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Our next guest was Richard, here for a return visit from Florida. He arrived at Auckland airport on Jan 3, where we had a shuttle meet him, take him to our car (we bought a car last year as its less expensive than renting one long term), and give him the keys so that after a 26 hour trip he could jump in and drive 4 hours on the wrong side of the road! He met us in Opua in the Bay of Islands. The boat was clean and freshly provisioned so we set off for nearby Robertson Island. There we had a chance to climb on some rocks and go for a short hike to a beautiful lookout. The highlight was a sighting of kiwi birds - very endangered and rare to see in the wild, especially since they are nocturnal. It wasn't dark, but it was late afternoon and there they were! We all got a good look and a photo which clearly shows the leaves and branches around where they were!
The weather forecast was good, so it was off to the Cavalli Islands where we were greeted by the most fantastic dolphin show. A huge pod of dolphins was playing in the Cavalli Pass. The escorted us to our anchorage, playing in the bow wake, jumping, flipping, and even smiling at us. There were dozens of them and they stayed in the bay for nearly an hour. After anchoring we jumped in the dinghy for a closer look and were not disappointed as the show continued. Over the next several days we enjoyed fine weather as we explored the islands by land and by sea. We hiked across the biggest island and explored a couple of the smaller one which don't have hiking trails, so you have to make your own. Bradley continued his spear fishing success so we ate well.
The weather was forecast to take a turn for the worse, with strong winds developing. The Cavalli's is not the place to be in those conditions, so we headed back to Opua on Jan 8. There we caught up with Alan and Diana, friends of a friend of mine from Virginia who had put us in touch by email. Alan, Richard, and I went out for a round of golf at the KeriKeri golf club, followed by drinks at their house. It's always fun to make new friends! We also spent a rainy, windy day shopping in Paihia, where we saw a large platter made of ancient Kauri wood that we really liked. It would be perfect for our house in Virginia. Kauri is a native tree and about 40,000 years ago a bunch of it was covered by a huge swamp and was perfectly preserved. Now it is used to make wood products like bowls, and artwork. The platter we liked was made by a local artist, Alby Hall, who has a studio at the Kauri Kingdom factory, about an hours drive north. We decided to visit there on a future date.
The winds were abating, so on Jan 11 we set off for nearby Parekura Bay where we found a nice anchorage. We set off to hike to the old Whangamumu Whaling Station, a walk of about 3 hours round trip. We started on a road, continued through a sheep pasture, climbed through dense forest, descended down grassy knolls to a beach, to the final leg, a climb over rocks to the ruins of the whaling station. In the late 1800's and early 1900's. whaling was a big industry here. Not much remains of the old station, but there is enough, combined with the helpful diagrams and signs, to understand how the whole operation worked. After our return and a brief siesta, Bradley and I set off for a hunting expedition and returned with fish and mussels for a great dinner. Jan 13 was a rainy day, but that didn't stop us. Richard and I set off for a walk along the gravel road towards nearby Rawhiti. Wrapped up in our rain gear, we enjoyed the occasional heavy downpours. We found a fabulous local trail and explored the local war memorial and Maori cemetery. We climbed to enjoy some spectacular views and saw an incredible house being built.
On Jan 14 we moved a couple miles to Urapukapuka Island, where we enjoyed an incredible hike. The sun was out, visibility was great, and the scenery was fabulous. We worked up quite an appetite and decided that scallops would be just the thing for dinner. Bradley and I assembled our dive gear and we dinghyed to the scallop site. Forty five minutes later, we surfaced with enough good sized scallops for a nice feast. Since we caught them (well, you don't really have to catch them, you just have to find them and pick them up!), Richard got the job of cleaning them. We had a seafood chowder made of leftover fish and mussels, and the fresh scallops. A great dinner!
