Stewart Island





As we motored in dying breeze toward Southwest Cape, more and more seabirds soared in flocks around us. Once we rounded the Cape, you would never think that albatross were in any way endangered, sailing along the south coast of Stewart Island. Vicky’s camera ran hot, as she tracked glorious bird after bird gliding gracefully over the heaving swells in the still air. Most were Bullers, a smaller albatross, called ‘mollymawks’ in New Zealand. These are elegant birds with grey heads, a yellow stripe down the front of their beaks and a very cross expression, as though permanently displeased with everything they see. But there were also many Royal albatross, more than we had ever seen together before. They are hard to distinguish from the Wandering, but we read that the Royals’ wings usually whiten from the leading edge, while the Wanderings’ whiten first in the centre. By comparison with the Bullers, the Royals manage to look permanently calm and serene, their size belied by their grace in flight. To add spice to the mix are the little, black and white dappled Pintado petrels, Vicky’s favourites. They are quick, nimble and playful, dodging under the bow and skimming past the stern only a few feet away.











We made it into Port Pegasus by late afternoon and tucked into Evening Cove before dark, well tied to the shore in anticipation of strong north-easterlies the next day. In an area that is closer to 50 degrees south than 40, Port Pegasus offers a remarkable range of anchorages, close to each other and giving shelter from virtually any wind direction. And you do need shelter. There is only a narrow range of hills to the west between you and the winds sweeping all the way across the southern ocean from Cape Horn. Tying to the shore is essential and the best of the anchorages offer the protection of trees to windward.









On our previous visit in 2000 we had failed to find our way very far through the bush toward the Scotsman and Magog. We were determined to do better this time. Once the wind settled we set off. The track is intermittently marked and where it isn’t you have to bush-bash your way through. This time we made it to the Scotsman, a remarkable stack of rocks at the foot of the higher Magog. We guess that the top rock of the stack reminded someone of a tam-o-shanter and thus the name.






When the forecast threatened a really strong blow, up to 50 knots, we headed for the inappropriately named Disappointment Cove. The local fishermen have affectionately and accurately re-named it ‘Peacehaven’. The clouds can be rushing past over the tops of the surrounding trees and yet down below there is hardly a ripple. With ‘Sunstone’ moored with an anchor and three shore lines, we had no qualms about leaving the boat to hike across to the southern beach to watch the gusts rip across the water. Vicky’s inquisitive nature led her to a close encounter with an aggressive sea lion, teeth bared to protect its bit of beach.


With the wind blowing hard much of the time, we took the chance of a relative lull to move to Ben’s Bay, where we were not long secured before the rains came – with a vengeance. The bucket to the right was filled to over-flowing in 24 hours, just from the rain. With untypical lack of foresight we neglected to put out our rain-catcher, which would have filled the tanks several times over. Even the gulls were looking waterlogged.








When the wind eased again we moved on to Waterlily Cove, which gave us a chance to explore Basin creek by dinghy, getting right to the top where both a tree and a cascade prevented further progress. We also explored Smugglers Cove, which is more like a cave, entered through a cleft in the rock wall only just wide enough for the dinghy.


Having failed to fill our tanks directly from the rain, we tried using the water-hose in Waterlily, but it was out of action, so we filled from the stream at the head of the bay. After the heavy rains and resulting run-off, the water had the colour, but unfortunately not the alcoholic content, of well-aged rum.






Waiting for the cloud and rains to disperse had given plenty of time for reading but not much else, so the first sunny day we set off for the hike up Bald Cone, anchoring ‘Sunstone’ temporarily nearby.


The track to the Cone is easier to follow than that to Magog and the going is generally easier – until you reach the actual granite of the Cone itself. Here there is a rock chute to negotiate. Fortunately, either DOC or some other kind-hearted travellers have set-up fixed ropes, which make the passage up and down the chute a little less daunting. In the perfect summer weather the views from the summit were wonderful.








In 2000 we had been somewhat more pressed for time and so had missed stops at Lords River and Port Adventure, which we managed this time round. At Lords River we tied up in another Nook alongside a huge cable stretched across the cove. One of the reasons for stopping at Port Adventure was so that we could stop in the delightfully named Abraham’s Bosom.


The photo below illustrates one of the problem’s of cruising life. No matter how careful you are, non-bio or chemo degradable rubbish accumulates and eventually makes quite a pile. Some cruisers incinerate their rubbish periodically. We only do this as a last resort. We cut up and compact everything we can, but after six weeks there is still quite a lot.









By mid-January we were back in the relative ‘civilisation’ of Paterson Inlet, with easy access to metropolitan Oban (pop 360). After six weeks away from a shop of any kind we were glad of its facilities. We had just returned to ‘Sunstone’ from a shopping trip ashore when we heard a hail from a blue plastic dinghy. Cruising serendipity strikes again. Peter and Rozy Barton had seen us wandering down the road, seen ‘Sunstone’ at anchor, made the connection and hijacked a dinghy. They are members of the OCC, in fact, Peter is the son of the founder, Humphrey Barton. They were on holiday in Stewart Island and were as surprised to see us as we them. We spent a happy hour swapping stories.




The wild-life reserve of Ulva Island in Paterson Inlet is a beautiful spot, as much for its bird-life as its scenery. The concerted efforts of DOC to eradicate rats, stoats and possums, have allowed a number of endangered bird species to thrive, including the Kaka and the Saddleback (too shy to be pictured here!). But there are also plenty of oystercatchers and weka (left and right respectively).



During our stay in Paterson Inlet we managed to explore several coves we had missed in 2000, including Kaipipi Bay, from which we hiked a section of the Rakiura Track, and Little Glory. In the latter we met Jim Dilley and Tori Muir in ‘Elenya’. Jim is Deputy Harbourmaster for Auckland on a year’s leave absence for cruising and Tori is one of the very few (perhaps the only woman with a Tall Ships Master’s Ticket. This tough, adventurous pair, were getting ready for a cruise to the Auckland Islands, even further to the south, deep in the 50’s.


With Jim and Tori, we made an evening foray to Ocean Beach and finally made the acquaintance of New Zealand’s emblematic bird, the Kiwi. It says a lot about New Zealanders that they have chosen this tough little survivor, with few apparent physical charms as their national bird. Photographing the Kiwi isn’t easy. They are shy and most active around dusk and dawn when they feed on the beach.







With a departure date for New York and Tom’s Mum’s 90th birthday celebration looming, we took the remains of a south-westerly gale to head away from Stewart Island toward Otago Harbour and Dunedin 150 miles to the east and north. Stewart Island is a very special place and a delight to cruise in – despite the rain and wind.