Note: There are more pictures at the bottom of this page.
Day One: (18/04/00) Te Anau – Supper Cover – Acheron Passage
The helicopter ride from Te Anau took 25 minutes, and took us across Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri, across Centre pass and into Dusky Sound. Due to a very high tide we were dropped off in a creek, which fortunately gave easy access to Supper Cove. We would have looked seriously stupid if it hadn’t! On the first trip Bill was dropped off beside Lock Maree hut as the helicopter was running low on fuel, (not something passengers usually want to hear) along with approximately $10,000 worth of boats (two new Sea Bear Expedition’s and three single plastics) which were hung vertically in a big net below the helicopter. Bill handled it well though – just increased his nicotine intake. It turned out to be a great way to start the trip. Paddling (actually grovelling) down a shallow, bush shrouded stream, rounding a small curve, and there, as the bush gave way, was Supper Cove in all its glory, with the hut just visible on the right hand side. (Which signified the end of the Dusky track) It was around 2pm by the time we finally started paddling, westwards down the northern side of the sound toward what we hoped would be our camping spot at the beginning of the Acheron Passage. What followed was a lovely paddle on tranquil water – a windless afternoon whose light slowly mellowed into a beautiful soft lit sunset. It took around 4 ½ hours to paddle down to the beginning of the Acheron passage. Along the way we passed a huge waterfall which was out of sight until we were nearly on top of it, tucked as it was into a small cove below Mt Pender. It’s volume attested to the high rainfall over the last few days and confirmed our decision to delay our departure. Finding a campsite wasn’t easy as there are very few places on the northern side that you can land, let alone set up camp. However Bill was confident of finding something at Passage point on the eastern side of the Acheron passage. It took awhile in falling light to find a suitable area. We eventually did amongst the bush, just short of the point. It was a pleasant place to camp, although accessing it through dense undergrowth was tiresome, still, it has to be said that it was better than sleeping in the boats! I was surprised to find rolls of wire rusting amongst the undergrowth, evidence of bygone deer catching days. The total distance for the day was approximately 20 km.
Day 2: (19/04/00) Acheron Passage to Earshell Cove
We aimed to leave early, although it was 10 am before we finally headed off the beach and went westwards toward Anchor Island and the outer sound. We spent all day in our boats exploring some of the outer islands around Anchor Island, and it wasn’t until 5.15 pm that we finally had a chance to really stretch our legs when we landed at Earshell Cove to camp for the night. With the exception of a couple of pee stops on semi submerged rocks, we had been confined to our boats for the entire day. We found that decent landing places were few and far between, especially at high tide. This obviously makes which makes paddling here pretty tiring, extremely committing and illustrates the need for flexibility, (both physically and mentally), stoic determination and a reasonable level of fitness. The up side is that the paddling is superb; through small waterways between islands, along tight passages between land and island, with the occasional small fish jumping as bigger fish eagerly pursued them, and always the hope that some Dusky, or Bottle nosed Dolphins will swim by and put on a aerobatic show. We passed a few fur seals basking in the sun (yes indeed, second day and the sun is still shining.) We explored along the southern side of Anchorage Island as far out as Seal Island, which is at the southern entrance to Dusky sound, said hello to some of the bull seals, who barked in response, and then turned around and headed the 8 km back to Earshell Cove, situated on the western side of Resolution island. It’s likely that in a westerly that waves will belt in here, as it’s exposed to the west, still, that’s not a problem tonight as it’s a beautifully calm evening and a full moon. Looking to the west the horizon looks clear (I know, this is Fiordland, but when you are out here in a small craft in a big ocean it pays to be optimistic!) We spent a lovely evening chewing the fat and sampling our ample “supplies”. (Little wonder that we found early mornings challenging!). Roughly 30 km paddling for the day.
