We celebrated Valentine’s Day, 2022 by slipping our mooring lines and sailing around the eastern tip of Banks Peninsula to quiet Flea Bay, home of Pohatu Farm, a blue penguin reserve that offers sanctuary to these tiny cute birds. The farm provides small nesting boxes along the shore and up the hills. For a modest contribution, we sponsored a new member of the penguin community, christened “Stiggy.” Around the corner from Stiggy’s hideaway is beautiful Akaroa Bay on the south side of the Banks Peninsula. Akaroa is a charming community featuring a fabulous ice cream shop serving delicious licorice ice cream and “The Giant’s House,” an amazing Victorian home and yard completely finished in mosaic broken tile and glass… yes, completely! Pool, banisters, walk ways, fountains, gazebo, characters, benches, artificial trees and shrubs – all covered in mosaic tile. Check out “The Giant’s House, Akaroa” online!
From Akaroa, our travels continued south to the university town of Dunedin and Port Chalmers, its port city. Public transport into the city from the port was very good, but getting to “The Penguin Place,” a penguin rehab center, proved challenging. Fortunately we found a bus connection that served our purposes. Our efforts were rewarded with a tour of the rehab facility, including views (and pictures) of 3 new-to-us penguin species: Crested Fjordland Penguins, Yellow-Eyed Penguins, and Erect Crested Penguins. Along with penguins found in the Galapagos, Argentina, and Antarctica, we’ve now cast our eyeballs on about 12 of the world’s 18 penguin species!
Port Chalmers is a sleepy little town with one main street, one gas station, a small grocery, and a few casual eateries. We topped off our fuel tanks at the small marina and discovered The Galley Restaurant serving some of the best pizza we’ve ever had!
The main attraction in this tiny slice of the ocean, however are New Zealand’s Hector’s Dolphins. These are small and very graceful grey dolphins about a meter long and immediately recognizable by their mickey-mouse-ear shaped dorsal fin. They played on our bow and rolled on their sides to give us a good look as we sailed south. Overhead, Royal, Wandering, and Black-Browed Albatrosses glided effortlessly over the waves, scavenging for food floating on the surface. Many of ‘em took a good look at our fishing lures skipping in the wake behind the boat, but these guys (thankfully!) weren’t taking the bait!
The albatross is an amazing bird, often putting to sea for weeks at a time, foraging over of thousands of miles before returning to its nest. They mate for life, producing a single chick a year. Parent albatrosses take turns incubating their egg and scavenging for floating food. After only a few weeks post hatching, both parents soar far and wide, sometimes for 2 weeks at a time searching for squid and other tasty treats. They swallow their catch and regurgitate it into the chicks waiting mouth upon their return to the nest. While hunting and gathering, their stomach acids transform their catch into a liquid protein concoction with higher energy content than refined diesel fuel! This fuel keeps the chick alive until the next parent returns. You’d think that the albatross has incredibly strong shoulders for flapping and soaring weeks on end. Just the opposite is true, however. Muscle is heavy so these gliding machines are light on muscle. Instead, they rely on “props” to prop up their wings once airborne. The wing muscles are used only to flap enough to get off the water where the wind and updrafts off the waves keep them aloft and carry them to their favorite feeding grounds.
There isn’t much of New Zealand south of Dunedin and what’s there is rugged country. Stewart Island at 47 degrees south lies in the heart of what are known as the “Roaring 40s” This is a band of latitude effectively unobstructed by land around the globe. This allows the westerly wind to flow, often exceeding 40 knots, unhindered. For reference, notorious Cape Horn (55 degrees south) lies in the screaming 50s. Stewart Island, triangular in shape and measuring about 33 miles on each edge marks the bottom of the country. Only the outlying Auckland and Campbell Islands are further south. The fearsome 15-mile-wide Foveaux Strait separates Stewart Island from the South Island. Like with Cook Strait, the tidal differences between the east and west coasts of the country cause strong currents through Foveaux Strait. These currents, when timed properly can greatly speed the trip across the strait. But the crossing requires care to avoid situations where the wind blows contrary to the current. In these situations, large and dangerous waves and overfalls can develop, threatening small craft and sickening ferry passengers. Fortunately, Pazzo enjoyed a comfortable 125 mile, one-day sail from Dunedin, across Foveaux Strait and into Patterson Inlet to the tiny town of Oban.
