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Sailing to the Wild

Kawau ForestOne of the things that is great about New Zealand is how seriously the country takes it’s holiday vacations. Many companies, like Michael’s does, completely shuts down from the week before Christmas to long after New Years. Even here in central Auckland countless cafes, doctor’s offices, and retail shops sport “back mid-January” signs on their windows a few days before Christmas. With three weeks of vacation ahead of us, we provisioned the boat and headed out of the city, just like in the old days.

It was blowing 25, gusting 35 knots from the southwest when we pulled out of our Auckland slip. This is, we were to find out, not unusual summertime conditions. We would also learn that the weather we’d had a year ago, during our first New Zealand summer, was highly unusual with day after day of calm, sunny conditions. We kept within the protected confines of Waitemata Harbour and tucked into Islington Bay of Rangitoto Island 12 miles away.

The wind howled over the low land protecting us in the bay all afternoon and evening. It finally let up overnight and we headed out into the completely calm Hauraki Gulf the next morning. And motored in glassy seas the 25 miles to our next anchorage, at Kawau Island. North Cove is quite protected and we spent a week there as the wind howled day after day. Santa found us, we hiked around, we met some of the local neighbors and visited with Lin and Larry some more.

Santa spotted at Kawau Island!

Santa spotted at Kawau Island!

Christmas Eve 2013

Christmas Eve 2013 (The notebook is Leah’s, full of trick questions for Santa to answer…thank goodness for Wikipedia.)

Screams echoed throughout the bay when the girls spotted the hitchhiker on our dinghy - a massive stick bug!

Screams echoed throughout the bay when the girls spotted the hitchhiker on our dinghy – a massive stick bug!

After a week we thought we had an opening to sail further north to Whangarei but once we rounded the top of Kawau we were greeted with wind and waves right on the nose. Whangarei was 40 miles directly into the wind. We’ve learned enough by now, finally, that it’s perfectly fine to turn around and wait another day. So we did. The following morning we were greeted with 18 knots from the west, directly from the beach, and had a fast, flat beam reach all the way into the river. We made such good time that we decided to keep going — it was New Years Eve after all — and head into the town basin instead of anchoring near Bream Head as we had planned. Incredibly, the wind cooperated and we sailed nearly the entire way up the meandering shallow waterway in a very light breeze (admittedly, the 2 knots of current with us helped).

Sailing up the Whangarei river

Sailing up the Whangarei river

There is a new drawbridge just before you reach the Whangarei town basin. We tied up to the courtesy float there around 1700 and called the bridge operator on the VHF. “I’m really sorry,” he said. “The bridge is too hot. There is not enough clearance to open it due to the expansion. I will check it in a few hours to see if it’s cooled and shrunk a bit. Also, the bridge is closed for peak traffic until 5:30.” We watched a single car pass over the bridge in front of us. Scratching our heads, we cracked a cold beer, heated up some beans and sausages and ate our New Year’s dinner waiting for the hot sun to set on the murky green river.

New Year's Eve at the overheated Whangarei River bridge

New Year’s Eve at the overheated Whangarei River bridge

It was 2100 by the time we were tied up at the town basin wharf. But on our way in, we fell in love with this place. Funky cruising boats like ours tied up everywhere! Not a sleek, white racing boat to be seen! The river is lined with boatyards and marine shops and dilapidated boat sheds. Heaven! Quiet! As you might expect, the town didn’t get too crazy for New Years and the carpets were rolled up early. Our family sat below, aboard Wondertime talking about our favorite memories of the year while sipping cold glasses of bubbly drinks (champagne for Michael and I, fizzy apple juice for the girls). Holly didn’t quite make it and stumbled to her bed at 11:30. Leah did fine and blew our airhorn with gusto at midnight. Then we joined the rest of the dark town already in bed.

At least it's a warm rain, Whangarei town basin

At least it’s a warm rain (Whangarei town basin)

The best bookswap in NZ (Whangarei)

The best bookswap in NZ (Whangarei)

We only had a day to meander around town but that’s pretty much all you need. We took some hot showers, did a few loads of laundry, picked up some fresh fruit and salad greens at the Pak ‘N Save across the street, chatted with the super friendly locals, then floated on back down the river.

At Marsden Cove we met a customs officer and checked out of New Zealand. Then we headed straight out 25 miles, bound for the closest waypoint in international waters, turned around, and motor-sailed back in, with a breathtaking sunset guiding us back to shore. The next day the same customs fellow welcomed us back to New Zealand, stamped our passports and gave us a fancy paper stating that Wondertime was officially imported as part of our resident belongings, GST-free.

Return to New Zealand (Bream Head)

Return to New Zealand (Bream Head)

Relieved to have our “business” officially done we finally felt like we were on holiday. The next day brought the perfect wind: 20 knots from the northwest. We pointed the bow to Great Barrier Island and covered the 50 miles out to the edge of the Hauraki in no time. The wind gusted to 25 at times, the seas were bouncy and steep — the gulf is shallow — but thankfully aft of the beam. There may have been an accidental jibe (it’s the autopilot’s fault) followed by a few choice words, but at least no one was sea sick and nothing broke.

Which made coming into the calm, protected harbour of Port Fitzroy all the more sweet. We really didn’t know what to expect, but had only been told that the Barrier was amazing. Port Fitzroy is a completely landlocked harbour, about 5 or so miles long with smaller bays to anchor in scattered all around the perimeter. Most of it is Department of Conservation land, with only a handful of private houses scattered around and the teeny tiny settlement of Port Fitzroy itself. It was green and mountainous. We hadn’t seen anything quite like it since Canada. Inside, the wind was gloriously calm.

