Monday, 30 November 2015

Meghan On Amelie-November 2015

For almost a year, we have been constantly saying "When we get to New Zealand, I am going to...." and now, we are here: New Zealand, home of the All Blacks, home of Middle Earth, whatever you want to call it, we're there!  We have made it across the South Pacific and it is the first non-tropical country we have sailed to so far.

It was very clear from the moment we stepped out of the airport that we were no longer in a tropical country.  Luckily, it is spring, almost summer so we didn't have too much of a rude shock but it does get quite cold at night and in the morning and we have now had to dig out our Peruvian sweaters we have kept stowed away since February.  I don't actually mind the weather hovering around 18-25 degrees C because I was never really a fan of the sweating-up-a-lake weather. 

Auckland, The City of Sails
Either than the ocean and the constant hearing of the word "mate" (okay, maybe not that constant), it kind of felt like coming home to Calgary again.  It felt kind of weird being in such a civilized and modern city again.  At restaurants, I would sometimes hesitate when ordering since I was not used to so many different options

Auckland is a nice city.  It is very clean, garbage wise, has a great waterfront view (obviously, since it is the City of Sails) and has such helpful people.  Many people just walking down the street have gone out of their way to show us directions or just help us out.  We even had Missy Bear, a bear mascot, give us directions one day (long story)!

On our first day, we explored all of downtown Auckland including the famous City Sky Tower.  If you are walking almost anywhere near downtown, you will see the Sky Tower if you look up.  It is 328 metres tall (taller than the Calgary Tower but smaller than the CN Tower).  

Standing at the top, you can see the whole city.  Here are some birds eye view pictures of the city of Auckland.  

There are many levels on the Sky Tower, including some which are outdoor.  On one of the outdoor levels, you can walk around the tower but, now here's the catch: at 194 metres above the ground!  Also from where I was standing (inside), I could see a red mat on the ground with a target in the middle.  I was starting to wonder what that could be for when I saw someone come flying past the window.  In a few more seconds, I found out that the target was where the Sky Jumper (a guy wearing a harness going down a wire) landed!

Interestingly enough, the tower has antennae at the top (which you can see if you look at it) which is used for electricity and powers many homes.  The tower is also Auckland's primary radio transmitter.  

We also went to see the waterfront and fish market.  Auckland is really the City of Sails!  Every afternoon, there are tons of race boats sailing out in the bay and the marinas are packed with sailboats.  

On day two, we bought a car!  That sounds a bit shocking and maybe impulsive but it's not as odd as it sounds!  We had been planning to buy a camper van in New Zealand to do some inland touring for about a month in January-February.  However, it was really hard to find a van that sleeps four or even seats more than two.  We ended up finding a 1998 Toyota van that seats 5 and sleeps two.  In this case, we have a tent which Matthew and I have been nominated the sleepers of (I was not part of this nomination process, just so you all know - Dad just says 'You'll like sleeping on the ground, it builds character')

Here are some other pictures of the zoo, aquarium, and museum we went to see in Auckland (which I took all myself). 


Opua and Northland
Opua is the northernmost, most common port of entry into New Zealand and it was where we met up with my dad and the crew.  The four hour drive up from Auckland was spectacular.  Every time we'd turn a corner, we'd have this incredible view but by the time I got my camera out, we had turned a new corner with another breathtaking scene!    It is just beautiful farmland plains one after the other.  I went four hours with almost never looking away from the window!  I have only been in New Zealand for about two weeks and I already think it is one of the most beautiful countries in the entire world!

We met up with my dad and the crew in the morning since they had arrived the night before at 9:30 in the pouring rain.  They were all quite tired but it sounded like the crossing had been good.  They said that they were comfortable the first five days and then just the last two and a half days, they had to pound upwind.  They caught a 25 lbs Bigeye Tuna and were welcomed into Opua Bay with dolphins!

Opua, if it was a city, should have also be named the city of sails.  I really enjoy watching the racing boats zip through the bay every night.  Again, it feels so strange (in a good way) to be in such a civilized port since we never sailed to the United States or Canada.  There are only specific channels we are allowed to talk on on the radio and there are weather announcements about every hour. 

