Bluff to Bay of Islands

We departed Bluff on 12 March with the intention of calling back into Carey’s Bay, Dunedin to catch up with the lovely people we had met there, Steve and Jo Little, owner of Carey’s Bay Historic Hotel and Richard and Helen who own the slipway and fishing berths. However, the seaway was so calm we made the decision to keep going north as long as the conditions were so good. So I spent my 53rd birthday on the high seas cruising past the rugged coast of the South Island. We heard the weather report and that a cyclone – “Lusi” was heading to NZ. After two nights non-stop we decided to head into Akaroa Harbour to catch up on some sleep. When underway during the day we have a very casual watch schedule but at night time we stick to 3 hours on, wake the other person and then try and sleep yourself. (No Kristie we do not put the auto pilot on and sleep through the night 😉

We spent 4 nights in Akaroa and had Joseph my nephew, and his mate Jordan come and stay on board for the Saturday night. We had a lot of fun taking Southern Star out to the Akaroa Heads and exploring some of the beautiful bays on the Peninsula including seeing many baby seals, very cute. We headed back to Akaroa Harbour as the weather was deteriorating and we had cards to play! We taught Joe and Jordan to play our favourite game 500. They loved it and downloaded the app on their iphones and practiced a lot also. We had a lot of fun whilst the weather was terrible, the wind and rain were hammering us. There was a huge charter luxury yacht anchored up in the middle of the bay named “Big Blue”, their tender was called “Baby Blue” We woke up the next morning to find they had dragged their anchor and were half way out the Bay.

We departed Akaroa on the 18th March unsure whether or not we were going to call into the Marlborough Sounds or not. We were getting a bit concerned as we had a lot of preparation to do for our departure to Vanuatu which included obtaining “Cat 1”, which is an inspection and check to ensure that the boat, and us were prepared for an ocean crossing. This is mandatory for any NZ registered boat. We actually think it’s a good thing but it cost us a lot of time, energy and money into getting it right. The 12 brand new lifejackets that were on board when we brought “Southern Star” were not compliant so we had to replace those, we had to purchase a Dan buoy which is a visual aid to find a man overboard, it is about 2.5meters high with a flag and flashing light, two life rings also with lights and whistles and a lot of other safety equipment.

Again we were very fortunate and the seaway conditions were great for cruising so we continued past Cook Straight and up the coast of the North Island to Gisborne. I was driving and it was night time by the time we got to the Gisborne Harbour entrance, it was quite tricky and narrow as we had to get past a big cargo ship carrying logs. There were also a lot of lights from the streets and harbour, which was confusing to spot the navigation lights, so it was a big relief to safely berth the boat.

We departed Gisborne on the 23rd for Great Mercury Island. Had a great run and met Jack and Mary on their boat,”Sea Jac”, a 54’ Davis. They were just shucking some Scallops they had caught, of course you had to taste a raw one, thanks but no thanks I like mine cooked. We had a great couple of days there with Jack showing Robbie the Secret Scallop bed, we had drinks and dinner on “Sea Jac” with Jack and Mary and their son & his girlfriend. We had a great time and they gave us lots of hints on what to do in Vanuatu.

We departed Great Mercury Cove on 27th March for Whangarei. We arrived into Urquhart’s Bay at Whangarei Heads at 7:00pm. We had now virtually circumnavigated NZ, back to our very first anchorage spot when we left Auckland in November. The next day we cruised up the river to Docklands 5, the haulout yard owned by Jack and Mary and managed by Charlie. We were hauled out of the water by the Travel lift so we could install our new underwater Aqualuma lights and complete some hull maintenance, which includes a water blast of the hull, repairing the scratch on the keel, replacing some of the anodes etc. Robbie couldn’t wait to get out of there, haul out yards are always dusty and dirty and it’s not much fun (for me) climbing up a ladder 2.5 metres high to get on board.

