Saturday, April 29, 2017

North Minerva Reef - Bay of Islands, New Zealand

Most cruisers know that weather plays a huge role in having a good passage or a lousy passage.  The passage to New Zealand is always one that requires careful planning as we had heard it can be extremely rough.  One plan is to sail to Minerva Reef first during good weather and then wait for the next good weather pattern to sail to New Zealand.  So, we left from Tongatapu, but waited for favorable weather for the approximately 800-mile (1,300 km) passage to New Zealand, in North Minerva Reef.  It took approximately 2 days to sail from Tongatapu to North Minerva Reef.  It was a pleasant sail and we arrived early morning so we could see the entrance to the atoll.  When we arrived, there were approximately 5 boats anchored there.  By the time we left 2 weeks later, there were 24 boats anchored in the North Minerva Reef!  It was quite a party.  We had not planned on staying in Minerva Reef very long, only until the next good weather window to get us to New Zealand.  But that weather window did not really materialize until two weeks later.  No worries as the two weeks in Minerva Reef were truly spectacular.

The Minerva Reefs, briefly de facto independent in 1972 as the Republic of Minerva, are a group of two submerged atolls located in the Pacific Ocean south of Fiji and Tonga
Tonga’s claim was recognized by the South Pacific Forum in September 1972. 
In 2005, Fiji made it clear that they did not recognize any maritime water claims by Tonga to the Minerva Reefs.  In November 2005, Fiji lodged a complaint with the International Seabed Authority concerning Tonga's maritime waters claims surrounding Minerva. Tonga lodged a counter claim, and the Principality of Minerva micronation claimed to have lodged a counter claim. In 2010 the Fijian Navy destroyed navigation lights at the entrance to the lagoon. In late May 2011, they again destroyed navigational equipment installed by Tongans. In early June 2011, two Royal Tongan Navy ships were sent to the reef to replace the equipment, and to reassert Tonga's claim to the territory. Fijian Navy ships in the vicinity reportedly withdrew as the Tongans approached.
In an effort to settle the dispute, the government of Tonga revealed a proposal in early July 2014 to give the Minerva Reefs to Fiji in exchange for the Lau Group of islands. In a statement to the Tonga Daily News, Lands Minister Lord Maʻafu Tukuiʻaulahi announced that he would make the proposal to Fiji's Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ratu Inoke Kubuabola. Some Tongans have Lauan ancestors and many Lauans have Tongan ancestors; Tonga's Lands Minister is named after Enele Ma'afu, the Tongan Prince who originally claimed parts of Lau for Tonga.  As of today, the Lau Group still belongs to Fiji.

North Minerva Reef diameter is about 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi), South Minerva Reef diameter is about 4.8 kilometres (3.0 mi). The two atolls are on dormant volcanic seamounts.
Both Minerva Reefs are about 435 kilometres (270 mi) southwest of the Tongatapu Group. The atolls are on a common submarine platform from 549 to 1,097 metres (1,801 to 3,599 ft) below the surface of the sea. North Minerva is circular in shape and has a diameter of about 5.6 kilometres (3.5 mi). There is a small sand bar around the atoll, awash at high tide, with a small entrance into the flat lagoon with a somewhat deep harbor. South Minerva is parted into The East Reef and the West Reef, both circular with a diameter of about 4.8 kilometres (3.0 mi). Remnants of shipwrecks and platforms remain on the atolls, plus functioning navigation beacons.
Geologically, Minerva Reef is of a limestone base formed from uplifted coral formations elevated by now-dormant volcanic activity.
The climate is basically subtropical with a distinct warm period (December–April), during which the temperatures rise above 32 °C (90 °F), and a cooler period (May–November), with temperatures rarely rising above 27 °C (80 °F). The temperature increases from 23 °C to 27 °C (74 °F to 80 °F), and the annual rainfall is from 170 to 297 centimeters (67–117 in.) as one moves from Cardea in the south to the more northerly islands closer to the Equator. The mean daily humidity is 80 percent.

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Aerial picture of North and South Minerva Reef.  We anchored in the North Reef (pictured right)

Some of the 24 boats that were anchored in the Reef

Geoff standing on the reef with the vast Pacific Ocean just on the other side of the waves

Friends from SV Free Spirit and SV Jade walking the reef

Horatio and Ferne (SV Jade) walking the reef

Looking at the sea life

Pacific Ocean on the other side of the waves. 
It was really great to feel protected inside the reef from the ocean that was only a few feet from where we were walking!
Beautiful fish in the colorful reef

Geoff and Noah (SV Jade) jumped into a chasm

Amazing amount of lobster-crayfish


Pizza delivery in Minerva Reef
Noah and Ferne from SV Jade decided to make and sell pizza in the Minerva Reef to raise money for the Kiwi birds in New Zealand.  Horatio and Noah were very excited to participate in taking pizza orders from the boats in the reef and also making homemade pizza dough and baking pizzas!  It was a huge success and they actually made the newspaper in New Zealand for the service to the Kiwi birds.

Kiteboarding in the Reef

When the weather improved, There was a mass exodus of the reef and everyone started making their way for New Zealand.  We encountered lots of dolphins on the way.

Map of North East coast of the North Island, NZ.  We arrived in the town of Opua, Bay of Islands 

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Horatio excited to see land!  Bay of Islands, New Zealand!
We had a great passage with good weather and wind until the last 2 days when there was very little to no wind.  But no wind is better than squalls and gales! 

