As we said in the last article it is quite a bit colder here than where we’ve been spending our days as of late. But, if you are going to be in the cold weather you might as well embrace it and get out to see the spectacular winter scenery. Over the first few days of our trip here to Queenstown we took some beautiful drives and saw some absolutely dazzling places.
The first morning we awoke to some truly stunning scenery at our perfect little Air BnB. The clouds were low in the valley over Lake Wakatipu as the sun was coming up. There was still ice and frost on the grass from the days of snow they had before we arrived. My feet nearly froze to the large stone outside as I ran out barefoot to snap a few photos. Yes, it was pretty chilly but it was also truly impressive. We all enjoyed the picturesque views from the dining room window as we ate breakfast and planned our days ahead.
One day we took a drive up to Coronet Peak. It’s one of the ski areas here. The 17 km drive from town is quite scenic as the roads twist and turn through the mountains. We reached the bottom of the mountain to find signs there indicating whether or not you could drive up to the ski lodge and if you needed chains. All looked good for us to make it all the way to the top without the need to stop in one of the designated parking areas. Of course there were definitely some icy spots along the way where the sun had not reached the road. I’m no sissy when it comes to this stuff but I will admit that I held my breath a few times as I felt the tires slide on the ice while I looked over the side of the mountain. Dan obviously drove it like he’d done it his entire life so there really wasn’t much to be afraid of in all reality.
We reached the top and were rewarded with some spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the valley below. The air was crisp and clear as a bell so you could literally see for miles. The slopes were not open yet for the season. They would not be opening for a few more days so we virtually had the area all to ourselves. Lutz & Gabi were planning to go skiing one day so they checked out the lodge and slopes while we took some incredible photos of the area. We aren’t much for the freezing cold but it was a bit fun to play in some snow and act like kids for a bit.
After enjoying the views we headed back toward town where we were hoping to find a bite to eat. We stopped at the Shotover River along the way for a little side adventure. There is a restaurant there but since ski season isn’t officially open they weren’t either. Shotover is a 75 km long river that runs from the southern end of the Southern Alps through to Queenstown. Being fed from the Alps and their glaciers, this water here is a beautiful color of pale turquoise. This is a fast moving river with lots of rapids and is used for whitewater rafting, jet boat tours and more. Since we arrived in town just before the “season” opened we had the opportunity to see it without the crowds. It’s simply spectacular!
After our little side adventure we headed into town to eat. We ended up at my favorite Irish pub, Póg Mahone’s. It’s such a quaint little place with a stone fireplace and lots of dark wood. When we were here last year the bartender told us that the entire bar had been shipped here from Ireland. It’s truly beautiful. And, they have the absolute best Beef & Guinness Pie I’ve ever had so I, of course, had that while the rest of the crew had ribs. We enjoyed our afternoon in the warm pub as we imbibed in some frosty beers and feasted upon their brilliant meals. All the while we chatted about the events of the day as we began planning for the next. There truly is nothing like great adventures with awesome friends…even if it is a bit chilly outside.
New Zealand is at Covid Level One and we can now move about the country freely. With the whole Covid thing keeping foreign tourists from visiting the Kiwis are doing everything they can to encourage domestic tourism which means low prices and huge discounts on everything from airfare to accommodations. So we, along with our dear friends Lutz & Gabi of SV SuAn, decided to take advantage of this time and make a ten day trip to Queenstown on the South Island.
As usual I was put in charge of the planning so I took to the laptop to research flights, things to do and, of course, a place to stay. We found very reasonable flights out of Auckland and I located an amazing Air BnB in Queenstown. We chose a delightful home located just 2 km from the city centre. It is up on a hill and has the most phenomenal views of Lake Wakatipu and the Remarkables mountain range from every room. It is super clean and absolutely perfect for the four of us.
