Cruise — As told to Diane M. Byrne
— April 2003
The Time of Their Lives, Part II
DECEMBER 2002, NEW
Yesterday we motored over to Waiheke, a small island about two hours (by boat) from Auckland. The name means “cascading waters” in Maori. The Maori are the original settlers of New Zealand. Today only about ten percent of the population is Maori, but most of the roads, bays, and surrounding islands have Maori names.
Waiheke is one of the closest islands to Auckland, and there is a high-speed ferry that travels between this island and Auckland. So lots of New Zealanders live on this island and commute to work in Auckland. It’s also a popular vacation destination for the locals. The population of Waiheke is about 7,500, but they say they have upwards of 15,000 on the island during the weekends and holidays. The island was very crowded when we were there (I guess that is to be expected, since we were visiting on a Saturday during the Christmas holidays!). All the beaches were crowded with kids and families. We thought it was much too cold to wear shorts, much less a bathing suit—or actually swim in the water. It was about 70 degrees, with a strong breeze blowing and the water temperature at about 66 (brrr!). These people don’t know what summer is—in Texas, we don’t swim till the air temperature reaches 90 and water temp reaches 78!
Anyway, Waiheke is only about ten miles long and three miles wide. It’s known primarily for its great beaches and its vineyards. (There are 31 vineyards on this small island.) So yesterday we took a guided tour of some of them (Women only! The guys had to stay on the boat with the kids!). Our guide, Nigel, took us on a driving tour of the island.
Our first stop was to the Pleasant Valley Vineyards. It’s one of the largest on the island and sits high on a hill overlooking one of the amazing bays. They plant rose bushes at the end of each row of grape vines to attract bugs. The bugs prefer the rose bushes to the grapevines, so it’s a natural method of insect repellent.
The second stop was at the Goldwater Vineyard, the oldest on the island. We tasted a couple of their wines and had a great tour of their barrel room. It was built underground so that the earth around it acts as insulation and keeps the room at about 68 degrees, without the need for an air-conditioning system.
Our last stop was probably our favorite. It’s a small vineyard called Te Whau (the “Wh” in Maori is pronounced as an “F”). This entire vineyard was only 16 acres. They grow all the grapes used in their wines and do all of the winemaking themselves. They produce only two wines and don’t sell to the public. Their wines are only available at their vineyard in the wine tasting bar or at their restaurant (open only for lunch). This vineyard has won many awards for its wine, and we quizzed the owner about why he didn’t expand and make more wine and therefore more money. His response was that he makes wine for the joy of the process and not for the money! Kinda refreshing, I thought!
This morning, we left early from Waiheke and headed out to Great Barrier Island. At about 9:00 a.m., Capt. Lon alerted us to a pod of dolphins just off the bow. As we were watching the dolphins, we spotted a couple of whales, too. We couldn’t get too close to the whales, but the dolphins came right next to the boat and hung around for half an hour or so.
We anchored in a beautiful bay surrounded on two sides by high volcanic cliffs, covered in ferns, pines, and other amazing green plants. Great Barrier Island is the furthest and most remote of the islands in New Zealand. There are only a few homes and one or two small hotels here.
After lunch we went ashore for a hike. We hiked for about half an hour to a tall waterfall that fell into a clear, very cold pool of water. After the waterfall we climbed up a rather steep cliff and made our way to a trail at the top of the canopy of trees. Blue sky above us and thick vegetation below us. Way cool! We followed the stream back to the road and rewarded ourselves with ice cream bars at the local store.
Did I tell you that New Zealand has the best ice cream in the world? That’s the claim that the natives here make, and I don’t dispute them. The stuff is wonderful!
So that’s what we are doing to occupy our time. Tomorrow we head to the Bay of Islands in the northern part of New Zealand. I’ll let you know how that goes.
DECEMBER 2002, BAY
OF ISLANDS, NEW ZEALAND
Two days ago we anchored off a set of islands called the Poor Knights. I’ve tried to find out why they are called that, but no luck. Both the islands and the water surrounding them have been declared nature preserves by the New Zealand government, so you can’t actually go ashore, fish, or take anything from the water or land.
The islands are more like huge rocks in the ocean than islands. Steep cliffs, ragged shoreline, black volcanic rock, no beaches—almost hostile-looking. The tops of the islands are covered in trees (so there must be some soil somewhere), and the sides of the cliffs are dotted with cactus-like vegetation. The smallest of the Knights is just ten feet across and three feet wide and maybe 30 feet high. The largest is probably a quarter-mile long and half as wide, but rises to an impressive 1,500 feet.
The coolest thing about the Poor Knights is that the ocean has carved huge holes and caves in the rock to form the most amazing scenery. In the big dinghy we made our way around most of the larger islands looking at all the caves and holes in the rock. After we anchored, we jumped in the smaller dinghy and did some real caving. We took the dinghy into four different caves—one so large we probably could have taken the big boat all the way inside it. And one was so small that we barely had a foot on either side as we entered. Then it opened up to a larger cavern with a hole in the top for the sun to shine through.
We could pick out lots of shapes cut into the rocks and on the sides of the cliffs (like finding animal shapes in the clouds). Most of what we imagined we saw were faces—faces that were covered in warts and bumps. So we decided that all of these were trolls and that the trolls acted to protect the islands. Maybe we had a little too much sun that day!
Yesterday we anchored near a small fishing village called Russell. Russell, as it turns out is a popular place for the locals to go on holiday (and we were there on the busiest holiday of the year!). So the town was bustling. Some of us (me included) spent the afternoon wandering through town and getting in a little shopping. Four people from the boat (Kate’s teacher Michelle, engineer Claud, stewardess Tess, and Michelle’s husband Armand, who was visiting) took a ride on a high-speed jetboat to see another “hole in the rock” near Russell. The boat is 30 feet long and goes about 50 mph. They dress all the riders in wind suits, complete with hoods and glasses. Then they strap you in tightly to your seat and take off for a wild and exciting ride. They all loved it.
This article originally appeared in the March 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.