Someone once told me that you can’t start a new adventure unless you bring the current one to an end. Sure sounds reasonable and practical but in reality, ending a remarkable adventure that’s been filled with stunning places and some of the nicest people on earth is a whole lot easier said than done. Over the past few weeks we’ve literally been drowning in goodbyes as we end our New Zealand adventure and prepare to cast off our lines and make our way north toward Fiji.
You see, it was never our plan to spend three years here. When we arrived in November of 2018 after crossing from Mexico we planned to spend six months and then move on to Fiji and Australia. As it turns out we had purchased a car while we were here and we didn’t get it sold before we left so we decided since we really like this place we’d come back for one more season.
After six months in Tonga and Fiji in 2019 we arrived back in New Zealand in November of that year with the same plan….just six months and then we were definitely moving on. Then, in March of 2020 the world turned upside down. The “Vid” hit and we were locked within New Zealand’s borders. Well, actually, we could have flown back home but the New Zealand government would not have let us back in to get our floating home. We know more than a few cruisers who ended up in that very boat and we just weren’t sailing down that waterway.
The good news is that by being “Covid Hostages” as our dear friend Allan calls us, we got the opportunity to experience so much more of this incredible country than we ever could have had we followed our original plan. Of course, like everyone else in the world, we experienced lockdowns that prevented us from doing things for a few months but because of their overly strict policies we also were released from lockdowns pretty quickly compared to the rest of the world. That allowed us the opportunity to travel the country rather freely in 2020 and 2021.
One If By Land
Our travels throughout this marvelous country started with road trips. Some were just simply “day trips to nowhere” in which we had absolutely no set destination so we’d just get in the car and drive. For a time I was on a waterfall hunt. We’d seek out the best waterfalls and hikes around so I could photograph them. Then it was the flora and fauna and then it was museums. Honestly, I think we’ve seen more of the land, parks and museums in this country than most Kiwis who were born and raised here ever will. (Note: We’re working on a coffee table book full of photographs from these incredible journeys so stay tuned.)
Other trips were thoroughly planned and much longer. This included a three week trip from Whangarei on North Island down to Queenstown on the southern part of South Island and back. It was a whirlwind adventure with great friends who flew in from the States in 2019. In three weeks we got to see everything from beautiful beaches to farmland to the Southern Alps and more. We also took a fabulous two week driving trip from Tauranga up to the Coromandel Peninsula then south to Taupo and then up to Tauranga again.
And, we loved Queenstown so much that when the initial lockdowns ended in 2020 we flew down with our friends, Lutz & Gabi, of SV SuAn to spend some time enjoying a little winter weather for a change. Of course we found out that what we always believed was true….snow is beautiful to look at but we are warm weather animals.
Two If By Sea
As for sailing, we’ve didn’t do a whole lot of that here. You see, like many who sail here we had boat projects and maintenance in mind. By the time we sailed from Mexico to New Zealand we all had a few items to deal with such as bottom paint, replacing broken parts etc… And, New Zealand is known for her excellent marine industry filled with great tradespeople. There’s also the fact that by the time we got here we were ready to fly home to visit our families we hadn’t seen in close to a year.
We flew home twice. Both times were in February which, ironically, is the warmest and most beautiful month of the year. That being the case we sort of missed out on the good sailing times but nothing beats going home to visit with family and friends so it was worth it.
We did manage to get in some sailing in 2021 when we circumnavigated North Island. We spent a few weeks in the Bay of Islands as we headed up the east coast. Now, I’m sure there are cruisers who will curse me for saying this but honestly, the Bay of Islands really wasn’t all that wonderful in our opinion. In fact, we found it quite overcrowded with a good bit of crime.
One afternoon we actually sat at a restaurant in Russell and watched as two men started looking over our tender and messing with the fuel tank to see if they could easily get it out. Imagine their surprise when we showed up on the dock.
If you’re going to travel in this area be sure to keep your things locked up and always use a lock and chain to secure your tender at the docks. And yes, we did report this to the local police and provided a photograph to them. Seems dingy thefts are pretty common in the Bay of Islands.
