Auckland, New Zealand – America’s Cup Ground Zero

11 04 2013

Wow. That’s a big ship.

Today is our last in New Zealand. Our flights home, mine to Oregon, USA, and Elwin and Angelique’s to Amsterdam, all depart late today. We stayed in Auckland, at the Juicy Hotel, which is walking distance from the Auckland waterfront. So, as the day broke spectacularly blue and bright, we saunter off to explore that area.

After breakfast, we head straight to the waterfront. Docked are three giant cruise ships, looking like skyscrapers floating on their sides. The Diamond Princess is probably 14 stories tall. Thousands of passengers are disembarking, and I shudder contemplating spending vacation standing in line at every port. There’s also a car carrier, essentially a gigantic windowless box with a tiny bridge up top. It was disgorging its burden of the latest vehicles.

It was just perfect weather. No humidity. In the high 70s. Ahhhh.

We wander the piers, gazing out at the busy harbor. All the commercial freighters, the sailboats, and the mega yacht power boats as well.

Everywhere the Kiwi obsession with sailing is in full display. I spot some huge masts in the distance and convince Elwin and Angelique to go investigate. The area is known as Viaduct Harbor.


A mega sloop and mega ketch at the dock. Both over 120ft long

Along the way, we pass by the New Zealand America’s Cup Museum. This is a true manifestation of their achievement in the sport of sailboat racing. Outside, is KZ 1, a representation of New Zealand’s boldness in sailing.


New Zealand 1









Back in 1988 New Zealand’s Michael Fay used a clause in the rules which said a challenger can use any boat type 90-ft or less at the waterline for the competition, and set the race ten months hence. Traditionally, for decades, 12-Meter Class boats had been used. So New Zealand built a 144-foot mega yacht and challenged all comers to try to beat it (still 90ft at the waterline). But the rules didn’t say the defender had to build the same type yacht. So famously, Dennis Conner of the USA fired back, using the fine print, and built an ultra modern catamaran as a counter. It was a mismatch from the start. The multi hulled USA boat absolutely destroyed KZ-1. Since that time, America’s Cup competition has always been in “classes” of similar boats build to “class” specification, to maximize competition.

In those days, crews and sailboats of America’s Cup yachts were 100% from their home countries. At some point, pro sailors from any country were allowed to crew a yacht. And so it came to be that a boat from Japan or Switzerland could be crewed by citizens from anywhere. So, where would you guess the #1 country feeding today’s America’s Cup crews would be? New Zealand! Not only that. Somehow, over the years, one country and one town would build most of the boats sailing the America’s Cup. And what town would that be?

Answer: Auckland, New Zealand! That’s right. I noticed a gigantic Italian flag flying near the waterfront, and it was the headquarters for Prada Luna Rossa from Italy!


The 2013 America’s Cup will be sailed in 72-foot hydrofoil catamarans in San Francisco Bay. These boats reach top speeds exceeding 40 knots! Most come from Auckland. These boats don’t have traditional sails. Rather, they have wings. They are so challenging to handle that smaller scale versions called AC-45s have been used as training boats for several years.

Tucked in behind the waterfront are warehouses where teams build the AC72 yachts and gyms for each. The Italians, Kiwis, and Swedes had their boats built and tested here.

Kiwis have lots of sailing accomplishments:

  • 1995 NZL 32 “Black Magic,” skippered by Russell Coutts, stuns the world winning the America’s Cup
  • 2000 NZL 60 shuts out Italy’s Prada (Luna Rossa) 5-0 to defend the Cup
  • 2003 Kiwis Russell Coutts and Brad Butterworth, sailing the Swiss boat Alinghi, defeat their countrymen sailing for New Zealand
  • 2007 the airline Emirates sponsors Team New Zealand. They reached the finals racing again against fellow Kiwis on the Swiss Alinghi. But Alinghi managed a narrow victory.
  • 2013 Team New Zealand has built the most successful AC72 catamaran thus far, and they were the first to manage to sail the craft consistently using hydrofoils at speeds in excess of 40 knots.


I wanted to spend more time at the America’s Cup Museum, but the time comes for me to head to the airport. One last left-side-of-the-road journey.

