Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pt 4 - NZ A Perfect Day - it really was!

Something heavy is scuttling about on the roof. A possum? It’s 6:40 am. Getting light. I get up to take care of business and sleepily peek out the curtains to the sea. Pre drawn by the looks. I can’t resist watching ready to take a few snaps if colour should paint the clouds on the horizon. A quick flick of fingers through hair; pull on some shorts and I slide open the glass door separating me from the view and step outside. Lovely soft grass on bare feet.

I wander down along the grass to some seats positioned in a bare paddock with views back in towards Tutukaka. A smail sail boat is heading south and soon there is a slow stream of boats heading out to sea. The sun is slow to rise but as it peeks over the horizon the sky is lit with golden flame until the bright orb shows itself through the bands of cloud.

I head slowly back up the hill admiring a lonely pohutukawa flower in the garden and settle in downstairs to some leisurely pottering about on the computer with occasional contented snores from hubby upstairs as my companion. The view of the Poor Knights Islands from the apartment a tantalizing promise of things to come.

It seems no time at all before it’s 10 o’clock and time to be readying ourselves for our trip with A Perfect Day. As we pull up in the carpark it’s clear that most other patrons have already checked in and are making themselves comfortable on the boat. We soon are joining them and noting that it is indeed looking like a perfect day. The sky is clear, the sea Is like a mill pond. Fantastic.

The first order of business as we step into the back of the boat is to get kitted out with snorkel, fins and in my case, a wetsuit. Best form of sun protection going and it doesn’t leave an unfortunate slick on the water to affect the environment. With gear in hand we head upstairs. The boat is big and broad and there are plenty of seats, a few outside in the sun and many more under the canopy. The plastic roll up windows allow for shade without feeling like you’re inside. Phew. I really need to minimise my sun exposure.

After the obligatory safety briefing, (which is as entertaining as a safety briefing can possibly get) rules of the boat and a run down o the plan for the day we settle down to enjoy a leisurely run out to the Poor Knights Islands which are of course, still visible in the distance. To the south the Hen and Chickens Islands are a shadow to the east of cape Whangarei, while to the north Cape Brett marks the entrance to the Bay of Islands. We hear about the East Australian Current and the tendency for tropical species to find themselves here at the Poor Knights. Some species can hang on, others have a short life span as the water cools over winter when the effects of the current lessen. As we approach the islands we hear of James Cook and his naming of the islands in 1769… look they really do look like a dead knight lying in the water…

We arrive at the islands at about midday. Conditions are right for the boat to anchor up in an area known as the garden. In this bay there are a range of beautiful species of kelp growing and a range of fish can been seen. Before we head downstairs to go jumping in the water the skipper fills us in on what’s around the area. Hubby and I are among the last of the snorkelers into the water. I am glad I decided on the wetsuit as I slide into the water and move away from the boat. Masses of small fish, a species of chromis, and others school around the area.

There’s also a few larger fish but nothing really big. As recommended I head over to the shadows and find stacks of fish and beautiful kelp covered rocks. A thin transparent ribbon hangs in the water. It’s edges pulsating with iridescent colour. It swims and ripples like an gymnast’s ribbon. This is known as a mermaid’s belt. Beautiful.

Also around in numbers are tiny gelatinous creatures, again, showing iridescent banding rippling along the sides. Jelly fish you would say. I tried to fan one away from me to avoid swimming into it and perhaps damaging it. To my horror it seems to disintegrate in front of my eyes and I wonder if it was ever really creature shaped at all. As I watch it reforms itself. What an extraordinary creature.

I meet up with hubby and we head for the arch where we were advised a lot of fish hang out. Indeed they do and we float through a wall of fish towards water that is tossed and bubble strewn from the gentle swell breaks against the rocks of the arch.
Returning towards the boat from the arch we several large fish which we would call bream, but are locally called snapper. Beautiful iridescent blue spots on the sides, and around the fins. Beautiful fish. They are beautiful when you catch them but 10 times more lovely alive in the water.

I continue on snorkeling until about 1:15, then I figure I might have some lunch and position myself for a go on the kayaks. There’s only few kayaks so people need to be considerate and not monopolise them. Most people just use the kayak to go across to Rikoriko cave and return.

