23 July 2013

Cruising in the Hauraki Gulf - Summer 2012/13

We spent as much of last summer (December through March in the Southern Hemisphere) as we could cruising in the Hauraki Gulf on Rainbow's End. It was a great opportunity for me to learn more about sailing and for both of us to see some amazing places, islands and anchorages.

The Hauraki Gulf is a Marine Park and covers more than 1.2 million hectares on the east coast of Auckland and includes the Waitemata Harbor, Firth of Thames and the eastern coastline of the Coromandel Peninsula. There are more than 50 islands and five marine reserves within the Hauraki Gulf. Many of the islands are public conservation land managed by the Department of Conservation and most of the islands are open to the public (some aren't for conservation reasons or require a permit).

On our first outing on Rainbow's End we took a day trip out to Motuihe Island and Islington Bay, Motutapu Island. Motuihe is one of the "Treasure Islands" (which means it is pest free and actively managed to keep it pest free). It has some great sandy beaches, clear waters, sheltered anchorages, a campsite and visitor facilities. Islington Bay is a very popular anchorage and lies between Rangitoto and Motutapu islands (they're connected by a causeway). Motutapu is mainly pasture, but there is a program to replant the forests and restore the wetlands. It was occupied by the Maori for hundreds of years and there are a number of archaeological sites on the island. Rangitoto is very different to Motutapu. It is much younger and one of the largest and least modified of the volcanic cones and craters in the Auckland region. It erupted from the sea about 600 years ago and is now thankfully extinct. It has some amazing walks through the volcanic debris and the views from the top are incredible. There is a regular ferry service from Auckland to Raingitoto so it is very popular with tourists and quite busy during the day. You can also get to Motutapu by ferry but they are seasonal and not as frequent.

Map of Rangitoto (left) and Motutapu (right) Islands. (Islington Bay is in the southern inlet between the two islands)
Sourced from Land Information New Zealand data. Crown Copyright Reserved.
On our second outing, also a day trip, we sailed out to Waiheke Island. Waiheke is a very large island between Auckland and the Coromandel Peninsula with approx. 8,000 permanent inhabitants. There are frequent, high speed ferries to Auckland and many people commute to work daily in Auckland. It is a very popular tourist destination and holiday home area for Aucklanders.

After two successful day outings (and after some work on the engine), we then went for an extended trip spending six days sailing up to Gulf Harbor, Kawau Island, back to Gulf Harbor and then over to Oneroa Bay, Waiheke Island. We stayed at the Gulf Harbor Marina on our first night of the trip. Gulf Harbor is located on the southern side of the Whangapora Peninsula. It is near to a swanky housing development and golf course. Many of the homes have their own docks where their owners can leave their very large and expensive launches. If you find yourself envious and starting to drool over the big launches, just remind yourself how much it would cost to fill that baby up with diesel and run her. The advantages of a small sailboat will become instantly obvious. There are good marine services at Gulf Harbor and shops and restaurants nearby.

After Gulf Harbor, we then headed up to Kawau Island (where Lin & Larry Pardey live!) and spent 2 nights anchored up in front of a club house owned by the Royal New Zealand Yacht Squadron. Kawau Island is an historic reserve and home to the iconic Mansion House. Sir George Grey, the Governor of New Zealand, bought the island in 1862 as a private retreat and built a mansion which is cleverly called "Mansion House".

Mansion House - it was being renovated when we were there
After the first night we rowed the half mile over to School House Bay to take a hike to visit the Mansion House. When I say "we", I mean Scott rowed while my job, since Scott's back is turned away from the destination intended when rowing, is to keep Scott on course. It is a job I take seriously, however, my mind tends to wander so in essence Scott gets to row 30-50% more then he needs to for a true rhumb line course - much to Scott's great pleasure.  

Mansion House was being restored so we didn't get to see inside, but we'll check it out when we're back there this summer. Kawau was also the site of one of New Zealand's earliest mining ventures and you can see remains of the mining industry on a series of tracks through the reserve. The island is no longer a private retreat - part of the island is now managed by the Department of Conservation and the rest is privately owned. We anchored our boat in Bon Accord Harbor conveniently near the Kawau Island Yacht Club which is a great place to have a few beers and look out over the harbor (and keep an eye out for Lin & Larry).

Kawau Island Yacht Club
During the second night at anchor the wind picked up to over 30 knots and I got to learn all about anchor watches (30 knots isn't something to sneeze at - see here for a handy wind chart you can use to describe fear in numbers). Anchor watch is when the crew of the boat takes turns staying awake to see if the boat starts to drag the anchor. With the boat and anchor being new to us, we (Scott mostly since I was blissfully unaware of such things) were not yet confident in our "ground tackle" (I learned later that ground tackle is pretty important stuff). During the day, after listening to the weather report, Scott had paid out more rode (the rope that is attached to the chain that is in turn attached to the anchor in aggregate called the ground tackle) explaining to me the more rode paid out the more secure the anchor will be. In response, I gave Scott my best cat like disinterested stare. Scott had wanted to let more rode since we first arrived but couldn't due to all the boats around us. During the day a number of boats left so Scott could do this. I just thought Scott was being polite by putting distance from us to the remaining boats due to his aversion to bathing but now I'm thinking Scott was taking advantage of his lack of personal hygiene to clear the boats out so he could put out more rode. Quite cunning he is and I have come to the conclusion I need to keep a more watchful eye on him. Anyway it was great fun staying up in the dark with nothing to do except listen to the wind howl and stressing out with each gust of wind that could cause us to ram another boat or put us aground. (Clearly, Scott was derelict in his duty regarding my sedation regime.)

