Sunday 10 July 2016

New Zealand Adventures : 16. Farewell North Island, The Cook Strait Crossing, Happy Daisy's of Nelson, Tall Ship Journey on the Alvei and the Abel Tasman National Park

Kia Ora!

You know that saying 'Its the choices we make, and chances we take, determine our destiny'? Well its none other true when you experience the serendipity surprises of life on the road....

Greetings from Te Waka a Maui (The canoe of Maui) or in English - New Zealand's South Island! which Maori believe was the waka canoe that demi god Maui was sailing in when he pulled up the North Island or the Fish of Maui. Well, after 8 adventurous months (really its been 8 months!) of my explorations of the North Island and with NZ winter rolling in, I had come to the end of the road or....end of the fish head....and jumped on board the Interislander ferry Kaitaki at Port Nicholson (Wellington) to cross the Cook Strait and the passageway to the new world of the South Island....thank god I picked a beautiful morning....

Wellington at ship of dreams...Kaitaki, passage to the South Island anyway as the NZ sun began to rise.

Light seas today....thank god for that

The inter island voyage ahead - its 92km from the Port of Wellington, sailing around the Bay and out onto the open waters of the Cook Strait. Some say it can be one of the most turbulent waters around New Zealand but I had good fortune shine on me and was a perfect day to do the crossing. The Cook Strait crossing has actually been swam 70 times, the youngest being by an 11 year old and the fastest in 4 and half hours - woah! and my ferry journey would take 3 and a half hours before I would set foot on Aoteroa's South Island and land of the pounamu, New Zealand greenstone.

Farewell Wellington and the North Island!

and the South Island is in sight! along with a few bottle nosed dolphins on the Cook Strait....back in the early 20th Century a white risso dolphin called Pelorus Jack would accompany the boats travelling from Wellington to Nelson and was known as the most famous fish in the world.

And a different side of New Zealand emerges....snow capped mountains of South Island winter time on the horizon

 Three and a half hours later of wind swept hair and people out on deck struggling to smoke their cigarettes - behold the Gateway to the South Island and the Marlborough Sounds, what was to be in store in this new land?? Well the Maori's believe that the Polynesian Explorer Kupe chased an octopus for days across the oceans and eventually killed it in Whekenui Bay and parts of the sounds are named symbolic to Kupe's Spearhead Cape Jackson, Arapawa Island which symbolised the downwards direction of his battle and the passage of water we were to travel through to dock at Picton was believed to symbolise the schools of krill.

Welcome to the South Island, docking in Picton and entering a new world of Aotearoa

Now having finally made it to the South Island, I planned to hitchike to Nelson to try and find work on the fish markets so I hit the road, following the train tracks until I reached the highway heading towards Nelson.

After a lot of patience I finally got picked up by a Green jeep....with a daisy on the back....a serendipity moment was about to happen...

'I like your daisy' I told him and my ride was won. The man who stopped for me was a kind Kiwi man in his seventies named Jeff, who was known as the 'Daisy Man of New Zealand' and manufactured Happy Daisy Wind Vanes at his home in Nelson up in the Matai Valley. On the journey to Nelson he invited me to come see where he made his Daisy's at his family home 6km out of Nelson and helped him assemble his Daisy wind vanes that he sells to The Warehouse Mega Market Stores all over New Zealand.

Jeff has had the Daisy business for 23 years after being made redundant from working as a telephone engineer since he was 16. He is now passionate as ever after tragically losing his childhood sweetheart and wife 5 years ago who supported him through his business. Jeff, a very talkative man, told me from his little shed he calls the 'Daisy Factory' that his NZ made daisy's were actually preferred to the plastic Daisy's from China and had even shipped them to be sold in Hong Kong and China. He saw that black and yellow were the most popular Daisy colours and white and orange appealed less to New Zealanders and that garish colours of pinks and purples appealed to the Asian market. He showed me how he assembled his daisy's, using a fastener to attach the centre piece in between the Daisy blades and my job was to attach them to a long piece of bent wire and pack them in a carton to go to different areas of New Zealand - some I had already visited and others unfamiliar territory for me.  

Daisy's done and ready to go!

Jeff over the years has had alot of publicity for his Happy Daisy's, one in the local Nelson newspaper back in 1993..

Like I said with a serendipity moment about to happen, Jeff was leaving a few days later to spend 2 weeks in Hawaii and was funny enough looking for a house sitter to take care of things while he was gone as his son who lived next door worked full time and wanted someone occupying his house with his two dogs Rascal and Bruce whilst he was gone. Unexpectedly, I got myself 2 weeks of free accommodation in Nelson house sitting his lovely home up in the forests of the Matai Valley next to the Matai River flowing on our doorstep, breathing in fresh forest air and hearing the flow of water in the morning and night....see what comes of hitchiking hey? opens the doors to an unexpected adventure.