Last weekend, we decided to take the van for a "test run" and go explore the Northland (the northernmost part of the north island).  

We stopped to see the 90 mile beach (no, we did not walk the entire 90 miles, thankfully!).  On the sand dunes of the beach, we went tobogganing... boogie board style!  The hill was basically an 100 foot climb at almost  90 degrees steep but the ride down was worth it!

See my dad's short video of us sand dune tobogganing at:

Also, we went to see Cape Reinga, the very north peak of New Zealand, overlooking only open ocean. 

Then, we did a short hike to see the largest and the second largest kauri tree in the world.  The kauri tree is a very tall tree that is endemic to New Zealand and very sacred to the Maori aboriginals.  The oldest living tree is believed to be about 2000 years old!

The largest one is called Tane Mahuta (Maori for 'Lord of the Forest') and it is 51.5 metres tall in total and 13.8 metres in circumference!  The second largest one is called Te Matua Ngahere (Maori for 'Father of the Forest') and is shorter in height but larger in circumference (this one is believed to be the 2000 year old one!).

Finally, here are some interesting facts about New Zealand to leave you with:
-There are more sheep in New Zealand than people

-All three "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" movies were filmed entirely in New Zealand
-Rugby is the most popular sport to watch in New Zealand
-The Maori name for New Zealand is Aotearoa 
-The flightless Kiwi bird is New Zealand's national animal

-The word "Kiwi" is another word for New Zealander

PS: South Pacific Video
Stay tuned for Amelie IVs South Pacific video (our adventures from Galapagos to Fiji) coming soon!

Saturday, 28 November 2015

New Zealand Decadence


Decadence, for me is going into a store and picking out from an assortment of fresh food, everything we need , and with the same quality standards we left behind in dust, no bugs, no rows and rows of plastic pick up what you need for that night’s dinner and walk out ! No long term meal planning! I even got to use the self check out cash registers !  Haven’t done that in almost 2 years !  

Decadence; Having a pressurized HOT shower.....clean, modern, pressurized showers...  and 10 stalls of showers to choose from case I am feeling picky.....

Decadence: Walking on the sidewalk on a beautiful clean path towards a modern playground where the kids can play along side the rugged beaches of the Pacific Ocean. 

Civilisation ;
It is a bit of a shock, and I am still a bit dizzy at times, to feel like we are home.....I can’t put my finger on what it is exactly, just the over all feeling you get when you walk down the know exactly what to expect from people, the same extravagant options in tourist stores sure, but also the same trust in the police officer or other city officials you meet, you know the system, you know how it all works..... that familiarity was never there 100% for me before our arrival here...this is the Canada of the Southern Hemisphere ! 

But....Oh.....I will miss you South Pacific and Caribbean-

Things I will miss for sure: 

King Matthew! The extra ordinary attention people gave make him feel loved and welcome..... They made us all feel welcome but they went even further into interacting with him and showering him with love and affection. People in NZ are very nice, but they certainly haven’t been stepping up to greet Matthew in the same way we’d sometimes seen in the Caribbean and especially in the South Pacific.  

We did It !  The great feeling of accomplishment and the elation of being “in the middle of nowhere”, looking at a map of the world and noting our position surrounded by the Pacific on all sides. The the deserted anchorages and being self sufficient, off the grid !

 and, of course:

Life in Flip Flops......I have to be honest with you; we’re having  a wee bit O’ trouble  getting out of bed and out from under our covers in the mornings.....since we don’t have heating on the boat (not really) and we have never actually needed any we are really paying the price of not having enough blankets on board.....(we will be rectifying this shortly on our next trip to the stores).....When I was in Auckland with the kids, one of the first things we had to do was to go and buy socks, and long pants !

New Zealand!  The end of the line?
There is a feeling like we have arrived at the end of our journey.....this is what we talked about for so long ”When we arrive in New Zealand” and “We will deal with that in New Zealand” Or “Wait ‘til we get to New Zealand”......and now here we feels very strange, very good but with a touch of sadness too.

Having the sun set later than 6pm.....

