Sailing in the Bay of Islands

On my road trip in Northland I took a step back in time by sailing in the Bay of Islands on board the R Tucker Thompson, a replica tall ship: I took an afternoon sail on her, from Russell back to her berth at Opua wharf.

‘The Tucker’ is a gaff rigged schooner that operates as a not-for profit charitable trust: their mission is “Learning for Life through the Sea”. It is also used for tourism in the Bay of Islands from October through April and, for the sail training activities between May and September.

Designed by a naval architect it was originally a fishing boat with a large engine and a small sailing rig another man, Tucker Thompson, changed her design to build her in steel – making the hull longer and deeper to accommodate the tall rigging and is a replica of vessels that plied their trade on the Pacific West Coast of the USA in the early 19th century. (See more about the background to the ship on the R.Tucker Thompson’s website).

the ‘tiny tuck’

A day or two before my trip on the ship, I met Russell Harris (who was in partnership to complete the ship) when the model of the ship “Tiny Tuck” was on show in Paihia. Dressed in traditional clothing and with a cat-of-nine-tails in hand,  I was pleased he was not on board when I sailed just in case I did something wrong! (I’d prefer to ‘walk the plank’)

Want a taste of the cat? I don’t think so!

I have done some ‘blue water’ sailing, and it was great to be back under sail again: nevertheless, despite enjoying sailing, I’ve never been up in the rigging either climbing or in the boson’s chair and this trip was no different – although I’m sure most travellers love doing it when they go out for a day sail in ‘the bay.’  So look at these photos and picture yourself up among the ropes and canvas when you get to New Zealand and go sailing with the crew.

Follow them on @RTuckerThompson

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’m scared of heights – so why parasail?

I’m not an adrenaline junkie – in fact I’m a bit of a scaredy-cat about some things – like heights .

However, somehow the words on the brochure – ‘gentle lift-off and landing” – lulled me into ignoring the next sentence.  It included these words – New Zealand’s highest’!

The Flying Kiwi Parasail delivered on their promises:

  • Breath-taking views – check!
  • Gentle lift-off – check!
  • No need to get wet – check!
  • Gentle landing – check!
  • Single, double or triple flights – check!

I was on a single flight and I’m not sure it that made it easier or scarier, I just knew when I did the ‘gentle and dry landing’ part I was really happy to be down and happy to have parasailed on NZ’s highest. I also knew I would never do it again! Maybe! (I’ve learn’t to never say never)

I was SOOOOOOOO high.  Higher than Auckland’s Sky tower – not the level where adventurous people jump from – but the very top of lt. And, when you are up there, alone, and scared of heights it’s very, very high. My daughter would love it and no doubt most travellers, and other kiwi, would love to be able to say “I did New Zealand’s highest parasail

So how high was I? About 365 metres, or 1200 feet!  And, how high is the Sky Tower, a mere 328 metres – 1076.1 ft.  No wonder I stopped taking photos – I needed to hang on, grasp the reins and worry.

Worry that the ropes were safe; worry that my canvas seat would take the weight of my body; worry so much I needed to talk to myself.

“Look around Heather. You will never see this view again. Look at the cruise ship and NZ Navy ship. Enjoy the view” my head was saying, “There’s Russell over there’  ‘That’s Paihia that way’; ‘I can see the Treaty Grounds.’

While this chatter was happening in my head,  out of my non-religious mouth flowed words in a chant or prayer I’ve never said before.

“Holy, holy, holy.” “ Holy, holy, sh*t”  “Holy, holy, f*ck”


Once I landed back on the boat I was elated: I’d done it.

However, back on land I was still shaking 30 mins later when I rang my daughter (who was having an adventure-filled weekend in Rotorua) and, just when I needed to talk it went straight to her answer phone.

My voice was still gone (missing in action for 3-days) and when she laughingly replayed the message back to me in the comfort of a Wellington café I too had to laugh at my shaking, croaking, drama queenwords:

Ohmigod I’ve done it!  As you can hear, my voice is still gone but by god, my body is full of adrenaline. It was so f’ing scary! But I did it! Single! By myself! All alone, way up there, above the sky tower height. Ok, talk to you later, bye.”

A drama queen indeed – she easily worked it out I was not twin or treble parasailing! Would I recommend the Flying Kiwi Parasail? – of course. (And, you don’t have to go as high as I did!)

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

As you see,  I didn’t find my voice up among the  clouds: I return to my rental car ready to continue my Northland trip –  maybe it’s on The Rock where I’m sleeping tonight. ( I wonder, is this the only float Hostelling International hostel in the world? Let me know.

Swimming with dolphins: Northland, New Zealand

The chance to go swimming with dolphins is a great opportunity and here in NZ’s warmest waters it seems the perfect spot to do so. I’m going out on the Dolphin Eco-Experience in the Bay of Islands: well-named by Capt. Cook with its 140+ islands.

Once on board we learn the crew, including one called “Floppy’ have years of experience finding dolphins here and have lots of knowledge about their behaviour. Today we’re looking for bottlenose and common dolphins, baleen whales, orca, seals, fish, penguins and birds from the purpose-built vessel.

The day is overcast and with grey sky and grey sea, I’ve now decided I won’t be getting in the water and will view what we find from the boat – warm the water may be, but I like bath warm!  Of course, all over New Zealand, swimming with dolphins in the wild is subject to the NZ Department of Conservations’ rules and regulations, and the skipper’s discretion. In particular it’s not possible to swim with mothers and babies as they need to drink from their mother almost constantly.

We leave the Paihia wharf, pick up another couple from Russell, and are soon off on what seems to be a tiki-tour: this is New Zealand slang for –
1. a sight-seeing journey with no particular destination in mind.
2. taking the long way to a destination.
3. or, to wander aimlessly

Of, course we are not wandering aimlessly but cruising in and out of bays and around or past islands looking for the elusive dolphin. It seems it’s unusual to be travelling so far without seeing some of the 400 identifiable bottlenose dolphins that live between Tauranga and Cape Reinga. However, the gannets are lovely and so is the scenery despite the lumpy water and cloudy skies.

Suddenly their non-appearance is clear.

Word comes from one of the bigger boats heading for the Hole in the Rock – they have come across a pod of orca! No wonder the dolphins are hiding – their genes have not caught up with the fact that here in New Zealand the orca – also called the ‘killer whale’ in some parts of the world – do not eat dolphins but much prefer the apparently tasty stingrays!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Aaron, the driver (or is he called the captain?) speeds up and heads for Deepwater Cove in the hope we too can see the orca. We can and do!

I have no problem not seeing the dolphins – the orcas are wonderful! A mother and baby is with them and it’s now I again wish I had a bigger and better camera – and more skills with the one I have! I also selfishly wish I was on the boat with no other travellers so I could get better views.

After watching and following the orcas (who are part of the dolphin family not whales) we head back towards Paihia, but first we stop at Otehei Bay, on pest-free Urupukapuka Island, for a coffee and toilet break. Incidentally this is where the American author and deep-sea fisher Zane Grey, lived and wrote about this area. (The Anglers Eldorado 1926)

For information about conservation on the islands in the Bay of Islands see Project Island Song