I went off with an old friend, Tom, for 10 days touring around NZ in a camper van,
while Trevor went off on his first hitch to Siberia, drilling for oil. This was a wonderful introduction to a new country. We only went around N Island, of course, in the time allowed, but the variety was amazing. From the Pohutakawas, islands and lush bush of Northland,
the forests and vineyards further south
and over to the east coast, where we saw dreadful damage from deforestation and over-grazing.
Back on Iron Bark, across the way from Russell, in the Bay of Islands, I got on with some jobs before heading down to Nelson, to see some old sailing friends, Katie and Maurice (Nanook of the North) who now live ashore there. Our friends Judy and Henry, from Cape Breton, were visiting and I wanted to see them while I had the chance. Judy was recovering from a bout with cancer and looked really well when we met. She and Henry had been off tramping and were looking wonderfully fit, but a few months later, we heard that she has had to start fighting it all over again – this time in her lungs. She has lost all her beautiful hair from chemotherapy treatment, but if anyone can knock cancer on the head, Judy can.
Just before I went down, I heard that my brother-in-law (Trevor’s sister’s husband) had been diagnosed with a massive brain tumour and was about to be operated on, so I went straight from Nelson to Perth, having first to obtain a visa to enter Oz. Trevor had just finished his month in Siberia and arrived in Perth a day after the operation. Joan was very happy to have us both there – not only for moral support, but because she’s been wanting me to see Perth/Fremantle and meet some of the family. The operation was a complete success, but as Joan holds down an extremely high-powered job and Michael generally does much of the cooking and housework, I stayed there as cook/housekeeper until Michael was up and about again – an astonishingly rapid process.
Trevor’s mother suffers from senile dementia and is in a nursing home, but it was a joy to go and meet her, because she is such a happy and pleasant person. Most of the time, she is far away in her own little world. She vaguely knows who Trevor is, but looks at me with polite incomprehension, probably wondering what the hell I'm hanging around for!
Living in suburban Cottesloe, at first I gained no real impression of Oz, although it was pretty amazing having gaudy lorikeets and huge parrots flying around the house. However, after Michael came back from hospital, Joan took a week off work and Trevor and I got away for a few days’ camping. The SW corner of WA was lovely, full of forest and birds. In the wheat belt, closer to Perth, the countryside looked incredibly dry to me, almost like a desert.
I arrived back in a torrential rain, which continued for the rest of the night and the following day. I woke up to find the dinghy had filled with rain and capsized. I managed to right it and bale it out and went below to dry off and have a hot drink. When I looked out again, it was almost full, so I baled it once more. After the third time, I decided to bring Lisa on board, but by the time I’d got the lines attached (and re-attached having made a muddle) she was half full again. I hauled her aboard, removed the drainage plug and shifted her onto her chocks. All the surrounding boats had capsized dinghies and dinghies awash a few hours later, so I was very glad that I’d made the effort. I have never seen rain like it – even in the Tropics. It wasn’t just the intensity, but also the fact that it didn’t stop!! Ashore, there was a huge amount of damage, with floods and landslides. One of those occasions when it’s definitely better to be living on a boat! Generally, however, Autumn in North Island was lovely and we had warm, sunny days. I found plenty to do while Trevor was away, and was very happy to have my friends Cathy and Peter on Leto anchored right next to me. One of the reasons that I wanted to be based in the Bay of Islands, was to be able to spend time with Cathy. Peter has Kiwi citizenship and Cathy finally received hers the other day. I’m sure that Trevor and I will end up based in either New Zealand or Oz, and it was lovely to be able to spend time with friends (Katie and Cathy) knowing that I will see them again, many times in the future. One of the hardest things about the cruising life is saying good-bye to people and I’ve done it too often in Britain, South Africa and Canada – all places that I will probably visit very rarely, if ever again, in the future. It’s good to have friends based here, although Cathy and Peter are still planning long cruises and it may be some years before our tacks cross again.
I took another trip down to Nelson, this time to stay a little longer with Katie and Maurice. It was wonderful to spend time with them in their lovely house and to get to know Nelson. We did some tramping together (as we call walking in New Zealand), had lots of interesting conversations, pillaged the second-hand book fair and generally enjoyed catching up. I left with the determination that Trevor and I would fit in a visit to Nelson before going off to Oz.
Poor Trevor was working month and month about, which meant that when travelling was included, he didn’t have much time at home, but in early September, he came back from Siberia for the last time. No more work, he said. Good, sez I, because all this working business sure gets in the way of doing more interesting things. Needless to say, about a fortnight before he retired for good, he was given a substantial pay rise!! As he is paid in US dollars, he was actually earning far less this year than when we first met and the extra money would have been appreciated. But that’s how life goes. There are compensations with a bit more money: we hired a car for a few days and had a look round N Island and we ordered a new mainsail and jib for Iron Bark.
