Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Buying a car in New Zealand? Read this first.

By Nicole

DSC_6835So you’ve just arrived in New Zealand, and after months of life on the sea, you’re looking forward to doing a bit of land travel. Sweet! Before you hand over those Kiwi dollars for a used car or caravan, though, make sure you have all the information. Buying a used car can be a crapshoot for sure, but in New Zealand, the odds of getting stuck with a lemon are significantly reduced. Here’s what happened to us:

When we bought our 1997 Honda Legend in Opua, we were stoked to have our own wheels for the first time in nearly three years. The same day we signed the paperwork, we made a run to the grocery store (no lugging heavy bags on the bus!) and managed to handle a week’s worth of errands in just one afternoon. The next day, we zipped off for a full-day of driving and exploring New Zealand’s gorgeous North Island. Having a car was awesome! What happened next, though, turned from awesome to extremely stressful.

One Sunday morning not even a week after taking possession, I hopped in the car, turned the key and … nothing. The car wouldn’t start for the second time in three days. We just slapped down $275 to fix the main relay (controlling the fuel pump), and it was still having problems? WTF. The decision to buy this car over any of the others on the lot now seemed like a huge financial mistake. What were we going to do? Being a Sunday, neither the auto repair shop or the small dealership where we bought the car were open. Since we couldn’t do anything else, we turned to the internet for some answers. What we discovered in New Zealand’s Consumer Guarantees Act for motor vehicles let us breathe a little easier knowing we had options.

The Consumer Guarantees Act protects consumers’ rights when they purchase goods or services in New Zealand, and it’s extremely generous. When a consumer buys a car for personal use from a licensed dealer (called a trader in NZ), that car comes with certain guarantees. I won’t go into all the specifics here, but suffice it to say that if you purchase a car that then ends up with a fault, the trader is obligated to make it right. If the fault is minor, the trader should pay to have it repaired. If the fault is serious, you have the option of rejecting the vehicle and getting a refund or replacement or keeping the car and getting compensation for loss of value. Yep, you read that right. If your car develops a serious fault – one that, if known, would’ve prevented a reasonable consumer from purchasing the car in the first place – you can get your money back. And you have up to 6 years (!) to lodge your claim. Caveat emptor? Not so much in New Zealand.

The main point to note, though, is that you must buy the car from a licensed trader to be covered under the CGA. This “lemon law” doesn’t apply to private sales.

Long story short, our car spent a week or so in the shop and came out running like a champ. (Turns out there was a problem with the immobilizer, which prevents the car from being stolen.) The dealer reimbursed us for the first minor fault (the $275) and covered all expenses associated with the second fault, including loaning us a car while ours was in the shop. While the whole thing was a stressful hassle, it could’ve been a lot worse – especially if we’d bought the car in the U.S.

For more information on your rights as a car buyer in New Zealand, see the Consumer Affairs website.

DSC_6814Back in the saddle again (the heated, leather variety)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Landfall in New Zealand

By Nicole

After spending 2 1/2 years sailing nearly 15,000 nautical miles through 11 countries on 1 little sailboat, we’ve arrived on the other side of the world. Hello, New Zealand!

PB090973 - CopyOn passage from Minerva Reef to New Zealand under a reefed main and jib

We made our approach to Opua, on the northeastern edge of New Zealand’s North Island, in the middle of the night. The stunning coastline we’d heard so much about, camouflaged by the darkness. We had it on good authority that arriving to the quarantine dock at night was no problem – the charts were accurate and the channel and dock were well lit – so we decided to go for it. There was no way we were waiting until daylight to make landfall!

DSC_6794Moments after arriving to the Q dock in New Zealand, and moments before the crack of Aaron’s anchor-down beer

Buzzy with the excitement of our arrival (in New Zealand!!), it took us forever to finally crawl into bed. But we knew the customs and quarantine guys would be coming in just a few hours, so we tried to chill out and get a little sleep. I was, of course, up with the sun like I always am. I peeked out the port light to see the sun rising over tree-covered islands and a flat-calm anchorage. Wow. Still in my PJs, I grabbed the camera to snap a few pictures (before exclaiming how freaking cold it was and sprinting back inside to find some socks and a fleece).

