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.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

Hope we can remember how to do it!

After 2 months away from the boat, we'll have to relearn all the sailing routines. Here's a little video to remind us what sailing's like. It was taken last April as we were sailing from Panama but we've only just got round to editing it!

Saturday, 29 March 2014

Growing old doesn't necessarily mean growing up! It's not so painfull

Today (29th March) was Graham's 50th birthday so he decided to mark the occasion, literally. As friends of ours said, "sailors need ink" so in Blenheim he took the plunge and had his first (and only!) tattoo:

It's not so painful!

The design is a Cook Islands one that was on the sails of the Vaka Hine Moana (a replica Polynesian voyaging canoe) that we sailed on in Tonga

Friday, 28 March 2014

The end of the 8 week camping adventure

We've just arrived in Auckland and unloaded the tent from the roof rack into friends' garage for safekeeping at the end of a brilliant 2 months' tour. The car and tent combination worked superbly well and we only slept indoors on 5 nights in the whole trip. The last few days saw some really sunny weather during the day but cold and dewy nights so we took extra care to get the tent properly dried and aired at our last campsite in the Coromandel Peninsula.

Camping with the sheep at Lake Tutira just north of Napier

A great walk above the camp

You need to take the 'falling rocks' road signs seriously in these parts!
We detoured up to the town of Whitianga on Coromandel to have lunch with Staffan and Eleanor - they sail a lovely Halberg Rassy called Salsa and we met them in an anchorage in Spain. They've made Whitianga their base for a few months and the children Andreas and Erika are loving the local school. Staffan writes an excellent blog with daily updates on all sorts of things and he and Graham had a good conversation about how our voyaging experiences might be turned into something useful (in terms of business) back home.

Sunday, 23 March 2014

I think we are being followed

Farewell view of South Island from the ferry
Our little cabin at the Eketehuna camp proved to be a very comfy choice so we spent yesterday afternoon relaxing on the veranda.

Home for one night

The campsite has a definite end-of-season feel to it, with only a couple of caravans in residence, so the arrival of a Britz campervan at about 5.00pm made us look up; we were more than a little surprised and delighted to see that it was Heidi and Peter. Quite by chance they'd stumbled upon the very same camp, having spent the morning back in Wellington, quite unaware that we'd be here. So another sociable evening followed that's done nothing for our 'must drink less'  intentions! 

Graham was allowed to indulge his boy scout tendencies and he built a very decent bonfire which we sat around as the sky cleared to provide a stunning star show and the dew fell heavily on the grass around us.

Back in North Island

We're glad to report that the ferry crossing was drama-free; it was pretty windy but the swell was gentle. We arrived in Wellington at 5.30pm  and drove 30 minutes north to a good campsite in Upper Hutt where we met Heidi & Peter from Stormvogel for a great BBQ supper; it was great to catch up with their news after 3 months or so and much wine was drunk.

The following day saw us take a very easy bus and train combination into Wellington where we spent the afternoon in the Te Papa museum before enjoying some very tasty pizza in Cuba Street, which appears to be the happening part of town for cafes and restaurants. We can see why so many people love the city (when it's not blowing a gale - it's known as Windy Wellington) but, to be honest, we like the wild countryside better so we felt that one day was enough for us.

Today (Sunday) we've headed north west to revisit the excellent little campsite in Eketahuna - we were about to rig the tent when we spotted that the cute little cabins (just two on site) were on $25 (£12.50) for the night including free use of a bbq on the veranda, free showers and even a free washing machine. The bargain of the trip, so we're enjoying a spot of (relative) luxury!

Thursday, 20 March 2014

A farewell blast from South Island

We left Blenheim in warm sunshine yesterday for a very twisty route up the east coast to a very nice DOC site at the wonderfully named Whatamango Bay.