Port Fitzroy anchorage, Great Barrier Island

Port Fitzroy anchorage, Great Barrier Island

We only had a week here, which was not at all long enough to fully explore this wonderland. Every day the four of us hiked through native bush on immaculate tracks, all nikau palms and fern trees and giant kauri, past waterfalls, old logging dams. We swam and snorkeled — briefly! This island is pest-free which means native birds flourish and their incredible songs woke us each morning. We spied nests in the mud walls right alongside of the trail and tiptoed around them, as the tiny birds inside peeped for food. And the bugs! The treetops literally screamed with the sound of cicadas and our ears rang with the cry of them calling for mates. There were giant stickbugs and beetles. Right from the shore we watched an octopus drift from rock to rock, hunting. It is a wild, wild place and we never wanted to leave.

Swing bridge, Great Barrier Island

Swing bridge on Great Barrier Island

Wondertime family, Great Barrier Island

Smokehouse Bay, Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier. You can heat water on the wood stove and then have a private hot bath inside, or in one of the outside tubs. Or just swing, as we did.

Smokehouse Bay, Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier. You can heat water on the wood stove and then have a private hot bath inside, or in one of the outside tubs. Or just swing, as we did.

Post-snorkel cozy up (Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier)

Post-snorkel cozy up (Port Fitzroy, Great Barrier)

But the city called us back. There is money to be made, for now, and school will start up again in a few weeks. With days of strong southwesterlies in the forecast, a parade of boats motored along with us, due SW, back to Auckland. Along the way, we found cell service again and got the news that our friends in Vava’u, Tonga were safe after cyclone Ian passed, despite 100 knot winds in the area and were incredibly relieved. We arrived back to our slip safely, and didn’t check the forecast again for weeks.

Our magic carpet

Our magic carpet (Great Barrier Island)

16 Things We Love About New Zealand That Surprised Us

Auckland pohutukawasI know my posts lately have been a little whiney. But while we’ve been feeling a bit homesick and have been missing our lazy, warm tropical island days (I know, cry me a river) there still is at least one moment of each day where I feel a sudden giddiness that we’re in New Zealand, indefinitely. There is so much to love here and I’m sure you know all about the good wine, scenery, famous movies and friendly people. Here are a few things that have surprised us about our adopted land that we’ve grown to love, in no particular order.

1. Pohutukawas are quiet green bushy trees most of the year, scattered throughout the country in city parks and on beaches alike. But then in early December, a few weeks before Christmas, KAPOW! They burst forth with bright red fluffy flowers all over, just in time to celebrate the season. The New Zealand Christmas trees are certainly the prettiest we’ve ever seen.

2. Christmas at the beach Despite retailer’s continued efforts, Christmas here is still less about the stuff and more about spending time with your family, usually at the beach and followed with a sausage sizzling on the grill. The Christmases of my childhood were always a huge affair with decorations everywhere, elaborate meals, parties, piles of gifts and my mother no doubt took years off her life preparing for it all. Not me: I love the simplicity of a few basic decorations (see “Pohutukawa” or “Look girls! A Christmas tree!”), a couple of gifts for the girls from Santa and a day of just being with friends and family with sandy toes under the sun and time to enjoy it all. It helps that the school summer break starts a few days before Christmas, a time of year so good that it even has the best name ever: Silly Season.

We Love Sand

3. Bare feet Apparently, even in the city and at primary school, shoes are completely optional.

4. Jandals If they are not barefoot then Kiwis protect their piggies with a pair of jandals, otherwise known as flip-flops or thongs. Even in winter here on the North Island. Which brings me to….

5. Winter in Auckland No snow. No frost. Lots of sunny days between rain and wind and thunderstorms (which keep it interesting). Just right.

Our Auckland slip on a sunny day last winter. Locals tell us it's *never* this nice usually.

Our Auckland slip on a sunny day last winter. Locals tell us it’s never this nice, usually.

A mid-winter hike in the Waitakere. The hats are just for fun and show, it's really not that cold out.

A mid-winter hike in the Waitakere. The hats are just for fun and show, it’s really not that cold out. Muddy and wet, yes.

6. Legends Aotearoa is a land of myth and legend: the taniwhas, Tāne Mahuta, Maui, Kupe, the first wakas to sail to NZ from Hawaiki. Maori stories live rich in this land and are interwoven into life everywhere. When you walk through a great forest, or gaze out at the Tasman from a clifftop, the spirit of the land is omnipresent and it’s easy to feel why this is the land of story.

The gannet colony at Muriwai beach. Amazing.

The gannet colony at Muriwai beach looking over the Tasman. Amazing.

Tāne Mahuta. Lord of the Forest.

Tāne Mahuta. Lord of the Forest.

7. Language On a planet where languages are disappearing at an alarming rate, it’s so refreshing to see Te Reo Māori, the original language of New Zealand, being studied and celebrated and respected here. The girls learn Māori words and songs at school, Universities offer tuition-free classes, there is even an entire TV station broadcast mainly in Te Reo Māori. Coming from a place where people are denigrated for speaking languages other than English, it’s incredibly hopeful to hear the words of the ancients freely spoken.

Holly learns about Maori traditions at Kindy during Matariki, celebration of the Maori new year which occurs in May/June.

Holly learns about Maori traditions at Kindy during Matariki, celebration of the Maori new year which occurs in May/June.

