A Passage to New Zealand

Fairway Bay, Whangaparaoa, New Zealand

By: Kerry

Fiji 20151-6700Every passage has one memorable day – good or bad.

This one was spectacular – a windless, sun-drenched day, the sea a smooth and delicate powder blue, motoring across a mercury mirror surface. After the first couple of days of the trip, when the sea was cranky and confused and we were getting thumped in 25+ knot south-easterlies, it felt like the ocean was letting out a long, slow breath.

We made the most of this last taste of the tropics, breaking out the BK and boardies, and gorging ourselves on tropical fruit smoothies: pawpaw, mango, pineapple and bananas. Yummo.

The glorious day slid into a sunset that went on for ages: pinks, reds, lemon yellows swirled in the water. I watched a flame-orange sun slip below the horizon and just as it did, we rose on a swell and it popped back up: it was undeniably GREEN! The elusive green flash! True – I promise!

I took one or a gazillion photos: sunset at 30°30’S at 20:00hrs, crossing the axis of the Sub-Tropical Ridge.

 

Later that night, I was on the midnight to 2:00am watch. It was the dark of the moon and with no light pollution for hundreds of miles, the Milky Way stretched clear and sharp, like a white rainbow from horizon to horizon, almost bright enough to read by.

I watched the Southern Cross come up and sat on the bow in the darkness, feeling the warm breeze off the water and trying to identify all the different constellations. The bow wave trailed ribbons of phosphorescence and unidentifiable sea creatures glowed momentarily and vanished like flashes of lightning in the ocean.

Despite the rough-ish conditions, we’d made good time in the first few days – 210 nautical miles a day, which was very respectable in the conditions. What a difference a mainsail makes!

We crossed the STR axis and a day later, the wind filled in and we were barrelling along at around 10 knots, with full main and gennaker and the hulls humming. Top speed around 13.3 knots in 18 knots apparent: not bad for a ‘fat chick in lycra’ as our friend Lionel calls us! One of the best day’s sailing we’ve had on the boat.

Of course, perfect sailing days don’t go on forever and, as we drew level with North Cape, New Zealand, the wind turned southerly, the sea turned crappy and we had the worst day of the trip within sight of land, when we should have been protected!

We’d been headed to Auckland, but with the wind blowing 25-30 knots on the nose and things flying around the cabin, with worse forecast, we decided to detour to Marsden Cove. We’d never been up the channel in the dark before, but we made our way in through the confusion of the channel lights. We pulled up on the Customs dock and turned the engines off at 11.55pm, 6.5 days and 1200 miles from Vuda Point.

We cleared Customs next morning and Kiapa sailed in to meet us. Our first evening’s meal was supplied by Irene and Lionel: freshly caught scallops – my favourite!Fiji 20151-01418

A big sting ray had a suck on the fish frame that I dangled off the stern as I was processing the kingfish

A big sting ray had a suck on the fish frame that I dangled off the stern as I was processing the kingfish

On Friday, we sailed with Kiapa down to Fairway Bay Marina on the Whangaparaoa Peninsula, just north of Auckland City. Having not had a bite all the way from Fiji, Damian hooked up one under-size kingfish, followed by a very decent one that put up a formidable fight!

We’ll be based in Fairway Bay while we get the electrics fixed, but that’s about as far as our plans extend at this stage.

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Headed for the Tropics

Fairway Bay, Auckland, NZ

We arrived back on Sel Citron in Auckland a week ago, thinking we’d have a couple of weeks at least to get organised and then head to Fiji. But Bruce, our weather guru, identified a weather window for us to leave tomorrow (Friday) – and it doesn’t look like there’s another one in the next couple of weeks. Even then, it might be more of a louvre, than a window!  So, not wanting to have (yet) another crap crossing, we’ve scrambled to get ourselves organised and ready to leave tomorrow.

Verdo, who crewed for us on the trip back from Fiji last year, is going to do the trip up with us. We hope to be there in about a week, and plans for the season are to explore the eastern side of Fiji, including the Lau Group. We’ll be in Fiji until the end of November. Visitors welcome!

