Sailing in New Zealand’s Bay of Islands

2 04 2013
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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!

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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.

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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

YES!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wsuOBJqOT-Y