It seems incredible that we have gone from touring in the South Island of New Zealand to global lock down and thousands in deaths in Europe and elsewhere in just a few weeks. I have been slow to write the blog as everything just seemed so awful, and a blog did not seem appropriate.
We lifted our boat out of the water back in November last year. Since then we have toured the North Island, been back home to the UK and visited the South Island. We arrived back on the boat on March 8th. Living on a boat out of the water is thoroughly unpleasant. Given the current situation how thankful we are, that we were launched last week and are now floating again. A Capella is ready to set sail but we have nowhere to go to. We listen to the BBC 18:00 hrs news in the morning, followed by Radio New Zealand. As they say unprecedented times. I guess we are all getting our minds around the coronavirus situation, and so many people have emailed wondering how we are getting on. Thus we have concluded that a new blog would be a good thing. The blog is our record of our trip and is a great way to sort the photos. Additionally, in these difficult days, it has been good to remember better times.
New Zealand is in lockdown now for at least one month. There are relatively few cases here, and it all seems very civilised, so if we are really lucky, things may improve here (and elsewhere hopefully) quite quickly.
We flew back to NZ at the beginning of February after having a great six weeks home in the UK. It was wonderful to see so many family and friends and the hospitality was amazing. Thank you all so much. We returned to an arid New Zealand on February 5th.
It just seems so long ago but we checked our boat on our return from the UK, and then fairly quickly headed off for the South Island. There is no doubt about it, this is a magnificent country and we had a great trip down the East coast to Dunedin and then back up the West coast enjoying the vast, varied scenery. We quickly learnt that New Zealand is a sophisticated tourist destination and keeping our wallets firmly shut most of the time was very necessary. We opted to hire a car and to stay in Airbnbs after deciding this was a cheaper and more flexible option than our previous favourite, booking.com. This proved a good choice and we stayed in some lovely places and met some delightful hosts. We also stayed with an old school friend of mine, Debbie Holmes, for a couple of nights near Christchurch and we had a great time reminiscing and catching up. Unfortunately I forgot to take a photo, but I can confirm neither of us had changed too much.
Some highlights from our tour
We were staggered by the scale of the vineyards around Marlborough. We must have driven for 50 miles through non stop plantations. The vineyards do get pampered with irrigation, huge fans (which look like small wind turbines) to push through frost and netting to stop the birds. It does make wassailing look a little amateur. We were surprised to see enormous irrigation machines for grassland as well. And yes, we did check the quality of the wine, and it was very good.
We stayed on a beef, sheep and deer farm in a little shepherd’s cottage near Hamner Springs, and Debbie organised a visit to a friends of hers who farm beef and sheep near Mount Somers. It was interesting to learn and see New Zealand farming in practise. Acreage and animal numbers are measured in many, many thousands and the on farm handling systems look amazing, but again the pasture was just so dry.
I was particularly keen to see some Yellow Eyed penguins. Despite the many sign-posted locations these proved elusive in the wild, and it turns out they are really quite rare and solitary. We did see them and some baby Blue penguins in a sanctuary in Dunedin. They really are the sweetest things. We also saw albatross pairs with their chicks . We were particularly lucky to see them in the air as they swopped parenting duties. Their wing span is enormous and, of course they are very graceful, although their sheer size and speed does make them slightly scary.
The walking proved great with well signposted tracks and fabulous scenery.
We generally don’t enjoy visiting towns but we found Christchurch very interesting. You will remember that there was a devasting earthquake there in 2011 and it was fascinating to see how the city had recovered and changed. There was a strange juxtaposition of very modern shopping centres and the like, next to damaged buildings, and plenty of car parks where buildings once stood. We had a great tram ride, and we did find it super trendy with plenty of street art but I think the developers are doing a great job. We did come across an organic hairdresser. Do tell me what is an inorganic hairdresser?
We were not going to visit Queenstown (much to touristy for us), but our Airbnb host suggested that we would enjoy it. Queenstown must be the adrenaline junky capital of the world. There is nothing scary you cannot do and it is fun to watch the brave. We opted for a more sedate cruise on the beautiful historic steamship, Earnslaw. All the working steam engines were on display and I really thought Julian might join the stokers! It is a beautiful setting and a really fun place.
New Zealand is a practical/farming country and we did see plenty of lovely old machinery. There were two highlights. The first was Hayes Engineering works in the Otago region. The displays included a typical early nineteenth century machine shop. This had a lethal series of belts and pulleys and was first powered by wind and then electricity from a home built hydro electric plant. Ernest Hayes invented the smooth grip wire strainer in 1924. These were sold around the world and I suspect can be found on most farms in the UK. There was certainly one at Leadon Court. The second was an amazing display of old Seagull outboards at the Hokitika museum near Greymouth. Older sailors and cruisers will remember them with some affection. Those of us who were passengers in the dinghy will remember that lethal starting rope!
Our onward travels are looking difficult but relative to many other cruisers, we find ourselves in a very favourable position. We are safe in an excellent marina and New Zealand is not a bad place to be stuck. One of our friends is floating around in the Indian Ocean with nowhere they can go, even to provision. All the possible destinations have shut their borders. Their (Swedish) embassy has told them to be innovative!
We originally had planned to head to Indonesia but after some reflection, we changed our minds and decided Australia and onward to South Africa and back into the Atlantic was a better option. We are waiting for our Australian visas but are not really very hopeful of an early departure from NZ. To enjoy favourable weather we need to leave New Zealand by June at the latest, as after that we are in the Southern Hemisphere winter. Currently all possible destinations have closed their borders so a June departure does not seem very likely. There may be a window of opportunity in October/November time to leave NZ for Australia but after this it will be May/June of 2021 when we can depart from here.
We are now in lockdown for at least a month, but we are in a good marina in a fairly remote location, and close to two large beaches where we can walk. The cockpit tent is up (for the first time) and so we have a conservatory. Julian and Bill (from Krabat) made it into workshop for a day. One new bilge alarm, courtesy of Bill’s hard work (on the day before lock-down) has been constructed. We will have to be creative and inventive for the next month to keep ourselves occupied, but things could be so much more difficult. We have little choice but to wait and see.
Thinking of you all at this very difficult time. Keep safe.