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Tackling the Tongariro Alpine Crossing

Fairway Bay, Gulf Harbour

By: Kerry

Tongariro Crossing1-4480Hiking (or ‘tramping’) in New Zealand is primarily associated with the famous trails of the South Island. But right in the centre of the North Island, three hours drive south of Auckland, is a region of active volcanoes that provides the dramatic setting for New Zealand’s best one-day hike: the Tongariro Alpine Crossing.

The rocky and often steep track traverses active volcanic craters, rises to nearly 2000 metres and skirts surreally-hued crater lakes that shimmer with steam – and freeze over in winter.  The alpine weather can change in minutes from brilliant sunshine to icy sleet and there are no supplies available en route. It can be completed in a day, but Lonely Planet describes it as ‘exhausting’.

We drove down from Auckland and met up with the Kiapas and Maunies in the little village of National Park, where we’d booked a cottage for three nights to give us some flexibility with the weather: you really don’t want to tackle Tongariro in crappy weather.

The Tongariro National Park encompasses three active volcanoes that lie along the string of volcanoes ridging the North Island’s Central Plateau. The highest is Mt Ruapehu, at 2797 metres. On our first morning, Ruapehu was invisible in thick cloud: with a better forecast for the following day, we went mountain biking rather than hike the Crossing in freezing fog.

There’s no cost to do the walk – the trail, boardwalks, signage and amenities are immaculately maintained by the Department of Conservation – which in part explains why up to 1000 people hike the trail each day.

We were keen to get a jump on the crowds – most of whom are reliant on a public transfer from town. The guy from the bike shop gave us the tip: be on the trail by dawn. The only way to do that is with your own vehicle. So we’d parked one car at the end of the trail the previous night, and drove to the start of the trail in pre-dawn chill. It worked though: we were the first out of the blocks.

The track starts at 1100 metres above sea level and soon starts winding upwards, following the Mangatepopo Valley. We were in deep, cold shade, trekking in beanies, gloves and thermals – but it wasn’t long before we were peeling off the layers.

Tongariro Crossing-4497Despite the dire danger warnings posted everywhere from the park signboards to the Lonely Planet guide book urging trampers to check they are properly prepared for this challenging walk (make sure you have enough water, stout walking boots, thermals, wet weather gear and adequate fitness), we were soon being overtaken by a motley collection of backpackers doing the walk seemingly woefully under-prepared.

Lucky for everyone, the weather was perfect: with glorious sunshine and no wind, as the day wore on, the exposure threat was more from heat stroke than hypothermia.

From the top of the first climb, there are endless views to the south, including of volcanic Mt Taranaki. It’s then a flat, exposed stretch through the broad glacial basin known as the South Crater. The only obvious sign of life is the sparse clumps of tussock grasses scrabbling a living between monster blocks of rock that erupted – possibly recently – from the volcanoes flanking the valley.

The very recent and reasonably violent volcanic activity in the Park adds a unique frisson to the walk. Mt Ruapehu erupted in 1995, 1996 and again in 2007. Tongariro erupted as recently as 2012, vaulting 20,000 volcanic ‘bombs’ into the sky, one of which – a large boulder – smashed through the roof of the Ketetahi hut, used by hikers as an overnight stop on the trail. Signs and signal lights all along the trail warn that the entire area remains “in a heightened state of unrest and eruptions can occur at any time”.

We walked past Mt Ngauruhoe, which featured as Mt Doom in the Lord of the Rings movies. It didn’t exist at all until about 7000 years ago and last erupted in 1975. We opted out of the optional side trip to climb its scree-covered slopes to the summit at 2287m…

From the South Crater, the track winds upwards, skirting Mt Tongariro (another potential side trip, to the summit at 1967m) to the high point of the Crossing at Red Crater, at 1886 metres.

As I panted up the final approach, a skinny German backpacker in baggy t-shirt, shorts and Converse sneakers came towards me, walking in the opposite direction against the flow of trekkers, playing a ukulele and singing, sotto voce, the Johnny Cash anthem, “Burning Ring of Fire”.

How appropriate.

The Red Crater is around 10,000 years old with a hollow lava tube (aka a dike) in its middle that has a remarkably ‘labial’ look about it (thanks, Lionel, for pointing that out – once you see it, you can’t forget it).

