Thursday, October 31, 2019

March 2019, Diving in Lake and Sky - Lake Taupo New Zealand

OMG Tom what are you doing???? Read on to find out.

Boo! We are long overdue on a post and even though we've been in the USA since mid June let's look back in time and catch up on some of the things we did in our action-packed week in Lake Taupo, NZ this past March.

DIVING IN LAKE: In March a group of friends and acquaintances from the USA flew out to New Zealand to compete in an international freshwater spearfishing competition.This competition was put together by our friend Mike McGuire (he and his family own Casa de los Suenos in Baja where we visited during our 3 years in Mexico) and Darren Shields, President of Spearfishing New Zealand (his family owns and runs the WETTIE dive shop out of Auckland). This was the second annual world competition, the first being in 2017, Lake Mead, Nevada, USA.

In the midst of all our boat work in Whangarei we were able to take a week off and drive down to Lake Taupo, located in the middle of the North Island, to rendezvous with the McGuire family (Mike, Stephanie and Savanah), our friends Mati and Tova, and to meet the rest of the divers.

The dive teams from the USA, representing California, Colorado, Hawaii, Utah, etc. who all take themselves way too seriously.

Lake Taupo is the largest freshwater lake in New Zealand. It reminded us a lot of Lake Tahoe in California and is, in fact, bigger at 238 square miles compared to Tahoe's 191 square miles of surface area. Lake Taupo fills the caldera left by a massive volcanic eruption 26,500 years ago. Some say Taupo is still active because of all the fumaroles (steam vents) and hot springs around the lake. Technically Taupo is considered "dormant", but most definitely NOT extinct.

Some of us from the USA shared a fabulous house with views of the lake. In the week leading up to the competition the divers went to the lake everyday to scout for fish and practice their free-diving skills.

The competition was basically a catfish cull, trying to rid Lake Taupo of as many invasive catfish as possible. The competitors were only allowed to kill catfish, not any of the trout species in the lake.

The non-divers (Mati, Tova, Stephanie, Tom and I) would either sight-see, do our own thing, or help drive divers to their scouting spots.

Sylvia, Mati, Tova and Tom (taking picture) hike up the Waikato river to Huka Falls.

The Waikato river which feeds into the lake is a popular place for kayaking.

Powerful Huka Falls. 

In the evenings Tova, Stephanie and I would coordinate group dinners and many of the other divers would come over to socialize and strategize about the competition. We hosted the USA teams as well as some of the other international divers including a very fun team which had come all the way over from Italy.

Post dinner strategizing amongst the divers with Brandi (USA), Tom, Bruno (Italy), Gino and Alberto (IT) talking to Mike (USA).

Lake Taupo is a tourist destination and there was plenty for the non-divers to do. One day Mati, Tova and I went on a boat tour to some famous Maori rock carvings. Mati booked us on the Ernest Kemp, a very cool replica steam boat built in the early 1980s as a tourism vessel. It's got all sorts of cool features such as the steering wheel which was a hose-winding reel from an old horse-drawn fire brigade and the steam whistle from an old bush steam locomotive.

The big draw for this tour is the large, spectacular rock carving which towers 10 metres above the water. It took Maori artist Matahi Brightwell and his team of four artists, wearing nothing but goggles and speedos (!) four years to complete the carvings.

Hard to believe this huge rock was carved by hand.

We tried to get Mati to climb the rock in his speedo but he refused. Killjoy!!

The night before the competition began there was an official first-night meet-and-greet and welcoming ceremony.

Divers (and non-divers) mingling before the welcome ceremony.

Sylvia connecting with Paola (Italian diver) and Brunella (Gino's wife).

Darren had arranged for a traditional Maori greeting by some of the local Iwi ("people or "tribe") Ngati Tuwharetoa, and he warned Mike that if he (Mike) broke eye contact with the scary-looking tattooed guy during the greeting he'd get smacked in the head with a stick. Say what? Luckily Mike performed well and NO smacking was involved.

After some loud and scary posturing outdoors, we followed the greeters into the clubhouse and received a very warm, personal greeting.

Darren, Mike and Mike's dive partner Ralph with the welcoming members of the Ngati Tuwharetoa. This Iwi still owns the bed of the lake and its tributaries. They grant the public free access for recreational use.

