After our hiking we decided we needed some R&R, for a change! We left Kaiaraara bay and motored back towards the Broken Islands, a group of islands off the west coast of Barrier island. We had planned to visit them with Norsa but as it had been raining that day we had continued onto Smokehouse bay. We tucked ourselves up inside an inlet off of Rangiahua island. We had the beautiful anchorage to ourselves.
Our position on 18th February
36º 13.5 south
175º 18.4 east
The water clarity was amazing and, for a change, warm. We could see fish swimming around under us so decided to have a snorkel. We didn’t stay in too long because we got cold quickly but in about 20 minutes we saw a small turtle, 7 stingrays and lots of edible fish. We went back to the boat and I got the fishing line out with the snapper rig to try and catch one. I carefully threaded a bit of squid bait on the hook and wrapped it round and round in bait elastic. I hate this because it goes all squiggy not to mention that it stinks. I took the dinghy in close and dropped my hook.
The water was so clear I could see the snapper taking the bait but they were too small, they have to be 28cms long otherwise they have to go back. I kept pulling it away from the little ones but the big ones were nowhere to be seen. The greedy wotsits managed to eat my bait without taking the hook! I started again and tried 3 times but each time the little ones came and snaffled my bait so I gave up. I went back to the boat and Bill decided that he would bring his superior fishing skills to bear. (He added this bit!!!) A wait and a moderate amount of swearing resulted in not a single bite so I didn’t feel so bad. We’ve yet to catch one of these snappers, they are supposed to be delicious but I think the only way I’m going to find out is buy one from the supermarket!
The next day was Sunday so we had a lazy day starting with a bacon and egg breakfast. As we don’t have a car for a Sunday drive we decided to go exploring the bays in the dinghy. The wildlife here is brilliant. There was a Cormorant colony on the next island and they were making the most amazing noise. It sounded like a child screaming and we were relieved to find it was just the birds. On the other side of the island the water was quite deep and open to the ocean.
On our way back to the anchorage we saw what we thought was a shoal of fish disturbing the surface and decided to go and investigate. We zoomed straight through it. As we turned back round we saw a huge fin surface and realised we were in the middle of a bubble net made by a pod of orcas fishing for their lunch. Orca, or killer whales as they are sometimes known are one of the oceans top predators and work together to hunt. Bill realised quickly that they would have no problem turning our dinghy over and might fancy us instead of the shoal of fish we had just scattered. Realising our vulnerability we headed straight back to the shallows. As I looked back there were 4 Orcas of varying sizes breaching right where we had been. Nearly fish food, too close for comfort!!
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.
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.
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.
Our shorter return trip only took 2½ hours but I had over 7 kilos of shopping on my back.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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….
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
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 ( https://yachtcamomile.wordpress.com/2010/04/14/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.
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.
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.
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.