Day 3: (20/04/00) Earshell Cove – Five Finger Peninsula – Goose Cove – Woodhen Cove
Once again warm sleeping bags, small luggage holds necessitating careful packaging, distracting sandflies, have all combined to cause another late start (which frustrates the hell out of Bill) – we finally hit the water around 9.30 and head west to the northern side of Anchor Island, taking the time to explore the small inlets and islands as we went. We visited Anchor Island harbour before heading across open water to five fingers point at the southern tip of five fingers peninsula in 1 ½ metre swell with 12 – 15 knot south westerly winds. Lots of fun, although I managed to get separated from everyone else. I chose to keep in the shelter of a headland before heading directly across to five fingers, whilst the rest of the group headed straight into open water, then directly into the wind – as I got there first (after starting last – which was normal as I wasn’t very fit and was in a slow single boat), I figured that my route was the best, although I got heaps of grief for not being with the group to take photographs. The big seas crashing through the rocks allowed us only a cursory look around, more the thought of a capsize and all the drama it would involve convinced us that it was time to head north to Goose Cove, some 14 km away on the eastern side of the peninsula. With a tail wind we thought it would be pretty easy, however the boats wallowed a lot in the sloppy swells, which made for slow, frustrating travel. We sailed for awhile, but all this seemed to achieve was to freeze those shaded by the sail. At one stage I’m sure we were overtaken by a jelly fish! Hunger finally got the better of us, so we stopped on a small island at the entrance to Goose Cove. Man it felt good to stretch, pee, feed like frenzied salmon and soak up some UV rays!
Day 4: (21/04/00) Woodhen Bay to Disappointment Cove
Not a long day planned (thank god), but judging by the waves passing the entrance to Woodhen bay, it might be a scary one. With north westerlies forecast, rising to 25 knots we don’t want to dilly dally here. If we miss getting into Breaksea sound we will have to backtrack all the way to the Acheron passage, or worse to Supper Cove. The idea of going back isn’t something any of us want to consider. An early start – 8.40am, signifies how important the day is. I attempted to do my photography thing and bravely stayed behind amidst ravenous sandflies, a decidedly foolish thing to do. The ingredients were there for a lovely moody shot; soft early light, silhouetted boats, calm seas … my idea of a beautifully composed shot turned into a mad rush to real off a couple of shots, race to my boat and take to the water as fast as I can ….. damn, playing catch up again! Exiting the sheltered bay we hit sloppy north westerly swells, nothing over 2 metres, but as we are broadside to them it’s not pleasant paddling; fortunately none are breaking, but it’s still pretty slow going as we paddle our way along the coast, passing Breaksea Island to the north. The weather is a bit overcast but still no rain …four days and no rain! Stung by Bill’s comments the day before about not photographing the boats in a swell I try to photograph Heather and Graeme passing me (as do all the boats), but with little success …. it’s not an easy thing to do, especially in a sloppy sea, from a single kayak …. the results never quite show how big the waves are! It’s an extremely rugged coast line that we follow as we head toward Disappointment Cove – so named because it makes a very poor anchorage for larger boats as it faces almost due north. But the name has no bearing on the quality of the camping – it’s superb, with heaps of room, and a sheltered corner on which to land. (no guarantees though as it was calm when we came in!) Arriving around 11.30 gave us the whole afternoon to laze around and with the strong on shore breeze keeping the sandflies away, we were able to to sit on deck chairs (seriously, we carried chairs) and read, take photographs and generally watch the world go by. The paddle was only about 14 km, and took around 2 ½ hours. The forecast has it raining in the morning from the n/w, then clearing from the south west. We are starting to listen attentively as we are supposed to be flying out tomorrow from Third Cove in Vancouver inlet – here’s hoping as I have to get back to Christchurch in order to start work on Monday.
Day 5: (22/04/00) Disappointment Cove to Third Cove, Vancouver Arm, Breaksea Sound
As forecast we awake to pouring rain – puddles everywhere and getting bigger, evidence to how quickly things can change and how careful one must be in choosing a suitable campsite (we now have lake views). After a relatively quick pack we hit the water at around 9.20 am (well it’s a holiday) for what is supposedly our last day of paddling, around 20 km down Breaksea sound to Third cove, which is opposite Broughton Arm. As we exit Disappointment cove we pass Breaksea Girl, a large yacht used for charters around the sounds, anchored in Stevens Cove; Bill has worked with Lance and Ruth before, so we stop for a chat … just as well we made contact as we needed Lance’s assistance to relay messages during the night and over the next day. We continued all the way to Discovery Point on the southern side, where the sound divides. The right hand branch becomes Broughton arm and the left Vancouver arm. It was fun exploring the small coves along the way, paddling under rata’s whose branches swim in the high tide. I was surprised at the number of fishing buoys … literally acres of them hiding behind islands, all marking stored cray pots.
