Away From It All

It’s kind of funny, after all this working with schedules to keep, tasks to complete, and simply being at the mercy of other people, going back to sailing on a Saturday morning feels almost a bit like a vacation! On top of it I had finally made it to the famous Friday night jam session up in the hills of Opua, invited by Peter the Potter, whom you might remember from our last year’s visit here in the Bay of Islands. What he very humbly termed as ‘just a bunch of old guys getting together’ turned out to be a happy conglomerate of almost a dozen quite fine musicians, and the jammin’ went on and on into the wee hours of the star struck night. It all meant that I didn’t get to bed until way past two in the morning and high tide, which I needed to get off my shallow anchoring spot, was a half past seven. This fact adds a hint of a weekend family outing with the alpha male slightly groggy from Friday night partying. Luckily there is no family, only my same old self, just slightly grumpier than usual. But who’s there to care?

The winds are on the gentle side and it takes a good three hours to make it out the wide mouth of the Bay of Islands and round the monumental Cape Wiwiki, but that happens just in time before the winds shift. That characteristic shift in the wind I am going to become quite familiar with over the next couple days. Southerlies build up over night and blow themselves out towards noon, then within less than ten minutes turn into moderate Nor easterlies. For already over a week now we’ve been sitting under a stationary high-pressure system, which shows little intentions to move on. The weak maritime winds are eclipsed by land and sea breezes that echo the rhythm of the North Island’s slender but substantial landmass being heated up during the day with warm air rising up into the higher parts of the atmosphere, which in turn draws air in from the cooler waters of the sea. At night then the process inverses, the landmass cools down faster than the sea and the air now rises over the ocean.

My short outing is taking me up the coast a short bit to a place I’ve heard many a sailor talk about with gloomy eyes, singing all kinds of tunes in emphatic tribute to its geographical beauty. The total distance is not much more than thirty miles, but with these feeble winds it turns out to be better to stretch the stint out over two days. Fading daylight finds Aluna anchored in the tranquil Horseshoe Bay on the bigger of the two main Cavalli Islands, Motukawanui. A mile long grey shingle beach stretches out in half moon shape and is littered with bleached shells and driftwood. Long and red beaked oystercatchers sprint effortlessly across the slithery shingles, while my walk is awkward at best trying to gain the Southern end of it, where a necklace of rocks and reefs makes a bridge for steps of a giant out to the smaller island, Motukawaiti. The traction under my feet is worse than over loose sand and it takes two steps to advance the distance of one, which, of course, as a navigator used to advances on liquid has quite a familiar feel to it. The shrill, high-pitched cry of the oystercatcher seems to be mocking my efforts though, and the gulls and terns flying overhead tune in to the frenzied fun. The low-lying sun now breaks through a thickening blanket of dark grey clouds, sending gleaming rays of brilliant brightness down onto the water, giving the whole place an eerie resemblance of midsummer arctic seashores. All that’s missing is a band of bull walruses basking in froth on half submerged rocks.cavalli Camera

The following morning I use my newly gained knowledge of the local weather rhythms and get underway by midmorning to ride the Southerlies until rounding Flat Island where with astonishing punctuality at 11:55AM the days sea breeze kicks in for the home stretch towards the entrance of Whangaroa Harbor. Rounding that pine crested and very aptly named outcrop the dry air allows for a truly far-reaching view. Here’s a run across the horizon for a good 200˚.


Looking at the map you realize that a good chunk Northland’s East Coast lies before you. Cape Brett is just visible through the slot between the two Cavalli Islands and if you zoom in enough to the Northwest the dimples of North Cape jot above the finely drawn horizon line. A brave skipper of a sailboat seems to be making his way up there. Here’s another version of the shot, it’s beauty denigrated by me labeling it with geographical names.



Up close North Island’s ragged coastline again turns out to be a veritable sculpture garden. A gallery of prehistoric monsters and a procession of Breughelian characters in various tones of brown march majestically before a tapestry of soothing velvet patches of pastures painted in verdant greens. I’m not sure how the citizens of the land of wine and cheese came to merit the naming of Frenchman’s Rock in their honor, but here it is, crowning a string of islets jotting out from the cozy and very protected little Whangaihe Bay.


Close to five miles to the West the entrance to Whangaroa harbor is a spectacle all to itself. About two hundred meters separate the North Head’s cliff face from that of the South Head, both head’s apexes also stick their two hundred meters high into the air. Tidal currents of up to two knots are supposed to rip through the gap midway between high and low waters. Luckily for us the wind blows nicely aft and we’re approaching low tide, no dramatic rip currents await us while we squeeze ourselves through.

Camera Camera

Once inside you’re instantly bound by a superior spell of some otherworldly land- and seascape. While straight ahead looms the stuffy boredom of civilization with the little town of Whangaroa and it’s busy marina, to the right lies a wide bay that bottoms out into two fiords carved deep into dark grey sediment rock. Rounded heads stick out of verdant sub-tropical forest like a mighty cast of frozen ancestry overlooking patiently modern man’s frenzy down below. Aluna is drawn into that magic garden, pushed on gently by slightly gusty winds tumbling down from the wooded crests to the North. Little huffs and puffs shove her into the Southern fiord named Rere Bay, where her anchor drops into soft mud only a foot or two under her keels. This place begs to be explored!



3 Responses to “Away From It All”

  1. Beatriz Restrepo Says:

    I’m completely jealous not to be there with you. That’s magnify place to be. The landscape is gorgeous and what to say about “frenchmanrock!!!!

    I’m happy that you are in a beautiful and save place. keep writing. I love to read your stories and see all the pictures from Aluna.

    Next time you should be care not to get late at night 🙂

  2. nephi skipwith Says:

    good to see your on the move again. and astounded by your observations of the wind patterns and what brings about the changes.


  3. James Says:

    Hi Beat, I woke up wondering what had happened to you, and glad I was to find your blog alive and full of poetic stories and wisdom. You’ve given me plenty to think about today as I go about earning a few more dollars so I can live in this overpriced city. Thanks for sharing!

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