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The Turtle islands

The beach on Siligan island

The beach on Siligan island

Thursday 10th July we left Pulau Lankayan and headed south to the Turtle islands marine park. After arriving in the afternoon a squall blew up preventing us from going ashore but the following morning we headed for the beach.   The white sand squeaked under our feet as we walked around the waters edge.






There were turtle tracks going up into the sand dunes all around the island where the female turtles haul their huge bodies ashore to lay their eggs.   Once the eggs are laid she crawls back down the beach into the ocean leaving her eggs to fend for themselves.




The hatchery

The hatchery


It was forbidden to walk among the nesting sites although there aren’t any eggs there because the morning after they’ve been laid the staff from the conservation centre dig them up and remove them to the hatchery where they have a better chance of survival.


A monitor lizard prowling around the island

A monitor lizard prowling around the island



Turtle eggs are delicacies to monitor lizards, like this big chap we saw walking around the island, and to the Chinese who buy them on the black market.




Beautiful clams under the water

Beautiful clams under the water




We spent a few days relaxing there as the rest of the boats arrived. We found a bit of nice coral but it wasn’t a patch on Pulau Lankayan.



Clown fish (Nemo) hiding in the sea anemones

Clown fish (Nemo) hiding in the sea anemones


We tried anchoring off of one of the other islands for a change of scenery but the area has very deep water and the anchoring was challenging so we went back to the main island and spent a few days doing boat jobs and writing.



The boats at anchor

The boats at anchor

Dinghies arriving on the beach for the meeting

Dinghies arriving on the beach for the meeting

Monday 14th Sazli the rally organiser arrived and we were all invited to a meeting on shore. We spent an interesting afternoon learning all about the turtles and the conservation carried out at the resort on the island.   It was also arranged that one of the resort boats would come and get us all after dark to watch a turtle laying her eggs and to release some baby turtles.

Storm brewing.

Storm brewing.




As usual the weather didn’t behave, can you see the storm clouds gathering?





Poor Camomile

Poor Camomile

We managed to get back to the boat before the storm broke and raised the dinghy. Very soon the rain started, how it rained and rained and rained. At the same time the wind picked up to 30 then 40kts. The first boat to start dragging was Sailabout but there was nothing we could do but look on as they fought to get the anchor on board and re-anchor. The boats were all bucking like broncos and the rain continued to lash down. We were watching Calypso behind us and Labarge in front of us and they stayed the same distance from us.  We thought that Out of the Blue II were motoring forward. I called Lyn on the radio to ask if they were motoring forward but she replied they were still anchored that meant only one thing – Calypso, Labarque and we were all dragging our anchors towards the island.

Camomile disappearing behind the waves

Camomile disappearing behind the waves


Bill had already managed to get the snubber off earlier so I crawled to the bow to guide Bill with hand signals as we raised our anchor. After about 10minutes of screaming into the wind and gesticulating frantically the anchor lifted clear of the water but not without a massive thump on the bow as it swung clear of the water. We motored to the other side of the bay, where there was a bit more shelter from the strong current that was pulling us towards the island, and re-anchored. Needless to say the trip ashore was cancelled and I didn’t get to see the turtles laying their eggs or release the baby turtles.

Chris on Out of the Blue II managed to take these photos of Camomile as she was bucking in the storm.

Climbing Mount Hobson – Hirakimata

Mount Hobson in the distance

When we set out for Great Barrier Island we had in mind all the sheltered bays and anchorages our cruising friends had been telling us about but also wanted to climb to the highest point viewing the famous Kauri Driving Dams on the way. It is very possible that this idea came to us whilst under the influence on Norsa but it certainly was not made in the light of any previous experience of climbing a 2037 ft peak through a humid forest. However felt we were in good company as Norman and Sara are both experienced and fit and we had been on bush standard walks over half as long as this in Tuhua.

