We evaluate our options and decide to stay longer in New Zealand. Being stranded here turns out to be a blessing in disguise.

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Whangarei – Whangarei (NZL)

“If you take Digby for a walk, I’ll feed the cats”, Ivar proposes. Within no-time, we have settled into a new routine. On land, away from Lucipara 2, that is. We are looking after pets and a house on an avocado farm not far from Whangarei – arranged via Kiwi House Sitters. It’s the perfect setting to recover from our boat chores. In particular the jacuzzi, the comfortable house, and the company of an energetic dog and friendly cats get us in a land-lubbers mood. “I could get used to this”, Floris winks. With countries around us still closed, is this a harbinger of our new life, or are their other options?

While we ponder about our future, we collect avos – as the Kiwis call the delicious green fruit – from the ground. A recent storm has ensured that we find plenty of them, so we eat more guacamole than is good for us. At the same time, we look at the hundreds of avocado trees and wonder why there aren’t any other types of trees, shrubs or flowers on the land. Could more biodiversity reduce or even eliminate the need for regular cocktails of agricultural poisons to protect the avocado trees from diseases? We don’t have to look far for an answer.

The Food Jungle

Tim’s stand is our favourite place to get fresh food at the weekly growers’ market in Whangarei, so we regularly buy avos, bananas, onions, and other seasonal fruits and veggies from him. He kindly invites us to visit his farm, which is not far from our temporary home. As soon as we leave the road and turn into his long driveway, it feels like we have entered a jungle. There are trees of different heights, shrubs, and other plants wherever we look. Aptly, Tim named his farm The Food Jungle. “I cultivate what grows easily. In other words, I let nature determine what I grow”, Tim sums up his approach. It leads to a diverse and colourful collection of crops: from pumpkins to avos and from radishes to bananas. Tim does as little ploughing as possible, which is better for soil life and for the soil’s carbon content. He uses mulch and compost, plants crops together to create symbiotic relationships, and each season changes the veggies he grows on a section, a practice known as crop rotation.

Beyond the boundary of his property, we see long rows of avo trees. We ask what Tim thinks of his neighbour’s monoculture. “We respect each other. Fortunately, he takes the wind direction into account when he sprays poison. But I think that the way you farm is mainly a question of mentality. Many farmers are ignorant and attack all unknown plants with poison, which is an assault on biodiversity. Organic farmers often follow a monoculture approach, too, merely replacing poison with natural pesticides. That’s a shame because the bigger the biodiversity, the more productive and resilient a farm is. Don’t fight against nature, but make good use of it”, Tim asserts. According to him, farming “beyond organic”, or “regenerative farming” is primarily a matter of knowledge and mentality. Read more on the many sustainability benefits of regenerative farming in our dedicated solution item.

Closed Borders

Back on board, the question “what are we going to do?” still lingers. In the last six months we could ignore to think about it because we were busy doing boat maintenance and road tripping across the North and South Island. But now that Luci is back in the water and our visas are about to expire, we have to address it. “What are our options?” Ivar wonders. “Let’s start by applying to stay longer in New Zealand. That will buy us some time”, Floris says decisively.

We, like all sailors on a trip around the world, live by choosing our next destination and setting sail. Yet due to the pandemic, in Southeast Asia and Oceania only Fiji is allowing us to visit. Every other country is keeping its maritime borders firmly closed. And while Fiji sounds fantastic, it has one major drawback. Between December and May it can get hit by cyclones. Anyone sailing to Fiji must leave again in November and hope to be admitted into Australia or Indonesia, which is far from certain. We surely do not want to take the risk of getting stuck in Fiji, so that’s one option off the list. What choices are others making?

What are the options?

To everyone’s surprise, our British neighbours in the marina, Paul and Sally of SY Bagheera, are the only cruisers in Whangarei to get visa for Australia. They join a select group of heroic sailors who opt to skip many countries and sail long distances non-stop to get home.

