Unseen Fiorland and Stewart Island (Part 4) – The final chapter

We had a calm night, and we woke to a beautiful morning surrounded by mountains, bush and bird sound from the shores of nearby Anchor Island.   Nothing like Ulva but more than anywhere else, yet another perfect morning as it has been every day for my morning coffee.  It was made even more perfect by a couple of dolphins swimming around the boat and some little blue penguins in the distance – what more could you ask for.  After such a beautiful start, I popped outside after breakfast and it was raining ☔️ah, Fiordland. 

Our outing this morning was going to take us to around Luncheon Cove and on to Anchor Island.  Anchor Island is highly protected which means the numbers of people on shore at one time are limited and the logistics of this seemed far more difficult than it should have been 🤦🏻‍♀️ lol. I was in the last group to depart the ship.  On the downside this mean a lot of waiting around as we did not get off until almost 10am, on the upside by this time it had stopped raining!

We spent some time looking at the fur seals lounging around on the rocks and relaxing in the water before it was our turn to land on Anchor Island at Luncheon Cove (apparently Captain Cook had lunch here one day, hence the name!).  In 1792, 14 men (though some accounts say 11 men were left) were dropped off at this same spot by the Sealer ship Britannia with the intent of spending a few months catching the abundant fur seals in the area.  They were left with building materials to build not only a house to live in, but another boat, in case the Britannia could not come back to collect them. 

The house and boat they built here are considered the first European house/settlement and boat built in New Zealand.  Despite their boat building success, the Britannia did come back to pick them (and their 4,500 seal skins – of course that translates to 4,500 less fur seals!!) 10 months later so the nearly completed 52 ft long boat was left in the small creek on Anchor Island.

So, when the men were not busy building (and making beer out of Rimu leaves), they were sealing and killed 100s and 1000s of the local fur seal population.  Seals were greatly prized and Captain Cook even made the following entry in his diary in 1773“ Thursday 22nd.  In the PM I went with a party a Seal hunting, the surf was so high that we could only land in one place where we killed Ten, these animals serve us for three purposes, the skins we use for our rigging, the fatt makes oyle for our lamps and the flesh we eat, their harslets (heart and liver) are equal to that of a hog and the flesh of some of them eats little inferior to beef steakes, nay I believe we should think it superior could we get the better of prejudice.”

(The journals of Captain James Cook: the voyage of the Resolution and Adventure, 1772–1775, edited by J. C. Beaglehole. Cambridge: Hakluyt Society, 1961, p. 126)

Sealing in the area carried on until 1946, but thankfully the population of seals has built back up today and we saw many in the area, including one who had a bit of a stand off with one of my boat mates!

But the story of the boat did not end when the original group of sealers were picked up.  Two years later another ship, the Endeavour, came to the area and the crew finished the build.  They named their ‘new’ boat the Providence and sailed it to Norfolk Island.

Today, Anchor Island is particularly important to the conservation efforts of endangered species.  In particular the Kakapo which were introduced to the island in 2006, having been cleared of the last of the predators in 2005 (all the deer were removed in 2007).  In the 2015 breeding season they had 38 chicks on Anchor Island and today there is a population of 80 young Kakapo on the island.   Unfortunately, they are nocturnal so there was little to no chance of seeing one whilst on the island.  Apparently there use to be one who came out to ‘greet’ visitors to the island, but they removed it to an island that is not open to the public as they were worried someone would ‘steal’ it!

We had a short walk on the island but to be honest I would have preferred just to sit some quietly and listen and watch the birds rather than go on the walk-through mud and learn and see nothing special.   It was also hot going, dressed for zodiacs and then hiking, but I shouldn’t complain, it was beautiful, and I am so fortunate to be able to visit such important places.

When our time on shore was over, we jumped back in the Zodiac for another trip around the islands, this time there were a lot of fur seals, including some pups and also Fiordland Crested penguins swimming around in the water. We also past a number of crayfish launches (similar to the one the chef had sourced the crayfish for dinner) – they often have helipads on top of their pontoons, so their fresh catch can be taken to Te Anau by helicopter!

