Checking in and restocking

Fri 28 Nov 2014 03:22
On the customs dock, Opua, Bay of Islands, New Zealand (if I keep writing it, I might start believing we're really here!)

We had time to adjust to being here, there was a gentle transition from sea to land, as on arrival to Opua all boats from overseas have to go to the quarentine dock, a floating pontoon with no link to land, to await customs who check them in before the crew can go ashore. We just missed the evening check in and were in quarantine overnight so we sat on deck, eating blue corn tortilla chips and drinking a bottle of champagne (both supplied by Julia and Michael when they joined us in Tonga) whilst gently slapping at the sand flies as they feasted on us. Personally I think it a cheek of bio-security to check us for insect hitch hikers when the minute we arrived we were invaded by New Zealand's biting demons. These little chaps look innocent enough, very small black flies, a bit like fruit flies (which I think harm no one but New Zealand is very keen to ban from their shores) however, they nip, which makes one go "Ow!" and slap them, and then they employ their secret weapon: injecting some sort of mega itching fluid. It's not bad at the start, but gradually builds up so that in the night you can't sleep for the desire to SCRATCH, however, if you do, it simply gets worse and worse until you are forced to wake up fully and go in search of antihistamine. It doesn't stop there. The little red marks develop into big angry bites and two weeks later they are still itching...

It wasn't all sand flies and champagne though, I'm giving the wrong impression. Coming into the Bay of Islands I was entranced by the sea birds - cold water birds we'd not seen since Europe like Gannets and sea gulls - Black Backed and Red Billed, as well as birds that were new to us: big Pied Shags, pretending to be penguins, and little Common Diving Petrels which made me laugh out loud when I first saw them. I spotted a couple of petrels on the water, which is unusual as they usually dance just above the waves. As we got closer I expected them to fly off but instead, they disappeared! I'd never seen a petrel dive under the water before and I was fascinated to see them duck diving. There we were, navigating into a new landfall, with a channel to find our way down and islands to dodge, I was on the fore deck supposedly spotting buoys and making ready for mooring, instead I was calling out "Gannet!" or "Shag!".  Then, just to show us what she could do, New Zealand welcomed us with a Bryde's Whale up close to the boat. As big as a humpback but sleek and low in the water, just showing a dorsal fin before dipping back down, no tail in sight...

A Red Billed Gull and a Pied Shag trying to look like a penguin with wings.

Next morning Customs arrived along with the Bio-Security team and started processing the boats that had arrived the evening before or overnight. There had been much hype and many rumours about how the Bio-Security people would steal all your food, all your shells and all your carvings or baskets. Seeing that the main tourist industry in Tonga is basket making and carving, it's a bit hard on them as lots of cruisers wouldn't buy for fear of New Zealand confiscating them.  We met one single handed sailor in Tonga who was in no hurry to make the passage down, even though Cyclone season would soon be coming "I haven't eaten my food yet" he explained, the premise being that it was better to eat it than risk losing a few dollars worth of food to Bio-Security. He had a lot of food; he may still be in Tonga. 

The reality was a little different. They were very thorough, and very professional, and checked all dry foods like flour, rice and pasta for any sign of weevils, taking anything that looked dodgy. This is actually quite reasonable because we have had some pretty monster weevils on board, from food we bought in Panama. These weren't the little brown type that you can sieve out of your rice or just bake in your bread as extra protein, they were big buggers, about half a centimetre long, getting everywhere. We noticed them first because my Mum, when she stayed with us in Tahiti, noticed them crawling over her sheets... she made no fuss, just mentioned them as she thought we'd like to know they were there, but not objecting to their presence (the dry food store was under her bunk). 

Panama Evil Weevils and their maggoty spawn in a pack of tagliatelle 

They took all fresh fruit and veg and things like dried sorrel flowers, that we use for making juice, but left dried mushrooms and onions. We kept our cheese and dried milk but any eggs would have been taken (we ate ours) and honey was a no no. Some things depended on where they came from, like mayonnaise from the USA was fine but not from Colombia. Anything that could sprout, like dried beans and un popped pop corn was taken, but not lentils for some reason. Carvings and baskets were checked for signs of bugs, but otherwise left alone and they weren't at all interested in our shell collection, but hiking boots and bicycles were checked for mud and seeds. 

So, inspection over, we were released. We moved the boat the 50 feet to the Marina pontoon and could finally set foot on New Zealand soil - to be welcomed with a huge smile and open arms by my Mum, who'd driven up from Auckland to be there for us. Apart from the pleasure of her company one really helpful thing about Mum coming up was that she drove me to a supermarket to restock after Bio-Security had taken their loot. The supermarket was amazing... we could buy ANYTHING we wanted. I did get some fruit and veg it's true, but then got to the biscuits, chocolate and snacks aisleDisaster. Chocolate that wasn't white when you opened it, biscuits that weren't soggy or stale tasting. After that aisle I was all aisled out, couldn't face the others but I did remember that we needed milk so headed for the milk section. Correction: Milk wall. How to choose? It's been about 2 years, in the Canaries, since we last had fresh milk. Did we need 'homogenised'? What does it mean anyway? What about 'Trim'? Should it be in a black-no-light-bottle (why?) or a regular see through one? Luckily another shopper came to my assistance and found me semi-skimmed organic, even checking the use by dates for me. We retreated to the check out where, miracle upon miracle, our bags were packed for us and we could return to the boat ready for a high calorie binge!

The wonderful shopping basket, fruit and veg hidden by treats. The blue things with pink packaging are emergency socks, by the way - it was freeeeezing!