Welcome to the Maunie of Ardwall blog

This is the blog of Maunie of Ardwall. After a six-year adventure sailing from Dartmouth to Australia, we are now back in Britain.

Monday, 27 January 2014

Back in Opua

We've returned to our adopted home port, Opua in the Bay of Islands after a lovely few days. Our sail north from Tutakaka saw us flying the spinnaker in company with a beautiful classic yacht:

We're anchored a little way off the waterfront today and will move into the marina tomorrow for 3 nights to give us time to get Maunie cleaned and ready for her 2 month holiday on the mooring. Graham will get the bus to Auckland on Thursday to retrieve the car and we aim to set off on our road trip on Sunday. We've booked ferry tickets to South Island on the 8th February so will have a few nights' camping as we head down through North Island.

It'll feel very strange to be leaving the boat for all this time but we're really looking forward to the trip.

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Climbing Mount Hobson and surviving the storm

With the sunny and calm (before the storm) weather at the weekend we did a nearly 7 hour hike up from the anchorage inland to climb Mount Hobson. The Department of Conservation (DOC) have done an amazing job of creating a hiking trail that used by many walkers and they have built thousands of wooden steps in areas that would have otherwise suffered serious soil erosion, plus several impressive suspension bridges.

Our anchorage near Port FitzRoy

The route follows a stream which, in the 1920's, was the site of a remarkable bit of inventive thinking. The entire island was being ravaged by the need for Kauri timber for house and boat building and tough bushmen, armed only with axes, handsaws and jacks, would fell the massive Kauri trees and then struggle to find a way of getting the huge logs out of the forest. Here they hit on using a series of wooden dams along a fast-flowing stream and would fill the artificial lake at the bottom dam with the huge cut timber. When the time was right the dams were tripped one after the other from the top of the stream so that a tidal wave of water would thunder down the valley into the bottom lake and, at that moment, its own dam was tripped and the logs would cascade down to the sea.

This is the remains of the bottom dam, built in 1923 (the water behind it would have been about 40ft deep):

The Kauri dam - the vertical boards were the gate that was tripped at the critical moment

How it would have looked
An eyewitness at the time said: "The logs would rip up trees in their path and you could hear the roar they made miles away. As they tore the valley sides the ground beneath you would shake. Hundreds came to watch and many of them were terrified."

The views from the top made all the climbing worthwhile:

Looking west - we set off from the bay to the mid-right of the photo

Looking towards the east coast - this is a prime surfing beach
The next day the weather changed dramatically as the remains of Cyclone June approached - first we had torrential rain then a wind that was forecast to contain gusts of up to 65 knots. We knew it was serious when a couple of huge 260ft fishing vessels came into the bay to shelter:

We moved Maunie to the most sheltered anchorage we could find and dug the anchor in hard, adding an 'angel' to the chain (an extra weight to dampen the pulls on the anchor as the boat got buffeted). We're glad to report that we survived it though we had a rather sleepless couple of nights! 

By Wednesday calm was restored so we were delighted to be able to return to our previous anchorage and go ashore for a drink in the Port FitzRoy Boat Club which has a flexible attitude to opening hours:

We left Great Barrier this morning for a good 53 mile passage back to the mainland at Tutakaka and the novelty of a marina berth! No need for the anchor alarm for once.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Great Barrier Island and waiting for the storm

