New Zealand - 4 weeks later

Mike and Liz Downing
Mon 6 Dec 2010 11:23
Still in Opua and have been here for 4 weeks now - the time has just flown by. The first week was spent finding our way around and starting to wash and pack away all the offshore gear. You don't realize how much of that you have until you start and then find it goes on and on. Then it was a week of festivities organised by the rally we joined in Tonga.  The sailing aspect of the rally was a non-event - no coordination and everyone did their own thing. Just Troutbridge and ourselves left Vava'u and we followed different courses. The SSB net and weather reports were not good either, but the socializing this end in NZ has been excellent. We had a full week of events with seminars each day (on things like rigging, weather, cruising NZ), trips out to local towns, and there was something every evening - the local businesses sponsored meals or pot luck barbecues were organised. It all finished with the final meal - a pork roast - and prize giving. Prizes were nothing to do with sailing, boat names were just pulled out of the hat. It was arranged so that every boat won something and our prize was a hire car for 2 days and a travel pack - cool bag, thermos, cups, rug, maps, so pretty good, particularly as it didn't cost anything to join. It was run by the Island Cruising Association and very well organised.
The last 2 weeks we've been continuing to sorting the boat out and start to get work done by the local services, e.g. having the rig checked by the rigging company here. I go up the mast after every offshore passage to check all is okay and inspect the rigging at deck level every couple of days while on passage, but it's reassuring to get the professionals to have a look at it once a year. It came through with no problems, so after a fairly boisterous Pacific crossing that was good news. We're having a few other minor improvements made and have been getting quotes. Whangarei, an hour's drive away to the south, is in competition with Opua for boat work and they took a coach load of yachties, including ourselves, down to tour the boatyards followed by a meal and a welcoming speech by the mayor! Whangarei is the largest city in Northland (the top end of the North Island) and has a huge number of small business to do work of all kinds. So it's the best place to go to have any serious work done, but it's 15 miles up a river and you need to go up with the tide, so it's not so easy to get out to sea again to go sailing. At the moment we're planning to stay around Opua to get what we want done. In comparison with Whangarei, Opua in minute. It has a good number of boat services and 3 chandlers around the marina, but there's only one shop - a grocery shop that's also the Post Office. There are no ATMs so we have to catch a bus (runs on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays) to the seaside town of Paihia to get money out. But it is nice to feel wanted and the people of NZ have definitely opened their arms and given a very warm welcome to the yachts that have arrived here this year. Even customs gave us a welcome pack when we checked in containing all sorts of goodies, including a small bottle of rum! That's never happened to us anywhere else.
With our 2 days of free car hire we traveled 300 miles in a circle - up the east coast to 90 Mile Beach on the west coast and then back to Opua via the inland route across the country.  90 mile Beach is in fact only about 60 miles, but that's still not bad for a beach! The sand at the water's edge is hard and you can drive cars along it, and are allowed to do so - there are signs up saying normal road rules apply. Coach trips make a point of driving along the edge of the surf. The countryside in this part of NZ reminds us of the west country, but better - very green and hilly with small woods scattered across the pasture land - and very very picturesque - but all the trees and shrubs are totally different to the UK. There's also a lot of tree ferns growing wild here, the national icon. There are sheep here, but not many in this part. There are a lot of cows - all the breeds we see at home. One thing we saw that we don't get at home is a very colourful parrot in the forest on the way back from 90 mile beach We think it might have been an eastern Rosella. We haven't seen a kiwi yet as they quite rare and nocturnal.
There is good wifi here at £20 a month - not too bad - so we've started to put together pictures of Tonga for going up on the blog and hope to get these up in the next week, followed by the first of no doubt, many many photos of NZ.