However as dusk arrived so did the beginning of a 40 knot gale (not even mentioned in the forecast yesterday morning - one gets the impression that weather in the Cook Straight changes quickly). Thankfully we were pretty well sheltered by the trees and bushes behind us but the sound of the gusts roaring down the valley through the trees sounded like an approaching express train! The wind this morning is abating but our hope of a nice smooth ferry crossing might prove to be a tad optimistic!  Ah well.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Last few days on South Island

After a very wet and windy Sunday in Dunedin - spent in the wonderful Otago Settlers Museum (a free and extremely well-constructed museum tracing the early settlers, mostly Scots, who built the city) followed by a leisurely late lunch - we returned to the city centre the following morning to find it transformed by bright sunshine.

As Scottish as...

...with a touch of Irish green for St Patrick's day
Someone else obviously got a bit soggy on Sunday!
We headed north with a bit of the main State Highway 1, which broadly hugs the east coast, and a then a slight detour inland for something more twisty and interesting:

The safety rails on this single-track bridge were pretty rotten and falling apart
We camped at a tiny DOC site (only 6 places, technically, but 9 cars and campers somehow squeezed in) just north of Kaikora on Tuesday night and packed up a wet tent this morning after a night of persistent drizzle.

We're now in Blenheim - centre of Marlborough wine country - in a very tidy camp on the river side, enjoying bright warm sunshine again; the tent steamed briefly when we opened it up. We have just 2 more days on South Island before we catch the ferry on Friday and we are so pleased with our trip. Can't believe that we've had 6 weeks here but it's great that we've camped on all but 3 days and we've seen some wonderful places, ticking off most of the 'must-see' spots without feeling that we've been on the 'standard' camper van route.

When we get back to North Island (and we're very happy that the forecast for the ferry crossing looks good) we'll spend a couple of days in Wellington, where we hope to meet up with Peter & Heidi from Stormvogel, just returned from an amazing trip across a substantial part of Australia. We'll meet up with friends in Auckland at the end of the month and then we'll be back to Maunie to get her ready for voyaging again. A busy few weeks lie ahead.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

Down South, and more close encounters with penguins

The area known as the Catlins at the very south-western tip of South Island is a place that many New Zealanders haven't visited. Whilst it's remote and beautiful, with a rugged coast and some wonderfully green forests, the weather has a bit of a reputation. If the wind switches to a southerly, an icy blast brings sleet up from the Antarctic. We were lucky to have a couple of good days down there, though the nights were cold, so enjoyed walking the coastline.

A few hundred yards from our campsite, we discovered the workshop and gallery of an amazing artist / inventor called Blair Somerville who takes scrap metal, seashells, light bulbs and driftwood and turns it into hugely amusing sculptures and moving machines.

The amazing 'junk organ'

A hand-cranked whale

With Cyclone Lusi threatening to head south down the east coast (after battering the coast up where Maunie is moored), we left the Catlins to head to the city of Dunedin, but not before a stop off at the impressive Nugget Point lighthouse and nature reserve, way down at 46 degrees, 27 minutes south.

The Nuggets

Old and new lighthouse technology - the LED beacon at the front has replaced the original fresnel lens and 1000W light bulb in the gallery behind

The weather for Saturday night through to Monday morning promised gales and lashings of rain so we decided that we'd forego the delights of the tent for a couple of nights.  We found a brilliant budget room in a farm cottage out on the Otago Peninsula - the farm is also the home of the Penguin Centre, a conservation operation dedicated to the protection of the rare Yellow Eyed Penguin which nest on the beaches here. Neadless to say Dianne was absolutely delighted to go on a tour - there are hides and tunnels which allow people to view these shy animals in the wild without disturbing them - and also to visit the 'hospital' where underweight chicks or injured adults are nursed to full fitness before being returned to the wild. 

Adults in moult, an annual painful episode in Penguin life

Flax, an eight year old male

Dianne gets amazingly close to Flax as we wanders past her

This penguin is turning left

The weather looks better tomorrow so we'll head north. 

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Amazing geology and stunning scenery

Everyone we met who'd been to the west coast of South Island told us how beautiful it was so it was fantastic to be able to see it for ourselves in almost perfect weather conditions.

Up at the north end of the coast, just near the little town of Kamarea, is an old logging road that leads up into the forest. Whilst the removal of huge native hardwoods form the 1940's until 1986 is now regarded as a huge ecological mistake, the road has allowed people to access some incredible geological wonders, the Oparara Arches. 

