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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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