Norsa had to go

Our position on 15th February

36º 11.0 south

175º 21.7 east

We moved our boats to Kaiarara Bay where the valley leading to the mountain forms an inlet which shallows at its head and dropped our anchors in sandy mud full of hopes that the forecast rain for the following day would not materialise. We awoke to a dark cloudy sky heavy with rain so Sue and I decided not to risk it as 7 hours walking to the peak and back could get really uncomfortable in wet cloths not to mention that the visibility would be poor anyway. The dark clouds then did their thing and it came down in torrents all morning long so we settled into a lazy day. Norman & Sara braved the clearing weather in the afternoon and managed to walk a 3 hour circuit reaching the Kauri dam knowing that they had to leave the island the next day.  They came over to Camomile for a shared supper before leaving the next day.

Off for the shopping across the little streams



The most gorgeous puppy

The following day brought sunshine but was still damp and it seemed to us that the mountain tracks would still be saturated from yesterdays deluge so we decided to walk to Port Fitzoy for supplies. It took us 3½ hours to walk there but a detour on the way via a waterfall track turned out to be more worthwhile than expected.  When I clambered up the jungle culvert towards it I discovered the large pool at its feet to be full of bikini clad young ladies giving diving lessons to their kids. Sue was pleased when we reached the shop to find a 3 month old puppy tied up outside.    




7.4kgs of shopping in a backpack


Our shorter return trip only took 2½ hours but I had over 7 kilos of shopping on my back.







Tramping through regenerating bush

Finally Friday 17th broke clear so we were up and at it, landing our dinghy on nearby Bushes Beach and making our way through the heavily wooded terrain on a loose gravel track. The mountain is located in the centre of the island and various mountain tracks allow relatively easy access to the summit.








The main Kauri driving dam

We had chosen the shortest but steepest route up the Kaiarara track past the sites of two Kauri Driving Dams. This track was posted at 3½ hours and after 1¾ of climbing up steep but very well defined paths with occasional flights of steps we reached the first dam.

Kauri trees are majestic, can grow to an impressive girth and height and can live for thousands of years with the oldest living ones in New Zealand dating back around the time of Christ . Their huge weakness is that they are tall and dead straight. Straight enough therefore as sailing ship masts and easy fodder for the saw mill. Thus the Kauri logging industry was profitable in the island’s early European days and up to the mid 20th century.  However the forests on Barrier Island extended well inland where there was no easy way to get the logs to the sea. Kauri logs were dragged to a convenient stream bed with steep sides and a driving dam was constructed of wood with a lifting gate near the bottom large enough for the logs to pass through. The dam was filled, which might take up to a year, and then the gates were tripped and a massive torrent of water and timber would roar down the narrow valley to the inlet below where they were held in booms before being towed to the Auckland sawmills. The noise of this man made avalanche could be heard miles away and would draw crowds of onlookers but anything standing in the way of the wall of water and logs was annihilated. The logging industry decimated huge swaths of ancient growth so most of the trees we saw around us today were younger native forest and exists due to the efforts of the New Zealand Forest Service who were responsible for planting around 150,000 kauri seedlings in the 1970s and 1980s.

Short rest by a waterfall

We climbed on with some apprehension because the way ahead was steeper still. We need not have worried though because, aside from a few narrow tracks where we had to scramble a bit, it was mostly well laid path, good bridges and increasing flights of steps and walkways. By the time we got to the next waterfall though Sue had already counted 650 steps and we admired the commitment of the DoC people who had managed to haul all this timber up the hill to build tracks for our convenience. We were also starting to understand how hardy these Kiwi bush men (descended from the likes of the 6’8” George Murray whose sons Ivan and Jack were only an inch or so less) really were.  Before we moved on we stopped for a carb and sugar break because we reckoned if we were ever going to burn fat the next hour would be it. By the time we had met a couple on the way down the track Sue had counted 1600 steps but we were pleased to hear that “there were not that many more”. I fear they may have been suffering a rare form of Kiwi altitude sickness (take-pity-on-the-sweaty-poms-itus) for, actually, there were 2540 from bottom to top give or take a few.

Onwards and upwards

Upper kauri driving dam

Up to the last stint it was hard going but was at least broken up by sections of path to help you get your breath back between step sessions. We had a short rest by the remains of the higher Kauri dam which was similar but smaller than its big brother downstream but then came the last 1000 steps which were unrelentingly continuous.







