Merry Christmas from New Zealand!
We arrived! exhausted at 2:30 AM - at the Quarantine dock in New Zealand's northern most port town of Opua, in the Bay of Islands.
Next morning bright and early we met with the Bio-security patrol who looked over our boat and confiscated much of the remaining food we had on board. We had read up on what to expect from Bio-security/customs of NZ in Tonga. We had our hull cleaned in Tonga, so we weren't too concerned with huge unexpected fines for a dirty hull. We had eaten everything fresh except for a couple heads of garlic on passage. Yet we were still surprised by how much they hauled off the boat that morning before we ate breakfast. In two large black plastic garbage bags, they took our dry beans (navy beans, pinto beans, black beans, garbanzo beans, mung beans) about 15 pounds, they took our honey, our mayonnaise (Mexican mayo - even the sealed jars) 7 jars, they took every grain that could possibly sprout (popcorn and all of our sprouting seeds: alfalfa, flax, broccoli, wheat, lentils), and many other items that I can't remember. They left us with our tinned sardines, canned corned beef, rice, pasta, condiments, spices and herbs. We had eaten down our stores almost completely by the time we arrived here. Tonga had had meager food options and all were expensive, so we learned to live on rice and beans alternating with pasta and canned meat, fish or lentils with powdered milk for the kids. There was a fresh market too - so we ate lots of bananas, pineapple, cucumber, tomatoes and potatoes. I cooked quite a bit on passage to NZ - trying to eat up everything. So as soon as we left the quarantine dock - we needed to get some food on board!
Customs came directly after Bio-security left the boat. We filled out lots of forms, had our passports stamped and our Visas issued. They were very efficient, friendly and quick. They assured us that there were hot showers available here in the marina, a general store within walking distance and a laundry. Then they handed us a welcome bag filled with lots of local info pamphlets about where to get what, tide info, marina info, and a small bottle of rum. I guess they know sailors well.
When you arrive in a foreign port exhausted, dirty (no shower since Tonga 14 days ago), and hungry (we had all lost weight on passage) - it is hard to know what to do first. We immediately called the marina to ask if there was a slip available for a couple of days. Then moved our boat to a dock. This was the first time we would step off of our boat onto a dock since Mexico (May 9th). It felt luxurious to step onto a stable surface (rather than get into a wet dinghy and get wetter still on your rough salty ride to shore). It was a blustery day and chilly - much like what we expected everyone back in the Pacific Northwest was experiencing. It felt a lot like home here. It felt a lot like Edmonds here. And almost immediately we met friends and that was the best welcome. Joel came over to meet us from Russell, a neighboring town where he had his boat (SV Belina). Bob and Sue (SV Fugue) met us near the cafe (next to the laundry) and we all sat down together and had terrifically delicious and well prepared food. Wow! I'm gonna like it here. After a long lunch I insisted that we take a shower and wash our sheets. Another luxury, clean sheets, cool breezes and a still boat. We reclaimed the V-berth and slept very well.
After we had spent a couple days resting, doing laundry and getting the kids clean, we had to begin focusing on Christmas Shopping. Where are the stores that sell toys? Opua is a very small town (unlike Edmonds) there are almost no shops except for the General Store/Post Office and the shops that cater to the cruising/sailing community (2 chandleries, a laundry, showers, a boat yard, a sail repair shop, car rental and sales, various mechanics, etc.) everything a visiting sailor would need. All the main stores (grocery stores, department stores, larger shopping areas) are in the next couple of towns. There is a shuttle that runs three days a week and will take you to the closest of the grocery stores. And many cruisers buy a car when they arrive. Bob and Sue had already purchased a car when we came and offered us rides to the next town to help us restock. It took a couple trips to replace the dried beans we had lost and find the toy stores. We stumbled upon a couple used book stores and the kids got lots of books for Christmas. That also reminded me of home (in MN). I found lots of great children's reference books and am always thinking about all that they have yet to learn (in home schooling). I am so glad that we are again in an English speaking country where we can replenish our home schooling curricula. Both Tamsyn and Griffyn are in need of the next level. We have yet to check out the local school - to see if they could be enrolled for the summer. School here begins February 4th.
Christmas in the Southern Hemisphere
It is light until 9:30 pm. It is sunny and warmer each day. No where are there any signs of Christmas. The cafe doesn't play Christmas tunes, the stores do not have trees or tunes or decorations everywhere. The street lamps are not needed or decorated. It is harder here to "feel Christmas". Most of the cruising community are retired a long way form their families. Many do not celebrate holidays. So how do we find the Christmas Spirit?
You have to find another kid boat. SV Pegasus came to our rescue. They are a mid size catamaran with two kids that same age as ours! They invited us over for a homeschool session. And then we planned the next couple of days, shopping, making a gingerbread house and singing Christmas Carols. They had a car - so Santa would be visiting our boat. Catherine (Pegasus) loves to organize things - she chose the carols and said, "Carrie you sing a solo here with 'Silent Night' , I'll play the flute, Mark (Pegasus) will play his guitar and Owen can sing too right?" We gave a little concert on Christmas Eve in front of the laundry. Each of us had made cookies, they also brought the gingerbread house and lots of candles. We had a great time with about 20 cruisers who came to sing along. (Catherine had printed out the carols). Afterward Mark and Cathy invited us to their boat for spirits. It was great to relax. The kids watched 'Santa Bunnies'. Around 11:30 PM we tumbled into our dinghy talking about the beautiful view of the constellations on this cloudless warm Christmas Eve.
Christmas Day brought lots of great presents and surprises for us all. Santa brought Tamsyn a microscope and Griffyn an airplane that not only shoots missiles but also loads cars. I had found a waterproof back pack for Owen that he could use to transport the computer, the camera, anything electronic in the dinghy (generally a wet ride). Owen got me the sewing things (French curve, rotary cutting tool, measured cutting surface) I wanted for making clothes for the kids. Our stockings were full of toys and candy and the family gave us lots and lots of great books! A BIG THANK YOU to Hinka and Lois!!!
We have spent the last couple of days practicing "Boxing Day" a NZ holiday the day after Christmas when you just put things away, play and veg. The weather has turned nasty as a hurricane remnant travels north of the Bay of Islands. We are holding up on the boat well, the kids watching movies and Owen is installing firewalls in our Windows PC and figuring out how to get online access. I have been reading.
We will call family via Skype as we figure things out on this end. It is 5 hours and a day later here.
We look forward to a visit from Grandpa John (Owen's dad) in mid-January.