At a farewell party, we meet German sailors Marie and Dietmar, who will soon sail to Auckland. Their SY Greyhound will be placed on a transport ship back to Europe. Others chose to leave their boat in Whangarei and fly home, like Ulla and Pelle of SY Loupan. At their farewell party, the bubbles flow freely, as they are excited to see their family again soon. Of course, a flight home is easily arranged. But the big question is when can you come back to your boat, because for the time being New Zealand is keeping its borders closed to all foreigners. It has resulted in many sailboats patiently having to wait for their owners to be allowed back into the country.

For many sailors, the boat is their home. That’s why leaving it behind is often not an option, unless you’re willing to choose a more radical option. Martin and Ellen of SY Acapella, have decided to sell their well-maintained Bavaria 46. It is sold within a week. When we celebrate the successful sale on board, they shed a tear. “What a great time we had on the water. We will miss it terribly,” they sob. And we will miss them, too!

Finally, there are neighbours in the marina who are settling in Whangarei, like Americans Tracy and Dale of the SY Knot-Home. They both got jobs, their children go to school in Whangarei, and they are working on a residence permit. It sounds like a tempting option for us, but impossible to achieve without jobs.

Postponing the decision

Even if we wanted to leave the country, we couldn’t do it on Lucipara 2. “Still no news about our anchor chain,” Floris laments after checks the e-mails. “They don’t even know when it’s going to be shipped!” In addition, installing a new drive for our electric autopilot is still work-in-progress. We have no choice but to stay here, so it’s a relief when immigration grants our request to stay longer. We can now wait for the necessary boat parts and keep on exploring the country. It means we can postpone the “what’s next” decision for a while.

Back on the Road

Our focus returns to Miss Nissy, our campervan. What will it be like to camp in the middle of winter? “There is only one way to find out!” Floris laughs. “We can visit more sustainable solutions, see friends, and explore more of the North Island”, he adds. A few days later, we hit the road. Our first stop: Auckland. At the Dutch school, where students with a Dutch background gather one afternoon a week, we are given the opportunity to give a presentation about our trip and mission. It’s something we enjoy doing a lot. Flora, our friends Bram and Vivian’s daughter, is also in the audience. Judging by the children’s reactions and questions, they find it exciting and interesting, while we feel honoured to inspire the local youth with sustainable examples.

We spend the weekend with Vivian, Bram, and Flora, who show us their favourite areas around Auckland. We hike along the coast, go paddle-boarding, and enjoy the winter sun. In the evenings we chat endlessly about sailing, choices, dreams, and sustainability, of course. We drink to Vivian’s new job, at a waste recycling company!

Large-Scale Food Rescue

Back in March, we visited KiwiHarvest, an organization in Dunedin to fight food waste and help the food insecure get access to healthy food. Founder Deborah mentioned her latest initiative, a large-scale food-rescue organisation. She told us that regional food hubs simply don’t have the capacity to store and distribute large quantities of donated food, so she set up a national distribution centre in Auckland: New Zealand Food Network. It’s time for us to have a look!

Director Gavin Findlay welcomes us to the brand-new centre. He explains why there is always food to rescue. “It’s in part caused by consumers wanting perfection. I’ll show you what I mean.” He takes us through a door that leads to an immense warehouse. Forklift trucks are moving around pallets from multi-storey racks to trucks parked outside and vice-versa. We walk across the warehouse to two crates full of apples. “These look perfectly fine. Why were they not sold?” we ask. “These apples don’t meet the desired size or beauty standards”, Gavin explains. “Look, a few small flecks is all it takes for them to be discarded! In this case, it’s the consumer’s pursuit of perfection causing food waste.” He points to pallets of flour. “That flour’s shelve life is not long enough for the retailer, so it has hardly any value anymore. Our job is to find grateful recipients for it. We use an IT platform that is connected to more than 50 regional food hubs all over the country.”

When we think of the vast amounts of food rescued and the many food insecure people that are helped, we can’t help but be impressed by the size and success of this young organisation. Read all about New Zealand’s food rescue efforts in a separate sustainable solution article.

Energy from the Earth

We drive further south to the Taupo area. During our previous road trip, we were fascinated by the natural heat and steam in Rotorua and the Waimangu Volcanic Valley. Thanks to energy company Mercury, we can visit the Ngā Awa Pūrua geothermal power station, the third largest in New Zealand. Here, we learn how exactly Kiwis use the earth’s energy to produce renewable electricity.