Unrelenting steps into humid jungle


Don’t get me wrong, if the steps were not there we would have had no chance however, we both really felt it. Muscles burning, drenched with sweat and gasping we ascended flight after flight. Part of the problem was that, shrouded with the humid thick jungle like vegetation we had no idea how much further it was to the top. At the count of 2300 Sue stopped having decided that this was not such a good idea with a subtext of “by the way, was it one of mine by any chance”. She looked un-amused so I hastily retreated in the only direction open to me – up.

Two minutes to go

Happily we were on the home straight and met a small sign post that claimed it was only another 2 minutes to the top. It did seem to me at the time that the sign writer was related to the couple we met who were going down and was suffering the same delusion however because 10 minutes later we arrived at the summit trig point to a stupendous view.

We made it!

It had taken us 3 hours (30 minutes less than the prescribed time), I turned around to grab the camera, switched it on and behold, the view was gone, the cloud descended and it rained. Bugger.

Making the best of it we huddled and gratefully munched our sandwich lunch with raindrops dripping from our noses while the worst of it past. 20 minutes later the view was back and we could see at least 30 miles or more. Right across the Coromandel to the mainland with the island spread beneath our feet like a forested bedspread. It was great.

Going once ....








Going twice ....









View from the top reappears








A long way down


After just ½ hour at the summit we started our descent. James, our eldest, had warned me that I would find this hard on my knee injury and he was right. But we retraced our path down the mountain and, as we made our way, the weather improved so, facing downhill we were treated to vista after vista through the overhanging trees. At last the steps stopped and we were back on the gravel track on more level ground so by the time we reached the final bridge it felt like the home straight. 30 minutes later we reached the dinghy and though we had started to suffer sore feet were really rather pleased with ourselves that we had managed a 7 hour walk in just 6. Not too bad for old duffers eh?

Glimpses during the descent

Smokehouse Bay – First bath in a year …

This bay lies within the natural inner harbourof New Zealand’s Great BarrierIsland and the shore surrounding it’s very sheltered anchorage is the private property of the Webster family who generously make it’s facilities available to any visitor there. As the name implies there is a working smokehouse on the shore. Unfortunately, when we inspected the inside of the smoke cabinets, some kind soul had left something unspeakable, which may at one time been a fish, on one of the shelves, something that the local insect population appeared not to have overlooked.  There was also a gutting table for cleaning fish catches along with cloths lines and old fashioned mangles for all that smelly yottie washing.

Bill and Norman stoking the fire

Of far more interest though, was the open air bath or, for the more modest dirty people, a bath house. Outside its door is a small “wetback” wood burning stove where all that is asked is you forage for and cut up (with the tools provided) enough wood to replace what you use to heat the bath water. Having not taken a bath for over a year Sue decided this was an opportunity not to be missed so Norman and I were dispatched accordingly to light and nurture a fire in the proper place.


Bath house occupied

Norman accomplished this with a slightly worrying enthusiastic efficiency so it was only a matter of waiting for the water to heat and our customers to appear naked. I am good at wishful thinking but not so good at waiting for water to boil and therefore the Welsh yardarm rule, which apparently states that drinking anytime is ok as long as a Welsh person is present, was invoked and the cold beer came out.


Sara choose the outside bath

It took about an hour for the water to warm but when it had Sara elected to bathe outside while Sue took the inner sanctum and the incongruous aroma of various bath-oils wafted throughout the glade. While the ladies soaked in fine style the old soaks (Norman and I who were also suitably oiled by this time) attempted to chop our fingers and other appendages off in the name of leaving a fair supply of firewood for the next dirty visitors. All good clean fun then and sadly no gratuitous nudity. Well not much anyway….

Sue's first bath in over a year.

Whangaparapara Harbour & Hot Springs

After a 2 hour motor from Typhena we arrived in Whangaparapara harbour, I’m gradually getting my tongue around these Maori names.

