In Which We Try to Visit Whangaroa, And Instead Visit Wineries

With Ben shipped off to the next stage of his adventure, the crew of Villa picked up provisions and headed back out into the Bay of Islands. Actually we stopped to pick up water first, because the watermaker was still pickled from our trip south and we were feeling lazy. Waiting in line to pull up to the water dock had us re-evaluating what “lazy” meant. We waited for a boat to pass us on the way in, and they headed straight to the dock and spent 35 minutes there. By the time we got to the dock there were four boats waiting behind us! We left with full tanks, but very glad that this isn’t a regular part of our lives. Skies were gray, but winds were low, so we motored up to the south of Motorua island.

The next day the wind was due to shift east, so we moved to the west side of the island, which has a nice sandy beach. We took the dinghy in for a walk on shore, and tied up to a piece of driftwood. The sand was coarse and very high contrast, little black and white rocks. We were walking along the beach when we found our first little blue penguin, which would have been very exciting had it been alive.

We knew there was a trail on shore, but what we hadn’t realized is that it goes all the way around the island. We hadn’t brought quite enough water for the full circuit, let alone real shoes, so we just hiked up the hill a bit along the super well-maintained trail. We’re finding that that’s the norm up here, along with very good signage and public restrooms. These islands are supposed to be bird sanctuaries, and they have lots of traps for invasive predators. But all we could hear were the cicadas, which are out in force and making tons of noise. Ear. Splitting.

Back down on the beach, the tide had receded a little further, and we took a stroll along the newly-exposed tidal pools.

Then we got back to the boat, and the real fun started. First, this beautiful tall ship sailed by.

A little later in the afternoon, we had another set of visitors. These three dolphins showed up, and started out taking loops around the sailing superyacht Gliss, anchored behind us. Then they spent the next three hours making slow circles around the anchorage, playing with each of the boats in turn, jumping and splashing and clearly having a good time. We found out later that this is apparently a mating behavior.

After a while watching them, Jazz and some neighbors got in the water to swim “with” them – or really, adjacent, as dolphins are perfectly capable of keeping whatever distance they want. Andrew manned the dinghy for recovery and photos, and because he wasn’t going to get in that cold water. Jazz wasn’t a fan of the cold, but dolphins.

Even Captain eventually noticed the action happening in the water.

The next morning, the wind was doing the right things for a pleasant sail to Whangaroa. So we hauled anchor, hoisted the sails… and suddenly found we had no control over the rudders. Fortunately, we get some steerage from the stern drive leg, and that was enough to keep us moving straight for the couple of minutes it took us to get the emergency tiller installed. We beat our way back to what looked like it would be a protected anchorage in these conditions, and dropped anchor to investigate. It turned out that one of the hydraulic hoses had been rubbing against the rudder tie bar, and this had finally popped. So we needed a new hose, and would not be going to Whangaroa today.

This was unfortunate, because the weather was great for going to Whangaroa, but not so great for going back to Opua. We had hoped to wait out the weather where we were, but there was no internet, and that was going to make organizing a repair complicated. So we waited a few hours for the wind to settle a bit, and then struggled our way back to Opua with “only” 25 knots just off the nose, taking thirty-minute shifts sitting in the rain with the tiller. Fortunately the protection in the harbor was OK, and we were able to drop in a spot we knew and liked with a minimum of fuss.

Andrew is an Olympic-level sleeper, so neither the setback nor the uncomfortable weather was going to keep him from passing out essentially on contact with bed; these two photos are not actually from two minutes apart, but they could have been.

The fix for the steering system was easy enough, we just had to put in a new hose. (Slightly shorter, so it wouldn’t chafe again! We had put these in along with the new autopilot back in Curacao, and the extra margin we’d added to make sure the tubes would fit turned out to bite us.) This took a couple of days to arrange, however, because someone had just bought up the island’s whole supply of this type of hose, and it the dealer had to find a spare section sitting in someone’s unlisted inventory. They got it done and delivered, and in the meantime we had a chance to put together Villa’s listing and get her onto the market. Captain also did his best to keep us entertained. He even got into the dinghy by himself for the first time!

Since we had to go to shore to pick up the new tube, we figured we’d take advantage of being in the same place as our car, and took a short drive towards Kerikeri. First stop, lunch (and beer tasting!) at Phat House, which turned out to have very good pizza and pet-friendly seating – we could have brought Captain!

Next, a short walk up to Rainbow Falls. We have been consistently impressed with how easy New Zealand makes it to get to the the prettiest bits of nature. As with our hike in Whangarei, the falls are mere steps from the parking lot, and a trail continues if you want a longer walk. Note also the lovely wooden construction of the crucially available public toilets.

Final stop, Kainui, which is both a winery and a brewery. The location is lovely, but neither the wine nor the beer was particularly drinkable.

Then it was back to the boat, to chill out with our chilly cat.

After he got us out of bed in the morning (and then promptly got back into it alone)…

.. it was time to run the new tube. This proved reasonably simple, despite having to go under the cockpit and through the engine compartment, because all the spaces are pretty big and accessible. The hardest part being making sure we didn’t get hydraulic oil everywhere. Once the tube was in place, we just had to refill and bleed the system, which mostly means slowly turning the wheel and waiting for all the air bubbles to work their way out.

That done, we headed back to Pahia for dinner and provisioning. We were served Indian food by a robot, which was a new experience, and then found that the grocery store had given up on stocking eggs and filled in those shelves with toilet paper. So that’s a snapshot of life here right now. (We ended up finding eggs at the other Countdown: our theory is that the downtown location doesn’t sell out of the larger packages because their customers are mostly hotel guests and other short-termers.)

We were about ready to leave, and then someone contacted us about buying our Sailrite sewing machine. They would be coming up from Auckland in a few weeks, but found an intermediary to hold it for them, so we went to shore to drop it off. We were telling the nice lady about the little steering mishap that forced us to come back to order the new tube. It was one of those connecting-with-other-sailor moments, and it felt nice to chat. She then referred to this little nothing of a boating moment, really more of a facepalm situation that is annoying to fix but not hard, as a War Story. Moments like that we look at each other and realize, yes, we guess we really have been doing this a while. We have what we would call war stories, and this… did not really rate. Anyway, goodbye Sailrite, we had some great times together and we will meet again!

We were on shore anyway and the weather wasn’t quite right for our trip north yet, so we took another day trip in the car, this time to Russel. This meant riding the ferry!

Our first stop was Omata Estate winery, which has a lovely view. They were too busy to do a proper tasting, but they sold us a flight and sent us out to sit around a barrel. When it started to rain on us, we retreated to their otherwise-empty tasting room, and watched a bird pick grapes the size of his head off of their decorative trellis.

We made a second winery stop at Paroa Bay winery, which had a lovely view over the Bay of Islands. They also had some very good food, and better wines than Omata, though we didn’t think they quite justified the markup. Still, it was a very pretty place and well worth the visit.

Our last stop was a walk around downtown Russel, which once again had us hiding from a rain shower, this time at Hone’s Garden. Then we drove back towards the ferry. We took an unplanned swing by the “First New Zealand Capital” historic site, the highlight of which was some excellent welded sculpture on a fence along the way there.

Then back to the boat, to plan the next leg of our journey.

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