Wednesday, November 23, 2011

A Thanksgiving Prayer

By now the previous nine thousand miles are seeming like a bit of a dream. It helps me to look at our photos to remember what an incredible, event filled year it has been and how our lives have been so enriched by the people we have met and places we have seen. One memory that stands out today is our visit to the home of Robert Louis Stevenson in Vailima, Western Samoa. Stevenson spent his last years in Western Samoa writing poetry and short stories. He was loved by the natives that worked on his plantation because he worked right along side of them, slept outside with them, learned their language and retold their stories in his own words. It's interesting how we are able to recreate families when we are so far away from the ones that we love, especially at holiday times.

The following is a prayer written by Robert Louis Stevenson at his home in Vailima. I will be sharing it as we celebrate American Thanksgiving in Whangarei, New Zealand and hope you will find it beautiful enough to share around your table as well!

R of Rutea

On Thanksgiving Day


Behold our family here assembled.
We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell;
for the love that unites us; for the peace that accorded us this day;
for the hope with which we expect the morrow;
for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies, that make our lives delightful;
for our friends in all parts of the earth, and our friendly helpers in this foreign isle.

Let peace abound in our small company.
Purge out of every heart the lurking grudge.
Give us grace and strength to forbear and to persevere.
Offenders, give us the grace to accept and to forgive offenders.
Forgetful ourselves, help us to bear cheerfully the forgetfulness of others.
Give us courage and gaiety and the quiet mind.
Spare to us our friends, soften to us our enemies.

Bless us, if it may be, in all our innocent endeavors.
If it may not, give us the strength to encounter that which is to come,
that we be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath,
and in all changes of fortune and down to the gates of death,
loyal and loving one to another.

As the clay to the potter,
as the windmill to the wind,
as children of their sire,
we beseech of Thee this help and mercy.
At 11/5/2011 6:07 AM (utc) Rutea's position was 35°26.21'S 174°25.02'E

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Sunday, November 20, 2011


Rutea Tied to the Long Dock at Marina Whangarei

It was over two weeks ago that we motored twelve miles up the Hatea River to Rutea's temporary new home.  We have embraced the urban setting and we're looking forward to being in one place for a while.  When I had originally proposed the idea of sailing the South Pacific,  the furthest Ruthie would commit to was New Zealand.   After almost ten thousand nautical miles in the past year, I think we're all looking forward to not moving for while.  Whangarei seems like a great spot to spend some time.

With a population of about 52,000, it's bigger than a town but not quite a city.  At times during the day the bustling traffic can make it hard to cross the street (whereas I find New Zealand drivers, generally speaking, to be very polite, they seem to ignore pedestrians) but one doesn't have to travel far from the city center to be in a complete rural setting.  The center of the downtown area has been converted to a mall and there's a fair amount of foot traffic there although many of the stores appear empty of shoppers.  Most of the restaurants seem busy and at the very center there are few vacant storefronts but just around the corner on Bank Street, which used to be the very center of town, the vacancies might number 50%.  Finding a parking spot is rarely a problem.  Yes, we did buy a car, a 1999 Toyota Estima with 140,000 kilometers on it.  It's identical to the Toyota Previa minivan except it has right-hand drive.  Our model is called the Emina though Ruthie and Corie call it the Enema.  I like driving it and driving on the left side of the road is starting to almost feel normal.

Victoria Bridge

Rutea is tied up at the marina in Town Basin, almost in the very center of town.  At the north edge of the marina is the Victoria Bridge, which was converted to a pedestrian bridge that is used twice weekly for artists to set up booths and sell their wares.  Just on the other side of the street from there is the town's
Aquatic Center, a huge facility that houses a number of huge swimming pools, hot tubs, water slides and a very well equipped fitness center - all indoors.  On Saturday mornings, just on the other side of downtown (a 10-minute walk from the boat), is the Grower's Market, where there's an impressive selection of fresh produce, fish, flowers and plants.  The prices are lower than the grocery stores and the quality is excellent.  Speaking of prices, though, things are very expensive when compared to the United States.  The current exchange rate is about NZ$1.00 to US$0.78 but we still find many things to be 200%, 300% and higher than we'd pay for the same or similar items in the US.  Gasoline is NZ$2.06 per liter.  To fill our car is over NZ$100.