8. A Land of immigrants In Auckland at least, in addition to hearing Māori being spoken you are just as likely to hear Hindi, Bengali, Chinese, Japanese, Tagalog, Tongan, French, Spanish, German…you get the idea. Auckland is the most international city we’ve ever been to with residents coming from literally around the world. The girls’ central city school is a true united nations of students and we’ve got friends from South Africa, Pakistan, India, Philippines, Ireland, China. I’ll have to write more on this later because it’s the aspect that has had such a positive impact on the girl’s view of the world as well as really feeling what it is to be an American.

Leah and favorite school friends

Leah and favorite school friends

9. The schools It took a while for me to get used to just handing the girls over to others to teach each day but thankfully the excellent schools here have made the transition easy. New Zealand schools are not bogged down in standards and testing and constant evaluations like US schools are. While they do have general guidelines to follow, schools here are free to experiment, adjust their teaching plans to suit their students’ specific needs and take on new ideas at a rapid pace. What this means for us is that both girls have learned a whole lot this past year, but more importantly they love school and think it is great fun which is the best lesson they could learn there.

Leah hated homework - or homelearning as they like to call it here - at the beginning of the year but now she thinks it's fun. Win! She turns in her last sheet tomorrow, summer break is coming!

Leah hated homework – or homelearning as they like to call it here – at the beginning of the year but now she thinks it’s fun. Win! She turns in her last sheet tomorrow, summer break is coming!

Holly's Kindy class visited a climbing gym this year for a field trip. Adventure sports starts early here.

Holly’s kindy class visited a climbing gym this year for a field trip. Adventure sports starts early here.

10. Swimming Knowing how to swim here is akin to knowing how to add 2 + 2. Starting at age 5 at primary school all kids spend two days a week during the summer/fall terms working on their swimming skills. Most primary schools have their own pools. The Auckland swimming pools even let kids in for free to swim anytime up to the age of 16. Makes sense when you are surrounded by ocean.

Holly at the Tepid Baths, Auckland

11. An unarmed society Want to know the most shocking thing we learned after arriving in NZ? Not even the police carry handguns. No kidding. Cops walking down the street in Auckland are noticeably firearm-free; they have to call in the special armed-force for any serious crimes. This is not a land of guns, but it’s not gun-free: there is a rigorous application, education and interview process to gain a firearms licence and the guns themselves are tightly controlled and monitored. As a result, gun crime is extremely rare. 2007 data shows that for every 100,000 New Zealanders there were 0.16 homicides by firearm. For every 100,000 Americans? Nearly 3.

12. Awesome signs

Stay Sober - Get the Boys Home

Kiwisaver? Or work 'till you die.


Cheese, Kindergarten or Timber?

13. Southernmost Polynesia Just like the islands of Hawaii are the northernmost Polynesian islands, the islands of New Zealand are the most southern. For some reason we thought when we left Tonga we were leaving Polynesia largely behind but were happily surprised to find that is definitely not the case. Maori culture is very similar to that of the Marquesans (some believe the Maori came from eastern Polynesia originally). They say Auckland is the largest Polynesian city with not only a large Maori population but people from Tahiti, the Cooks, Tonga, Samoa, Niue, Fiji also have made their home here now. While it’s regretful that they are unable to make a good living back in their home islands, we love the vibrant culture that Pacific islanders have added to the already Polynesian New Zealand: the food, music, art, tattoos and color of Polynesia is all around us here and we love it.

Maori carving at the Arataki Visitor Center, Waitakere Ranges

Maori carving at the Arataki Visitor Center, Waitakere Ranges

14. Panelbeaters Our first car here was a late-90s model Subaru station wagon, just like the many others we had back in Washington but with the steering wheel on the wrong side. Well, one day Michael was turning into the parking lot at our marina and the car behind him neglected to stop and dented the trunk fairly badly. Since the car was only worth about $2000 we thought for sure the insurance company would total the car and just give us the cash. Nope. They paid nearly $2500 to fix and repaint the whole aft end of the car by a local “panelbeater” shop. (We sold that car not long after for $1800. Sigh). The whole point of this is to illustrate that New Zealanders are loathe to just throw perfectly good things out if they can be fixed. Since we are stuck on two tiny islands thousands of kilometers from anywhere, people here don’t abandon things that are broken, they fix them. Or beat them back into shape, apparently.

15. Cussing and boobs If you are offended by hearing f-bombs on the radio in the middle of the day or nekked boobies on your television after the kids are in bed, well, you should probably keep your radio and TV off here because no one else seems to mind. We get Hell Pizza delivered right to our boat on a regular basis and I nearly neglected to stop my own car on Ponsonby road one day when I looked up and saw this billboard:

Traffic Stopping Billboard

16. Kids in bars The first time we visited the local sailors pub to grab a pint and a bite to eat we tentatively stepped into the dusty dim room and asked if kids could eat inside. “Sure,” the barkeep said, “As long as they don’t drink or smoke!” Yeah, I think we’ll stay for a while.

The can get their own drinks.

They can get their own drinks.

Giving Thanks, New Zealand 2013

Sailing into the Hauraki GultIt has been three long years since we’ve had a proper Thanksgiving feast with our dear families. We both, Michael and I, come from families who gather each year and give thanks around a table sagging with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes…the works. It’s not the food we miss, obviously, but the closeness of treasured grandparents, siblings, parents, cousins and the special feeling that a gathering of generations brings.

