We undergo New Zealand’s quarantine procedures, start exploring this amazing country, and realize how privileged we are to have arrived just in time.

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Opua – Whangarei (NZL)

“Can you smell the pines?” Ivar asks as he gazes out of the cockpit. “Yes, I can’t take my eyes off all the trees around us”, Floris replies. We have just spent the first night at the quarantine dock in Opua. Although it is still early, we are both up. That’s probably because we are not used to sleep all night anymore. After all, we just spent thirty days at sea doing three-hour watches. Over breakfast, we take in our new surroundings. We are moored against a long concrete pier, the quarantine dock. It is not connected to the land and separates the modern Opua marina from a fast-flowing river. Countless boats on moorings face upstream, an indication that the tide is outgoing. The sun breaks through the clouds and bathes the distant wooded hills in a golden hue. Our first impression of New Zealand in daylight is quite overwhelming.

Getting stamps

There are only a few other boats at the quarantine dock and we are the only newcomers. In the course of the morning, three customs and immigration officials pay us a visit. That is to say they stay on the pier and, armed with face masks and latex gloves, politely ask us questions while we fill in arrival forms. They don’t even come on board to look for forbidden items, like fresh fruit and vegetables. Instead, they ask us to put everything in a garbage bag. The risk of spreading the corona virus clearly outweighs any biohazards. We oblige and hand over three onions and two garlic cloves that survived the Pacific passage, as well the recycling and general waste that we had kept separated during our trip. It all disappears into one big plastic bag.

“How long were you guys at sea?” one of the officials asks. “Thirty days, non-stop,” we reply. “Oh wow, that’s a long time. Welcome to New Zealand!” he says while stamping our passports. It feels like a reward after more than an hour of answering questions and filling in forms. We have officially entered New Zealand and can stay for six months.

Getting Tested

Under New Zealand’s strict border rules, new arrivals in the country must quarantine for fourteen days. Fortunately, our time at sea counts as quarantine-days, so we don’t have to go to a “managed isolation facility”, meaning a well-guarded hotel, at our own expense. Instead, all we have to do is a corona test. A testing station has been set up, so the officials take us to shore. For the trip of less than a hundred metres we have to wear life jackets, gloves, and face masks. A fourth customs officer keeps curious passers-by at a distance when we enter the testing area: a portable cabin that has been transformed into a field hospital with two plastic chairs outside under a gazebo. After a brief explanation of the procedure, a kind nurse in protective gear sticks a long swab up our noses. Although it’s not a pleasant sensation, we gladly undergo the procedure. It does help us get into the country, after all.

We are swiftly taken back to Lucipara 2. A customs official reminds us that we are absolutely not allowed to disembark until the results of our corona tests are back. She hands us a big banner to attach to the railing, which reads: “Do not approach – vessel and crew in isolation.” We oblige and take a selfie as a testament to the extraordinary circumstances we are in. We feel completely healthy, and have just become the centre of attraction for all passing boats. As they pass by our boat on the way in and out of the marina, many wave friendly or shout “Welcome to New Zealand!”. The sign doesn’t deter Margrit and Ernst, Swiss friends we met in Patagonia, from placing a large bag with fresh food on the dock for us. “Oranges, bananas, apples, lettuce, carrots, eggs, white wine, cheese, they really spoiled us”, Ivar says with a big smile on his face. “And all local and organic, what a treat!”

Cocooning

One of the ladies from customs has given us a local SIM card. It only takes Floris a few minutes to set up an account, buy credit, and activate a data bundle. We go online for the first time in a month, so swaths of messages pour in. We spend the rest of the day reading and answering them. Time flies while we are cocooning on our boat; the fast internet keeps us entertained and the fresh food well-nourished. In fact, we’re not done updating our website, articles, and videos when a customs officer knocks on the hull on Saturday. “Congratulations guys! Your tests came back negative. You can move to the marina now,” she explains. We’re caught off guard, thinking we would not be released until after the weekend, but thank her and get ready to move. “What a wonderful service”, Ivar says. “I think at least eight people were involved in our arrival. And we don’t even have to pay anything for their work.” The Kiwis clearly leave nothing to chance and we fully understand that. New Zealand is one of the few countries in the world that has succeeded in eliminating corona and, naturally, they want to keep it that way. We feel extremely privileged that we were granted entry and can now go as we please.

