Happy Christmas 2017

We decided to splash out for Christmas. On the basis that we had been invited to Vaughn and Sylvia’s for a pre-Xmas drinks party on the 24th and ZigZag were in the nearby Half Moon Marina, we found an Air BnB house for rent near both and moved in for three days.

The do at Vaughn and Sylvia’s was great fun. The kids played in the heated pool, the grown ups (the men at least) looked longingly at Vaughn’s rather glorious speakers that had come all the way from Glasgow and his excellent BBQ. The selection of beer was impressive and the enormous fillet of beef that we were spoilt with tasted fantastic. Added to that the platters of salads, cheese, biscuits, many types of bread meant that the meal was a joyful event. Our thanks again to Sylvia for the organisation and Vaughn for his excellent BBQ skills. Quite an undertaking the day before Christmas.

Irene took over kids’ entertainment after dinner and they all had a great time singing Christmas songs in a variety of languages! It all seemed to work although asking the Dads to judge the costume dressing up competition was a little dangerous.

Christmas 2017

Christmas Day was spent at the Air BnB house. It was a pretty little three bedroom house with a hot tub in the back garden and most importantly a decent kitchen to cook in. I will say that the general cleanliness of the kitchen left a little to be desired but a couple of hours of scrubbing brought it up to standard. I hope the owner appreciated our efforts when they returned from their Xmas away.  The house also had a washing machine! This was run practically non-stop with ZigZag catching up on their loads too – never has laundry been so enjoyable.

Santa delivered as expected and by way of Fiona Foura’s parents, we were able to pick up presents kindly sent from the UK from the family too. I’m not sure just how sane it was to buy Eleanor a chemistry set but she is already had fun making smells and bubbles!

Christmas 2017

The kids had a huge smile on their faces up to the point we made them wait for the arrival of ZigZag for the opening of the presents from us! ZigZag dutifully arrived just as the kids were ready to explode, with Irene’s sister, Mareike, over for the holidays in tow.

We had a lovely meal with a mix of British and German delicacies being added to the table, offering the traditional Henderson starter of cream of turkey and parsley soup. The parsley was courtesy of the Chinese market we found at the racecourse on our way back from picking up ZigZag’s new car on Christmas morning. Good thing the large Chinese community doesn’t celebrate Christmas! The main course was turkey followed by a huge sticky mascarpone wonderfulness made by Irene and Mareike. We had managed to find a good size turkey, the last in the shop, but had failed miserably in our attempt to find decent chipolatas. NZ just doesn’t do decent sausages. We have found a single butcher on our travels that would make what we would class as what is comparable to the standard we would find at our local butcher in the UK.  Bread sauce and cranberry sauce were generally enjoyed; I’m afraid the sauerkraut was less so! Each to their own. The one item that Lou was hugely disappointed not to have on her plate was Brussels sprouts. As it is high summer down here, they were, regrettably, out of season.

Christmas 2017

Whilst our girls are by no way grown up, it is always fun to be around really smalls for Christmas. Noah was very helpful in unwrapping everybody’s presents whether asked for or not! Mia had a lovely time playing and cuddling a new doll.

Christmas 2017

After the meal, we retired to the hot tub and had a very pleasant afternoon bubbling away with a certain amount of NZ bubbles helping us along. Toasty!

A Happy Christmas to one and all!


 P1060349Christmas 2017P1060358Christmas 2017Christmas 2017P1060365P1060367Christmas 2017

Exploring the North Island

We left Opua in convoy. We were loaded to the gunnels and Starcharger were carrying Lorna and George of Quatsino. Our first stop was at a batch beside the sea at Kaimaumau. As an explanation, many New Zealanders have a family holiday home, handed down through the generations. often by the sea. It is known as a batch. These days they are less popular as international travel becomes cheap enough for most to run up to Fiji, Tonga or Aus for holidays. However, many are available to rent, they don’t cost a great deal and most are built in beautiful and quiet spaces. 

We based ourselves there for three days and had a great time.

Day one saw us travel the final 80km to the northern most point of New Zealand – Cape Reinga. This is an important Mouri site as it is said that departing souls from the island travel to the Cape and lower themselves into the underworld, by way of the ancient Pohutukawa tree on the end of the rock outcrop, just to the W of the lighthouse.

 N IslandN IslandN Island

Day two took us to the wonderfully named 90 Mile Beach. It isn’t actually that long – it is only 80km – but the over exaggeration is forgiven. If you have a 4×4 veh, then the beach is open to you to drive on. With our poor beastie, we had to walk! We had fun bouncing up and down some of the huge sand dunes and the view along the beach was an endless beauty.

