Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Grandpa John and Aunt Wendy's visit to New Zealand

January 20 - 28, 2012

Grandpa John and Aunt Wendy's visit to New Zealand

We are taking a break from home-schooling while Grandpa John is visiting us in New Zealand. Owen met Grandpa at the airport in Kerikeri (a town about an hour north of Opua). John had a rented car reserved so Owen drove a very tired Grandpa to his hotel in Opua. John's aggregate flights took 27 hours from Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA to the Kerikeri airport on the North Island of New Zealand. He was a tired puppy. Not too tired to see his grandkids though, so after Owen deposited Grandpa, he drove down the hill, hopped into the dinghy and rode out to the boat to pick us up. We were all excited to see Grandpa John who had braved the long (and expensive) flight to visit us on the bottom of the world. We left the US a year ago. After outfitting the boat, it took us 8 months to sail here (with visits to remote islands along the way). It took Grandpa 27 hours to fly. 

Grandpa handed out Christmas gifts (and birthday gifts to me). Grandpa's favorite gifts are movies and the kids of-course love them. We haven't seen a TV since we left the US - so movies are our favorite way to relax together (or apart). He also brought Daniel Smith watercolor paints that Owen bought me for my birthday. (Daniel Smith watercolors made in Seattle are the best I have ever used.) Then Grandpa John needed to sleep - so we left the hotel and went back to our boat. 

The next day Grandpa wanted to purchase a phone in Kerikeri, so while Owen and John checked out the phone stores, Tamsyn, Griffyn and I found a hike that wondered though Kiwi habitat. It began at the Waitangi Treaty grounds and ended at Haruru Falls.

On this hot and sunny day, the hike felt wonderful. It was good to be walking through a forest again. I have missed walking and especially walking on a trail, through a forest rich in diversity. It reminded me of the forests that I missed in the Pacific Northwest. I fell in love with the tree ferns and took many pictures of them. 

The ancient fern with a trunk a foot wide and 8 foot fern branches is a primeval species. It was around when dinosaurs walked the earth. Walking under them made us feel very small as if we had shrunk and were now wondering through a garden like spiders looking for a spot to weave a web. The tree fern canopy spanned the path often and sometimes we would step onto a huge jagged shadow. We felt like hobbits walking through another world. 

They were epiphytes growing in huge clumps on trees with branches hanging low over the river. There were enormous yucca like plants with wide sword like leaves as tall as me and a central stalk of flowers much taller. 

Owen has told me I was surrounded by tea-trees (one of the many trees that make up this forest) - like these.

I was too enamored with the ferns of all sizes to wonder at the other trees. 

We traversed an old bridge crossing a river leaving the forest to wander the mangroves on the other side. To walk through a mangroves you have to walk above the water on a board walk much like the board walks in Yost Park, Edmonds, WA. 

Mangroves have a simple beauty unlike the diversity of the forest, they are made up of few species. They grow in mud (at low tide) or in water (high tide). At low tide you see the tips of the next generation penetrating the mud like a million sticks sticking straight up.

 Only a few have leaves and these are surrounded by the mangroves bushes or trees that are full grown. In a way it is like walking through a desert it is so different from a lush forest. After a path through the mangroves we were back in the forest again. 

The "whine" of the cicadas were so loud that we thought we might loose some hearing. A couple times a very large bug would fly by my head and I wondered what on earth could be so loud and large (and still fly). 

Griffyn found a dead cicada on the path. It was an inch long. Griffyn carried the dead cicada very carefully all the rest of the way. 

The hike ended at a water fall, Haruru Falls, where Grandpa and Owen met us. Grandpa had brought small magnifying glasses for each of us. We all looked at the cicada in great detail. They are quite beautiful when seen up close, they have golden hairs on their bodies and heads. They have two sets of eyes, tiny red ones and larger green/black ones. Their bodies colors are green, blue, black, and gold. Their transparent wings reflect the colors of the rainbow.

After a quick look at the falls, it was time to head back to the hotel. That night we ordered a couple pizzas. Griffyn (and the rest of us) were so excited, we hadn't had pizza since La Paz, Mexico. We thought it tasted great - what a treat! Thank you Grandpa!

