Bay of Islands and Whangamumu Bay

Wed 10 Dec 2014 01:41
35:15.02S 174:17.88E

Morning sun on the Opua anchorage.

Happily a spell of good weather coincided with us having Joseph and Kate, my nephew and niece, to stay for 5 days so we sailed off to explore some of the many wonderful anchorages here. Pretty obviously, the Bay of Islands is scattered with islands, but also with estuaries and peninsulas making a wonderful network of little anchorages.

We started out by staying within the bay then, as our crew gained in confidence and in sea legs, went out around Cape Brett, enjoying the multitude of sea birds as we went. There were thousands, from solitary yellow headed Gannets piercing the water to hundreds of little Fluttering Shearwaters, making the water look more like bird soup than open sea.

Morning mist on the headland as we headed out of The Bay of Islands.

 Following the coast down the Eastern side of Cape Brett we enjoyed the company of some Bottlenose Dolphins and found a lovely enclosed anchorage, Whangamumu (important pronunciation tip: 'Wh' is sounded like an 'f’). 

Coming up for air and looking at you looking at me looking at you...

Once settled at anchor we explored the bay, with the help of our new two man kayak. Lovely for quiet exploration, coming up on bird and sea life without the disturbance of an engine. The youngsters and I followed the trail on the North of the bay, leading from the remains of a whaling station, to find the little waterfall and clamber up the path of the stream above it. After a decent climb we were able to take the picture below up on the ridgeway through a gap in the trees. It shows just how sheltered a bay Whangamumu is. The whalers must have been relieve to get back in there, towing their whales behind them, when they’d been many days at sea in the huge swell that the depressions bring over from the Tasman Sea. It was a glorious day so Kate decided to cool off with a swim, the brave foolhardy girl that she is. Seeing her in there I decided it couldn’t be that cold so went in. "Put your head under” called Phil from the safety of the warm deck, “Swim round the boat!”, there was no bloody way I was going to! It was make-you-gasp as-you-enter cold, it was Chesil-Beach-in-May cold, where your skin goes numb and you can’t feel the towel against you when you get out. A few rapid strokes saw me heading back for the ladder and the safety of the warm sun on deck.

A glutton for punishment and egged on by the brave Kate with her teenager circulation we both joined her to go snorkelling the next day. Joseph decided discretion was the better part of valour and, after being promoted to Second Mate, was left in charge of the vessel. We were wet suited up of course, although they were only shortie wet suits, but still the initial cold was a shock to the system. “It hurts!” exclaimed Phil when he put his head under, the cold water gave us both brain freeze, like when you drink an iced fruit drink too fast in Costa’s. Still, we persevered and went off in search of fish. We found plenty: plenty of grey fish. There were little stripy grey fish in amongst the weeds, bigger stripy grey fish in the channels between the rocks, medium sized spotty grey fish everywhere around, including under the boat and thin silvery grey fish (pipers) just under the surface. On the reddish weed growing on some rocks just under the surface there were some reddish fish sort of sitting there, they looked like they were resting on their elbows, and the Leatherjacket, which looks like a file fish, had orange on its fins, but apart from that, they were grey. Nice but not what we’ve been used to. I closed my eyes and remembered snorkelling with Phil and Jonathan in the Coral Gardens of Tahaa, soft warm water filled with every colour of fish imaginable, which ate from our hands, and I decided that the beauty of New Zealand lay elsewhere. In its scenery, its whales and dolphins, its birdlife and bush, but perhaps not in its snorkelling.

However, once we’d warmed up, more exploring had us scraping oysters from the rocks at low tide, which we ate for lunch - delicious! And the dolphins joined us again on our return trip, so I’m certainly not complaining. We had to leave the beautiful solitude of the bays and return to the busy anchorage as we were due to be lifted out and have our bottom scraped and anti-fouled. As you know, the anti had long disappeared from our hull, just leaving the foul, and although having to manually scrape the grass skirt from the hull was a pain it was no big deal in the warm waters of French Polynesia or Tonga. Spending 4 hours or so underwater every two weeks here is quite another matter so we’d decided to get the work done as soon as we could and with the help of the youngsters made our way back to Opua again.

The little white dot , centre right, is Lochmarin at anchor in Whangamumu Bay.