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new zealand ~ family time in bay of islands

Posted by on November 28, 2014

December 30, 2013 – January 1, 2014

I’ll never forget seeing my parents for the first time in over a year . . . standing on the Opua waterfront with Pete and Rae, our buddies from s/v Saliander. Early that morning, our dear friends had picked my parents up from the airport in Auckland and driven them up to Opua for us. We were all very thankful for their thoughtfulness and help. My parents wuold be spending three weeks with us, and we were eagerly looking forward to the time together.

Before taking them on a whirlwind tour of New Zealand, I wanted to give my parents a few days to recover from jet lag, as well as acclimate to their new surroundings. We also had a lot of catching up to do! The general plan was to sail and explore within the Bay of Islands for about a week, and once they’d had time to decide their top choice activities, then we would set off toward the chosen destinations.

Paihia & Russell

My parents got exactly one night to adjust to sleeping at anchor before we lifted the hook and motored the 2.5 miles to Paihia. They received just a brief tour of Paihia, and then we hoisted anchor again and motored across the channel to Russell. I figured they could just relax while we, their crew, did all the work!

ice cream with Grandma in Paihia

Variable Oystercatcher ~ a recovering species

Russell waterfront

Russell was a fun place to be for New Year’s Eve. After getting diesel from the public landing, we anchored in Koroareka Bay and then spent the day walking the town. It was also my birthday, so there was a hunt for the perfect chocolate cake!

getting diesel in Russell

assisting with the fuel hose across the deck

Russell is home to New Zealand's oldest operating petrol station

Later in the day, we joined Elcie at the waterfront for appetizers and a few games of ultimate frisbee. It didn’t take long before we were red-faced and huffing and puffing.

Fireworks are displayed from a barge somewhere between Paihia and Russell. Therefore, from our anchorage spot, we had awesome “front row” seats for the spectacular show. Elcie came over to help celebrate my birthday, and then we ended the evening with fireworks at midnight.

Black Rocks & Moturoa Island

deciding squall tactics

Once everyone was ready to move on New Years Day morning, again we hoisted the hook for the continuing private tour of Bay of Islands. Mussel collecting was next on the agenda.

As we were navigating the Black Rocks area to get to our next anchorage, we began to experience a string of little mishaps. First, the iPad which we use at the helm for navigation had been sitting in the sun for too long. It overheated and turned itself off. Of course, the screen went blank just as were were trying to take a shortcut that we’d not taken before!

We had seen s/v Elcie go through this spot, so we knew it was possible. However, there was a rock covered with water somewhere in the middle, and now we didn’t have the chart to show us where. I wanted to go around to the path we knew, but Wil felt that we could continue through the shortcut. We proceeded slowly with Wil keeping an eye at the bow. I was at the helm with my dad at my side.

Suddenly, Wil was giving a repeated stop signal and yelling at me to go backwards. I got the boat into reverse at fast as I could, but it was too late. We could hear the scraping of rock under the keel. “We just hit a rock,” I stated in disbelief, looking at both my parents.

Fortunately, we were going slowly enough, so it was only a “soft” touch, and we slid along the side of the rock as we backed up. This was the first time we’d ever hit a rock, and of course, it had to be when my parents were onboard!

Once we were safely at anchor, Wil dove on the keel to make sure it okay. Other than some minor scratches, there was no damage. Whew!

navigating the Black Rocks area

getting ready to go collect mussels

dinghy ride to the mussels

We gathered our mussel collecting gear . . . wetsuits for some, booties and gloves for protection, and a netted bag and bucket for the mussels.

Mussels tend to be on rocks where water flows freely back and forth across them. This is usually on rocks amidst surgy waves. Therefore, my dad stayed with the dinghy while Wil, Justine and I swam to the mussel-covered rocks.

Wil prefers standing ontop of the rocks to gather the mussels, probably since he doesn’t wear a wetsuit. Justine and I prefer to collect the mussels from in the water. Our wetsuits protect us as the waves gently wash us on and off the rocks. To keep ourselves in position the best we can, we use our gloved hands to hang onto the mussels or seagrass. We are allowed as many as 50 mussels per person, but that’s more than enough for us. We only take enough for one meal, plus a little extra for freezing.

Next stop, Wairoa Bay for the night.

Wairoa Bay

anchorage at Wairoa Bay

Our time in Wairoa Bay was spent relaxing onboard, cleaning mussels, and enjoying another wonderful mussel meal. We did not even get off the boat once because we were enjoying our quality family time and admiring the beauty that surrounded us.

beautiful rocky shorelines

sunset at Wairoa Bay









A sea plane ended up being a bit of entertainment for us. We were anchored fairly close to the shore when a sea plane took off right across our bow, between us and the shore. The plane was close enough for us to see the expression on the pilot’s face!

is that a sea plane over there?


is that sea plane taking off toward us?




OMG!! The sea plane IS taking off toward us!!!!



sea plane safely in the air

Colin up the mast to remove Christmas lights







working in the rigging




Tall Ship Breeze


Across the Bay of Islands, tall ships were starting to make an appearance. Every year in New Zealand, the town of Russell is home to a tall ships race that it also open to other classes of boats. While we couldn’t be there to see it, s/v Elcie sailed in the race and won! The race is followed by a traditional Hangi meal and dancing.

Spirit of New Zealand tall ship ~ a learning program for teenagers



The Spirit of New Zealand

While there was a lot more to see and do in the Bay of Islands, our time was limited, and the wind was in our favor to start a trek south toward Auckland. The next day we would sail out of the Bay of Islands to see what other parts of New Zealand had in store for us.

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