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.

Unseen Fiordland and Stewart Island (Part 3) – Into the Sounds

November 2021

After a relatively good sleep despite the rolling (or pitching as we boat people say lol), we woke up in a perfectly calm inlet of Open Cove, at the entrance to Thompson Sound.  Of course, my phone still thinks I am in Vladivostok and after asking around, it appears this is the first time it has happened, and no one seems to know what’s up 🤔.  I continued my morning coffee with a view this morning, this time my view was of beautiful cloud topped mountains flowing down into the sea. 

We were out in the zodiacs by 9am and we zipped around the northern end of the sound and then down a beautiful Pandora River. As with yesterday, the tide was on our side, otherwise we would not have got very far down the shallow river.   It was beautiful and peaceful, and the river was lined with beautiful bush including flowering rata, kamahi and orchids.  We were welcomed to the wonderful Fiordland weather with sun, rain and hail all in about 30 minutes 🤔.  It seemed crazy as it was not that cold.  Another great Fiordland feature was also out to greet us – sandflies, so many sandflies!!  Luckily, we were pretty much covered from head to toe with our wet weather gear so there was not a lot of opportunity from them to bite.

From Pandora River, we continued on our expedition to Neck Cove where we jumped out in the shallows and went for a bit of a bush whack … a serious bush whack in some cases where there were no tracks at all. (FYI bush whacking normally refers to walking through the bush where there is actually no track – I guess it means you have to ‘whack’ away the bush lol.)  It was fun and the bush was beautiful though it took some time to find a decent route out to the beach (avoiding the swamp), but we finally made it back and on to the boat for time to dry off before lunch.  As we ate the ship headed into Blanket Bay, part of Doubtful Sound, where we dropped anchor.

After lunch we were back out in the zodiacs for a couple of hours zipping around the bays of Secretary Island with a short stop on one of the small beaches.  Secretary Island is one of New Zealand’s most important islands for conservation as it has always been free of possums and rodents.  Subsequently it has been cleared of deer and stoats (a great challenge given the very steep and densely forested slopes) making it one of the largest pest free islands and populations of endangered species have been relocated there.

It is interesting how localised weather is in this region.  We could watch the rain showers pass down the valleys and across the fiord (and across us too of course 🥴) but thankfully there was not too much rain and we did not get too wet.

We had another evening recap before dinner, and boy what a dinner it was.  We had passed a couple of small crayfishing operations during the day and the chef had taken it upon himself to negotiate a large number of crays for 2 bottles of Russian vodka (I did hear numerous versions of what it he actually swapped for the crays, but in every version, Russian vodka was gratefully received by these remote fishermen lol).  The fresh crayfish went down a treat with my fellow passengers – if only I liked crayfish lol.

Why are some areas called ‘Sounds” and others ‘Fiords” I hear you ask?  It is an interesting question, and I was keen to learn that a Sound is a drowned river valley whilst a Fiord is formed in a valley left behind by a glacier … of course in Fiordland, there was once many glaciers along the coastline.

After dinner I headed back on deck as it was a stunning evening to leave Doubtful Sound and head back out to the ocean as the sun set – but I did have to make sure I was back in my bed before we got out past the headlands and it got rough again 🥴

Day 5 and we work up in Cascade Cove in Dusky Sound, having travelled through the Acheron Passage during the night.  I had slept well again with only a few hours of rolling during the night and it was yet another beautiful morning, a perfect morning for the helicopter flight some of us had booked.

I was in the first group that set of in the zodiac to the floating helipad and into the helicopter.  We then flew up the sound and landed on the top of Mt Pender (at 1100m above sea level) where we were met by Ross, an ex-senior DOC ranger who told us all about the region.  From here there was spectacular views of Dusky Sound and some of the 360 islands it contains.

Despite being almost summer, there had been some snow on the peaks of the mountains around us and it there was definitely a brisk chill in the area.  Too soon our time on the top was over and we could also see a weather front coming in from the sea as we headed back to the barge for the next group to go up.  It was such a special experience, and I was certain that my photos would not do it justice (I was right)!

We had a quick zodiac cruise around Pickersgill Harbour and the historic Astronomers Point before heading back to ship.  Astronomers Point is the site of a temporary observatory set up during Capitan Cooks second voyage in 1773.  It is significant because they were testing new technology and it was considered the most accurately located place on the globe at the time.

Cook and his crew, having just sailed through Antarctica, cleared about an acre of forest and set up camp for provisioning and ship repairs.  They even set up a brewery, using Rimu and manuka leaves to make beer with the hope of preventing scurvy during their 5 week stay.

Having had an early start, we were all back on board before 10am and we set sail deeper into Dusky Sound It was beautiful travelling down the sound with snow-capped mountains in various shades of blue and grey.  We sailed through Cooks Passage and past Long Island, through water so clear you could see the Little Blue penguins popping up from time to time, as well as see them swimming under water!

