As submitted by Margaret
A non-club member’s view on the Fiordland Trip
The scene: late November 2010, the Meyer household, telephone booth: Meyer (M), good evening Saggers, what the heck do you want? Saggers (S) the Dolphins Club is going to Fiordl… (M) (interrupting politely) I’m available and going. (S) But you don’t know when or how much. (M) I don’t need to just tell me when or if you find out.
Such was my desire to visit that particular part of New Zealand. (Aside: I never did find out how much, and only days before the event, when.)
The scene: Auckland airport, Wednesday 30 March, a really frantic time of the year for business, however such was my desire to visit this part of…. Good morning, I am Philip (to Bruce) and you are? Good morning (to Craig) and you are? … Hullo, Martin, when are you going to learn to make an introduction (typical Pom.)
The scene: Christchurch airport, later the same day. Question: Well, what’s for lunch, apart from Guinness. Answer: More Guinness.
The scene: Invercargill airport, later still the same day. Q.: Where’s the bar? A.: Tuatapere. The food accompanying the drink was totally acceptable, as were the sleeping arrangements. And the breakfast following (ok, apart from the fellow who went out of his way to upset the chef.)
The scene: The footpath outside the Tuatapere pub: Self, Martin, Craig and Bruce (SMCB) – you are for the launch; everyone else, aka Brian, Paddy, Peter, Margaret you are for the helicopter (h/c). The h/c will fly to Chalky inlet. The launch will go to the north end of Lake Hauoroko (L.H.). The h/c will collect half of the evacuees and fly them to the north of L.H.
That half of the evacuees will launch to Tuatapere. SMCB will h/c to Chalky Inlet. The other half of the evacuees will h/c to Tuatapere. Now, if you can follow that you have been paying more attention than any of the aforementioned. But, it worked out ok. And so we were one party on the good launch Takapu, under the good care Cook(ess) Annie aka Cookie, whose command of the English language (not to mention Australian) is unsurpassed.
Ken the skipper and Jackson the Deckie were also present. The other present was the body of a deer donated by the evacuees. And a welcome present too, as it transpired.
So after Cookie made it clear that the staff quarters were staff quarters and “We don’t do small here” we were at our anchorage for the night. For the wildest part of New Zealand, it was an absolute mill pond, disturbed only by the snorers. Of whom there were eight. However Bruce was elected number one and volunteered to sleep elsewhere for the rest of the voyage.
One of the facilities used constantly for our enjoyment was Hammer Down. Not, in any way related to Hampton Downs, but equally as exciting. Jackson had been allocated a daily ration of fuel for this tinny, which he took the greatest delight in consistently (that is, every day) exceeding by considerable factor (if it was less than 2, he took out his vengeance in the evening card game, occasionally “Presidents and Peasants”.)
So the pastimes that occupied our days included visiting the art gallery, the museum, the local mall, the sports field and the cafe. Let me tell you about these attractions.
The art gallery was the view outside. Wherever I looked, morning, noon, night, I wanted to take photographs of the stunning and ever-changing scenes that nature provided. When anybody tells you, as they will, that Fiordland has four seasons in a day, they are telling you lies.
If they were to say that there are four seasons in every hour that would be closer to the truth.
The museum or more correctly the museums, were the Pusyger Point lighthouse and the Lodge. And don’t forget the Sounds themselves.
The local mall, of course was the bountiful results of diving and fishing. The fresh meat department seemed to be low on stocks during our visit. But, thanks to the gift of the deer, we were able to stave off our hunger for venison.
The Cafe was open every morning, every noon-time and every evening. Cookie was 0ne hundred percent correct when she told us “We don’t do small”. She should have added
“We don’t do stale” when she tossed overboard one of the biggest crayfish because after the second day it hadn’t been eaten.
The sports field was the hills around us (for the hunters present) or the ocean for the divers or fishers: If any “guest” wanted to go diving, fishing, hunting or walking, it was immediately available.
