Cruise around the Bay of Islands
This cruise goes out most evenings of the week, but we hadn't been able to go on the day we'd wanted, so we'd reserved for the Monday night and then filled in the extra 2 days in the area so that we could still have this experience...and it was worth the wait.
At 5 pm the small launch (capable of carrying 20 people at a pinch) arrived on the Paihia wharf to take us to our tailor-made cruise boat for our 24 hour cruise on The Rock.
Peter, the owner & casually dressed captain (same age as my husband, about 42) had a bit of a chat and asked the names of each person as they got on board the launch.
Within a few minutes, we’d arrived at the anchored boat, and the crew helped steady us from the main boat as we got on board.
There were about 23 or 25 passengers, young backpackers for the most part, but there was one couple who looked to be in their 40’s with a teenage daughter.
There were 2 japanese, some irish, Americans, English, scandanavians and other nationalities I didn’t get to meet.
We didn't get to know each other that well as a group, but by contrast, the crew and captain Peter were all super friendly, and after a few hours, it seemed we'd known some of them for ages.
Always willing to help out, or stop for a chat with us, or helping us get fitted out for snorkelling with masks & flippers, etc.
First up when we got onboard came the safety rundown by Peter and an idea of the itinerary, and then we were shown to our cabins upstairs on the tailor-made boat. (About 6x 6 berth cabins at one end, and the crew cabins at the other end).
Also upstairs were 2 showers, but the limit was 2 minutes, so didn’t use them. The boat had its own generator, especially for use at night (till midnight anyway when it was turned off) and had been designed to be very economical to run. It even had a wind turbine on the roof as well to generate some of its own power.
The activities weren’t announced a long time in advance, so we just had to be ready all the time for the next instructions to find out what was happening.
When we went back downstairs from checking into our wood panelled cabins, most of the group went off in the runabout to collect mussels which would form part of our sunset dinner (The big runabout was towed alongside the boat with a rubber boat able to hold about 10 people with an outboard motor on the other side)
Paul and I decided to stay on board with the remainder of the crew for that one, and Paul spent a lot of time chatting with Peter.
We also chatted quite a bit with Yvonne, who had been doing seasonal work in NZ a few months, and was from Denmark, which was a real surprise, as her English was so good and if anything, she had more of a faint irish accent! The crew worked pretty hard, preparing meals, setting up and packing away equipment, and going out in the dinghys, but they were also very cheerful and made it all look like fun and an adventure.
The boat’s bell signified the start of the next activity or to gather around.
At 7 pm, we were all gathered at the back of the boat for the girls Vs boys shooting competition with air rifles. The target was a buoy on a rope being dragged behind the cruise boat. One of the crew called for a volunteer to go first, and paul was quick to put up his hand – and promptly got 2 out of 3 allowed shots, something only 1 other (the teenage girl) could beat – she got 3 out of 3 and had never fired an air rifle before! I stepped up to have a go too, even though it looked pretty tricky, and somebody called out “hold your fire” as another small cruiseboat with passengers on deck was going by….it must have looked a bit funny, all of us young ones standing at the back tailgate of the boat, with 2 holding air rifles almost at the ready.
I didn’t manage to hit the buoy once, but hadn’t expected to anyway.
Paul was thrilled to be the winner of the guys competition and happily collected his prize, a free glass of wine.
Still blue skies and a warm sun (close to 20 deg C) at 7 pm – very pretty out on the water. Very calm – can’t see any waves at all, just a bit of a wash. I wasn't even remotely seasick at any time.
Another great thing to watch from the boat, besides the islands going by, were the gannets fishing, dive bombing from great heights into the water – amazing to see. We could clearly see their orange heads from here, so could see they weren't gulls or albatrosses.
Next came fishing with sea rods from the back of the boat – the crew baited up and cast, as somebody once got hit in the face with one of the sharp fish hooks….that was a relief we didn’t have to do that ourselves, as most of us were real amateurs when it came to fishing. Nearly everybody had a go for about 30 minutes, but nobody caught a thing, except for 1 guy who got a bit of seaweed! I hoped there would be fish with our dinner anyway, but there wasn’t – it really was a case of having to catch fish for our dinner, but at least we had the mussels.
Before dinner, the anchor was cast for the night and the boat didn’t move again until after breakfast the next morning. Very calm bay, and even at night I couldn’t feel the boat move at all (maybe due to its flat bottom)
At 9 pm it was time for dinner, at last, with a big range of salads prepared by the crew, and sausages & steak cooked on the big bbq on wheels (with metal cover) down the back of the boat. There was plenty of food, even vegie burgers for Paul.
The boat’s sound system, playing 80s music most of the time, was broadcast via speakers and an ipod smaller than the one I have at home!
It was Peter at the wheel most of the time, but under instruction the crew also took turns at it.
Peter had told us that during the night we’d be able to see Phosporescence in the water – a kind of insect (maybe like a glow worm) which charges up during the day, and at night releases light in the water, however it wasn’t green like we were expecting, but rather more white/yellow like pinpricks of starlight on the water, and sometimes fast moving like worms. Not easy to see, but Paul and I found a good spot down the front of the boat upstairs near the cabins where we could see it in the water in direct line with the moon (seemed to make it easier to see) and spent quite a bit of time watching it.