Perhaps it’s the time of year or maybe it’s that we’ve just passed the one-year mark since we first sailed into New Zealand waters. Whichever it is, we’ve been feeling so homesick lately. Painfully so. The other night I was a blubbering bawling mess, I wanted to be back home in Olympia so bad that the next morning I got online to get quotes to put our little ship on a big ship back home [I also learned that I’d have to start selling my organs to be able to afford that.]

We are getting pretty used to life here but I still crave the familiar so much it hurts sometimes. I want to hug my Grandma. I want my Dad to see how much his granddaughters grew last month and hear Holly’s latest “joke” live. Silly things too: I want to go to Costco and buy a tub of those salty smoked almonds I love so, I want to pop down the street and fill my growler with ice-cold Fish Tale organic pale ale. I want to drive down the street to Starbucks to have a coffee with my dear friend Stacy and talk about all the cute and annoying things our kids have been doing over vanilla lattes.

Bigger things too: sometimes, we admit, we look at Windermere.com and sigh at all the affordable houses and dream of having a little cabin of our own just a short walk to the beach. I look at Lincoln Elementary’s lunch menu and weep (our Auckland primary offers Subway on Fridays). Sometimes we just tire of the questions: “You’re not from here are you?” “You are American? What are you doing here?” “How long do you plan to stay here?” “You live on a boat?!?” Sometimes it’s fun to tell our story, but sometimes we just want to blend in. Sometimes we just feel exhausted with it all.

Now the Holidays loom which doesn’t make it any easier. I will say that the fact that it’s pretty much summertime and the sun is shining warm and bright and I’m living in jandals again does make this a bit more tolerable. And then we got a special invitation for a true American Thanksgiving up at Kawau Island. We tidied up our home and set sail just like old times.

We dropped our hook in North Cove, in front of Mickey Mouse Marine, the shop and home that Lin and Larry Pardey made over the past 30 years after they’d sailed their little boat into that bay once upon a time. There was another boat there, Ganesh, the new home of another well-salted pair, Carolyn and her husband Captain Fatty. At the dinner Saturday night, we learned Brion Toss was in town as well, along with the crew of Galactic, another cruising family from the NW. And a whole bunch of other interesting local characters.

It was as amazing as it would seem, to be in the company of such revered, friendly, funny and well-travelled writing sailors. A lot of the talk wasn’t about sailing at all it turned out. But I did pinch myself listening in to Larry and Brion banter about the merits of three-strand rope. Our daughters were playing with Lin’s slinky and got it all tangled up of course. Someone suggested “give it to Brion!” so we did. That kept him busy for a while. Lin whipped up a Thanksgiving feast of epic proportions in her small galley kitchen and when it started to rain we moved all the tables inside their cozy tidy home. We called all the kids up who had been running around somewhere playing in delight then all 35 of us stuffed ourselves around the tables sagging with roast turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes…and gave thanks that we were together here nearly at the end of the world. We realized we were with family this year after all: our family of sailors, a gathering of generations.

Later, after the dishes were cleared and our bellies were stuffed yet again with pumpkin pie and apple pie and zucchini bread and chocolates and more wine we sat back and listened to Captain Fatty play his guitar and sing with his sweet wife Carolyn’s voice filling in.

Our view of our world shifted a bit then in that beautiful wooden room Larry built with his weathered hands now filled with music played by legends. How lucky we are to be in this place, far from home. Experiencing things that we’d once dreamed of, things we’d never even been able to imagine. The feeling that things are unfolding as they should, that we just need to be open to them and not afraid.

Thankful for the fortune that our lives are filled with the wonder we craved when we set off into the world.

Out and about in the Hauraki Gulf

Rangitoto summit boardwalk, Auckland, New Zealand

After three months of being tied to our Auckland dock, we found ourselves staring at the long Easter weekend on our calendar and knew it was time to head out. While the temperature has cooled a bit here, the days continue to be long and sunny with the occasional rain squall thrown in just to remind us we are still in the South Pacific ocean. It took me a week to stow away all the land-life things that littered the boat: library books, school bags, art projects, shoes. Good Friday arrived and we munched on hot cross buns for breakfast (racks and racks of them were on sale at the grocery store and I guessed — accurately — that they were somewhat of a tradition here). We took off the sail covers, heaved off the docklines and returned to our sea-life.

Holly's lost her sea legs

Holly’s lost her sea legs

The wind was light and blowing directly into Waitemata Harbour so we worked our way out by (sigh) tacking. Going upwind displeases Wondertime so but she sailed on anyway. There was a little chop due to the opposing current, both of which slowed us down even more. But as there was only 8 nautical miles or so to go to our planned anchorage we didn’t mind.

After a dozen tacks we were finally free of Auckland’s inner harbour and officially in the gulf. Now, a little background might be in order here: it was morning when we arrived in Auckland last December after our overnight sail down from the Bay of Islands. I was still asleep after my dark early-morning watch and Michael didn’t call me up on deck until we were right off the city’s downtown. Michael himself had only been concentrating on our route through the channel and avoiding shipping traffic and hadn’t fully appreciated the view. This was the first time we’d really seen the Hauraki.

Our first thought was, now we could see why all our marina neighbors went out sailing every weekend! We were in a totally protected inland waterway, chock-full of sailboats but with plenty of room for us all to glide around. We were surrounded by islands indented on all sides with cozy anchorages; clearly the most difficult part of sailing around here was choosing one. It reminded us very much of the San Francisco Bay area but with volcanoes.

