Sunday, February 14, 2010

Dispatch 51 Arrival New Zealand

November 21, 2010

New Zealand – the cruiser’s “Promised Land”. The country relishes boating on a scale known almost nowhere else—the main city, Auckland, is referred to as the City of Sails. We felt extremely welcomed from the second we arrived. The infrastructure for boat entry and processing was as efficient as it gets. First, we had the fly-overs so the officials knew we were arriving. Then there are volunteer services that we could call into to track our progress, and, if the need had arisen, to organize help for us. We arrived at Opua in the Bay of Islands where Customs has a Quarantine dock for all arriving yachties. We tied up there, and, as we had arrived after 5 PM on a Saturday, spent the night waiting to be processed the next morning, Sunday (Customs works 7 days a week here). The Q dock, is separated by just a narrow fairway from the marina and we were greeted by many of our boater friends upon arrival. However, the Q dock is locked so that we couldn’t escape or get rid of contraband before we were searched. However, two of our boat friends snuck us in some ice cream that night as a welcome gift, but I don’t think anyone would be prosecuted for that kind of trade and we made sure to get rid of the evidence so to speak.

The Customs and Immigration officials could not have been nicer. They actually came around with a welcome packet presented in a locally woven flax carry bag which they handed out to each boat. Within was a wealth of information about local services, brochures and maps and, hey, what’s this? INSECT REPELLENT!

That very morning, we learned about New Zealand’s dirty little secret, well kept from all who look forward to visiting until this very moment when I will share it with you. There are sand flies in New Zealand who will eat you alive and drive you crazy if you don’t take evasive action. While speaking with a Custom’s agent, I looked down at a little itchy spot on my ankle, innocently bare (without cover of repellant) and found a black spot which represented the sand fly. As I smacked him, I noted the spot of blood he left behind. By the end of day 1, Richard and I were covered in bites on our feet and ankles, but, it wasn’t until day 2 that we experienced the profound itching that follows. And these spots are not the type to fade in a few days time, no they leave what, to date, has been an indelible mark. UGH! But, we can learn from our errors and from the first day, we learned to wear pants and socks or smear repellent on before emerging from the boat. The good news was we have mosquito netting and the sand flies are just a bit bigger than no see ums so the netting keeps the little buggers out. Whew.

OK, so we got the worst over with at once. After that, it’s been all gravy. The country is beautiful and the people are incredibly friendly. When a propane tank we had ordered failed to arrive, the man at the marine shop lent us his off his boat. Everyone freely offers touring advice. The islands here are stunning, wooded with walking trails, protected anchorages and all within a few miles of each other. The Department of Conservation works hard to make walking trails very accessible and there are heaps of them everywhere. We took a road trip to visit the Kauri forest and saw giant Kauri trees, 15 feet or more in diameter in a beautiful forest. During the same day, after walking a few miles through the forest to view the trees, we were able to go to the beach on the Tasman Sea and walk a trail down to the headland and around on the beach. Not only is it beautiful and well maintained, but the country is of a manageable size. The roads, however, are 2 lane and very curvy so road travel is not fast—but it is stunningly beautiful.

Our guide book put the whole population of New Zealand at 4.8 million while the population of sheep is 40 million. That means that the whole country with 2 major islands, is smaller than greater Chicago in terms of population. As our friends told us, everyone is on a first name basis here. Though the scenery in the Bay of Islands reminds us of our Puget Sound area, when looked at closely, the vegetation is interesting and quite different, like the trees that are actually ferns!

And finally a few weeks after our arrival, I got word that my medical license will be approved and I can start looking for work. Now I have to look for motivation to work. Perhaps an expensive road trip around the country will be enough motivation, for, though the NZ dollar is below the US dollar, it is not enough to offset the fairly steep prices here. Sigh, when will we learn to stop looking for something for nothing?

We bought a van. It seems that everyone is in the business of either buying or selling vehicles for travel around the country. There are many venues for shopping for used vehicles, from the usual used car lots to car auctions in most major cities and huge car sale at the race track every Sunday in Auckland, and another car sale at a car park near the harbor in Auckland on Saturday. Then there’s Trade Me, the NZ equivalent of E-Bay. To say the least, it’s bewildering, that is, until you realize that some of the same vans turn up in multiple places. We started with a couple for sale on Trade Me and couldn’t come to an agreeable price for the one we wanted. That owner showed up at the Saturday sale where we finally did purchase our van. Vans poured in from 8-9 in the morning and the owners just let everyone look and take a short test drive. One guy whose van had all kinds of new parts on the engine let us drive his car. We took it 4 blocks and stopped it to check out all the features (windows, sunroof, etc.) and change drivers. When I got in to re-start it, it didn’t start and then the battery began to make that distinct sound like it was going dead, which it promptly did. OK, guess that van wasn’t for us. The owner came running back with Richard, opened the hood where he found the battery cable detached and we saw that the connection was no good. He jumped it with another battery he had in his car (battery fluid running all over the place as he turned it upside down while I winced.) Very amusing. Luckily, we found a van we like at the price that seemed good and, on the 3 hour drive from Auckland back to the boat, she continued to run.

We just finished the longest day of the year, December 22, celebrating Richard’s 60th birthday as many times as we could. We celebrated with friends in Auckland and here in the Bay of Islands. He is happy to reach this big milestone and neither looks nor acts his age.

It is Christmas season and, just like in the tropics, being in the upside down world of the Southern Hemisphere makes for some conflicting images. While I shopped in the grocery store amongst all the specials for the holidays, it was 78 degrees outside and I was humming along to “Sleigh bells ring, are you listening, in the lane, snow is glistening…” or “I’m dreaming of a white Christmas…” I giggled to myself. Rather than the dark days with snow last Christmas, we are putting on sunscreen every morning and squinting in the bright sunshine, sipping the last of our champagne for Richard’s birthday in the fading light at 9:00 PM. Don’t worry, when you all are running through sprinklers for July 4, we’ll be battling icestorms in the dark. Fair’s fair.

Meanwhile, we are looking at job offers from far afield and trying to understand how to make a decision about where to live in this beautiful and varied country. Hope all your holidays were wonderful and keep in touch.