Sunday, November 13, 2011
Exploring: Whangarei and Marsden Cove Marina, NZ
Before arrival, give Whangarei Maritime Radio a call on VHF 17. If you call them on 16, they’ll make you change to 17 anyway. Just for manners, it helps to pronounce Whangarei at least close to the way the locals do: fon’-gar-eh. Swallow the ‘n’ if you can and give that ‘r’ the tiniest bit of a roll. If you speak with a Texan or New York accent, prepare in advance to spell your boat name several times. “Two countries separated by the same language…” (probably Bernard Shaw)
If checking into New Zealand, make your way directly to the quarantine dock in Marsden Cove Marina. It is clearly marked to the left of the entrance as you come into the marina basin. You do not need to leave your boat. If you’ve called into Maritime Radio, Customs and BioSecurity will arrive in short order. Cruisers including ourselves report the check in process as quick, friendly, and relatively easy, particularly if you are prepared in advance with your paperwork, an inventory of your items, etc. I wrote this up in detail if you’d like more about our own experience. After you check in, you can either head up river to the Town Basin or spend the night in Marsden Cove Marina. The marina graciously offers the first night free, so there really is no point in moving after a long passage from Fiji or Tonga.
The marina has all basic amenities but is well nigh impossible to live in for the long haul unless you have a vehicle. In the small, adjacent retail mall, you will find a nice little café, a liquor store, a tiny chandlery, and a place to get your hair cut but you will not find any place to buy food stuffs to replace your Biosecurity depleted stocks. Make sure that before making the passage, you squirrel away some canned goods that will pass Biosecurity so you’ll have a bite to eat your first night. Showers are $1/min, laundry $4/load, and wireless Internet at the boat with a very strong signal but prices that make Tonga look cheap. A very nice service offered by the marina is a $20/day plus gas rental vehicle. Make arrangements at the office in advance as the vehicle is understandably in high demand. The fuel dock has both diesel and gas and is self-serve requiring an EFTPOS or Visa with pin to use.
Marsden Cove Marina is quite a distance from Whangarei itself. It takes about 20 minutes to drive to town from the marina and one to one and a half hours to make your way by sailboat up the river to the Town Basin. Even so, it is a good place to stop for a few days, maybe even to settle in for the duration if you are more inclined towards quiet and privacy than convenience and boat services. Increasingly, cruisers planning an extended stay in New Zealand move into this marina, buy a car, and live comfortably in the new, well kept, and very peaceful facility.
If we were still in cruising mode, I think I might be more inclined after a few days to move from Marsden Cove into the densely packed urban Whangarei Town Basin. There are several marinas, but if you plan an extended stay it makes good sense to make reservations well in advance. From the Town Basin, all the services of a very active, prosperous community of nearly 50,000 people are within walking distance. Grocery stores, dentist and doctor offices, boat services, every possible type of restaurant and shop, hair cutteries, Internet cafes with cheap broadband… after over six months at anchor, it’s like landing in a little slice of retail heaven. The downtown area of Whangarei displays what I feel are the best characteristics of New Zealand commercial areas. While on the edge you’ll find a few big box stores and large super markets, the inner town is eminently walkable with many small retail outlets, dollar stores, banks, and places to grab a quick bite or a long sit. It is also very Kiwi, very New Zealand. While a bit larger than most, you’ll find precisely this style of town center in nearly every town and village throughout the country. We love spending a day drifting along the streets, poking into toy shops and shoe stores. It is so much better than visiting a mall.
In addition to the advantages of being in town for all the services and shops, the Town Basin is also chock-o-block full of companies catering to the boat trade. I can’t even begin to do just to the long list of services and goods available there, so just go to their web site. We plan to go back in January to get a bunch of work done ourselves. If you’re going to be there, please let us know. Any excuse to get off the boat while it’s on the hard. Really. Any excuse. You could pull my teeth even.