We passed an old, moored ship called the “Uni” in Sunday cove. It is used as a heli pad and fishing base for other operators. At Discovery point we went into Broughton arm at around 1 pm to check out the first cove on the right as a possible camping area … initially Bill was to check it out by himself, but when he turned around he saw that everyone was following him … so much for obeying orders! Actually, we were pleased that we did, as it had more bird life than anywhere else we had been, perhaps the stoats haven’t got here yet. After a quick recce we decide that camping here is not a great idea, so head across to third arm, where we finally land around 2pm. The helicopter is due at 3pm, although considering the low cloud and rain we are not optimistic about getting out today. With our tarpaulin set up for shelter we wait on our small island for the helicopter. We feel pretty fortunate that we have an all tide landing pad – something we have noticed is very rare in the sounds. By 5 we give up and go looking for campsites, which we find on the mainland, although this is a serious pain as the river is pretty deep and difficult to cross in the dark. Still we have been in the sounds for 5 days now, and realise that we are lucky to have somewhere to camp, and a heli pad that stays dry at high tide. We also have a sandfly shelter with a large tarp over it, we are still all getting on well and joy of joys, I still have some pirates mix and whisky left! All in all the days paddling was enjoyable – the wind held back, and the mist added a certain mystique to the sound.
Day 6: (23/04/00) Third Cove
0900 Waiting for the helicopter. Hear helicopter at around 1400, but no sign. Still waiting 1700. We are not happy. Lot of radio traffic debating where we are. Helicopter pilot claims he looked into the head of Vancouver arm but we weren’t there. True, that’s why you were told to pick us up from Third Cove. He wants more money to come pick us up. Bit hard to argue really, although we are all seriously pissed off and worried about the weather forecast that is predicting more bad weather. Truth is, none of us want to be here for another night, but it looks like that’s what’s going to happen. Major worry – my whisky has run out.
Day 7: (24/04/00) Third Cove to Te Anau
Up early the next morning – clear enough to fly, we hope. Finally around 11 am we hear the helicopter coming. Mad panic to get organised. Even though we are seriously pissed off with the pilot (who claims it was our fault … though rumour had it he went to the Wanaka air show, got pissed and was late back, hence his late flying in the day before and not being able to find us) we are really, really pleased to see him, and all bite our tongues, although, I’m sure we were all eager to give him a good lashing. Successful exodus … the boats looked great hanging from beneath the helicopter … I’m lucky as I go out in the last flight and get deposited in Te Anau, the others must boat back across lake Manapouri …. I’m in trouble because at about the time I land in Te Anau. I’m supposed to be picking clients up from the Christchurch airport to drive them to Queenstown. Oops. Fortunately I have a great boss and he has organised an alternative driver and bus … yip, I had the bus as well!
This is a fantastic place to go kayaking, however go prepared:
Expect delays. You can only fly in good weather, therefore for a 5 day trip you need to have a few days either side available to allow for postponements. Getting out will happen, but not necessarily on the date stated. Take a good, thick book and extra food.
Be prepared to be in your boat for long periods at a time. Whilst your guides knowledge of the area will minimise this, it must be remembered that places to land are few and far between.
Those going must have some paddling experience, be reasonably fit, self reliant, tolerant and be able to cope with uncomfortable conditions for extended periods.
The weather in Fiordland is renowned for its changeability, with extremely high rainfall (one of the wettest areas in the world). Itineraries may have to be altered, routes retraced to ensure safety. Go with the flow, accept changes gracefully. Trips will depend on demand, so get a group together and go explore!
Fiordland Wilderness Experiences
Sandy Brown Road, Te Anau, New Zealand.
Tel +64 (03) 249 7700 Fax +64 (03) 249 7768
This Post Has 2 Comments
Simon11 Feb 2011
Hi, Myself and two friends are going to do a 2 week sea kayaking expedition in Fjiordlands, getting dropped in Dusky and paddling out in Doubtful. We are un guided as all have a fair bit of experience, i was wondering if you did any sections that crossed between Fjiords? Also, how easy is the landing access around Dusky? Are there many opportunities to land the kayaks?
admin13 Feb 2011
I am pretty sure I cover most of your questions in the article that is on my site. http://tonybruntphotography.com/Wordpress/activities/fiordland-sea-kayaking/dusky-sound/
Inner Dusky is hard to find campsites, the outer sound is better with more beaches. Just watch your choice in regard to prevailing or predicted weather as some might be hard to get off in westerly conditions. We paddled down Goose Cove, portaged across a small piece of land to Woodhen Cove, then along the coast to Breaksea sound. We didn’t get into Doubtful sound, that would require a lot of coastal paddling.
Hope this helps and good luck .. fabulous trip if you get the weather.