Back on board and there were a group of 3 penguins on the rocks, near the ship but a little too far for decent photos.  They were so cute jumping around trying to decide whether to go in the water or not 😂 (well, that’s what it looked like to me)!

During lunch the ship moved again – stepping out of the ship every time after we move is like stepping out into a new world – this time we were anchored off Pigeon Island, truly the birthplace of conservation in New Zealand.  Pigeon Island is where Richard Henry set up home when working on his conservation efforts on Resolution Island. 

Richard Henry was an Irishman who came to New Zealand in the late 1870’s and got a job as a rabbit shooter on a sheep farm.  When he saw the damage stoats, ferrets and weasels were doing to the native bird population, he predicted that they could wipe out the entire population.  He believed the birds would be safer on offshore islands, and although his ideas formed the basis for much of today’s conservation efforts of native species, his efforts to keep the predators at bay, were futile.

In 1894, Richard Henry was appointed custodian and caretaker of Resolution Island in Fiordland which became New Zealand’s first island reserve for native wildlife.  He set up home on Pigeon Island and built a house and a Kakapo pen, the remains of which we can see today.  He left Fiordland in 1908 and became caretaker of a new reserve on Kapiti Island – both Kapiti and Resolution remain key to New Zealand’s conservation efforts today.

Pigeon Island is another restricted island, this time, only 12 people were allowed on shore at one time, so we had limited time to explore this beautiful little island.  We were joined by a chirpy saddleback (saddlebacks were only introduced a couple of years ago and appear to be doing well.)  It is definitely clear to see how much more birdlife there is on the pest free islands and Pigeon Island was no exception.  Sadly, there were also many sand flies whilst waiting for to leave the beach 😫!

Back on the ship and it was already time to start packing, and a celebratory Kir Royale and cheese board on the bow to toast to the last night of the trip.  It was beautiful weather … sunny and warm, just like the first evening we celebrated on the bow, just a short 6 days before.  It was so warm, some people jumped in the water, including the captain of the ship and the naked chef – literally   🥴!!  I did not join them as I am a complete wuss when it comes to cold water!

Before dinner we had one final evening recap of the day and the trip as a whole.  It was amazing to be reminded of all the amazing places we had been in the short 6 days on the ship.  Apparently, adversity and revelation weld a group together, thankfully we had had not much adversity but lots of revelation.

After our final dinner, most of us headed back up to deck to enjoy the journey out of the Sounds into Foveaux Strait.  We started the day with dolphins, and we ended the day with dolphins, a flock of sooty shearwaters and the odd albatross soaring around the boat.  It was beautiful but, not surprisingly it started to get rough as we made our way around the infamous Puysegur Point and that was my cue to head to bed!!

Most of the night was relatively calm despite the 3 hours rocking and rolling to start … and we were very soon heading in to port at Bluff (after we passed a couple of albatrosses waving goodbye) for a 7.30 landing.  We had had a pilot on board for the whole trip (a requirement for a ship this size) so we did not have to wait for one when we arrive in port and could just sail straight in.

It has been a great trip and I think we had been particularly lucky with the weather.  Apparently, we 3-4 metre swells at worst, sounds terrible to me but apparently it is nothing to the seasoned seafarers!

Phone reception had come back over night and everyone was back on their phones – me to change my flight from 4pm to 11am given that we were be in port so early.  It is always so refreshing to have a break from the internet.

Shortly after breakfast we were ready to depart and was waved off by the crew who lined up on the wharf to say their farewells.  They trip was short, but incredibly sweet and I have already got my eye on some future journeys with Heritage Expeditions. 

NB: Photos really don’t do this area justice – no photo can really depict the grandeur of the lush green forest covered mountains and the deep green colour of the water. Yet another place I would love to spend more time.

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