Two days before I left Bluff, 9m swells had been forecast for Puysegur and 8m for Foveaux. I knew that the SE gales that were coming would ease it off quickly, and anything less than 4-5m would be okay. It was the 8th of October when I paddled out of Bluff harbour early in the morning, prepared for a rough day on the water with 30K SE winds forecast. I attempted to paddle in a straight line from Bluff to Colac Bay, 55 km away, which would put me a long way offshore. I managed to get about half way across before the winds really picked up. Soon I had about 35 knots of wind behind me and the swell turned into an ocean full of breakers, it really was quite exciting. I had the neck of my jacket undone but I couldn't stop paddling to do it up which meant water was pouring in and running into my boat. After 6 hours on the water I made a semi crash landing at Colac Bay, happy to be on land. The hardest part of the day was actually getting my fully loaded boat up onto the road. I had pushed it near the limit of what I should have been out in, another 10 knots behind me and I would have been pretty uncomfortable. But it was worth it, it was a fast trip and Colac Bay was a good place to shoot from when the gales eased.
I was lucky to have Tim and Jacqui Anderson from Riverton come and rescue me, and soon I was soaking in their epic bathtub. The secret is out amongst South Island circumnavigators that Riverton is the place to be and Tim and Jacqui's is a mandatory stop along the south coast! I decided to wait another day before setting across Te Waewae Bay, another big crossing, so I headed back into Invercargill with Mum and Dad to make the most of my last day in civilization.
I left Colac Bay on the 10th well before the sun had risen over the edge of the ocean. The sea was finally calm, and the wind had disappeared for the first time in nearly 2 weeks. My boat was again fully loaded with enough food to get me to Milford, I hoped, as I set off across Te Waewae Bay towards the start of the Fiordland coast. I was excited to be getting back into Fiordland, I knew the coast and the fiords well and all the places that I could land. I'm comfortable paddling huge seas, and I understood the weather conditions. I also knew that Meri and the fishing boys would be keeping and eye out for me.
It didn't occur to me until I neared the other side of the bay that technically I had just completed my paddle around the South Island. From there I was back in familiar waters. I could have easily finished my trip there and called it complete, but when we set out our intension was to do a complete loop, all the way back to Milford. Although I was now on my own, I saw no reason to deviate from that initial goal. It wasn't just that, I wanted to have a real adventure again. I have always loved the feeling that comes with paddling in such a remote, wild and beautiful place, and being there on my own means. Fiordland was a piece of coastline I didn't paddle solely just to tick it off, I paddled it again because I wanted to be amongst it.
It was mid afternoon by the time I reached Sandhill Point and I figured I had just enough time to push on all the way to Knife and Steel Harbour. The South Coast to Preservation Inlet has a well earned staunch reputation amongst expedition kayakers. For more than 60 km, huge reefs stick out, many for more than a km offshore creating massive breaking waves and unpredictable currents. There are very few places that you could land and most of them wouldn't be an option in a heavy SW swell. Knife and Steel Harbour is not much more than a small strip of sand protected by giant reefs on either side. The name 'Harbour' seemed pretty optimistic. It was after 7pm by the time I lined up my gap between the reefs. Huge breakers smashed into the rocks on either side and I put my helmet on in anticipation for a messy landing. Thankfully it went okay and I surfed into the beach and was greeted by a half decayed deer. It was a sketchy place to land, if the swell had picked up at all I knew I could easily get trapped there, but the risk seemed worth it for the extra K's I had gained. I'd paddled close to 80 km, and without any wind it had been a long day.
It was still raining when I left Knife and Steel Harbour early the next morning. It took me several attempts to get off the beach, each time I kept getting washed sideways. When I did get off, the second wave back completely submerged and almost back surfed me. The further west I paddled, the bigger the swell grew. Passing Gates Harbour before Puysegur Point I watched 6m high breaking waves colliding with the coast. It was truly awesome. The sky had cleared and there was even some sun when I passed the entrance to Preservation Inlet around midday. Despite the huge sea, the conditions were near perfect so I kept paddling and landed on a small beach on the southern side of the Gulches Head that separates Chalky from Preservation.