We left Coromandel on Thursday (and are indebted to Simon Raine for his random fact No. 436: Roland Gift, ex-lead singer of 80's Hull band Fine
Young Cannibals, has a farm on the Coromandel. Thought you'd like to know) for a wonderful 45 mile sail across to Great Barrier Island, averaging over 7 knots all the way. We'd seen that the forecast that gave strong winds for Friday and Saturday with a long-range warning of something nasty in the wings for next week so decided to make the break whilst we could.
We're very pleased that we did because The Barrier, as it's known in these parts, is beautiful. Do have a look on Google Earth if you get a moment. We're anchored near Port Fitzroy on the west coast (Population 32, 1 shop, 1 bar, electricity only from diesel and solar generators) which is surrounded by densely-wooded volcanic hills and features lots of deeply indented bays offering good shelter from strong winds, something we're going to test in the next couple of days it seems.
The Barrier is a big island (the 6th largest in NZ) and is only 90km from Auckland with regular ferry and air links but it's very much like stepping back in time. The total population is only about 800, though its a popular summer destination for sailors, fishermen and hikers; there's really only one road (with not much tarmac) and the logging and mining industries of the 1800s have been replaced by conservation and leisure. Huge work has been done to eradicate 'foreign' pests such as rats and ferrets and feral grazing animals such as goats so the wildlife population is blossoming and the natural vegetation is returning.
The our sleep in the last couple of nights has been a bit disturbed as the strong winds arrived as promised. We were anchored in a sheltered bay so the water remained calm but sudden gusts of wind would tumble down the steep hillsides, hitting the water with a force strong enough to make it 'smoke' as water droplets were thrown into the air. As a result Maunie would spin around her anchor and heel over in the blasts. The good news is that we have a couple of days' respite now, with sunshine and gentle winds, so today we did a wonderful hike up through the forest to a waterfall, spotting Kingfishers (and their nests in the banks beside the path – we could hear the chicks in one) and being almost deafened by the cicadas in the trees. Tomorrow we'll have a crack at Mount Hobson, though it's a long and tough hike, we're told.
We have to enjoy the calm weather while we can as there's a deep low approaching, the remains of a named sub-tropical storm (giving it a name doesn't mean it's going to be our friend) so Monday / Tuesday will be very wet and extremely windy. We'll batten down the hatches and hope it passes quickly but they are talking about 45 knots of wind on the forecast which doesn't sound great. We think our current spot in the bay immediately south of Port Fitzroy should give us good shelter when the easterly gale hits and then it'll go round to the north before becoming westerly (when we may have to move to another bay more sheltered from that direction). Thankfully the intense low pressure system should move away fairly quickly so more benign conditions should return on Wednesday / Thursday. We'll report back on how it was!

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Sailing again, and the cost of war

Above: One of the 9" gun emplacements at Stony Batter, Waiheke Island
We're enjoying the freedom of sailing again after our city break, though the weather's a bit changeable this week. We're currently anchored in Te Kaumo Harbour – a bay on the west coast of the Coromandel Peninsula – with strong-wind warnings from the Met Service so we're tucked in close to the shore with 30 knot gusts rolling over us. The Coromandel is a long finger of land jutting northwards which provides the eastern shelter from the Pacific swell for the Hauraki Gulf; not many people live here but it's a very popular holiday destination for Aucklanders, both by car and by boat, and we can see why, as it's beautiful.
We left Auckland in the middle of the last really busy summer holiday week so the marina was pretty empty and we found most of its boats anchored in the more popular bays around Waiheke Island. We chose a couple of less popular, but still lovely, spots to anchor and did some hiking on the eastern end of the island; there we found a huge relic of WW2 in the form of the Stony Batter coastal artillery base. In the early 1940s there was increasing concern about the potential of a Japanese invasion of New Zealand (Japanese ships and submarines were apparently spotted off the coast) and, as the US Navy began to use Auckland Harbour for some of its Pacific Fleet, it became clear that the old defences at North Head at the entrance to the harbour were too close to the city to provide an effective defence. Artillery Station A2, as it was codenamed, was part-financed by the Americans and was an enormous civil engineering project; three gun emplacements, each built to house a 9.2" gun capable of firing a 172kg shell up to 28km, were connected to underground ammunition magazines, generator rooms and stores by over a kilometre of tunnels dug into a rocky hilltop that provides a clear view across the outer Hauraki Gulf.
The project was so big (and expensive – over $350,000 in 1942) that it was only completed in 1952 (and then with guns in only two of the three emplacements); the Coastal Artillery Corps was disbanded in 1957 and the huge guns were cut up for scrap in 1962, having only fired a few post-war test shots. The remains of the base, cared for by a band of volunteers who rescued the site from total neglect in the 1990s and now open it to the public, stand as a testament both to the ingenuity of the engineers who built it and the incredible waste of money and resources that New Zealand had to endure when invasion seemed a very real threat.
Our sail across from Waiheke to Coromandel was excellent and the walking we've done here has been good – this afternoon's hike through woodland and farmland was particularly interesting for its unusual birdlife. We had an extremely tame Kingfisher on the path only 5m away from us, a couple of peacocks foraging in a wildflower-filled meadow and, in a paddock next to a very smart house, a couple of Emus came up to see us at the fence.
They reminded us of the Roger McGough poem:
To amuse Emus on hot summer nights,
Kiwis do wiwis from improbable heights.
Given that the Kiwi is a flightless bird, any height at all would, of course, be improbable.

