the journey

New Zealand

May 4, 2008 Auckland

I am having flashbacks again. Not the kind that come after too much partying and a history of psychedelic drug use but the kind that appear like familiar phantoms from memory. Preparing to leave Auckland for Fiji has a strange similarity to preparing to leave Sausalito, CA for Mexico.

The temperature has dropped and it is cold and crisp in the morning, a few days ago fog hung across the bay like a veil hiding the city. The light glows a strange color of amber at sunset and there's something in the air that is propelling me to move again. It even smells like home in the morning. The sweet smell of seaweed mixed with breakfast cooking and seagulls. All of this reminds me of the weeks prior to leaving Sausalito for Mexico.

This time my nerves are a bit more settled and almost all of our jobs are completed. We have inspected and tuned the rig, serviced the engine, organized and stowed hundreds of pounds of food, cleaned the growing black mold yet again, washed loads of laundry with hot water (soon to be an unknown luxury), cooked lentil soup, and made accessible a surplus of tea, cookies, and hard candies ready for the upcoming passage.

Our first passage will be a short one to shake the rust off and help us to get our sea legs again. We are just waiting for a little weather window to head back up to Opua in the Bay of Islands, the port where we checked into NZ. Low pressure systems keep coming, blowing in head winds and wet weather. Uninspiring to leave in really. Did I say we have gotten soft?

I am sipping hot green tea and listening to the constant patter of rain on our cabin top. We are waiting for the gusty winds that are forecasted to come tonight and last through tomorrow. Then hopefully we will be off and on our way up to Opua to wait again. This time we might be able to slip out into the big blue for the big passage within two days of arriving north. This leaves me both hopeful and nervous.

I am hopeful, as we might be able to head to Fiji without much of a wait. All fingers and toes and hairs crossed as my friend Jenny always says about things important, that we will have a gentle and swift, safe and dare I hope fun passage. And I am nervous as I know like the passage down from Tonga, this could be a really challenging passage and I feel more like a landlubber than a sailor since it has been almost 6 months since we have been out at sea.

I hope the sea remembers me and I her. She is powerful beyond measure and deserves and demands respect. This I will give her as best as I know how. I know she consistently tests me and shows me reflections of myself I both admire and detest. I will challenge myself to face my fears head on and celebrate in the beauty and power of it all. Fingers, toes and hairs crossed.

April 1-8, 2008 Tonga

Back to Tonga again. Just returned from 7 days up in the Ha'apai Islands of Tonga.

We traveled there via airplane this time with a group of divers from the New Zealand organization Oceanswatch. We were there for a week on a coral reef survey training called Reef Check. Reef Check is a non-profit organization training divers to do coral reef and tropical fish surveys which help scientists and local communities keep track of issues facing their reef ecosystems.

Our hope is that we will be able to do some Reef Check surveys for scientists and local fishery departments in places like Fiji, Vanuatu, PNG, Palau, and Indonesia, on our sailing journey this coming year.

To learn more about these organizations and our trip to Tonga specifically, hit these links:

Oceanswatch Organization
Reef Check Organization
Our trip to Tonga

Early March 2008 South Island

Summer Road Trip down the East Cost of the South Island

"Now it feels like summer," Gar says barely audible over the wind and Wilco blaring though our speakers. Hot wind streams through our open windows. We snack on freshly picked organic blueberries. They burst in our mouths, the taste of summer lingering on our tongues long after we have run out.

We are on a road trip again, this time in "Magic" our 1992 Toyota diesel van. We are heading south towards the mountains that beckon. Leaving DreamKeeper safely tied up and in the water, we drove 8 hours to Wellington, the southernmost city of the North Island, stopping only to pick up another kilo of blueberries from Maruia Farms just outside of Tongariro.

We are racing south not only because we want to immerse ourselves in the mountains again but also because we are riding on what we have heard are the last days of summer. The south island turns crisp and cold before the North and we want to soak up every bit of endless summer we can.

