|Twin Island Bay, Port Fitzroy|
The favored overseas holiday destination of many Auckland “boaties” is Great Barrier Island. Just 50 miles by water from Auckland City, “The Barrier” is a different world from mainland New Zealand, and you don’t even need your passport to visit. Once again, we made what has become our annual visit for the Holiday season. Here’s a brief log of our most recent “summer vacation:”
We were still a bit groggy from a big day out at the Boxing Day horse races at Ellerslie the day (and evening) before. As usual, it was huge fun!
Friends Barbara and Kevin hopped on board in the morning to join us for the trip. The weather gods were most accommodating, offering up a stunning clear summer day with a 15 to 20 knot southerly breeze and slight seas. Since our course was nearly due north, we were able to set our big spinnaker just outside of the Rangitoto Channel. Cruising easily at 9-11 knots, we were able gybe our way nearly all the way to Man Ôo War Passage, the very narrow entry into the Barrier’s commodious Port Fitzroy.
For our first evening’s anchorage, we chose Wairahi Bay, known to the locals simply as “the garage”. It is the southern most and most protected of the dozen or so scenic bays in Port Fitzroy. Sparsely populated, Great Barrier Island is mostly covered in native bush, forest and grasslands.
We also began to set the pace for the week; eat late, sleep in late, and don’t move to fast!
Another beautiful day! With some local intel from friends, we were guided to a little cove (which shall remain nameless) that was purported to be a very active scallop bed. We anchored over “the spot” and three of us proceeded to don our SCUBA gear. 20 minutes later we were in the water. Ten minutes after that we were back on the surface with three limits (sixty) of scallops. The sandy bottom was literally paved with the yummy shellfish. Occasionally one would try to flee the scene. A scallop swimming reminds me of a set of false teeth chattering away in mid air.
Kevin cooked up our catch that evening. We all enjoyed the “scallies” baked on the half-shell in a sauce of olive oil, sun-dried and fresh tomatoes, basil and spices. There were no leftovers.
We spent a gorgeous day lounging in Kiwiriki or “Twin Island” Bay. We had no plans and we stuck to em! The major challenge for the day was to figure out what to do with the rest of the scallops. I decided to make ceviche (seafood “cooked” in citrus juice) that accompanied our dinner that evening. We landed a small kingfish that was prepared into scrumptious fish cakes the following morning.
By Monday, everyone was ready to set foot on dry land again. We moved Moonshadow a couple of miles north to Kaiarara Bay where there is a nice beach and a trailhead. On this warm, clear afternoon we decided to stretch our legs by hiking (round trip) back over to Kiwiriki Bay through an area called “the Pyramids.” This peninsula of attractive native bush is aptly named, as the trail goes steeply up, abruptly down, then more steeply up and precipitously back down to sea level. In the middle of the walk is Fern Creek, named, we guess, for the huge punga ferns that blanket the floor of the forest below a canopy of manuka trees sprouting small white blossoms. A smattering of nikau palms gives the area an almost tropical appearance. This proved to be a good warm-up for our upcoming hike to the summit of Mt. Hobson. After an afternoon ashore, we moved Moonshadow to the anchorage off the little town of Fitzroy.
New Year’s Eve
Kevin and Barb joined us for a short hike later in the morning up to a lovely little waterfall near Fitzroy. We moved back to our favorite spot at Kiwiriki Bay for a relaxing afternoon and to prepare for New Year’s Eve.
After a lovely late dinner, the stereo went on, the bottles of bubbly came out and a dozen or so yachtie friends showed up to usher in the New Year. We had a festive evening that went well into the New Year. In typical Kiwi style, there were lots of other celebrations in the bay that went straight through till daylight.
New Year’s Day
By the time we finished a big fat “hangover breakfast” of bacon, eggs and hash browns, it was early afternoon. Kevin and I went for a crayfish (lobster) dive near where we had anchored. I dropped down and managed to get my loop around the tail of a beauty within a few minutes, but we had no more luck after that. Fortunately, that one bug is big enough to feed two!
We had lazy sundowners that evening with friends Chris and Joyce aboard their Sundeer 64 Touche M’dear.
We rose very early and moved Moonshadow back to Kaiarara Bay, packed a knapsack with water and lunch and were on the trailhead at 0900.
It was a gorgeous, partly cloudy morning, excellent for a good long walk. We headed for Mt. Hobson via the scenic South Fork trail. The South Fork trail traverses the foothills and steadily climbs to the 2000-foot summit through thick forests of pine, rimu and kauri trees as well as bushlands covered with fern and manuka bush. Despite numerous landslides that had occurred last winter, the trail had been greatly improved from last summer, and our ascent to the summit took just two hours and forty-five minutes.
After a short lunch break while enjoying the panoramic views from the top of Mt. Hobson we headed back towards sea level via the Kaiarara track. The first kilometer or so of the steep descent is mostly wooden steps, some 800 of them.
The steps give way to a gentler trail at the Upper Kauri Dam. We stopped for a break at the Lower Kauri Dam. The kauri dams were used in the early 1900’s to move the massive kauri logs from the upper reaches of Mt. Hobson to Kaiarara Bay. After felling trees into the gorge, the dams were opened and the logs washed down to sea level. It wasn’t an exactly the most environmentally sensitive way to move fallen trees, but I suppose it got the job done, and thousands of Auckland homes have built (and rebuilt) from the lovely smooth-grained kauri timber harvested on Great Barrier Island.
Two hours after we left the summit, we were back to sea level at Bush’s Beach and ready to enjoy a cold beer or two on board Moonshadow.
|Madness at the Mussel Festival|
After a lazy morning, we once again got the hunting/gathering urge and headed back to our not-so-secret scallop bed. After twenty minutes in the water and an hour or so of shelling, we had another three limits of scallops in the freezer. We headed back to Fitzroy to get a good spot in the anchorage in preparation for the following day’s Mussel Festival.
One of Great Barrier Island’s major industries is New Zealand green-lip mussel farming. Each year about this time, the locals and boaties alike gather to pay homage to this delectable little shellfish. The festivities take place in and around the rustic Port Fitzroy Boating Club and include arts and crafts, food (mostly mussel dishes, of course) lots of Kiwi beer and wine, music, poetry, and even a bit of belly dancing.
Now Great Barrier Island, while technically a “suburb” of Auckland, is rather removed geographically and culturally from life in the big city. The locals are, let’s say, very “interesting.” Mix them with a variety of New Zealand boaties and throw in a sprinkling of foreign yachties, and you have what might be loosely called a “colourful” crowd. Sorry, my spell-check has developed a Kiwi accent and I can’t be bothered fighting it any more.
The food was yummy, the drink refreshing, the music first-rate, the poetry hilarious and the people fun and interesting.
After nine glorious days, the weather finally changed and we had an evening of rain.
Nine days had flown by and it was time to head back to reality. In overcast but calm weather, we started motoring back to Auckland. Kevin and I decided to make one last attempt to stuff a few lobster in the freezer, so we stopped at the Broken Islands and dropped our hook just off a rocky outcropping that looked like good bug habitat.
The dive was pretty, with kelp gently swaying to the ocean’s surge and fish curiously inspecting the strange black creatures spewing out bubbles. We saw lots of small “bugs” but none large enough to please a game warden. The pressure gauge dropped to 500 p.s.i. and it started to get chilly. Time to head home.
The trip home was uneventful. Under an overcast sky, with occasional showers and just three to five knots of breeze, we headed back to Auckland flying our “cast iron spinnaker.”
For more information on Great Barrier island click www.thebarrier.co.nz.