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!

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.

Bay of Islands, New Zealand – Russell and Paihaia

27 03 2013
Palm Tree Paihaia


My hike on Mount Ruapehu, during the quest for Mount Doom a few days ago, with its cold wind and hail, served to spike my desire for warm sandy beaches and days spent doing nothing at all, relaxing under palms, soaking in the warmth and blue seas. So I could hardly wait to arrive at Paihaia in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands! I was also anxious to visit the hamlet of Russell across the bay.

The Bay of Islands sits in a sub tropical latitude and draws lots of visitors. Kayaking, snorkeling, whale watching and sailing are popular activities. It’s got warm tropical breezes. Seaside sun-drenched Paihaia, with warm breezes, boat tours and ample lodging, is a good choice for a base camp for exploring this area.

Our suite at the Dolphin Motel was modern, with a dishwasher, and an eight minute walk from the beach in Paihaia. Paihaia is a small town catering to tourists and a vacation home for Kiwis.

There is a two mile stretch of beach meandering in either direction from the town’s centrally located pier – all accessible by walkway. Kayak rental shacks lie along the way. I stopped in and grabbed a boat for two hours for $15.00.

Paihia kayaking

My quickie kayak tour near Paihia

Paihaia has its fair share of touristy shops and touristy boats taking people to swim with the dolphins. But don’t get any ideas that it’s some giant Cancun filled with fast food joints. Not here. It still retains a quiet atmosphere and home grown tourist trade. For example, I watched as a dinner boat prepared for the evening. The “Mom” was putting together an obviously labor intensive hand made meal for the two dozen or so guests. Yes, I did see a 1,000ft cruise ship anchored out in the bay. But only a few of its guests came in via its launches.

Elwin, Angelique and I arrived late in the afternoon and had a nice meal by the water. After a stroll by the water, we’d figure out what to do tomorrow. I knew that for me – all I wanted to do was to have no plans whatsoever, and just let my spirit decide and explore, poke around. No time in the car.

So morning arrives, and Elwin and Angelique have decided to get back in the car and drive all the way to the tip of New Zealand – some two hours distant. I could not fathom any more time in the car even if it meant some glorious maiden at journey’s end. All I wanted this day was to walk – to explore the Paihaia area and maybe Russell, across the Bay. And I wasn’t disappointed.

I left the Dolphin Motel about 8:15 a.m. and investigated the opportunities at the Paihaia pier. I saw a passenger ferry docked and inquired of its pilot what was the deal. She told me it’s real simple. The ferry goes back and forth between Paihaia and Russell all day and it’s $12 round trip. It’s about a 20-minute trip across.

Leaving Paihaia

That sounded great! So, I got on the 8:30 ferry and arrived in Russel before 9:00.


Super cute Russell homes

Wow! Russell is a combination of Nantucket and Bermuda! It has the white washed super clean, neatly manicured gardens like Bermuda but the buildings are wooden like Nantucket. It looks historical because it is. Russell was the first European settlement in New Zealand.

And Bougainvillea flowering everywhere.IMG_0319  As it was still relatively early I was in the mood for breakfast.

One of my dreams all this trip was a quiet meal right on the sea. Russell offers exactly that!

The Russel waterfront is a beach with a walking friendly path right behind, tables, with a hotel or two and some eateries right there.


IMG_0288After a little walk I settled on a breakfast joint and was treated to a wonderful breakfast! Only one hiccup. The tomato jar, which I thought was ketchup, had bbq sauce in it. So I got up to switch it for ketchup. No less than three steps away and my breakfast was gone! Snatched by aggressive seagulls waiting for anyone leaving their table alone!

I was only casually aware of the seagulls. Yet, they were keenly watching all the tables by the beach – ready to pounce on any unattended food!


The staff at the cafe took pity on me, and gave me a replacement meal. Thank you!

Taking it slow, I watched as Russel opened its eyes to the day.

I had read in Lonely Planet about various boating activities in the area. You have a choice of snorkeling, dolphin watching, sailing, kayaking, swimming, even paragliding.

As I slowly had my breakfast and sipped coffee, I watched as the operators I read about made their way to the pier, and prepared for a day out. There were some charter sailboats, the dolphin quest boat, etc. Nothing seemed rushed. A fishing charter awaited its guests.


Then sailboats began motoring out for a day on the bay, and two 100ft+ mega yachts came to anchor. I was super excited for tomorrow because I had arranged for us to sail a 50 foot C&C sloop on the bay! I am a lifelong sailer and I’d seen all the sailing in New Zealand – I wanted to do some of it for myself. Yesterday, on the road, I’d used Lonely Planet to reserve the Phantom, a beautiful red C&C 50.