We are not the only ones heading South. We navigate the Cooks Straight on the Inter Islander Ferry with hundreds of people, among them is a German motorcycle gang of 17, a French family, American newly weds, locals and plenty more tourists. Three hours after casting off from Wellington we glide into Marlborough Sounds, the strong sun welcomes us along with lazy cumulus clouds floating above like giant bits of cotton candy.

Driving away from the industrial port city of Picton, we climb hills burnt and dried by the strong sun with grazing sheep that seem to disappear into the tawny landscape. Almost immediately, we are reminded we are in Marlborough wine country. The tawny hills are cultivated in verdant green vineyards that glow unnaturally offering the only color contrast for hours. The vineyards stretch on and on and then stop as quickly as they first appeared signaling our departure from the Marlborough region.

We can hear them before we can see them on this twisting stretch of road along the milky blue coast heading south to Kaikura. Harley riders roar past us heading to a motorcycle rally in Christchurch. Around each bend I see something resembling a caravan and what I hope is Nin's Bins, our next destination.

What and why Nin's bins? It is a historic roadside restaurant or cray boiler running out of a retrofitted air stream trailer. It's a pretty basic place with coolers (known here as chilly bins) full of whatever crays (lobster) they harvest that morning from 80 traps off the coast and green mussels they buy from somewhere else, a diesel cooker, big metal pot and a chalk board offering crays with nothing, chili, or garlic butter and steamed mussels with white wine and garlic.

Before opening a Styrofoam chilly bin to show us our option for crays, the guy at the counter apologized saying some guy had just bought a $62 and $90 dollar cray, the biggest ones of the morning. We peer inside at 12 beautiful crays all with black prices tattooed on their fire orange shells. They price them by how much meat they think they will have on them not by weight as some might have just molted and have lighter shells.

This seems like the best place in NZ to eat cray. Gar and I splurge. We choose a $47 dollar cray.

We settle into one of the 8 empty picnic tables to enjoy our feast in the beautiful hot sun. After unwrapping our succulent treat split in half with two lemon wedges and giving thanks for our crustacean friend, we gorged, sucking sweet meat from every edible part of the cray and sipping sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region. We are definitely soaking up summer.

While appreciating our incredible treat and staring out to sea, watching the sun head towards the west we hear the familiar rumble of Harleys again. After some conversation we leave the rest of the bottle of wine with the locals heading down to the rally and we were on the road again.

After two and a half more hours of driving we pulled into one of hundreds of picnic stops along the highway. Marked by a sign with a blue arrow pointing to a tree and picnic table. As usual there we no picnic tables but a slow peaceful dark river flowing across a shallow gravel sandbank. We have found home for the night.

One of the great things about car camping in New Zealand is we're pretty sure we won't get a ticket or get killed, two things I definitely think about when pulling over into random areas in the States to sleep. As the sun dipped lower behind the hills the sky was painted lavender and the pigeons returned to the cliff to roost. A sheep peered over the river and 4 fishermen tried their luck for the brown trout and Chinook salmon running in the creek.

We awoke early to the cooing of pigeons and a quickly fading orange marmalade sunrise. Climbing into the front seats again we left the river in search of toilets and a good place to make tea and coffee and blueberry pancakes before another day of traveling on the road.

It seems all of NZ tax money is going to road improvement although some crews lack flag people. After a long stop at a road construction site, a detour to watch bungee jumpers (sadly, no one jumped) and a stop at a roadside fruit stand for some nectarines we finally passed the town of Twizel and are headed for Mt.Cook also known as Aoraki in Maori meaning cloud piercer. A perfect name, especially today when lenticular clouds are stacked like toppling dinner plates at least 44 high half way up into the sky just above Aoraki. The peak is clear yet the clouds suggest the weather is changing.

We awaken to grey skies, and no hint of Mt Cook behind them. We will return in a few weeks after a hike in the rugged mountains of Mt Aspiring national Park. We're off again to Queenstown to provision and buy maps for our backcountry journey. I hope we haven't ridden out the last days of summer.

