we walked round the top to the gun site we had not been able to access from below and had views right out over the Hauraki Gulf - the guns could cover right out to the tip of the Coromandel to the East and Tiritiri on the West side and one could see why spotting stations were required.

We then went down to Man-o-War Bay which is close below the battery at the end of the island - we often moor there whilst sailing. It had turned into a nice day and Pete had a couple of swims and we set up our chairs and sat and read and watched the view for a couple of hours before setting off back. The visibility had been gradually improving during the day and we had some excellent views over Rotoroa and Pornui Islands to the Coromandel behind. The Ruthe passage was very easily identified and also all the reefs in front of Rotoroa Island could be clearly seen the tide was unusually low. We took the road down to Orapiu wharf where there is now a ferry once a day to Coromandel Town via Rotoroa Island.

The next day we went to have our first proper look at the Whakanewha Regional Park which covers 250 hectares is on the south side of the Waiheke Island on the edge of Rocky Bay - it was only a short drive for us. Whakanewha means "to shade the eyes from the setting sun." It has a mature coastal forest with taraire, kohekohe and old kanuka trees, cascading streams, and a sweeping crescent-shaped beach of sand and shells divided by a rocky and forested headland. An old Maori pa site on the headland is easily discernible and here are panoramic views over Rocky Bay to Auckland if you take the well signed walk up to the pa. There is a campground located just behind the southern end of the beach at Poukaraka Flats. The large wetland area is home to some uncommon birds, bittern, banded rail, spotless crake and the New Zealand dotterel. We arrived close to high tide and the water was very shallow even then but fairly warm so Pete had a swim and we set up our chairs on the foreshore. As the tide fell a broad expanse of sandy tidal flats was revealed.

The highlight was the Dotterels. The shell spit near the middle of the beach close to where we were sitting is the annual nesting ground for several pairs of the endangered northern New Zealand dotterel. Only about 1700 of these birds, endemic to New Zealand, remain. People on the beach are strongly encouraged to avoid getting too close to the sensitive birds and not to linger near the fenced area where the birds lay their eggs in shallow scrapes in the sand. In our case it seemed to be quite the opposite - two pairs of Dotterels came along to see us and were walking back and forth in front of us at the waterline - they seemed completely fearless and often came up to only a few feet below us to watch what we were doing. We took dozens of pictures without any effect on them. This trusting behaviour must make them very vulnerable to predators and we saw there were lots of traps and warnings that there were poison baits laid.

There are many walking tracks within the park the most notable being the track to the pa site above the beach and the walk to the Cascades. The Cascades are a series of cascading waterfalls, said by some to be behind the naming of the island - Waiheke or falling water. We did a short loop track down the beach to the picnic area beneath some huge pohutakawa trees then up to the viewpoint - we now have maps for some of the longer walks.

The weather eventually improved towards the end of the week, as had been forecast, and we got out for a couple of days sailing on Shanti. Before we start I will give a little background about Shanti. Shanti is a 37 foot Piver Lodestar Trimaran which my nephew Kev bought a couple of years ago. She is now 40 years old and is built in plywood with a glass fibre sheathing and the hulls and structure show no signs of age. Kev has done a lot of work since he bought her including largely closing in his new wheelhouse and fitting a new engine and she has all new primary rigging in stainless steel.

Arthur Piver (1910-1968) was a World War II pilot, an amateur sailor and legendary boat builder who lived in California and became "the father of the modern trimeran." He designed and built a series of simple three-hulled, plywood yachts starting in the late 1950s and to prove the designs, he crossed the Atlantic on his first ocean-going boat, a 28 ft Nimble. He as he was convinced that even someone without experience could build one of his boats so started selling do-it-yourself plans - many started building his yachts with the dream of a round the world journey.

Piver built himself a 35-foot ketch-rigged trimaran named Lodestar in 1962 and sailed it around the Pacific Ocean via New Zealand. Soon after Cox Marine, started building his boats in England, including the Lodestar, and found a ready market, many were built for with Americans who would sail them home. We have found two books by the founder of Cox Marine which make fascinating reading.

These voyages proved the seaworthiness of the trimaran concept and in a very short time Piver designs became incredibly popular and inspired many novices to believe they could build their own boats and set off for the tropics. Arthur Piver is arguably responsible for popularising the nautical phenomenon of the cruising multi-hull.

They were fast as compared to the long keel, short waterline mono-hulls of the day, but are not as fast as a modern racing multi-hull or mono-hull, even so a properly (light) loaded Piver Lodestar is capable of 20 knots. Many of these somewhat boxy cruising design remain in use. They were very stable but never sailed well upwind but unless they were modified with a “Cross fin”. Many did carry their owners to the tropics and allowed them to fulfil their cruising dreams. Properly built Piver trimarans have made many grueling voyages, one was sailed round the world by a home- builder with no prior sailing experience who survived massive storms and even being hit by a ship.

Shanti, like the original Lodestar started life with a ketch rig ( an additional short mast and single small sail at the back) but has been converted to a standard single mast with a main and roller furling jib. Shanti also differs from the original design as she has just been modified to have a large wheelhouse which can be totally enclosed by transparent covers at the back. This is excellent for cruising as it affords good protection in the most inclement weather. The addition of the wheelhouse necessitated the boom being raised at the back and the sail re-cut to match. The self furler at the front has also been raised about 30 cms to keep the sheets well above the rails and to dramatically improve the forward view.