The full-time population of Stewart Island stands at about 450, nearly all concentrated in Oban. We’ve met few New Zealanders who’ve visited the island, largely because it’s a long way south and getting out of Oban requires a boat. It’s wild country outside of Oban. In bygone days, the whaling and sealing trades thrived in well-protected Patterson Inlet. Now, Oban is home to a miniscule tourism industry which includes a small hotel, a few kayaking operations, some sport fishing purveyors, a summer-only fish-and chips shop, and… a one-woman ice cream stand. Visitors come to hike, bike, fish and kayak this raw, unspoiled, and beautiful corner of New Zealand. But most come hoping to see a kiwi bird. Stewart Island boasts a measureable kiwi population so there’s a very good chance of spotting one in the wild, if you’re willing to search in the dark.
Kiwis are nocturnal, foraging in the dark for insects. We were fortunate to find 3 birds on our several night-time excursions. Floris and Ivar found several more. On two occasions, we found the little fellas (about the size of a football) simply wandering along the path and scrambling into the bush when they sensed us. The third kiwi was foraging on a beach known to be popular with the birds. New Zealand’s department of conservation is conducting a large and ongoing eradication program to rid the kiwi’s favorite habitats of preditors: feral cats, rats, stotes, and possums. Traps are abundant along the trails.
Along with several fine anchorages in Patterson Inlet, Stewart Island offers a number of great hiding places – depending on the wind direction. Many of these are suitable for weather from one or two quadrants, but only a few would be considered all-weather anchorages. With names like Evening Cove and Disappointment Cove, both in Port Pegasus (an inlet on the SE shore of the Island), these anchorages offer perfect protection from storms bringing winds from opposite directions as they transit. Pazzo spent several days in Disappointment Cove, roped in tight with several long shore lines while the wind raged overhead. We were grateful for our Patagonia experience where we developed our techniques for securing the boat in inclement weather! We found a number of opportunities to stretch our legs on poorly marked trails and even failed to reach one of our objectives after hiking for hours across boulder fields, fording streams, and crawling through thickets on hands and knees! Adventurous? Yes! Successful? No!
Our departure of Stewart Island on March 9 took us south around Southeast Cape, one of the 5 great capes that intrepid voyagers leave to the north when sailing around the world by way of the 5 great capes. The other great capes are Cape Horn (South America), Cape of Good Hope (South Africa), Cape Leeuwin (Australia), and Southwest Cape (Tasmania). These insane sailors spend months in the vicious Southern Ocean, between Antarctica and the 5 great capes. Team Pazzo has now been around Cape Horn, and Southeast Cape, but unlike real men and women, we nip around these famous landmarks and get the hell out of dodge!
24 hours after setting out from Port Pegasus and Disappointment Cove, we were securely anchored in Cascade Cove, Dusky Sound. Fjordland is the remote and rugged SW corner of the South Island. It is a collection of 9 – 12 (Depending on how you want to count) beautiful and untouched fjords carved out during the ice age and bordered by Foveaux Strait to the south and New Zealand’s Southern Alps to the north. Like Stewart Island, the fjords are raw, wild, and difficult to reach. Only two fjords (they call them sounds) have road access so boat traffic is limited to trailerables or seaworthy craft. Just north of Foveaux Strait in the south are Preservation and Chalky inlets. Heading north, you’ll find Dusky Sound with an inside connection to Breaksea Sound. About 25 miles up the coast we find Doubtful Sound which includes a northern arm, Bradshaw Sound, and Thompson Sound leading back to the coast. Progressing up the coast, mariners will find Nancy, Charles, Caswell, George and Southerland Sounds, before reaching Milford Sound, the most northern of Fjordland’s amazing sounds.
The weather in Fjordland is rapidly changing, but mostly predictable. We can see weather systems coming and going a few days in advance, but the details (wind strength, direction, and timing) are subject to error. For our passage from Stewart Island, we chose a weather window that would require minimal motoring and gave us a day of breathing room before the next big blow. Cascade cove was well protected from NE winds, which we later learned, are bent to follow the channels through the mountainous terrain.
We awoke on March 11 to calm conditions but strong north-easterlies forecast for the afternoon. The local tour and fishing boats set out for their daily activities so we figured that we’d have time to move 6 miles around the corner to Pickersgill Harbor, a lovely refuge found by Lieutenant Pickersgill and favored by Captain James Cook on his last voyage to the South Pacific. The tiny chink behind Crayfish Island looked to offer reasonable protection from the NE, but would deteriorate with a heavy easterly component. We lifted anchor at 10:30 and made our way to Pickersgill.