Here’s their promotional video – pretty much captures it – swimming off the boat, and a yummy lunch, all day, including snorkeling gear for about $90 US. It will be great!

Akaroa New Zealand and the Banks Peninsula

12 02 2013

IMG_0097With the balance of the warm sunny day before us, and with no set schedule, we decided to visit New Zealand’s South Island’s Banks Peninsula and the picturesque seaside harbor of Akaroa! Angelique, Yurira, Elwin, myself, and Oscar piled in to the Camry and headed southeast. Oscar and Yurira, even though this is their third season here, had never been there and wanted to check it out.IMG_0094

Having everyone there was unparalleled for me! I’d met Elwin and Angelique in Patagonia. Yurira and Oscar in Oregon, and here we were in New Zealand!

The road passes through beautiful valleys filled with cow and sheep, before climbing, winding up and over the peninsula. While Christchurch is relatively flat, the peninsula is mountainous. In places you are hundreds of feet above the ocean and one can see forever! I caught a glimpse of a sailboat race outside Akaroa. I would see sailboat races all over New Zealand.

IMG_0096If you are in Christchurch, the Banks Peninsula is definitely worth visiting. It sticks out like a grape southeast of town. It has “spokes” of inlets, flanked by mountains, radiating out from the center – so one can find incredible seclusion there. The drive is ridiculously scenic. It is a 1,150 sq km volcanic feature, formed by two eruptive volcanoes. Waters are sapphire blue, and palms are common.IMG_0095

Sun splashed Akaroa was dry, warm, with a gentle breeze blowing through the palms by the harbor. A nice place to window browse, walk the pier, admire the comings and goings of boats, stroll the avenues, and take in a 20-oz British pint of ale under umbrella by the water.

I would be remiss if I glossed over Akaroa’s rich French heritage! Not only is it a beautiful palm studded town on a warm bay, but it is rich in French architecture, heritage and cuisine. The fact is, the South Island narrowly missed becoming a French colony right here. In 1838 French whalers bought the peninsula from the Maori and went to France with the news. They returned with French settlers, but just two days earlier English pounced with their flag, proclaiming it for the English Crown. Nevertheless, nearly 70 French citizens started the settlement, and to this day French heritage is celebrated.


We had a terrific day with Oscar and Yurira! They had much advice for us on our journey ahead. I’m grateful and hope to maybe join them in Alaska next summer!



Christchurch New Zealand

11 02 2013

IMG_0088Today we were in Christchurch, New Zealand, where we were to meet with Oscar Manguy and Yurira Hernandez, two Mexican kayak guides I had met during the Loco Roundup Kayak Symposium in 2011. I’ve been Facebooking with them ever since. They work with National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS), guiding in Alaska during the northern summer and New Zealand in the southern summer. Not a bad life! When in New Zealand, they live in Christchurch.

When I decided to head to New Zealand, I contacted Yurira and then, when I had definite dates, we were able to coordinate a visit! It was GREAT to see them on the other side of the world!

I hoped to paddle with them, but it seems the kayak facilities they use are not in Christchurch. So we’d spend time visiting in Christchurch and then figure out what to to. Elwin and I were curious about a city called Akaroa, which is on the Banks Peninsula, south of town. But Elwin, Angelique and myself really didn’t know much about Christchurch itself. So we would spend part of the day in downtown Christchurch.

Christchurch, founded in 1850, with about 345,000 people, is the 2nd largest city in New Zealand, and the biggest on the South Island. You wouldn’t know it by looking out from the central city – because the area is pretty flat and the buildings are not so tall. The fact is, Christchurch spreads out a lot. It’s got a wealth of cultural attractions, fine beaches, ample city parks and gardens, and heartbreakingly beautiful churches, which were devastated by two 2011 earthquakes.  It suffered a devastating 6.9 magnitude earthquake in February 2011 and a major aftershock six months later. I talked with some locals – they said one earthquake caused sideways shifting, while the other seemed to jolt upwards.

We first met for lunch, and then took a stroll around. The central business district was simply devastated. And much remains rubble, as building codes are to be updated before reconstruction can begin in earnest. Much of the old downtown was built on ground that was subject to liquefaction. Worse, many older classic buildings and churches were built of brick or stone. All around Christchurch once lovely churches lie in varying states of rebuilding process.


Seats still inside this theater!


We checked out a central business district shopping mall made of shipping containers. This was an interesting way to try to drum up some economic activity!

IMG_0091We passed a theater and what must have been a lively restaurant / bar district. Today, these buildings lay in various states of ruin.

Still, the city is vibrant and moving on. There are lovely walkways and gardens everywhere. If only I had pictures of all the lovely parts of Christchurch!