I stayed two weeks in the valley next to the gushing river about 6km out of Nelson town..right in the retreat of the wilderness.

Maybe I should be selling this for some extra dollars....

I busied myself in the company of the two dogs Bruce and Rascal who would accompany me to the Maitai River which was on our doorstep as I spent the days we saw sunshine assembling daisy wind vanes and chopping firewood for the cold winter nights - real primitive stuff out bush...

Bruce and Rascal followed me everywhere even when I went to sit at the river at dusk - was a perfect opportunity for a retreat up in the valley with the dogs.

Rascal guarding my clothes....:)

Apple picking with Jeff to make apple crumble...

Nelson City

Tall Ship Journey on the Alvei

So you can gather, since my time in New Zealand I've been spending quite a bit of time around boats. Well, I went from one tall ship to another when Daisy Jeff happened to have a boat himself up in the Abel Tasman National Park and was helping to fix the engine on a 35 metre three mast schooner, a tall ship that had sailed from Port Vila in Vanuata and was berthed in Port Nelson called the Alvei. The 'Alvei' meaning 'one that goes all ways', is a spectacular tall ship originally built in Scotland and was berthed around the same area as the ship of dreams itself....the Titanic.

Obviously it fared much better and outlived the Titanic, but this old girl was bought in Norway by American skipper Evan in 1985 when she looked very different and berthing her in Portugal for 8 years with an accumulated cost of $225,000 transformed her into the 150 tonne ship you see today.

'It leaves you forever broke' says the quiet American Skipper Evan, who the Alvei has been his home for the past 31 years and will be until 'Davy Jones locker takes me', hey told me.

I think she's a beauty, a true surviving ship, and has been used by many passengers and crew over the years as a rustic, authentic sailing experience with traditional sea faring methods with needle compass, a manually turned anchor wheel and sixteen sails and a whole lot of ropes (159 lines of rigging to be exact) and hard grafting!

The Alvei is a hands-on tutoring vessel for inexperienced sailors and has done much good on the seven seas, acting as a research vessel and working in partnership with youth organisations to take volunteers overseas to help with conservation and community programmes in the Polynesian Islands. The stories the cabin walls could tell you if they could.....

So, down at the port I was introduced to the tall ship to see the maintenance work being done and got a serendipity moment of an opportunity to be part of Alvei's history and help crew her to her new berthing spot at Terakohe Bay this winter.    

Journey to Terakohe Bay

Early morning rising to the ship of dreams, the day of departure was a perfect balmy NZ winters morning at dawn at the dock at Port Nelson and I got stuck in finding my way around the ship, clearing up ropes on deck as the engine decided to fail on us which set us back to a departure time of midday.

Life on board Alvei

The Galley, onboard kitchen and dining area

Mid Deck sleeping cabins and storage room...

Onboard library and study...

The deck toilet, with bucket of sea water for flush!

Finally, the engine was started up again and we began to make our way out of the dock where she'd been berthed for six months, when you're not really an experienced sailor, all you can do is do what the skipper asks you to!. Alvei can hold up to a crew of 17, but on this passage.....we had a humble team of six - one American, three kiwis, one Scot and me.....what a team! with one mission to get the ship to Terakohe without sinking her!

Skipper Evan at the helm...

Lowering and raising the anchor was done with manual labour on the winch which needed four of us to turn the cogs - hard work! we were actually doing great when the engine of of a sudden conked out on us and we began drifting back into the wharf and towards the unsuspecting fishing boats moored on the dock!

Quite a moment of panic as the men struggled to lower the anchor to stop us crashing into the irate screaming fisherman's boat who were yelling at us and having to catch the bow mast before it ploughed into them - was pretty heart racing stuff!

With the engine still out and all hands on deck, the next problem we had was we then began drifting into the Sea Lords Fisheries wharf which we had to tie Alvei onto the wharf posts to stop her drifting even more as she was showing no signs of stopping, what a time for the engine to stop running just as we were leaving!

At times of desperation though, even having to push the boat off the wharf ourselves, our exit from Port Nelson didn't run smoothly and....wait for it.....had to be towed out by the rescue pilot boat ha! the guardian angels themselves of the sea! but we couldn't have got out without them.

But once we were out of the port with clear waters ahead of us and the engine now starting, waves then turned to friendly waves of goodbyes from the fisherman and public seeing this tall ship disappearing from view.....unscathed and having not sunk anyone else's boat!