There are some credits that I need to make here: firstly to Martin for thinking to invite me to join this group (ok, so somebody has to be nice to him, sometime); to Bruce who put the whole show together with aplomb; to Craig who not only kindly offered to lend me his dive gear, an offer that of course I should have accepted, but instead dedicated one of his dives to providing six crayfish for me to bring home,
to The Shark Lady (Paddy) for teaching me, no, showing me how to catch these creatures, to Brian and Peter and Margaret for accepting me as a member of a very great group of friends;
We arrived in Tuatapere in our campervan late on Tuesday 29th March, checked into the Waiau Hotel and hooked up to power to charge batteries, catch up with washing etc for the coming trip to Fiordland, while waiting for the other Club Members to arrive. Pete worked on repairing my bike, new wheels and tyres, also took bike rack to be welded. Quinton and Dorothy, Hotel owners were in Invercargill for supplies for their Hotel and for the forthcoming trip on the MV Takapu and also to pick up Bruce Nixon, Craig Chalmers, Martin Saggers and Phil Meyer, (a long time friend of Martin’s and an ex diver) from the airport. On the Wednesday we went into town to have a look around the tidy little town and the Waiau River, check out the i-site and details for the Hump Ridge Track and the 1800’s Bush Museum. Back at the Hotel the group had arrived from the airport and Paddy and Brian Stafford-Bush had driven down from Queenstown. The group were all booked into the Backpackers part of the Hotel while we were in the campervan in the car park. We all had dinner together in the Hotel including Bluff oysters, home grown vegies and their own lamb, also local blue cod and scallops, a huge feast.
Early to bed as Bruce, Martin, Craig and Phil were being picked up with the main bulk of gear at 7.15am and being driven to Lake Hauroko (the deepest Lake in NZ 562m and the 17th deepest in the World). The other four Paddy, Brian, Peter and Margaret were driven to the helicopter pad to meet up with Sam the pilot also Ken Sinclair the new Skipper for the week was there to meet us as and fly out to the MV Takapu with us. The five of us were flown out in the helicopter with the lighter gear, including frozen foods, eggs, bread etc. The ½ hour flight was in reasonable conditions, a bit gusty as we got closer to Chalky Sounds and a little rain, the views were fantastic. We landed on the water edge at Cliff Cove on Cunaris Sounds, a change over takes place from the previous passengers and the chopper then took off to collect the others and gear that had travelled most of the way on the lake. By this time the winds were gale force and water fountains were being whipped up off the sea making loading and unloading very tricky. It was very hard to keep dry, we all ended up with a good soaking, the only good thing in its favour was that the sandflies don’t like the wind. The other four had a very bumpy ride in the chopper; Martin was more than happy to put his feet on the shore as he is not a fan of flying, especially in bouncing helicopters.
As the conditions were getting worse Ken started the motor and headed to smoother waters as soon as we were all on board the ‘Takapu’ and gear tied down. We found the bunk room, changed into drier clothes and then were introduced to the rest of the crew Annie McCauley the cook and Jackson Shields our deck hand. Annie gave us a briefing on the boat, the area, diving etc. Ken, our shy but very likeable and willing skipper, motored mostly West across Chalky Sound, past Small Craft Harbour Island and into North Port to tie up to their mooring in very calm waters for the night. The MV Takapu is an old 75ft (21.95m) wooden hulled ‘Fairmile’ built in Baltimore, USA in 1942 for the US/NZ Navy – the boat has been refitted and redesigned several times since then.
The Fiordland’s have a special combination of rugged mountains, wild ocean and the tranquil fiord water, its uniqueness comes from the combination of high mountains, heavy rainfall and the rainforest, with rain washing through the leaf litter causing the stained freshwater which floats on top of the heavier seawater, creating a layer of up to three metres at times. This causes a huge reduction in light which creates an environment for species like red and black coral (some colonies over 300 years old), and the seapen can live in shallower water than you would normally find. This all creates a rich hunting ground that the regular users want to protect, in the past it was whalers and seal hunting, now it is commercial fishing, deer hunting and diving with recreation and tourism bringing most people to the area. A group has been formed to protect the area and it is a take only what you can use to protect fish populations and to ensure sustainability. There are now ten marine reserves in the Fiordland from Milford Sound in the north to Preservation Inlet in the South, most bordering on the National Parks and pest control is being exercised by DOC and bird life etc is returning to the area with the eradication of stoats, possums, ferrets etc.