Farmers Market

As soon as we have moored Lucipara 2 in the marina, we hit the showers. On passages our showers involve sitting on the loo while the boat is moving and rinsing ourselves with water. It is often the same temperature as sea water as we don’t always turn on the heater. The longer the passage, the more pleasure we get out of a warm shower on shore under which we can stand upright. Our second stop is next to the showers: the laundry room. Our laundry accumulated over the last 30 days occupies three machines and takes up every inch of outdoor space when we dry it on the boat.

With the laundry and ourselves clean again, it’s time to explore the area. Margrit and Ernst kindly take us on a daytrip with their car and show us the hilly hinterland full of detached houses, farms, and sheep. At the regional farmers market in Kerikeri, growers and artisan producers sell their goods directly to consumers. We can’t take our eyes of all the mouth-watering goodies on display. Our bags are quickly filled with seasonal fruit and vegetables, farmhouse cheese, and freshly baked bread. The quality is excellent and we are happy to support the farmers directly.

After a hike in the forest near Opua full of beautiful kauri trees, we end the day at Margit and Ernst’s rented apartment. It gives a beautiful view of the bay, which we had only “seen” at night when we sailed in. Over barbecue we share stories about sailing, the pandemic, lockdowns, and the dire situation of our families and friends in Europe. “We couldn’t be in a better place”, we all say more than once.

Bay of Islands

After a few more explorations on foot, we say goodbye to the luxurious marina and its showers. Under a radiant summer sun, we sail downriver to the Bay of Islands. We hardly recognize the route, which we took earlier in the opposite direction in the dark and with bad weather. Christmas is around the corner, the start of the Kiwi summer. It means that crowds of boats will holiday in this area. We are still ahead of them, although the weather is already very summer-like. We are very fortunate to have this beautiful area virtually to ourselves. James Cook sailed to this bay in 1769 and named it after the many islands found in this area. Most again bear the Maori names given to them by the indigenous people of New Zealand some 600 years before Cook’s arrival. We drop the anchor in the lee of Urupukapuka island, the largest of the lot. On a hike around the island, we spot many native plants and birds. One of them, the tui, makes particularly curious sounds that we soon learn to recognize. The views are stunning: iridescent blue water dotted with green islands and blinding white beaches. No wonder this is such a popular sailing area.

On the River Bank

“Check this out!” Ivar shouts when he routinely checks the weather forecast. Less than a week after our arrival in Opua, two hurricanes develop in the Pacific Ocean: Yasa and Zazu. Yasa heads straight for Fiji and Zazu moves south from Tonga. Zazu’s route reminds us of the storm that we encountered on the way here, only this one looks even stronger. While we sail further south along the east coast of New Zealand in calm weather, on the weather charts we see how Yasa rapidly grows into a category 5 hurricane. It ends up wreaking havoc in Fiji. Zazu becomes a category 2 hurricane by the time it crosses the track of our passage. Once again, we are reminded of our fortune to have reached New Zealand ahead of storms like Zazu.

At Whangarei Heads we get into the lee of the land again. Backed by a strong current caused by the incoming tide, we sail upriver to Whangarei. It takes us a few hours to follow the river’s windy course until we reach the town that will be our home for the coming months while we do boat maintenance. At Riverside Drive Marina other cruisers help us dock. They immediately make us feel welcome and invite us to the weekly barbecue the next day. It marks the start of series of celebrations. For Christmas, we take the bus to Auckland, where we reunite with friends and meet their families. We are humbled and honored to be with them during this special holiday. Back in Whangarei, we chime in the New Year with fellow cruisers. As we toast to 2021 and hug and kiss, it dawns on us how difficult 2020 was for many and how privileged we are to be in New Zealand. Our thoughts go out to all those who lost someone dear, are still suffering, and are limited in their ability to see family and friends.

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