Competition Day #1: Mati, Tova, Stephanie and I enjoyed some more sightseeing while the competition took place, but we had to be back at the clubhouse before the divers returned because Mati was the official Catfish Counter.

This photo of Mati counting catfish was in a National Geographic article here: GOODWILL HUNTING (Photo Richard Robinson)

Kathy (from California) and Savanah (Mike's daughter from Colorado) with their catch. They ended up taking 3rd in their division.

Gino and Mario from Italy got a lot! They eventually took 2nd place in their division.

Mike and Ralph, is that all?

Some of the teams got a lot of fish and some got just a few. It turns out that less than a month before there had been another national catfish cull in Lake Taupo which accounted for the dwindling supply of catfish which, I guess, was a good thing for the lake.

Competition Day #2: The second day of competition was jam-packed. First was the actual competition and again the divers were up early for that, the second activity was the weigh-in, and the third activity was the awards ceremony and dinner. Whew!

Nat and Moss from NZ got a LOT of fish. I think they took first place.

Somehow Mike coerced fellow event-coordinator Darren into this goofy pose.

The tubs of catfish were taken to local farms to be used as fertilizer.

We say goodbye to Team Italia

Team USA (and a couple of interlopers) at the awards dinner. We took home a few trophies.

DIVING IN SKY: A day or so before we were supposed to depart Lake Taupo Tom had gone for a run and discovered a couple of tandem sky-diving companies at the nearby airport. Somehow he got it into his head that jumping out of a plane would be a fun thing for him and Savanah, aged 17, to do. Tom didn't really think Savanah would agree, and mom Stephanie gave her approval because she didn't really think Savanah would do it either. But...on the morning of our departure from Lake Taupo Savanah announced she was up for it!

Tom couldn't back out now. We all drove over to the airport and Taupo Tandem Skydiving so Tom and Savanah could sign up, do their pre-jump briefing/training and get geared up. 

Mom and dad signed the waivers. 

Savanah, Tom and their "handlers" took the training very seriously. Joking aside, the Taupo Tandem Skydiving operation was very professional and impressive.

The plane was full of jumpers with most of them jumping out at 15,000 feet, but Tom and Savanah went for the 18,500 foot jump with over 75 seconds of freefall. Yikes!! (In the USA the highest one can jump from is 18,000 feet.)

So high that oxygen was required.

Mike, Stephanie and I waited on the ground for what felt like a long time as we watched jumper after jumper open their chutes. Finally the last two tandem pairs jumped out, first Tom and then Savanah.

Always nice when the chute opens.

Aiming for the landing site.

From the perspective of those on the ground.

Excited much?
Both down safe and sound.


Needless to say both Savanah and Tom were "walking on air" after their exhilarating jump. 

See Tom's Skydiving video HERE. 

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE: Wouldn't you think that jumping out of a plane would be enough excitement for one day? wasn't even noon yet, and even though we had to drive to Auckland that day, the world famous Tongariro Crossing hike, aka "New Zealand's Best Day Hike" wasn't THAT far out of the way, so of course Mike, Tom and Savanah decided they had to do it. 

The trek is 12 miles long, covers volcanic landscape and typically takes 6-8 hours to complete. Stephanie and I dropped them off at the trailhead around 1:30 p.m. leaving them maybe just enough time to do the hike. They had flashlights and headlamps just in case.

Mike at the top of the trail.

What a view!

Savanah and Tom feeling pretty hyped up after their jump. Check out the fumaroles (steam vents) in the background.

Catch your breath because you'll be jogging the rest of the way!
Savanah takes the "Move quickly" sign to heart.
While Tom, Mike and Savanah hiked Stephanie and I did a bit of sightseeing and then drove to the end of the trail to wait for them. We watched literally hundreds of hikers come streaming down the trail and board the buses bound for the trailhead parking lot. As time passed fewer and fewer hikers straggled out, the sun got low, and we hoped our three would come out before sunset. They eventually came down the trail tired (they had to jog the last few miles) but happy because they had missed the crowds.

Sylvia and Stephanie once again waiting patiently.

The sun was setting and we still had to drive back to Taupo (1 hr.) to pick up our car and then drive to Auckland (4 hrs) for the night. Tom and I had to drive home (to Whangarei) the next a.m. as we were scheduled to haul CINNABAR out of the water the following day. The McGuires would stay in Auckland and continue sightseeing for a few days before driving up to visit us in Whangarei.

All in all it was a fun and action-packed week in a stunning location.