Tuesday, 14 January 2014

A few photos from Auckland and the Hauraki Gulf

We're sitting in an cafe in Coromandel town, drinking flat white coffees and enjoying a late-morning waffle (by which I mean something to eat, not aimless chatter, for once).

Here are a few photos from the past week:

The Sky Tower

The view from the tower of Auckland Bridge and the huge Westhaven marina

The sign said 'This glass is 28mm thick and is as strong as the concrete floor around it'. Good! The street is 170m below

Mad fool who paid $200 or so to jump off a perfectly good building
Islands to the east of Waiheke

Creative graffiti at Stony Batter

Hooks Bay anchorage, Waiheke

Easily-amused Emus in Coromandel

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Leaving Auckland

After a really good City Break, we're leaving Auckland today in bright sunshine to go and sail around the Hauraki Gulf. We've thoroughly enjoyed the city and even did the touristy thing to go up the Sky Tower the other day - 220m up at the Observation Deck gives you a pretty good view of the harbour.

There's another Photosynth view from the tower here

and a second here

As we were preparing Maunie for sea yesterday we had a visitor call in for afternoon tea - Neil Murray is head of the Coastguard Boating Education operation here (they run Yachtmaster courses and similar) and he was the skipper of the first Challenge yacht that we sailing on for a crossing from Plymouth to St Malo back in 1999! Small world!

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

The Camping Car

We can now reveal the second part of our plan for a couple of months of four-wheeled cruising in New Zealand. 
The Honda gains a new addition

Having realised that camper vans were beyond our budget to rent or buy (unless we were prepared to buy something old, high-mileage and probably unreliable), we'd settled on the car (with which we are absolutely delighted, by the way) and a tent. However we had our eyes on a tent with a difference - one that mounts on the car roof. Graham's boss, Tim, had such a thing mounted on a Land Rover for the Glastonbury Festival so we were delighted to find a company importing them from Australia; delight turned to frustration, however, when we discovered they'd just sold their last one and the next delivery wouldn't be until late February, a month too late for our planned trip.

This set-back turned out to be serendipidous, though, as we then saw an advert on Trade Me (the NZ version of eBay) for a second-hand tent. The photo even showed it fitted to a Honda CRV like ours! We put a bid in and were successful so took a lovely 3-hour scenic drive to Tauranga yesterday to collect it.

The sellers were a wondeful retired English couple, Graham and Liz, who'd moved to NZ having lived in Zambia for nearly 30 years. Though they'd loved the tent, they'd finally decided that the comforts of a camper van might be a good thing (and one is being shipped to them from the UK) so were selling it to make space in their garage. We liked them immediately and Graham (who's ex Royal Navy so spent a year in Dartmouth in the 60's) proudly showed us the additions and modifications he'd made to fit it to the Honda; like us he'd been concerned about overloading the roof-rack so had added additional stengthening bars and vertical support props to take the weight of the occupants. A perfect solution!

So, after a couple of hours back in the marina car park bolting the tent base to our roof bars we are delighted with our purchase. It takes only about 10 minutes to erect and pack away, the 7'x 5' double bed is very comfortable and the large awning provides shelter for cooking and eating below it. We can't wait to try it out for our first night's camping at the beginning of February!

The unfolded tent, complete with ladder to the upstairs bedroom. Guy ropes will replace Graham to hold the awning!

The outer canvas removed to show the inner tent; the four extra support props can be seen under the left hand side.
Testing for  comfort

PS When we bought the car we new it'd need a new battery (the result of under-use) so fitted one yesterday. After that, of course, the CD Stereo demanded a security code that we couldn't find in the paperwork - "rats", we muttered. However the Honda dealership where it was bought 13 years ago was just around the corner and within a couple of minutes they provided us with the code and confirmed on their computer system that the car was up to date in its servicing. "There aren't many Hondas of that age with such a good service record!" the Service Manager commented. 

