A Charter in the Hauraki Gulf, NZ by Séamus O’Connor
Over the course of the last 10 years we have chartered on three occasions in New Zealand. These arose because our youngest son Fearghal is married to a delightful Auckland colleen, Amanda, whose parents Pip and Paul Bishop are keen sailors and just love to be on the water. When they visited us in 2010, we found common interests and a charter was proposed and agreed for late 2011, followed by further charters in 2015 and 2016.
Our first charter was from Picton. We cruised Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough which is on the northern end of the South Island. This is of course wine country, but it is also rugged, isolated and unspoilt. A yacht needs to be well found and victualled for dining on board which we did for the 6 nights of our charter. As you would expect, the area is well served in terms of weather forecast and coast guard contacts. Anchorages abound which are sheltered with good holding.
As a general comment on chartering in New Zealand, we found the preliminaries were very thorough,. The charter company sent quite a detailed questionnaire to assess your competence and experience. Then they sent a copy of the operating manual of the yacht with an expectation that you will be able to answer some key questions when you arrive to the boat! Finally, a formal briefing before handover takes place including some searching questions – you needed to have your homework done.
Two of our charters took place in the Hauraki Gulf. This is situated in the North Island and close to Auckland. Most flights into New Zealand land in Auckland so the Hauraki Gulf is a very convenient cruising ground.
Our initial plan was to sail to Kawau Island but with a late departure and lack of familiarity with the boat we decided to anchor off the north east end of Waiheke in Oneroa Bay. The weather was good, but not great for sailing. We motor-sailed from Bayswater Marina in Auckland near the bridge. Our charter boat, a 37’ Bavaria, called Pure Escape was well presented. It was equipped with a furling main and a furling genoa, so easy sailing with all lines lead to the cockpit. There were lots of boats about and plenty of activity. Interestingly, very few yachts wear ensigns. Weather forecast was for light enough winds.
The next day turned out to be interesting! We started in a lazy fashion. We went ashore for early breakfast to the Cafe Delight. Breakfast was only OK. Then we went to explore the village. The ladies rushed ahead as if on a mission. They were. They had discovered shopping in Oneroa village. And, I thought we were only after a bottle of milk and a loaf of bread.
Our intention was to sail north to Kawau Island and take in the scenery along the way. As it happened the BBQ did not work so after discussions with the charter company we agreed to head for Gulf Harbour Marina on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula to pick up the necessary spares. This alteration in plan worked to our advantage.
We had a good sail NW to Tiritiri Matangi Island and, after a swim and a late lunch, we enjoyed another pleasant broad reach to the marina. Tiritiri Matangi Island is a wildlife sanctuary and one of New Zealand’s most important and exciting conservation projects. It is located 30km north east of central Auckland and just 4km from the end of the Whangaparaoa Peninsula. A hundred and twenty years of farming had seen this 220-hectare island stripped of 94% of its native bush but, between 1984 and 1994, volunteers replanted about 300,000 native trees. The island is now 60% forested with the remaining 40% left as grassland for species preferring open habitat. All non-native mammals have also been removed (cats, rats and the like).
The following morning we departed the marina, good value at NZ $30. With the BBQ now working, life on board was bliss. We rounded the Whangaparaoa Head and pointed north for Kawau. It was a beautiful day full of blue skies and yes, little wind. It was time to stop and try our luck at fishing. The NZ waters are crystal clear and full of fish, but you are expected to respect the fishing limits. We caught snapper and kahawhai.
Kahawai are reasonably good eating, but especially good for curries or fish pie and are brilliant smoked. The forecast wind did not materialize so we motored to Mansion House Bay located in the SW corner of Bon Accord Harbour, Kawau Island. Delightful anchorage, beautiful back drop and the sun setting in the cockpit.
On our fourth day we started early. We were to cross the Hauraki Gulf to Coramandel harbour. This is a distance of about 35nm and a SE sailing direction. The forecast was good, with SW winds at F3. A broad reach was on offer. The forecast materialised, reaching F4 at times. We had a super sail, the day bright and sunny and the sea was tame with a gentle swell. We rounded Tawhiti Point and arrived into Coromandel Harbour in the afternoon. We anchored off in the NE corner of the harbour and explored ashore in the dinghy.
Day 5 of our sailing odyssey around the Hauraki Gulf saw us crossing the Gulf towards Rotoroa and Ponui Islands, a distance of about 15nm via Ruthe Passage between the islands. This gave us multiple options for anchoring and exploring ashore. We opted to anchor in ‘Home Bay’ in Rotoroa and arrived early in the afternoon. We went ashore to explore Rotoroa Island which is now a marine reserve. During our walk we sought a high point on the land to photograph Pure Escape at anchor. In the process we spotted a yacht coming into the anchorage flying the Irish flag. We investigated on our return by dinghy and sure enough it was the yacht Laragh from Cork on their around the world voyage. On board were Dave Hennessey, Katrina, and Brendan O’Regan. We were invited on board and soon all of us were in full flight of conversations.
Our sixth day saw further exploration ashore in Rotoroa. The island is owned by the Salvation Army and for over 100 years it was a centre for helping people recover from alcoholism. Now it is run by a Trust and the island will slowly become a centre for the native fl ora and fauna of New Zealand. This work is well underway. There are beautiful walks and idyllic beaches named ‘Men’s Bay’ and ‘Women’s Bay’. Interestingly, none of these names appear on the official charts. When back on the boat, we sailed on a circular tour of the eastern end of Waiheke. Man o’ War Bay was splendid but crowded so we slipped by and anchored in Opopo Bay for lunch. Then it was off on a super sail, a run south, at times goose winging. We sailed by Orapiu where Paul’s grandparents had a Bach (NZ slang for a holiday home or beach house). He was naming the neighbours, and reminiscing to his heart’s content. We anchored overnight in Woodside Bay. The bay next over was equally attractive but we did not fancy overnighting in ‘Deadman’s Bay’.
On our final full day of cruising, with a easterly wind forecast, we focused on exploring the southern shores of Waiheke and the Omana area of the mainland. So, we tacked over and back across the Tamaki Strait. There were yachts in abundance as Monday was a public holiday in Auckland. Everyone had a long weekend and it seems they were all on the water. We rounded the west end of Waiheke and sailed to Church Bay where we anchored for lunch. This provides a good view of Lavender Hill and Mudbrick Winery on the approaches.
Then it was off again, this time to Owhanake Bay, on the NW of the island and close to Oneroa! There we enjoyed a short walk ashore. Back on board, we had the traditional end-of-cruise award ceremony, coinciding with afternoon tea. Yes, Barry’s of course, hand carried all the way! ‘Anchor man of the week’ was Paul who successfully anchored the boat (no dragging anchor in the wee hours) on seven occasions. The most difficult sail award, renamed the ‘Goose-winger of the week’, went to Patricia for her sail through the Waiheke Chanel. The Premium award for ‘The fastest sail’ went to Pip for her 7.2 knots crossing the Hauraki Gulf.
So, we had a great week in a fabulous cruising area, good company and a wonderful experience.
PS: I won the award for managing the holding tank diligently!