Ship's Log               s/v Uliad 


 

 February 2 :

 

       We arrived back in Whangarei after our sojourn to find Uliad safe and sound.  The night before we left, the pump that pumps out sink/shower water quit working.  Needless to say, this is something you can't really do without, so I walked over to the friendly neighborhood marine store to fine the exact same model on sale for $450!  Now this sent me reeling back to the boat to think about whether I could fix the damn thing instead.  I do carry a spare, but after a few years in the bilge, that one didn't want to work either!!

       So fortunately, the following morning I drove to another store on the other side of town and found the same pump, but different (this time New Zealand made) brand for $165.  Bonus!!  I snapped it up before someone decided the price tag was a mistake and it has been patiently sitting on the table waiting for our return to get installed. So after a long car drive, I quickly ended up with my head in the bilge installing our new pump for a few hours.  This sort of thing always drives Kathleen crazy.  "Can't you just relax once and a while?" she hollers while demonstrating the proper technique from the bedroom.  But she won't be so relaxed when the stinky water from the holding tank starts backing up.

       Anyway, the job got done and hundreds of dollars got saved, so now I can really enjoy that cold beer at the end of the day.  And tomorrow, I'll be performing surgery on the old pumps between patients to see if I can get at least one of them running again.

 

February 10:

      For the past month or so, Kathleen has been planning a big whirlwind tour of the sights of New Zealand that we haven't gotten to yet in the past 6 months.  So after my brother Mike arrived in New Zealand, and a few days later dropping my Dad and his partner Faye off at the airport, we were ready to go. 

     Well, almost.  I just can't help myself with these boat projects.  After refinishing our wood floor in the master cabin, I decided it needed another coat of varnish. but the polyurethane floor varnish needs to cure for several days before you can walk on it again, so I decided that this would be my one and only chance to get that done in a convenient manner immediately before we went on a 3 week trip.  Kathleen did not find this convenient at all to wait in the car while I applied the varnish, but to her credit she kept her thoughts mostly to herself.

      Our first stop was the Waitomo caves.  This little hamlet has made a small industry out of taking tourists through any number of the dozens of caves that dot the surrounding landscape.  Most caves in New Zealand are inhabited by tiny glow worms who line the ceilings, giving the appearance of tiny blue stars as you look up in the blackness.  They are really cool, but just about impossible to take a photo of in the pitch black caves.  So if you want to see one, I guess you have to come to New Zealand and see for yourself.

     We opted for the "black water tubing" adventure, which involved being issued a wetsuit and an inner tube, then being led across a sheep pasture and down into a cave.  We then floated through the blackness down a subterranean cave, admiring the little glow worms all the while, then sloshing down a slide and jumping off a little waterfall before climbing back out into the sunlight a quarter mile away.  Great fun!  But not for the claustrophobic.

 

February 12:

 

      If you've ever watched the "Lord of the Ring" movies, you surely remember "Mount Doom" that Frodo the hobbit had to climb up and throw his ring into the volcano.  Well the movies were filmed here in New Zealand and Mount Doom really is one of those perfect cone shaped piles of rock, although there is no giant eye beacon nearby or spewing lava (at the moment).   There is, however, a great trail nearby called the Tongoriro Crossing.  It bills itself as the best one day hike in New Zealand, which sounded like the best possible way to entertain my mountain loving brother.

      We planned to meet up with friends at a town next to the National Park and all hike it together, but the weather was cloudy and drizzly, promising views of little more than fog on the slopes of Mount Doom.  So we waited and entertained ourselves in other ways for several days, taking lower elevation hikes, and then a side trip to some other interesting volcanic features further north.  We found another hot water river which connects to a cold water river, allowing you to select anything from refreshingly cool to scalding hot based on where you chose to squat down.  We last found this way back in Dominica.  This one was just as nice, although the signs on the bank warning you not to put your head underwater due to a small risk of amoebic meningitis did put a slight damper on the fun.

 

     Finally, on the third day, the clouds parted and we set off to reach the trailhead at sunrise, along with dozens of other hikers being disgorged from shuttle busses about every 10 minutes.  The first hour of hiking was more like a cattle round up, but eventually the crowds spaced out to scattered individuals and peace was maintained.

     By the second hour, we had reached the lip of a vast, flat central crater, surrounded by Mount Tongoriro on the left, and Mount Doom (actually called Mt. Ngunguru here) on the right.  After crossing the great red crater, we reached a ridge on the far side and beyond lay a weird smoking gorge with swirls of red and black rock.   At the next ridge, my brother, our friend Rob, and I decided to take a side trail to reach the summit of Mt Tongoriro, which we reached after an easy trail over the rocks.  In the distance, we could see tiny colored blobs of tourists on the side of Mt. Doom...climbing over the cinders and following Frodo's footsteps.

    We retraced our path and eventually caught up with the rest of our group at a place called "the Emerald Lakes".  These are indeed a startling shade of green--no doubt due to some unique chemical reaction between the volcanic minerals and what we were told was very acidic water in the pool.  They were pretty in a strange sort of way.  Maybe it was just my sore feet talking by now, but I could have sat and looked at them all day were it not for the clouds rolling in now on the surrounding peaks.  So we continued down the long winding path to come down the far side of the mountain where, some 7 hours after we started hiking, we all arrived at a small parking lot where we had stashed one of the cars that morning.