But it wasn’t just the criminal element and the overcrowding, we just didn’t feel like it was all that spectacular. Don’t get me wrong. It is beautiful and if you want to hike mountains then I’m sure you’ll love it there but for us, we prefer fishing and snorkeling. We did get in some great fishing but swimming there….no way! First of all, at an average of 20°C (68° F) in the summer, the water was far too cold for us and secondly, we pulled into bays where there were dozens of Bronzie (aka Copper) sharks swimming around the boat because the tourist boats come into the bays and feed them. So, needless to say the Bay of Islands just wasn’t our cup of tea.
The absolute most beautiful sailing we did was once we arrived in Marlborough Sounds. I can’t even begin to tell you how spectacular it was in the sounds. It was so completely remote that it was easy to feel like we were sailors of old exploring new and uncharted territory. We’re actually quite surprised that so few international cruisers make the trip. Yes, the trip down the west coast of North Island can seem daunting but for us it was a breeze. And, as far as we’re concerned, sailing Marlborough Sounds is “the best sailing experience” in New Zealand.
Those Amazing Kiwis
Yes, there’s astounding beauty to be found here but none of it comes close to being as special and wonderful as the Kiwi people themselves. It’s nearly impossible to explain the incredible hearts and spirits these people possess. Living here has been like living in the USA forty years ago. The people are kind and welcoming and would do just about anything to help a stranger.
Coming from the chaotic and often hostile world of the west it was actually a bit unsettling until we got used to it. I mean, when’s the last time you went into a store looking for something but they were out of it so the store clerk got on the phone and called their competitor to see if they could help you? And that’s not a once in a while thing, it’s a regular occurrence here.
When you drop off a part for repair or even clothing to be altered it’s actually quite uncommon for them not to give you a claim check. In fact, we’ve seen them write our phone number on the back of some scratch paper and put it in their pocket as they walk away with our alternator or other parts saying, “Don’t worry Mate, I’ll have that back to you in a few days.” That was truly disconcerting at first. But, never once did we have an issue. It’s just how they do business. You know, the old fashioned way.
Aside from the great experiences we’ve had with businesses we’ve found that getting to know the locals on a more personal level made our experience here simply magical. Of course we always lean toward spending time with the locals rather than the other cruisers. After all, if we wanted to hang out on boats with cruisers we could do that without ever leaving the US. For us our travel is about being fully immersed in the culture and community. To that end, we make a concerted effort to get to know as many locals as we can.
Drowning in Goodbyes
When you live the gypsy lifestyle you find that the best part is seeing new things and meeting new people. The worst part is when you have to say, “Goodbye”. Most of the time it’s a bit easier because we’re in a place for such a short time that we really don’t get a chance to know people very well. This time, however, we’ve been here for three years and we have had to say our goodbyes to people who have become like family.
In preparation to leave we’ve found ourselves making our way around town saying goodbye to so many friends. There’s the team at Jimmy Jacks, the place where we get the steak on a hot stone. We barely missed a week without stopping in for dinner. Then there’s Mike, Lauren and the crew at Roost. It’s a relatively new restaurant in Whangarei that serves American style fried chicken and we love it. Mike and Lauren became fast friends.
Of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention our dear friends Allan and Joan of Wynn Frasier Paints or Chuck and Lauri on SV Free Spirit or Ian and Rachael of SV Gypsy Lane. And there’s Jemma at Loco Tapas Bar in the Quay. And still there’s the crew at White Cross who have taken such good care of us while we’ve been living here. Yes, it seems everywhere we go there’s someone else we have to say our goodbyes to and it’s really taking its toll on us…especially me. I’m just not good at goodbyes.
A Party For Us?
I guess you know you’ve become part of the community when the locals actually throw a going away party for you. Yes, our wonderful friends at Frings arranged a fabulous afternoon get together in our honor.