On Sunday, Grandpa said we needed to go to the airport again to do some paperwork on the rental car and we had to be there at 10:40 AM sharp! So we dragged the kids out of bed at 8:00 AM, ate breakfast, got dressed, packed lunch, water and snacks, and around 9:20 got into the dinghy. We chained up the dinghy at the dinghy dock, deposited our garbage, walked through the marina and up the hill to Grandpa's hotel by 9:45 AM. Then we all piled in the car and drove to Kerikeri. We got there a little early, but Owen assured me that the car rental place would open even on a Sunday - once the plane arrived. So we were waiting around a little airport (a bit of grass with a fence around it) for a little airplane to arrive so that we could fill out some more paperwork. I was beginning to think this was tedious. Grandpa walked over to the area where passengers deplane after a plane landed. We followed him... then Aunt Wendy (Owen's sister) walked off the plane toward us. I was in total shock, my jaw hung down for a full 10 minutes. Wendy had told us a month ago that she couldn't get the time off work. We were quite sad that she wouldn't be coming - but here she was!!!!! We were all overjoyed!  We hugged her and kissed her and told her how happy we were that she was here. After a trip to the grocery store, we spent the rest of the day helping her get settled in Opua. She was staying with Grandpa in the hotel.

The next day Grandpa wanted to head up north to the beaches at the tip of the North Island to see if we could see any sea birds. He loves birds and his photos of them left me speechless (see his website "Morning Earth"). We were happy to take a road trip to see more of the area. Our first stop after a lunch break was the quick mart - because what is a road trip with out Doritos. Owen purchased one bag (they only had one) and we, the back seat, immediately confiscated it. Another treat - we hadn't had Doritos since the US. (We did share with the front seat.) We loved seeing the scenery of New Zealand - it looks as if rural southern Wisconsin married rural Montana and was governed by English farmers. The hills are more rugged and more often than anything in the midwest but the small cattle and sheep farms share the land equally with the vineyards and corn and squash fields. And there are hedge rows everywhere made of bamboo stands, large deciduous trees or pines. 

The first beach we found, "90 Mile Beach",  is on the Tasman Sea (on the west coast of New Zealand between Austalia and New Zealand). 

It was extremely windy and very long (hence the name) with headlands way off in the distance. The beach itself was sandy and flat for a long ways out to sea. Tamsyn and Wendy ran full speed over the dunes, down to the water and were wet to their waists by the time Owen and I reached them with Griffyn. We had not thought about swim suits or towels. Tamsyn & Griffyn live in salt water - so they thought nothing of getting a little wet. The wind chilled us through before long and we headed back to the car to dust the sand off and get in. 

The warm drive to the next beach felt wonderful. "Henderson Bay" is on the Pacific side of New Zealand. This beach was absolutely stunning. 

The dunes are high and full us grasses and bushes and wildlife. We had to walk a quarter of a mile through them to reach the beach. Our shoes were full of sand. The colors of the water were turquoise, deep blue, and lighter blue - patches of water of differing depths. The beach was a soft red and white barking sand in and around outcroppings of dark brown lava. 

Griffyn all on his own created a piece of environmental art using these amazing tumble weed like things and a still pool of water.  

Our own Andy Goldsworthy.

Large branches of seaweeds floated in the shallows and Wendy, skirting the waves, played out  sword fights and monster chases with Griffyn and Tamsyn. I was in heaven, the beach was so beautiful to look at, the day was perfect, warm and sunny (on this beach anyway), Owen was exploring marine life in tidepools with Grandpa and I loved watching Wendy run around with the kids laughing and giggling like she was 12. 

I was content to take it all in while wading through the sea weed and swirling water. I had a moment where I had to run ahead and see what was around the next bluff - the same impulse that convinced me to sail the seas - to see what there was to see. 

The next day, Tuesday, we had a birthday party to attend (we were invited before Grandpa arrived) to "Puddy Tat", a catamaran owned by a couple from Zimbabwe (Sylvie) and Great Britain (David). We first met them in the Marqueses and have run into them a number of times on our island stops across the Pacific. The have become very dear to us. Grandpa and Wendy decided to have a day with themselves. They went back to Haruru Falls and hiked the path half way through before turning back. I'm sure they enjoyed their day.  

We really needed a day on the boat, the laundry was piling up and I had offered to bring a chocolate cake to the party.  A couple days previously I had bought a ringer from another cruising couple who were selling it. I was dying to try it out. So I spent the day baking and doing laundry. When ever I bake I never make just one thing - it is a waste of propane (it takes 45 minutes just to heat up the oven.) So that day I made oatmeal cookies (with chocolate chips and coconut) and a double layer chocolate cake with chocolate icing. We ran out of propane just as I was baking the last pan of cookies, just as I was about to put the cakes in - so we called Puddy Tat and asked if we could finish baking over there. They offered to give us a propane tank to use. So Owen jumped into the dinghy and rode over to get their propane tank, bring it back and hook it up as quickly as possible. The oven only lost 75 degrees - he was fast!  The cakes turned out great and I was able with the help of the kids to get two large loads of washing, rinsed twice and hung before we had to leave for the party (5:00 PM) and Tamsyn and Griffyn had made gifts for the birthday boy (David) who was turning 50. Owen spent the day working on his website and advertising. His website has had a huge overhaul and looks great - check it out:    It was a busy day for us and the party was a lot of fun. We stayed quite late and drank too much and the kids watched three movies. So we were all quite satiated when we dropped off to sleep around 1:30 AM. 