The views to the other side take in the absurdly lurid Emerald Lakes – explosion craters that have filled with mineral-laden water – set like cabochons of turquoise in the red-brown landscape, and volcanic vents and fumeroles sending up plumes of steam. From the saddle, the trail descends steeply down a slippery scree slope that has just about everyone landing on their bum at some point, to the shores of the Emerald lakes.

We stopped for lunch in the lee of a huge boulder on the edge of an elyptical lake that looked like it had been painted in the pure hues of the printer’s palette: cyan water, magenta grasses around the edges, and sulphurous yellow and black rocks looming over it and mirrored in its surface.

Even though the sun was shining, the altitude made it too cold to stop for long and we headed off towards the Blue Crater. Looking back along the track from the rim gives a wide-angle view of the broad black lava floes, red oxide-stained volcanic cones and the barren, chocolate-coloured scree slopes we’d negotiated throughout the morning.

Just beyond the crater lake, we had our first views to the north, all the way to Lake Taupo, before the track began to zig zag down in an extraordinary series of broad switchbacks that make things very easy on the knees – it became suddenly evident why it’s recommended to walk in the direction we’d taken. It would be punishingly demoralising to start the walk in the other direction and spend hours walking up the hill.

We wound our way down through scrub and bushland and native forest and emerged at the car park.

They say the trail takes six to eight hours. We did it in nine and a half, but we took it easy, and had lots of snack and photo stops. Rather pleasingly, we pulled up pretty well – not even a blister or a sore muscle!

Nevertheless, we felt very relieved (and ever so slightly smug, as we passed pooped trekkers waiting for their transfers) that we could pile into the crew car and head off (still in our hiking gear) for high tea at the Whakapapa Chateau.

So very civilised, Dahling!

PS> Damian took some great photos on the day – see the album of his photos on the Images page.

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Walking and Wining on Waiheke

Waiheke Island, Hauraki Gulf, New Zealand

By: Kerry

Walking on Waiheke-1600 Waiheke Island – 45 minutes by ferry from downtown Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf – is known for its boutique wineries. But even better than its fine wines is the network of 100 or so kilometres of walking trails, collectively known as Te Ara Huru. We spent January cruising the Hauraki Gulf islands, with much of our time on Waiheke. We covered most of the western half of the island’s walking tracks, in addition to the Stoney Batter walk (on the far eastern side) on New Years Day.

The Stoney Batter Walk, New Years Day

Our favourite was the Headlands walk, starting from the little township of Oneroa and tracking along the cliff edges and beaches of the north-east and western coasts. Each climb to a high point revealed astonishing views across the island and the Gulf: craggy black cliffs sprouting huge, gnarled, scarlet-flowering Pohutakawa trees, and rocky islands dotted across sparkling, tropical-hued water stretching all the way to the Auckland city skyline.

The Headlands Walk, Waiheke Island

And on every cliff top, there was at least one example of the Kiwi penchant for choosing the most spectacular but inaccessible building site and constructing a formidable and extravagant architectural statement – apparently some of these massive ‘piles’ sell for upwards of $15 million. The track winds up and down to pretty beaches and secluded coves (in one of which I discovered my dream home – a modest ‘pile’ by comparison, with its own private pebble beach sheltered within a tiny cove and with a perfect northerly aspect), skirts around vineyards and, on the homeward leg, passes a few cellar doors where a crisp glass of pino gris does wonders to restore one’s energy levels.

My future view-from-the-front door...

My future view-from-the-front door…

When my friend Elaine came to stay for a few days, the biennial Headlands Sculpture Exhibition was strung along the walking track, with some whimsical and impressive artworks. In her inimitable style, Elaine also shouted us to a delicious lunch and wine tasting at the Mudbrick Winery. But we made the mistake of mis-judging the tide: when we got back to Oneroa, our dinghy was high and dry and wasn’t going to float for another hour or so. Just as well Elaine had bought a bottle of spark en route!