March 2008 South Island

Kiwis are tough. Surrounded by the southern ocean on all sides, a wet temperate climate, sand-flies that will drive you insane, and a strong outdoor work ethic, the people of this land think nothing of roughing it. If you can sail offshore in New Zealand, you can practically sail anywhere in the world. And if you can "tramp" (in Kiwi-speak, referring to a multi-day backpack) off trail in New Zealand, through the thick beech forests, swollen rivers, cluttered deadfall, and marshy bogs, there aren't many places globally that will challenge you more.

Nicole and I were looking for a mountain adventure. No huts, no tourists, and dramatic scenery. Our kiwi-friend, Jared, told us about a great trek on the south island called the "5 Passes Trek" in the heart of Mt. Aspiring National Park. This trek is definitely known by the true New Zealand trampers. It's a quality outing that's done, but not too often, and definitely not by the multitudes of international tourists that buzz around. The more touristy "Great Walk" treks are still beautiful and challenging, but we were in the mood for "being away from the masses" and having a genuine backcountry wilderness adventure in New Zealand. The "5 Passes" offers 6-8 days of on trail and off trail adventure, goes over 5 Passes, and takes one into 4 different seldom visited dramatic valleys in the heart of the Southern Alps, just what we were looking for.

After the usual logistics of buying the right maps, shopping for food, and reserving the shuttle, we started packing our old-faithful packs in the local holiday park in the town of Glenorchy, right outside Mt. Aspiring National Park. We stuffed in sleeping bags, a tent, thermarests, warm clothes, stove, pots, first aid kit, books, journals, and 9 days of food. Our packs were definitely fat and heavy, but after looking at the route we were choosing and realizing that with five actual passes to cross and the reality of such inclement weather in the southern Alps, we wanted to be prepared for anything, including being stuck in one of the remote valleys, 2-3 days out from the only trailhead.

We got shuttled out to the beginning of the famous Routeburn Trek with a full bus loaded up with tourists from all over the world. As we unloaded all the gear, our packs definitely stood out; twice as big as most, heavy, and showing their age and character from over 12 years of cumulative outdoor education wilderness instructing we have done. In fact, for many years the contents of my pack were all I owned, living in the wilderness instructing mountaineering, rock climbing, canoeing, and backpacking courses for the U.S. Outward Bound Schools most months of the year. My pack is an old friend, and it felt good to reconnect with the memories that make up that piece of material as I strapped on the big stinky beast and prepared to once again head up into the alpine world.

We started up the Routeburn trail, but only after 200 meters, we took a sharp right onto a more obscure footpath and left the bustling famous walk behind. It instantly became quiet and we found ourselves alone plodding slowly up the steep path towards Sugarloaf Pass, the first of the five.

A couple of hours later, we were on Sugarloaf Pass tromping through the marshy tussock grasses and welcomed with a beautiful view back down towards the Dart River Basin and on the other side, the dramatic Rock Burn Valley, where we were headed.

Down we went into the Rock Burn and down it was. Straight down. Steep and slippery and overgrown with deadfall, it was tough going carrying such big packs. We swaggered along steady and slow, our hips already aching and our knees sore. It was our first day carrying heavy packs in years, by the way, and we were definitely feeling it.

After finally making it to the river level we started up valley and the going got easier as we passed through beautiful moss-encrusted Beech Tree and tree fern forests. The river was glacial, strong, cold, and dramatic. The cliffs on the sides of the river became steep and unforgiving, adding to the raw beauty one finds in an intense landscape.

After a long day hiking, we arrived at a large meadow flat next to the river and decided that we were ready to finally rest our weary bodies. We made camp in an old established campsite, under a huge tree that gave us some protection from the thick frost and dew we knew would come that night.

Unfortunately, my throat had begun hurting in the afternoon and by bedtime, was pretty sore. By the time I snuggled in my sleeping bag, it was worse, but I was optimistic and figured I'd feel fine in the morning. Not the case. Throughout the night I got worse. Extremely sore throat and very congested sinuses created an awful night of rolling around and attempting to find comfort and ease of breaths.

