We had planned to head directly to Fiordland, without any stops, but the forecast soon changed our minds, with a very strong southerly change predicted. As a result we had a pleasant day anchored in Torrent Bay, Tasman Bay. Torrent is one of the few really sheltered anchorages on the west side of Tasman Bay and has the added attraction of being in Abel Tasman National Park, with immediate access to the Abel Tasman Track. The down-side of this is that in the high summer season, the beach is thronged with hikers, kayakers and day-trippers. There are several very nice day hikes to be had from the Cove.




When the northerly kicked back in we made our way round Farewell Spit and Cape Farewell for the long trek down the South Island’s west coast. This is an inhospitable stretch. The only two harbours, Westport and Greymouth, have dangerous bars on which even intrepid local fishing boats have been rolled. However, we had a good run, culminating in a day of 40+ knots from astern which shot us, surfing past Milford and the other northern sounds, shrouded in fast-moving, low cloud. We did a hand-brake turn into the easy entrance and shelter of George Sound, where we knew from experience that we would find complete protection at Anchorage Island, as well as a convenient set of mooring lines.







Apart from its spectacular scenery, Fiordland is famous for two things: rain and sandflies. We were immediately immersed in both. The rain fell intermittently, but heavily and hordes of sandflies gnashed their tiny jaws outside our hatches, searching for any way in for a sup of our blood. We came well prepared for the bloody-minded creatures this time, with plenty of insect repellent – though Vicky prefers a mix of Dettol and baby-oil. However, even if you cover up very thoroughly, sandflies will find any gaps in your protection. They particularly like wrists. We have a theory that they actually need to get just under a cuff or watchband so that they can push with their hind legs to get their mandibles really firmly into your flesh. They then cleverly inject an anaesthetic and anticoagulant so that they can suck undisturbed. The bites are far worse than those of mosquitoes and can itch for up to two weeks.


All this said, when the weather does clear and the sandflies are blown away (they are not great fliers), Fiordland is stunningly beautiful.















From George Sound we had an easy sail around to Thompson, which is part of a larger complex, including, Bradshaw and Doubtful. At the top of Bradshaw is Precipice Cove. As its name implies, the very protected anchorage has a scenic back-drop of wooded heights and cliffs. With the heavy rain of the preceding days, waterfalls were spouting everywhere and the rata trees were covered in red blossoms to add a Christmassy note to the scenery.


Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound, is one of only two places in Fiordland with road access. As a result there is some tourist and therefore charter boat traffic. The largest of the charter vessels has put down a permanent mooring in Precipice Cove, where gulls have taken up residence. As in other areas of New Zealand, wealthier tourists take to the air in helicopters. Fortunately their impact is intermittent and short-lived. Despite the small amount of tourist traffic here, it is still a wilderness and you can explore for miles, without seeing anyone.







Having said that, one of our first sights in Dusky Sound, when we approached it from the Acheron Passage, was a cruise ship. Fortunately it was a small one and it was gone the next day. The remarkable growth in ‘cruising’ – by ship rather than yacht – has meant that even in areas like Fiordland cruise ships are an increasingly common sight.


It had been our plan all along to spend some time in Dusky Sound. It had been our favourite during our first visit in 2000 and we wanted, both to re-visit some spots and explore some new ones.









The Nook, in Duck Harbour was one of the latter and it proved an excellent choice. It had clearly been the temporary home of at least one fishing boat during the cray season. An innovation in several anchorages used by fishermen, were satellite dishes lashed to trees, with their connections conveniently trailing, so that they could be picked up with mooring lines. Technology comes to Fiordland! Though there are often permanent mooring lines set by fishermen in many of the anchorages, there are times when it is better to set your own, even when it involves some clambering across slippery rocks.








The Nook was thronged with blue cod, which bite at nearly anything tossed into the water. As a result even we, with our very limited fishing skills and equipment soon had a bucket full, despite using somewhat stale tortellini as bait! During the cruise we had markedly less success with the collapsible craypot, catching nothing except the odd starfish. Just around the corner from the Nook, further up Duck Harbour we made use of one of the other fishermen’s amenities, the freshwater hose. There is so much running water in Fiordland that it is easy enough to set a hose in a convenient stream and lead it down to the water’s edge where the shore is steep-to. The water is usually the colour of weak tea, but very pure.








We moved on to spend Christmas at the landlocked Luncheon Cove at another Anchorage Island. There are a number of hiking tracks on the Island, in fact so many that we managed to get thoroughly lost when we mistook the name of a track for a direction and ended up with a 5 hour marathon instead of an hour long stroll. The bonus was a close-up encounter with a bull seal defending a nursery along the shore and regular visits by inquisitive South Island robins.








For Christmas, we had hoped to have crayfish (rock lobster), but our own lack of success with the pot and the complete absence of fishermen meant that we had to make do with smoked salmon and fish chowder. We later learned that that the cray boats had had such a good season that they filled their quotas in the first month (October) of the season and were all back in Bluff or tuna fishing up north. Nevertheless, with the cabin heater twinkling in the corner, the inflatable Christmas tree on deck and Vicky’s arrangement of local greenery strapped to the mast we had a pretty festive nautical Christmas.











Having explored Cascade Cove and anchored at Earshell Cove, we returned to another of our favourites, Pickersgill Harbour. Here Cook spent a month in observations and refit after returning in ‘Resolution’ from his exploration of Antarctic waters. Like many Pacific cruisers we have tracked many of Cook’s anchorages from Alaska to Tasmania. It is always a pleasure to commune with the great Captain and to admire feats such as bringing ‘Resolution’ through the tiny gap next to Crayfish Island (above). In Pickersgill it is possible to moor in exactly the spot where ‘Resolution’ lay in 1773.


With further stormy weather on the way, after a week in Dusky we took our chance to head south to Chalky Inlet, where we made our way to the top of Edwardson Sound to Lake Cove. Despite the fact that the Cove is large and quite open, the surrounding heights make it well protected. The water is almost tropically clear and there is some good hiking in the bush.



Despite the wet and wind, we thoroughly enjoyed our second visit to Fiordland, but our primary objective on this trip south was to spend more time in Stewart Island. Though continuing gale forecasts were a little discouraging, we decided to make our move so that we could spend most of January in Stewart Island. We woke at a minute past midnight on 30 December and groped our way out of Lake Cove. As we sailed down Edwardson Sound the wind built rapidly to 30 then to 40+ knots from the north. We had expected as much. Storm warning forecasts are a matter of course off Puysegur Point at the south-west corner of the South Island, where the Southern Alps deflect the vigorous fronts sweeping across the Southern Ocean. The strong winds were fairly short-lived and by mid-morning we were resorting to the engine to ensure that we would be tucked into an anchorage in Port Pegasus before nightfall.