Around NZ: Whangamata to East Cape

Feb 20, 2017 General Interest ,Reader Stories

New Zealand sailing coach Hamish Willcox and wife Ulrika are on a six-month circumnavigation of the country. We follow their cruise in a six-part series – the sailing, the anchorages – and the biking and walking ashore.

When leaving Whitianga for Whangamata we broke our gear cable. A call to the local Whitianga Volvo
workshop had a young mechanic at our boat by 08h00 with a new cable. Thanks to such speedy
service we sailed into Whangamata marina on the high tide at 1500 hours – as planned.

The day began in perfect sunshine sailing past the beautiful Cathedral Cove, but soon turned to drizzle and not much wind – so we motor-sailed most of the way. Arriving at Whangamata, though, the sun was out again and we ended the day by launching our bikes for great a ride in the forest.

whangamata beach (2)_cmyk (Small)

Whangamata is a lovely seaside town with a huge tidal harbour, a long, stunning surf beach and an estuary with good walks and bike rides. In summer it’s packed with people but we enjoyed the
quiet off-season.

The Marina offers great facilities but we yearned for an anchorage so after two nights there we opted to switch to a mooring at the harbour entrance. This was a good choice and we loved being able to see the surf beach and hear the birds on the steep, bushy cliff just behind us.

We took the dinghy and SUPs out to the surf and ripped out to Whenaukura Island (also called Donut) a kilometre off the beach. This is a very cool island with a collapsed blowhole in the middle into which you can paddle or row.

Once inside it opens up with clear water, two small beaches and a canopy of trees – truly magical. Our OCD dinghy has exceeded our expectations. It rips along with the 8hp outboard, a totally dry ride.

Though we enjoyed the mooring we were ready for a few nights out and away from civilisation. Chris, a local guy, raved about the coastline between Whangamata and Waihi beach. We’d never anchored there, so this was something new. Before leaving we dined at the Fishing Club – located just at the harbour entrance with amazing views over the sea. A fun night with the locals and some old friends who joined us.


We set out in strong SW forecast with no swell – perfect for this coastline. Our first night was at anchor north of Otonga Point, a beautiful beach with a small little waterfall and a farm track to walk up for a good view over the ocean. Next day we sailed four miles down to Homunga Bay.

This is an absolutely stunning bay with white sand and a big waterfall right on the beach. It’s a
DOC park – a bonus – and provides good walking tracks. We enjoyed an evening walk up the hill and then a very cold shower under the waterfall. It was pretty windy by then but we enjoyed the warm sand and shelter from the cold wind.

Suddenly the wind was gusting 55 knots. We grabbed our gear and rushed down to the dinghy
and out to the boat. These were the windiest conditions we’d ever anchored in – a great test of crew and tackle.

With nothing but open sea behind us we were pretty relaxed and keen to observe how the boat and anchor behaved in such strong wind. The water behind us looked like a snowstorm but the anchor held. We chose to sleep in the aft cabin with all the noise going on above our bed forward. In the morning
we discovered the hose protector on the anchor snubber had chaffed through.

Next day we moved around the corner to Orokawa, another stunning beach, and not be missed. It has a very pleasant coastal 60-minute walkway into Waihi and also connects to other DOC tracks. We really enjoyed our day here but with a great SW breeze – and no wind forecast for the next day – we set off at 16h00 for Tauranga under a cloudless sky.


The sun was setting slowly over the Coromandel range and we had an amazing 30-mile sunset sail down the coast, ripping along at 7-9 knots. We dropped anchor just on dark, three miles from Tauranga Harbour. Next morning we motored in with three knots of incoming tide doing 9.5 knots over ground!

Tauranga felt like the Big Smoke with the big port and all the industries around. We stayed at Sulphur Point Marina and concentrated mostly on getting jobs done. The job list fell below 10 for the first time since we’ve owned the boat.

We caught up with Burlings and they kindly lent us a car so we could drive up to Auckland for the Peter Burling/Blair Tuke Supporters thank-you party. It seemed ages since they’d become Olympic champions in Rio.

After a glamour party on Auckland’s waterfront we returned to the Bay of Plenty and went with some good friends to walk Lake Waikaremoana. This walk is classified as one of the country’s great walks, which it truly is. We covered 47km in three days, staying in huts and a night in our tents. Every day was different but all the days provided an overwhelming sense of isolation and natural beauty.

lakw waikeromonana_cmyk (Small)

Another Tauranga highlight was meeting up with Don and Carol Crezwell. They’d commissioned and built our boat, Adamite, in the late 1980s. They brought with them many stories and a box full of things that used to belong to Adamite – charts for the whole of New Zealand, Pilot Books, country flags and a hand-operated water-maker for our grab bag. The charts made Ulrika smile – she prefers them to
electronic charts.

Adamite is a credit to the Creswells. Nothing was good enough until it was good enough for Don. Every single screw and bolt has been carefully isolated, as with the plumbing and wiring, to ensure
the hull stays perfect, and 27 years later she still is!

In early November we left Tauranga in a strong westerly. Getting off the end of the marina wasn’t easy and if it wasn’t for our aluminium hull we wouldn’t have tried. We scraped off along the piles and out into the strong ebb tide.

off to eastcape 1_cmyk (Small)

We both felt the real adventure had now begun, and we were happy to be on the move again, away from cars and lights and sailing into new waters. We were both pretty apprehensive about this step as it meant sailing into unknown territory – and our first night sail in a long while.

The 18 hours to East Island was fast and furious with 25-30 knots right behind us and a two- to three-metre swell from the north made for a tough night, hand steering. White Island looked magnificent in the fading light before the stars showed up in a dark moonless night.

We arrived at Hicks Bay near dawn and ahead of our schedule to meet the East Island tide gate. The coastline was dramatic with a pretty decent wind and swell which slowly faded as we turned south.

Arriving at East Island we could see the wind dying completely ahead and chose to take the passage inside.

Use old fire hose for the best chafing protection, have plenty at hand.

SW winds associated with high pressure can very aggressively accelerate through mountain passes, more than doubling their strength.

Stone’s Original Green Ginger Wine is great for nerves and an upset stomach at sea.

When running dead downwind with a big cross swell don’t expect your autopilot to cope.

Finally, having a NZ road map on hand is a great asset when exploring the coast.

23 days, four anchorages, two marinas, one mooring, six walkways, one great walk, 230km biking, one surf beach and 10 different cafes in search of Number 1!