Exploring N IslandExploring N Island

The day before when we were travelling up to the Cape we had been staggered to see hills of sand towering above the rolling grass downs of Northland. These enormous dunes have built up as sand is thrown ashore by the prevailing W wind and are common on the W coast running N from Auckland. We visited a baby one with Amelie when we were staying with the Hoburns. Standing hundreds of feet high, the ones near the North Cape are a different scale altogether. They have spawned another great sport – sand boarding.

Exploring N island

The only trouble with said boarding is the effort of climbing up a couple of hundred feet of sand dune. Climbing sand isn’t easy at the best of times. Do it a couple of times and your lungs are bursting and your legs are jelly. We got to the point of using relays to get the all important boards back to the top. The girls loved it.  Alastair gave us the funniest descent, scattering the panicking watchers at the bottom of the hill with one of his banzai runs to everyone’s amusement. 

Exploring N IslandExploring N Island

We left the company of Starcharger and Quatisino as they headed back towards their boats and we headed down the W coast by ourselves.  We found that there was a ferry between Kohukohu and Rawene so rather than drive all the way back on to Highway 1, we took the recently graded W Coast Road which wound its way through the mountains. It was a great drive and the scenery was beautiful. The ferry took about half and hour. It was nice to be back on the water, even on just a stink boat!

Exploring N Island

We stopped at the entrance to Kiapara Bay, the scene of a recent tragedy in November where a fishing boat was lost with eight deaths. The entrance to the bay is tricky with large sandbanks extending out over a mile. You can see two of them  with breakers in the photo below. It is a beautiful harbour once you are in. Sadly the fishing boat touched one of the banks and turned turtle in the 4m breakers. There were only three survivors.

Exploring N Island

Exploring N Island

We have been hugely impressed by the land management that we have seen throughout the North island. Where once the UK went down the initially efficient but environmentally damaging hedge removal, NZ farmers have built hedges and whole tree lines to divide land blocks, proving shelter for stock and crops. We spotted this area as we drove to the Kia Iwi Lake campsite. The norm around the vineyards, it is quite common to see them around just normal blocks of land used for livestock, as seen here.  These tree lines are 40-50’ high.

Exploring N Island

The Kia Iwi camp site was well set out and great fun. On a freshwater lake, it means endless splashing around for the kids in the surprisingly warm water and of course there were plenty of other smalls around to play with. Dad got involved too and there was a certain amount of tomfoolery protecting the swimming platform! We also met a great couple, well into their eighties who have invited us to visit them on our return to Auckland. Ex RAF but an émigré more than 50years ago, he still hasn’t lost the accent! We stayed at the site for three days and left with tears.

Exploring N IslandExploring N Island

Heading South, we drove into the area of NZ  that is the home of the giant Kauri trees. Once common across NZ, they were cut down in huge numbers in the 18th and 19th century for their hard wood. Now, very few are left, they are protected and NZ has started to replant them. It will take even longer than the UKs New Forest to grow back to glory as the trees grow slow and will last to over 3000years.  We visited the largest of them left named Tane Mahuta, The Lord of the Forest, thought to be about 2000years old, said to be a baby in comparison  to the monsters that were around a couple of hundred years ago. The other interesting fact around these trees is that they are the source of GUM, which once petrified becomes amber. A major industry of the 19thC was to collect the gum from the trees by scoring them or dredging up all the old amber that was plentiful in the swamps, melting it down and exporting it. Gum was sorted in to different grades and was used for make such stuff as jewellery, the first linoleum (providing the waterproofing) and gumboots. Want to know where that particular word for wellington boots came from? Look no further. Interestingly, the North British Rubber Company (now known as Hunter) based in Edinburgh was taking out adverts in the local papers asking folks not to buy the knockoff “gumboots” made here as far back as the 1870s!

Exploring N Island

Our final stop before hitting Auckland again was at a campsite in the Tawharanui Peninsula Regional Park. The area is completely wired off to prevent stouts, rabbits and possums from getting in. It is a sanctuary for flightless birds and is one of the few sites with good numbers of kiwi. We didn’t see one although Eleanor says she heard one calling at night. We did see great numbers of Pukeka, another more common flightless bird. The beach was beautiful and and we saw lots of surfers returning to the camp happy after a day playing in the waves.

Exploring N IslandExploring the N Island

We stopped in briefly to say hello at the Hoburn’s to pick up the left behind socks and Hannah’s Kindle. Then it was time to head into Auckland to meet up with Aislado and ZigZag for some Christmas celebrations. Northland is beautiful, warm and we have had great fun exploring it. As always, we wish we had more time to do it justice but what secrets we found, we have loved. Our thanks to Sarah and Mo for giving us so many hints and steers for our travels.

Time to turn our sights on the wilder lands of the South Island.

N Island

Opua, NZ – Two divers in the family

We moved about three km S from the Bay of Islands Marina to Malcolm and Helen’s house and we stayed with them for about 10 days. It was great place to base ourselves from and we were well looked after, getting some good steers on what to do around the area.  

