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Familiar But Foreign

Our first days in New Zealand were not very glamorous, or should I say glamourous, but it has been thrilling to be here even though our first orders of business were to get started on our long list of chores that have piled up during our time lazing around in tropical paradise. We’re in rural country up here in Opua with miles kilometers kilometres of roads winding crazily through rolling green hills dotted with sheep exactly like we’d pictured it here. You can’t really do much without a car so that’s the first thing we bought (after plunking our $2 coins in the shower meters, our first hot showers since Niue in August). We picked up a sweet late 90s Subaru (this may be something like our 10th Subaru) and immediately drove to the grocery store where we gleefully filled our cart with fresh NZ strawberries, blueberries, apples, avocados, zucchini, and bottles and bottles of cheap delicious wine. Which I thoroughly enjoyed after the 10 loads of laundry finished this week….

Meet “Kiwisube”…she blends in.

Beautiful spring produce, all NZ grown

While walking around dainty little Kerikeri we felt a little scruffy, even for laid-back Kiwi standards, and made the hair salon our next stop where all four of us got a little snip snip. Here’s Holly getting her first haircut ever:

Holly’s curls get an adjustment

Our cruising kitty is not really set up for 1st world living so we pretty much had to get on the job-search program right off the bat. Thanks to old cruising friends who lived in Auckland for several years after sailing here, Michael had appointments set up with several IT recruiters practically moments after we tied off our docklines. As you may have guessed, one of the tricks of this lifestyle is to combine the many chores that seem to pile up with pleasure, so we took a field trip down to the metropolis of Auckland last week.

“Look! It’s a school of sheep!” -Holly

It was a grey, drizzly three-hour drive to the city from Opua and as we crossed over the bridge into downtown Auckland we had complete deja-vu: with the weather, the sailboats scattered across the waterways of the city we could have sworn we were driving into our hometown of Seattle. But not the Seattle of today, more like the Seattle of my childhood: New Zealand’s largest city has half of Seattle’s population and although we were warned about all the terrible traffic, we found ourselves cruising easily through the downtown in the middle of the workday. The city was incredibly clean and largely populated with small, local businesses. We grabbed coffees and warm milks at a hip cafe in Ponsonby and then toured the nearby Westhaven marina which we hope will be home soon.

Wondertime family in Auckland

While Michael was at his meetings the girls and I window-shopped and lunched at a tiny sushi restaurant together. We gleefully visited every bookstore in a 5-block radius.

Sushi lunch in Auckland with my girls

Holly happily buried in books

This week we are still in Opua, waiting for the arrival of our new damper plate which is being shipped in from the U.K. We hope to get the boat down to Auckland by Christmas, but in the meantime are enjoying kicking around in Northland. We drove to Whangarei for the day and explored the local parks which included the beautiful Whangarei falls and a lovely Kauri forest. On the way we also toured an ancient cave which is populated by glowworms – one of the many life forms unique to New Zealand. Leah is fascinated with caves and hopes to do more challenging spelunking in the future.

About to enter the amazing Kawiti glowworm caves

Wondertime girls at Whangarei Falls

It’s been wonderful to be back in the land of forests again. At first, it felt like we were back home in the Pacific Northwest. But then the details begin to come into focus. Instead of giant Douglas Firs there are ancient Kauri trees. The song of Tui birds ring out through the treetops, marvelous tree ferns tower over our heads. The greens everywhere are more vivid shades than we’ve seen before. It smells like the forests we remember, damp and mossy, but there are scents in there of spices and flowers that are all new to us.

We visit the fantastic giant Kauri trees of the Puketi forest

A tree fern

We’ve only begun to scratch the surface of all the beautiful new things this lovely country has to offer.


  1. Preston Lively says:

    So glad ya’ll made it safe and sound. From your earlier posts it sounds like there were some scary times along with the wonderful experiences. Hope the job hunting turns out great. It’s been raining here in Olympia like crazy the last few days, flood warnings out.. Congratulations on your wet,wild and crazy trip across the other part of Puget Sound…. 🙂

  2. Tim Flanagan says:

    “It’s a school of sheep!”…That’s utterly priceless!

  3. I don’t get it, it was a school of sheep in the picture…

  4. I’m so glad I found your blog! I love reading about your adventures. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Don Koilpillai says:

    Hello Michael! I can’t believe you made it!! I have been keeping track every often. What a journey that your family will never forget! I am glad you are in NZ safe and sound. We wish you all a very Merry Christmas! Take care. Don.

  6. Woo hoo! I just got the December issue of Blue Water Sailing and saw the Blue Horizons piece you wrote! It reads nicely, congratulations. Michael

  7. Fantastic! Congrats on the momentous landfall! Keep bringing us reports of your wonderful adventures (on land or sea).

    All the best,
    s/v Bella Star, in Panama City, Panama

  8. Dani says:

    I’m so happy ya’ll made and are out exploring. NZ looks and sounds like a different world. I love seeing the pics of your girls in all the different locations. I think of how they will feel in 20 years to know they were once there.

    Love your adventure, keep it coming!!

  9. Nita Bell says:

    I love that picture of the girls at Whangarei Falls. So glad you made it there safely. Looking forward to learning more about NZ through your adventures.

  10. luke liberty says:

    Ahoy shipmates!hey i see your going to go berth at westhaven mariner….exspensive! i used to live with a swiss family ‘robinson’ on there boat liberty on waiheke island,in the gulf of auckland,they just parked there boat up on the sand and also in a bay with no people for a year or so-didnt pay anything and the people there will help you with any repairs for a box of beers or free sometimes.its paradise for yachties.the swiss family had a boy and a girl and had lived in the pacific ocean for 12 years raisinb oth kids on the boat-liberty.They found a new home in waiheke island-also check out great barrier island.great haven away from auckland(nightmare).But if you do end up in auckland harbour-checkout the north shore for some great spots for mooring up.there are cheaper options than westhaven.You could be in a paradise or a mariner….good sailing to you

    1. Sara says:

      Hi Luke – Thanks for writing! Michael will be working in downtown Auckland so as much as we’d love to keep our boat at Waiheke we’re just going to have to save it for a visit. We don’t mind the marina or the city – we’re kind of city folks at heart. Love being able to walk or take one of the Link buses to downtown to shop, libraries, museums, etc. We can’t wait to explore Great Barrier Island though – we heard it’s magical.