Craig, Martin, Bruce and Brian decided to start the diving off with a dive first up, which Craig said was one of the best of the whole trip; (I think he was laying it on as I never went). Jackson took them out on the tender ‘Hammer Down’ to a wall with plenty of very big crayfish and black coral trees. I gave it a miss as it was raining, cold and very bleak. They returned with about 8 large crayfish, when they had showered and warmed up and conditions had improved a little, we rugged up and Jackson took five of us out for a fish. We had caught a huge feed of blue cod in a very short time; they are so easy to catch most lines coming up with double headers. In the end we were returning more than we kept. The first evening meal and an introduction to Annie’s cooking was a half large cray each and blue cod which had been cooked in a light beer batter, couldn’t come much fresher.
Off to bed, with the eight of us in the forward bunk room, very close with all our gear and noisey with the snoring. Funny next morning Bruce was the only one to have had a good nights sleep, he hadn’t heard any snoring, called all the rest of us whingers. Brian and his snoring was kept under control from a prod every now and again from Paddy. The group were late rising as it is very dark in this area in the mornings and all but one was lacking sleep.
The day was glorious, no wind and the five keen divers on board were looking forward to a great day of diving, keen enough to head out for first dive before breakfast. Out came the tanks and all of our gear to find there was trouble with the tanks, only two tanks were available as the others had leaking valves and we had to motor along to fill the four that were used the afternoon before. The boat only has eight tanks and only six of those usable. Annie later said it is very rare to have eight divers on board; in fact the boat is not geared for eight divers. I doubt there would even be enough weights for eight divers especially in wetsuits, filling the tanks the way they do and no emergency oxygen on board came as a surprise to all of us. Craig in particular was hoping to get in three dives a day, and in the end we only had seven dives with Craig and I doing the most.
Craig and I used the two tanks available and had a wonderful dive, the viz was good once you got below the brown fresh water layer, with large amounts of kelp, the water temp was around 13⁰C most dives. There were crayfish everywhere some just sitting on the sand, others on the wall, no big gaps or crevices to retreat into like we usually see up home, just there for the taking, we only bought back a few as we still had plenty on board from the previous dive. Craig got some excellent photographs of the spotted a red beadlet anemone attached to the long kelp – an unusual find, we also saw some small black coral trees with their brittlestars, these can only live entwined in the branches, loads of very friendly fish, and a carpet shark. While we dived the others fished and sadly those friendly fish end up in the bucket. Back for a late breakfast and then Peter and Craig went for a hunt, the rest were dropped ashore for a wander along the beach and into the dense bush, not that we could penetrate very far as it is steep, damp and swampy and teaming with sandflies. Enjoyable all the same seeing loads of deer sign, ferns, fungus, and some very unusual driftwood shapes and all the beech trees covered in moss. Around 4pm we had a late lunch of home made bread and soup, another huge feed, our dive suits aren’t going to fit after this trip. We then headed out to fill with water from a local stream all set up with header tank and water pipes to fill Takapu’s tanks, and while motoring to also fill the dive tanks.
We passed the wreck of the old sailing vessel the ‘Stella’, a ship built in Scotland in 1876, a varied and interesting life ending up being used in the Fordland’s as a blue cod factory, with the freezing works next to where it sunk. It now has a satellite dish and the old freezing shed is used for petrol storage. Plenty of books onboard Takapu to read up the history of all these boats and places we visited. Still filling tanks and motoring towards South Port we fed the huge Molly Hawks with the fish offal, an amazing bird with unusual markings and a wing span of around 2m, really funny to watch as they walk on water while chasing the boat, there were some great photos taken.
Four tanks filled and Craig, Martin, Bruce and I dived, Brian came along as boatman to help with gearing up, nothing to rave about although we did get to chat to another friendly carpet shark, a couple of smaller crayfish in this area, we didn’t disturb them as there were plenty still on board. I had trouble with weight on this dive, Brian put an extra weight in one of my pockets, it was too heavy and I was off balance, I took it out and put it in the catch bag in the end, we came up in a big swells and hard to swim back to the boat, all in all not a great dive, Brian didn’t miss much.
Ken had heard the weather forecast and a storm was predicted, he decided to head back to our mooring in North Port as there was no shelter where we were. Young venison on the menu tonight, compliments from the previous trip, we were getting so well fed only a very little crayfish was consumed before the venison, and more than enough venison left for the next day.