A narrow seam of limestone, sandwiched between granite, has been eroded into some huge arches - the biggest 60m high and 220m long.

Further south on the coast road we stopped at Punakaiki to see the famous 'Pancake Rocks' - again limestone but these have a curious layered formation:

Further south we followed the Haast River inland and camped at the aptly-named Pleasant Flat, with an imposing view of Mount Hooker above us:

Bridge-bending by wide-angle lens

After a pit-stop back in a brilliant commercial campsite in Wanaka (an opportunity to do laundry and to catch up on admin and blog) we'll be heading south whilst the weather holds for the next 3 or 4 days. We'll visit the Catlins National Park and then the city of Dunedin before heading north to catch the ferry on the 21st.

Monday, 10 March 2014

NZ Creatures Great and Small

We're getting to know the New Zealand wildlife on our travels; some species all too well, it must be said. There seems to be a fairly concerted battle going on against imported animals which have now become recognised as pests: rabbits and possums, once farmed for meat and pelts are causing havoc as they breed almost out of control whilst ferrets and stoats, once carried aboard ships to control the on-board rat populations, are killing indigenous birds. Alongside walking tracks the sight of rodent traps is a common one and we see a lot of possums on the roads, resting.

All these foreign pests are a huge threat to Kiwis, penguins and Wekas. We think we've heard the call of the Kiwi at night but these nocturnal birds are notoriously shy. Shy is not a description ever levelled at the similarly-sized Weka however; these flightless birds appear at lots of our camp sites, cadging food. At the last site we were delighted to have a pair of Weka with three very fluffy chicks in tow - the adults turned over the undergrowth with their sharp beaks and the chick would then dash in to snap up any grubs or worms they unearthed.

The highlight of our bird-spotting so far hasn't been in the wild at all. During our brief stop in Christchurch we visited the excellent Antarctic Centre where there is a colony of twenty little Blue Penguins - all rescued from the wild with injuries that mean they can't be returned to the wild. They are cared for by the wonderful keeper, Dianne Lim, and we were lucky to get a 'back-stage' tour with her before feeding time. The average Blue Penguin will live for about 6 years in the wild but at the centre they enjoy a very happy life and live for up to 22 years!

Penguin love

"This is my ball"

Two Diannes with 14 year old Oblex after a routine vet check. Dianne handles the birds as little as possible - they bite!

Another bird we didn't know before we came here is the Kea. A mountain parrot unique to South Island, there are only around 5000 remaining (they were hunted almost to extinction as they were said to kill young lambs until they became a protected species). Up in the mountains at Arthur's Pass we met a couple of these very clever birds; in spite of lots of notices asking people not to feed the Keas, it's obvious that they do. As we stopped in a car park two Keas sidled towards us wanting food.

When we refused to give him food, this Kea tried to destroy the spare wheel cover in revenge!
Of course, domesticated farm animals are to be found pretty much anywhere where there's a level field.

DAiry farming has become big business here, with China demanding ever increasing volumes of  milk powder to meet the increasingly westernised diet. Huge irrigation systems have been installed and there's some concern about the excess use of nitrates to keep the ground fertile

Sheep are no longer the mainstay of NZ but we met a few Merino flocks on the move

"Move along there now". The police lend a hand
At the smaller end of the size range, there are plenty of spiders, beetles, wasps, bees and flies around but, unlike  Australia, there are no nasty spiders or snakes to threaten us. The main predators are the sand flies, little black buggers that give a painful bite which remains itchy as hell and, when we first arrived, would cause an uncomfortable swelling. There really is no excuse for them; they are New Zealand's answer to the Scottish midge. Various sprays and potions are available but we haven't found a perfect antidote as yet. Dianne's using something rather optimistically called 'Goodbye Sandfly', Graham's trying an alternative that claims great things and we also have an aerosol of 30% Deet spray which we don't like using, having seen it remove the print from a plastic bag in seconds! Apparently the west coasters mix their own potent solution, a 50:50 mix of baby oil and Dettol, which presumably deters other people as well.