On the 15th, we had an appointment at the Ancient Kauri Kingdom in Awanui, about an hour and half drive north from Opua. There we toured the factory, met two of the artists, and saw many amazing and beautiful wood pieces. We looked at several variations of the platter we liked and settled on the one we liked best. Richard also had a great time shopping for gifts and admiring the wood. From Awanui, it is a short drive to 90-Mile-Beach, a very long stretch of beach leading to Cape Reinga, the northernmost point of the north island. Here we had a chance to be good samaritans. Upon arrival, a young man had locked his keys in his car and had no idea what to do. Fortunately, it was an older car without today's modern security systems, so with a wire coat hangar borrowed from a nearby house, Bradley soon had his door open. Much of the beach is hard packed sand and vehicles can drive on it. We had opted not to do that because our car is not 4-wheel drive and there is always the danger of getting stuck in the softer sand. So we parked and walked to the beach where we immediately encountered a couple whose car was mired deep in soft sand. We assembled a rescue party and soon had them freed. Then we walked for an hour along the beautiful, white sand beach. Nothing in either direction but beach! And very few people! It's not really 90 miles long - I think it's actually 60 kilometers which would make it a mere 36 miles, but it's still a LOT of beach! It's also the only FLAT walk we've done in NZ! Upon our return, we encountered yet another stuck car, which we soon had unstuck. I think we could have made a day out of helping people!
The weather looked good again so we sailed back to the Cavallis where Bradley and I made our first attempt at diving for crays (lobsters, but without the claws). It took awhile to find a lobster - they live in cracks in the rocks and you have to look for their antenna sticking out. Finally we found one - then all that remained was to catch it! Bradley has a lobster catcher - sort of a lasso on a stick. The idea is that the lasso opens up, you put it around the lobster, then tighten it and - voila - dinner! Seems the lobster had other ideas. We had no idea how fast a lobster can move. At the first attempt he was out of his hole and in the open water with Bradley hot on his tail. Bradley would succeed in getting the noose around him but just before it tightened the lobster would shoot out. Finally, after several attempts, the noose tightened and he was ours! He was a mighty tasty addition to the night's dinner.
Next it was off to Stephenson Island. Along the way we had the fishing line out the back and we had a strike. Richard had the task of bringing the fish in and soon he had landed a nice skipjack tuna! As we got the tuna aboard, Richard was putting the fishing line back out when it immediately got another strike! Another tuna! Richard seemed to have the magic touch. He claims these were the first two fish he's ever caught in his life! On Stephenson Island we enjoyed another great hike and Bradley and I continued our lobster hunting with great success. This trip yielded three large fellows including one who was caught, but then briefly got away as we were transferring him from the noose to the carrying bag. He shot away from Bradley right towards me, so I just stuck out my hand and grabbed him, thankful that they don't have claws! Soon he was in the bag and hours later, they were in a pot.
On Jan 21, we decided to head north to explore some areas we had not been to before. The forecast looked favorable, but as we set sail it became clear the wind was not going to cooperate. After two hours of trying to head north, we gave up and decided to go south to Oke Bay. Richard caught another fish and we hooked two others that got away. The sail to Oke Bay was smooth and by evening we were quietly at anchor. On Monday, we planned to do the long hike to the Cape Brett lighthouse. The plan was for Richard and me to depart from Oke Bay, estimating it would take 4-5 hours to reach Cape Brett. Bradley would then go by dinghy to Deep Water Cove, which is a 1 1/2 hour hike to the lighthouse. Then we would all return to Deep Water Cove. All went according to plan - Richard and I arrived after 4 1/2 hours to find that Bradley had already reached the lighthouse and was returning. We agreed that he would go collect some mussels for dinner, then come back to pick us up at Deep Water Cove in 3 hours, leaving us time for a nice rest at Cape Brett before the return hike. When we reached Deep Water Cove, Bradley was there, but we soon learned he had never left as the starting mechanism for the dinghy had fallen apart (it has a rope pull starter). There was a sailboat in the anchorage and they had worked on the dinghy trying to get it started for a couple hours with no luck. Fortunately, they were heading for Oke Bay, so upon our arrival, we boarded their boat and they towed our dinghy back to Shear Madness. Richard, who used to work on lawnmowers, and Bradley took everything apart and were successful in getting the starting mechanism fixed. That meant that instead of an immediate return to Opua, we could stay for some more mussel collecting and spear fishing!
On Jan 24, we returned to Opua where Bay of Islands Race week was in full swing. On the way, we were able to see some good sailboat racing with dozens of boats competing. Some of our friends from Auckland were crewing on various boats so we found them and shouted some encouragement.
Richard's time aboard had come to an end. He would take the bus to Auckland where he would spend a day seeing the sights before heading to the airport for his return trip. As we would learn soon, his return trip sounded just like Betty's - late plane, missed connection, a hotel in LA, booking problems, and an arrival home 24 hours late!