Sensational Sailing in New Zealand

Our JWalking lifestyle means that we travel fairly frugally, we aren’t your normal holidaying tourists who eat out every day and try to visit every attraction. We favour slow travel over charging around and generally avoid expensive tourist-specific experiences. However, once in a while we splash out on something a bit special. This was one of those times.

For as long as I can remember I have wanted to sail on a tall ship. You know the ones, just like on the Onedin Line or Master and Commander (but without the canons). So when we were researching our New Zealand trip and found that one sailed out of Paihia we just had to book it.

R Tucker Thompson

There are lots of cruises and day trips leaving Paihia every day but the tall ship sailed out of the town of Russell just across the bay. The ship is called the R Tucker Thompson after the chap who built it in the 1970s. What we really liked was that it is run as part of a not-for-profit charitable trust where all of the money they raise goes towards taking young people aged between 13 and 18 out on sailing adventures and youth development voyages. Such a great idea and a brilliant way of helping out the local community.

I’m not a sailing expert so don’t really understand all that sailing talk about schooners, lofty rigs, and ballast. All I know is that it was a ‘proper’ sailing ship with masts and sails and rigging and everything. And we were booked for a days sailing!

The Voyage Begins

After crossing the bay on the ‘Happy Ferry‘ we waited on the dockside for our ship to come in. A few other potential sailors mingled around us as the impressive sailing boat docked and we wandered aboard. The ship had a crew of only 4 and as they welcomed us aboard they mentioned that there would be just 20 passengers going out that day. Seemed so few on such a big ship.

As the ship set off towards the Bay of Islands we just sat back on deck in the sunshine trying to soak up the amazing experience. The plan for the day was to sail out through the islands to drop anchor by Waewaetorea Island where we could hike or swim until a barbeque lunch was prepared before returning to Russell late afternoon.

Onboard Adventures and Climbing the Rigging

Due to their only being four crew one of the great things about the R Tucker Thompson is that they expect the passengers to help out manning the ship. That means pulling the sails up, steering the ship, tying off ropes, and everything. So we got involved obviously. I was volunteered immediately to help hoist the sails and pull on all sorts of random ropes before Jo decided to really go for it.

She decided that she would seize the moment and be the first person to climb up the rigging. Super brave as the wind had seriously got up by now and the ship was leaning heavily to the left (or port if you’re a boaty-type). So with brief instruction she hooked herself on and started to climb out over the side of the ship above the ocean, in the wind, and started climbing.

With no fear she climbed up to the first bar and beyond, everyone on board watching in admiration.

Throughout the day we chatted to the other passengers quite a lot. There was a French couple, a few Kiwis, two or three Dutch couples, some Aussies, and one other English husband and wife. Everyone was unbelievably friendly especially the Australians but unfortunately the English couple were a nightmare! She had been and done everything and didn’t stop talking and he was a lifelong sailor who tried to run the ship. We obviously called him Captain Haddock. Annoying but entertaining.

Lunch stop at Waewaetorea Island

The rest of the morning was just brilliant as we sailed through the Bay of Islands past beautiful places with the names of Moturua Island and Motukiekie Island as we headed to the sandy beaches of Waewaetorea Island for a spot of lunch. Sails had to be pulled in first so that was exhausting but we were soon on the dinghy taking us across to the beach. Most people headed up a track for the highest point but we decided to roam around the two beaches.

A short dinghy ride back and we were on-board tucking into barbeque chicken as the ship weighed anchor and set off back to Russell. The food was great but within a few minutes the weather completely changed and the wind sprang up alarmingly.

Stormy Weather on the way back to Russell

Almost immediately the rain was lashing down sideways and the ship was being blown right over. The sails needed to come down so we all set to and did some serious rope-pulling to get us back on an even keel (hope you’re appreciating all of the sailing references here). Captain Haddock was looking a little concerned.

Most of the passengers rushed down below out of the rain but obviously we just grabbed a couple of huge raincoats and enjoyed it even more. It was actually pretty exciting to be holding on tight as the ship lurched and rolled with the rain hammering down, just felt amazing. They even let me take the wheel for 15 minutes which was incredible. Not sure about the tiny little captains hat they all made me wear but by that time I was just enjoying it too much.

Master and Commander Jonno with Captain Haddock in yellow on the left and Aussie Bob to the right. The Dream Team.

End of the Voyage

As we approached the quayside in Russell the rain had stopped and the sun started to come out. The boat docked fairly quickly and before we knew it we were saying our goodbyes and sadly going ashore. We could easily have done the whole cruise again, it was so good.  The ship was amazing, the crew fantastic, and the whole experience unforgettable. One of the best things we’ve ever, ever done.

Russell, the Hellhole of the Pacific

Instead of heading back to Paihia we decided to get a well deserved drink in the famous Duke of Marlborough hotel bar on the waterfront. Our hosts back in Ahipara had recommended it so we strolled in, approached the bar and who was there? Captain and Mrs Haddock! A brief hello and we headed outside with our well deserved beers. Close call.

So Russell, which was formerly called Kororareka, was the first permanent European settlement in New Zealand and started as a lawless dangerous place which earned the nickname ‘Hellhole of the Pacific‘. Today it’s a beautiful holiday resort town with New Zealands oldest church and a lot of Maori history.

What a day! As we crossed back to Paihia on the Happy Ferry we reflected on just how much we’d enjoyed our day on the R Tucker Thompson and how it was worth every single penny.

Moments like this are what our travelling life is all about.



  1. Wow! Your missus has got some serious cahoonas Jon. What a brilliant day out and trust you 2 to come across the oddballs! Would loved to have shared a pint in the Marlborough with you. We did something similar in the Caribbean but it was a bit more touristy but like you the weather turned and I got smashed on rum punch!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Such a fantastic day! All that was missing was a tot of rum for all the hearty shipmates. Wanted to shout, “Again, again, again!” like a big kid when we got back.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Anita, it was one of those things that I’d always dreamt of doing and we were so lucky to be able to sail in such a wonderful location. Every day down here feels like an adventure at the moment.


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