The next morning I packed up in the dark, ready for yet another big paddle to Dusky. With a headwind it took a couple of hours to paddle past Chalky Island. I chatted with the skipper of the Santa Rosa, then headed off towards Cape Providence, the reef that extends for several kilometers off the northern entrance to Chalky Inlet. Not far out the wind picked up and soon I was struggling to hold my ground as 30 knots of NE tried to blow me out to sea. I slowly pushed on and it wasn't till I was way off the Providence rocks that I made the decision to bail into Chalky. The wind was cranking out of Landing Bay and paddling into it wasn't an option so I headed into North Port. The closer I got, the scarier it looked, with huge breakers most of the way across from Great Island. By this stage the wind seemed to have eased, 15K SW was forecast for the afternoon, rising to 45K that evening. I knew it would be sketchy but if I went for it, I could make Dusky that evening.
It was after 2pm by the time I cut through the reef and headed towards West Cape. The swell collided with the reef, sending huge breakers the size of houses rolling towards the coast. I watched the sea for a long time before I lined up my gap and cut through. The sea was rough, with a 3m SW, and 4m NW swell with a nice chop on top, not to mention poor visibility in the rain. The wind had disapeared and I paddled hard in the huge seas, every 10 minutes or so looking behind me to check for any sign of the approaching SW gale. It was 4pm by the time I passed West Cape and although it was raining hard, there was still no sign of wind. I kept boosting, passing South Point and the entrance to Dusky Sound just after 6pm. I feel like sometimes people underestimate my abilities, but I had just paddled from Colac Bay to Dusky in 3 days and apart from being freezing, I felt awesome. I slogged my way towards Cascade Cove, the closest good place to land, 13km away. I had a head wind and the rain was driving into my face. By 8.30pm it was dark, but I knew where I was going. It had been dark the last time Sim and I paddled into Dusky. An hour later I pulled up at the barge and climbed onto the deck. Opening the roller door I heard a voice from inside "hey! who's that?!" It was two young guys who were quite shocked to see me and they dragged my boat up onto the deck. I'd been in my boat for 15 hours and I was wet and cold, but I had reached land, well technically I wasn't on land, but Dusky was in the bag.
After a days rest of the barge, I set off to continue on my journey north. I'd hoped that I could paddle around the outside of Five Fingers Peninsula to Breaksea Sound, but I wasn't going to wait for the conditions that I needed. Instead I opted for the Acheron Passage which links Dusky to Breaksea through a dramatic inland waterway. It was a relaxing paddle in drizzly misty conditions and the place seemed completely deserted, I didn't see a single boat. It was early afternoon when I arrived at Disappointment Cove at the end of Resolution Island. For a while I contemplated paddling further up the coast. I even popped a sea sick pill before I changed my mind. From where I was, the sea looked huge and with a northerly, the going would be slow.
The Acheron Passage
I paddled away from Disappointment Cove early the next morning. Making my way across the entrance of Breaksea Sound, I cruised slowly stopping to take photos in the early morning light. As I paddled up the coast, the sky behind me in the distance began to darken. The wind started to blow and I knew I had to get moving fast. The sea was rough with a 4m swell rolling from the SW. I passed Coal River, my closest bail out point and decided to keep going to Dagg. I probably shouldn't have been out there in those conditions as a solo paddler, but I was calm and focused as I surfed the giant swell towards Dagg Sound. With about 30 knots behind me, I sped quickly and was soon in sheltered waters. I made my way towards a familiar campsite near the mouth, a haven that Sim and I have used several times before. During our time there was had created a small campsite on the bank above a river. It was still early in the day and my plan was to make fire and see if the winds eased off in the afternoon. Lighting a fire in Fiordland is the ultimate test of fire lighting skills, one that I have perfected over the years. At 3pm the clouds were still rocketing overhead so I decided to stay put. I cooked some kai over my fire, then bailed into my tent to escape from the wind and rain.