We’d reached about 2:00 in the afternoon…what would we like to do next? Let’s head to the Banks Peninsula and check out Akaroa. We’d heard it’s a beautiful, warm, with a French flair. So we piled into the Camry and headed over there! More next blog post!




Down Under Part 2: New Zealand 2012-13

31 01 2013


If you’ve followed this blog since 2011, you may recall I went to Patagonia in November. On that trip, I spent a lot of time with Elwin and Angelique, from The Netherlands. We had so much fun that in July of 2012 they asked me, “Hey Rod, want to get together for a trip to New Zealand this winter? Of course it will be SUMMER there!” That deserved some serious consideration! Especially since I have friends living there! First, Paul Lepper, a kayak designer for my old company Feelfree Kayaks, who’s encouraged me to visit for several years. And two other friends, Oscar Manguy and Yurira Hernandez, Mexican kayak guides I met at the Lower Columbia Kayak Roundup in 2011…they work for NOLS in New Zealand. I figured this has got to be the perfect time to visit New Zealand. So I said, “You bet I want to go!” And a plan was hatched.

I’d spend New Year’s 2013 with Paul Lepper and his wife Liz on the North Island. Then fly to Christchurch, on the South Island, to meet up with Elwin and Angelique. Then we’d all get together with Oscar and Yurira. Following that, the merry trio would wander all around both islands, through cities, fiords, beaches, rivers, glaciated peaks and volcanoes as well as geysers. And of course Mount Doom, plus all the other Lord of the Rings places! We’d hike, kayak and maybe sail! And learn how the Kiwis do things. Meeting all these friends down there seemed like such a far fetched thing. But not really! One just needs to plan it! And then the pieces fall into place.

In 2012 I sent word to Paul Lepper and Oscar and Yurira and we coordinated schedules. I’d land 12/28/2012 and then spend New Year’s up in Palmerston North with Paul and his family. Then fly to Christchurch on January 2nd and pick up Angelique and Elwin. Then on the 3rd we’d meet up with Oscar and spend the day together. Following that, Elwin, myself and Angelique would head south, beginning our exploration of New Zealand’s South Island!

As you may know, I live in Portland, Oregon, and New Zealand is on the other side of the International Data Line. It’s actually 22 hours ahead of Portland. For jet lag concerns, well, it turns out it’s not that bad. If you just ignore the day difference. Pretend that time in New Zealand is now minus three hours. So it is “tomorrow minus three hours from now.”

About New Zealand

New Zealand is very isolated from the rest of the world. A lot more than even Australia. New Zealand sits apart from Australia geologically – it’s right on top of the division of the Australasian Plate and Pacific Plate. Further, New Zealand is 1,300 miles from Australia. New Zealand has been separated from Australia for about 90 million years. Therefore, the flora and fauna native to the islands have not had outside influence for most of that time. Before man landed, birds and sea mammals were the primary fauna. Without competition, some birds evolved to be wingless. There were no rats and even today there are no snakes. Insects and spiders are present but they are not nearly as numerous as elsewhere – you won’t find insect screens on windows!

New Zealand is a Commonwealth country – and that means much English heritage. Rugby and cricket are popular, and sailboat racing is a national obsession. Gardens are neatly tended, and farms won’t have derelict vehicles on the property. Bars and pubs, even those targeted to young people – still have traditional pint-swilling patrons gathering for the neighborhood gossip. The driving is most definitely on the left-side. It has 4.45 million residents. And you will see plenty of Maori, especially on the North Island. But nobody of African descent.

New Zealand is packed with interesting landscape features in a small area. Check out these largest/highest facts for Australasia:

Other unique New Zealand trivia:

  • Tipping in restaurants is not expected
  • Many locals go barefoot
  • Typically it’s cars towing trailers, boats, RVs, not trucks
  • Diesel costs 50 cents less than gasoline
  • Many cars and trucks are available in a diesel version not available in the USA
  • Many cars come in a station wagon version not available in the USA
  • Backpacking often means staying in a hut on the trail instead of a tent
  • Sit-on-top kayaks are by far the most popular
  • 75% of forest was cleared by Maori or Europeans for agriculture
  • Lupine comes in blue, purple, white, yellow and pink
  • It had the tallest geyser in the world at 1,500ft
  • Tree ferns are common – ferns with 25ft trunks
  • Homegrown food is common – not rare at all
  • You will pay 40 cents to $2 to have ketchup on your french fries
  • You probably will never see anyone of African ancestry. In a month in the country, the only people of African ancestry I saw were travelers in the Auckland Airport.
  • You will probably see no native land mammals
  • You will not see any crows

So stay tuned for blogs about the recent trip to New Zealand! It is a wonderful country to visit. And parts of it definitely do look like Patagonia!