Whangaroa harbour, the best ‘waiting room’ in our around the world voyage

Wow, look at this! 

I slowly emerge from the bed and gaze through the stern cabin window. 

Over night nature worked a miracle. A natural mystic. Everything is veiled in a heavy misty cloud, like an immense candy floss waiting to melt as the sun scrambles up from behind the green hills surrounding Whangaroa marina.

Our Oyster yacht moored in Whangaroa marina waiting for the ‘engine doctor’ to return

The engine trouble that brought us to the marina could not temper my excitement for the miracle surrounding us. 

We had sailed north the previous day from Russell in Bay of Islands to Whangaroa Harbour, our last cruising target before sailing away from New Zealand. We didn’t know much about the place, but we were excited to make our final discovery before resuming our sailing around the world. It turned out to be the best ‘waiting room’ in our around the world voyage. 

On leaving Russell in Bay of Islands, we did not have much wind so we let ‘the old donkey’ do its job. Until Sorin noticed that the engine was overheating. He immediately turned it off and unfurled the Genoa. I hand stirred in very light winds whilst he was investigating. Water intake. Impeller. Thermostat. Heat exchanger. Exhaust. All looked good. Mr Google did not help either. 

As a last resort, we got hold of a mechanic via Whangaroa marina. He agreed to meet us there. Worryingly but somewhat reassuring, he was as clueless as we were. He returned the following morning with a heat gauge to confirm whether the engine was indeed overheating. To our relief it wasn’t. If it was not overheating, but the gauge showed otherwise, it must be the gauge. The mechanic tapped on it. The needle jumped back to normal. Faulty gauge. Phew!!!

Time to make the most of what looked to be NZ best kept secret – Whangaroa Harbour. A reminder of the remoteness, wilderness and boldness of the Marquesas Islands. Breathtaking. 

Climbing Whangaroa township ‘quaint hat’, the overlooking rocky hump that casted fascinating at first sight, and continued to do so throughout our stay

As soon as we crossed the very narrow, 200 m wide, harbour entrance the previous day, we were sternly greeted by these weathered precipices that contrasted with the calm turquoise waters hosting them. We were not quite in the right frame of mind to let ourselves wowed just then, but we had plenty of chances once the engine concern was out of the way.

These towering volcanic rock outcrops standing tall like aligned army soldiers in green patched uniforms are breathtaking. The native bush scantly dressing them is amongst the best we’ve seen in NZ. We are humbly glinting amongst them in awe. 

Back in the Marquesas? Nope. Better!

Thanks to its narrow entrance, Whangaroa Harbour casted into oblivion Pakeha (people of European descent) who first made landfall in NZ. Whangaroa will not remain undiscovered for too long. 

The very narrow Whangaroa harbour entrance

What is known as ‘the Boyd massacre’ occurred in Whangaroa Harbour in 1809 when the Māori inhabitants killed and cannibalised between 66 and 70 Europeans, setting their ship on fire. The massacre is said to have represented Māoris’ revenge for the whipping of a young Māori chief by Boyd’s crew. News of the event caused the number of visiting ships to fall in the coming years. 

Nowadays, Whangaroa township seems to be lost in time. Proudly wearing its ‘ quaint hat’, this small settlement is inhabited by no more than a few hundred people. No shops or other amities. Just a renowned fishing club.

Fishing is big in NZ. Everyone has a go at it. Male, female and children of all ages. From sailing boats, motor boats of all sizes, dinghies, kayaks and everything in between. Yet, in Whangaroa fishing is taken to a different level. One evening, whilst enjoying a pizza at the local fishing club, the only social establishment around, we notice some commotion outside. The 11 year held fishing record had just been broken. 360 kg swordfish had been caught by a tiny fishing boat after a four hours fight 30 nautical miles offshore.

The swordfish, victim of people’s ambitions

The highlight of our stay was dropping the hook in a small bay, by what is called the Duke’s nose, one of these impressive rocky outcrops that wows. The bay was so small that it could only host us. It felt like the VIP lounge of  Whangaroa harbour. All reserved for us. Climbed up the Duke’s nose and admired the breathtaking landscapes. Rambled around the Harbour for hours through native bush, crossed rivers and muddy meadows, admiring its tall standing ‘soldiers’.

Our VIP lounge in Whangaroa Harbour

When we had the right winds, we sailed back south to Opua in Bay of Islands, keeping an eye out for the right weather window to resume our circumnavigation, via Fiji. 

We are looking forward leaving the beautiful Whangaroa harbour behind

Less than a week later, the time suddenly contracted like a stretched elastic (over the last couple of years…) let loose. We have a suitable weather window to sail back to the tropics. Final boat preparations. Food shopping. Lengthy check out procedures. Pre-departure Covid test – cancelled requirement at the last minute! Iridium re-activation. Passage planing. Advance notice of arrival to Fiji. All in record time. 

Winding back the clock a couple of years, it feels like we pressed pause then, to now press play. Pause and play, Fiji we are on our way! 

Nga mihi, Aotearoa. Thank you, New Zealand. Bula Fiji!

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