“We need a few days away!” I said to Tom. After 10 successive days of rain and gloom, a high moved in, the sun came out and cool southerlies brought snow to the ranges around Tasman Bay. We headed out of The Cut from Nelson’s Haven, aboard our Craddock 36 Zest on Thursday May 11, 2023. Story by Vicky Jackson.

The summer cruise is the long one, a month away for many, or in our case last summer, three months away aboard Zest – a circumnavigation of the North Island. But from our home base in Nelson, short cruises are also very possible. Late autumn and winter cruising can be rewarding, made even better when you have a heater onboard! And the anchorages are not crowded.

Our favourite local cruising area is north to D’Urville Island Rangitoto ki te Tonga. There are no extensive sandy beaches as in the Abel Tasman National Park, but neither are there water-taxis and trampers, nor very many boats.

As we motored down Nelson Harbour, the panoramic view was of snow – a lot of snow – covering the mountain tops on the west coast and even on the Bryant Ranges up behind Richmond. It was cool, perhaps cold, with the white snow and blue sky providing a picturesque backdrop over the Boulder Bank and across Tasman Bay. A light southwest wind gave us a broad reach as we motor-sailed north.

Greville Harbour, halfway up the west coast of D’Urville Island, has an inner and outer part. We hoped that we could anchor in one of the outer bays, to the southeast, so long as the northerly swell was not going to give us a rolly night. We were fine – it was a gentle, almost soporific swell, Zest was like a baby being rocked in a crib.

The inner part, into Mill Arm, provides more bays and two club moorings but a boat must negotiate the narrow pass through the stony bank, with its fast-flowing tidal current. There are two markers, but it pays to read the text in the New Zealand Cruising Guide Central Area, as one cannot approach the gap and markers square-on. Our evening was quiet, near three homesteads in Owhai Bay, with steep swards of green behind us.


The heater went on in the early evening in preparation for the drop in temperature. But we turn it off at night. The next morning required a quick exit from the sleeping bags to don four merino layers; the saloon was a cool 9°C.

By 0930 we were heading out of Greville Harbour. The course northeast passes majestic cliffs, soaring almost vertically from the water. We looked ahead, almost due north and saw something else: a conical island appearing as a knuckle above the horizon, almost melting into the blue-grey of the sea. Though it looked like an island, we questioned our knowledge of New Zealand geography; the only feature in that position was a high mountain, Taranaki. The peak is 2,518m high and we could see its top from 90 nautical miles away.

Like Hardy himself, Port Hardy’s place names pay homage to Lord Nelson: Nile Head, Nelson’s Monument, Victory Island, Trafalgar Point. There are rocky headlands, islands and islets, with a rip just offshore from Nile Head powered by the mixing tides. The South Arm of Port Hardy is an inlet that cuts 3.3km into hills at the top of D’Urville. There are a few farms and maybe four houses, but much of the area is native bush with thick foliage, spreading up from the water’s edge.

To the west and east there are small bays giving a choice of anchorages. The last bay on the west side, Philante, is our favourite. It is very sheltered, with three mooring buoys, for Tasman Bay Cruising Club (TBCC), Pelorus/Waikawa/Mana (PWM) Clubs and 40°S Club.

Swinging to the blue TBCC mooring, we were on our own, except for a small inflatable on the PWM mooring. The bay oozed peace and calm, which was reinforced by the joyous bird song ringing out from the bush. We always find this a magical place.

For those who know it, this bay is one boats frequently return to. We have got to know Chris and Sarah, although we only ever meet them once a year – Sunstone and now Zest meet up with Flying Fox on the 25th or 26th of December. Well, we have done so for more than five years.

The launch that returned to its dinghy, was also one we had met in this same bay over Christmas in 2020, Southern Cross, from Mana. Her crew love fishing and the day had been productive. We were generously offered two snapper – two lovely meals for us. They were after crays the next day.


And then a blue steel yacht motored slowly in and set her anchor in the more northern corner of Philante. It did not take long to identify Taranui with Brian and Hilary on board. We had not seen them here before, but we had shared anchorages in Vava’u, Tonga, in Northland, and closer to home in Torrent Bay, Abel Tasman National Park. The next day, Sunday, we caught up over coffee and freshly-cooked muffins, sharing tales of offshore cruising and tramping.

With just a week’s cruise, we stayed on the west coast. However, the eastern side of D’Urville Island provides some sheltered anchorages, especially in winds from the westerly quarter. Catherine Cove to the southeast is a good spot to finish or begin a transit of French Pass/Te Aumiti.

This piece of water has a reputation and must be respected. It is not a place to be with strong winds. In light to moderate conditions, working the tide and carefully checking the situation, the narrow gap can be navigated by a boat with a strong and reliable engine. There is one proviso: the stated times for high and low tide and the direction of flow are ‘created’ by humans. In real life, tidal flows, heights, and streams are influenced and changed by pressure, rainfall, and winds even 50 miles away. It often pays to be a little early and stand off to watch and see the flow yourself.

There is also shelter from southwest to northwest winds in Whareatea Bay and between the Rangitoto Islands. Here the fishing is particularly good. While French Pass has a reputation, we are also very cautious when using Stephens Passage, passing between Cape Stephens and Saddle Rocks in the far north. The water flows strongly in this gut and we have often encountered very confused seas with white water, even in benign conditions. The reward is spectacular scenery, rocky islands, some with arches – notably The Sisters – and craggy headlands.

Our third west coast anchorage is another favourite and one we have used frequently. It is only 52km from Nelson. Opotiki is at the northwest corner of the larger Manuhakapakapa Bay. It is very pretty, in a different way from Port Hardy. The steep, pastured hillsides are grazing land for sheep and cattle with just one house at the head of the bay surrounded by conifers just above the pebble beach. The anchorage is easy with plenty of space, but there can be a downside. We have experienced very strong down-drafts, usually when the wind is fresh from the northwest, storming down the hillsides and even creating williwaws at times that spiral over the bay. This makes for a less than relaxing time at anchor; but we have proved that the muddy bottom is very secure. At other times, as on this occasion, the bay is calm and settled and we are often the only vessel.

Opotiki does provide more opportunities for cruisers to stretch their legs. I took a beach walk on the first afternoon over the many coloured pebbles, some of them flat enough to skim over the water. The next day I took a more challenging walk up the steep hillside and ridges to the west. At the top big views open up to the anchorage, down the steep cliffs to the west with bright blue water in the shallows, across Tasman Bay to Separation Point, and along the coast south to Pepin Island.

I was breathing hard at the top, taking in the beauty when I noticed a closer sight – a New Zealand falcon/karearea, showing his bright-yellow legs, with talons gripping the rock he was balanced on. We eyed each other intently. His yellow eye-liner was bright, matching the yellow on his legs and the inside of his black, sharp, hooked beak.


I stood still and watched. Then I dropped down and prepared my camera. I slowly moved forward, crawling over the grass, eye to eye with the falcon – a special few minutes spent close to nature. The falcon spied some food, or so I imagined, and flew off, but I felt happy from the exercise and the encounter. I made my way slowly down the steep hillside towards the anchorage, glad that I had strapped my arthritic knee.

Our return to Nelson was cool, into a light headwind. Just about all the snow had melted, although we had felt the nights had been pretty cold. Back in our berth, we tidied up. Zest would rest in the marina for a few weeks before we decided on another local destination for the next ‘Few Days Away’.