Sunday, March 9, 2014

Heroic cruiser injured in Mexico

By Nicole

Coming to the aid of someone in need is exactly what we would’ve expected from our cruising friend John on s/v Time Piece. But hearing about the aftermath of his life-changing injury shocked and saddened us. Please take a moment to read about John’s courageous story – and about the strength and solidarity of the cruising community – on s/v Eagle’s blog. And remember to always use the kill switch on your outboard!

We’re sending you lots of love from New Zealand, John! Hope to see pictures of you back aboard Time Piece (drink in hand) in sunny La Paz soon.


From Tom and Jeanne on Eagle: If you'd like to help us help John with his medical bills and expenses, you can make a donation to his PayPal account at SVTimepiece@gmail.com, or contact Tom at bigleftturn@hotmail.com for directions to make a direct deposit.

Monday, February 17, 2014

A birthday road trip

By Nicole

It was a big weekend. We were celebrating Aaron’s birthday! So we packed up the car and headed a few hours southeast of Auckland to one of New Zealand’s favorite summertime destinations … the Coromandel Peninsula. This bit of land juts into the South Pacific Ocean and is known for giant green-lipped mussels, beautiful white beaches, lush forests and dramatic vistas. Check, check, check and check.

DSC_7195 (1024x681)The Coromandel Peninsula. It’s kinda pretty, I guess.

We got sidetracked by multiple scenic overlooks and a microbrewery on our way to the Wairua Lodge, which we’d booked for a few days of birthday R & R. Nestled on the edge of the sprawling Coromandel Forest Park, the Lodge was most definitely remote and peaceful (read: no internet, phone or TV … gulp).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAArm shot fail

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERANew Zealand loves its craft beers almost as much as its wine. Mmmm … Hot Water Brewing Co. does good work.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing the raging (not-so-raging) river to get to the Wairua Lodge. There is no other way in! Good thing it didn’t rain while we were there, since the river rises in a hurry, and we didn’t get the snorkel option for the Legend.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOff-roading

DSC_7120 (681x1024)Made it!

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DSC_7128 (1024x683)The resident kitty demanded lots of love

DSC_7136 (681x1024)The Treetop Bathhouse

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So the owner of the lodge told us about the trails snaking through the property and about the swimming hole that we just had to check out. It was a hot day, and taking a little swim in the refreshingly chilly river sounded mighty good. Plus there was a rope swing! The water temperature didn’t meet Aaron’s 80-degree minimum, but I was totally in … I even did my best Tarzan impression.

DCIM\100GOPROTesting the water at the swimmin’ hole

Nicole does the rope swing …

The next day, we drove into the town of Whitianga where we caught a tiny passenger ferry across Mercury Bay. We did a little hiking, relaxed on a white sand beach and decided the Coromandel was a pretty sweet spot to celebrate a birthday.

P1231295 (684x1024)The birthday boy goes tramping

DSC_7162 (681x1024)The town of Whitianga and Buffalo Beach

DSC_7164 (1024x681)Wish we were there … on a boat, that is.

DSC_7166 (1024x681)I am a lizard.

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We celebrated Aaron’s birthday with a yummy dinner back at the Hot Water Brewing Co. He was bold enough to try one of my humongous, plump green-lipped mussels, although he about barfed. The sliders, chips, beer and birthday dessert went down a little easier, however.

We headed home the next day by way of the scenic 309 Road (so named because back when it was a horse-and-carriage route, it took 3 hours 9 minutes to get from one end to the other). Not a lot has changed since those days – the 21km-long road is still dirt! Along the way, we stopped to hike to a stand of 600-year-old kauri trees. While these trees are just 600 years old, the oldest tree in New Zealand is a big daddy named Te Matua Ngahere (Father of the Forest) who is thought to be more than 2,000 years old. Wow.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“If I could just get to the top, I could build a sweet tree fort.”

I think the birthday boy would agree that it was a great summertime road trip. In fact, being born in January, this is the first time he’s had a “summer” birthday! To top it off, I even baked a yellow cake with chocolate frosting when we got home – no birthday of Aaron’s is complete without that. Yay for birthdays! Yay for summer!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The return of summer

By Nicole

After spending the holidays catching up with family and friends in Seattle, we returned to New Zealand a tad heavier and a lot paler. I’m not going to lie, Washington was cold! And dark. But it was absolutely worth it to spend Christmas with our family, catch up with good friends and devour some amazing food. And with summer in full-swing back in New Zealand, we got the best of both worlds. Here’s a taste of what we’ve been getting up to since we’ve been back. Yay for summer!