Hunter-gathering was high on the agenda as we pootled around the Gulf islands with the Kiapas. We caught a few fish, and even a couple of crayfish, but the highlight was diving for scallops. Lionel, Irene and I would dive (tanks and full wetsuits, including hoods – the water’s not quite tropical temp) while Damian manned the dinghy. It took a little while to get your eye in, but once you did, it was fairly easy to spot the shallow indentation in the sand marking the outline of the buried scallop. We managed to catch our quota (20 per person, minimum 10cm diameter) in about 10 metres of water on less than half a tank of air. Walking on Waiheke-7795

And oh, were they ever sweet and succulent – the most delicious seafood I’ve ever tasted.

After all the evil weather we’ve endured over the winters here, we had a whole month of perfect sunny days – who knew Inzud could turn on weather like it? We climbed Rangitoto (the perfectly symmetrical, dormant volcano that can be seen from anywhere in the Gulf); met the peacocks on Kawau Island and the myriad little birds (including the tuis) on the sanctuary of Tiritiri Matangi; hiked on Motutapu and Ponui and dived on Rakino.

Finally, after two and a half years of being NZ-based, we’ve been able to really enjoy cruising in New Zealand. We’ve only seen the Hauraki Gulf, and there is so much more to see, but even so, we rate it as some of the best cruising we’ve done anywhere in the world.

Oneroa beach, Waiheke

Oneroa beach, Waiheke

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S**t Never Happens when the Sun’s Shining.

Marsden Cove, New Zealand

By: Kerry

And so, we ended the season as we started: dealing with ‘enhanced trade winds’. We’d asked Bruce, our weather man, to find us a weather window to head back to NZ. The winds in the last week had been pretty strong – there was a squash zone between two weather systems that were pushing the trade winds up to 25 knots. Bruce said that, if we left on Friday, we’d have 36-48  hours of fairly boisterous conditions, but then it would be a smooth run all the way to NZ.

Sailing lore has it that you WILL get smacked by a cold front and/or low pressure system somewhere on the trip from the tropics to NZ: the lows come rolling through from the Southern Ocean and the Tasman about once every 5-8 days, and since it usually takes around 8 days to do the crossing, you’ll meet one somewhere. The best you can hope for is that you hit the front north of 30 degrees south, when it is less intense….

We’re a bit faster than most of the cruising boats to which that ‘lore’ applies. But this was also a pretty exceptional window – it didn’t look like we’d hit a low anywhere, as long as we left by Friday. “Cool,” we thought. “That’s gotta be an improvement on the trip up here!”

So we set off and made really good time. The first 24 hours we had steady 25 knot SE trade winds and we were were flying along on a beam reach – the boat wanted to be going a lot faster, but with a 2.5 metre swell and us not wanting to bang the boat (or ourselves) around, we had two reefs in both the main and the headsail. Still, we did 241 miles in the first 24 hours. That might not sound much if you’re thinking land travel, but most cruisers dream of doing – but rarely do – 200 mile days, so it was pretty damn fast, and we were pretty happy with how things were going.

Everything was fine. Right up until it wasn’t.

It was Saturday night, around 9.30. Black as the inside of a cow outside. We do three-hour watches at sea, so I was asleep, while Damian was on watch, sitting at the chart table. There was an almighty crash: our mast had come down.

Just like that.

The next three hours or so were fairly torrid. The mast broke into three pieces (as far as we could see in the dark) but they all remained linked together by the mainsail, which is on a car system that runs on a track right up the mast and held at the top of the mast by the halyard. The middle section of the mast was bent back toward the boat, the sharp end of it being driven into the hull by the wind and waves and the downward drag of the top two thirds of the mast which was submerged, still loaded with the bulk of the mainsail, and sinking under the boat and in danger of fouling props and rudders.

Our main concern was to avoid being holed by the broken mast – losing the rig was one thing, sinking was an altogether less attractive option…

I won’t go into the detail here as it would all sound too scary (especially the part about Damian getting into the dinghy to release the gennaker from the prod) and too technical, but if you’re interested, you can read the full, four-page story I wrote for New Zealand Boating Magazine, here:

Dismasted 925 Miles From Home

Suffice to say, our beautiful sails, our new radar, and two of the three sections of mast are now at the bottom of the Tonga Trench (think Marianas – about 4000m down).