Hiking Through the Ferns

One of the things we come to love about not just Whangarei but all of New Zealand are the many spectacular and very well groomed hiking trails.  Within 300 meters from the boat, we can be on a beautiful trail that follows the river.  We frequently take walks after dinner, when the long-lasting twilight has eliminated the shadows but it's still easy to see.  Yesterday, we hiked up to Whangarei Falls, about a 3-hour round trip walk through many parks, foot bridges and meadows.  It was a bright, sunny day but cool enough that we remained comfortable even up the gentle climb.

Whangarei Falls

Most of the boats that we've crossed the Pacific with have arrived in either New Zealand or Australia though there are still a few stragglers out there.  Last Friday we drove up to Opua for a day of seminars as part of the Island Cruising Association's All Points Rally, of which we were participants.  It was great to connect with people whom we hadn't seen in a long time and to learn of everyone's plans.  Speaking of plans, once Ruthie returns from San Diego in mid-January, we're going to pack up the minivan and do some camping around the South Island.  As much as we enjoy the North Island, we've been told that the South Island is where the really breath-taking beauty is found.  Before that, though, is Thanksgiving and there's a restaurant that's right at the head of the dock that's putting on an American-style Thanksgiving dinner.  We've told some friends about it and gradually our party has grown to be almost fifteen people.  We'll do drinks on Rutea and then go have dinner.  After dinner, a walk through the woods.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Opua to Whangarei

Hiking On Urupukapuka Island

Before we even left the tropics, we had decided to spend a week in Opua and then head on down to Whangarei.  But after just seven days, I wasn’t all that excited about leaving.  Many of our friends were there and more were arriving daily.  There was a palpable level of excitement as boats completed their passages from Tonga, Fiji, New Caledonia and other exotic ports.  After seven to ten days at sea, most new arrivals were looking forward to practice some ‘elbow bending’ at the Cruiser’s Club and they wanted people to listen to their sea stories.  We usually volunteered, enjoying several cold draft Montieth’s Ale while we listened to their lies and exaggerations.

Besides the camaraderie, the nearby towns of Paihia and Russell, which usually cater to vacationers from Auckland, offered a resort-like atmosphere in of themselves.  A steady stream of motorhomes and backpackers flowed through the streets but the cruisers always stood out amongst the crowd.  As spring is ending here and summer beginning, this is the start of the high season.  The retailers are optimistic.

Hahangarua Bay

Almost reluctantly I checked out of the marina, the clerk not wanting to look me in the eye when I said we were going to Whangarei – a bit of rivalry between the two ports.  I paid our tab at the chandlery (“What?” said Ruthie, “The first marine hardware store since French Polynesia and you spend less than $100?  Are you feeling OK?”)  Ruthie’s snide remarks notwithstanding, we cast off at a moment of slack current and headed out into the Bay of Islands.  Our friends on Paikia Mist left just minutes before we did and we rendezvoused in Paradise Bay on Urupukapuka Island.  Once anchors were set, they came by in their dinghy and took us into shore for a terrific hike that almost circumnavigated the island.  We saw some absolutely breath-taking views along with some breath-robbing hills to climb.  Once back on the boat, the wind clocked to the southwest for which we had no protection so we moved over to Hahangarua Bay on Moturua Island and spent a peaceful night.  Late the next morning we pulled up the anchor and left the Bay of Islands, heading for our new temporary home of Whangarei.  The wind filled in to about 23 knots and it only took a few hours before we arrived at Mimiwhangata Bay, our stopping point for the night.  It’s a fairly well-protected bay but with 23 knots of wind, no anchorage is without movement.  The wind died later in the evening and stayed that way.  We pulled up the anchor at 0700, once more back at sea for the next 40 miles.  Once in Whangarei, it’s anybody’s guess as to when we’ll be back on the high seas.