Baylys Beach and Dargaville:
Back in Rarotonga, we met a Kiwi guy who was crewing on a boat heading from Aussie to Tahiti. Over plenty of beers and happy hour snacks, we heard about his family’s dairy farm on the North Island and about the sweet surf beach he grew up on. As we parted ways, he told us to look him up when we got to New Zealand, which we totally did. Next thing we knew, we were hanging with him on the west coast, checking out his lovely steel ketch (aptly named Steel Breeze), driving on the beach, hitting up a pool party and crashing at his bach (Kiwi for beach house, and pronounced “batch”). Sweet as. Thanks, Shane!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERABaylys Beach – famous for surf and for being the longest drivable beach in the country (over 100 km)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJust taking a drive on the beach, as you do.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPool party! After a month in chilly Seattle, the summer sun felt incredible. Thus my huge smile.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPrawns on the barbie

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Morning light at Shane’s bach. I could get used to this.

Shakespear Regional Park:
Just up the road from our marina is one of our favorite places to take a walk – Shakespear Park (yes, it’s spelled that way). It’s great for bird watching and especially great for sheep watching.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAaron disinfecting his shoes to protect the kauri trees

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DSC_6978 (1024x681)Sometimes you just have to mow a trail

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DSC_6987 (1024x660)Looking out at Auckland and the volcano, Rangitoto

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DSC_7000 (1024x685)A tui eating nectar from a flax plant

DSC_7013 (1024x681)Here, sheepy, sheepy, sheepy

DSC_7030 (1024x681)The hills are alive. Although with my voice, they probably wish they weren’t.

Waitakere Ranges Regional Park and Piha Beach:
Just west of Auckland City, you’ll find the Waitakere mountain range. It was the perfect spot for a day trip.

DSC_7084 (1024x732)Where’s Aaron?

P1181169 (768x1024)Maori carvings are anatomically correct. Nice.

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P1181180 (1024x768)Arm shot, Waitakere-style (that’s why-tack-er-ee)

DSC_7103 (1024x681)Driving through the Waitakere Range drops you out at the surf beach of Piha. Stunning from a distance …

DSC_7108 (1024x664)… Chockfull of people up close.

DSC_7115 (1024x681)Testing the water temperature (cold)

DSC_7105 (1024x681)Piha coffee break (at some point I’ll need to vent about the coffee here, but that’s for another day)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMini golf!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALook at that form and concentration. But will it be enough to win?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAaron tallies the scores … Nicole’s the big winner!

In addition to exploring the northern Auckland area, we also had a ton of reunions with old cruising buddies who ended up here in NZ. We went tramping and BBQing with Mark formerly of Compass Rosey, had dinner with Michael, Sara and kids from Wondertime (whom we hadn’t seen since Mexico!), met Adam and Cindi from the good ship Bravo for lunch, and hung out with Zack, who flew over from Aussie. It’s been heaps of fun!

Next up, a trip to the Coromandel Peninsula where I play Tarzan (Jane?) on a rope swing …

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Buying a car in New Zealand? Read this first.

By Nicole

DSC_6835So you’ve just arrived in New Zealand, and after months of life on the sea, you’re looking forward to doing a bit of land travel. Sweet! Before you hand over those Kiwi dollars for a used car or caravan, though, make sure you have all the information. Buying a used car can be a crapshoot for sure, but in New Zealand, the odds of getting stuck with a lemon are significantly reduced. Here’s what happened to us:

When we bought our 1997 Honda Legend in Opua, we were stoked to have our own wheels for the first time in nearly three years. The same day we signed the paperwork, we made a run to the grocery store (no lugging heavy bags on the bus!) and managed to handle a week’s worth of errands in just one afternoon. The next day, we zipped off for a full-day of driving and exploring New Zealand’s gorgeous North Island. Having a car was awesome! What happened next, though, turned from awesome to extremely stressful.

One Sunday morning not even a week after taking possession, I hopped in the car, turned the key and … nothing. The car wouldn’t start for the second time in three days. We just slapped down $275 to fix the main relay (controlling the fuel pump), and it was still having problems? WTF. The decision to buy this car over any of the others on the lot now seemed like a huge financial mistake. What were we going to do? Being a Sunday, neither the auto repair shop or the small dealership where we bought the car were open. Since we couldn’t do anything else, we turned to the internet for some answers. What we discovered in New Zealand’s Consumer Guarantees Act for motor vehicles let us breathe a little easier knowing we had options.

