The message in a bottle launched by a Whangarei mother and son that washed up near Spain appears to have travelled a record-breaking distance.

Jana Joy "flung" a glass wine bottle containing a message written by her then 7-year-old son Julien into the Whangarei Harbour from the end of Manganese Point in Tamaterau in early 2010.

The bottle washed up in Bilbao, near Spain, and was picked up by a woman named Luisa who sent Julien a letter of reply.

It is thought this could be the furthest distance a message in a bottle has travelled.


Pilot and sailor Crawford Brown, who now owns Bannock Brae Estate in Central Otago, said he has read the article and made some calculations.

"It's not too difficult, I used antipodes; antipodes means the exact opposite point on the other side of the world," Brown said.

"When I heard that this bottle was discovered on the north coast of Spain, I thought, hell's teeth, that's about as far as you can get from New Zealand, and when you work it out quite accurately, the furthest-away point from Whangarei is very close to the south coast of Spain.

"So it's certainly a lot further than the Australian bottle travelled that was referred to in the article," Brown said.

Jana said she thought it was the coolest thing ever when Crawford phoned her to tell her he believed their bottle was a record-breaker.

Julien said the whole thing was "incredible".

The Australian bottle, which is believed to have been the furthest-travelling bottle before now, floated from Sunderland, in England, to Perth in Western Australia.

The direct line between Sunderland and Perth is about 14,500km.


The direct line from Whangarei to Manduka is just over 19,000km but how far the Joys' bottle really travelled will never be known.

The principal scientist of marine physics at Niwa, Dr Craig Stevens, said it is pretty amazing for the Joys' bottle to have travelled that far.

It seems unlikely that the bottle slipped through the Panama Canal (pictured above). Photo / Getty
It seems unlikely that the bottle slipped through the Panama Canal (pictured above). Photo / Getty

"It's gotten from the Pacific Ocean to the North Atlantic, so there's only a couple of pathways and I'm pretty sure it didn't go through the Panama Canal," Stevens said.

"Presumably it travelled around the southern tip of South America and then up through the Atlantic – I'm struggling to see a pathway through the Bering Sea even with declining sea ice in the Arctic," Stevens said.

This would have been very wind-driven, he said.

This is the likeliest route the bottle took, according to NIWA.
This is the likeliest route the bottle took, according to NIWA.

These things can have amazing journeys, he said. Off the Western Australian coast just last month a bottle that travelled 1000km took 132 years, so anything is possible.


That bottle was tossed into the Indian Ocean as part of an experiment on ocean drift patterns, according to experts who called it "an exceedingly rare find" at the time.

Stevens said the long journey of Julien and Jana's bottle seems very unusual to him but not impossible.

"This sort of thing is very difficult to judge as it's sitting right at the surface and the wind can push it around really quite quickly," he said.

"If it was deeper down in the ocean then eight years is really fast, but for something that's floating at the surface - if it has some seaweed attached to it or if it got caught up in some branches, that kind of stuff, could really rocket along."