Our position on 10th February 2012

36º 14.5 south

175º 23.6 east

Tramline track

Whangaparapara is a picturesque harbour with the remains of New Zealand’s last whaling station.  Whaling began in New Zealand waters in the 1790’s and peaked in 1839 when over 200 whaling ships of differing nations were recorded in the area.  Whangaparapara wasn’t established until 1956 by which time stocks had dwindled and it only remained open for 6 years.  Thankfully whaling is now banned in NZ waters.  Very little of the station exists.  There was also the remains of the Kauri Timber sawmill that closed in 1914.  The large sawmill processed logs rafted by sea from the Great Kauri dams that we hoped to see further up the island.  Although the tramline servicing these industries had long gone the route had now become a walkway, which we joined with Norman and Sara in the afternoon.  We planned to do a short walk in the afternoon and the longer walk to the Hot springs the next day but it ended in quite a long walk. 

Lots of little waterfalls along the way

It climbed steadily up to the Pack track before dropping down to the Awana stream and waterfall, the path then climbed steeply to a plauteau, across a ridge and down to the Wairahi stream which we crossed several times.  It was a lovely circuit of about 5 miles which took us about 3 hours. 

Later that evening we went to the Whangaparapara lodge for a nice meal.

Sara and I took a dip in the Hot Springs

The next day we started walking up the main road because the signpost said the walk to the Hot Springs was 45 minutes.  The road deteriorated to an unsealed road that was difficult to walk on because the stones were very loose.  I slipped a few times and managed to fall over cutting my knee and tore my trousers but we kept going.  After an hour and a half we found the entrance to the Hot springs road with another signpost saying ….. 45 minutes to the springs.  Obviously they were expecting us to be in a car. 

The weed was a strange luminous green

The walk to the Hot Springs was very easy with a boardwalk that followed the edge of the Kaitoke swamp leading to the sulphurous hot springs.  Damning the Kaitoke creek had created a series of pools.  Norman was put off getting in by the warning sign advising you not to put your head under the water because of the risk of contracting amoebic meningitis and Bill thought the weed in the water looked a strange luminous green so also decided not to get in.  The water was so shallow there was no chance of putting your head under the water so Sara and I decided to brave the waters.  The water was really warm and soft although having raised our body temperatures we felt really hot on the walk back.   

Beautiful reflection on walk home from Hot Springs

After our dip we didn’t want to go back down the dusty road so we crossed the stream and climbed steeply up a different part of the tramline track.  We found ourselves walking through beautiful bush with lots of little pools with amazing reflections in them.  One part of the track descended through the forest and then rose steeply again.  We came to the conclusion that there had probably been a bridge over this section that had been taken down when the tram track was dismantled.  We crossed the Forest road for a while which was much wider and marked as a mountain bike track on the map.  How the boys would have enjoyed that.





We crossed quite a few streams

Back on the tramline track we crossed more streams which eventually led to the final part of the track we had walked the day before.







I got caught on a bit of wire on the gatepost

We were almost home when we came across a locked gate and had to squeeze through a narrow opening.  I was almost through when I could feel a tugging feeling and discovered my t-shirt had been caught on a tiny bit of barbed wire tearing a hole in it. 










.... another t-shirt ruined.

So I returned to the boat with torn trousers and a hole in my t-shirt.









Sunday was wet and windy so we stayed on board writing blogs and reading all day.  Sometimes it’s nice to do that.

Camomile and Norsa were waiting for us.


The Great Barrier (Aotea)

We could not resist a quick circuit of what Sue christened “Millionaires Row” as we picked up the hook from our last overnight stop in Great Mercury Island. For us, these few isolated waterfront mansions in their sheltered bay had to be some of the most desirable on the planet. No doubt their price tags reflected our sentiment.

Millionaires Row

Our position on 7th February 2012

36º 18.7 south

175º 35.9 east

Sailing north with 20 knots of wind over our transom we were reminded of our Pacific crossing (  ) by the heavy rolling movement of the boat. In these seas the most innocent everyday items placed on a horizontal surface instantly transform themselves into vicious ballistic missiles bruising crew and denting woodwork on their flight towards the cabin sole where they skitter around wildly until restrained.