3rd day and the storm never arrived, even Craig was up later with most getting a better nights sleep as Bruce had got the message and moved his sleeping bag to the saloon, have to take back all those bad things we were saying about our friend Bruce. Although Bruce later admitted that he enjoyed not having to sort his bunk each night and could leave his mess as it was. We had five tanks filled this morning and headed west in Chalky Inlet towards the open sea to a place called West Side off Great Island. Phil came along to help as boatman; he was marvellous; his help with gearing up and then giving a hand when getting out was excellent. I was diving with Craig it was very choppy and murky, long kelp with plenty of crayfish, I spotted a sea horse, which is quite rare for the area and Craig spent the best part of the dive photographing it, he was elated and on a high after that little find. I stuck around as you would never find each other again, Brian started off with us but we lost site of him in the first minute. The others were back on ‘Hammer Down’ waiting for us as they didn’t like the area and wanted to move to use the rest of their air on another dive in a better area. We motored back to a calmer, clearer area and we were able to have a 2nd dive on the same tank. A magic area with the viz, kelp in flower, fish life, crays and an octopus, what a laugh Craig was taking a photo of it and it attacked him. I laughed so much I nearly drowned.
Back for lunch of left over venison then out for a fish and free dive with Jackson and Brian in the water. We caught so many blue cod and all really big as well, Paddy was not having much luck, but not to be outdone caught a carpet shark, what excitement when that came aboard and getting him back in the water. Jackson and Brian also did well with their catch ready to smoke for the fish chowder that Annie planned on making. We had plenty of fresh fish in the freezer to take home and still plenty for dinner to accompany the dish of shepherd’s pie and roast vegies. Those with energy left stayed up later to watch a Ninja movie.
Sunday and 4th day into charter, daylight savings finished and weather not looking promising, we get four seasons every day, its amazing to watch how quickly it changes. Overnight we had thunder and lightening storm, the thunder was incredible it shook the boat and the flashes looked like the boat was on fire. First we filled with water then motored around to Preservation Inlet, Ken was thinking with the weather forcast if we didn’t go now we wouldn’t get around there. Pretty choppy in places as the seas were whipping in from the open seas from the South, scenery not to be missed a truly amazing place to visit. Ken dropped us at the Hut, a restored shed down Otago Retreat between the mainland and Coal Island, a huge history where oil supplies etc were dropped off for the lighthouse back in the 1800’s. The Hut and area were named after one of the lighthouse keepers Cromarty, and he is buried with other family members next to the Hut in a well kept little cemetery. The walk out to the remote lighthouse at Puysegur Point was amazing witnessing once again every season on the way out. Beautiful bush areas mostly manuka, ferns, lancewoods, a lot looking wind swept with their own unusual shapes, small streams, beaches and bays with holes in the cliff face, deer sign everywhere and the wind was gusting 50 to 60 knots at the lighthouse. The wind was so strong I fell over in the grass, unable to keep my balance. We also got some amazing photos of pint size Paddy holding her own in the wind.
Back to boat, four divers geared up and were taken to Steep-To Island for dive, the rest fishing on Hammer Down and catching two seven gill sharks and not much else. Paddy is the shark catcher. Paddy (the not so boat lover) was having the best time, even amazing herself and Brian as he struggles to get her on his boat. Paddy also declaring her ferrel state was here for the week. Our dive had some amazing black coral colonies around 30m, it was cold, dark and quite eerie, not what you would call an enjoyable dive. That night we moored next to an old ferry that they now use for a barge and storage of fuel etc. as DOC won’t allow permanent moorings in the area. On board that night the food was getting better and more plentiful, we had a yummy sausage curry, plus fish, corned beef, potato bake etc far too much food. Before the table was cleared the cards were out again and back into their game of Presidents and Assholes, the noise and laughter, not to mention language was getting louder as the alcohol was consumed.
Monday 5th day, the days are passing too fast. Brave and to be commended, Brian and Martin went for an early morning snorkel to get paua and mussels for the chowder (in freezy conditions), while the others on board ‘Hammer Down’ were fishing, we came back with a great feed, the fish bins were full including good size Blue Cod and Jock Stewarts (later named Jack Russells..??). The next stop was to see the privately owned millionaire’s paradise – Preservation Lodge, also known as Kisbee Lodge, Annie had radioed the caretakers to ask permission to visit. A magic spot for the elite few, although they do advertise for paying guests at $5k a night. Loads of relics of early NZ history, with deer heads and antlers by the hundreds around the lodge, even large moose antlers, warm and cosy by the wood fire, well worth a visit. The fire was wonderful as we had woken up to 6 degrees and the deck covered with hail and more hail during the day.