We met up with David Bott and Chris who had joined him for a couple of days on his Piver Lodestar Pengwen. Kev unfortunately had to drop out at the very last minute and we first needed to take Shanti round to Matiatia to fuel and water and then had lunch in Owhamake, the next bay to the North, with David and Chris. We ended up back in Matiatia for the night as David was waiting for a replacement instrument which was being brought over on the 1905 ferry. A good evening was had by all and we had a leisurely start in the morning after everyone had recovered.

We could see the weather was not going to last so we went straight over to the Coromandel after we had done enough fishing to catch a nice 45cm kahawai for tea - it was unusually plump and actually did 5 persons worth of meals. The passage across was glassy calm and under motor and we moored in Te Kuma harbour which is very well sheltered, especially from the East which was the forecast direction for many days. We moored to the side of Squadron bay so we kept the sun as long as possible and cooked the Kahawai - a glorious evening. Overnight the rain and winds arrived so we headed back at the crack of dawn - it was much calmer than we expected outside Te Kuma and we used the engine to start with to make good progress and liscened to the Nowcasting . By the time we were half way across the telemetry on Tiritiri and Channel Island were both reading 28 knots gusting 34 knots - not good although we still had very little wind or seas as we were still sheltered by the mass of the Coromandel.

We entered shelter just in time through the Ruthe Passage as the wind and seas were just starting to come up rapidly. We found we were in the middle of the start of a race of some sort which made life a bit interesting and racing boats offer no quarter but we eventually cleared and coasted back down the Tamaki straight on with nothing more than half a jib at 6 knots and were very relieved when she was safely unloaded and back on the mooring buoy. By the time we were getting onto the buoy the wind was so high and it was high tide so we had to keep motoring forwards, both pulling in a bit more, securing it while Kev rushed back and motored forwards over the mooring to get a bit more in.

The following day we went across to Auckland on the ferry to have a look at the Volvo boats before they left on the 5th leg of the round the world race. It used to be called the Whitbread race and takes about 9 months to complete - it is one of the most challenging of ocean races. Most of the 6 competitors have New Zealanders as crew as well as Camper the Emirates Team New Zealand Boat itself. We took the 1100 ferry which got in at 1140 which would have given us time to se the boats before they went out for a 1400 start and to have found a spot on the waterfront to watch. A favourite spot with locals for watching the various races is the headland at Devonport but we would have been short of time to see the boats and catch a ferry. When we arrived Pete thought it would be worthwhile checking to see if there had been any cancellations in bookings for the 'spectator boats' and we secured tickets for the Fullers Spectator Boat for the great sum of $49, very little more than a trip round the bay or the return ferry to Waiheke which was boarding 5 minutes after we arrived.

It turned out to be an excellent choice. The race start was down by the Harbour Bridge and there were a number of legs in the harbour area before the boats left. The first leg was down the middle of the harbour they returned to turn a buoy almost back at the starting line before a number of legs taking them back through the harbour and past Devonport head and in the Ragitoto channel. There were a number of areas where boats could anchor during the initial legs and no movements were allowed until the yachts finally left for Brazil. Our skipper found a prime slot opposite viaduct basin for the start and first leg then eased back down to allow a close up of the turn near harbour bridge which allowed him to take a flying start in the chase out to sea. We had a grandstand view of all the action and got some excellent pictures. The commentary was first class and both the skipper and commentator were determined to be there as close as possible and for as long as possible - they got permission to extend the chase out as far as possible provided all the passengers agreed. There were no dissenters and we pounded on after the Volvo fleet. However we were not alone, there was a huge armada heading out which was being joined by the most unlikely candidates - one might have expected the odd water scooter but not the couple of canoes mixing it with the high speed armada in heavy seas miles offshore and then a windsurfer flashed by hoping from swell to swell. Shortly we were begriming to be seriously thrown around as well - bags went overboard as did a few lunches but everybody, especially the crew were enjoying themselves. One the fleet the last hangers on put on there wetsuits, clasped their precious film and leapt overboard to be picked up but support boats - no slowing up for them. Those who had been down the front gave up as water started to go over there heads and hit the bridge screens - one hopes the cameras were waterproof. Eventually we gave up and turned back but it was an experience which few will forget - thank you Fullers.

When we got back we found a notice on the door saying that most of the ferries had been cancelled due to adverse weather although those to Waiheke always get through. Before the fleet of 6 had reached Great Barrier before turning to dip deep into the Southern Ocean Abu Dhabi lost a front bulkhead which was left completely separated from the hull and they had to return for repairs and the reports from Camper said they had suffered the worst conditions ever at any point on a Volvo leg - on there way out after repairs they had to anchor in shelter to avoid 60 knot plus winds through the Colville Channel which is a challenging bit of water at the best of times. Overall we were glad Shanti was safe back on the moorings before the weather broke.

We stayed put for a couple of days intermittently following the race on the internet. The storms hit Northland where there was heavy flooding with 250mm of rain in Kerikeri in 36 hours down too Whangarei where we had recently stayed - there were pictures of herds of cows floating through peoples verandas and huge areas underwater. We seem to have been unlucky (or lucky) in have been through or just missed such rains three times this holiday.

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