PB110981 - CopyMy first view of New Zealand in the daylight.

Despite the horror stories propagating around the cruiser community about checking in to New Zealand, our experience was super easy. Just follow the pre-arrival directions, don’t bring in anything you shouldn’t and you’ll be fine. It took less than an hour for both departments to visit and inspect us before we were cleared to leave the customs dock for our slip in the marina. (A slip in the marina! What a treat!)

PB120984 - CopyLocals here joke that new arrivals from Tonga and Fiji are easy to spot with their tans and jackets.

PB141008 - CopyView from our slip in the Opua Marina

Opua is a beautiful, quiet little place. It’s not much more than the marina, a cafĂ©, a number of marine-related businesses and a tiny general store backed by scenic views in every direction. For us, these features made it the perfect spot to make landfall. The nearest town (where you can find shops, restaurants, ATMs and the grocery store) is a 10- or 15-minute drive away – or a lovely 2 1/2-hour walk along the beach.

DSC_6809Waking the beachside trail from Opua to Paihia

PB141020 - CopyNasturtiums along the trail

PB141023 - CopyTowering tree ferns

PB141024 - CopyOne of the many (many) anchorages in the Bay of Islands

DSC_6801Cute little boatyard set back from the trail

We never actually walked the whole way to Paihia (we got hungry for lunch and turned around), but it was still fun. You know, this seems like the right time to tout the glorious trail system found throughout New Zealand. Kiwis love to hike, and that fact is evidenced by the abundance and quality of trails. Nowhere else (except maybe Niue) have we seen such well-manicured and well-signed trails. And they’re literally everywhere! It’s a hiker’s (and walker’s) paradise. Oh, but don’t call them “trails.” They’re “tracks.” And it’s not “hiking,” it’s “tramping.”

In order to take advantage of the tramping tracks and see some of this fantastic country, we decided to upgrade the dinghy. We bought a car! Taking the test drive was the first time in my life I’d driven on the left side of the road. EEK! Look out! No, it was actually easier to adjust to the “other” side than I thought it would be. And to this day, I haven’t yet signaled with the windshield wipers (unlike some other people I know … ahem, Aaron, Zack, Adam and John).

DSC_6835The Bella Star land dinghy. Our really old but new-to-us Honda Legend.

DSC_6814Driving on the “other” side of the road is fun! It’s almost like breaking the law, except not doing that.

Opua is part of the Northland district (I think they’re called districts, anyway), which I’ve seen referred to on signs and business names as the Far North. I love the term, since it makes me think of Hobbits and reindeer. In any event, we left Opua early one morning to explore the Far North in our new wheels. We didn’t come across any Hobbits or reindeer, but we did see some gorgeous countryside, TONS of sheep, a lighthouse and some killer sand dunes.

DSC_6832Northern NZ landscape of forests and sheep pastures (with giant sand dunes in the background)

DSC_6834Aaron takes this photo-op break to munch down a filled roll (Kiwi for sub sandwich)

DSC_6877Sheep. Are. Everywhere. Fuzzy sheep, shorn sheep, black sheep, white sheep with white faces, white sheep with black faces, SHEEP! They outnumber people by more than 7:1 today (down from, like, 20:1 a few decades ago).

When you can’t drive any farther north, you’ve reached Cape Reinga. This spot marks the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, which separates New Zealand from Australia. The edge of the Pacific – how cool! And another thing, many of the signs here are in Maori as well as English. Also cool.

DSC_6859Where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea

DSC_6840At Cape Reinga, overlooking a bay and more sand dunes


DSC_6852The Cape Reinga lighthouse

DSC_6854The North Island and the Pacific Ocean … conquered!

DSC_6856Tramping in jandals (oh yeah, “jandals” are flip flops here)


DSC_6867Hey, there’s Vancouver! We’re really far from home.


