Friday, 24 February 2017

Four Bars

Maureen catches an early lead in the race down
the mighty steps of Mt. Hobson.

We have been almost a week at Great Barrier Island now. Tomorrow we will make the move toward Kawau Island – we have had many reports that this is a great place to visit and no reason to doubt the veracity of that information.

It is late now – I had been lying awake thinking about some of the events over these past few days and thought I should try to capture some of the feeling of the place.

I suppose calling anything that has happened over the past few days an ‘event’ overstates the case a bit…

It is impressively dark night tonight. We are nearly at the new moon and there is no other light except masthead anchor lights of the 6 or 10 boats moored across the bay. It is black enough that these lights are easily confused with stars. Some folks might say that the anchor lights, and the presence of the other boats in such an otherwise secluded setting, spoils the effect? That is not our experience.

We are anchored in Kiarara Bay tucked between Great Barrier Island on one side and Kiakora Island on the other. The close harbour gives the impression of being on a lake, in the middle of the ocean. Surrounding us on all sides are the remnants of an ancient Kauri forest. To be fair -- you pretty much have to imagine the kauri as they are all gone now – at least the 1000 year old trees that were in such favour across the planet 200 years ago. Great Barrier today is a different place. Much of the island is managed by Auckland council as parkland, and considerable efforts are evident to control invasives and re-establish the Kauri forest – that takes time.

We didn’t intend to stay here quite so long but we have found each morning that there really was no good reason to leave.

Each morning my day starts in front of the computer looking after e-mail: “Doug there is a broken bottle in the parking lot”, “Doug the bathroom light on the second floor is not working”, “Doug, we have no hot water on the fourth floor”. Although we are located in the opposite hemisphere -- it is an enduring miracle of the modern world that I am able to respond to and manage affairs 12,000 km away just as if I was sitting in my office at home. At least I can do this as long as I have Internet access and one of the great joys of Great Barrier Island is looking at my phone and seeing four bars of beautiful Vodaphone cellular coverage!

Another great thing about NZ generally, and Great Barrier specifically is the tramping. We have walked all over Great Barrier and Kiakora Island in the last few days. The best of these tramps was the walk up to Mt. Hobson. From this highest point you can see Auckland in the west -- and Tahiti to the east – (on a clear day.)

So we got up early the other day and packed a lunch and headed to shore in the dinghy to the trailhead (I guess they would call it a ‘tramphead’?). As we motored in there was another dinghy heading in the same direction. We have a 9.9hp outboard and they had a 3.5hp so we handily won the first leg -- getting to the beach first. The second leg went to the Kiwi team as they flipped down their dinghy wheels and smartly pulled themselves above the high tide mark. We were a little longer removing our 235 kg. four stroke monster off the back of the dinghy and walking it up the beach separately. I know you are thinking “why don’t you have dinghy wheels”? (ask me about that later…)

The walk up to Mt Hobson is only about 5.6 km and less than half of that is vertical. But it is an impressive piece of infrastructure. It includes boardwalk sections built to protect nesting habitat and these are beautifully crafted. Long sections three or four hundred metres constructed dead level and with beautifully cut graceful curves winding through the trees. In my mind -- I was comparing it to the decrepit condition of our West Coast Trail and thinking – score another one for the kiwis.

Anyway with a supreme effort Team Canada did catch the kiwis further up the trail (they were resting and sipping tea -- have I mentioned yet that they looked to be in their 70s?). We all arrived at the lookout at lunchtime and had a nice visit – everyone appreciating the natural splendor.

On the way down Team Canada wisely took a headstart and began to work our way down the 1,479 steps while the kiwis were finishing their mid-day meal. At about the ½ point we had noticed a pool on the nearly river with a nice cascade of water flowing over – too good to pass up on a hot afternoon.

It was perhaps a bit cheeky but without a change of clothes we would have to make a furtive dip as the only downside of our private swimming hole was that there is a commanding overlook from the bridge. No damage done -- we were back on the trail, fully clothed, and ready to make our final descent when the kiwis arrived. Only the briefest “so you had a swim” to betray our indiscretion.

Back at the dinghy, I was waiting for the late arrival of the other half of Team Canada, watching a family pull up to the beach with their two little girls each with life jackets and matching Benetton sun hats. I said hello and with that two word intro they responded “you must be from the Canadian boat”

How did they know that?

We visited. They have been cruising with their young family for a few years now having started in Europe. We agreed to find a time to share stories because that have just spent a season in French Polynesia (where we are headed) and we have an excellent set of waypoints for Fiji (where they are heading).

By now it was mid afternoon and we headed back to the boat. On our way by Team Kiwi called out “come over for a drink at five?” “Sure.” I tell the story this way because when we did come over for sundowners aboard Windlied, the first order of business was to exchange names. I still find it to be a wonderful feature of the cruising life that it is normal to strike up a conversation and a friendship over the course of just a few minutes without even knowing the person’s name. We had a great few hours on Windlied and learned a bit about John and Barbara’s life in NZ about their three adult children, their grandchildren, their life as market gardeners, about the outsized impacts of Chinese investment on real estate prices in NZ, about the impacts on agriculture, about books and about movies.

We must have talked about fishing too because although Windleid left early this morning we had a ‘woo-hoo’ over the side of the boat about mid day and when I jumped up to see what the ruckus was about they were ghosting by close to the boat and Barbara was holding out small bag of fresh Snapper fillets at the end of the boathook -- and just enough time to reach out and grab it. I find this kindness touching because it was so utterly unexpected. Wherever they had been fishing, it was certainly out of their way to come back into this bay here to see us. There is no expectation of a return favour, or even seeing one another again. We don’t have a surname or any real ongoing point of connection -- just that memory of them ghosting by – delivering a gift.

At almost the same moment we had a dinghy on the other side of the boat which was the family I had mentioned above. They were heading to the beach so that the girls could play and invited us to come ashore and trade cruising insights. We spent 3 hours they them this afternoon while the girls played in sand and water without a peep. It was fun.

Thinking about all of that, and all the stars in the sky tonight, I have a soft spot for those ½ dozen masthead lights and the kindness and shared experience they represent. We will leave in the morning and never know who we might have missed here if we had stayed a little longer.


  1. So so good Doug . As they say in cyber space, "thanks for sharing"! As we have only just returned yesterday from NZ , I can say , "I feel the love, mate".

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