Flying into Queenstown means flying over the Southern Alps. The day of our arrival was sunny and very clear so the views of the Alps were spectacular. The snow capped peaks and rugged rocky cliffs … simply awe inspiring! We even got a glimpse of several glaciers along the way. Until we came to New Zealand I never really knew what diverse geography they have from beaches to mountains to glaciers to farmland and beautiful forests. It’s really very spectacular. If I could recommend one country for people not to miss in their lifetime, it would be New Zealand.
We landed at Queenstown Airport around 1530 hours. The sun is already beginning to set behind the massive mountains that surround this quaint lakeside town. As we exit the airport and head to find our car in the car park we are greeted with a blast of icy cold air. Oh yes, it’s much, much colder here than in Whangerie. The temp this afternoon is around 4°C (39° F). Now if you are from cold climates you probably don’t think much of this but for a ragtag group of sailors used to living in the tropics this was quite shocking to our systems…so much so that it literally took our breath away.
We located our car and headed to the grocery store to pick up a few items for breakfast and some dinners. After all, we have a fully equipped kitchen at the house we are renting so why go out to eat for every single meal? Of course we also hit the liquor store to provision up with some beer, vodka, rum and wine. It’s very obvious that keeping warm is going to be essential and you should always start by warming the insides first. With our provisioning complete we head out to find our home for the next ten days.
We have all been to Queenstown in the past so we are somewhat familiar with our surroundings. Our temporary abode is just a short ten minute drive from the store along the beautiful lake. As we exit the main road we wind our way up up the mountain and soon find the house. We were warned that the driveway is a bit narrow and narrow it is with the house on one side and a fece on the other and mere inches of clearance between them and the SUV we are driving. Of course Dan negotiates it with ease and soon we are unloading our things and checking out our home base.
WOW! This place is exactly as described in their Air BnB ad and corresponding photos but until you actually stand inside and look out of the plate glass windows to take in the view of the lake and mountains you really can’t appreciate it. There was still ice not the grass outside and with the sunset the frosty white mountain peaks were glowing above the lake. It was absolutely awe inspiring!
We put our groceries away and picked our bedrooms and met back downstairs for a traditional “anchor down” beer. While Gabi and I checked out the kitchen opening cabinets to see what appliances and dishes are available, Dan and Lutz were checking the wood supply and wood burning stove. We know we will be getting a lot of use out of that in the coming week.
Soon John and Karen the owners of the house show up to help get us acclimated. John goes over the operation of the stove and Karen talks to Gabi and I about restaurants, hikes and things we shouldn’t miss while we are here. They are an amazing couple and very kind. She’s from Germany and he’s a Kiwi. We truly enjoyed our visit with them.
After they left we decide since it is our first night in town and it is getting late we will head out to get a bite to eat rather than cook at home. On Karen’s recommendation we make our way to The Cow. Contrary to what you might think from its name, this is not a steak restaurant, rather a pizza and spaghetti place. It’s the oldest continually run restaurant in Queenstown and has had the exact same menu since 1977 when it first opened. Located on Cow Street the building was originally stone stables where they housed milk cows that would wander the lane back in the old days. And, interestingly enough, it’s not named because of the street. It’s name after Queen Victoria. Apparently one of the more crude nicknames for her was ” the Cow”. Apparently she made a statement likening breastfeeding to being a cow and instructed her daughter never to practice it. Knowing the history of the name you can see the subtle reference to Queen Victoria’s comment in their logo.
Inside this place reminds you of an old Swiss chalet with it’s stone walls, heavy wooden beams, roughhewn wood tables and dim lighting and candles. It’s small inside with maybe ten or twelve tables and has a large stone fireplace in the middle just across from the bar where people who are waiting to be seated gather to warm up and sip their mulled wine, beer or cocktail. The atmosphere was simply wonderful and quite frankly the pizza was exceptional! There wasn’t piece left between the two large pizzas we ordered.
Since it had been a fairly long day we headed back to the house to sit by a warm fire and relax after dinner. The house was beautiful, the company divine and all was absolutely perfect in the world!