The Consumer Guarantees Act protects consumers’ rights when they purchase goods or services in New Zealand, and it’s extremely generous. When a consumer buys a car for personal use from a licensed dealer (called a trader in NZ), that car comes with certain guarantees. I won’t go into all the specifics here, but suffice it to say that if you purchase a car that then ends up with a fault, the trader is obligated to make it right. If the fault is minor, the trader should pay to have it repaired. If the fault is serious, you have the option of rejecting the vehicle and getting a refund or replacement or keeping the car and getting compensation for loss of value. Yep, you read that right. If your car develops a serious fault – one that, if known, would’ve prevented a reasonable consumer from purchasing the car in the first place – you can get your money back. And you have up to 6 years (!) to lodge your claim. Caveat emptor? Not so much in New Zealand.

The main point to note, though, is that you must buy the car from a licensed trader to be covered under the CGA. This “lemon law” doesn’t apply to private sales.

Long story short, our car spent a week or so in the shop and came out running like a champ. (Turns out there was a problem with the immobilizer, which prevents the car from being stolen.) The dealer reimbursed us for the first minor fault (the $275) and covered all expenses associated with the second fault, including loaning us a car while ours was in the shop. While the whole thing was a stressful hassle, it could’ve been a lot worse – especially if we’d bought the car in the U.S.

For more information on your rights as a car buyer in New Zealand, see the Consumer Affairs website.

DSC_6814Back in the saddle again (the heated, leather variety)

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Landfall in New Zealand

By Nicole

After spending 2 1/2 years sailing nearly 15,000 nautical miles through 11 countries on 1 little sailboat, we’ve arrived on the other side of the world. Hello, New Zealand!

PB090973 - CopyOn passage from Minerva Reef to New Zealand under a reefed main and jib

We made our approach to Opua, on the northeastern edge of New Zealand’s North Island, in the middle of the night. The stunning coastline we’d heard so much about, camouflaged by the darkness. We had it on good authority that arriving to the quarantine dock at night was no problem – the charts were accurate and the channel and dock were well lit – so we decided to go for it. There was no way we were waiting until daylight to make landfall!

DSC_6794Moments after arriving to the Q dock in New Zealand, and moments before the crack of Aaron’s anchor-down beer

Buzzy with the excitement of our arrival (in New Zealand!!), it took us forever to finally crawl into bed. But we knew the customs and quarantine guys would be coming in just a few hours, so we tried to chill out and get a little sleep. I was, of course, up with the sun like I always am. I peeked out the port light to see the sun rising over tree-covered islands and a flat-calm anchorage. Wow. Still in my PJs, I grabbed the camera to snap a few pictures (before exclaiming how freaking cold it was and sprinting back inside to find some socks and a fleece).

PB110981 - CopyMy first view of New Zealand in the daylight.

Despite the horror stories propagating around the cruiser community about checking in to New Zealand, our experience was super easy. Just follow the pre-arrival directions, don’t bring in anything you shouldn’t and you’ll be fine. It took less than an hour for both departments to visit and inspect us before we were cleared to leave the customs dock for our slip in the marina. (A slip in the marina! What a treat!)

PB120984 - CopyLocals here joke that new arrivals from Tonga and Fiji are easy to spot with their tans and jackets.

PB141008 - CopyView from our slip in the Opua Marina

Opua is a beautiful, quiet little place. It’s not much more than the marina, a cafĂ©, a number of marine-related businesses and a tiny general store backed by scenic views in every direction. For us, these features made it the perfect spot to make landfall. The nearest town (where you can find shops, restaurants, ATMs and the grocery store) is a 10- or 15-minute drive away – or a lovely 2 1/2-hour walk along the beach.

DSC_6809Waking the beachside trail from Opua to Paihia

PB141020 - CopyNasturtiums along the trail

PB141023 - CopyTowering tree ferns

PB141024 - CopyOne of the many (many) anchorages in the Bay of Islands

DSC_6801Cute little boatyard set back from the trail

We never actually walked the whole way to Paihia (we got hungry for lunch and turned around), but it was still fun. You know, this seems like the right time to tout the glorious trail system found throughout New Zealand. Kiwis love to hike, and that fact is evidenced by the abundance and quality of trails. Nowhere else (except maybe Niue) have we seen such well-manicured and well-signed trails. And they’re literally everywhere! It’s a hiker’s (and walker’s) paradise. Oh, but don’t call them “trails.” They’re “tracks.” And it’s not “hiking,” it’s “tramping.”

