Saturday, December 14, 2013

5 weeks in New Zealand – Time Sure Flies

Here is my catch up blog - sorry, bloggers block is caused in my case by sensory overload and a huge dose of procrastination.....

Evergreen on the Q Dock
We arrived Opua at 0030 Saturday November 8.  I suppose since the crossing overall was easy and shorter than expected, that arriving in the dark was our token adventure.  It had been hard passing by land all day knowing that our arrival still lay hours away.  Once behind the land though the sea state was calm.  We were all excited as we entered the Bay of Islands and worked our way through the channel markers down to Opua.  As Josh said – at least here the lights are where they are supposed to be based on the charts and the they are working.  Not something you can count on in other places (e.g. Fiji ) The Marina at Opua turned out to be smaller than I had thought from looking at the pictures.  But the Quarantine dock where it was supposed to be and Dennis did a great job of parking us in a space that seemed huge until we tried to put ourselves in it.  We celebrated with our first beers in 8 ½ days, broke out the blankets as it was pretty cold, closed up tight and went to bed in flat non moving beds – heaven. 
Quarantine Dock

Evergreen flying the NZ flag and 
the Quarantine Flag

Yes we are glad to be here


The next morning while we waited for customs, we explored our little piece of the Marina – loved the floating toilet, met our fellow Q dock mates and said our Hellos to Gigi.  Gigi left the same time as we did from Vuda Point and arrived 7 hours ahead of us.  Customs finally arrived around 9. It was  a busy morning for them with four boats to check in.  The process was actually pretty painless -the hardest part was giving up most of the items in the freezer.  I tried not to complain too much as all that left over food indicated a fast trip.  Interesting that one of their big concerns after pork, was any dairy obtained in South America.  And yes, all the eggs had to go, popcorn too.  They bagged it all up for sterilization then incineration – I saw them the next day and asked how the BBQ went!!  They laughed.

By noon we were all situated in our slip at the dock.  Karen from Gigi arranged a grocery excursion into Paihia that afternoon, so yum fresh veggies!  Opua, the Bay of Islands and the marina are fantastic!  We met and continue to meet so many nice/friendly/helpful people.  Where in the world would the insurance agent loan you his car for the day???  Or the electrical guy spend extra time going through your boat  and give input on how to fix the hot water heater for no extra charge??  People seem to be just like that here.  

We spent our time in Opua, getting our land legs back, doing laundry, setting the boat back up for normal use, meeting people, getting internet and a little sightseeing.   One day Dennis and I did the coastal walk (‘bout killed me).  We had another example of NZ friendliness that day.  We thought we would go all the way to Paihia, sadly our eyes were in better shape than our legs.  The trail came out at the road at one point and we weren’t sure which way to go, so asked a lady who was at the pull out with her two little kids.  She ended up rearranging car seats, putting the kids back in the car and driving us back to the marina (like that would ever happen in the US?).

Coastal walk
Josh inflates the dinghy


boardwalk, just before we gave up and the nice lady took us back

Russell Sunset

After a week though, it was time to move on.  In other circumstances it would have been great to spend more time in the Bay of Islands.  We did spend a night anchored off Russell.  Then the next day we stopped at Robertson Island for a walk round and hike.   
 Russell - under the Whumping Willow?

Roberson Island


Jumping for Joy?

Evergreen - Roberson island 

Great View

Then off to Paradise anchorage.  Dennis and I went for a dinghy ride and found a pod of dolphin (or two or three).  You know, watching dolphins is one of those things in life that just never gets old.  We were reminded again of how big they actually are when one swam right under the dinghy!  They seem to get so much joy from their existence – at least I hope they do because that is the impression they impart to me.


 I could take pictures of them all day.  These guys looked like they were showing off just for us.

Josh and the hole in the rock
From Paradise we went around the point and exited the Bay of Islands en route to Whangaruru.  We saw the rock with the huge arch in it.  It was a nice day and the anchorage at Whangaruru was pretty and quiet, the scenery very pastoral.  The next day we made it to the entrance to Whangarei channel and anchored in a nice cove.  More people about and lots of water traffic.  Thankfully it calmed down after dinner.  We had internet so Josh was happy. 