We weren’t the only sailing boat on our way to GreatBarrierIslandand they all looked to be having about the same ride. Aotea is New Zealand’s 6th largest island and is only 62 miles north east of Aucklandmaking it extremely popular during the Christmas break hence Camomile arriving in February. The remote island was initially exploited by Europeans for its minerals and kauri trees, saw only limited agriculture and is now inhabited by a small population of around 1000 people. The island’s European name, allegedly donated by that man Cook again, stems from its location on the outskirts of the Hauraki Gulf. With its length (north-south) of some 27 miles it and the Coromandel Peninsula protect the gulf from the storms of the Pacific Ocean to the east.

Tryphena Bay

The western coast, sheltered and calm, is home to hundreds of tiny, secluded bays which offer some of the best diving and boating in the country.

We headed for Tryphena as we had arranged to rendezvous there with Norsa (our Blue Water Rally friends) who had been on a road trip inSouth Island. Anchoring up near one of the nicest beached we have yet visited I noticed that one of the yachts following us was having some difficulty getting its sails down. As I looked on I guessed that they had engine trouble so dropped the dinghy and headed out to where they were trying to anchor in an unsheltered part of the bay. The skipper of Manuwai confirmed that his gearbox had failed so I offered to push him to shelter so he could anchor up and sort it out. Kiwi’s are famous for saying what they mean and the three men in this boat were no exception as they commented skeptically on my outboard and their 12 tonnes.

Tryphena Beach

I told them that if my tender could push a 20 metre Spanish Amel (Bionic Un) I could probably help them so our dinghy was soon strapped to their side with my 8hp outboard opened right up. To everybody’s surprise this pushed them through the chop at 2-3 knots and they were soon anchored up and ready to get oily in their engine bay. Some time later they passed by in their small inflatable and explained their hydraulics had leaked but had found that they could still select gears manually at the box, they chatted for a while and then departed having very thoughtfully donated a nice bottle of wine.

Tryphena sunset

The following day Norsa arrived, we had some time on the shore and a lovely evening on board hearing of theirSouth Islandexploits. As the sun set over the beautiful lagoons on the sandy beach we were looking forward to exploring this island with them. I also reflected on converting outboard fuel into wine, not a bad bit of alchemy I thought.

Whitianga, Arches and Hot Beaches

Lava tubes north of Mayor Island

Mayor Island in the Bay of Plenty was as far south as we intended to go this year, indeed it’s as far south as we will ever go at 37º 18 south. Sydneyis 34º south and South Africa is about 36º south, if we end up going that way.  We are now making our way inexorably further north towards home.  The east wind was giving us a pleasant sail north with a great view of Crater bay just below the devil’s staircase that we had viewed from the top the day before.  The Lava tubes around the north of the island were also interesting.  It was a cloudy day with a lumpy sea but the island was soon left behind.  We arrived at Matapaua bay outside Whitianga just after 4pm.  The next day we motored into Whitianga for a couple of days in the marina. 

Whitianga Seafront

Our position on 31st January 2012

36º 50.1 south

175º 42.4 east

The usual domestic chores were catching up with me such as piles of washing, and the marina is very conveniently within walking distance of a nice big New World(NZ Sainsbury’s).  I like to stock the boat up at the beginning of the month with enough food to last the month, which meant a couple of trips.  I also had a much needed hair cut.

Cathedral Cove

Before leaving the marina I met up with a very nice lady I had met in Seoul on my way home to the UK in June.  Rae had given me her address and suggested we meet up when I reached Whitianga.  We met in a local coffee shop and caught up with our news.  I invited her back to the boat to have a look around and she offered to take us out in the car so we agreed to meet on Saturday. 

The Arch that gives Cathedral Cove its name.

We left the marina, having topped up the water and diesel tanks, for the short trip around to Cathedral Cove.  Unfortunately the weather had turned against us again and our lovely sunshine had changed into cloudy skies with an easterly breeze making life on the East coast very difficult.  We had the anchorage to ourselves, which wasn’t surprising because there was quite a swell running.  Even without the sun it was still a spectacular spot.  We launched the dinghy and landed on the beach. 