At 11:15 we sussed out the anchorage and Cindy took a picture (from the boat) of a commemorative plaque on the rocky shore of Pickersgill harbor. All calm. By 11:30, we had our anchor well set and backed the boat into the recommended crack. Cindy set out in the dink with the first of two long shore lines to hold us firmly in the middle of the pocket – a distance of about 40 meters. By the time she got to shore and had the first line made fast, the wind started gusting to 20 knots with a notable chop. As she had difficulty rowing back to the boat against the building wind, we decided to abort the Pickersgill idea and retreat to Cascade Cove. Cindy took advantage of a lull in the wind to retrieve her shore line and row back to the boat. We hoisted anchor and, with the wind now at 30 knots and the boat bouncing in the chop, decided to tow Ooo-ha-ha dink back to the anchorage. I cautioned Cindy to keep an eye on the dink as these are the conditions that inflatables are known to flip.
Not 15 minutes later, Ooo-ha-ha was upside down with the outboard’s lower unit pointing skyward and oars and thwart floating away. Still towing our inverted tender, we spun around and proceeded to collect the oars and thwart by positioning the boat to leeward of the flotsam in such a way that the wind would blow the articles down to Cindy who pinned ‘em against the hull with her boathook and and dragged ‘em aboard. We left ou favorite “Patagonia Stick” (push stick) behind and knew that the dinghy anchor and chain were already at the bottom of Dusky Sound. By this time, the wind was gusting over 40 knots. We continued toward Wales Point and Heron Island – slowly, against the wind. About 15 minutes later, Cindy noticed our outboard fuel tank a hundred meters astern. With our limited ability to manoeuver, the tank making good progress downwind, and a lee shore not so far away, we decided to abandon the fuel tank – planning to return the following day to find it beached along the lee shore.
After rounding Wales Point and turning downwind for the 1.5 mile bare-poles run back to Cascade Cove, the wind was well into the 50s with max gust shown on the instruments as 66 knots!! We got our anchor down at 1400, righted the dinghy, and sent Cindy ashore with two long shore lines to pull us up tight under the protective trees. Heaps of thanks to Brother John who, through our satellite email, advised me how to resuscitate Bruiser (15hp 2-stroke Yamaha) using our spare dinghy fuel, copious amounts of boiling water, and plenty of WD40, followed by LPS 3 waxy protective spray. Biggest challenge was displacing all the salt water in the cylinders and carburetor. After a couple of hours, Bruiser roared to life and ran happily ever after! Despite exhausting her expletive vocabulary (several times over), Cindy was a champ through the whole ordeal. As we reviewed lessons learned over a beer and the howling wind, we watched the tour and fishing boats limp back into the protection of Cascade Cove. All of us, it seems, misjudged the timing of the stormy conditions.
The following day, a calm March 12, we retraced our route to Pickersgill Harbor in a futile search of our beached fuel tank. At the least we expected to find the plastic remains of the tank, but found not a trace. After a couple of hours, we gave up and proceeded to beautiful and very secure Luncheon Cove, another Captain Cook favorite. Access to the cove is through a deep but tortuous, poorly marked channel. Cindy got a few nice pictures of a cute seal pup waiting on the shore for mom to return with dinner.
Our next stop was Sportsman Cove, a few hours deeper into Dusky Sound. On the chart, Sportsman looks much like an ideal hurricane hole with 360 degree protection and a very narrow entrance. Our guide book, however, cautioned against ferocious winds funneled by the surrounding tall hills and deep valleys. With anchor set in the center of the cove and a strong shore-line to a stout tree, we ventured ashore for a hike through the bush. Joining us in the cove were Andy and Brenda on the motor launch “Manakai.” Andy very kindly offered us a slab of tuna that he’d caught earlier in the day.
“No thanks,” we declined. “We still have plenty of Albacore from a few days ago.” “Ah, but have you tasted our Blue Fin tuna?”
“Whoa! Did you say Blue Fin?”
“Yeah, already filleted. We have too much.”
“Can we change our order? We’ve never tried Blue Fin.”
Thank you, Manakai, for an amazing Blue Fin dinner! We seared the fish on the BBQ and Cindy decorated it with her incredible “Beth Sauce,” named after our dear Kaneohe friend Beth Grainger. We can report that Blue Fin cooks and tastes much like Yellow Fin (Ahi), although perhaps a bit more delicate.
Leaving Sportsman Cove, we encountered a chill pod of huge grey dolphins. They were content to swim with us at an idle, but when we gave ‘em a bow wave to play on, they lost interest. Still, Cindy got some great photos on a mirror-like sea on the way to Wet Jacket Arm. Named after Lieutenant Pickersgill’s soggy attire after returning to the Endeavor on a scouting trip, Wet Jacket Arm promised a nice hike to a lake. A few moose are reported to live in the area, but we found only a good trail and a marsh that could pass for a lake in the winter.
In our next chapter, Pazzo will complete her tour of Fjordland and voyage north to Whangarei via Cook Strait and the North Island’s east coast.