By morning, I was a wreck. I was weak, extremely congested, a bit dizzy, physically sore from the day before, and extremely tired, as I hadn't slept most of the night. I was pretty much a mess and because I don't get sick very often at all, I was in denial. I was entertaining the idea of traveling up valley one more day and seeing how I felt, but Nicole, being the rational one and looking at the reality of how committing our journey was and what would happen if she got sick too, easily won the argument. Back down it was.

So we packed up and headed back down valley, this time much slower as I was pretty much useless stumbling along under my 60 lb. Pack. I crawled under downed trees, over slippery tree roots, and traversed tree limb bridges over deep bogs, all in a state of dizzy euphoria coughing up thick wads of phlegm every few minutes.

When we got to the trail crossing where the Rock Burn met the steep trail up to Sugarloaf Pass we had come down the day before, the reality of the shorter, but much steeper trail up and over the pass sounded downright dreadful, so we opted for the "supposedly easier" but much longer trail down the Rock Burn Valley to the Dart River, that would mean a two day hike out instead of one. Down it was.

The descent down seemed to be endless. I was in my own world attempting just to be conscious enough of my feet so I didn't stumble off the often exposed and obstacle-ridden path we were meandering. Nic was trying to be my caretaker, but she was struggling with being physically worked as well.

After a long day of trudging and sometimes crawling, we were down to the river mouth that opened up into a beautiful basin. All seemed downright dreamy and perfect for the first 15 minutes until we realized we weren't alone. The sandflies had found us. Oh yes, the famous Kiwi sandfly is not your average pest, it is ruthless, conniving, and downright tenacious in its desire to drive you absolutely crazy.

We knew we had no choice, hide in the heat of the sun inside the baking hot tent or coat ourselves liberally with strong DEET bug dope and still move around in jerky spasm-like twitches always searching for that sneaky sand fly that ignores the poison or manages to slide between layers of clothing and draw blood undeterred. We chose the combo.

Outside of the reality of being extremely sick, physically exhausted, sweaty, stinky, and bug-bitten, the beauty of the land around us was incredibly gorgeous. There is no denying this part of the South Island is extremely majestic and the view from our tent of the two rivers intersecting right in front of us surrounded by sharp prominent peaks with hanging glaciers off of their upper-most lips, was worth the struggle.

We hiked out the next day. It was shorter, but I was still pretty sick and not getting any stronger. At the trail head we stuck out our thumbs and got picked up by one of the thousands of "camper van" or in this case "camper-RV’s" that tourists rent for the weeks they spend touring around New Zealand.

Looking back on this little adventure, it reminds me once again of what we keep learning on our sailboat. Be flexible, be patient, and don't have expectations. As much as we were excited about the potential of this little "tramping" adventure, for whatever reason it wasn't meant to be. Hopefully some day we can return and at least make it over the second pass.

February 28, 2008: Auckland, North Island

Life "on the hard" has almost come to an end. "On the hard" referring to a boat being in a yard, cradled in a "hard stand" to keep it upright and allow work to be done out of the water. It's part of the reality of owning a boat. Every so often one needs to pull their boat from the water and apply new bottom "anti-fouling" paint to protect it from water intrusion and growth of marine organisms like barnacles, seaweed, and grasses. Left unattended for too long, your boat bottom might just turn into a mobile living reef, not the most desired aspect of having a performance-oriented vessel.

For most of us in the cruising community who have traveled across the South Pacific Ocean this year and come to New Zealand for cyclone season, our boat project lists have become quite large and there is necessary work to be done.

Nicole and I have chosen to come south to Auckland instead of staying up where most of the cruising yachts have chosen to summer in places like Opua and Whangerei. Our friends, who have been here many times, suggested a great boat yard in the suburbs of Auckland called Half Moon Bay, one of the best they have ever found they said. We agree.