In order to take advantage of the tramping tracks and see some of this fantastic country, we decided to upgrade the dinghy. We bought a car! Taking the test drive was the first time in my life I’d driven on the left side of the road. EEK! Look out! No, it was actually easier to adjust to the “other” side than I thought it would be. And to this day, I haven’t yet signaled with the windshield wipers (unlike some other people I know … ahem, Aaron, Zack, Adam and John).

DSC_6835The Bella Star land dinghy. Our really old but new-to-us Honda Legend.

DSC_6814Driving on the “other” side of the road is fun! It’s almost like breaking the law, except not doing that.

Opua is part of the Northland district (I think they’re called districts, anyway), which I’ve seen referred to on signs and business names as the Far North. I love the term, since it makes me think of Hobbits and reindeer. In any event, we left Opua early one morning to explore the Far North in our new wheels. We didn’t come across any Hobbits or reindeer, but we did see some gorgeous countryside, TONS of sheep, a lighthouse and some killer sand dunes.

DSC_6832Northern NZ landscape of forests and sheep pastures (with giant sand dunes in the background)

DSC_6834Aaron takes this photo-op break to munch down a filled roll (Kiwi for sub sandwich)

DSC_6877Sheep. Are. Everywhere. Fuzzy sheep, shorn sheep, black sheep, white sheep with white faces, white sheep with black faces, SHEEP! They outnumber people by more than 7:1 today (down from, like, 20:1 a few decades ago).

When you can’t drive any farther north, you’ve reached Cape Reinga. This spot marks the confluence of the Pacific Ocean and the Tasman Sea, which separates New Zealand from Australia. The edge of the Pacific – how cool! And another thing, many of the signs here are in Maori as well as English. Also cool.

DSC_6859Where the Pacific Ocean meets the Tasman Sea

DSC_6840At Cape Reinga, overlooking a bay and more sand dunes

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DSC_6852The Cape Reinga lighthouse

DSC_6854The North Island and the Pacific Ocean … conquered!

DSC_6856Tramping in jandals (oh yeah, “jandals” are flip flops here)

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DSC_6867Hey, there’s Vancouver! We’re really far from home.

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Flipping through the Lonely Planet guide for NZ, we came across the Te Paki sand dunes. They were just a short drive from Cape Reinga, so we knew we had to visit. We’ve spent time on the Oregon and Washington coasts and have seen some dune action, but nothing prepared us for these gigantic piles of sand. Holy crap, this place is crazy! We’d run up the steep face of one dune expecting to see the ocean, but no, all we’d see is another dune. And another. And another. Incredible. It was like the Sahara Desert (or as Aaron said, like Tatooine minus the Jawas).

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DSC_6926Finally, after what seemed like endless dune scaling, we spotted the Tasman Sea way off in the distance.

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DSC_6945 (2)Going down was way more fun!

Okay, so I’ve told you about the fantastic trail system, and now it’s time to share something else. Northern New Zealand has a semi-tropical climate, and it’s avocado season! You can also find oranges, lemons and macadamia nuts at the local farmers markets, and palm trees, ginger and exotic plants grow wild on the hillsides … I like it here.

DSC_6960Roadside on-your-honor avocado stand. Yes that says $2/bag.

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Bella Star is now comfortably tucked into her slip in our “home” marina just north of downtown Auckland. We’re settling into the liveaboard lifestyle again, after being cruisers for the last 2 1/2 years. Aaron even bought a toaster! (Something we could never run without shore power.) Things like unlimited hot-water showers and easy access to washing machines feel normal again, although I’m not sure that’s necessarily a good thing. I am, however, looking forward to the next few months spent living and traveling here. Who knows what it will bring? Well, besides lots of guacamole …

PB271048Palms and crimson-flowered pohutukawa trees line the shore of our new marina. In a few weeks, the pohutukawa trees, known as the “New Zealand Christmas Tree” will be in full-bloom throughout the country. Happy spring!

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PB131007 - CopyNew Zealand has sunk its teeth into us! I think we’ll be staying here for awhile.