Wandering about on deck I look for hubby and cannot see him anywhere. I continue to look and still can’t see him. I begin to picture his drowned body floating on the bottom.. finally I see him and sigh with relief before grabbing the camera to get a few shots of his graceful snorkeling style. ;o)

Lunch is a variety of sandwiches with meats and salads or cheese and salad. Some side salads and pickled onions and cucumber, and a platter of fruit. The pineapple was fabulous. Best fresh pineapple I’ve had in ages. We scoff a sandwich each and at 1:30 a kayak becomes available. We stow our plates and jump in the kayak and off we go to the cave. I’m tempted to sing a round of Waltzing Matilda to test the much lauded acoustics, but just as I’m about to burst into song another kayaker comes into the cave and I think perhaps my singing isn’t quite what they would have had in mind for their rikoriko cave experience. It’s only a short paddle back to the boat and we’re boarding by about 1:45.
It’s not long until our scheduled departure time, but I decide to slip back into the water for a quick snorkel through the arch. Now with the sun beaming down into the water right up to the rocks over most of the area, the fish have pretty much buzzed off but I find them in the arch. Wonderful.

Finally the skipper blows the horn and heads around the vessel ticking names off on the passenger list to make sure everyone is on board. It’s up anchors and we’re off on our circumnavigation of the island. First stop is into the rikoriko cave. Riko refers to the sparkling of the water. We see a little of this effect near the entrance to the cave, but we are informed that winter is the time to see this cave as the entire cavern fills with the sparkling light of the water. We do a little yelling and mucking about in the cave. Our skipper as usual a wonderfully entertaining performer. What a hoot.

As we head around the islands we hear about the Maori history of the island. Aside from the ban on landing on the islands placed by the Department of Conservation, the island is tapu for Maori. This was a decree by a powerful chief after a massacre on the islands in the early 1800’s. Nothing to do with Europeans really, it was all over pigs and utu. Following the massacre the Maori simply left. Consequently one of the islands is an archeologist’s dream. As we explore the numerous arches and protected bays we hear of an early European settler who visited and collected things, as was the tendency of the times, without permission of the local iwi. Today even the Dept of Conservation must be given permission from the iwi to land on the island.

The whole commentary is fascinating and our skipper is a really charismatic, funny guy. Our last trip through an arch then we head down to the pinnacles. This is the site of a gannet nesting colony. We circle and have a go at getting some high zoom photos, though at high zoom the motion of the boat has more of an impact. I wish I was as proficient with the camera as daughter 1.

As we circle the sugar loaf we are informed that over to the right of us we can see little grey ternlets.. what! Grey Ternlets are really rare and hard to see. I've only seen them once before when we did a trip to Balls Pyramid from Lord Howe Island. COOL! Sure enough a small flock of ternlets is there buzzing about. Skipper points out some diagonal bands in the rock where the ternlets like to roost. I manage a photo. You hoo!!!!

We motor away from the island and have a relaxing but uneventful trip back to the marina in Tutukaka harbour. The weather has been absolutely perfect all day. The sea is as calm when we disembark as when we walked on board. A perfect day indeed. In the course of the trip we have gone through several arches and of course into the rikoriko cave. It's been awesome.

Back at Pacific Rendevous we shower and journal and catch a bit final few performances for some gold medals in the ice skating and speed skating at the Winter Olympics, then it’s off to another dinner at Schnappa Rock.

We start with the selection of warm breads with pesto, oil and balsamic and butter. It was OK but frankly I’ve had better. Oh Schnappa Rock. Tisk tisk. This is the first average bread course I've had in New Zealand... maybe the bread is a South Island Specialty! The breads are simultaneously consumed with duck liver pate for hubby and mussels in a mild red curry sauce for myself. Mains were tricky. I think we both were very tempted to get the same as we had last night, but in the interest of sampling hubby went for the lamb rack with tzatziki and sides of potatoe and mixed vegetables. I went for one of the specials – Fish no 2 which was oven baked hapuka with blue cheese and leek sauce served with quinoa. Very delicious. I don’t usually like fish much, but this was lovely.

Although I lobbied for skipping the dessert, hubby was not to be persuaded and I have a poor history when faced with such enthusiasm for over indulgence… so I go for the fruit and orange sorbet on a Russian blini. Hubby went for the Queen of Sheba chocolate cake with ice cream and fruit compote. Both desserts were very nice too, but I am not at all convinced the small pancakey affair on which my stuff sat was a genuine Russian blini. Ah well. It’s quite late by the time we are departing. Another very nice meal at Schnappa Rock…
….I only hope the food takes a turn for the uninspiring for a while!

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