Above: Evening anchorage in Urquharts Bay, with the oil refinery in the distance
Once we left Whangaei we had a nice sail out to Urquarts Bay just inside Bream Head (the northern most point of the river entrance) in time to anchor and walk up onto the headland. In WW2 a coastal defence battery was built, with the barracks and generator houses (now demolished) built to look like farm buildings. The 5" gun emplacement and observation point remain as a reminder of all the hurried efforts that went on to build costal defences in the early 1940's against the apparently unstoppable march of the Japanese forces; the observation post has a (restored) mural above the slit window, painted by the soldiers to replicate the view, with compass bearings marked below it as a sort of quick reference to direct the gun towards any invading vessel.
The route south from Whangarei was lovely, once we'd traversed the rather featureless Bream Bay and unhooked a long floating line to a lobster pot that, seen just too late, had snagged the bottom of our rudder (oops! a nice swim for Graham, though), and we anchored for two nights at the island of Kawau at the northern end of Hauraki Gulf, the boating playground for Auckland (which has something like the highest boat per capita ratio in the world). Kawau island was once owned by Sir George Grey, the Governor General in the mid 1850's and later Premier of New Zealand, and he built a splendid house around the original mine-manager's cottage - the copper mine in question being one of New Zealand's earliest industrial sites. Grey retired to the island and brought species of trees and animals to it from all around the world; today there is a wide range of exotic trees and four different types of Wallabies on the island. Graham toured the restored house (which had gone through a difficult history since Grey's death, becoming a hotel and guest house and suffering all sorts of thoughtless modernisations before the government took it over and began its restoration in the late 70's) and then we both walked up into the forest to overlook Coppermine Bay, with the remains of an engine house built to try to drain the mine workings of water. En route we passed through what was was signposted as a wallaby fence - we had no idea they were such practical animals but they'd made a tremendous job of it, particularly when you consider the limitation of their little arms and their lack of opposable thumbs.
From Kawau we headed south to Waiheke Island where we anchored in Oneroa Bay on the north side. A friend of Di's from her PC World days, Trish, and her husband Ian, who's a pilot for Air New Zealand, have a lovely house overlooking the water. The island was originally just a holiday home centre with small wooded beach houses (known as bach's) and a slightly hippy reputation until a new fast commuter ferry into Auckland was introduced a few years ago. Since then the place has boomed and the old wooden cabins are being replaced by some very upmarket plate-glass windowed modern-architecture pads for the well-to-do Aucklanders. With the arrival of the weekend and some very settled and sunny weather, the anchorage has become very busy with boats of all sizes anchoring much too close to each other so we'd not feel comfy leaving Maunie at anchor unattended for any length of time. So we'll spend a few days around here, exploring the less crowded bays, and then have a marina space booked for Maunie in Auckland over Christmas; Ian and Trish have kindly asked us to joint them for Christmas so we'll come back out on the ferry without worrying about the boat.
We guess that everyone back home is busy with pre-Christmas preparations (we decided to skip the Santa Parade in the village today) so our email inbox has been empty for the past few days - either that or our email server is playing up. Do drop us a line if you get a moment, between writing last-minute Christmas cards, frantically trying to find suitable presents and over-ordering on the drink; we'd love to hear from you.