For almost a month now, DreamKeeper has been "on the hard". For 14 days straight we got up early and worked until dark slowly scratching the projects off the list. On top of our list, we have sub-contracted out some other projects we either didn't want to deal with ourselves or just plain couldn't do ourselves. For those of you that are curious here's what we've been up to:


Our projects:

1. Engine Maintenance: fix salt water hose leak, change oil/filter, change transmission oil, change fuel filters, flush and replace coolant, pull and clean exhaust/water mixing elbow, new gasket seal for engine hatch
2. Outboard engine maintenance: replace oil/filter, replace lower unit gear oil, clean fuel filter, run with fresh water
3. Water-maker: take in to get pump leak fixed. clean filters, run new hoses and re-route hoses to different water tank.
4. Electrical: run new wires to cockpit for new DC receptacle, re-wire and fix cockpit lights that don't work, re-wire refrigerator compressor because of corrosion, fix wind generator wiring
5. Electronics: install new VHF and new remote VHF mic to helm as old system is broken, replace chart-plotter at helm with "newer" used instrument without moisture inside screen
6. Anchoring: pull all chain off boat and get re-galvanized. Re-splice chain/rode and mark all again.
7. Miscellaneous: service wind-vane and replace control lines, add mast steps, lubricate sea cocks, polish all exterior stainless, service winches, clean all interior spaces and bilge areas, go through all old food and provisions and re-organize everything including cleaning Nic's moldy bikinis

wiring projects in the hole

Projects we had help with:

1. Conversion of water tank to diesel fuel: pull stainless water tank from boat, have fabricated and converted by sub-contractor, re-install and run new fuel lines, vent and sending unit gauge.
2. Electrical and Electronics: have transformer hard-wired into system and mounted permanently on the boat. Diagnose autopilot issues and install new fluxgate compass.
3. Gooseneck of Boom: have new fitting fabricated to deal with constant wear/tear and awful cracking noises it's been making for months
4. Paint: topsides of hull cut and polished, sand and re-primer water line from poorly done Mexican boatyard project, anti-foul paint on bottom, clean, lubricate, and "prop-speed" the propeller
5. Varnish: interior floorboards sand and re-varnish

newly converted diesel tank

It's been about a month now since we got here. We were kicked off the boat for about 10 days while our floors were being sanded and varnished and now we sit awaiting for tomorrow when we "splash" DreamKeeper back into the river and sail her back to Bayswater Marina in Auckland.

Half Moon Bay couldn't have been better. The people here have been super friendly and helpful. The standouts have been Jill, the HMB office manager, who is wonderful, and Craig, the owner/manager of BoatSpray, the yard painting/varnishing company, who has been extremely professional, friendly, and does excellent work. The yard itself is concrete and kept very clean along with the bathrooms, and the showers hot and free. There is also a small but good chandlery you can walk to, and a foot-ferry that runs all day to downtown Auckland that is super convenient if you need to access the city or boat services in the Westhaven area. For all of you cruisers out there contemplating where to haul in New Zealand, prices are comparable or better then Whangerei. Overall, it's a hard place to beat.

Tomorrow DreamKeeper returns to the water again and we will cross our fingers that everything still works. :)

February 20, 2008 : North Island

There and back again. The land of Mordor beckoned to us not because of the power of Frodo's ring but because of its stark landscape and stunning volcanic pools.

Tottering through the mist on seafarer's legs wearing a backpack full of essentials for a three-day tramp in Tongariro National Park, I empathized with my past students who complained about how uncomfortable and heavy their packs were. On day one, I felt as if my backpack and boots were strangers and not something I had once worn for years.

Quickly losing my thoughts in the mystical light and barren landscape, I found myself being silently pulled into the heart of the volcanoes. To the Maori people Tongariro is a sacred place. We walked through barren lands leading through beach forests and over moonscapes of black volcanic soil that seemed to stretch on forever. Streams wound through the barren landscape like veins leading from the base of the craters. By the end of the day my dogs were barking and begging to be soaked in the chilly clear stream that ran below our campsite at Whaihohonu. Black soil swirled around my ankles and settled between my toes as I slowly felt the heat from my feet being soothed by the whispering creek.