We didn’t sustain any major injuries and were able to get cleared up and underway by about 12.30am. The interesting bit then was whether or not we had enough fuel to get home… This happened 925 nautical miles NW of New Zealand. We could have turned around and gone back to Tonga, but that wouldn’t have solved any of our problems: one way or another, we still had to get the boat back to NZ, and since we were already 300 miles out and it looked like we would have good weather most of the way home, we decided to press on.

We notified NZ Search and Rescue and kept them updated twice daily with position reports. We had to estimate our fuel consumption – fortunately, Damian is totally anal about keeping records of such things, so we had a reasonable idea, and were reasonably confident we could make the distance (having filled the tanks just before leaving Neiafu). So we became a motor boat and motored for the next 7 days straight – very grateful, once again, for being a catamaran and having 2 engines, rather than having to rely on just one!!

Our last night at sea we encountered a cold front that pushed the winds back up to 25 knots and we had a few ‘issues’ with engines and autopilot, which we didn’t really appreciate at that point, but nothing insurmountable. The smoke stacks of Port Whangarei appeared on the horizon in the early hours of Saturday morning and by 11.30 we were tied up on the Quarantine dock at Marsden Cove: our home away from home. We were greeted by Bruce, the local Customs officer, Karen, the manager of the marina and another friend, Ian – bearing food, flowers and a bottle of Bombay Sapphire! Since then, we’ve been overwhelmed by the kindness of everyone here – they have been tremendously supportive.

The boat is pretty banged up – the solar panels are smashed, the forebeam that joins the two hulls is twisted (staggering force required to do that); the mast and boom have had it, sails gone, stack pack torn, hole in the cabin top, lots of scuff marks, dents and grazes. Amazingly, there is little damage at the waterline – we think there must have been some sail between the hull and the sharp end of the broken mast.

We spent six hours yesterday with the insurance assessor and have, we think, identified WHAT happened, if not WHY.  The U-bolt holding the D1 (inner shroud) to the cabin top sheared off, about 20mm below the surface of the deck. Once it let go, the mast (which was carbon and had no spreaders) was unsupported in the middle, so warped like a noodle and snapped.

The Assessor, who has 30 years experience, has never seen anything like it. So it will be interesting to find out the “WHY”, which will involve having the bolt examined by a metallurgist.

The upside of it is that he said we did a ‘superb job’ of handling the situation – that we’d done everything possible in advance to make the boat safe, to prevent it happening; and that we did everything right when it did happen. There was nothing else we could have done either to prevent it or to salvage anything. So that’s good for our confidence. The flip side of that is, we did everything right but it happened anyway – don’t know what the odds are (one in ten thousand?) but how unlucky can we be?

At this stage, there seems to be no reason why we won’t be covered by insurance, but we won’t count those chickens just yet…. We have a huge job ahead of us to make the boat right again – it’s feeling pretty daunting at the moment, but we’ll be able to find the help we need – NZ is probably the best place to be to do the work and of course, after our experiences last year, we know all the local contractors…

We were due to fly to Europe to visit Damian’s family and our friends, flying out of Sydney on November 29. Not sure what we’re going to do about that trip yet – we need to get some timeframes around getting a new mast (might have to come from France) etc. Obviously, we want and need to be here to oversee the work, but yards close over Christmas and it may take some time to get all the bits and pieces we need.

At this stage, we’re still feeling a bit stunned – we wake up each morning and have to remind ourselves what has happened. But we are fine, and we’re safe and that’s the main thing.

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We’re Off!

May 28, 2013

Marsden Cove, NZ

Only a year later than expected, we are finally sailing out today, headed for Tonga. Down to the wire – our NZ ‘visa’ for the boat expires tomorrow, but we’ve had a few more challenges, and only just got them (well, most of them), resolved in the last day or so, plus we had to coordinate with a good weather window. The stars are finally all aligned (we hope) and we’re off.

Definitely time to go – there was ice on the dock this morning and the weather the last few days has been VILE, but it’s sunny today and we should get a good run. Not sure when we’ll get in to Nuku’Alofa, but probably around the 5th of June. Don’t panic if you don’t hear from us, though – we may stop off in Minerva Reefs for a few days if the weather is good. I’ll send an email when we get in and get connected to internet.

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A Great Barrier Adventure

April 10, 2013

Great Barrier Island, NZ

By: Kerry

We are off the dock at last!