Night kayaking was another activity, but Paul and I didn’t go out…. It was really quite cool outside after the sun went down, not at all humid as I was imagining north of Auckland must be in the warmer months. Indeed, there was quite a nip in the air, just like in Ballarat! Night swimming was also an option, but I don’t think anybody was crazy enough to try that!
I got about ½ a book read while on the cruise, so there was a fair bit of free time as well, which was good. Comfortable lounge/modular couches area down the front of the boat, though we preferred the back mostly, without the slightly obscuring plastic windows which went all around the ground level.
One of the crew was at the back of the boat with a laser pointer at one stage, pointing out the various constellations, and there were about 3 of us there listening to him and admiring the very clear night sky.
Paul and I returned to our cabin for the night about 11 pm, and I must have slept pretty well, because apart from the light in the cabin till midnight, I really didn’t hear all the others come in, so either I was very tired, or they were super quiet. The first I saw of them was the next morning, when I got up at 7.30 to get changed in the shower cubicle before the boat’s bell went for breakfast about 8 am.
Tuesday Nov 28. I had some quiet time to stand at the railing and take photos of our surroundings (see pic)…hardly anybody else was up. It was so pretty and bright in the cloudless blue sky, and then went in search of Paul.
Breakfast was all set up, running almost the full length of the bar. People arrived for it in dribs and drabs – passengers didn’t really sit and mingle with each other – just got their cereal and stewed fruit, porridge & coffee and went off to various corners/tables to eat while we started motoring away from the semi deserted island where we’d been anchored for the night.
I was hoping we’d see dolphins, and less than an hour later, we did, though only in the far distance. Still, we could see that it was a pod of at least 10-15 of them, and close by were 2 of the dolphin watch cruises, and it looked like those on board wasted no time jumping in the water to swim with the dolphins (common & bottle nosed variety).
Because there were people in the water, our boat wasn’t allowed to go anywhere near the dolphins, so we had to watch as they disappeared behind us as we set off for a bit of a snorkelling reef. Got all kitted out in a wetsuit, but when it came time to get out (we were instructed to jump off backwards from the back of the boat, all at once, as the main boat could only make one trip around to drop off) and when I saw how deep and a bit murky (a lot of nutrients in water) the water was, I had second thoughts. There were a few of us on board who didn’t try snorkelling, but were holding out for later when we were told we could snorkel off an island beach after lunch. Sounded more my style.
Paul and the others returned about 15 minutes later, shivering with cold despite their wetsuits – really cold and rather deep water too.
The island we were to have lunch on was in a beautiful bay, much prettier than most other islands we’d seen so far, and way prettier than Paihia - the sand was even white, without shells or fine gravel on it. It was named Roberton Island (Motorohia in Maori).
We had the choice of Kayaking in from the main boat or taking the launch in - Paul and I chose Kayaking and gave our lunch and picnic bag to the crew in the launch to bring in with the other stuff. Later they made another trip back to the main boat to collect my wetsuit & everybody’s snorkelling gear & flippers for those who wanted to snorkel from the shore They were 1 person Kayaks and I’d never kayaked in deep water before, or alone, but managed it ok and wore shorts in case I got a bit wet from my own paddle (which I did before I got the hang of it again, but it wasn’t too bad).
After beaching our Kayaks on the sand, we made our way to the dingy, where we retrieved our stuff for lunch, which we left all together under a bush on the grass not far from the beach, and followed the crew, who led us on a walk along a narrow, grass lined path which led to the top of the small island – a 15-20 minute walk up a lot of steps – puffed when we got to the top, but not too exhausted. The views from up there were well worth it, and what’s more, Yvonne, who was well versed in her NZ/Maori history for a Scandanavian, told us a story about an early settler woman who lived near the lagoon down below us, and was killed by the maori (forget why now). And then an island to the left of that, on the far side is where Marion du Fresne met his death at the hands of the cannibal maori (and those left then slaughtered the maori they found nearby….who evidently were a different, more friendly group who weren’t responsible for what happened – so this version of the story went, but I’m sure there’s more to the nutshell version Yvonne told us, as it didn’t sound quite right after what I’ve studied about the massacre).
So, I was happy to at least view part of the island/mainland where the events took place. We spent 20 minutes or so at the top, taking photos for each other and admiring the view of the bay, with other boats besides ours below us (a couple of yachts arrived and medium sized ferries passed on cruises too).
We then walked back down the hill and returned to the beach, where we sat in small groups under the few bushes near the beach that were big enough to shelter us from the now rather warm sun.
After lunch, the launch arrived back with the snorkelling gear and I had a wetsuit as well – fortunately, as the water was really freezing, even with that, and despite the warm day. Felt as cold as Melbourne’s water, and I wasn’t expecting that so far north in NZ. My face mask kept letting water in, and the rocks around where I was snorkelling protruded very close to the surface of the water, so I didn’t venture out far….wasn’t much to see anyway, no coral, just some weeds, barnacles and probably shellfish. Visibility was quite clear though near the shore, which was great.
(I think I was the only one to snorkel off the beach – the others mostly sat on the sand or Kayaked past a yacht anchored a bit closer in from The Rock. )
After returning to our vessel around 1.30 pm, the rest of the afternoon was spent making our way back to Paihia. Time to relax on board, or watch the islands go by again.