We arrived in Tutukaka on November 12th with basically one thing in mind and that was diving.
But first things, first. We spent most of the first day cleaning Footloose which was very much needed after spending almost two weeks on the hook. So we washed the boat, straightened the anchor locker, dried all of the lines and cleaned the interior. Once that was done we raised the dingy out of the water using a three point sling on the spinnaker halyard. We finished off the day with dinner which consisted of grilled tuna, cauliflower, salad and top off with a nice bottle of Shiraz as a fitting way to close out the first segment of this cruise. It was nice to go to sleep without setting an anchor watch.
For the next few days we had several techs on the boat successfully addressing issues we were having with the A/C system and the rudder. Moreover, I was not transmitting well on the single side ban radio (SSB) and it appears to be a defective tuner that needs to be replaced. Fortunately, we do not need the long range capabilities of the SSB while we are island hoping and so no harm no foul.
But there is a very funny story about the A/C that I should cover. But first, a bit of background. When we cleared through customs, one of the documents we receive was a TIE which basically says that anything that we purchase for the boat is purchased without the application of NZ GST or value add tax. We just give a supplier a copy of the TIE and they do not charge you the GST tax of 15%. However, this exemption is only for services and parts that are for the boat and does not exempt us from paying the GST on food, alcohol, dive gear or other non boat related consumables as those thing are consumed within the country and therefore are not leaving the country when we depart. On the surface the policy seems rather straight forward. So two days before we departed Tutukaka, I receive an invoice for the A/C work done on Footloose and the bill is entirely within my expectations with one exception. They have charges me $NZ69 for GST. So I call the company and indicate to them that I have a TIE and I will email it to them as, they say down here, straight away. The person on the other end then says she knew nothing about a TIE and would have to talk to her boss about it. She also requested that I forward the document to her attention as soon as possible. The next day she called me back and says that she has spoken to Customs and they say that the TIE does not exempt me from the GST. This is truly strange, because I have not paid GST for anything related to the boat in Opua and so far in Tutukaka. So I say very politely that I will call Customs and ask for the phone number she called. Five minutes later I am talking to Customs and they tell me that the collection of the GST from someone with a TIE “is at the discretion of the supplier”. Excuse me, at the discretion of the supplier? Yes, the supplier may collect the tax and remit or the supplier may not collect and they have no further obligation relative to the tax. Further, his words not mine, this is an “Inland Revenue Department issue, not a Custom issue and we just fill out the form”. Now, I call the supplier back and explain to her what the Customs official has told me and her response was “well I never”. As I write this to you tonight, this issue is still up in the air. Further, we have stumbled across another issue. Payment. They do not accept credit cards and she is in where, you guessed it, Whangarei and she is also not authorized to accept cash, only checks. Go figure we are obviously in the land of the Kiwi.
Now, let us give you an overview of Tutukaka. If we thought Opua was devoid of support facilities we are now seeing a new low. This time there are no marine technical services at all. Similar to Opua, there is one restaurant, Snapper Rock which serves a hot vichyssoise potato soup with a lump of salmon which was exceptional. Their Kokoda salad, copied from Fiji left much to be desired. Further more, beer, draft beer no less was 8NZ$ per bottle. The other restaurants were a pizza place open only Friday and weekends and the Blue Water Fishing Club which allowed visitors and only has a bar menu.There were no taxis, which I will cover later and no ATMs, no banks, no place to get propane or laundromat but there was a very small grocery store. What was really funny was that the four page visitor guide did not even show the marina which was the biggest operation in the city with 300 slips.
