Friday, April 25, 2008

April 24, 2008 - Opua

There is a local cruising association here, called the Island Cruising Association, which sponsors rallies to the various Western South Pacific islands near New Zealand. In a few weeks their rallies are leaving for Vanuatu and Tonga. In the weeks leading up to departure, ICA has been hosting a variety of information sessions on topics like cruiser medicine and customs clearance in foreign ports. Today they had a "chart marking session" where they explained their favorite spots and the benefits of entering New Caledonia, Tonga, Fiji, or Vanuatu as a member of the rally fleet. In some ways, the whole thing was a giant commercial for the ICA, which was slightly annoying, but understandable. They were sharing their experiences and insights for free with a room full of cruisers, most of whom were not members of the ICA or planning on participating in their rallies.

The Opua Customs and Quarantine officers were also in attendance. They went through the procedures for clearing out and back into New Zealand. Not many in the room were planning on coming back, so the Quarantine officer struggled to hold our attention. Based on the questions other cruisers were asking the Customs officer, it seems that several other crews have recently joined or are soon to become members of our little club - Overstayers Anonymous.

We have now been here 2 weeks past the expiration of our visas, so I called up Immigration in Auckland to let them know that we were still here, as instructed by Opua Customs. The Immigration officer was very cordial as he told me that up to 42 days beyond our visa expiration date, they will not pursue removing us from the country. However, after 42 days they will be within their rights to come down here and put us on a plane home. Frankly, looking at the current weather situation, we'd appreciate it if Immigration would put all of us (me, Sten and Mata'irea) on a Dockwise ship and transport us all up to New Caledonia.

I discussed the process for extending our visas with the Immigration officer. He explained that we would be required to send our passports and extension requests down to the Immigration office in Auckland. The review process can take up to 30 days, during which time, we would be without our passports. That's a non-starter for us. We need to have our passports on hand so that we can leave as soon as a weather window presents itself.

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