We anchored just off Cooper Island in Sportsman Cove and had time for a pre-lunch zodiac cruise, passing the tiny but beautiful Shags Island which was covered in flowering Rata.  Have I mentioned the sand flies 🥴🤔🥴 – we were keen not to stop for very long as every time we did, the sandflies would swarm in!  Despite that, it was wonderful to be completely surrounded by native bush.  (It was frustrating that my maps were still showing that I was in a Russia as I had planned to use them to pinpoint our location in these small coves and bays 🤦🏻‍♀️.)

As we had lunch we started sailing again.  I must say, meals were always interesting as there was a great mix of people on board.  Most were very well travelled, many were very experienced trampers, other were birders and/or botanists and about half had been on Heritage Expedition trips before.

A weather front was moving in as we sailed down the Acheron Passage, the wind picked up as we watched the rain travel down the valleys.   Thankfully the sea was not as we were in still in the sheltered fiords and by late afternoon, we were anchored in the protected Duck Cove.
 
The day finished with a great lecture from one of our guides, Lindsay Wilson.  Lindsay has a long history of working with the Department of Conservation in the Fiordland area and gave us some wonderful insights into conservation in the Dusky Sound area.

Fiordland National Park is the largest national park in New Zealand, established in 1952 and it plays an incredibly important role in conservation in New Zealand.  In fact, it is considered the birthplace of conservation when in 1890, when Richard Henry set up a New Zealand’s first island sanctuary on Resolution Island and single handedly rowed more than 500 Kakapo and kiwi to this and other island sanctuaries in the area.    (FYI Resolution Island is New Zealand’s 5th largest island.)  He even used a muzzled dog to help him track down the birds on the mainland.

Unfortunately, he had underestimated the distance stoats, ferrets and weasels could swim, however his techniques of using conservation dogs and relocating endangered species to predator free islands is still key to New Zealand’s conservation efforts today.

Today a number of the islands in Fiordland have been cleared of pests and in fact Anchor Island today is home to half the world’s population of Kakapo!! (I should note that of course they are endemic to New Zealand and therefore the entire world’s population is in New Zealand lol)

I looked forward to exploring the area more in the morning.

Unseen Fiordland and Stewart Island (Part 1) – All aboard …

November 2020

The level of excitement for this trip was akin to that of an overseas trip, and technical I would be crossing the seas 😂.  Packing even involved the ‘big boy’ bag coming out, probably unnecessarily but why not – why I need to take as much for a week as I did for 4 months a couple of years ago don’t I 🥴.

Bear with me as this 7 day trip will be a number of blogs – not sure how many yet, we will just have to see how much I write lol.

I had been following the Christchurch based Heritage Expedition trips for some time – particularly with an eye on trips in the South Pacific and north east Russia – and of course their Antarctica trips, and as with all tour operators worldwide, Covid had decimated the majority of their clients (overseas guests).  Fortunately for me, that meant it freed up time and trips for the humble kiwi in our big backyard – I jumped at the opportunity to explore remote parts of country you can only see by sea.

The arrival of my ship even made the news as the first passenger ship (and it predominately Russian crew) granted permission to enter the country through the Covid border restrictions – it arrived just 8 days before my departure which added to the excitement.

And so, I was back on a plane to Invercargill (for the second time in 2 months) and this time it was a fully masked flight.  I had been wearing one on my last couple of flights, but it was now mandatory on all flights – better safe than sorry 👍🏻.

The New Zealand small town syndrome set in before I even left the airport, as I bumped into a girl I had followed and chatted with on social media when I was in the UK and she was in Spain.  She had finally got back to New Zealand a few months earlier with her German boyfriend – it’s always nice to meet someone in person.

In Invercargill, I got a shuttle to the ‘joining’ hotel, unfortunately it was a long way from the main part of the town, so I had to kill some time in the bar 😂 till the meeting time.  At least I could sit down, have something to eat and drink.

Now we knew the crew was covid free as they had spent over 40 days at sea getting here and had had 3 covid tests, but what about the passengers? I had nightmares about it becoming the ‘covid ship’ and being trapped for weeks!  To ensure this did not happen we had had to complete a health declaration 10 days and 2 days before departure, just noting if we had any symptoms …. and before boarding the bus (to get to the boat) they had medical staff checking our temperature, throat and lungs (breathing) to deem us ‘fit for travel’ – thankfully I passed 🥳😂 (New Zealand did not have any reported cases of Covid in the community at this time so the medical check was just an extra precaution.)

To be honest, it was all a bit disorganised, with no real clear instruction as to what we were supposed to do – I stumbled across the medical ‘line’ as I wandered around the reception area of the hotel, and once cleared medically there was no further instruction, so I just found a comfortable seat and read by book … I could have mingled but decided that there was plenty of time for that when we were on our way.

My tactic of sitting alone ended up getting me targeted for an interview … there were a fair amount of press around as it was the first passenger ‘cruise’ to go head in a covid world … I was not sure it would ever see the print or tv, but I hope the photos/ videos were not close ups – I hadn’t even brushed my hair 😂😂!  (FYI – there was an article with a photo, as well as a TV segment!)