Now the Taxi situation. As stated, Tutukaka does not have a taxi service. However, in Whangarei (pronounced fhangarei) there is the Whangarei Coastal Commuter which is a one man operation with a nine passenger van. To shed a bit more light on this, Whangarei is 36 km or twenty miles away. So, when we went shopping for groceries we had to coordinated with Chris because on certain days he brings divers from Whangarei and even Auckland to Tutukaka arriving at 8:00 AM. So, we then hop in for the 30 minute ride to Whangarei where we shop at the Countdown Supermarket and Chris will very politely wait, unless he has other calls. Then he would take us back for you guessed it $NZ60. On the way to Whangarei, Chris is a tour guide and will talk non stop on agricultural, forestry, hiking which is quite popular in New Zealand and the history of New Zealand which does in fact make the trip goes faster. However, after four trips, I think I could recite about 60% of his presentation without obviously the accent. The funny thing is that the van he drives is a Japanese nameplate and all of the displays are in Japanese. Apparently, many of the vehicles in New Zealand are used vehicles that are imported into the country.
However, the countryside is beautiful with rolling landscapes everywhere. There are farms of every sort from sheep and cattle to kiwi fruit and avocado farms. Chris told us that most people even in New Zealand never will see a kiwi bird in the wild because they are nocturnal and they live in burrows because they have lost the capability of flight. Today, the kiwi’s biggest danger is dogs particularly those breeds who are diggers. Nina, loves to hike so she often just goes for long walks and she took such a hike in Tutukaka and took some very nice photos. We combined a worthless trip to a dive shop in Whangarei with a walking/bus trip to visit the Whangarei Water falls which is quite spectacular since it is right in the middle of town. But take note of this, if you are walking in New Zealand, you can trust the directions but not the time or distance that they give you. To them, it takes five minutes to walk a mile and twenty blocks in just around the corner.
Well, we came essentially for one purpose and that was to dive. The primary site to dive is the island called Poor Knights. This island is about 30 kilometers from Tutukaka and two dive companies have excursions to the island almost every day. Tutukaka Dive has I think three dive boats and Yukon Dive has two. For some reason, we opted to use Tutukaka Dive and their boats are about the size of 45-50‘ motor yacht. They are equipped with a marine head, hot shower and they even provide hot soup and chocolate and space for about 10 divers and three to four dive professionals. There are sixty dive sites at Poor Knights which became famous for diving because Jacques Cousteau came here and proclaimed that it had some of the best “tropical diving” in the world even though it is sub tropical. Today, most dive magazines say it is one of the top twenty five dive sites in the world. Nina and I made four dives together and I made two more alone. In fact, on our four dives together Nina earned her deep water certification with dives of 117, 91, 97 and 87 feet. I still prefer tropical diving over sub tropical for the simple reason that sub tropical diving at least in the Spring is too damn cold. On our last dive, there was a gentleman who was celebrating that, very day, his 70th birthday and after he made his first dive he promptly said, I am not going down for the second dive. It is my birthday gift and therefore I have decided not to accept this gift and promptly put on his street clothes and watched us go down again and freeze. In truth, the sites are beautiful and they abound with all types of sea life. At the start of our last dive just as we were preparing to decent, a fur seal appeared on the surface and needlessly to say everyone of us remained on the surface until the seal became bored with us and just swam away. Later during the same dive we saw a lobster the size of a medium size dog that looked as if he was 100 years old.
Our intention was to depart for Great Barrier Island on Thursday but the weather was not cooperating with forecast winds of 30 knots with gust to 40 knots. So, on Wednesday we finished drying out and storing our dive gear. That night, while cooking we ran out of butane so I switched tanks. Then on Thursday I tried to refill the empty tank to no avail. The reason was that there is no propane in Tutukaka, despite a three hundred boat marina and Chris was on his way to Auckland and would not be back in Tutukaka until Saturday. Nevertheless, the next day was spent getting Footloose ready and final provisioning (must not run out of the essentials, Oreos, Ritz crackers and blue cheese, cappuccino and soy milk, the last two being for Nina) during the next segment of our five month exploration of NZ and that was sailing over to Great Barrier Island, a blue water passage of 50 nautical miles.
My guess, we will return to Tutukaka perhaps twice more despite all the of minor issues when it is a lot warmer because the diving is excellent.
Fair winds All