After Kawau we headed back to Gulf Harbor for a night and I took a much needed shower at the marina. When I got back Scott said he was going to the "shower block" but, because of my aforementioned watchful eye resolution, I became suspicious when I noticed he didn't take a towel with him. This was coupled with Scott's curious use of the phrase "shower block" rather then "take a shower" as Scott likes to twist words and sentences to his own devices. I was on to him. No matter what he was going to take a shower! I don't care if he doesn't like to immerse himself in water! Not one more minute of that odious, odorous body on this boat! So I marched right up the pontoon, grabbed the nearest male marina staff and had him go into the showers and deliver a towel to Scott. When Scott got back he said he must have dropped his towel because some guy handed it to him in the shower. I just rolled my eyes and gave him a big whiff test. He passed.

The next day we sailed to Waiheke and anchored in Oneroa Bay which is a very popular and large anchorage in the town of Oneroa. Personally, I find it a little too popular and it can become quite crowded. However, you can find everything you need in Oneroa including a Four Square market, bars, restaurants, shops and even a small movie theatre.

After a day back at our apartment taking care of a few things (and another much needed shower!), we headed back out for a couple of days back to Motutapu Island anchoring in Islington Bay and Station Bay. Station Bay is on the eastern side of Motutapu Island and has a nice beach area. We met some people there that Scott races with for a barbeque which was great fun. I can see why rum & cokes are so popular with sailors. This is the night that we decided we needed a new dinghy. The one that came with the boat had a number of holes and was constantly deflating. This is not an attribute that you want in a dinghy. On our way back to our boat that night it really started to deflate and I started to wonder how cold of a swim it was going to be back to the boat. We made it back to the boat so I never had to find out about the water temperature. But when we woke up the next morning, we found our dinghy pretty much deflated and half submerged. We realized that the someone had been messing around with the bung hole the night before and hadn't screwed it back in properly (I think rum & cokes were to blame here) which caused the dinghy to take on water. Important lesson learned here - make sure the bung is screwed completely in before you leave your dinghy floating in the water overnight. Otherwise, bad things happen. Water is good for drinking and swimming in. (Scott - water is also good for keeping your body clean and smelling nice!) Water is bad inside your dinghy.

Unfortunately, the Christmas break was over and I had to go back to work so we were limited to weekend trips and some evening sails for a while. In addition to the usual stops at Islington Bay (it is really close to Auckland and a popular stop for weekenders), we also got out to Awaawaroa Bay, Waiheke Island (on the southern coast) and Ponui Island.

Our next big trip was a week's cruise out to Great Barrier Island and Kawau Island. Great Barrier Island was amazing! It is the largest island in the Hauraki Gulf and there are approx. 850 people living there permanently. We only got to explore a little bit of the island as I had to be back in Auckland for work. But the bit we saw was great. We stayed around Port Fitzroy on the western side of the island exploring the various bays in the area. We entered between Selwyn Island and Red Cliff Cove through what I thought was an impossibly narrow channel. I closed my eyes at times as I was sure we were going to hit the shore. Scott kept his eyes open and managed to steer the boat and take photos at the same time.

Great Barrier Island
(Scott steering and taking photos at the same time right before we enter the tiny passage)
One of the highlights was hiking  the Kaiaraara Track up to the Kauri Dam and the top of Mt. Hobson (Hirakimata). Mt Hobson is 621m and there are a  lot of stairs to climb up to get to the top. Just when you think you're done with the stairs you turn a corner and there are more stairs. But it is worth it and the views are spectacular from up top.

Bush's Beach Trail Head to Mt Hobson (that's our shiny, new dinghy near the sign)
View from top of Mt Hobson
After the big trip to Great Barrier Island we did another weekend out to Oneroa, Waiheke Island and the Motuihe Channel.

We then did our final big trip of the summer spending a week sailing to Tiritiri Matangi Island, Kawau Island, Mahurangi Habor, Elephant Cove, Coromandel Harbor and Ponui Island. Tiritiri is a conservation island and bird sanctuary. They have gotten rid of all of the unwanted pests, replanted native trees and returned rare native birds and animals to the island. I would highly recommend a visit and if you do go, take one of the tours led by the volunteers. We had visited Tiritiri the previous year via the ferry so on this trip we just did a short walk before heading on to Kawau to anchor for the night. This was a third time in Kawau during the summer but still no sighting of Lin & Larry. They do sell autographed copies of their books in the Kawau Island Yacht Club store.

After Kawau, we headed to the Mahurangi Harbor and anchored near Scott's Landing (no it isn't named after our Scott). Mahurangi is to the south of Kawau Bay and leads into the Mahurangi River which winds its way up towards Warkworth.

We then headed over towards the Coromandel Peninsula and anchored in Elephant Cove which is on Motukahaua Island. Just before we arrived we were visited by some more dolphins including a little one that played for a few seconds around our bow. It is a beautiful anchorage with really steep cliffs on either side of a tiny cove. However, it probably wasn't the most restful night I've ever had. It was pitch black that night and we kept worrying about the wind changing and smashing us into the cliffs or onto the shore. Fortunately, the wind didn't change and we were able to stay there all night and our boat stayed in one piece.

We then headed into Coromandel Harbor and dinghied into Coromandel Town to restock on diesel, water and food and anchored in some of the lovely bays in the harbor.

That was our last trip of the summer. All in all 597 nautical miles and 30 days on board. We have now put the boat away for the winter as Scott had to head back to Scotland for work. More adventures to come this summer!

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  1. Fantastic blog thank you. Very readible and your cruising 'personality' comes across well. Love the spots you visited on your adventures guys!

  2. Such fun to read. Great sailing info


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