I’ve seen a lot in my month in New Zealand – live volcanoes and geysers, golden beaches, fiords, dolphins swimming under my sailboat, giant tree ferns, sapphire streams and seas, and glaciers. There is a lot to see and do here.

Definitely add New Zealand to your travel plans!

22 Things Happy People Do Differently

10 04 2013

Words for the day. Well said!

Beautiful Sandy Bay and Matapouri – East Coast of New Zealand’s North Island

9 04 2013

IMG_0355It’s time for us to make our way south to Auckland. We are to depart New Zealand tomorrow! We plan to party tonight in Auckland. But we’re in no rush to get there. So we decide to meander along the east coast – explore the many nooks and beaches along the North Island along the way.

So we take the main road south, but we divert east on a road marked “To Matapouri.” We knew that town was on the coast. This turns out to be one of the most wonderful drives of our trip. This road makes countless switchbacks and tight, blind curves through beautiful lonely farmland and then all of the sudden reaches the Pacific!

We never pass by another car on the way. But when we reach a spot called Sandy Bay, well, it’s a little overwhelming. This beach had probably 30 surfers, less than 10 houses, and is tucked in on each side by beautiful peninsulas. No crowds. Turquoise waters. Warm breezes. An easy surf break.IMG_0358

Holy cow we just found a slice of paradise! And it’s completely below the tourist radar. There’s almost nobody here! Purrrrfect weather.

We spend an hour soaking up the weather and the view. Waves were only four feet high, but perfect for mellow surfing. The beach sand is a golden color, very gentle feeling. On the left, there are some rocky outcroppings enclosing an easy snorkeling area.

One can’t help but get the feeling that we are in a private beach. Of course it’s not. We drive on south along this coastal road and discover even more beach bays, one after the other. This is really a beautiful part of New Zealand, and it’s not generally covered in the travel journals.


Maybe because it’s relatively close to Auckland, I’m not sure. But all I can say it’s absolutely beautiful and so uncrowded.


We headed south to Matapouri, a super quiet town on a bay near the coast.

Elwin, Angelique and I were all hungry, so we stopped in by a shanty shack place advertising seafood. It is here I made the classic mistake on expecting something and then getting something entirely different.

I see a “red snapper” on the menu. I adore red snapper, so I order it. The menu said nothing like “broiled” or “fried” next to red snapper. I began to have misgivings about my order but let it go as we waited outside. I also ordered “medium chips,” and I knew those were what we Americans call French fries.

When the call came for me, “ROD,” was heard, I went to the counter to pick up my order. When I saw it, I knew I blew it! My newspaper-wrapped red snapper was deep fried, in a fish and chips fashion. I accepted it as if this was what I expected, but truth be known, I don’t like fried fish very much. I wish it were broiled or baked. And then there is the issue of the chips, which Americans know as French Fries. As an American, I asked for some ketchup. The response was, “$2 for the tomato sauce (that is Kiwi for ketchup).” I can’t imagine paying that much for a little ketchup! So I just went without. While this wasn’t my ideal meal experience, I just went with the situation and tried to enjoy as much as I could! In another country, Argentina, there was another peculiar custom at many restaurants. Often a restaurant adds a surcharge for your silverware! I guess one saves by bringing their own?

All taken together, our day meandering down the coast of New Zealand’s North Island was an unexpected slice of paradise!

Then it’s on to Auckland. We’ve booked a room at the Juicy Hotel in the heart of the city. We depart tomorrow, later in the day.

Sailing in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands

2 04 2013

Phantom, our C&C 50, arrives!

Sails set, we head out

Sails set, we head out

Today we are to embark on the best way to experience New Zealand’s Bay of Islands – by sailboat! Instead of buying a ticket on a noisy, crowded dolphin chaser, I researched a much more private, quiet and up close way to witness this jewel. The Phantom, a 50-foot C&C 1980’s racing sailboat, will be a perfect way to enjoy a day on the bay. It’s got a limit of 10 guests. So there’s no way this is going to become some commercialized catamaran with 30 or more people. Even better, a gourmet brunch served on deck is included.