Wait!  This just in!  We have confirmed eyewitness on-the-scene reports that Rutea has been spotted tied up to the wharf at Whangarei Marina.  Said one observer, who preferred not to identify herself, "I hope I get to see them.  They've come such a long way!"  Said another resident, who also didn't want to be identified, "Aye 'ope they don't drink all the floggin' beer in the city."  Stay tuned for further developments.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The North End of the North Island

Top of Mt. Bledisloe

With our friend, Bob, eager to try out the used Nissan he just bought, we headed north out of Opua, past Paihia and to the Waitangi Treaty House, where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840.  The treaty was supposed to give the indigenous Maori people all the rights to the land and waters of New Zealand but it also made the Maoris subjects of the British Crown and therefore subject to British law.  It didn't take clever lawyers long to find ways to circumvent the treaty and soon the Maoris were treated like second class citizens with very few rights.  When we entered the museum, a very perky receptionist asked us where we were from.  "California!" we replied in unison.  Had we known that citizens of New Zealand get into the museum for free while foreigners have to pay $25.00 per person, we might have answered differently.  We didn't want to see that stuffy, old museum anyway.

Driving west we found the turnoff to Mt. Bledisloe, a very wealthy Brit who had the mountain named after himself.  It was a short hike to the top where a monument pointed to the direction  of various  cities around the world and their distances.  We're a long way from anywhere here.

Haruru Falls

Continuing northwest, we stopped by Haruru Falls, which were pretty disappointing.  The falls themselves were less than spectacular and the water was dirty.  Ruthie refused to pose for a picture here.  In the parking lot we discussed where to go next and a quick check of Fodor's said that the Waipoua State Forest, with the largest tree in New Zealand, was a worthwhile stop.  Even though it was more than 100 clicks away, we decided to go for it.

We all agreed that driving through the New Zealand countryside was a lot like driving through the Pacific Northwest.  Thick pine forests on rolling hills with bright green pastures, dotted with fat cattle could have been in the northern Willamette Valley..  As we approached the northwestern corner of the country, the Hokianga Harbor appeared off the starboard side of the car.  This 'harbor' extends almost halfway across the North Island.  We stopped for lunch at a small cafe that overlooked the entrance to the 'harbor', which was fairly narrow for such a huge body of water.  It was also our first glimpse of the Tasman Sea, which was calm despite it's reputation for not being so.

Hokianga Harbor

After lunch, we continued on our trek to find the tallest tree in New Zealand.  The road became windy and steep as Bob's Nissan with it's puny diesel engine struggled to keep us moving at a decent speed.  Fortunately, the area is very sparsely populated and we weren't holding anyone up who might have been behind us.  We parked near the massive tour buses that had found their way to the same famous spot.

Tane Mahuta, the Lord of the Forest

Even though the kauri tree is only 173 feet tall, it does have a circumference of 45 feet and is somewhere between 1,200 and 2,000 years old.  The New Zealand government goes to great lengths to protect the tree which, apparently, has very shallow roots which are susceptible to viruses.  The tree is kind of out in the middle of nowhere but it's well fenced off and there's a raised wooden walkway all the way from the highway to protect people from walking near it's roots. 

Our trip back to Opua was uneventful but the tide had changed and the entrance to Hokianga Harbor was now white and frothy with tidal-generated waves.  I was struck by how peaceful everything seemed.  Even the occasional on-coming car seemed peaceful, even though it was on the wrong side of the road.  Perhaps I'm just looking for an excuse to stay in one place for a while after so much traveling but I like it here.  I like it a lot.