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!
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!
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).
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!)
Opua is a beautiful, quiet little place. It’s not much more than the marina, a café, 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.
Nasturtiums along 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).
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.
Sheep. 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.
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).
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.
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 …
Palms 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!