When you hug the latitudes between 0 and 20, you can always count on sunset drinks being served at 5:30-6:00.Here , we have been staying up late, having dinner at 6:30-7pm....and getting to bed later ,because the sun is up until 8:30-9 pm !  (Since it is summer here) 

Arrival of Amelie into Opua:

When Mark and his crew of merry men arrived in Opua (North Island- Bay Of Islands), we were there to welcome them, having driven the van from Auckland. The kids and I had hoped to see them come in to the bay from a view point that night, but the rain and fog (and the fact that it was getting late) got in the we drove to a hotel and got up to see them the next morning. Meg was the first one to spot Amelie at the Q-dock (that is the Quarantine dock) as captain and crew were waiting to get the okay from customs agents to get off (they remove all fresh food and other animal/plant products to protect their fragile environment). We were waving and whistling for a while until we finally got their attention.....we called out a welcome from a distance as we were not allowed to go and see them until they were all cleared. 

A few hours later, we were able to give them a proper welcome and offer a round of well deserved congratulations. They had made the crossing in 8 days; 5 of these in favourable conditions, and 3 in less favourable winds, bashing into the wind and waves..... It wasn't easy but they did it, and they were all still smiling when we greeted them! I'm sure they were happy to step off on to dry (and steady) land !

A courageous, tough and resilient crew: Don, Bill,Cptn Mark, Jeff and Chris
 Thank you for bringing Amelie safely into New Zealand!

We took a day trip to the nearby town of Russell, where we enjoyed walking to a scenic lookout (overlooking the Bay of Islands below) and a visit to the Museum and Pompellier Mission where a young French missionary (Pompellier) set up a printing press to print prayer books in the Maori language. It was a great tour with some hands on opportunities to see how the book making process was done 200 years ago-from tanning the leather for the cover, to the printing of the paper, and binding the whole thing together with strings!

View of the Bay of Islands from Russell Look Out

Town of Russell

A drive through Middle Earth (PART ONE; The North End)

A week later, we decided to take a few days off the boat and do a trial run with the M-Mobile (aka Lawrence) ...trying out life on land for a while- camping !

We left early Thursday morning, headed North towards Cape Reinga, the most northern Tip of New Zealand. 

A Bonafide-recently sheared-New Zealand Sheep !
People sometimes ask: of all the places you have seen,is there any place where you’ve seen where you think you could live ?  We have seen some magnificent places, some ‘out of this world’ beaches and deserted islands, met some incredibly nice people....but I could never really see myself living any of those places long term-It might of been the  cultural difference or language barriers, or just something.....can’t put my finger on what...but something familiar was missing- until now.Yes, I COULD live in New Zealand ! There is no doubt in my mind. This place is, quite simply stunning !

As we drove around each bend in the road, there were more ohhh and aaahh....”Look at that !”  I am sorry that I did not stop the car to take photos but the road just beckoned us to go on and on, around the next bend and the next... but every few minutes, I saw something that made my jaw drop...

Imagine if you will:  Rolling hills, field after field with cows and sheep grazing, but in the most picture perfect postcard....that is what we saw for three days. Blue (sometimes grey) skies, over looking bays of blue water, shades of green fields and yellow (giant sand dunes), every now and then the hills were dotted with white woolly animals or  black and white ones. At one point, it almost gets start to wonder; “where do they keep their “ugly?” know what I mean ? ....the refineries, the quarries, the industry, the rows of rectangular buildings?  Under what corner, under what “rug” do they “sweep”  it under? I ask  because all we saw was just too darn pretty...everywhere !**

** Okay, full disclosure: we WERE driving on the scenic “tourist” highway....that may of been part of it....but still.....COME ON....hour after hour of perfection starts to get surreal after a while, and you wonder”  Am I driving on a movie set ?” 

Well, in a way I guess we are....(Lord of the Rings Trilogy and the Hobbit- all 6 films having been made here)....but most of those sceneries we expect to see when we tour the South January-February)

So we didn’t stop for many pictures, but we DID stop for ice cream and fish and chips......we also stopped at the giant sand dunes where we all had a go “tobogganing” down the steep hills of white silica.....lots of fun....but...phew.....going up sure was a workout ! 