We woke up to our alarm beeping at 6:30 with our fingers crossed that Gar's stove repair from the night before was still in order and we would have hot water and breakfast before our long 9-10 hour day. By 7:45 after a delicious hot breakkie of toasted bagels with cream cheese and apple we shouldered our packs again. Climbing up through beech forest we marveled at the fact there was so much growing close to the craters. Back into the open again, we found our rhythm.

It felt like Smeagol was leading us through Mordor as we walked for hours through the desolate landscape. It is easy to believe how powerful these volcanoes are as we stared at the mountains breathing. Steam rose from their flanks while a nasty sulfurous odor hung over us, floating on the crisp morning air. We saw no one until we wound our way up to the beautiful Emerald Lakes. Minerals from the volcanoes flow into these lakes giving them such a brilliant milky aqua color. Here we lost Smeagol and hiked against the flow of the last of the hundreds of tourists who do the one day Tongariro Crossing Hike.

Down, down, down we went following the path of an old lava flow. We looked over our shoulders and watched the clouds as they gathered and darkened above us. After two days of walking we lost Smeagol and made it out of Mordor. Thankfully we beat the rain and set up our tent for our last night at Mangatepopo just before the sky opened up.

Blueberries anyone? On our drive out of Tongariro back up to Auckland and to DreamKeeper we stopped at a sign that invited us to pick our own organic blueberries for 5 NZ dollars a quart. After an hour of grazing through 12 varieties of blueberries and over a hundred bushes our hands were stained blue and our lips and teeth couldn’t hide that we had ate our way through our picking process. With happy bellies and two quarts of blueberries we were on the road again.

February 13, 2008

Serendipity has taken us by the hand again. Two hours after the wind died in Rurakaka and kiting was not an option we found ourselves in Dive Tutukaka inquiring about diving in the world-renowned Poor Knights Islands marine reserve.

Gar and I had all of the water toys we though we needed in "Magic" from kite gear to surf boards, and frisbees, but we hadn't thought we would brave the 21 degree Celsius water (about 64 degrees F) of the Poor Knights. Fate had its way and when we noticed names on the advanced course dive list that we recognized a new plan emerged. Within minutes we were discussing taking our advanced dive course as we were planning on getting higher certification this year and conditions were supposed to be perfect, calm seas, sunny days, and visibility of 15-20 meters.

By ten pm the next morning we found ourselves staring into sapphire blue water surging against volcanic cliffs stretching up from the seafloor. As I gracelessly waddled to the transom wearing a hooded two piece 7mm wetsuit to protect me from the chilly water and 11 kilos of weight around my waist to help me sink into the depths I asked myself what I was doing. Within minutes it was clear. We were at 30 meters beginning our buoyancy exercises and I found myself blissfully distracted by an entirely new world. Sea kelp waved at me while fish I didn't recognize swamp past lazily.

By the end of the day, we were grateful we had made the choice to dive the Poor Knights but we found ourselves longing for the opportunity to abandon our skills tests and explore the incredibly diverse world around us. The following day we got our wish. We fulfilled our requirements to dive to 30 meters and pass a chosen specialty skills test (we chose naturalist, so we could actively be present in our environment) while loving our dives. Searching for fish, invertebrates, and plants we discovered a mesmerizing new world, so different than the tropical ecosystems we had explored during the last year.

Clinging to the stalks of kelp we peered into the heart of the Poor Knights. We searched for nudibranchs, like hidden eggs at Easter. Clown nudibranchs glowed with brilliantly slick white backs perfectly decorated with round orange spots and adorned with pink headdresses, while two inch long, fat blue Verco's Tanja nudibranchs cavorted with yellow shawls and tiaras bowing in the surge. We found over 40 of these jewels and more varieties, many of them mating. I had never seen so many.