Islington Bay, Rangitoto Island, Auckland, New Zealand

Which is where we pointed our bow to drop our hook, in Islington Bay off Rangitoto Island, home of Mount Rangitoto which last erupted only 700ish years ago. The girls joined us in the cockpit for our final tacks toting a packet of crackers with them, both of them looking a little green after watching a movie in our bunk during the sail.

We still had an hour or two to go until sunset when we dropped the anchor in the crowded, but thankfully roomy bay. Michael and I cracked a couple of cold beers and relaxed in the cockpit, taking in the fresh and lovely view around us. Suddenly we were giddy like we hadn’t felt in months, like anything was possible. Here was our family right in our ever so familiar home but surrounded by a completely new world. I don’t think we’ll ever get tired of that paradox.

Exploring the Rangitoto lava caves

Exploring the Rangitoto lava caves

The original plan was to explore several anchorages in the gulf, maybe to sail over to Waiheke and see if it was really true that you could take your dinghy to a wine tasting. We’ll have to find out next time though as we spent all three of our nights at Rangitoto. The entire island is a nature reserve and is covered with tracks; we did our best to explore just a tiny portion of them. We were successful at reaching the summit with amazing views all around, including our new home-for-now city of Auckland. One of the things that has blown us away time and again in New Zealand is the quality of the public parks, tracks (hiking trails) and facilities and Rangitoto’s summit paths, lookouts, boardwalk and information signs were no exception. We peered into the volcano’s crater, currently covered with vegetation and wondered when it would erupt again. We crept through the dark lava caves formed from the last eruption– like something out of Indiana Jones, or well, Lord of the Rings I should say!

Mostly though we just enjoyed the peace and fulfillment of sitting at anchor in a place we had sailed ourselves to. Why do we seem to forget how much we enjoy this? But isn’t it wonderful that sailing only a handful of miles in a couple hours away from what is becoming familiar can seem so exotic and exciting. Maybe it’s the remembering why we like this so much again and again that keeps us exploring. And the feeling that all is right in our little world.

 Video: Sailing in the Hauraki Gulf

Rangitoto hike, Auckland, New Zealand

Leah sketches the Rangitoto summit marker

Leah sketches the Rangitoto summit marker

Wondertime family at Mount Rangitoto summit, Auckland, New Zealand

I think we’ve summited our first mountain!

Autumn in Auckland

Westhaven Summer

It’s officially autumn here in the southern hemisphere. The days continue to be sunny and warm in Auckland. The locals tell us that this is very unusual, that they haven’t had a summer at all for the past several years. I think it might just be the typical Kiwi humbleness showing through again. We were led to believe that the weather here was terrible, blustery and cold every day, sideways rain. Maybe that’s just our newbie ignorance showing through. The season is early.

Truth be told, we’re all sideways when it comes to the seasons and can’t tell which month it is, which season we’re in exactly without consulting the calendar on a daily basis. You take it for granted how innate it is in your own hemisphere. Back home, March means daffodils coming up, Easter chocolates, fresh green leaves on the trees, longer days and more sun. Here, March means back to school, autumn leaves, rain squalls, crisper mornings. It feels like Halloween, and Thanksgiving, and Christmas carols are right around the corner, but they surely aren’t.

Holly bikes Auckland

Easter is coming up and I’m not sure (if I was the decorating kind anyway) if I should be scattering autumn leaves around the boat or Easter flowers. It just feels all wrong. But anyway, this will be our first winter in two years and we’re actually looking forward to turning on a heater again, donning our cozy fleeces and jeans. I’m not sure about the socks though, the “jandals” may have to stay all year.

One thing we do know is that this is the time of year that is buzzing with cruising excitement, wherever you happen to be on your boat. Over on the west coast of North America, boat crews are busy prepping and jumping off for the South Pacific. (It’s impossible for us to believe that it’s been exactly a year since we did the same!) In the Northwest, boats are getting ready for a summer shakedown then a boogie down the coast to Mexico in a few months. Even here in New Zealand it’s already time for the finishing touches of pricey refits to be completed and passages north, whether to Fiji, Tonga, or Tahiti to be charted out for April and May.

We nearly forgot about the joys of daysailing, especially how special it is to see the smile on a first-timer's face as the wind begins to pull us along.

We nearly forgot about the joys of daysailing, especially how cool it is to see the smile on a first-timer’s face as the wind begins to pull us along.

We can feel all this energy, even though we sit in a quiet marina, many of the Kiwi boats having been put away for the winter already in a winding-down season of furious sailing in the Hauraki Gulf. We want to be there too, in that crazy haze of stress-excitement-joy that is the weeks leading up to a big departure. I think we may have become addicted to that feeling, and then the one after where you are on your way to somewhere new and exciting aboard the little ship you lovingly prepared. Now, to be staying still for a while feels just like when you step onto an escalator that is out of order, when you expect your body to be carried upwards but instead there is just that lurching feeling and your legs feel heavy as they plod up the stairs.

We’ve been told that the long Easter weekend is the last hurrah for sailing, kind of like Labor Day weekend in the States. We’ve actually spent most of our weekends off the boat, or at least out and about exploring the city or the nearby beaches and forests. Looks like we might have to go out sailing too. Winter is on her way, so the calendar says.

We spent a weekend "baching it" at wild and gorgeous Piha beach. Less than an hour's drive from the city it feels like a world away. But New Zealand is like that and that's why we love her.

We spent a weekend “baching it” at wild and gorgeous Piha beach on the Tasman sea. Less than an hour’s drive from the city it feels like a world away. But New Zealand is like that and that’s why we love her.