We came out of the travel lift, fuelled up our tanks from a mini fuel tanker and cruised a short distance up river to Riverside Marina, where we berthed for a few nights. We hired a car and drove to Auckland where we completed an advanced sea survival course and picked up John (Robbie’s youngest son) from the airport. John is joining us for the passage to Vanuatu and for as long as he can stay until he flies somewhere over the world with his Paint less Dent Removing.


We departed Whangarei for the Bay of Islands on 10th April, we anchored up in Whangamumu Harbour, a beautiful spot. The boys went fishing and I went for a walk up the hill. Stunning scenery with bright lime green grass and lovely native bush with Punga’s (Tree ferns)

We then headed to Opua to pick up Kristie and Nicole who had flown over from Australia to spend 5 days on board. We had a great few days including swimming, fishing, and Robbie taught the girls to dive. We had a lovely afternoon at Waewaetorea Island where we got the Kayak out and Robbie thought he would try out the spare rubber duck. He got it out of its bag, brand new never been used. He blew it up and Johhny and Robbie launched it into the water. Where promptly the handles, the oar supports, the seat mounts and everything just fell off! The glue had let go – but that was pretty funny. The weather was gorgeous and we all swam and the girls walked up the hill and took some stunning photos of the Bay of Islands. We took Southern Star and anchored up in Deep Water Cove , Maunganui Bay where we then took the duck ( the big one) out to the Hole in the Rock. It’s a great tourist spot and the big tourist boats can get through the Hole in the Rock if there’s no big swell. We wouldn’t get through in Southern Star, we are too tall. It was quite entertaining with the girls fishing and Kristie was sure she had caught a monster fish (see video on photo gallery)

We dropped the girls off in Opua on 15th April, it was sad to see them leave but we had a fair few things to get sorted for the Cat 1 inspector who was coming on the 24th. We spent a few days in the Bay of Islands at some lovely anchorages and spent some time doing Man Overboard drills, Can you guess who ran over the man overboard? (Wasn’t me) deploying the sea anchor and generally preparing for Cat 1. It was quite a stressful process and such an anticlimax when the Cat 1 Inspector actually came and ticked and flicked his paperwork and gave us the approval. It was a huge sigh of relief for everyone.

We had Bob and Dianne from come aboard and stay for the night in Russell. They were on their way to Australia to start cruising on their 86’ Motor Yacht “Braveheart”. It was great to see them again. We met them when we were berthed in the Viaduct Harbour Marina in Auckland. Bob has recently taken Braveheart over to Australia ready for them to start cruising the Australian Coast. They brought us some beautiful smoked fish and we went out to dinner at the Thai in Russell which was lovely.

Robbie and Johnny decided they needed new rods and reels for the trip to Vanuatu. After a bit of research and pricing it was cheaper to fly over Emily, a friend of Johns and have her bring over the gear than buy it in NZ, or Australia and have it shipped over. We had Emily aboard for 4 nights and did some more sightseeing in the Bay of Islands. We found Roberton Island and went for a walk up the hill where it was an absolutely stunning view of the little cove and lagoons. It is now a wildlife sanctuary and was Captain Cook’s first landing place in 1769 after leaving England There was a murder of white people by the local Maori tribe back in 1841 – a white man and woman, two children and a half-caste girl were murdered here by a maori who was subsequently tried and hung in Auckland, the first execution under British law in New Zealand.

We headed into Opua Marina on 22nd April, ready to begin the final preparation for our first offshore cruise to Vanuatu. We berthed in F27. Opua is a small settlement with lots of marine businesses, a Burnsco, general store and that’s about it. It’s a 10 minute car ride to Paihia (pronounced Pie Here) and a 20 minute drive to Keri Keri. We hired a car and did a couple of trips, one back to Whangarei and to collect the small rubber duck that we had the girls drop in on their way back to Auckland. We had a busy day running round, went to the Doctor to get the anti-malarial tablets for Vanuatu and a hit list of a few things we needed. One of the items we brought was a new mattress for the day bed in the pilothouse, poor John and Emily were squeezed in the back of the car with the mattress, we could not even see them from the front of the car. It must have looked hilarious to anyone driving past us. Johnny has been worked pretty hard, repairing a lot of small jobs on the boat that Robbie hadn’t got to yet. Johns experience working with boats is incredible. He did some gel coat repairs on the boat. His apprenticeship as a boat builder has been fantastic for us. It seems there is always a lot of little jobs to do and Robbie is continually improving the boat facilities.