Next morning, Wednesday, we received two email invitations - one was from Grandpa requesting the presence of Tamsyn at the hotel for the night (a sleep over). Grandpa had suggested this prior to his visit and the kids had been asking non-stop since he arrived. Wendy sent another invitation requesting Griffyn's presence (for the night) at her hotel room. So that morning consisted of packing. The kids spent at least 2 hours packing their backpacks and planning their evenings. They were so excited it was like Christmas all over again. After lunch we finally left the boat and headed up the hill to Grandpa's hotel. While Owen and Grandpa drove to Paihia to fill our propane tanks so we would be able to cook again on the boat, I asked Wendy what she wanted to do while she was here in New Zealand. She said she really wanted to ride a Jet Ski. I was thrilled, I did too and I knew Owen didn't want to. So we hatched a plan for the afternoon on Thursday. When Owen and Grandpa returned, Owen and I spent a couple hours chatting. Then Owen and I each took hot showers (none on the boat) before we kissed the kids good night and walked back down the hill to the marina. We were on our own for the first time since we left the US. We hardly knew what to do with ourselves - well not exactly - we could think of a few things. 

Thursday morning I finished a bit of laundry (it's all handwashing - well now using a ringer!!!!) and hung up things to dry while Owen stowed things so that we could have the boat a little more ready to sail (tomorrow). When you finally arrive at your destination (after a passage) you unload all those things that were stowed  - like laundry buckets and bins and rain catchers and tons of other things that you use daily when you are not sailing. We had a lot to stow yet. It was good to have a little time without the kids around to be able to get stuff done quickly. 

That after noon we went up the hill to the hotel and met up with the kids and Grandpa and Wendy and made the appointment to jet ski. I had worn my swim suit and was ready to go. Everyone went to the beach in Paihia (a pretty very touristy town in the Bay of Islands with a huge beach.) The kids were going to swim while Wendy and I shared a Jet Ski on a Tour of the bay. Our guide was great, he said, "speed is your friend on a jet ski." 

Wendy drove first - I figured she would be better since she drove motorcycles, but the waves were very choppy that day and the bay lead straight out to the ocean (I thought there were some swells too). Wendy drove for a bit and then I took over when she was struggling with the chop. I felt pretty good on the water - I guess it is the sailing and all those dinghy rides. I definitely had a feel for the waves. I took us through the worst of the choppy waves and we entered a more sheltered area about 20 minutes into our 1 hour tour of the islands. The guide told us a little about a couple of the islands as we neared them. The water was much smoother in that more sheltered bay. It was great to see the islands up close too. I can't wait to take out boat out and anchor near some of them. Soon. I loved the Jet Ski - especially on smooth water. We got soaked and continuously sprayed with salt water. I'd have to slow down just to clear the water out of my eyes. After we had seen three islands it was time to head back. Wendy drove the way home - she took us up to 70 km/hour! Wow! I thought I'd loose a filling each time we slammed down into the trough. (I had only taken us up to 50 km/hour - which was fast.) She was having a great time! I was too and eager to get back. I knew I'd be tired the next day. That night the kids stayed at the hotel again with Wendy and Grandpa. Owen and I headed back to the boat for a late supper, a movie sans children and some more stowing.

Friday morning - sailing day. The challenge was to get Grandpa into the boat from a bouncing dinghy (he's somewhat disabled). We put Grandpa into a bosun's chair, Owen hauled him up the side, while Wendy stayed in the dinghy helping to place his feet on deck. I was on deck next to Grandpa to give him a shoulder. It worked well and after a view from the bow, he sat down to stay in the cockpit. The day wasn't shaping up as nicely as we had hoped - the forecast was for gusts of up to 30 knots, rain and swells. The trawler on a mooring ball next to us was swinging all over the place getting dangerously close. Boats were dragging and moving around so much that a number of boats were pulling anchor and moving just to avoid potential collisions. It was a rough day out. I was very eager to pull anchor as was Owen. Despite our plans to sail it was good to get out of the way of the heavy M/V Craig Isle. So as the wind whipped us and every boat around us, we pulled anchor and drove backward as quickly as possible to move away from an impending disaster. A little scary -but hey I wanted Wendy and Grandpa to have a real sailing experience - they were gonna get one. 