Saturday, 4 January 2014

A different kind of cruising

Yesterday we were up bright (ish) and early to greet the arrival of a very different kind of cruising vessel, the enormous Celebrity Solstice which had Di's Aunty Brenda and her friend Claire aboard.

Early morning in the Wynyard district

A substantial rear

Claire, Dianne & Brenda

Aboard Maunie. Brenda isn't a keen sailor but we're hoping to convert her after her cruise!
We had a lovely day with them before driving them to the airport for their return flight to Australia.

Flying the flag and racing against an Americas Cup yacht

We had a great day-sail today with Auckland friends Tony and Claire aboard. It started with us fulfilling an ambition to sail under the Auckland Harbour Bridge with the Yeo Valley spinnaker flying:

As we sailed out into the Hauraki Gulf we spotted the iconic shape of an Americas Cup Yacht ahead of us. Now, whenever two boats are sailing in the same direction it always becomes a race so we gave chase, trimming the Parasailor within an inch of its life:

Target identified, full speed ahead
Getting closer
Almost there! The motor yacht coming the other way is Tom Cruise's, by the way (complete with helicopter on the stern and lots of boys' toys in the hanger)
Passed 'em! The camera never lies - though the order of photo's might not be quite right!
The professional crew on the AC yacht were very intrigued by our Parasailor - so much so that they came very close!

After all this sailing excitement we anchored for lunch and had a lovely sail back into Westhaven Marina

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Birthday & New Year

On the subject of birthdays, a very big thank you from Dianne to all those lovely people who sent e mail greetings!
As we celebrate the arrival of 2014 first here in NZ, in the fabulous (or should we say awesome?!) city of Auckland we would like to wish everybody a very happy new year.
Blog fact:  Auckland, according to our great friend and top blog follower, Simon Raine, is named after his home town of West Auckland in the North East of England. (If you'd like any further Auckland-related facts, please e mail us and we'll put you in touch as he can go on for hours!)
Our celebrations this evening (photos to follow) included sun-downer drinks with Regina and Michael from Anico and then a fabulous Japanese meal at Daikoku. Back on Maunie, the fireworks from the centre of Auckland surround us- perfect!


Happy New Year to you all!

Yesterday was a busy but fun day starting with Graham cycling out on a borrowed bike to go and collect our car! As we said before, we’d been looking at different vehicles and, once we’d found that camper vans were very expensive (and being snapped up for the summer), we started looking on Trade Me (the NZ version of eBAy) for a suitable alternative – something roomy and reasonably economical - and decided that a Honda CRV was just the thing, plus a tent (more on this in a later blog!).  
NZ imports heaps (as they say here) of ex-Japanese market cars so we looked at a few but Graham's engineering background couldn't quite reconcile the handbook being in Japanese nor the complete absence of any owner or service history. The Kiwi mentality is very laid back so they’d just say ‘she’ll be right’ and make a purchase but luckily we saw an advert for a private sale of a low-mileage 2000 model. Things looked promising when we arrived at an extremely nice neighbourhood and the owner pressed the remote control and the garage door rolled up to reveal a very shiny CRV. He’s had it from new and it had only done 110,000km (50k miles!) as their third car; it looks almost like new and has a very rare thing in NZ – a fully-stamped service book (by the Honda main dealer) with all the big jobs like cambelt and coolant changes done on time. It’s lovely to drive and we had a super first trip out over the Auckland bridge to North Head to climb the volcanic hill and view the city in the afternoon.

Di with her birthday present!

Very shiny car

North Head is a volcanic hill which has acted as a fort to protect Auckland from as long ago as the 1880's when it was feared that Russia might invade so there are old gun emplacements from that ere and miles of tunnels and guns from the first and second world wars. The view across the harbour entrance to Auckland is, as they say here, awesome!

A 19th Century 'disappearing gun' - when fired the recoil made it drop down into the pit for reloading

The city, with the Sky Tower clearly visible

The grand finale of the day was the fantastic firework display from the Sky Tower which we watched from the comfort of our cockpit.