Captain Dennis

fish hook bridge
We pulled into Whangerai town basin marina with the tide on Sunday noonish.  There is a new bridge just before town, so we had to call and have them raise it for us.  It is shaped like a Moari fish hook – very kiwiana ish.  Another nice marina.  We were tied up right along the public area, so close to shops, bathrooms etc.  
Whangarei Town Basin Marina

Whangarei is also a nice town -bigger than Opua, but still a small town type of feel.  Paul left us in Whangarei to continue on with his adventure.  He is on the South Island now, set up with a camper van,  bike and new friends.  We enjoy reading his blog.  Dennis spent a lot of his time in Whangarei working on our water heater (read long walks to multiple plumbing stores).  The element bit the dust, so it was a matter of finding a new element and rewiring and checking for leaks.  It is fixed now – and yes I do appreciate having hot water available for dish washing and showers.  Josh’s friend Sam from My Muse was in Whangarei, so Josh was able to get some kid time in. 
Whangarei Falls

                                      We did a couple of hikes- or actually the same hike twice.Once from town to the falls and the second time from the falls back to town.  Very pretty hike –especially once you have figured out where you are going.  The first time we did it from the marina up to the falls (poor timing for the bus).  It seemed to take forever.  We had a hard time finding the tiny little alley that was the track between two houses, then deciding which was the correct trail when 4 different trials merged in one area.  Was worth it, but our dogs were definitely barking by the end of the day!!!  Thankfully we were able to catch a bus back to town.  The second time we did it,  we found out that the bus stops right at the top of the trail head at the falls – nice and easy!

We decided to rent a car in Whangarei and drive down to Auckland for a few days to check out the Marina situation, the school situation and fortuitously to have Thanksgiving with the Congers of Don Quixote and some of their friends.  We have known the Don Quixote folks since Mexico and I have been picking Toast’s brain about NZ for the last year practically.  We had Thanksgiving on Saturday and it was very US with turkey and all the fixings.  Kim and Lee who hosted are from Georgia.  Their home was a beautiful setting for Thanksgiving and the weather totally cooperated as well.  Sunday Josh spent time with Mera and her friends, while Dennis and I spent time with Dinah and Bruce (sv Marguerite, met them in Samoa).  Dinah and Bruce kindly put us up for the rest of our Auckland stay. They also have a lovely home close to their Marina (Westhaven).  Got to love people who watch Dr. Who.  We watched the 50th anniversary special with them – Josh was in heaven! (and internet too). 

That Monday we had an appointment at the school to meet with the head of the International Baccalaureate program.  On the advice of Toast, we decided that the IB program would probably work best for Josh.  So we had sort of an interview with the head of the program – Jackie.  Nice lady – totally committed to the success of the program and the students in it.  The IB program is a two year program with assessments along the way accounting for 50% of the grade and finals at the end accounting for the other 50%. When completed the students will be prepared for university here in NZ or internationally (e.g US or UK). There are only 41 students in the program so far.  Josh will have chemistry, physics, maths, English, history and Spanish.  There is also a community service component as well as projects.  Josh seemed very happy with the interview and the program.  He will have history with Mera and Caiomhe.   Class size is small and since it is a new program the teachers are all very gung ho about it as well .  We are all happy with the arrangement.

We checked out the slip assigned to us at the Marina – it is bigger than we need, but it is a slip.  We are on the waiting list for a smaller one.  We missed our opportunity to go into a smaller slip due to the spotty internet and no phone.  One of the first things we did in Whangarei was get one cell phone.  Josh picked up an inexpensive phone during his outing with Mera – so he can stay in touch with his friends. Phone plans on contract require visas valid for the term of the contract, which we don’t have yet.  Hence only one phone as we had to pay full price for the darn thing.  Maybe Santa will bring Dennis and Josh phones in their stockings.

Our next goal was to find a car - which we did in Whangarei.  Was a comedy of international finance to pay for it, but after almost 2 weeks it is all accomplished.  We are now the owners of a 1995 Toyota Caldina 5 speed station wagon – diesel.  Oh yeah and the steering wheel is on the wrong side and they drive on the wrong side – it is kind of scary.  I have yet to do any driving.  Dennis drove it down to Auckland and took the bus back up.  After 12 lovely days, we headed out of Whangarei for Auckland.  

We left Friday the 29th, spent the night at the end of the Whangarei channel again, then headed out on Saturday even though the forecast was for winds 20-30 gusting to 40 in the afternoon.   We laughed at ourselves later, saying here we have crossed thousands of miles of ocean and the strongest conditions are here and we went out in them on purpose…..Thankfully we didn’t see those winds at all.  We did have to go to a different anchorage than planned due to the wind direction, but it ended up being a nice one (even if it did take 4 tries to set the anchor).  Sunday seems to be our day to arrive places and so it was that we arrived in Auckland on Sunday December 1.  Of course we had current and wind going against us into a new slip.  Wasn’t a textbook parking job, but we got in and nothing got broken.  It was pretty wild -  as we made the turn for the slip the current took us sideways down the fairway.  And I mean no pressure Dennis -  but 4 boats were coming in behind us and one was on its way out.  Yee haw!!!  It is surprising that Dennis has any hair left at all!!  Whew – that called for a beer!!

sunset over the Harbor Bridge from our back deck

Evergreen in her new home

We have been in Auckland for 2 weeks now.   I would say we are settling in pretty well.  Getting used to the things that are different, getting all our ducks lined up for our visas, successful job hunting, enjoying being land based again – oh the luxury of on demand power, hot water and internet.