Entering the Bay of Islands, New Zealand.

Geoff taking in the beautiful views

One of the many islands in the Bay of Islands.

Amazing homes with great views

Can't go anywhere without seeing a cruise ship

Town of Paihia

Entering Opua

We arrived in Opua, New Zealand on November 24th! Thanksgiving!  After clearing in with Customs and Immigration, we decided we could use a real Thanksgiving Dinner.  We had not had one in several years and last year was beans and tortillas in Mexico!  We did not know if Kiwi's celebrated Thanksgiving, but the local yacht club was serving Thanksgiving dinner.  We were very thankful!

Thanksgiving Dinner at the Opua Yacht Club

A beautiful local choir was our entertainment

Time to take in the sites.  We walked from the town of Opua to the town of Paihia.  About 6 miles.
SV Jade and SV Free Spirit on the walk with us

The kids climbing a viewing tower that was on the trail

The local yacht clubs have a kids Wednesday night sailing program that we got the kids involved in.  The coach was amazing with the children and they all had such a great time.  Here are the kids sailing in Optimists and Splashes.
The kids out having fun

Horatio and Josh (SV Carpe Diem) heading or the mark

Handling the boat really well

Time for some local fun!  Christmas Parade in the town of Paihia

Horatio and Noah with kids from SV Tika and SV Skylark enjoying free ice cream!


Paihia school float

Sharks and waves

Santa Claus and his helper

Just 15 minutes from the town of Opua is Kawa Kawa.  The town is famous for their public toilet that was designed by Friedensreich Hundertwasser. He was an Austrian born New Zealand architect who also worked in the environmental protection field.  He was born in 1928 and died in 2000.  An art gallery featuring Hundertwasser's work will be established in a council building in Whangarei, New Zealand, and will bring to fruition his 1993 plans for improving the building.

Public Toilet in Kawa Kawa

Hundertwasser wall

Noah in front of the Public Toilet

One of the toilets

The town of Kawa Kawa with rolling hills and cows!

Horatio and Geoff at the train platform

Noah and Geoff at the train station

ahh, Engines!

We spent some time discovering a few of the islands in the Bay of Islands.  Some aerial views.
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Enough anchored at Motorua Island

The kids find a way to get to the beach off the boats via paddleboards

View from hiking the island

We hiked with SV Tika and SV Skylark to the other side of Motorua and the kids ran for the beach

We signed the kids up for a week long sailing camp in Waitangi (next to the town of Paihia).  They had a great week and got to meet some new friends.

The coach, Robbs, giving the kids the plan for the day.

Kai, Jaiya, Russ (SV Tika)  Noah and Geoff getting the Opti's ready

Heading into the water

Off they go

Getting the Sunbursts in the water

The 420's out in the water

We took a day trip to Auckland

Skyline view with the city with SkyCity tower

Miriam and Horatio at the waterfront

They revitalized the area with great container architecture

Horatio and Noah having fun climbing

Geoff and Noah

Row of historic wood sailing boats

The town of Russell in the Bay of Islands has a winery in the hills.  We visited the Omata Estates winery with SV Tika and their parents.  Great day for lunch and wine.
Lunch with incredible views

Walking through the vineyard

The town of Russell, where we caught the Ferry back to Opua.

Jaiya climbing the tree

All the kids making their way up the tree

Russell being put in "jail" by the kids. 

We got a free week stay at a lodge in Turangi, NZ.  We had no idea where that was, but decided that a week off the boat for Christmas would be a welcome change.   Turangi is located in the central part of the North Island.  About 5 hours south of Opua.  Long drive!
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The kids pulling a Christmas cracker

Our Christmas Tree

We got to visit my good friend from San Francisco who is from NZ, who was visiting her parents for Christmas in the town of Hamilton.

We took a hike in the Tongariro National Park.
Noah frog jumping in front of the Tongariro Lodge

Mt. Ruapehu (ski mountain) in the background.

Beautifully clear and cold streams

Great waterfall hike

High desert and snow

On our way back to Opua, we toured a little bit of Taupo and Rotorua area.

Noah catching prawns at the Huka Prawn Park

Miriam with the Huka Prawn

Horatio and Noah Prawn Fishing


Paddling in the Prawn Park

Huka Falls

Agrodome in Rotorua

Sheep show - they showed at least 14 different types of sheep

Sheepdog on the sheep

Shearing a sheep

Sweet sheep

Belted Galloway cow on the Agrodome farm

Lots of Alpaca

Nice Alpaca, nice.  They are very sweet.

Noah in front of Kiwi fruit vines

The lone llama

Wild turkey


Emu eggs

Back in the Bay of Island, Opua Marina.

Happy New Year!  Fireworks seen from our boat.

We took a trip to the northern tip of the North Island. Cape Reinga
Northern tip of New Zealand

Lighthouse on Cape Reinga
Cape Reinga - where the waters from the Pacific Ocean meet the Coral Sea

Sand boarding at Te Paki Sand Dunes

There goes Horatio

Noah and Geoff on their way down

Back in the Bay of Islands
Horatio, Noah, and Kai sailing Tika Taka - SV Tika's sailing dinghy

The kids spent a whole day sailing in Tika Taka discovering the neighboring islands.

Rainbow Falls - Keri Keri

Jumping off the cliff from the Falls.

Geoff makes a splash

Up Next - After spending a little bit of time in the North Island, we decided to take a tour of the South Island.