“The red dots on the map mark the locations of the steam wells. Some are as deep as 3,000 meters”, Field Manager Michael Stevens says, pointing at a map. “That deep?” we ask in surprise. Isn’t the heat much closer to the surface? “Yes, but the underground basins from which we extract a mixture of hot water and steam are much deeper. At those depths, temperatures are around 300 degrees. With temperatures that high, we can generate electricity efficiently.”

To see it all up close, Michael gives us an extensive tour of the plant. He shows that once the mix of steam and hot water reaches the plant through the pipes, it is separated from each other. The steam is used to turn the largest single-shaft geothermal turbine in the world to generate electricity. That electricity feeds the national grid via transformers. The water is pumped back into the steam field. “That’s what happens at the blue dots I showed on the map”, Michael says. “The water is cooler then when it was pumped up, but underground the water heats up again before it flows back into the hot water reservoir. By refilling the reservoir we also make sure that the pressure and temperature of the reservoir remain constant. That’s why the energy derived from geothermal fields is considered renewable.” Read more aspects about this fascinating form of energy generation in a separate sustainable solution item.

Relaxed Raglan

On the west coast, we get to experience the earth’s heat up close. On the beach in Kawhia, we dig our own hot pool. It’s fascinating to feel warm water so close to the sandy surface. Who would have thought we would be on the beach in our swimming trunks in the middle of winter?

A little further up the coast, we camp in Raglan, the country’s surfing hotspot. The absence of high-rise buildings and massive crowds here positively surprise us. The wide, large sandy beach is unspoilt, as is the inlet that comes in here. The sandbanks in the entrance prevent big ships from entering. Even though it is the low season, the small scale of tourism here is clearly visible. There are family-run hostels, and artisan shops where you can get, among other things, super tasty fresh sourdough bread. In a coffee shop with freshly baked delicacies, we meet Lynda Lim. Not only does she write for cruisers website Noonsite and interviews us, she gives us tips about a local project that restores biodiversity, and introduces us to her brother Neville who runs a dairy farm in a natural way. Grateful for these tips, we go exploring.

Caring for Oi

The very next day we are warmly welcomed in Kristel van Houte’s beautiful home. She is one of the initiators of the Karioi project. She explains that their work is focused on the maunga, or mountain Karioi, and the surrounding coastline, wetlands, and beaches. “Just 200 years ago, seabirds filled our coastal forests and every year thousands of seabirds flocked to our coastline to raise their chicks. It’s no coincidence we are known as the Seabird Capital of the World. Due to introduced predators such as rats and stoats, which eat eggs and chicks, the population went almost extinct. Since we started extensive predator control and seabird monitoring programs, we’re now seeing Little Blue Penguins waddling down the beach and our vulnerable seabirds, Oi (Grey Faced Petrels) successfully breeding in burrows along the coast.”

We ask Kristel whether killing rats and stoats with traps is actually okay, don’t these animals have a right to life? “Of course it is a dilemma. We love animals and would rather not kill them. The problem, however, is that these animals don’t belong in New Zealand. They have virtually no natural enemies here, multiply and then do unbelievably great damage to our local ecosystems.” The end justifies the means, and we agree.

We are impressed by how the enthusiastic team and their many volunteers are leading the Raglan community to take a stand for nature and protect the animals and places they love. Together, they turn the tide on biodiversity loss and successfully re-wild their corner of the world. They are very proud of the support they recently received from clothing brand Patagonia and the beautiful film that has been made about them. And rightly so, watch it here.

Healthier Cows

Energized by so much love and dedication for nature, we drive on to Morrinsville, in the heart of New Zealand’s dairy country. Although diary is big business in New Zealand, its negative impact on nature is significant. The creation of grasslands for grazing has contributed to massive deforestation. In addition, pastures are poor in biodiversity and store hardly any carbon. What’s more, cows emit methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Research has shown that global deforestation, combined with methane emissions, contributes a substantial 20 percent to the climate crisis. To add to the problem, irrigation and synthetic fertilizers has led to an intensification of dairy production in the last few decades. Gigantic sprinklers keep the grass green but in naturally dry areas so much water is needed that groundwater levels continuously drop. Fertilizer has multiple drawbacks. It is a finite additive with a long, polluting supply chain. It ends up in waterways, which leads to pollution and algae growth. We are therefore very curious to learn how Lynda’s brother Neville runs his diary farm.

