Novemeber 18, 2013
Haere mai ki Aotearoa! That’s “welcome to New Zealand!” in Maori.
Before we even left Neiafu (Vava’u) in Tonga, I emailed an Advanced Notice of Arrival (Form NZCS 340) to New Zealand Customs. This form is supposed to be sent at least 48 hours prior to arrival in New Zealand territorial waters. On the government fact sheet, it’s stated in bold “Failure to comply may result in prosecution and a penalty of up to 12 months’ imprisonment.” Yikes! I made sure to tend to the matter while we still had internet in Tonga.
There are many rules and regulations for yacht entry into New Zealand, but cruisers need not fear. There is plenty of information available, especially in the Customs Yacht Pack, and the officials won’t bite your head off. Biosecurity will go through your food declarations, your shell and wood products, look for possible pests, and take anything that shouldn’t be brought into New Zealand.
When we were still more than 48 hours out from our arrival to Opua, I hailed New Zealand Maritime Radio on the SSB (4125 or 6215 Khz) to confirm our approximate time and place of arrival. Not only do they want to know vessel name, but also the ship’s call sign and your estimated arrival within 2 hours. If anything changes they want you to let them know.
As we made our way into the Bay of Islands, and towards Opua Marina, I hailed Russell Radio on VHF 16 for specific location and instructions with regard to the Quarantine Dock. The guy I spoke to was on the Q-dock and said he would let Customs know that we were arriving.
At about 11 o’clock a.m., we made our landing onto the Quarantine Dock just after s/v Windara, and we were surprised to find our buddies on s/v Tribe still on the Q-dock. Tribe had arrived late the previous afternoon, so they were able to spend the night on the dock and wait until morning to clear with Customs. After only radio and email contacts with Windara over the past six months, we were just meeting them in person for the very first time. It was like a grand reunion party on the Q-dock!
While we waited for Customs to arrive, a woman appeared with a welcome bag full of brochures, maps, coupons, and loads of other information. She was able to answer lots of questions, and after speaking with her, we were even more excited about being in New Zealand and couldn’t wait to explore further. The koru symbol on the bag was the perfect representation for our new beginning.
Soon, Customs and Biosecurity officers arrived for inspection and paperwork. I handed them what papers I’d filled out beforehand. I was nervous because I’d had high hopes of having all papers completely filled out prior to our arrival. But, due to all of our troubles during the passage, filling out paperwork was the least of our worries. The Customs officials didn’t seem the least bit worried about anything, and they filled in the blanks with no complaints.
I had also had hopes of going through all of our provisions, shells, and wood products before our arrival to New Zealand. However, that too got put on the wayside during the passage. Therefore, I dragged the Biosecurity officers through the bin of food I’d started, plus all cabinets and compartments I thought they should see. I think I overwhelmed them, and they decided they didn’t need to look any further. They took what we expected them to take . . . honey, eggs, dried beans (except lentils), an open jar of mayonnaise, and any fresh produce. They gave the okay for many items we’d purchased in Tonga, which happen to be from New Zealand . . . butter, powdered milk, popcorn, and frozen meats still in original labeled packaging. We were surprised that they let us keep nuts (not in their shells), flour, rice, all of our vacuum sealed dried vegetables, all of our shell collection (we even had our Bahamian conch horn in the cockpit!), and fish that we’d caught and frozen.
When Customs asked us if we had any firearms or weapons onboard, including pepper spray, our jaws dropped and we became speechless. We’d totally forgotten to declare our bear spray. The Customs official said that pepper spray was illegal in New Zealand and they needed to take our bear spray for destruction. We were sad to hand it over because it was an expensive purchase, and we wouldn’t be able to replace it.
Later we learned that someone else had their pepper spray bonded because it was not possible to replace it in New Zealand before they departed. Therefore, Wil went to the Customs office and was able to track down our bear spray before it was destroyed. Reluctantly, but to our relief, they bonded the spray. We would be able to get it back when it was time to clear out of New Zealand.
[Note: During our clearance out of New Zealand, our Customs officer and the New Zealand Police were not happy about having to deal with the bonded pepper spray, and we were told to make sure that other cruisers understood that it was NOT okay to have pepper spray in the country and any future pepper sprays would be destroyed]
Once all official business was done, we quickly relaxed for a round of beers on Windara, and then we departed the Q-dock to find a spot in the anchorage. We were ready to see what New Zealand had in store for us.