We’d have liked to buy these from our friend Patrick Selman, down in Falmouth, (UK), who has already made a staysail and topsail for Iron Bark. However, with Trevor’s money being in US dollars plus the cost of shipping them out to New Zealand, they were going to be too expensive, so we asked Lee Sails in Hong Kong for a price. They would make them in the Bainbridge cloth that we wanted (it has very little filler and is in an attractive shade of off white) for about two-thirds of anyone else’s quotes, so they got the job.
Not long after Trevor came back, we went off with Cathy and Peter for a tramp – the first major one for me. It was the Cape Brett Track and consisted of 22 fairly gruelling km over very hilly terrain. It had rained only that day, the track was very muddy and slippery in places, and as some of the hills were very steep, it was often hard going. The final part of the track was a scramble down to sea level and then a climb straight up the other side to over 150 m, which seemed an awful lot at the end of a hard day. Then we had to cross two very narrow ridges where the breeze threatened to blow us off, before going down past the lighthouse to the Dept of Conservation hut. This is one of the old lighthouse keeper’s cottages and they must have been fit people, because it was only just above sea level. It was a real relief to sit down, and even more of a relief to find that we had the hut entirely to ourselves.
We spent the next day there, recovering from our labours. It was the first real walk any of us had done in a long time and as it was Grade 4 – the toughest – we didn’t feel too bad about taking a day off before heading back. It was great to loll around in the spring sunshine and enjoy being together. For me it was quite a thrill, because although I’ve done a lot of day tramps, this was the first time I’d taken a backpack full of kit and spent a night on the track. I was hooked. Coming back was a lot easier – not in the least because the hard climb back to the top of Cape Brett came first!
Trevor and I wanted to get down to the Great Barrier Island area, particularly to an island called Tiri Tiri Matangi, where DOC and numerous volunteers have done a fantastic job of clearing all the introduced mammals and then replanting the island with native bush. It had previously become almost totally denuded due to sheep grazing and with no bush and introduced predators, most of the birds had disappeared, too. Now the bush is alive with birdsong, with such endangered birds as stichbirds and saddlebacks almost landing on your feet. Little blue penguins breed on the beach alongside the walkway, and you can lift the lid off and peek into the burrow where the parent bird sits patiently on its egg. Most exciting of all is being able to see the Takahe – a seriously endangered bird, that was thought extinct until 1948, when about 250 were discovered on South Island. There was great excitement about this, but by 1981 their numbers were halved, largely due to stoats killing the chicks and deer eating the tussock grass on which Takahe depend. During the 80’s a great deal was done to help the poor birds, including a captive breeding programme and introducing small populations to predator free islands, such as Tiri. There are now quite a few there, quite unfazed by being approached by camera wielding humans – and why not? Since it became a reserve, no-one has ever harassed a bird on this little paradise.
From Tiri, we sailed across to Great Barrier, delighted to see Leto at anchor just around the corner. Although Great Barrier has Kiore (Pacific rats), ship rats and cats, there are no stoats, weasels, ferrets or possums to prey on the birds. Many of the indigenous species are locally extinct, but the sweet little brown teal and wonderful, noisy kakas (a parrot) are there in abundance. The bush is glorious, in spite of heavy
Because Trevor was going to be away in Siberia, one of our ‘indulgences’ has been a cell phone. Like many technological wonders, it is something of a mixed blessing and in this case I cursed it quietly when it rang with the news that our sails had arrived in Russell. Two sails take up a large amount of room and we knew we would not be popular if we didn’t go and fetch them quickly, so we had to abandon any ideas of more exploring in the area, say goodbye to Cathy and Peter and head back north.
We picked up the sails and bent them on, very happy with the workmanship and appearance. We tried them out in good and earnest a few days later, when we sailed around North Cape down to Nelson, at the N end of South Island. One doesn’t expect to get good weather in early October, but we were a bit put out to get a gale on the nose. I felt sorry for our new sails – a baptism by fire – and we were more than happy to sail between the sheltering arms of Abel Tasman Bay and come to anchor in the perfect shelter of The Anchorage. Next day we sailed across to the marina and tied alongside. I desperately wanted Trevor to meet Maurice and the other people I had come to know in Nelson and was looking forward to spending more time with Katie and Maurice, but the marina is horribly expensive and takes the edge off our pleasure. Unfortunately, there is no real alternative, especially if you want to be able to go off and leave the boat.