Velvety beach in Cathedral Cove

The sand was very velvety under our feet and the rock formations around the bay were amazing.










Camomile through the Arch

We walked through the arch to another picturesque beach on the other side with steps up the cliffs leading to a breathtaking cliff top walk with views over Gemstone bay and Stingray bay.  Some of the scenes from the film Prince Caspian of the Narnia stories were shot on this coastline.   We didn’t want to leave Camomile alone for very long because the swell was quite bad so returned quickly. 






We moved to the more sheltered Cooks beach.  On the 9th November 1769 Cook was reminded by Charles Green the astronomer that it would be possible to observe the transit of the planet Mercury as it passed over the face of the sun and Cook would be able to accurately fix the longitude of New Zealand.  The day dawned fine and calm.  Cook went ashore with Green and their astronomical instruments and successfully carried out the observation on the beach, now named Cooks beach, which is in Mercury bay.  Unfortunately the swell was curling around the headland and gave us a very unsettled night so the next morning we motored back into Whitianga and anchored out in the harbour.

Maherangi Island from the Cliff top

On the Saturday morning we took the dinghy ashore to meet Rae at 9am. 

My 'Spa' on Hot Water beach

We had agreed to go to Hot Water beach where it’s possible to dig into the sand, tap into thehot springsand create your own thermal pool an hour either side of low tide. The low tide was at midday and as it was about a half hour drive we needed to get going.  Although it was a cloudy day the beach was packed.  There’s only a very small area of beach that has the warm sand and everyone was trying to get their little patch.  Rae had brought her garden spade and Bill started to dig my ‘spa’.  In some areas the sand was really hot under the surface and the water was warming up nicely but the easterly swell was causing waves to crash over the top of my sand hollow bringing in the cold sea.  It was great fun but we wanted to get on so after a quick change left the beach. 

This is where Camomile had been anchored

Rae drove us to the Hahei beach area; it had a viewpoint over Cathedral cove where Camomile had been anchored the day before, and along Cooks beach.  We stopped for a lovely lunch before driving back to Whitianga.  It always feels strange being driven in a car after travelling at 6mph everywhere.  








Camomile anchored in Parapara bay, Mercury Islands



We couldn’t get out of Whitianga until the Monday when the swell had dropped.  Once out of Mercury bay we turned north to go back to the western side of the Mercury islands for an overnight stay.



There are a lot of sheep on Mercury Island

The beach was wonderful for a long walk.

I was the only one on the beach

Great Mercury

Camomile anchored in Coralie Bay with Motutaupiri headland behind

We found another piece of Kiwi Paradise as we entered Coralie Bay in the Mercury Islands, it was the best anchorage we have found in NZ so far.  We had sailed from beautiful Little Bay first thing on the 24th January and our position was

and the view from the top

36º 36.3 south

175º 47.5 east

These islands are so named because Captain Cook was nearby when he observed the transit of Mercury which located New Zealands position accurately for the first time. 


We went ashore and walked up the Motutaupiri headland that we passed on our way in, it gave astounding views of Camomile in the middle of the anchorage.

View of the beach from the cockpit






The next day we walked around to the headland on the other side. 

View to the other side of the island

As this was higher we were also able to get a superb view across to the other side of the island, the middle is very narrow. 









View across to the entrance









Beautiful rocks outside the entrance









Te Koru bay, the next bay along, had some wonderful rock pools to explore.  The beach was deserted….

Te Koru bay



Beautiful clear water in Te Koru bay








The White Cliffs of Mercury

The White cliffs outside of the bay were higher and whiter than the White cliffs of Dover.







We needed to keep travelling south while the wind was coming from the north so we left the next day. 



Sailing through the Mercury Islands

Sailing through the islands on a clear sunny day was amazing.  We had an overnight  stop in Tairua to stock up on provisions before continuing on to Tuhua (Mayor) island the next day.  Bill will take up the story from here.

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