Job hunting went well – I did it myself as the recruiter I have been working with just didn’t seem to sense my urgency.  I will be working on the city side of the harbor for a private surgical hospital (as opposed to district hospitals which are the national healthcare hospitals and trauma centers).  I am looking forward to working with these folks, should be challenging and interesting.  Getting my work visa (and hence Josh’s student visa and eventually residence visas) depended on a job offer in hand.  Now it is a matter of waiting for our FBI clearance letters (my second one in less than a year, but they have to be less than 6 months old), getting our medical exams/chest xrays (next Wednesday), then submitting all the paperwork (about 50 pages worth) and fees.  Would be nice if that could be done before the holidays, but unlikely.  Fortunately the hospital is willing to wait for me.

Internet here is different as well – all done by data usage.  Not really any such thing as unlimited data – at least not for wifi.  Being at the marina it seems that wifi is our only choice as the docks here are not wired for phone or cable.  We will see how it all works out in the end.  Right now we have spent more on internet in  5 weeks, than we spent in 6 months in HI.  And it is spotty as well.  Dennis may have to go to work just to keep his whole frustration with the internet at bay.  Oh well, one of those things we have to get used to.

Josh is extraordinarily happy.  Thanks to Mera he has met and been accepted by many kids his age.  Some will be in the same classes, but all go to the same school.  He has been very diligent about getting up and doing his biology so he can then go off and hang out.  The kids here are out on summer break and seem to be quite the busy, social lot – all good.  We also got him connected to the waterpolo team at Takapuna Grammar School (TGS), so he will be practicing with them over the summer.  Swimming will have to be done with a club again if that is something he decides to carry on with.  

Dennis and I are meeting some new people as well.  It helps that Josh’s friends have parents that we feel compelled to at least say hi to when we drop him off for the first time.  Again thanks to the Congers we have met several local couples.  The area we are living in is a peninsula across the bay from the main city of Auckland.  The mailing addresses include the suburb (in our case Bayswater) then the area (Auckland) and post code.  What is very cool here is that your car registration can be done online or at the post office – that includes changing ownership.  We will have to pay road usage tax because of the diesel.  Diesel is less expensive per liter (1.56 vs 2.16 for gas), but the gas prices include tax, diesel you pay separately per mile.  Unless you have a big fuel consuming vehicle it pretty much works out even.  The other thing is car insurance – 3rd party liability for one year is 400 dollars.  Comprehensive is only about 800 dollars  So although most things are equal to or more expensive than Hawaii (both islands in the middle of the ocean, so a good compare group in my estimate), some things like car and health insurance are much less expensive.  General sales tax (GST) is 15% across the board – ouch!  We get some exemptions in relation to the boat, but still – it is pricey.

One of the other “get used to” things is the language.  For me it is like old home week – lots of British influence.  Is a little harder with the accent¸ but I am doing pretty well with it.  Dennis and Josh still have some difficulty especially if it is a fast paced conversation.  Oh and yeah – Lesley do you remember having jam tarts as a kid????  I thought it was just something our Mom did for us – they sell them in the stores here.  So yes, it is different, but it is also exciting.  Christmas is a big deal here– family and vacation wise, but definitely not as commercial as in the US.  We have our tree up and lights on the boat, but I think there is only one other boat with lights – and we have only seen a handful of houses with lights.  So between summer vacation for the kids, the nice weather and a different country – doesn’t seem very Christmas-y yet.  Josh wants me to try and arrange some sort of gathering for Christmas day – will see how that turns out.

Today we found a bike for Josh.  So now he is mobile again.  It isn’t overly bike friendly here, but you can ride on the sidewalk when traffic is bad.  And it is very safe as far as letting Josh go places with his friends.  Now we are looking for one for Dennis.  A little harder as he needs a larger frame.  I haven’t taken my bike out yet.  Maybe tomorrow.  I will need to sew rain covers for all of them – a definite must as we have no covered storage for them.  My plan is to ride to the ferry (the one from here doesn’t leave early enough) in Devonport, ride to work, ride back to the ferry and either ride home or be home if the Bayswater ferry is running at the time I finish work. It is also possible to take the bus from the Auckland side.  I still have time to figure it all out and maybe do a dry run or two.  The plan is to only have one car – the exercise will be good for all of us.  And, I personally would hate to have to drive over the bridge every day.  Not as bad as SF, but still pretty bad.

Well, now we are caught up.  We are definitely loving it here even with the inconveniences of being in a different country with different rules etc.  We can’t wait to do some exploring, maybe do the touristy thing and go to Hobbiton, go to the west coast, so many things to do we don’t know where to start.  I’ll let you know……

No comments:

Post a Comment