Our little "bach" at Piha beach. The girls are sandy and wet and running for the bathtub soon to be filled with hot water and bubbles. The simple things are the best.

Our little “bach” at Piha beach. The girls are sandy and wet and running for the bathtub soon to be filled with hot water and bubbles. This simple little nearly 100-year-old house felt like a mansion to us.

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. I think change is in the air.

Yesterday was the first day of autumn. I think change is in the air.

Transitioning to the world of to-dos

Wondertime girls at Roberton Island, Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Wonder. Time.

I realized yesterday what it is that has been driving me crazy lately. Anxiety has been creeping into my soul once again, a sense of hurry that starts as soon as I open my eyes each morning. The feeling that there is not enough time in the day. Going to bed each night thinking of what I didn’t get done that day and wondering if I can get it done tomorrow.

It’s my new to-do list.

One of our most favorite places in Auckland so far? The library!

One of our most favorite places in Auckland so far? The library!

I haven’t had a to-do list for well over a year now and as we head out of cruising mode and into – what? – work/school/errand/shop/whatever-you-call-this-not-moving mode I’ve starting making the lists that ruled my life before we spent all our days exploring little bits of land by sea. It seems there’s a lot to do to fit in to city life, and more importantly, make and spend money which is mostly what every metropolis seems about. I’ve got lists of things to buy, places to explore, homeschool activities to sign up for, items to complete for our work and student visas, books to read, blog posts to write, boat projects, appointments to make….

Did I not have these things before? What has changed exactly? Sure, some days were busy during our time in the islands. When we got to town there were provisions to buy, laundry to drop off, ice-cream cones to eat. Emails to write. Um. Hmm. I guess that’s it. Must be why I hadn’t had to jot down any tasks – there really weren’t any.

But we must have eaten a lot of ice-cream because here we are working on that cruising kitty again. And doing that in a new country requires a bit of red tape. And the price of not having a to-do list for a while simply means that quite a few things just got pushed into the future and we’ve finally met up with them. Then again, I just like making lists and tend to jot down any old thing that crosses my mind to do.

But then those lists tend to rule my days: I check my daily tasks in the morning and plan out how I’m going to get them done. The girls beg for pancakes but I make oatmeal again because pancakes take too long to make and clean up. I feel anxious when the girls want to get out the paint when I’m planning on heading out in an hour to the laundromat. Everyone wants to walk to the playground but I am struggling with the fact that I have 10 starred emails in my inbox…. By the end of the day I am exhausted and – of course – I check my to-do list and defer the four undone items for tomorrow.

Pt. Erin Community Pool

We love hot summer December days at the pool

One of the lessons that cruising has taught me is to take the lessons that cruising has taught me and bring them to the life we live when we are not moving. This one: that the best days are not the ones where I get the most things done. The best days are the ones without a list leading the way, where we just let the day unfold and explore the world however we feel that day and let whatever happens, happen. They are the days when we take the time to wonder.

We had such a day last weekend: Saturday morning dawned with a list of things we needed to do to go visit friends who live several hours up the coast for the weekend. We packed, made a treat to bring, showered. Out in the parking lot we found a screw embedded in the front tire of our car and drove out to a tire shop on the way out of the city (resulting in four brand-new tires to replace the bald ones). At noon, we found ourselves sitting in northbound traffic with the rest of Auckland’s residents heading out for a long New Year’s weekend. After taking nearly two hours to travel what normally takes 20 minutes, we phoned our friends and regretfully made plans to visit after the holidays. We felt terrible.

Nothing to do!It was a beautiful sunny summer December day so we headed over to the community pool for an afternoon swim. On the way home we got an invite from some new friends for a BBQ dinner at their Auckland home and drove over that evening. The wonderful visit and dinner culminated with a night stroll under the full moon to a park reserve near their home. We walked in the dark into the trees which led to rock caverns that were illuminated with the tiny fairy-lights of glowworms. It was absolute magic, an unforgettable evening for everyone. I couldn’t have planned that day if I tried and tried.

So this morning when I woke up I did the best thing I could think of to reduce all the weight these to-dos have been putting on my soul and our days: I started deleting them.

The view from our cockpit - our new playground!

The view from our cockpit – our new playground!

With her rust stains, chipped paint and bowsprit, Wondertime sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the other slick and fast New Zealand boats. But we love her anyway.

Here’s Wondertime in her new Auckland slip. With her rust stains, chipped paint and bowsprit, she sticks out like a sore thumb amongst all the other slick and fast New Zealand boats. But we love her anyway.


Merry Christmas from the Crew of Wondertime!

Treats for Santa We arrived in Auckland last week, after Santa granted us an early Christmas gift of a new damper plate shipped from the UK which got us motoring along again. With the remains of Cyclone Evan hot on our heels, we had a quick overnight trip 130 miles down the coast from the Bay of Islands into our cozy slip here in downtown Auckland. Our first days in the city have been a blast with amazing playgrounds, parks, pools, libraries, museums and shopping just a short walk or bus ride from the boat.

This Christmas, we are thankful for arriving here safely and with so many stories and memories of the last 18 months of travelling together as a family that it seems overwhelming at times. The hardest part is definitely the wake of family and friends we’ve left behind and are missing very much this season. Just know we are thinking of each and every one of you and wish you a very merry season and the time to look back at all the amazing memories you’ve made this year.

Wondertime - Christmas 2012And look forward, as we are, with excitement and joy at all the memories to come in the coming year.

Wondertime girls - Christmas 2012

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.

Lost in the Islands of Tomorrow

Why hello there.