We got the chance to see a bit more the Bay of Islands by way of an invite out on Tika. We lucked out on the weather and had a great day, exploring  Moturua island and playing on the beach. The walk around the island is well worth doing and takes far less time than suggested on the signs. we ripped around it in less than half the time it was supposed to. I’m not sure if we were supposed to take more time on the beach on the W side of the island or we just aren’t fat Americans…..


We ended up staying in the Opua area longer than we planned. When we were in the Tuamotus, Eleanor had snorkelled above me whilst I dived. Having had a taste of the world underwater using Almost There’s hookah diving system and being our walking encyclopaedia of tropical fish, she was continually at me at the end of my dives to use my regulator “to have a go” before I got back in the dinghy. Once in NZ, I saw that the local school I was intending to dive had applied the new PADI rules and would teach children at 10. After a bit of discussion between Lou and myself, we signed Eleanor up for the Open Water course. Eleanor, we thought, would be able to take the discipline required for diving – if given a rule or procedure she follows it. Our real only reservation was the temperature of the water. At 16C, it would be a challenge for someone so small to stay warm.   

I shouldn’t have worried. Her instructors were somewhat surprised at how enthusiastically she threw herself in and although she admitted to being a bit cold at times, she just got on with it without whinging. Good girl!


Having smashed her exam the day before, I dived with Eleanor on her last qualifying dives and was impressed with how well she managed her buoyancy. She is still excited enough to be carrying far too much weight but that will come down in time and helped as she moves to lightweight shorties back in waters warmer than she experienced here! She finished her course exhilarated and quickly became even more so after we bought her her own BCD. I will have my own diving partner when we get back up to French Polynesia!. Our thanks to Faye, her instructor and the PaihiaDive owner, Craig for looking after her so well. We also went looking for a first and second stage and dive computer and have organised them to be sent from the UK. Sadly it is less expensive to buy diving kit in the UK (or USA) by about 30-50% for brand names and have it sent here, even when paying the import tax. Stupid pricing rules being applied.


Whilst Eleanor was diving, Lou and Hannah spent many a happy hour in the Op shops around the area. Hannah’s wardrobe is growing at an alarming rate but her taste is pretty good. It is just as well we will be giving all the clothes she has been picking up back to one lucky Op shop before we go. They alone would be over her baggage allowance! They even managed to get some culture in too. A famous artist, Hundertwasser,  was given the opportunity to personalise the local toilets in Kawakawa and using recycled material, he did. They are now a major tourist attraction.


I drove Starcharger’s new car down to Whangerie whilst they sailed down. We left the girls with a sleepover with Tika (thanks, folks) and Lou and I got to meet Mia, coming to the end of her tour around NZ with the (officially) new man and all round good bloke, Christian. We had a great night and I am sorry to say that we broke Christian. More practise required, mate! Mia has now headed back to Denmark and the realities of job (boo), clothes (yeah!) and a few weeks holiday a year (definitely boo!). We look forward to seeing us hook up with her and Christian again once we hit the UK next year.



N Island

In an attempt to pay back a little of their wonderful hospitality, I had more fun in Malcolm and Helen’s garden, cutting down a lot of gorse, chopping down a couple of trees (proper big ones too) and mowing up and down their hilly garden. I think I left them well pleased with my efforts. They do have an extra couple of hillsides that they can walk up now and perhaps more chance to keep it in check than before.

We said our goodbyes after an excellent final night’s BBQ and clutching a huge jar of active Manuka honey as a leaving present, headed N in the company of Quatsino and Starcharger.

Time to explore N Island!


Opua, NZ – Meeting the fleet

When you are travelling south towards New Zealand from the Pacific islands of Fiji and Tonga, most people will head for Opua. It is the northern booking in port for yachts in New Zealand, where Customs and Immigration are based and it is within the famous Bay of Islands, a gloriously sheltered area with a huge number of anchorages to hide in, no matter what the weather. The traditional route takes you past Minerva reef, one of the most desolate anchorages in the world and then S, potentially through an area of nasty seas to the shelter of NZ. Another route, used by Tika, is to go via Norfolk Island, newly administrated by Australia with a population of 60. It isn’t a popular route as it adds on a couple of days sailing and takes you in to Australian territories but it does have the huge advantage of allowing you to go around the main weather patterns, giving you a beam reach at worst back into NZ waters. Opua

We had been monitoring the transits of Jade, Starcharger, Quatsino II,  ZigZag and Tika as they made their way down past the Minerva reef and wanted to meet them at Opua where there was a small festival for the arriving fleet. There was also a calling notice out for the Ocean Cruising Club, who were organising an arrival party at Nina Kiff’s house, the local Port Officer.

