Sailing in the Bay of Islands by Elizabeth Heaney

Most people use their honeymoon to de-stress after the ‘big day' and ease gently into married life. Not us. My husband, Matua, planned a surprise honeymoon for me. And by surprise I mean I didn't know what we would be doing day to day, hour to hour.

After a wild first week in New Zealand's Northland, I was allowed some reprieve lolling about the pool at the luxurious Decks of Paihia in the Bay of Islands. But it wasn't to last. Early on Monday morning I was whisked away to the nearby port of Opua. When we approached a sign that read,‘Yacht Charters' the game was up. "But how" I thought, "can we charter a yacht, when neither of us knows how to sail?"

The answer: two full days of intensive sailing lessons from the Great Escape Yacht Charters. Nothing will teach you to communicate with your spouse, albeit hotly at times, than learning to sail together. Mark, our instructor, taught us everything we needed to know from putting up the sails to laying the anchor, reading the wind to executing a jibe, plus everything in between including navigation. It wasn't all plain sailing, if you'll excuse the pun. You really have to work together on a boat and there's no room for clashing egos, particularly when you are in thirty knot wind gusts. After two grueling days we were deemed skilled enough to handle our own Davidson 20 foot yacht.

Luckily, or unluckily, for us our first day of sailing was virtually windless. We actually had to motor ourselves out of the harbour. Once we got around Tapeka Point the wind picked up. That came with its own set of challenges. Sailing into the wind, we had to criss-cross to our destination, carefully dodging the multitudes of yachts competing in the annual Bay of Islands Regatta.

Six hours later, as the sun went from searing to golden, we found our anchorage at Pipi Bay, Motorua Island. Having been on the water for the day, all we wanted to do was jump in it. Our yacht had a retractable keel which allowed us to snuggle up close to the shore. So it was an easy swim to the deserted beach where we lay in the sand and listened to the lapping of the tide.
Kea, our boat, was pretty basic. After a mock shower under the nozzle of a 10 litre water crate we had bought from the supermarket, I made a meager dinner on the little camp stove. The wine was chilled in the eskie that served as a fridge. We ate on the deck in the glow of a citronella candle, which warded of the mosquitos, while some guys off the back of the one other boat in the bay caught fish that splashed about in the water. Humble though it was, it was easily my favourite and the most scenic dining experience of our holiday.

There is something deeply relaxing about being rocked to sleep by the motion of the water. Which is just as well because it's not so relaxing sharing a oddly shaped cabin with a man who has forgotten to pack pillows and likes to take up all available sleeping space. It's also advisable, when yachting, to put everything away in case of a swell. We learnt that the hard way when we woke up in a storm of left-overs being hurled about the cabin by the wake of a super ferry.

Any negativity was cured by a morning swim. We sailed to the little channel that runs between Urupukapuka and Motukeikei Islands. To avoid the risk of cabin fever, I went for a row, watching the occasional fish dash through the turquoise waters below me, while Matua snorkeled. When I came back he was sitting on the back of the boat with a whole swag of kina (sea urchin) which he was happily making into sandwiches with butter and fabulous French bread bought from Salt Deli in Paihia.

As the sun dipped closer to the glassy sea we came to Hospital Bay back on Motorua Island. Writing the ship's log, I took a moment to appreciate how lucky we were. Yes, it's a bit of a test on your relationship learning to sail. But it was actually easier than I had anticipated. And the pay off.....There truly is no better way to explore the Bay of Islands, than on your own yacht. So natural. Travelling with only the power of the wind and the water.  It is also unbelievably affordable. Two full days of sailing lessons and five nights staying in some of the most stunning scenery in the world will only set you back about NZ$1200.

On our final day we set off early to ensure that we got the boat back in time, but not before a compulsory stop at Roberton Island. This is where Captain Cook first landed when he came to and named the area, appropriately but unimaginatively, the Bay of Islands. We climbed to the summit of the island where two Maori lovers from rival tribes were said to have jumped off together when they were pursued by their angry chiefs.

From the top we could see all the area we had covered and how much more there was to explore. It gave me a great sense of satisfaction to know that together we had done it. As we drove back home, armed with our level one sailing certificate, we lamented the brevity of our time in the Bay of Islands and eagerly planned our next sailing adventure.

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