Getting Villa and Captain Into New Zealand

Our check-in to New Zealand was smooth, at least to start. Biosecurity came to the boat, asked us what we had, and took away a lot less of it than we were expecting. It turns out that many forbidden items are actually OK as long as they’re cooked, pickled, or otherwise thoroughly dead. Dried beans were not allowed, except for our dried bean soup mix, which despite being a bag of dried beans, is OK because it’s a soup mix. Freeze dried veggies were okay, and all our spices passed muster. Anything with pork on the label, no matter how thoroughly dead, is right out. The guy was almost apologetic about the weirdness: “Yeah it doesn’t make any sense, but I don’t make the rules.” He watched our video of our clean hull, and checked our anchor locker for mud and critters, but overall we felt he was much easier on us than we were expecting. Perhaps because we’d cleaned so thoroughly, and everything he looked at was spotless, he figured there was no need to go deeper. Jazz would have been willing to lick any part of the fridge, not a normal or necessary level of cleanliness. Biosecurity collects garbage, and separately collects clean recycling, and if we had known we could have recycled; he asked us to pass that on. Possibly because he saw our disappointed Californian faces when we found out.

Having cleared ourselves and the boat in, there remained only Captain Cat. So we moved the boat down the quarantine dock to the special cases area, while we waited for biosecurity to come and steal him away for his 10-day quarantine. At this point we were allowed to come to shore, by dinghy, since the Q dock isn’t actually connected to land. So we checked in at the marina and received the most thorough welcome package we have ever seen.

Keeping Captain on board meant keeping the doors closed most of the time, which was not a huge burden because it was ridiculously cold. We did let Captain out, supervised, to stare at the birds whose territory we were invading. The dock was absolutely covered, by three different species, none of which seemed to care at all about the watching humans and cat. They fished, shared food, fought, and generally made a lot of noise and poop. These pictures show the dock after its apparently weekly power-washing, and Captain literally shivering from cold but refusing to come inside.

The pickup took several days to arrange, because our passage had been too fast, so there was plenty of time to catch up on sleep after the long journey.

Also while we waited, we met up with Matt and Katie from Searcher, who had beaten us down by a couple of weeks. They introduced us to their favorite steak and burger bar, and then came over to be the first to see this year’s edition of the Villa Christmas tree.

The cause of the pickup delay was that we had arrived three days before our cat import permit was valid. So to get our cat to his quarantine, we had to get the permit re-issued. We had given everyone involved ETA updates via satellite, so there were several days of warning, but despite this, nobody told us this would be a problem. Or started fixing it until we arrived. This meant we were stuck for days, paying to sit and wait on the poop-dock. The re-issue took so long that by the time he was collected, the original permit would have been fine. Here’s our heart-breaking parting: we failed to distract him with food, and he wailed pitifully and didn’t break eye contact as he was carted away.

With Captain off, Matt and Katie gave us a ride down to Whangarei, where we had found a car to buy from another cruiser. We stopped along the way for a short river hike. New Zealand has a problem with a fungus that’s killing their giant Kauri trees, so there are foot-wash stations every so often as you walk along, to make sure people aren’t tracking the disease around the parks.

Some other sights from along the way: Whangerie’s Gaudi-esque Hundertwasser Art Center, the “Possum Man” who wants to buy your roadkill, and some cows at the farm where we looked at (and rejected) car option #2. Test driving a left-handed manual transmission was a fun experience for both of us.

We ended up buying car #1, a little Mercedes coup, though it took a few more days to close the deal. The owner had told us that he wanted to close fast, but when we asked if we could take it immediately, he backtracked and told us he had some errands to run over the weekend. Fine, fair enough. We’d had it checked by a mechanic, who told us that the check engine light was a simple fix of a new oxygen sensor, so we asked the old owner to drop it at the shop, where we’d pick it up. He took a couple of extra days there, because there was a lot of wind and he didn’t want to drop his dinghy. Mildly annoying, but fine. So he eventually gets the car into the shop, where they changed the sensor, and then found a much bigger problem. A thousand dollars of parts later, there’s no longer oil leaking into the wiring harness, but the check engine light remains lit. In a sense this is all minor, because the car runs fine, and the warning light is really an artifact of an oversensitive German computer. In another sense, we wasted a grand trying to get the light to turn off so that we didn’t have to explain this to the next buyer, and lost a week where we didn’t have the car to buy groceries. Fortunately the marina has a cafe… Life lesson: buy the car after the “small, quick” repair. We have a sexy car now, though, so that’s nice.

We spent the next two weeks being cold and fretting about the cat. Here are some highlights of us being cold, and one lucky sunset when it wasn’t raining and gross. We also had an eggciting morning, where Andrew went to make breakfast and found 3 double-yolk eggs in a row… he was thrilled.

The cat issue turned out to take a lot of fretting. The New Zealand Ministry of Primary Industry (MPI) had deemed his paperwork insufficient, and resisted all our efforts to prove that we had, in fact, followed the letter of their regulations. The first problem was that our vet in Fiji had omitted one of the two drugs they gave him from the form. This was easily corrected, though MPI insisted on receiving the updated form directly from the vet. The second problem, far more grievous, was the absence of an official stamp from the Fijian government. We had asked for the stamp from the Fijian biosecurity officer who had been checking the cat on our boat, and she refused on the grounds that this stamp was only for animals that were being exported from Fiji, but Captain had never been imported. Surely, we thought, New Zealand would understand this catch-22 and offer us a sensible exception. How wrong we were.