Just prior to departure we had a so called ‘bag security check’, although there was no real check, we just had to identify our bags and were assigned our cabin number which we had to remember 😂 – then there was a little more standing around before we boarded the bus and headed to Bluff – the southern most point of the South Island and the departure point for our boat.

Finally, onboard and I found my cabin which was small but with plenty of storage (which is necessary as you need to be able to put everything secure in rougher seas).  I was in a triple berth (the cheapest option) but was lucky enough to get the single bed (as opposed to the bunk) and soon met my room mates Helen (who I had chatted with briefly at the hotel) and Anne.

After a quick introduction to the staff (all who said how grateful they were to be back at work) we were finally on our way and heading out of the harbour and into Foveaux Strait just after 5pm.  Apparently, the Strait (which I flew over just a few weeks earlier) can be rough, and the boat certainly had some movement to it, but it was not too bad.  We had a little time to stand on the deck and enjoy the views before heading back down the stairs into the lecture room for the all important safety briefing.

The safety briefing was followed by an ‘abandon ship’ drill where we actually had to get in the lifeboat – now I have been on a number of boat trips in recent years and although we have had safety drills, actually getting in the lifeboat was a first for me!  It looks like it would be a cramped few hours or days …. if we ever actually had to use them!!!

Just over 2 hours sailing and we were anchored in Paterson Bay, Stewart Island.  Where we were treated to a great 3 course dinner, followed by champagne on the deck to toast the first expedition of the season.  It was a beautiful and warm evening as the sun set, and we could hear bird song from nearby Ulva Island.  The ship was also surrounded by jellyfish, so many jellyfish – no one knew why??  Unfortunately, I could not get any good photos as trying to focus through water and at almost transparent jellyfish is challenging lol.

And we finished the first day on the boat being lulled to sleep by the gentle rocking of the ship in the sheltered waters. 

Just before I finish of this first blog, let me show you around the boat and show you how things work ….

The Spirit of Enderby is a fully ice-strengthened expedition vessel that started life as the Professor Khromov in Vladivostok, Russia in 1984.   Despite the name change, the Professor’s photo still has pride of place on the wall.  I had hoped to find out who Professor Khromov actually was, but I have had no luck with my internet searches.

The ship only takes 50 passengers in a variety of cabins (and it was full, including a two man film crew from TVNZ who would be filming a number of articles for the TV news later in the week), but I had opted for the el cheapo (who am I fooling, none of the cabins were cheap!) triple cabin with shared bathroom facilities.  With the poor ship plumbing, it was back to no toilet paper in the toilet but in a bin next to it (like in much of South America).  Annoyingly it takes me a week to get used to but I did my best lol.  Thankfully the room did have a small porthole so at least we could assess the weather in the morning before heading upstairs. 

Except for when we were going in and out of port, the bridge was open for us to visit.  Most of the crew were Russian and did not speak English so there was not much conversation to be had but there was a great view from the elevated vantage point.

There was a small bar/library area where you could get coffee/tea/biscuits all day, and more importantly a sneaky gin and tonic in the evening before dinner.  It was here we would meet to recap on the day and for the expedition staff (and the keen birders among us) to make note of the species they spotted during the day. As a side note, if you get a chance to try this Black Robin gin – do it, it was amazing!

Another important room is of course the dining room, split in to two parts, each side of the small galley.  Here we had a buffet breakfast, a two course lunch and a three course dinner – of which we could choose the main (which we did at lunchtime).  The food was great and there was always plenty of it.  Definitely nothing to complain about, although sometimes the meal times could drag on a bit, though it was a nice opportunity to socialise and chat with fellow travellers about the day.

As part of their commitment to ensuring the ship was Covid free, we had to have our temperature taken before every meal.  Basically, you just had to stand in front of a camera attached to a TV screen which would take your temperature and advise if you were in the normal range.  I must admit I am not sure how effective it was, but no one ever tested in the red zone (which meant they needed to go and see the onboard doctor – who gets to come along for free in return for performing any medical duties required).

Finally, on the lower level we had the small lecture room where, not surprisingly we had lectures, not that there was a lot of opportunity on this trip as we were normally out and about.

The procedure for excursions was similar to that of my Antarctic cruise a few years ago.  We had been lent gumboots (or muck boats as they are called on the ship) and we would get dressed in them, waterproof pants and jackets for our zodiac trips (all trips, whether than were land or zodiac, started with a ride in a zodiac as we never stopped anywhere with a wharf or jetty we could use). 

Once dressed in our Zodiac gear (and seriously over heating lol) we had to put on our life jackets and turn our personal tag on a board (everyone was allocated a number) to show that we had left the boat.  The final step was boot/shoe washing (to avoid any biodiversity hazards which was not so important on this trip but a big deal in the sub-Antarctic islands and Antarctica). 

Once all that was done, we had to wait on either port or starboard side (the corridors and areas along the side of the boat on the outside were very narrow so you needed to go out the opposite door to where we were boarding, around the stern (and the boat washing station) to get to the gang plank queue.    And of course, we had to do all of that in reverse when coming back on to the boat!

Unfortunately, with such a short trip some people are only just getting use to procedure lol.