I’ll be able to do all the summertime things I craved. Sailing. Enjoying warm breezes. Palm trees. And diving off the deck into a lagoon! And an unexpected bonus – we’d arrived at the start of Race Week. Dozens of big sailboats from all over New Zealand are here, and will be competing as we sail today. As a life long sailboat racer this is totally exciting!

Today is absolutely beautiful. Sunny right at day break. I’m up early. We’ll need to meet the Phantom at the pier over at Russell. I was up much earlier than Elwin and Angelique – so I’m taking the ferry across and having my breakfast on the waterfront. I’ll meet them over there.

The ferry ride is refreshing. The fair weather clouds are going to burn off. There are a few racing yachts heading out to practice prior to the regatta. Further out in the Bay, maybe two miles away, is another cruise ship.

Soon the Phantom arrives at the pier and we go aboard along with a few other guests and their kids. We’re introduced to hosts Rick and Robin and then cast off the lines. We motor out onto the bay. Sails are unfurled, halyards are hoisted. Sheets were trimmed, and we are under way!


Racers lining up to start

Dozens of racing sailboats continue to gathering near the starting area. Wow, it’s not long before the race starts. We have front row seats! An orchestrated chaos begins as the 40-50 foot boats swirled around seeking advantage at the start. Shouts are heard as right-of-way is being called. And suddenly all boats swing round in parallel toward the starting line. Boom! A gun cracks. The race has begun!  The Kiwi boats are very first rate – they are all late model racing boats. We took some tacks back and forth across the bay to check things out. Hundreds of gannets, circling in the sky overhead, suddenly dove into the sea, hunting fish. We also glimpse a few small penguins floating on the bay.

Soon some of the racers sail right by us. We’re staying just out of the racing area.IMG_0337

This was such a treat for me! Front row seats seeing how it is done in New Zealand.


It was a perfect day for a sailboat race. Plenty of wind for the competition, not so much to be risky for anyone. I’m just so excited to see so many sailboats and so many of them cutting edge.

There are a number of close encounters, accompanied by some right-of-way shouting, which is just like here at home in the USA.

IMG_0341We leave the regatta to explore more of the bay. I spent my time getting to know Rick and Robin, and the other guests.

Rick has owned Phantom since the 1980s. He’s lived in New York, and met Robin in the Caribbean. They’ve sailed Phantom around Puerto Rico, through the Panama Canal, and have crossed the Pacific a number of times. There are only three C&C 50’s in the world, and one of the others is in New Zealand. Rick helped bring it here. The other is in the American Great Lakes region.

IMG_0332Also on board are an Australian couple and a family from Holland. That meant Elwin and Angelique could speak in their native tongue today! We did a number of tacks back and forth across the bay, and watched dolphins and more penguins, and more gannets dive-bombing for their lunch.

More wildlife comes to see us! I saw spouts. I see fins! A pod of dolphins, maybe two dozen, are coming our way! I’ve had dolphins ride the bow wave on a sailboat before, even at night.  But never this many. I have to try a video. You can see the sailboat race in the distance if you look closely!

Up next is a break and picnic! Rick sails Phantom past a headland, to an island with a small bay complete with a beach. We drop anchor, and soon up from the galley comes a fabulous picnic fit for a king. We have cheese, fruit, home made bread and treats, meats. Yum!

Then it’s time to explore the island a little. Some embark by dinghy and a few of us, myself included, cannot resist the urge to swim to shore. So, I dive off the deck, plunging right in. This is what I’ve dreamed of! On shore there is a trail to a hilltop with a 360-degree view. I don’t have any shoes, so I’m uncertain if I should try especially with this plantar fasciittis dogging me! But I give it a shot. Totally unexpectedly, I find to my delight it is a comfortable feeling after all. The only trouble is on the hot steps at the top.

We depart the delightful island and spend a couple more hours sailing. Back in Russell, we bid our goodbyes and then Angelique, Elwin and I relax on the Russell waterfront, toasting the day with a pint of ale. IMG_3503

It’s much busier now than in the morning. I definitely like the Bay of Islands! It’s got to be on your New Zealand bucket list!

I can’t imagine, but we are almost at the end of our trip. Only two days to go. Then, for me, it is back to winter in Portland, Oregon.