If you are like us you are probably sick and tired of hearing about Covid so we are going to do our best to keep that beast out of our posts moving forward. That said, we have had several followers ask how this is affecting us as nomadic seagoing adventurers. Well the old sea hag, Covid, certainly has put a damper on our 2020 cruising season. Right now instead of wearing long sleeves, sweatpants and wool slippers we should be dangling on the hook at some tropical island in Fiji or Vanuatu doing some snorkeling or hanging out in our hammocks in the cockpit. Unfortunately, that is not the case. We, as well as several hundred other yachties are stuck here in New Zealand due to border closings.
The fact is that Fiji did open their borders to the yachting community several weeks ago with their “blue lane” process. Prior to leaving New Zealand crews must have a negative Covid test that is taken less than 48 hours prior to departure. It also requires crews to quarantine for 14 days upon arrival in Fiji but they do count the time at sea as part of that quarantine. They are allowing yachties to do their quarantine on their own boats at anchor. It’s our understanding that a few additional forms need to be filled out and they have people come to your boat twice a day to ensure you are not violating the quarantine. They also have their medical people check everyone’s temperature once a day. At the end of the quarantine you are required to get a Covid test and if all goes well you are granted permission to sail the magnificent and magical islands of Fiji. The fact is, it’s not a a bad process and seems very reasonable. Obviously the entrance fees are a bit more with having to pay for your testing but as we always say, “Nothing is free or cheap in Water World.”
Some boats have already taken off from New Zealand to enjoy the winter in paradise while others, such as ourselves, have decided this year we will just stay put. Why? Why would we want to spend our days living in cold and wet conditions if we could be sipping little fruity drinks with colorful umbrellas on some sandy beach overlooking crystal clear waters? Well, I’ll tell ya Shoutie….
Getting to Fiji and enjoying it’s beauty is only part of the equation. The other part of it is that you need someplace to go when cyclone season starts on 1 November. You see, Fiji is in the cyclone belt whereas New Zealand and Australia are not. If you are not a Kiwi you will not be allowed to return to New Zealand and just this week Australia has relocked down their borders. So if you don’t have a safe harbor to sail to for the season then you are left with keeping your boat in Fiji and taking your chances that a major cyclone doesn’t come and destroy your home. Given that Fiji experienced not just one but two major cyclones last year we’re perfectly content to stay here and continue exploring this amazing country for another ten months.
There are options for putting your boat on the hard in Fiji. One option is at Vuda Marina where they actually put yachts in pits to protect them from toppling over in high winds. Of course if there’s a major storm surge then the pit just puts the boat in a position to be flooded and possibly floated out to sea. Also, if you choose to put your boat in a pit at Vuda you are required to leave it there for the entire six months of cyclone season. That certainly limited your options. And, there’s the issue of where you stay while your boat is on the hard or in the pit. Sure, you can live on the boat on the hard but having done this I can tell you it’s no picnic. You can’t use the head for starters so you have to use the marina facilities each time you have to answer Nature’s call. And even if you can deal with all of these things there is the really big issue which is that most boat insurance companies require your boat to be out of the cyclone belt which is south of 27° S, so if you stay there you have to know that you will not be covered in the event of any damage. For those of us whose boat is our only home, this simply is not an option so many, if not most of the yachties here in New Zealand have decided to stay until next year.
Of course it’s not as easy as just saying, “Oh yeah, we’ll stay here.” For those who are not accustomed to dealing with visas and immigration let me explain. You see, when you come to New Zealand on your boat you are granted a 90 day tourist visa allowing you to stay and visit. There is a book’s worth of paperwork that has to get done for the boat but the immigration part is quite simple as this visa is automatically granted. If you leave the country for at least 30 days before that visa expires you get another 90 days when you return. This is when we plan our trips back to the states. We leave just a few days before the visa expires and when we return we get another 90 days. That gets us through cyclone season and into the beginning of the Summer cruising season when we take off for other lands.
