Slipping away from the halo of Bodhran’s new LED spreader lights, I notice the muddled glow of bio-luminescence and silty river water with each dip of the oar. The stars are out and the wind is calm as I weave through the maze of anchored and moored boats off Opua marina. The bio-luminescence is the best I’ve seen in a while. Fish dart and are chased by bigger fish. Glowing swirls mark my last few strokes and fade into oblivion. My guitar case on my back weighed down by an nights worth of beer hindering my stroke, but the new dinghy rows with ease and I slip like a ghost into the marina.
It’s 8:30 on a Friday night and an eerie silence blankets the night. The laundry is dark and empty. The marina cafe, which normally has live music on Friday nights, is locked and closed. I tie off the painter at the dinghy dock and start making my way through the marina towards the ferry dock. A low passed today. The wind will shift southwest with it’s passing opening up a window for the boats heading north to Tonga, Fiji, Vanuatu and New Caledonia. About 50 boats are signed up with the Island Cruising Association rally and half again more are leaving on their own in the next few days. I expected beers and wine in cockpits as people say their goodbyes and finish last minute chores. Instead the marina is cool and still like a graveyard in the middle of the night. I continue on until the rumble of the Opua ferry breaks the silence. Voices begin to drift down the hill. At least 2 other people are still awake or maybe someone’s just got their TV turned up too loud.
Henry and Rachel are waiting for me at the Opua Community Hall. We flip on our headlamps and set up down the narrow, winding trail cut into the bank above the high tide line. We talk of Vanuatu, and the Solomon Islands. Destinations past and destinations yet to come. Two bays down from where we started, we follow a driveway up the steep hill from the water. Henry points out the peculiar post holes running at an angle across the cement. Turns out that the owner of one of the houses on the water built his driveway across the property line and his neighbor decided to punch holes in the cement and sinks some wooden posts to prevent it’s use. The posts have since all been cut off at ground level. We veer off the paved drive and up a dirt road for a couple hundred feet before climbing up some steep steps cut into the clay bank. We wind our way up a slippery trail using saplings like monkey bars as we try to keep our footing. We’re surrounded by posh weekend homes, seldom used by their owners 100 miles to the south in Auckland, but you’d think we were in the bush far away from the world. I scramble around a retaining wall, past an old airstream trailer and finally find what may be the only life in Opua.
Mike has been building his house for years, mainly out of reclaimed materials. It’ll probably never be finished, but he holds a music night every Friday night and apparently has been doing so for the last 15 years. The musicians vary. There are a few other foreign cruisers, but in general it’s an eccentric local scene. Besides Rachel, a Scottish acupuncturist who sailed in with Henry from Australia, There’s no one else here below 50, and not many under 60. The music ranges from 60’s rock, jazz standards, British folk and even some funk. Now that I’m here, country and American folk have been thrown into the mix. It’s guitar heavy, but there’s a couple of drums, and upright base, a flute, and a couple of harmonicas. There’s even a local variation of a washtub base using a tea box.
I’ve spent a combined total of 3-4 months in the bay of Islands since 2010 when I first came up here. I can’t believe that I haven’t met up with these guys until now. I’ve been twice and I think that I’ll be here one more week before taking off for Fiji myself. Rick just flew back from the states and has some projects to do down in Whangarei before sailing Guava up here. A number of friends have left for the tropics already, but have run into some unfortunate weather. The last 3 weeks while I’ve been making my way from Whangarei up to the Bay have been some of the nicest in New Zealand this year. So I’m in no great hurry to leave.