Jodi Bryant takes a stroll around the Town Basin marina and visits some current residents.
When Charmayne Dobbs rented out her Hawke's Bay house and set off with her cat on a road trip around New Zealand, she didn't expect to end up living on a boat at Whangārei's Town Basin.
But, 18 months into her journey, while catching up with Whangārei family, whom she hadn't seen since childhood, cousin Merv Dobbs convinced her to join them for dinner.
There, she met their friend and American long-time Town Basin Marina resident David Irvin.
David has lived on his boat Rewa since 2014 after sailing solo from the United States in 2011.
Now, there are three living on board, including cat Zeus, though David says he's not actually a cat person.
"It's funny how life works out," he twinkles.
David has been in the boating industry most of his life and, in his 20s, sailed across the Pacific to Australia for the first time.
"I thought, if life should ever be so good to me that I could ever afford to buy a boat, I'd do this trip again, and life was good to me," he says, from his mooring opposite the Town Basin playground.
It finally happened at the age of 60 when, in 2011, he bought Rewa, a 1968 20m aluminium monohull ketch with a centre cockpit, and spent two years sailing down the Caribbean and through the Panama Canal and Pacific landing in Tonga destined for Australia.
David explains: "Australia is probably the more common destination. When we all leave, the Pacifics are so big we kind of all don't know where we're going but we all know we're going that way. By the time you get to Tonga, you've got a better focus on where you're going."
That was when the visiting Whangārei Marine Promotions Group intercepted and David was sold by the scenic imagery and local marine services.
"A picture's worth a thousand words – it was very convincing. I wanted to come to New Zealand, what I wasn't expecting was how wonderful it was. It's beautiful sailing around here and the Bay of Islands looked stunning, and these are really nice people - wow.
"I've been sailing most of my life and the adventure is who you are seeing and what you are seeing."
He spent several years comprising six months in New Zealand and six months in Fiji and finally made it back to Australia, finding it more practical to leave the boat and fly there.
However, his Australia trip was cut short when he began to hear of Covid swirling.
"It makes me nervous being apart from my boat when something like that happens because everything is on your boat. As luck would have it, I landed in Auckland airport six hours before they closed the borders."
He says the New Zealand Government has been "unbelievably gracious" in accommodating boaties. "They extended our visas during Covid - how nice could that be? Talk about being concerned about the citizen," he says, adding that, per season, $60,000-$80,000 is spent per boat on refit/maintenance work.
"Some people say they are stuck here in New Zealand. Well, if this is stuck, please put me here permanently."
Over the years, each time David sailed into the Town Basin he has noticed changes as it evolves and he has made his own mark while living there, giving back to the community which embraced him.
In 2017 he formed the Black Ball Yacht Club, a group of about 40 Town Basin vessel residents from 11 countries whose purpose is to encourage young locals' involvement in the marine world, whether as a trade or sailor.
Some of their projects have included publishing a cook book, sponsoring a high school student on the Spirit of New Zealand, holding Solstice celebrations and the recent Town Basin Classic Boat Show.
"The community as a whole is so welcoming, we wanted to thank Whangārei and as a way to have interaction with the local community," the club commodore says.
He also volunteers on the Hundertwasser building project and flies the Hundertwasser flag on Rewa.
"I think it's great from my perspective as a tourist. It's fun, it's exciting, it's lively and I think, culturally, it's a great thing for the community. It's a way to showcase art, including Māori art."
Known as "Mr Christmas", each year, he delights passers-by through decorating the masts of his boat.
"It began with a tree at the top of the mast in 2014. I could see people admiring it and, being opposite the playground, it's the perfect location."
Each year, he added more decorations, including the latest, Santa scaling the mast with his sack.
"Pretty boats, flags and lights, it's like mum's apple pie, everybody likes it."
David volunteers with Sea Mercy, an organisation which provides medical services to remote islands in Fiji and relief aid after cyclones. Volunteering is a great way of meeting people, he says. Though he has had his fair share of friends and family visiting to keep him company on voyages. One year, his newly married daughter and husband joined him for their honeymoon.
"They went on honeymoon to Fiji and ended up in New Zealand, spending five months with their father/father-in-law," he laughs. "But it was an absolute blast."
And then, more recently, he was joined by Charmayne and Zeus.
An artist of 40 years, specialising in sculpting, jewellery and pottery, the occupation was beginning to take its toll on Charmayne's body when she decided to set off in her camper on an open-ended trip. However, not long into it, lockdown intervened and she returned to her rented-out home, staying in the studio on her property, before setting off again and meeting David along the way.
Says David: "Wheels and water. It's the perfect mix of the sailing that I so dearly love and the camper to drive around New Zealand. There are so many nooks and crannies to explore.
"I bought the boat after getting divorced," he adds. "Rewa means "new beginnings" in Sanskrit and I later found out it also means "float" in Māori."
These holidays, the couple are about to haul the boat out at Marsden Cove and tour the South Island before heading off to Fiji.
So do either have any plans to return home?
David's reply is simple: "Here is home."