From the top, it felt like we had just been dropped in to the Sahara desert. 

We also stopped to see the famed 90 Mile reminded me so much of Cape Hatteras (North Carolina) of my youth....sand dunes and beaches as far as the eye could see....except.... completely deserted.

When we arrived at the Cape, we enjoyed the feeling of freedom that goes with self sufficient camping...sharing a water front campsite with a bunch of young back backers. After our evening dinner we sat and  watched the seagulls who were standing by waiting for the tide to come in and with it,  their dinner. 

The next morning we headed to the light house-the saviour of sailors-at Cape Rienga. It was still early and as we got out of the car, it felt as if we were hovering high above the earth, in the clouds.....We could not see but a few meters in front of us.....Where was the view ? Where was the light house?....we stayed on the path, reading the Moari stories that were written along the way down.....down we went, having faith that at some point we would see something !  And then it happened......the heavens lifted and we could see all around us, water crashing down below, the sand dunes in the distance, the lighthouse in front of pretty !  

We are twice as close to the South Pole as we are from Vancouver !

We then drove to visit a living museum to learn all about the “Gumdiggers”: The men and women who dug into swamps and bogs to tap the amber from ancient and perfectly preserved Kauri trees. At the turn of the 20th century this was a way to make money.....the amber (or kauri gum) was used to make varnishes in England. The conditions for these gumdiggers were harsh and the industry died out after WW1.You can still buy the amber in crude form or in the form of jewellery. I found out that the term “Gum Boots” came from here (The long rubber boots worn by the gumdiggers)

Mark looking at an ancient Kauri tree, recently excavated from the  swamps

We then headed down the West Coast and  took a ferry across the river towards Opononi and then on to the Waipoua Forrest. Our mission: to go and visit the oldest Kauri tree, the one named Tane Mahuta...This “Lord of the Forest” is over 2000 years old and is still standing!  We camped over night near the forest, and even amidst the rain we could hear the call of the Kiwi birds that night. Kiwis are very elusive and only come out at night. We have spoken to many people who have lived here all their lives without ever seeing we felt lucky just to hear them !

A -not so live- Kiwi Bird- from Auckland Museum

Tane Mahuta- Lord of the Forest
The next day was spent walking on various trails in Waipoua Forest,  after standing in awe in front of Tane Mahuta we also went to see his siblings...they were all very nice, very imposing and their age alone is what blew me away…these trees were growing when the Roman empire was still strong, and during Jesus Christ's lifetime ! They grow very wide and do not taper off as they branch off, so it looks like the tree was picked up and turned upside down, leaving its roots up high.

The Kauri tree is sacred to the Maoris and since no Kauri trees are allowed to be cut down, the local wood turning artist use ancient kauris found in swamps, most of these dating back 30 000-50 000 years !  Because of the thick ogygen-lacking environment of the swamps, these trees were preserved in their woody state (instead of becoming petrified as ancient trees normally would). 

We visited a beautiful gallery featuring dining tables made from enormous slabs of ancient Kauri. But alas, there is no room on the boat for such furniture, so we just admired them and went on our way. 

Our last stop was an impromptu visit to the  Whangarei marina where we had a chance encounter with our old cruising friends from SV Kazaio (whom we sailed with from Colombia to Panama, Galapagos and the South Pacific) We had not seen them since the summer and it was nice to see them before they hauled out and flew home to Europe for Christmas !

We returned back to Amelie, happy to have seen the Northlands. We now are getting ready to greet our family (my sister and niece) who are arriving in less than a week ! We can’t wait to share this beautiful country  and Christmas with them!

Loads of love from us


More pics



Learn to speak like a Kiwi: Lesson 1

In N-Z =  In Canada

Pin      =        Pen

Chicken  =  Check In

Nixxed =   Next

Sucks       =   6

Sieven  =   7

He Sees    =  He  Says

Wippinz  = Weapons

Oh….and they don't know what a "Block" is here :

Don: "Is that place just a few blocks away?"
Hotel Manager: "What is a block?"

They go by how far (in meters) something is…..gotta love those Kiwis!