When the old hag Covid came along hundred of yachties were just about to begin preparations to set sail to the tropics for six months but then borders starting closing and we were essentially stranded. Sure, most of us could have flown to our home countries but we’d be leaving our one and only home with no idea whatsoever when we would be able to return. For obvious reasons that simply isn’t an option for most of us. And, at the time, plane fare back to the states was running in the neighborhood of $4000-$6000 per person! OUCH!!!!
Much to the delight of us “stranded sailors” New Zealand in her typical welcoming fashion gave all of us an extension to our visas until 25 September 2020. That was much appreciated news as we learned that borders were slamming shut in early March and we all started to frantically get documents together to apply for extended visas. This automatic extension gave us all a little breathing room and allowed us to wait to see what would happen.
Fast forward to August. Here we still sit knowing that there really is no place to go and there’s been no official word as to what will happen with our visas. Many cruisers are taking the “wait and see” approach just hoping New Zealand will automatically grant another extension. That’s not really the way we do things on Dazzler. After all, it’s not New Zealand’s problem, this is our problem so we decided we would do as we do with everything and take preventative measures.
As the secretary aboard Dazzler I went online and began to fill out the forms to extend our visas until next June. The forms process is not really that big of a deal. They require updated passport photos, bank statements, explanation letters etc.. And, since we are trying to extend our visa longer than 12 months we were required to get bloodwork to be sure we don’t have HIV, Syphilis, Hepatitis, etc.., chest x-rays to be sure we don’t have Tuberculosis and a full medical exam. The cost for the application fee and all this other fun stuff, aside from a couple of days of our time, came to around $450 USD per person. No, it wasn’t cheap but it also certainly didn’t seem unreasonable either. After all, the Kiwis have a right to ensure that visitors here are not going to be an undue burden on their social systems. Hmmm…what a novel concept eh???
We got our application and medicals done and submitted last week just to be certain our application was there in plenty of time. This week we’ve learned that due to the efforts of NZ Marine Association and others within the country who understand the value of having yachties stay, that there is talk of granting yachties a 12 month extension on a case by case basis. You see, the yachting and tourism industries here obviously want us to stay. I just read an article that states yachties who come here for cyclone season spend on average of $20,000 NZD and many spend much, much more as they take advantage of the world class marine industry in making repairs and refits to our yachts. This doesn’t include the money we spend on food, clothing, marina fees, travel etc… We definitely do help to support their country and at a time when international tourism here has come to a halt it only makes sense to keep those people here who are self sufficient and spending lots of money.
So yes, this news was certainly welcome and while some may see this as something that will come free, we feel like it means they are going to require that each person go through the extension process. We’re very happy to know that all of our information is in the hands of immigration already. As it sits now we are fully expecting that our applications will be approved and we will stay until June 2021. If it is not, well, we will cross that bridge when we come to it.
And, while this is not an issue for Dazzler, there are many yachties out here facing another complicating factor and that is that here in New Zealand if your boat remains in the country for 24 continuous months you are required to import it into the country. This means a yacht could incur tens of thousands of dollars in import and duty fees. Not many of us are just sitting on that type of cash so for those who are in this situation it’s an even bigger worry. Today we received excellent news for our friends and fellow sailors awaiting updates on their Temporary Import Permits. The government has offered them a one time blanket extension until July 2021. We know many who are breathing a huge sigh of relief and are probably celebrating with gusto right now. As for the visas, we expect to hear an official announcement on that in the coming days.
So as you can see the evil Covid wench has definitely created a stir in more ways than just how the virus is affects the health of people, economies and the never ending mask debates. It has many side effects for the stranded sailors, not just in New Zealand, but all over the world. As for us, we intend to make the most of our time here in New Zealand by getting out and exploring as much of the country as possible. After all, you know what they say, “When the world hands you Kiwis, blend them up with a little ice and vodka and enjoy the ride.”