As I cruised out from Taranaki, I reflected on the similarities with my departure from Milford Sound four years ago... Just like in Fiordland, the folk at Taranaki were so welcoming and seemed to bend over backwards to assist me – there were few yachties that stopped into Taranaki each year, normally when repairs were required. When I had arrived into Taranaki, I was told that the weather was uncharacteristically windy – 10 metre waves on the Sunday two days before I arrived which had washed a several hundred tonne wave buoy onto the rocky beack within the port (similarities with the fishermen in Stewart Island who had said the “weather was broken” when I arrived), and now as when I left Milford there was a large high forming and a forecast of settled weather with light southerlies to take me up the coast. And I also had a mountain to watch as it disappeared beyond the horizon – not Mitre Peak but Mt Egmont/Taranaki – I was 10 hours out of Taranaki before Mt Taranaki finally disappeared from view.
Three hours out from Taranaki and the forecast south west wind picked up to a pleasant 15 knots so I could switch off the engine and settle into a very pleasant day of sailing. With my intended straight line to Cape Reinga, I was going to be at least 50 miles off shore, which Maritime Radio had said would push the limits of their VHF coverage, so if needs be I would make my scheduled calls using the satellite phone. As I was heading out from Taranaki, I checked the distances if I altered my heading to stick to within 35 miles of land – it would take me only about 1-2 hours longer, and with guaranteed VHF coverage I would easily be able to make my scheduled calls and get weather updates, without costly calls via the sat phone. And so I altered my heading to due north.
I didn't see a single other boat on my first day after I had left the Taranaki fishermen behind, until close to sunset when I sailed into the vicinity of where a number of fishing boats were working – probably the fishing fleet from Kawhia or Raglan that were out tuna fishing. There were several lights of fishing boats around me with their anchor lights on, and the wind had died out completely so at 11pm I also turned in for a few hours sleep with my anchor light on. The fishing boats probably had their sea anchors out, but I left Honey to drift with mainsail flapping in the swell so I got out to check every hour to be sure I was not going to drift into any fishing boat. By 5am I decided to get on my way again, and with no wind I fired up the engine and carried on heading due north. The forecast had now eased to variable 10 knots, so I was concerned at this rate that it may be a motoring trip and I could run low on fuel.
Sunset, with a fishing boat just visible on the horizon
My second morning was a very pleasant one, albeit glassy calm as I motored up the west coast. As I approached offshore Manukau, I started picking up several of the calls on VHF channel 16. It was Auckland /Northland Anniversary weekend, and with beautiful weather there were obviously a lot of boats out and about around Auckland. Although I didn't see any being 20 miles offshore, Maritime Radio seemed to have a very busy day responding to multiple 'Mayday' and 'Panpan' calls.
By 12.30pm the wind started to fill in and I switched off the engine to settle into an afternoon of relaxed sailing. The wind gradually picked up to about 15 knots from the south west and the heads of Manukau which had been visible in the distance disappeared and more of the western coastline took its place. By 5pm I had closed to within 15 miles of the shoreline, and altered my course to 330 degrees (true) to follow the line of the coast. When the sun set I was directly off Kaipara Harbour, and the wide opening to the harbour was clearly visible out to sea. The winds eased after sunset but they didn't die out completely, so I was able to sail on through the night at about 4 knots, with the glow of Auckland disappearing behind me and the glow of Dargaville brightening to starboard. I had seen no boats or ships since I had left the fishing fleet behind after the previous night, so I was confident to stretch my sleeps out to 30 minutes in between popping my head up to check on my whereabouts and that no other boats were around. Around 4am my new (replacement) autohelm gave up working – I thought perhaps the battery voltage had dropped too low, so I started the engine and motor sailed for an hour. With the autohelm still not working I got out my trusty back-up, the ST1000, which was able to work easily in these calm conditions, cut the engine at 5am and sailed at about 3 knots in dying winds. The wind had completely died out by 7am, so I switched the engine back on and motored up the coast.