We meet him at his farm just outside of town. While many farmers are protesting against stricter environmental regulations, he is at work. “I took over this farm from my father”, Neville remarks. “He used phosphate as fertilizer but warned me against using nitrate, telling me that it was expensive, polluting, and detrimental for the soil in the long run. I did not want to use phosphate either and found an alternative. I spray a seaweed-based biostimulant over the grass and am very happy with the results. It nourishes the soil, costs less, and even the cows are healthier.” Neville thereby confirms the benefits of using seaweed in agriculture, which producer Agrisea told us about when we visited them for our story Smart with Seaweed.

“It rains enough, so I don’t irrigate. I do occasionally buy hay if I don’t have enough grass for all 250 cows.” They are always outside because it never freezes here. Neville’s son also lives on the property and plants trees. “They block the wind and give the cows some shade in summer”, he explains. The fact that the trees store CO2 is a bonus. Neville and his son are doing their utmost to cause as little damage as possible to nature. While this is commendable, cows remain a source of methane emissions. In addition, land such as theirs could be used for more carbon storage and biodiversity. How? Check out our dedicated sustainable solution article on regenerative farming.

SfS on Air!

We head back to Auckland and stay with our friend Anne. She also hosted us when we celebrated Christmas 2020 at hers with our friends Lane and Susie and after we bought Miss Nissy. Her hospitality is heart-warming and we enjoy catching up with her. We also use the opportunity to prepare for an interview. Georgie Ferrari from Sustainability Trust in Wellington connected us to Radio New Zealand, which resulted in the opportunity to talk about our project on national radio, live! Excited and a bit nervous, we make our way to the studio in central Auckland the next day. Our interview host Katherine Ryan broadcasts from Wellington, but her picture in our recording room helps set the scene. Through our headphones, we hear Katherine’s voice addressing us. Here it goes! For almost thirty minutes, she asks about our project, the sailboat, and storms. It’s obvious that she did her research, as you can judge for yourself by listening to the full interview here!

A New Chapter

Lane and Susie no longer live with Anne. After many years of crewing and cruising, they recently started a new chapter in their lives by buying a so-called lifestyle block, a rural property, in Northland. Naturally, we’re curious to learn all about their new venture. We head north to reunite with them. Lane gives us an extensive tour around the property and points up the plans they have for the property: creating a permaculture garden and food forest, herding some cows, building a tiny house, and much more. We instantly share their enthusiasm for their beautiful estate. The next few days, we join their efforts. Lane is working on expanding the rainwater collection system, while Susie could use some assistance in the orchard. More than 100 apple, pear, plum, peach, and almond trees need to be pruned! After a crash course tree-pruning by Susie, we get the hang of it. Their dogs love to be where the action is. Maggie is no longer the puppy she was when we first met her but little Enzo – new to the family – very much is. They both play tirelessly with the branches we prune. Such dog-cuteness overload!

From Grass To Food Forest

After promising Lane and Susie that we’ll be back, we drive to Rawene to take a ferry across the Hokianga Harbour. A few hour’s drive later, we arrive at Chalice and Ken’s. A year ago, they bought a large piece of land from a dairy farmer. They have been busy turning pasture into a vegetable garden and food forest ever since. We can see their progress on a north-facing hill – the sunny side in the southern hemisphere. Chalice explains how they are going about transforming the land. “We first created terraces. They retain rainwater longer than the slope it was before and we can easily plant vegetables on them. We then covered the grass with cardboard or black plastic. This grass is originally from Africa and overgrows everything. But once dried out, we can mix it with mulch to fertilize the soil. And that is what it is all about: fertile soil.” Her approach is visibly successful: the hill is bursting with varieties of vegetables, herbs, and flowers. Everything seems to grow in random places, which is intentional. “We aim for as much biodiversity as possible”, Chalice reveals. “Every crop or plant adds something, whether they bind nitrogen, attract insects, or increase erosion resistance.” Indeed, biodiversity is crucial for ecosystems to be resilient and sustainable.

