17 March 2014

Do You Know The Way To Whangarei?

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Whangarei has a reputation in New Zealand as being a cute, quirky little boaties town and I had really been wanting to head up north and check it out. We've had some weather issues this summer, but were finally able to make a break out of the Hauraki Gulf and find our way to Whangarei. Whangarei (pronounced somthing like "fa-nga-ray") is the regional capitol of Northland and has a sizable population (by New Zealand standards that is). Apparently, when Captain Cook was up that way in 1769, they caught a lot of fish which they called "bream" and this led to the name Bream Bay. To make your way to the town of Whangarei, you start off at Bream Bay and fight your way against the current and tide (which is especially challenging if you have a 10hp engine), as well as the freighters to make your way into Whangarei Harbour. From there, you follow the channel down the river for about 16 nautical miles. For the last three miles, make sure you know your draft and the tides because things get very, very shallow and things might possibly get a little tense when your depth sounder shows a depth which is shallower than your draft. But the journey is worth it in the end - the town center is very cute, the marina is quirky and there are a lot of interesting boats and folks hanging about.

Here are a few photos on the way to Whangarei...

When we were trying to make our way into the harbor, this freighter tried to ram into us. Or at least that's what I thought it was doing. It kept going in circles outside of the harbor and at one point it turned directly towards us and seemed to be playing chicken with us. Just when I was starting to think that was the end of our cruising in New Zealand, the freighter turned around and a pilot boat sped up, the pilot boarded and the freighter made its way into the port to offload timber.

Having sailed up from Kawau Island, we stopped for the night at Urquhart's Bay. It seems to be a popular stopping off point for people making their way up and down the coast or heading into Whangarei. At first glance, it looks like a typical, pretty New Zealand Bay.

But if you turn around, then you get a lovely view of Marsden Point - home of the oil refinery and Northland Port. Not the prettiest view to look at while you're having your morning coffee.

Party happening on one of the docks! We waved in the hopes of getting invited over, but they seemed to be ignoring us.

Not too sure what happened here. One of the many boats we saw aground. It started to make us wonder exactly how shallow it would get at low tide.

There were a number of boat sheds along the way. Some of the boats seemed too big for their sheds.

And some more boat sheds.

This is Dockland 5 - a boat haul-out and hardstand along the river. The guy who runs it is pretty funny and a good bloke. And we know because we got to pay a "special" visit to get our boat hauled out there, courtesy of the Northland Council. A word of caution to boaties from Auckland - if you're planning on staying in a marina in Northland, make sure you don't have fanworm. Northland takes it seriously up there and it appears Auckland has put the whole issue in the "too hard basket" and has let it run rampant. More on the whole "fanworm incident" in another post.
This is Fantail, a very well-known Raven 26 (the type of boat we have), owned by Annie Hill. She has refitted it and it has a junk rig now. Annie moors her boat along the river and she might have thought we were a bit creepy, stalker like people when we slowed down to take pictures. She did come out and wave at us - maybe because she saw that we have a Raven 26 too.
Remember we said it gets shallow as you head towards the town center? It really, really does! You have to go slowly, keep an eye on your depth and hope you don't get grounded. I think it happens rather frequently here because whenever I mentioned how shallow it was, people just said things like, "Yeah, but is is just mud. Wait a few hours and then Bob's your uncle and you can carry on."
To get to the marina, you have to pass under the Te Matau a Pohe bridge. It is designed to look like a fishhook and refers to Pohe, the Maori chief who welcomed the first English settlers to Whangarei. I had to talk on the VHF to request the bridge be opened. It was a disaster - more on my embarrassing attempts to operate a VHF in a future post! If you do go to Whangarei, don't get caught out by the bridge closing times. If you are, you'll have to tie up and wait it out. So between figuring out when the tides are favorable to make it through the channel and coordinating with the bridge opening times, things can get a little complicated.

We finally made it! Rainbow's End tied up to the visitor's dock at the Whangarei Town Centre Marina. It seemed like most of the boats at the marina were huge and from overseas and practically dwarfed our tiny 26' Kiwi-made boat. Great marina with super friendly staff - definitely worth a visit.


  1. Wow, you saw Annie Hill. I'm dieing to meet her one day.
    Uncle "Bob"??? Sounds too mysterious! I'll pass on running aground

    1. I would have loved to meet Annie as well, but we'll have to settle for having seen her from afar. The "Bob is your uncle" phrase is one of my favorite Kiwi expressions. No idea who Bob is, but he seems to have a lot of nieces and nephews over here :-)

  2. Replies
    1. It is a nice bridge - well worth seeing up close. Some folks told us that it is proving to be an attraction for boaties with more folks going down the river to Whangarei to check it out.

  3. I love that you got to go under a draw bridge. For some odd reason I have always wanted to do that. Sounds like a good trip. I had no idea what Bream was, so thanks :)

    1. I was very excited to go under the draw bridge! However, I did get tired of it by the fourth time we went under it, but probably because I sounded like an idiot on the VHF asking the bridge operator to open it for us. He couldn't understand my accent which made for a rather confusing discussion.


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