Spotted purple damsel fish fanned their eggs in rock holes while 8 eels slithered into pockets of light with their mouths characteristically agape breathing and staring with empty eyes. Gliding past cave walls we spotted tiny anemones blooming like beautiful florescent pink and purple flowers. Snapper leered at us knowing they were safe in the marine reserve. And before I knew it, our last dive was over, 50 minutes had passed and the cold still hadn't permeated my wetsuit armor. Ascending I watched the kelp waving, grateful for the power of serendipity.

February 10, 2008: North Island

I'm getting drug through the salty river by a kite. Water pours into my sinus cavities and burns my eyes as I try to hold on with one hand and peer up through the saline chop to control the powerful flying apparatus I am connected to. It's not easy.

My instructor, Dave, of Ruakaka Kitesports, smiles at me and shouts through the wind to change directions, keep my arm out, keep the kite down, and grip the handle closer to the middle, all important details of dragging through the river and retrieving my board upwind, with the added bonus of flooding my sinuses with the most water possible.

Flying a big 12-meter kite is intimidating. If you don't know what you’re doing it is very possible to have a strong gust of wind pick you up and ruthlessly deposit you on some nearby rocky beach or against the nearby cliff. Usually I'm not one to take lessons to learn a new sport, but with kite-surfing it felt like a smart call.

After 14 days in the boatyard, Nicole and I were excited for a break and found ourselves driving, "Magic", our "new to us" 1992 Toyota Hiace Super Custom Turbo-Diesel Van up to the small community of Ruakaka, about 1 ½ hours north of Auckland on Bream Bay. We bought "Magic" from, Lloyd, a Kiwi character who used the word "magic" for describing almost everything good. The name fit.

Nicole and I were excited to travel through New Zealand and not just stay on the boat. The mountains, tramping (hiking), hot springs, and forests are beautiful in this country, and we were excited to have some land outings. Financially it makes much more sense to buy/sell a vehicle in NZ if you are going to be here for at least 2 months rather than hiring (renting) a car/van for that amount of time, especially during the high season. Being seasoned car campers in the past having lived out of vans and trucks for years when we were both working in the Outdoor Education field, the small vans that you find everywhere in New Zealand are the way to go.

Having both been diesel car owners in the past, Nicole having a VW TDI that ran on bio-diesel, and I having owned a Mercedes diesel station wagon that I converted to run on used vegetable oil, we were in heaven. In the U.S. these little vans would be seriously coveted by the bio-diesel/veggie oil community who know and care about alternative fuel for vehicles. In New Zealand they are a dime a dozen. Not that we can get biodiesel here it seems, but the engines are solid and the fuel prices much less then burning unleaded petrol. For you who care, fuel prices in NZ right now are around $1.25/liter diesel N.Z. (around $4.00/gallon with U.S. money conversion) and Unleaded petrol around $1.70/liter ($5.40/gallon with U.S. money conversion). If you are a diesel driver you do have to pay an extra "road tax" here based on how many kilometers you drive, but it still makes driving a diesel much cheaper in the long run.

We removed the back seats in "Magic", built a small platform for a bed, bought some bins (crates) for storing wetsuits and food, bought a new 2-burner cooker (campstove) with a small propane tank for car-camp cooking, and a chilly bin(ice cooler) for storing the cold goodies. We loaded her up with food from the boat, wetsuits, backpacking gear, surfboards, clothes, guidebooks, and my new kite-surfing gear I bought in the states. We were now ready for mobile land adventures!

All through the South Pacific this past year I had been watching the kite-surfers fly through the lagoons with envy. It just looks like way to much fun to not get into. Plus, my brother-in-law, Justin, who lives up in Truckee, CA, is a full kite convert from windsurfing and just can’t get enough of it. So after hearing all his stories, seeing his gear, and him giving me tons of info and videos to learn, there was no going back. I dropped some money on some gear and have been anxiously waiting to get some on-the-water instruction…..

The bonus of having come to Ruakaka is that Dave's wife, Sue, is one of NZ's best kite-surfers, plus she is a great teacher. Sooooo…..Nicole has been taking lessons too and is actually really enjoying getting drug through the water like me. If I'm lucky, there could be two kites in the future for the Salty Dawg couple this coming year!