On a Tall Ship like the Alvei, there is always ropes everywhere, and I mean everywhere, 179 lines of rigging which equals about 7km of line if you put it all in a straight line. So you constantly have to do 'housekeeping' coiling the ropes to make the deck tidy as there are plenty of things to potentially trip over - and some of those ropes are pretty worn and heavy!

At sea, Skipper Evan wanted to limit the amount of diesel used in the engine, so we decided, despite the lack of wind to hoist the sails - which in truth is extremely hard work, pulling and heaving the heavy sails by the coarse rope with your bare hands. I have to come appreciate the hard work, pain and strength of the sailors who did this on the ships of the pioneering era - their hands must have become like leather gloves!

Having a go at the Captains wheel myself, heading north into the New Zealand sunshine and around the coastline of the Abel Tasman National Park.

Full steam ahead. north into the New Zealand sun...

The Tasman Bay coastline is stunning with the snow capped peak of Mt. Arthur, watching playful seals jumping in and out of the water whilst we sailed past enormous mussel farms with lazing seagulls perched on each buoy as if it was a trendy apartment block for seagulls ha! The amount of mussels they must catch from a farm of this size must be colossal and it took us a good amount of time to clear the stretch of water occupied by the mussel nets.

A video diary I took onboard....

With some of the sails up steering us north towards the setting sun, Skipper Evan made a decision to drop anchor at Adele Island near Observation Bay and Watering Cove, named after a French pioneer who named the island after his wife and Observation Bay and Watering Cove after the points where chartering and bearings where made and where water was obtained from shore. Adele Island is actually a bird sanctuary so we dropped anchor (manually with our bare hands) and set up camp for the winter night under the brilliant blanket of stars out in the Tasman Bay.

Sleeping well down below deck after a hard days work on board...

The next morning, another glorious winters morning out on the Tasman Bay - the squawks of baby penguins could be heard on the rock faces on the bird sanctuary island as we began motoring again. The coves where we were anchored for the night, marked the start of the Abel Tasman National Park which is one of the top National Parks in New Zealand. We would sail around the coastline of the Abel Tasman Track, around the cove and into Golden Bay to the port of Terakohe.

As the Alvei was being berthed in the dock of Terakohe for the rest of seven sails and their covers needed to come down, even the top sails.

so....with 6 of us on board and the waters calm, I challenged myself to take a brave pill and pluck up the courage to have a crack at climbing the rigging....don't know what I was thinking at the time,but I
got myself up to the 20 metre mast posts and helped take down the sails.

What is it like being up the rigging of a Tall Ship?? pretty nerve wracking! you are not tied to anything but holding on with your bare hands and shimmying along on a metal wire like a tightrope walker. It made me realise the leg strength and stamina you need to stand up on the sail lines and also the upper body strength to try and pull the sail up whilst balancing and holding on. Not forgetting that permanent deck hands and rigging crew would do this in all weather conditions. Once the sails were down, then there's the hard work of folding them up, tying them and then getting them down below deck! which definitely takes valuable team work,

Was quite an experience anyhow! and the view sailing along the coastline of New Zealand from up high on the rigging was spectacular with the entire deck visible right below under your feet. Felt like a true pirating voyager!

After a whole 5 or 6 hours sailing, the rock built wharf of Terakohu Port came into view in the middle of the afternoon and we prepared the ship for well...'parking' which Evan Skipper reversed her into our finger dock perfectly. Of course with the amount of rigging and ropes on Alvei, we were wary of them getting caught on the jetty, preparing to throwing fenders over the side of the deck and protecting the anchor. Berthing a tall ship can be pretty complicated with Sean, the First Mate and Evan the Skipper taking control, jumping off board to tie the bowlines and attach the ship to the jetty.

Mission accomplished! what a lucky adventure to have. I stayed on the ship for two more days in Terakohe Bay to assist with storing the ropes and giving the ship a good wash down before the Skipper left for the USA. As we came into port, the gathering public were there to welcome us, snapping away on their cameras and greeting us with awe of this big tall ship coming in with a crew who could pretend to know what they were doing!

From there on, many curious passer-by's came with their children to have a look at the grand ship that had unexpectedly appeared from the horizon like a ghost ship into the Bay and I would take them on board to show them around and tell them about the ship - least I could do, children get very excited with the idea of going on a ship like Alvei.

The crew of Alvei.....good job guys!

If you'd like to find out more about Alvei and the funding help it needs to keep sharing its traditional navigation methods for future crew, please visit its website here

So, after being blessed with just textbook perfect weather for 4 days of pioneering adventure at sea (must have been good karma somewhere) and sadly leaving the old ship behind, its three tall masts disappearing from view as I left Terakohe port to return to the city and back into the pine valley -  the winter rains than suddenly swept over Nelson where I was pretty much marooned for the rest of my housesitting stint out in the wilderness, the river rising and aggressively gushing down through the valley.