Flipping through the Lonely Planet guide for NZ, we came across the Te Paki sand dunes. They were just a short drive from Cape Reinga, so we knew we had to visit. We’ve spent time on the Oregon and Washington coasts and have seen some dune action, but nothing prepared us for these gigantic piles of sand. Holy crap, this place is crazy! We’d run up the steep face of one dune expecting to see the ocean, but no, all we’d see is another dune. And another. And another. Incredible. It was like the Sahara Desert (or as Aaron said, like Tatooine minus the Jawas).












DSC_6926Finally, after what seemed like endless dune scaling, we spotted the Tasman Sea way off in the distance.


DSC_6945 (2)Going down was way more fun!

Okay, so I’ve told you about the fantastic trail system, and now it’s time to share something else. Northern New Zealand has a semi-tropical climate, and it’s avocado season! You can also find oranges, lemons and macadamia nuts at the local farmers markets, and palm trees, ginger and exotic plants grow wild on the hillsides … I like it here.

DSC_6960Roadside on-your-honor avocado stand. Yes that says $2/bag.


Bella Star is now comfortably tucked into her slip in our “home” marina just north of downtown Auckland. We’re settling into the liveaboard lifestyle again, after being cruisers for the last 2 1/2 years. Aaron even bought a toaster! (Something we could never run without shore power.) Things like unlimited hot-water showers and easy access to washing machines feel normal again, although I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing. I am, however, looking forward to the next few months spent living and traveling here. Who knows what it will bring? Well, besides lots of guacamole …

PB271048Palms and crimson-flowered pohutukawa trees line the shore of our new marina. In a few weeks, the pohutukawa trees, known as the “New Zealand Christmas Tree” will be in full-bloom throughout the country. Happy spring!


PB131007 - CopyNew Zealand has sunk its teeth into us! I think we’ll be staying here for awhile.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Pit stop hole in the ocean

By Aaron

Minerva Reef lies 250 miles southwest of Tonga.  We had hoped to sail past it and just go straight to New Zealand, but it was a rough and very wet couple days out of Tonga with big seas and wind forward of the beam so taking a little break sounded pretty good.  This would also allow us to shorten up the weather forecast window to New Zealand to 5 days from 7.

We ended up spending 5 days there in what proved to be a strange and alien-feeling place.  It’s a weird feeling being out there anchored in the middle of the ocean!

Minerva high alt
The reef is submerged most of the time so there are no trees.  You can see the small gap that allowed us to enter the lagoon.  It’s about three nautical miles in diameter.

You can’t see the reef until you are almost on top of it.  Fortunately the entrance to the lagoon was charted accurately and we had no problems getting in. 

Inside it was like a lake, at least at low tide. 

A couple days into our stay we heard that our buddies on SV Dream Time were having starter problems and were unable to get the engine started.  So we upped anchor and went out to give them a tow into the lagoon.  Fortunately Rick on SV Nyon was to arrive soon after.  It’s always nice when one of the 12 boats in the middle of nowhere happens to have a diesel mechanic on board.  Luckily, they resolved the problem so Dream Time would have power for the run to NZ. 



As we leave the tropics the water temperatures have been dropping of course, but it was still warm enough for Nicole to get a last South Pacific swim in, despite rumors of an aggressive tiger shark.  (I didn’t get in as I have a strict 80 degree minimum for swimming or snorkeling).  I was lucky to capture her doing the rare “freckled swan” maneuver off the sprit.

The shallows over the reef and crystal clear water made for some very pretty views.

Pick a reef anywhere in the South Pacific and at some point or another a boat has probably wrecked on it.

The clams have an amazing rainbow of colors, the blue and green ones being our favorites.



The lagoon was filled with fish and lots of lobsters. Nicole said the lobster in the picture above was the size of a small dog!

This French cruiser would just hop in a hole in the reef and come out with a lobster or two. 

At low tide, walking on the reef is like being on some other planet.  Colorful corals and sea life was all around us, and it was an incredible experience to just walk around on the reef looking at everything.  It really felt like we had landed on an alien world.

Nicole, Kyra, and me enjoying being able to stretch our legs a bit.







P1090542 - Copy
That’s Neville, Catherine, Rick, Nicole, Kyra, and me enjoying sundowners on Dreamtime.  Minerva Reef was a very special place, and we’re happy to have been able to share our experience there with these guys.