More Photos Here: TAUPO
Unless noted otherwise, all photos by Sylvia, Tom, Mike and possibly others.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Winding up 2018 in New Zealand

Ahoy from New Zealand. Enjoying Mangawhai Beach on the way home from Auckland.


We've been incredibly busy so this post is a bit late and we're playing catch-up. The following is how we closed out 2018.

After arriving in New Zealand we were able to spend a few days and nights with the crew enjoying Northland New Zealand before they had to fly out. We were fortunate that the crew didn't immediately want to jump ship (it happens!) but instead chose to hang out, rent a car (thanks Torben!) and take us sightseeing.

We walked across the longest footbridge in the southern hemisphere.

We went to the beach and watched surfers.

Of course we had to research historic buildings on the way home.

While in Tonga the crew purchased some very cool shirts to use as CINNABAR team shirts, then they surprised me with the shirts. Tom added some graphics with fabric paint et voila...

Tom's art work - "CINNABAR express 52...To N.Z."

Phil lookin' good sporting the team shirt before he heads to Auckland.

Phil left us to visit the South Island and the rest of us spent another day visiting Russell, once known as The Hellhole of the Pacific. Russell was the first land-based whaling station in NZ (all whaling was previously done from ships) and you can imagine how rowdy and lawless it must have been.

We take the car ferry to Russell

Russell is now a lovely tourist destination featuring a HUGE Moreton Bay fig tree in front of the old police station. The Duke of Marlborough hotel is in the background and we had  lunch at the beachside table.

We had lunch at the historic Duke of Marlborough hotel which had roomfuls of wonderful old pictures.

Torben and Judy did a few more touristy things before they had to fly out from Auckland.

View of Whangarei from nearby Mount Parihaka (photo by Judy)
(270 degree vista; 1 hour loop trail from Town Basin Marina)

Tom on the local Mount Parihaka Trail, doing the NZ version of the annual Thanksgiving Day Hog Jog. Hilly trail ("tracks" in NZ), forest, creek, waterfall, and at night, the slope behind is full of blue-light glow worms!

The Kiwis have a great sense of humor and keep up with major current events in the U.S. They also have excellent local microbrews. One place combined all of the above into a cheeky, timely, and delicious pain reliever.

 Local NZ Brew. 

MYWGA Beer (Make Your World Great Again - we need a hat, yes?)

It's true - New Zealand is overflowing with beauty. This is an ordinary scene on the local river loop track, right in the center of town (Whangarei).

Over the next few weeks we re-connected with friends from the past years in French Polynesia and made many new friends.

The yacht DESIDERATA (Scottish) hosted a huge 60th Scottish-themed birthday party with bagpipes, food, haggis and whiskey. The entire marina was invited.

Amidst the socializing we still had to find time to fit some boat projects into our schedule.

Hatch gasket repair/replacement, couldn't get the darn frame apart! But Tom finally figured out a way.(2 days, 2 winches, Dyneema lines, steady pressure, lots of Kroil (creeping oil), gentle prying).

Whangarei really celebrates their holidays and the Christmas spirit was strong. Not only was the Town Basin thoroughly decorated including a 30' tall Christmas tree, the Marina had a boat-decorating competition and some of the boats took it very seriously. Every time someone added a significant decoration their neighbor would try to outdo them.

This boat's one of two Christmas trees was on the bow. The other was at the top of the mast.

It was a very social time, there were Christmas pot-lucks in addition to the weekly happy hours on the floating barge. December is summertime in NZ so our New Year's Eve pot-luck and BBQ was enjoyed in shorts and flip flops.

An international group of American, Canadian, Scottish, English, and Swedish.

After dinner we went back to the Scottish boat for a big New Year's blow-out with full Scottish traditions to ring in 2019.

1 January 2019 - Even after the huge after-midnight party a group of us managed to get up and go to the Highland Games in nearby Waipu for yet another dose of Scottish culture. Much of New Zealand was settled by the Scottish and Waipu in particular is proud of their Scottish heritage.

Look how tiny some of those dancers are! But they took their dancing seriously.

Welcome 2019! And with that I think we can take a break from all things Scottish.

In 2019 we were looking forward to some much-needed spa treatment for CINNABAR and a March rendezvous in Lake Taupo with some friends from the states. More about that adventure coming soon.

Photo Album: WHANGAREI 2018