The next day I paddled towards Doubtful Sound. The sea was even bigger than the day before with a 5m swell. There wasn't any wind, but it was raining and choppy on top, so I paddled quickly- I really didn't want any wind with such a rough sea. After a few hours I spotted the Hares Ears- two giant rocks that stick out at the entrance to Doubtful. I wanted to paddle around the outside of Secretary Island, but on a day like this I wasn't going to risk paddling on the coast more than I needed to. I paddled in past Bauza Island, then turned up Thompson Sound. For hours I paddled into the wind and rain, finally arriving at Dea's Cove Hut on dark.. paradise!
My first day at the hut the winds arrived in true Fiordland style, and just opening the hut door was a treacherous task. The rain seemed to be blown almost horizontally and I was super stoked I had shelter. For 4 days I couldn't leave Dea's Cove, so I made the most of my hut time and did some washing and had a bucket shower, I'm sure I needed it! I felt so close to Milford, yet so far away. I knew I was only 2 days paddle away but I wasn't sure how long it would take to get those days. Paul Caffyn had called Fiordland the crux of the South Island trip, but for me it wasn't. It was where I felt the most comfortable. The thing that concerned me the most was that I couldn't get a weather forecast. I was relying solely on my instincts and interpretation of the weather as I saw it. On past trips we have used a handheld VHF radio with a 3m long aerial attachment, which had always worked relatively well close to the outside coast. For some reason it didn't seem to be working. Down in Chalky the signal had been strong enough that I could pick up the forecast on my VHF even without the extra aerial.
Finally I got the day I needed, and I set off from Dea's Cove. The morning was squally, and the swell was still about 3m, but I was making reasonable ground. Late afternoon I was paddling past Cats Eye Bay just north of George Sound and I heard a loud noise. About 10m away from my boat I saw the back of a huge whale!!! It appeared, blew out, then disappeared. It was awesome. It was the first and only whale I saw the whole trip and I was super stoked! After about 80km of paddling I arrived in Sutherland Sound just before dark. There was quite a bit of surf rolling in with an outgoing tide. I was pretty nervous having to deal with surf at the end of such a long day, but it went okay and I landed just inside the channel. I put my tent up on rocks, not even bothering to kick them out of the way, a sign that I had worked hard for the day!
The next day I cruised out through the surf no worries, and made my way out past Bell Point before the SW picked up. The swell was FINALLY small, only 2m, and I surfed my way towards Milford with 20 knots of wind on my back. It was fast going and soon I was rounding St Annes Point. As I paddled past Anita Bay I remembered about a piece of greenstone KT had given me at the beginning of the trip. I rummaged through my PFD pocket through all the chocolate bar wrappers and junk and dug out the shiny stone. It had obviously done a good job, so I took a few photos of it before returning it to the sea.
After more than 5 months on the go, my journey had finally come to an end. Paddling around the South Island is the hardest thing I have ever done, and attempting to do it in winter really was a stupid idea!! I'm fortunate to have shared more than half of this epic adventure with Sim, and it has been incredible the amount of interest and messages of support and encouragement that I have received over the past few months from the paddling community. So many people have helped to make this trip possible, too many people to individually name, but a huge thank you to you all.
I want say a special thank you to Max Grant from Q Kayaks who helped me out with my Skua, which turned out to be a really awesome! The boat made it, and I didn't have a single problem with it the entire journey. It's fast, super stable and an awesome surfer- plus the seat is comfy. I put different foot pegs in than the ones that come standard, but this was more of a personal preference thing- both fixed and sliding foot pegs come with their pros and cons. I'm glad I went plastic and I am certain my glass boat would have been snapped in two long ago..
I'm working out at Martins Bay down the Hollyford Valley for the summer and I'm really excited about it. I just bought a wee playboat for the surf which will actually be quite fun after getting smashed in a fully loaded sea kayak for the last 5 months! If anyone's planning a paddling trip down this way I'm always happy to help if you need some info.
Hi Everyone, I made it to Milford today!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Will get an update up in the next few days but it has been an amazing paddle up the Fiordland coast!! and i saw a HUGE WHALE!!!!!! Stoked to have completed this journey! :) Tara
Have heard from Tara, she has made it around the south coast and has stopped off in Preservation Inlet, Dusky and Breaksea Sounds, so is making good progress up towards Milford. Not long to go now, can't wait to see her!