Ken, meanwhile, has been busy planting trees all over the property. “I am trying out different trees, such as apple, pear, citrus, and avocado trees. They all do well here, so I will also try papaya”, he beams. It reminds us of a food forest we visited in Brazil, where symbioses between plants and selective pruning yielded a rich, diverse harvest. As is the case with Chalice’s plants and flowers, Ken’s trees attract a multitude of insects and birds. All that vegetation also removes CO2 from the atmosphere and stores it as carbon in the biomass and soil. Their approach is a textbook example of regenerative farming and an indispensable weapon in the fight against the climate crisis. You can follow their efforts on their YouTube Channel and you can read more about regenerative farming in our sustainable solution article.

Entry to the Spirit World

Driving even further north brings us to the northernmost tip of New Zealand, Cape Reinga. A lighthouse stands on the wind-swept outcrop, warning seafarers to give the adjacent, often turbulent waters a wide berth. This is where the Tasman Sea meets the Southern Pacific Ocean, so the waves and currents collide and it’s often rather windy. Also, according to Māori mythology, it is where the spirits of the deceased submerge to the underworld (reinga), travel underwater to the Three Kings Islands a few miles offshore, and from there ascend to Hawaiiki-a-Nui, the ancestral homeland. It truly is a magical place.

Close to the cape, on the western shore, are gigantic sand dunes. When we climb them, it feels like being in the Sahara Desert, especially since we have the place to ourselves. Spirits Bay, on the opposite shore, is also impressive. Its beautiful white sandy beach curves to form a perfect semi-circle over a distance of around four nautical miles! New Zealand’s varied landscapes keep dazzling us.

Treaty or Tiriti?

We learn more about the Māori at the Waitangi treaty grounds. It is a historic site where a treaty was signed between the British Crown and Māori chiefs in 1840. In the marea, the Māori’s cultural meeting place, decorated with beautiful carvings, we get a haka, or welcome ceremony, followed by traditional song and dance.

In the museum, we get a history lesson. When Captain Cook arrived in 1769, more than 100,000 Māori were estimated to have lived in Aotearoa, land of the long white cloud, as they called the land. Things were not always peaceful between the 160 different tribes, which partly explains why the Māori had excellent weapons and were not afraid to use them against foreign invaders. From 1790 onwards, the waters around New Zealand were visited by British, French and American whaling, sealing and trading ships. They came for whale oil, seal fur, water, and food. Trading in timber and flax started to grow. With the increasing economic importance of Aotearoa, a treaty became interesting for both parties. The British Crown saw no point in a war of conquest, and wanted to use the treaty to prevent the country from falling into French hands. The Māori were willing to join the mighty British Empire, although by no means all Māori chiefs signed the tiriti – as they called it.

Although the treaty initially seemed a success, the treaty text turned out to be a source of future conflict. The different language versions of the treaty and tiriti turned out to be a tricky point. The English language version mentioned the British Crown to have sovereignty over New Zealand, whereas in the Māori language version it was stated that the Crown receives kawanatanga, arguably a lesser authority over the Māori and their lands. Inevitable conflicts over land ownership and use arose when settlers from Britain arrived in large numbers in the years that followed.

New Zealand’s history and cultural challenges are very well explained here and brought to life with interesting displays. It certainly helps to understand some of the current-day debates that regularly flare up in New Zealand.

Happily Stranded!

After so many beautiful excursions, interesting encounters, inspiring sustainable initiatives, and history lessons during our road tour of the North Island, it’s time to drive back to Whangarei. We are glad to see Luci patiently waiting for us at the pontoon in the Riverside Drive Marina. For Dutch standards, the winter here is very mild. With quiet campsites, low season discounts, and electricity for our electric heater, winter camping here was a great success. Stranded in New Zealand? It seems like a blessing in disguise!

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