During the time of our stay in Opua Marina we had a few meetings and briefings regarding the Rally to Vanuatu. There was also a rally of Yachts heading to Tonga and Fiji so we met a lot of couples preparing for their journeys too. A lot of yachties from all over the world. We met Per and Elizabeth from Norway on “Oda”, Peter and Heidi from Germany on “Storm Vogel”, and David and Andrea from Australia on “Diomedea”, Simon and Barb from “Turangi”. After a weeks delay the Rally organisers, John and Lyn Martin, cancelled the Vanuatu Rally, due to other commitments they could no longer participate in the trip. We had a few meetings and it was decided that “Southern Star”, “Oda” and “StormVogel” would travel together to Vanuatu. Some of the Yachts decided to go straight to Australia. There was about 50 boats preparing to go to Tonga and Fiji. We decided to start our journey on Friday along with “Oda” and “Stormvogel”, “Turangi are also going to Vanuatu and they left before us on Friday. The other yachts heading to Fiji and Tonga were departing on Saturday. Everyone was excited to be leaving at long last after waiting such a long time for a weather window.

On the 9th May we finally departed for Vanuatu, after over a week of waiting for a weather window to tackle the 960 nautical mile journey. It is a nice feeling knowing there are other boats around you. For most of our journey around NZ we were on our own apart from the container ships which seemed to be more prevalent in the South Island.

The first two days of our voyage from Opua to Vanuatu was very uncomfortable, we copped big swells, and wind from the South West. For the first time Robbie felt a bit seasick. I was sick and ended up putting on a sea sickness patch. We decided to head in an Easterly direction rather than our rum-line. This made quite a difference but it was still very uncomfortable, the boat was rolling off the big waves. I slid off the couch 3 times, while trying to sleep and I have a few bruises to show for it.

We had good radio contact with Oda and Stormvogel and we were all feeling a bit sick and not enjoying the ride. The swell settled down a bit during the night and we are now enjoying the passage. I am sitting here writing this which is something that I never thought I would manage as I don’t normally manage to do much if it’s a roly and messy seaway. We got a message from Oda to say that there was a new low forming near New Caledonia which will hit the area we are heading in around Thursday. John Martin advised us to up speed and get there as quickly as we can. Oda and Stormvogel decided to slow down and wait for the low to pass. We both felt bad that we weren’t staying together with the other two boats, but we also wanted to get to Anatom as quickly as we could and find somewhere to hide for protection from the weather – if it eventuates.

We have been learning a lot about weather and forecasts and weather GRIB files – which we can download through our SAT phone. John Martin was a great help with understanding weather planning. We can now download a GRIB file through the SAT phone during the passage which gives us 7 day forecast with wind, waves and Barometric pressures. It’s a great system but it took a lot of phone calls to America to sort it out. Robbie has successfully installed a number of improvements to the boat, including two cameras, one mounted in the engine room and the other at the Starboard side of the stern, to help with docking. He has also installed a 2nd Simrad auto pilot so we literally have independent backup systems for most of the electronics. Whilst on the hardstand at Docklands 5 in Whangarei Robbie organised a hydraulic steering ram and engineered it so that if something happens the new one will bolt straight in. He has increased electrical power to our water-maker to make it more efficient. He has installed a fan in each bedroom, extra ventilation and ducting to the engine room. He has fitted a dive compressor in the Lazarette and lots of improvements all over the boat.

We have had a lot of interest in the boat and quite a few yachtie couples coming through the boat to check it out. The ladies nearly wet themselves over the washing machine and dryer and the men love the space in the engine room – no crawling to do maintenance.




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