I’ve stepped out from underneath the palm trees we’ve been lounging under here in the Vava’u Group of the Kingdom of Tonga for a few minutes as it’s rather time to send you an update.

First off, the most exciting thing to happen on our sail here was that we got to skip Thursday and sailed straight into Friday which the girls where thrilled about (being Friday movie night after all). Somewhere along the way here we crossed the International Dateline moving us a day ahead of all of you back in the U.S. While you’ll be waking up to Friday morning it will already be Saturday here and well into the weekend.

Which means nothing here to us, of course, excepting that I have to remember to get to the amazingly fresh and gorgeous (and we’re talking California-gorgeous) produce market before it closes by noon as it does on Saturdays. Other than that, we’re living the old cruiser’s life of “every night’s a Friday night, every day’s a Saturday.”

This amazing scattered group of islands – there are 60 of them – are nestled together like puzzle pieces in an area only 16 x 18 nautical miles. You weave through them, around them, through channels and there’s a spot to anchor about every few miles. The whole group is surrounded by reefs that keep out any annoying ocean swell and it’s like sailing and anchoring in the Gulf Islands again. Only with palm trees and turquoise water and the soft warm breezes I think I’ve written about before. You can reach just about every anchorage in two hours or so. In the past two weeks, we’ve been to three of them.

This place doesn’t affect everyone the same way, but to us, it’s called us to slow down, stop for a while and just experience the life and place around us without the sense of movement we’ve become so accustomed to. Our first few days in Neiafu, the main town here, were spent catching up with boatloads of friends, some of whom we hadn’t seen for months. Just about everyone heading west passes through Tonga sooner or later and there have been grand kid-boat reunions here.

With Wondertime loaded down with delightful fresh produce from the local market, the likes we haven’t seen since La Cruz, we headed out to the islands. Or, one island in particular, that of our amazing longtime friends Ben and Lisa who we met in California while we were all on our way to Mexico in 2002 and sailed all over with that winter. They continued on to Tonga in their boat Waking Dream in 2004 and have stayed here ever since, opening up a number of businesses over the years and becoming a true part of the community. They currently have a lease on an adorable 2.5 acre island where they are busy living and building a small restaurant and eco-lodging amongst the palm trees. In their spare time they run the non-profit Regatta Vava’u coming up here in a few weeks.

We’ve been anchored off their island for the past week and have had a blast watching them get to know our new crew members as well as hearing their stories of life on a Tongan island. The girls, of course, adore Ben and Lisa as well as their island home. Countless hours have been spent just talking and pontificating and reminiscing and watching the palm trees sway. We’ve shared many meals together with Ben and Lisa, their local friends, and our cruising friends that have stopped by as well. We’ve danced under the clear light of the full moon while Ben – still the party king — spun tunes on his DJ gear. Michael has helped out with several of the countless projects underway on the island. The girls and I have napped in a hammock. We’ve read, daydreamed, had scavenger hunts. The beach has been combed for shells, many times. The girls have swung on the “hip ball.” We’ve messed around in boats. One clear night, we sat on a roof watching enormous flying foxes swoop overhead in the dark and listened to the crickets sing.

You never know what will pass by when you stop and watch and listen for a while.

The Wondertime Girls in Neiafu, Vava’u

17 Reasons Why We Think Niue is Brilliant

After nine days at sea, we found the tiny island of Niue, the only bit of land for hundreds of miles around. It was 2 am when we arrived off the main town of Alofi and picked up one of the moorings maintained by the Niue Yacht Club. Our night approach was easy: Niue no longer has a fringing reef and there’s no danger of running into anything other than the island itself. Niue is a former atoll that’s had it’s entire coral center pushed 150 feet or so straight up into the sky. The island’s edges are now littered with caves, chasms, and crystal clear pools before what remains of the surrounding coral reefs drops steeply into the ocean for thousands of feet. We were excited to see this petite island nation for ourselves, and beginning when we woke up in the morning a few hours after our arrival we found many reasons to love this island.

1. Niue’s Clear Blue Sea

Niue is affectionately known as “The Rock” as the whole island is basically a huge chunk of coral limestone. It has no rivers or streams and very little soil resulting in little to no runoff. What this means is that the waters surrounding Niue are absolutely crystal clear. When we looked around on our first morning on Niue we were awestruck by the clarity of the water around us. We could see the bottom 120 feet below our keel! The strikingly pure shades of blue of the seas around Niue are the most beautiful and otherworldly we’ve ever seen.

2. The Wharf Crane

Before we arrived here, we’d heard horror stories about Niue’s wharf. We’d heard it was pummeled by swell, you had to climb a slippery, rickety ladder 50 feet up and then you had to use a cranky old crane to actually hoist your dinghy up after you. I have no idea how these rumors get started. Niue’s wharf is the best we’ve encountered in the Pacific: all four of us can easily step right off the dinghy onto a sturdy concrete staircase and climb the five stairs with good handholds all the way up. The crane is a blast to use: you simply hook it onto your dinghy’s lifting bridle, use the controls to hoist the dinghy up into the air and swing it over onto a wheeled trolley, then park the dinghy amongst the others lined up on the wharf nearby. Truly the most fun dinghy-parking experience so far.

2. The Check-In Process

Right after we hoisted our dinghy onto the wharf for the first time, we were met right next to the crane by two customs agents, each of which had us fill out a short form. 10 minutes later we were driven by Keith, the super friendly and helpful local SSCA representative, up the road to the police station (with a quick tour of the town of Alofi on the way). Here we filled out another short form and we each got our passports stamped. Check-in done, literally minutes after we’d begun the process.