As we drove out of the anchorage and past the marina the sun came through the clouds a bit just to taunt us. It gave Wendy a sunny view of the boat while Tamsyn showed her around below deck. Then we threaded the needle (at the narrowest passage coming into a bay I can remember - only 50 feet wide - the first time we came through at 2:30 AM - so I didn't really "see" how close those markers were to each other), while racing boats careened past us on both sides (the locals here - like everywhere else - pay no attention to the channel marker buoys). 

This was race week - there had been sail boat races all week - today was the last day. These huge fancy boats with 10 people all wearing the same shirt sitting on the windward edge feet dangling just above the water cruised past us at top speed - it was a windy day. Our heavy boat under power just left in the waves. We finally put up sail after we past a huge cruise ship parked outside of Paihia (one of those 12 decks high ones like Princess Lines). Once we put up sail we shut off the engine and sailed at around 6 knots for about 3 hours before we had to turn back. The weather declined and it began to rain. Wendy and I went below and I made coffee and showed Wendy what it was like to cook at an angle. She understood why sometimes I don't want to boil water. 

Then as if it was planned something broke - some thing always breaks during a passage - often many things break (hopefully not all at once). Our compass stopped moving. Owen banged on it, I made the old joke about showing them a "real" sailing experience and eventually his banging restored it's movement. I hope that one isn't actually beginning to fail - we need a compass in the cockpit! (We have enough to mend while we summer over.) We were heeling over a bit and making a good speed - it was fun. I love the waves and sailing (provided they are reasonable - but even that sense of reasonable has stretched considerably in the past year.) 

Wendy and Grandpa seemed to thoroughly enjoy their sail despite the rain and frustrations we had anchoring again once we returned to area we had left earlier that day. We dropped the anchor and it dragged and we had to re-anchor and it dragged and then seemed to catch. It was around 8 PM by the time we finally all tumbled back into the dinghy and were able to ride to the marina. Grandpa had offered to buy us all dinner at the marina cafe (fabulous food). And we were all happy to accept. Another late night but it was a fun day.

Saturday morning Wendy's plane took her back home. We brought her to the airport, saw her walk onto the plane and fly away. We all felt sad to see her go knowing it would be a long time before we would see her again. We were all tired and left Grandpa at the hotel to rest. He wasn't leaving until Monday. 

On Sunday we all drove to Whangarei. Whangarei is the nearest medium sized town in New Zealand. It is an hour south of Opua. Owen and I wanted to check out the town, it's marina and anchoring sites as well as the headlands near by. We had heard of other cruisers staying in Whangarei for their summer over. We wanted to know if it would be a better place for us than Opua. Opua is little more than a good marina with much of what a cruiser or yachty needs to repair their boat in a beautiful setting. There is a general store, but not much else. It is a hamlet especially designed for the yachty (tourist or local). 

Whangarei is indeed bigger than Opua, yet we were a little sad to see what looked just like another "American" city with franchises and modern construction. We have spent most of our time in the last year in small villages and have come to like them quite a lot. Whangarei had a lot of shops and services, yet it didn't seem to have much character. Just driving through the city, I felt the way I generally feel in modern cities - the pressure to spend money on things we wouldn't need, things that were nicer than the ones we already had. There were very few boats that anchored near the marina and even fewer out at the headlands. We cannot afford to be on a dock. We drove home (to Opua) feeling a little disappointed that what we had seen was less than what we had hoped for. On the other hand we were happy to be anchored in such a lovely place, with lots yet to explore over the summer. We made a couple stops along the way to let Grandpa photograph birds and the kids to play at a park. When we got Grandpa back to the hotel, we all took showers and said our good byes to Grandpa John. 

Monday morning early Owen left the boat to drive Grandpa to the airport.  Thanks for coming you guys!


Jennifer Johnson said...

Wow! That all sounds fabulous! What an amazing adventure. Thanks for all your descriptions. We look forward to seeing some photos next time you get a chance.

westcoastmom said...

Your adventures are so exciting. Hope you all are happy and healthy, you certainly seem to be having a ball.

How long are you planning on sailing? Planning on returning home anytime soon?

Miss you all, Arielle says hello to Tamsyn!!

Take care,