In last month’s article, Chris shared his trials with the head on board SV Sauvage. The story now continues with the family’s Christmas cruise to the Coromandel Peninsula.

Having spent a few restful days anchored at Great Barrier Island, it was time to head to the east coast of the Coromandel Peninsula. Our goal? To reach Whiritoa for New Year’s Day. Whiritoa Beach lies 77 nautical miles southeast of Great Barrier Island between Waihi Beach and Whangamata.

We spent a few days poring over the forecasted wind and swell maps seeking the best sailing opportunities. And so, we pulled anchor on Christmas Day, headed out of Smokehouse Bay, past Okiore Point to traverse Colville Channel and down between Great Mercury Island and the Coromandel Peninsula to Flaxmill Bay, Whitianga.

Ancient Maori petroglyphs carved into the rock face.
A cage had been erected to protect the rock carvings

You may have experienced murky sailing conditions yourselves when heading round the top of the Coromandel Peninsula. On previous trips, heading from Great Barrier to Gulf Harbour, we had encountered one- to two-metre choppy swells and strong headwinds. This time, we wanted to avoid them.

Thankfully, it was sunny, the water calmed down and the wind dropped once we reached the Coromandel Peninsula’s east coast. As we neared Great Mercury Island, a large pod of dolphins joined us. It was serene and magical!

As detailed last month, we stopped in Flaxmill Bay by Whitianga to fix Sauvage’s head. A few days later, after checking the wind forecast, we then travelled south heading for Whiritoa. But as is the case when you forget to check the rain forecast, the conditions turned wet and cool. Grumpy, we found reprieve for the night at the secluded Tapuaetahi Bay 12nm to the south. Early the next morning, with sun again on our faces, we resumed our sail south.

Slipper Island.

Whiritoa Beach is an open bay with Tahua (Mayor Island) lying 15nm to the east. Swimming in the surf, lying on the beach and celebrating New Year’s Day with family were on the agenda. The weather was beautiful; we spent time onshore exploring surrounding beaches. We discovered a smaller bay found on the path to Waimama Bay, and the kids and I scaled down a sloping cliff to find ancient Maori cave art. It was both unexpected and moving – and interesting that someone had seen fit to provide a cage to protect the archaeological site, but damaged some art work in the process!


As the Whiritoa surf had a mind of its own, getting from the boat to land and vice-versa was eventful. After being tossed around, soaked and losing our tender outboard to the water (replaced the day after), we found that launching and landing at low tide was best. ‘Toa is a renowned surf beach and the waves don’t make for elegant landings, but the locals were excited to see a yacht anchored in the bay and made us very welcome!

On the first evening, Sauvage pulled and dragged a little in the high winds, but we re-anchored and stayed put for the next five days! It’s a great bay – just be careful of the surf when landing by dinghy.

Testing the new selfie stick. Hope the camera’s waterproof!
Dolphins often accompanied us on our journey

From Whiritoa we headed 13nm north for a three-day sojourn at Slipper Island. I cannot recommend this privately-owned island enough – South Bay provided easy anchoring with three to five metres of deep, clear water and a sandy bottom.

We kayaked, swam, and our 13-year-old practised his tender motoring skills. The beach offers end-to-end walks, picnics and swimming. It is very much a destination for boaties, being an easy 5nm journey across the water from Tairua.

Feeling content, relaxed and lazy, we pondered staying longer. On reflection, we should have, but the need to keep moving drew us on.

The old copper works on Kawau Island.

In our inexperience and complacency, we did not check all the sailing conditions for the day. Wrong move! Once we passed Shoe Island, we experienced three- to four-metre swells for the next 16nm – luckily, not breaking waves and with the crests about 20 seconds apart. Thoughts of turning around or moving closer to shore were wiped from our minds and we focussed on getting safely to Flaxmill Bay.

I found it stressful, exciting and exhilarating, all at the same time… My wife hated every minute of it! The kids were talking and surfing (the web, on their devices) and were blissfully unaware of the conditions.


We made our way motor-sailing, learning to turn the boat to approach the swells from other angles so as to make it into Flaxmill, where we set anchor for the night, found a bottle of wine to calm us down and reflected!

That day we learned of the growing death toll in New Zealand waters over the summer period. The weather and wind were perfect, but due to the swell, it was a terrible day to be boating. It is easy to get caught up in the fun of it all and forget to check the wind, rain and swell forecasts. The sea can be dangerous so checking sailing conditions before heading out is Sailing 101.

Our unexpected adventure reinforced to us why it is vital to always check conditions – all of them – even when you can see and feel the elements in front of you.

After two days of recovery time, we continued 16nm north to Huruhi Harbour on Great Mercury Island. We had nearly completed our Coromandel Peninsula leg.

Furling the genoa

A few days later, we navigated the Pacific-facing side of Great Barrier Island, anchoring at Whangawahia Bay for the night before heading back to our starting point of Smokehouse Bay. The weather was glorious, and we noted locations of interest as we sailed by (the whole place!). We intend to go back soon to have a lengthier look around.

We sought shelter at Great Barrier’s Kiwiriki Bay during Cyclone Cody and the Hunga-Tonga-HungaHa’apai underwater volcano explosion/tsunami (which we did not notice), before heading out around the north side of Little Barrier Island to Kawau Island. Two days later, with our sailing holiday drawing to a close, we headed across to the east side of Waiheke Island, where we sheltered from high winds in Man ‘O War Bay. We invested the time in a couple of longer walks and eating amazing pizza at the Man ‘O War Vineyards restaurant.


Our summer journey was unfortunately at an end. It had been full of amazing learning opportunities and a great deal of fun – we can’t wait for our next big sailing adventure. BNZ