Mike & Steve on Mount TongoriroThe mysterous slopes of Tongoriro

     It truly was an amazing hike, made all the more awesome by the fact that Emmett and his friends all completed the 19.6 km hike without a single complaint.  Kathleen had promised them all ice cream sundaes back in town if they achieved both of those goals, so their efforts were soon rewarded. 

 

 

February 25:

     What a busy couple of weeks.  After the Tongoriro hike, we drove to the south tip of New Zealand's north island to the capital city of Wellington.  Here we visited "Te Papa", which is New Zealand's answer to the Smithsonian Institution.  It's a museum of the history of New Zealand, from ancent volcanoes to the recent past, with lots of great displays about the native Maori culture, and the broader Polynesian peoples of the South Pacific. 

     On the way out of the museum we saw the ship "BOB BARKER" tied up along the waterfront.  If you've seen the shows on the Discovery Channel, this is one of the ships owned by Sea Shepherd, it goes out every year to harass the hell out of the Japanese whaling ships that come to the Southern Ocean to hunt whales.  We chatted with one of the crew members and learned that they were just in town for a couple of days to refuel and take on more barrels of tofu (apparently when you sign on with Sea Shepherd, you also sign on to a vegetarian diet while onboard) before heading back down to Antarctica to search for the evil "Nissan Maru".  We love seeing whales.  Having no tofu or diesel with us, we put a few coins in the kettle at the end of the gangplank instead.

The famous Bob Barker anti-whaling ship

     We met up with a sailing friend who lives here before heading to the airport to catch a plane far down the south island to a town called Queenstown.  Now Queenstown seems to have started out as a quaint little ski town in the mountains until a couple of decades ago when someone there got the idea to jump off a bridge attached to a giant rubber band.  "Bungee jumping" soon caught on and to this day thrill seekers travel here to leap from the place where it all started.  But wait, there's more.  Others saw the opportunity to make money from these adrenaline loving people and soon all sorts of other thrill sports were developed here.  There's the New Zealand favorite "Jet boating" where a special boat races up and down narrow river canyons at ridiculous speeds spinning around just inches from boulders and cliffs.  There's hang gliding and paragliding and luge carts and a sort of giant swing that you attach yourself to and jump off a cliff, sending you racing past the ground at the bottom of a gorge face first at 90 miles per hour.

     So Queenstown has become the world mecca for thrill sports, and its streets are clogged every day with twentysomethings from all over the globe plotting out their next pants-wetting activity.  When I first saw Disneyworld, I thought to myself, "if I were 6 years old, this place would be heaven."  And when I saw Queenstown, I thought, " if I were sixteen again...."   Emmett it turns out, is not too far from sixteen, as he quickly took a liking to all the exciting possibilities.

     After a few warm-up trips down the mountain on luge carts, we upgraded to mountain bikes the next day.  Heavy duty mountain bikes with big shock absorbers meant for one thing: going fast down mountains.  Mike, Emmett and I then spent the rest of the day riding the gondola to the top of the mountain, then racing down these narrow winding trails through the woods.  Unlike bungee jumping, which merely offers the illusion of danger, these rugged narrow trails offered a true possibility of being seriously maimed if you were to lose control!! 

Emmett races down the mountainSafe again after paragliding

     Emmett was then asked the next day to choose the one big thrill ride he wanted to do in Queenstown.  (After careful consideration he chose the tandem paraglide.  Much to his parents consternation, he was suddenly being clipped to his escort, who filled a big parachute and the two of them started running/waddling in their harness to the edge of a cliff to glide away and gradually descend to a grassy playground far below.  His whole ride was about 10 minutes--a far better value than a 3 second bungee jump, I thought.

      My brother, however, makes good money and saw no need to economize.  Although there are several bungee jumping operations now in Queenstown, like most everyone else, he opted to jump at the scenic bridge where it all started.  And Kathleen and I?  I think we both decided that sailing across oceans was excitement enough for us.  (Though the mountain biking was pretty sweet, too!) 

 

February 27:

     After Queenstown, Kathleen had arranged for a couple days touring the remote Fijordland region of southwest New Zealand.  Milford Sound reminded me a lot of Southeast Alaska, only the mountains are twice as high and steep all around.  Mike and I went on a day long kayak trip through the sound.  None of the outfitters would allow 11 year olds to go on their trips, even if they live on a boat and have just crossed the Pacific.  So Em and Kath had to content themselves with a motorboat ride.

     The next day we took off for a 2 day cruise through the even more remote Doubtful Sound.  This involved driving to a little settlement at the end of a long road, getting on a boat for a 45 minute ride across a lake, then a bus ride over a steep, winding road and down to a dock where another larger boat waited to ferry us through some absolutely incredible scenery out to the Tasman Sea.  The ship's captain had an "open bridge" policy, so we went up and talked boats for a while before we stopped at a picturesque little bay for more kayaking and even some swimming for the more intrepid among us.  In true cruise ship fashion, there was a big fabulous buffet that night before the guests slowly wandered off to their cabins.  The next day, we reversed the process and were back at the dock, up the remote winding road, back on the other boat, and back at our car.  Fijordland is one of those truly unspoiled places in the world that I was glad to have seen.  And from what I could see of the weather and sea conditions, I was glad to not have to sail my own boat to get there! 

Mike & Kathleen with our cruise ship in background Kayaking on Milford Sound

 

                                                                                                                                   

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