We offered the dated receipts from the vet, and even video evidence of the treatments happening, but video evidence is not an official stamp, so this was rejected. We called and emailed the top Fijian official, but this was ignored. So we eventually dispatched our amazing Fijian yacht agent, Jo Morris, who cornered Fiji’s official vet and got him to stamp our paper. Armed with a stamp, we thought for sure our cat would be freed, but our hopes were dashed: we needed an original, said the MPI blankfaces, not a scan. In the end, Captain had to spend two weeks in quarantine and receive two extra doses of meds for parasites that, having been bonded to the boat, there was no way for him to contract. Auckland Quarantine, unwillingly introduced as an intermediary by MPI’s refusal to deal directly with customers, did nothing to advocate for us as far as we could tell. They had also promised daily updates, and turned out to mean daily-ish photos posted to the facility’s facebook page, in which Captain routinely looked… well, like this.

This was all super frustrating, because we’d constrained our travel so much to make sure we were near a vet at the right timings for the cat’s treatments. If we’d known that none of it would matter, we could have traveled further around Fiji, rather than making sure we stayed close enough to get to the vet appointments on time. We could have left later, instead of taking a dubious wind window. And of course we’d have saved on vet visits. There was a lot more of Fiji to explore, and as we waited and got repeatedly told “no” in rainy and cold New Zealand, we regretted leaving that tropical paradise.

When we finally secured Captain’s release, we drove down to Auckland to pick up our baby. The highlight of the trip was our lunch stop on the way down at Eutopia Cafe.

The traffic was, of course, terrible, so it was a very long drive. To cap the whole cat affair off, when we arrived to pick him up, we found that he had picked up a terrible cold (“cat flu”) in the quarantine facility, despite the “separate air filtration for each animal and clean-room procedures” that prevented us from visiting or inspecting the facility. This was on a day when we’d paid an MPI vet to make a special trip to the facility to inspect him, and he found him “healthy” for release. Not that we’re complaining that he was cleared, but did they not notice? Did Auckland Quarantine not notice, or did they just not think it worth mentioning? This is by far the sickest we’ve ever seen him. Overall we thought Auckland Quarantine was terrible, but they have a monopoly, because (as of our trip) they are the only facility that will pick up animals in Opua, and Opua is the only port that allows animal arrivals by boat. Their delay picking the cat up caused him to miss his first chance to see the MPI vet, which meant that we didn’t hear there was a problem until he had been gone for several days. During which time they were telling us that our paperwork was in order and everything was fine to get him out on schedule. Then we had to pay extra to have an MPI vet come out for an unscheduled visit on his last day, or he’d have had to stay three more. Fuckers.

Anyway, instead of a tearful reunion, we had a traumatized and very drippy Captain occasionally poking out of his carrier, to sneeze and lick snot bubbles off his own nose, during the long drive back to Opua. Jazz took a video of him sneezing, directly into her eyeballs (not pictured), and strangely this is his most popular Instagram post of all time, like 20x his average.

And then of course it rained as we arrived back at the dock.

Captain remained sick and miserable for days. He was lethargic and needy, so we got a lot of really gross cuddles where he would lean into one of us, fall asleep, and then wake himself up by sneezing. The sneeze freaked him out so he would hiss in reflex, before realizing there was nothing happening to him and curling back into a very drippy cinnamon bun. It was still freezing cold all the time, so he spent most of this time in his new (New Zealand lamb’s wool!) sweater.

Total costs of getting Captain into New Zealand:

  • $75 each for two vet visits
  • $60 for mooring in Vuda to bring the vet to the boat
  • $62 for sitting on the Q dock in Opua
  • $72 for gas to pick him up
  • $1453 for quarantine, transport, and treatments in NZ.

So that’s $1887 USD to bring a pet into this country, and that’s not including the cost of having a car, or the $600 Rabies titer test we’d already had done, or any of the lost time. Don’t bring a pet here. In fact, don’t come here, it’s cold, and the water visibility is like ten feet.

Our other accomplishments during this time were planning a trip with an upcoming visitor, and getting the boat ready to list for sale. We managed to get out of Opua and into the bay of islands, at least briefly, before he showed up, and had a couple of nice sunny days with clearer water, though of course it was still cold.

We also finally finished decorating the Christmas tree. This year we were sleeping up front, so we decorated both sides.

Then it was time to come back to Opua, and pull into the marina where Villa would sit during our friend’s visit. A couple of final preparations: we tried to get Jazz a hair appointment, but of course everything is booked up, so we figured we’d dye it ourselves. But apparently our products were too old, because despite Jazz improvising a heated hood with a bag and a hair dryer, we did not succeed in changing the color at all. And, of course, we had to get Captain a new box, so we got Jazz some new shoes.

And it was time to leave her and go for a road trip. Pictured weather: normal amount of cloud cover, just sitting unusually low.


  1. Oh my, sounds like a real run around. Bureaucracies are always frustrating and indifferent, and “If I’d only known” a common complaint. Enjoy that it is behind you and look forward to your new adventures. Hugs, J&P

    1. Yup, he was fully recovered within about a week. He’s still a little more cuddly than he was before the quarantine, though – I think he realized how good he has it!

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