The Wednesday morning before Easter, we finally motored out of Marsden Cove on a picture perfect morning, intending to anchor in the next bay, but turned right and decided, ‘what the hell, let’s go to Great Barrier Island instead’.

The No Plan Plan was underway!

There was no wind, so couldn’t sail, but it was glorious sunshine and flat seas – even got the ‘kini out and pretended it was the tropics!

GB is about 50 nautical miles east of Marsden Cove and a fave hangout for the NZ yachtie set, local fishermen, the odd hippy and – in the holidays – the JAFA brigade (Just Another F**king Aucklander – fortunately few of them over Easter). It’s really beautiful, with lots of little broken-off islands (some actually called the Broken Islands); safe anchorages protected in any weather, forest-covered hills, great fishing and great walking. Like the more famous Bay of Islands but less people and smaller.

We met up with our friends on Kalida, Derek and Allison, who have spent a lot of time there over the last few years and know all the best walks etc. We’ve done some beautiful hikes, to high vantage points with views over the bays and wider ocean and the weather has, for the most part, been lovely (though I haven’t been brave enough to dive in – it’s not freeeezing, but I’m sure it would shatter my illusion of us being in the tropics).

It’s been a fantastic exercise in getting to know the boat – some forward steps (we have our anchoring routine down pat, pretty much) and a few backwards (since our generator is still in bits, we’re reliant on a combination of solar power and the main engines, and we’re having some problems with the alternator/regulator… can’t quite figure out what the issue is, but it’s causing much frowning and chin scratching by D).

The learning curve has been particularly steep for poor Damian – since we didn’t have any hand over when we bought the boat, added to the fact that all the instruction manuals on board were in French, the boat computer’s operating system was in Spanish and the on-board systems are very complex, he’s been doing an awful lot of reading, studying on-line forums and downloading manuals.

Last week he graduated as marine electronics expert, having finally got our navigation instruments to talk to each other (when the local marine sparky had given up trying). This week he’s studying to be an auto electrician, trying to work out why the main engine alternators are doing inexplicable things regarding charging the house batteries.

But despite the challenges, it does feel pretty damn good to finally be on our boat and out of the marina. The first evening we sat in the cockpit in a gorgeous anchorage, with the sun going down, G+T in hand, not a breath of wind, water mirror calm, and we had to pinch ourselves – FINALLY we’re doing what we set out to do a year ago!

And then next morning we went fishing at dawn (gotta love late daylight saving – it didn’t get light until 7.30, so you can sleep in and still go fishing at dawn). Just went out in the dinghy into the pass between the broken-off islands, where as soon as you drop a line, you get a bite. We pulled in about a dozen snapper in an hour, but only kept three ‘pannies’ as the locals call them (ie pan-size) – minimum size is 27cm, measured from the deepest part of the V of its tail to its nose, which is bigger than the Oz limit, I think. Nevertheless it was dinner – and they were delicious. We’ve been fishing a few times since, with similar results: the fish are verging on suicidal.

Sunday looked a good day for a sail back to the mainland, so we set off early, heading out through the narrow pass on glassy water, with tendrils of cloud laced around the surrounding hills. And so our inaugural solo sail was a cracker – moderate winds, next-to-no swell and beautiful sunshine all the way home – couldn’t have asked for better. We anchored for the night in the bay we were intending to stop at the day we left Marsden and I cooked dinner of mussels that had been discreetly liberated from the anchor chains of the mussel leases on Great Barrier.

 

Since then we’ve been back in the marina – we had to go back to get our generator fixed. We arrived back very early Monday morning (Damian very proud of his docking effort!). Mechanic showed up to finalise the generator fix and…. nuthin. Doesn’t work. There’s still no light at the end of that tunnel. We actually got a second opinion today, but no-one has a clue what the problem is – defying all logic and sense. So we’re a bit stuck.

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Walking Around Whangarei

March 10, 2013

Marsden Cove, NZ

While we expected to be seeing more palm trees than Pohutakawas over the past months, the coastal scenery around Whangarei is spectacular in its own right and we’ve done a number of great day hikes, including the Mangawhai Cliffs walk – starting about 45 minutes drive south-east of Marsden Cove.

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