Abel Tasman National Park 

Daisy Jeff had a boat in the Abel Tasman National Park, about 65km away from Nelson and one of the most popular National Parks in NZ with 30,000 visitors a year walking or kayaking the 51km Abel Tasman Coastal Track a year stretching from Marahau in the south up the coastal terrain to Wainui Bay taking 3-4 days. Travellers without local contacts stay in DOC huts or campsites on route, but Jeff had a family bach where he kept his small boat in Torrent Bay which was about a 3-4 hour walk in from the start of the track. So we made a special weekend trip to the Abel Tasman to go stay at the bach and for Jeff to check on his boat with his little dog Rascal. What luck that comes out of hitchiking across New Zealand! so I decided to grab the opportunity to walk 1/3 of the track to Torrent Bay... 

The start of the Abel Tasman track at Marahau on a frosty July morning!

The Coastal Track Freedom Walk

The first leg of the walk leaving Marahau took me along the marshy terrain in the serenity of the surrounding forest mountains, which made me realise just how small we are compared to the dramatic landscapes around us,

At first I thought 'man a Kiwi!' when I saw it pecking away in the bush, but duh, Kiwis only come out at night and was merely a friendly Weka. or 'wood hen' checking me out and having a peck all the same. Curious little beastie,,,,

It was a perfect weekend to do the walk and I often detoured off the trail, unable to resist the temptation of going down to the bays on route to soak up the sun on the sand

Leaving footprints on Porters Beach...and a little bit more!

As I walk through the forest, getting peeks of the Tasman Bay through the tree tops, I feel like I'm in the exotic land of the Caribbean with the green tinted waters of the tide lapping up onto the bays giving it an almost sense of the tropics. I'm also followed by cute plump little fantail birds chirping along with the Tui birds tweeting among the silverfern leaves and cascading waterfalls and dribbling creeks in the forest.

Ahhh, the smell of ultimate freedom!

The glowing underside of the silver fern leaf that the Maori used to light the path home through the forest and turn over to hide their route from pursuing enemies..

Ahoy! Kayakers down below, enjoying a perfect winters day to be on the water

Fisherman Island

Adele Island view from Appletree Bay, named after the wife of a French pioneer as it resembles a lady lying on her back

Stilwell Bay

Anchorage Bay was the gateway to Torrent Bay, so I had to descend down to the beach to cross the lagoon at low tide

Which meant one and socks off to wade through ice cold water and soggy mud - nice!

Behold the Bach! with the New Zealand flag flying high mast, a two storey house certainly wasn't what I was expecting with Jeff's family boat 'Leander' anchored on the beach at low tide. It looked like the water had been sucked out of the entire lagoon.

Torrent Bay - at the lookout trying to spot stingrays at sundown

Washed up skeleton of a sand shark, likely to have been caught in a fishing net. As night fell at the bay, the lack of light pollution smeared the billions of stars across the cosmo which was incredible to see, the sand was also phosphorous and when wet would glow like magic fairy dust when touched - amazing!  

The sun creeping slowly above the Tasman Sea at sunrise

Jeff, Rascal with his boat. He needed to move it to the other side of the lagoon once the tide had come in to fill it up so he could let the sun dry the other side of the hull to prevent it rotting. Alot of maintenance and strategic planning is needed when keeping a boat - his has been passed down through generations in his family and is a precious heirloom where he would take his late wife and children on boating trips out to the Tasman and even sleep onboard, rolling his daughter as a baby under the stern which I found pretty funny!

With the family bach cleaned and Jeff's boat moved to the other side of the lagoon to dry out, we had a water taxi coming to pick us up the next day from the bay to take us back to the beginning of the track....with the taxi not able to come right to the shore, we had to wade out to it but faced an ordeal when poor Rascal had a panic attack trying to swim to the boat and made a runner for it, causing us to embarrassingly have to try and coax him onto a lead and carry him over the water - awwww!

Homeward bound,,,,

So, there you have it, a free house in the Maitai valley, sailing a tall ship across the Tasman Bay, working on Daisy weather vanes and an adventure to the Abel Tasman National Park was certainly not what I expected with my month here in Nelson and turned out to be a completely different experience from what I was seeking,

But again, its the choices we make, and the chances we take...that determine our destiny.

See you next time folks as I push on through the NZ winter and make my way further down south towards the big smoke of Christchurch.

Thanks for reading.

Nelson, New Zealand

With Lonely Planet Travel Guides New Zealand 

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