The drive up took about three and a half hours, through stretches of beautiful countryside. You got the impression that the land around the road had been tamed but the hills overlooking the road were wild and covered with thick vegetation. And so green. As soon as you are way from Auckland the roads become single lane A roads with the occasional overtaking lane on steep hills. The speed limits are closely adhered to and we have heard that this trend is reinforced by a zero tolerance Police attitude and numerous unidentified van and cars with speed cameras ready to snap the unwary. Saying that, with the state of our van, keeping below the speed limit is not a problem. The roads are steep and full of bends. I am finding that I am keeping our lumbering heap well below the limit to be safe. She doesn’t corner well with the weight we have on board.

We arrived at Opua and immediately ran into Irene and Georg off ZigZag, newly arrived and looking very tired. The sail down had been reasonable but windy towards the end and for the first time in a long time, there had been a head wind and sea for periods of the trip. They soon decided to fire off to bed. We had been invited to stay with Gill and Alasdair on Starcharger with the kids to sleep next door with Lorna and George on Quatsino II. Typically the kids saw small friends for the first time in months, screamed with joy and just disappeared.

We headed up to the OCC gathering at Nina’s house. It was great to meet some truly dedicated sailors and were privileged to be at the prize giving of the 2015 Rose Award a prize presented for the most audacious short handed voyage of the year. Suzanne and Comrey of Whateke travelled 1200 miles upwind on the Patagonian coast, starting at the Beagle Channel, a trip which proves them to be as hard as nails and a bit nuts!  It was great to meet them and hear their story. Amazing. Lou also met a wonderful lady called Rose. Lou is hopeful that when she is in her eighties and still sailing, she is as positive, bouncy and fun loving. I’m not sure how many times sailing round the world this group represents but I suspect that it is more than you can count on a set of hands. Inspirational.


For the next few days, we enjoyed the marvellous hospitality of Starcharger, Quatsino and a variety of guests. One could suggest that we partied a  little hard but it was great fun. We learnt that Gill plays the sax well, Paul can be understood when he sings (magnificently, by the way) and Lorna should not be left in charge of a didgeridoo. We had fun and the kids had a great time catching up with the Jade and Tika kids and meeting new ones from Enough and Carpe Dium, names we had heard on the net but never met. They joined in with the local sailing club. $3 a head for 3hours sailing on the club Optis, Splash or 420s. The kids loved it and of course got pretty wet. The difference is the water temperature here meant they came out blue!

It was fun.

With the crews of Invictus, Mobi, ZigZag, and two French boats, all with small children, we visited the Otama Vineyard for some wine tasting and to meet St Nickolas. Very much a Germanic tradition, St Nickolas appears on 6th December. He appeared a little early but the kids loved the small goody bags he dropped in to give them. I understand St Nickolas enjoyed the visit too…….Opua Opua

We must say we have been lucky in meeting people. Malcolm and Helen Shaft are OCC members of long standing who settled in NZ after many years sailing. At the OCC party, Malcolm offered us a small flat that had been used by his mother who recently passed on. He followed this up with an email a couple of days later to remind us of the offer and to say it hadn’t been the drink talking. With Starcharger planning to move South a week later, we decided to lighten their burden (and to save our livers) by taking Malcolm up on his offer. However, before we left we had some more cracking nights, taking it in turns around Quatsino II, Starcharger and ZigZag. The kids had a variety of sleepovers but had almost as much fun on Quatsino. I think George found it novel having smalls on board, happy to come in in the morning for a chat (one way traffic at a million miles an hour in Eleanor’s case). Certainly, I found him looking a bit stunned after one of these sessions!


The daytime activities were varied too. We had a great time at the Paihia Xmas parade. Lots of fun, some great costumes and the smalls got lots of sweeties. The free ice-cream at the “Taste of Switzerland” on its opening was good too. I’m not sure how long it will last in the partisan setting of NZ considering the shop opposite is selling NZ’s best ice cream at half the price….. And of course we had to try the fish and chips. Noah bullied his way in to being fed by Gill and Alasdair. Note the fact that the tomato sauce is being held for him. He intonated that this was to happen very loudly.


A short ferry ride away from Paihia is Russell, the original capital of NZ. Known as the Hellhole of the Pacific in the early 19C, a den of iniquity and houses of ill repute abound, it has transitioned into a quaint tourist town of shore side tearooms and shops selling tourist trinkets. The oldest pub in NZ, The Duke of Marlborough it still alive, well and serving excellent beverages. The pier, rebuilt and extended these days is a magnificent structure.


Our sincere thanks to Alasdair, Gill, Lorna and George for giving us berths for the time we stayed with them. It was hugely appreciated and great fun!

We moved up to Malcolm and Helen’s house and unpacked the car into the Granny flat and garage. Hot water, a double bed and a TV! What more could we want!