3. The Niue Yacht Club

We left the police station after completing our check-in and wandered a few hundred meters down the road to the Niue Yacht Club. This place deserves a list of it’s own but I’ll just have to start by saying how impressed we are with the 14 heavy-duty moorings the club maintains (it is nearly impossible to anchor here due to the depths and coral-choked sea floor). The mooring balls are even covered with reflective tape to make them easy to find for boats coming in at night like we did. The club itself in town is a wonderful, comfortable place to hang out with very friendly owners, a huge book exchange, free internet, a fridge stocked with cold beers and sodas, and potluck events.

4. Fish & Chips

Niue is a “self-governing nation with free association with New Zealand.” What we hoped this meant was excellent fish and chips and we are happy to report that indeed we enjoyed amazing fried wahoo and chips washed down with New Zealand beer on our very first day here. Yum.

5. A Little Piece of New Zealand

Besides the fish & chips, it has been a thrill to experience a little preview of what New Zealand holds for us here in Niue. Everyone on the island speaks English (with a Kiwi accent to boot!), which is thrilling after our Spanish didn’t help us much in French Polynesia in terms of getting to know local people. Most of the food products in the grocery stores are from NZ and you have to be careful when crossing the street as it’s left-side driving here!

6. The Playground

During our sail from Maupiti to Niue we read through the Niue chapter in our Lonely Planet South Pacific several times (it is short). I noted that there was reportedly a playground in Alofi and informed Holly of such. Each day after, several times each day she asked me to confirm that we were indeed going to an island with a playground. Happily we found the reported playground just south of the main town and although simple and sun-worn both girls were thrilled to climb and swing and just play here. Holly gives Niue a thumbs-up.

7. History

Once you walk up the hill from the wharf and set off down the main road you can’t help but notice the graves. They are scattered all along the road, all the way around the island. They are varied: there are old, broken unidentified stone ones, there are new ones with fancy headstones with pictures and stories of the occupant. Many have silk flowers draped across them. Some have whole structures built on top to protect the graves. There are a great many more graves than people on this island that struggles to maintain it’s population: the elderly lost to the graves, the youth lost to New Zealand where everyone here has citizenship. The graves are not creepy at all though, even though they are everywhere. Rather it adds to the air of ancient history that is evident everywhere on Niue, both of the island’s geology and also the stories of the families that have lived here for a thousand years. Powerful reminders of time passing.

8. The Friendliest Island in the World

With a fledgling tourist industry, visitors are still novel in Niue. Each time we walk through town we are stopped by local residents who ask where we are from and how we got here and they are truly interested. Everyone waves as they drive by, whether you pass by on foot or car. Last Sunday we wanted to get down to Avatele Beach on the southwest corner of the island so had the girls stick their thumbs out. Within minutes we had a ride from a local fellow. It turned out he wasn’t really heading that way though and was planning on turning right around and driving back to town after dropping us off 15 minutes down the road.

9. Washaway Cafe

What’s not to love about a bar where you help yourself to ice-cold New Zealand beer from a fridge and write down what you took on a piece of paper? And has burgers topped with beets and fried eggs? And has a snorkeling beach right in front? And is the only place on the island open on Sunday? And has a steady stream of fellow sailors also stopping in?

10. A Birthday For Our Captain

Michael celebrated his 38th birthday here on Niue. It was a marvelous day with Dutch babies with French strawberry jam for breakfast, a bit of snorkeling off a tiny sandy pocket beach, dinner at Gill’s Indian Restaurant (the best Indian food we’ve ever had!), chocolate-chip cookie “cake” and two giddy girls who absolutely love celebrating anyone’s birthday, anywhere. But here in Niue, more special for sure.

11. Driving on the Wrong Side of the Road

If you need to practice driving on the left-hand side of the road, Niue’s the place to do it as I don’t think the island has ever had a traffic jam. Although most of the island’s main road is only a single lane, it’s good practice to pull to the left to let another car pass by.

12. Sea Tracks

13. Chasms

14. Caves

15. Snorkeling

16. The Mischievous Whales

Humpback whales are known to frolic amongst the boats moored here in Alofi although the local residents say there haven’t been many sightings so far this season. We haven’t seen them either, but we have heard blows and tail/fluke slapping during the late evenings so we know they are here. Yesterday, our friends on Knotty Lady awoke to find a whale had visited their boat while they’d been out in town the evening before. What they found was essentially all their bow hardware torn off their boat and dangling underwater: their anchor roller, anchor chain, cleats, mooring lines, furled Code 0 sail, bow pulpit and anchor locker door torn clear off. The best anyone can guess is a whale got caught up in their mooring and had to struggle dearly to get free. The damage is breathtaking: whales are strong, much stronger than most boats. Thankfully, the whale clearly got free and Knotty Lady will be repaired and will sail on.

17. Community

By noon of the day after the whale damaged Knotty Lady, the entire island had heard of the incident. Their sail was drying ashore in the afternoon. By evening, bent stainless steel parts were already ashore at local Niuean shops who’d volunteered to rebend and repair the pieces. A meeting was set up this morning for sailors to gather and discuss what supplies we each had that could help repair the extensive damage to Knotty Lady’s bow fiberglass and by this afternoon epoxy was curing. Niueans and cruising sailors pitching in without hesitation to help a fellow friend in need. That’s the beauty of life hundreds of miles from anywhere but here with each other.