It was getting noticeably warmer each day as I headed north – Taranaki is at approx 39 degrees latitude and I had now passed 36 degrees latitude – and although the winds were from the same direction I had fewer layers on in the evenings and night. A lot of people have asked what I do when I'm out sailing for days on end. Unlike my sail from Port Hardy to Taranaki, this was an easy relaxed sail up the coast, so I had plenty of time on my hands – Honey did most of the work with me just checking and monitoring progress and sails as needed. I spent a lot of time reading, and for a whole day I didn't need to get up onto the deck to attend to anything (I am able to reef the main from the cockpit and with a furling headsail I can also operate this from the cockpit, but invariably something gets tangled necessitating getting out onto the deck). My world existed between Honey's cabin and cockpit, and the beautiful sea and sky views around. With the settled weather, came beautiful starry nights and the hint of a new moon that disappeared soon after sunset. The Milky Way and its clouds of stars were fully visible and I saw many shooting stars – when I was looking I could see these about every 5 minutes – just stunning! I didn't put out my fishing rod – in hindsight, I probably should have done this when I was close to the fishing fleet – instead choosing to enjoy the sailing and weather and relax.
By 1pm on the third day out from Taranaki, I was off the coast from Hokianga Harbour and had Tauroa Point in view. Tauroa Point is at the south end of Ninety Mile Beach, and marks the edge of Ahipara Bay which is the only place on the west coast that I could consider stopping in at. The remainder of the harbours on the west coast are all bar harbours, requiring local knowledge (and local guidance to enter) and are notoriously dangerous. The wind picked up to about 10 knots from the south and I cut the engine with the sails set to gull-wing (the main out one side and the genoa out the other), as I closed into Tauroa Point. There is a 0.5 knot current that sets to the north west off Tauroa Point and as I got closer, to within 4 miles of the coast, this current added noticeably to Honey's speed. At 7pm I passed Tauroa Point and Ninety Mile Beach opened up. There is very little to see of Ninety Mile Beach and the coastline from out at sea – the coast is very low lying with the odd, presumably sand hill, visible. I changed my heading to 320 degrees true, to ensure I stayed about 12 miles off the coast, and sailed until about 2am taking little catnaps, and my speed gradually reducing as the wind died again.
Tauroa Point with Ahipara settlement and the sand hills beind
I was keen to round Cape Maria van Diemen and Cape Reinga at first light – both so I could actually see this beautiful bit of our coastline at sunrise, and also to round before the tidal currents run at their maximum (which is 2.5-3 knots, and is against the direction we are heading). With the wind dying, I started the engine and motored towards Cape Maria van Diemen, the lights of both capes clearly visible. The night was so calm – I passed inside of Pandora Banks – no breaking sea in sight and with very little swell I think I could have passed right over Pandora Banks with no mishap althought I obviously didn't want to risk it. (Pandora Banks have a depth of 6m and the sea often breaks, with recommendations to pass at least 2 miles to the west of the bank in adverse weather). The sea was glassy calm and with the starlit night it was beautiful – the stars reflected in the sea so it was starry all around – it felt like Honey and I were sailing through the universe – magic!!
By 6am I was off the coast from Cape Maria van Diemen and I cut the engine and drifted with the favourable tide, waiting for the sun to rise. It was a beautiful sunrise over this spectacular part of our country, and I proceeded to motor around both Cape Maria van Dieman and Cape Reinga, staying about 3-4 miles offshore to avoid the worst of the tidal eddies given the tide had now turned and was running against us. The Three Kings Islands were visible in the distance off to the port side, and I was tempted to turn tracks and head out there for an explore until the tides changed. The Three Kings are about 30 miles off the coast from Cape Reinga, so just getting there and back was about 12 hours motoring, which would mean it would be dark when I got back to the northern coast – I decided to push on around the northern coast. The breaking seas of Columbia Banks and Cape Reinga lighthouse with the glints of tourists vehicles visiting, were clearly visible as I went past, as was the beautiful rugged coastline. The sea was still glassy calm with slight eddies, and I watched as birds and flying fish flew just above the sea. It was early in the day and becoming very hot. Wow, it really felt like I had made it into the sub-tropics!
Heading towards Spirits Bay
I motored at about 3.5 knots, the tide against us, in towards Spirits Bay – a bay that Chris and Tess had visited two weeks prior and recommended it as being worth a stop at. The cruising guide recommended anchoring in a small cove between Panache Islet and Hooper Point, at the north eastern end of the beach at Spirits Bay. Honey and I made our way past the swells that were breaking on the rocks either side of the entrance to the bay, and we dropped the pick inside the beautiful little cove. This gave me an opportunity to have a quick swim, a tidy up and a spot of lunch before heading on again. Spirits Bay seems like a popular destination, and there were people walking along the hills, swimming off the beach and someone fishing off Panache Islet (that is accessible by foot at low tide).