Sailing To the South Island

Much though we have enjoyed the sailing in the North Island, we felt that we needed more of a challenge and to go on a proper sailing trip. So we planned Christmas in Nelson at the top of the South Island with some friends. The South Island sounds (i.e. fjords) are majestic, the walking great and it was time for a change.

Sailing to the South Island is more difficult than the cruising we have been used to these last couple of years. Gone are the consistent trade winds always blowing from the east. New Zealand’s weather is dominated by strong Southern Ocean depressions every three or four days coming from the West. Similar to the UK winds, they are very variable, from all directions, and frequently very strong.

There is much debate about the best way to go South from the Auckland area to the South Island. The choices are via the West or East coast of the North Island. To sum it up, go West and the prevailing wind is in your favour, you do not need to tackle the notorious Cook Strait, but you are in the Southern Ocean, there are no even half decent ports of refuge and you need to get around the top of New Zealand before you start. Go East and you can break up the trip with a couple of stops but you do have to tackle the Cook Strait. There is, as always, plenty of opinions, but no consensus. We opted to go East and it worked for us. We stopped on the East side of the Coromandel Peninsula, and then did an overnight sail to Hicks Bay at the East Cape, where we stopped for rest, and waited for the wind to change direction. Then it was another overnight trip to Napier. It is a long time since we have done a multi-day trip and it was really good to be going somewhere new.

We saw few other boats or ships on this trip but the birds and dolphins were numerous. Unbelievably we had albatross circling the boat and plenty of time to get a good picture. I thought they were rare, but not here. These birds are just amazing and yesterday in The Times there was an article about Wisdom, a Laysan albatross. She is at least 69, has flown over 3.5 million miles and hatched 30 eggs. Something to thing about.

I had always wanted to visit Napier, in Hawkes Bay, and was sorry we did not fit it in on our land travels in the North Island last year. It did not disappoint and it was a great place to wait for a weather window to get to Picton and the South Island. We had a busy and enjoyable time in Napier.

We stayed at the Napier Boating Club. This is a small friendly club owned marina with few visiting yachts and the Club mainly concentrates on dinghy sailing and racing in Hawkes Bay. In the short time we were there, the Boating Club hosted a big brass band evening, antler velvet competition, and a few “happy hours” and so we had a very sociable time. Before you ask, antler velvet is produced by young stags and this is harvested and exported to China for medicinal compounds. Commercially this is a very lucrative business. It is just amazing what you come across. We did not understood much of what was going on, but it did have all the hallmarks of a very good farmers gathering in Herefordshire, and the roast dinner looked excellent.

The other highlight was seeing a photo of the New Zealand winners of the World Flying Championships held at Hayling Island in 1980. Julian learnt to sail at Hayling Island and spent many summers there. It was a pleasure to met up with Barry, one of the winners, and see all his memorabilia. In the days when there was much less sponsorship, this was quite some achievement particularly given that the original boat they had arranged to use was sold by the builder to another competitor, and they had to very quickly fit out a new boat just before the competition.

Napier suffered an earthquake in 1931, and was largely rebuilt in the Art Deco style. It has been well preserved, and the High Town really was a fun place to visit – very vibrant and colourful. The Morgan’s wardrobe has had a much needed small upgrade.

As a result of the earthquake large areas of land were raised up creating flat wetlands. This has been developed with a very comprehensive network of cycle ways. It did not escape our notice that the Hawkes Bay Area was the first wine growing area in New Zealand. The vineyards are much smaller than in the Marlborough region, very welcoming, and just too tempting.

It was soon time to leave Napier and make the final jump to Picton. We were fortunate that another boat, S/Y Crusoe, was leaving at the same time. The trip went well although it was a rather grizzly day when we arrived at the Tory Channel.

3 thoughts on “Sailing To the South Island”

  1. Looks fabulous,-2DegC here in Blighty. I see a bit of similarity between Wisdom the 69 year old Albatross and Julian or is that just me. Have fun on your way to South Island. Oliver

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  2. Still a Mammy at 69 – you have to hand it to Wisdom! I knew that deer rubbed the velvet off their antlers, but never
    knew that it could be of any use to humans, you live and learn. If you want wetlands, come over and visit me, after
    a very wet autumn, the local woods and fields are absolutely sodden, real welly walks.

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  3. I’m  absolutely awestruck by your plans and adventures.   Very little editing needed for your travel book!  Amazing about Wisdom –  they must have tagged her when young.    All the scenery photos are super.   It really is a wonderful country.   Go on enjoying ! M

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