Frings is a pub that sits across the street from the marina. It’s not typically a pub where you’ll find most cruisers but then, we aren’t most cruisers. From the first day we wandered in for a cold beer we were welcomed by these kind and generous locals. Dave was our first Frings friend. We hit it off instantly as he and Dan began busting on each other and cracking jokes. Because of Dave we came back again and again and each time we met more and more people.
All of these great people have such warm hearts and we will truly miss them. Thirty or more people turned out for the event and they even prepared some homestyle Kiwi cooking for us. Who would have believed when we stopped in there on a sunny day three years ago that we’d end up with such great friends? I cannot lie….as we walked away that afternoon tears streamed down my face. These fine folks have become a part of our daily lives. Saying goodbye to them was one of the hardest things we’ve done.
In addition to all of the locals who have become friends, there is our incredibly special Kiwi family that took us in like shelter mutts and gave us a home base…a place to get off the boat from time to time, a place to spend the holidays and most importantly the love of a wonderful family. Sean and Donna and their family truly went above and beyond to make us feel loved and welcome. Saying goodbye to them was another tearful experience.
The Final Goodbyes
Leaving the dock to head down to Marsden Cove Marina to begin looking for the right weather window presented us with yet another tearful goodbye. You see, our dear friends and dock mates, Tony and Nicky of SV Omarsea were always right there to help with the lines, chat or just smile and wave as we walked by. If Tony was on their boat when we came or left the dock he was always there to grab a line for us. He and Dan spent untold hours cussing and discussing boat projects. We always enjoyed spending time chatting with them and sipping a cool beverage whether it was in their cockpit or ours. They most definitely are two of the finest neighbors we could have ever had. It’s an honor to call them our friends.
But, the most tearful and distressing goodbye we had to say was to our very dear friends Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn. We met in Mexico in 2018 and have sailed together in French Polynesia, Niue, Tonga, Fiji and New Zealand. We’ve spent holidays together and celebrated birthdays together. They were even there the night Dan proposed to me in Havelock during our time sailing in Marlborough Sounds last year.
Lutz and Gabi aren’t just friends….they truly have become cherished family. But, as things happen they are now headed to Indonesia and we are headed west to Australia. Saying goodbye to them means we will likely never see them again in this life. Oh how I dreaded the day. We were already at Marsden Cove Marina awaiting our weather window so we rented a car to go back in to Whangarei for some final provisioning and one last afternoon with the two people who have made our South Pacific cruising so much more enjoyable.
We weren’t even in the car five minutes when the tears started welling up in my eyes. I did my best to keep it under control because I knew if I didn’t I would never make it through the day. We picked up our dear friends and took them to do a little provisioning then headed out for one last pizza at Parua Bay Tavern. We had the most enjoyable afternoon chatting about old times, talking about each of our future plans, laughing and just being together.
Of course, as I said when I started this article…. “You can’t start a new adventure if you don’t end the one you’re on” and our new adventures are going in opposite directions. As we neared the boatyard where they have their boat you could feel a distinct feeling of melancholy wafting through the air. The conversation slowed and the feelings took over. By the time we reached the gate I was fighting back the tears. I got out of the car and when Lutz wrapped his arms around me the floodgates opened and Niagra Falls poured down my cheeks onto his shoulders.
I may have been the only one actually crying but everyone’s eyes were misty and the mood was solemn. We tried to lighten it with laughter and the thought that just maybe we’d meet up again in this crazy world but we all felt it….the stinging sadness of goodbye. There were many hugs and we took one last selfie of the four of us together before we got in the car. The last image in my mind of these amazing friends was them standing at the gate smiling and waving.
This was the last big goodbye here in New Zealand. Thank the Lord! I just don’t think I can handle another one. No, I’m ready for some cheerful bulas, halos and g’days in Fiji, Vanuatu and Australia. I’m ready to see the joyful, welcoming faces of the islanders as we sail into an anchorage. Yes, it’s time to say goodbye to goodbyes for a while….it’s time for hellos!
Until next time,