After a scummy lunch of warmed up leftovers we motored up Useless Bay to fill with water and came back to Round Island for our best dive yet with the red coral and black coral colonies looking very pristine and elegant with their snake stars of various colours and sizes. Loads of varieties of fish following us and the walls covered in yellow Zoanthid anemone colonies. Craig and I swam on and came to caves and nests of huge crayfish, after collecting six our catch bag was full, heavy and jumping all over the place. Jackson and the non-divers set the hapuku line while we were diving, then came back to pick us up. The other divers weren’t too impressed with their dive as they never saw the coral or came across the wall to wall crayfish like we saw.
We motored back to tie up to the barge but when Ken heard the weather forecast of 40knot winds from the south he decided to anchor in Kisbee Bay for the night. Annie cooked up the chowder with paua, mussels, blue cod, smoked blue moki, crayfish, horse mussels, fillets of butter fish and jock stewart (dwarf scorpianfish), what a variety, there were also plenty of scallops around but out of season at the moment. Table cleared and out came the cards again for another fun night, lots of laughter and noise.
Tues 6th day – trip almost over, up early thanks to Craig’s bladder and promises of cups of tea to get us on the move. We had an early cooked breakfast, geared up and dived Round Island again for our 7th and last dive. (Sadly we won’t even get to see the seapens at Narrow Bend). Craig and I went down in a different place this time and saw a scallop bed. Then onto black coral colonies, many varieties of fish, patches of kelp with sea spiders and several kinds of small nudibranch, not as many crays this time, white sea urchins, very large areas of eleven arm starfish, schools of butterfly perch, blue moki, terakihi, biscuit starfish, red coral, an assortment of worms and sponges. The sun came out as we were playing with a large very friendly blue cod, he even allowed us to stroke him. The diving was getting better, shame this was our last. While we were diving Jackson retrieved the hapuka line and all that was left was half of a large seven gill shark, the rest had been eaten by his mates. Back to the Takapu and fishing over the side we landed about seven or eight spiney dog fish, a cute looking little shark, sometimes double headers adding a lot a fun to the fishing trying to get them off to release. We also caught some decent size blue cod which were frozen for us to take home. (Later I saw in Winton where you could buy blue cod for $29.90 a kg it is so easy to get, why charge that much..?)
After the fishing we motored over for more water, Ken likes to keep the tanks full for ballast, plus we shower often to warm up after diving with the water temp at 13⁰C, frozen fingers and toes. Phil was a huge asset to this trip, I would not have coped with the diving without his help, my fingers were so cold I couldn’t get my BCD or fins off, he was always there and willing to help, a big thank you Phil. Jackson was also an asset to the trip, his boating skills admired on the tender Hammer Down, always willing to help, cooked all the crays and filleted the fish, what a future he has ahead of him at only aged 18. A very happy guy enjoying what he was doing, forgot to mention he loves his food, also a big thank you Jackson.
Ken then motored up Long Sound (21k long) towards our pick up area as we were heading out the following day. This area is all Marine Reserve, we saw several seals on the way up also plenty of penguins, Craig was keen for a last scenic dive but opted for a another hunt with Peter instead. The rest of the crew watched another movie and started packing their gear. All back on board for the final delights of Annie’s cooking which was paua, blue cod, jack stewart, shepherds pie and chips, followed by chocolate pudding and cream. Craig was unable to do his belt up and Bruce had also extended his waistline on the trip.
Lively cards once again and into the bunk to listen to the chorus of sounds, snoring, wind both outside and from several bunks, a hail storm outside and the creaking boat. We were up early next day as it is change over day for the punters, bunk rooms need to be tidy, clean pillow cases and look out, don’t get in Annie’s way.
The helicopter arrived and Paddy, Brian, Peter and I had the shorter trip this time in the helicopter and how thrilling was that, Sam the pilot was there to give us the thrills. He flew sideways over the large waterfall, it felt like we were going to fall out. Then as the cloud was coming in we flew very low and almost nil visibility, another eerie experience, we landed at the head of the Lake Hauroko and had a 30km – 45 minute boisterous ride to the landing where we were then driven back to the Hotel at Tuatapere.
We had a welcome toasted sandwich, Paddy and Brian left to drive back to Queenstown and Peter and I sorted gear and headed back into Invercargill for the night.
Another very successful and wonderful Dolphin Underwater Club Trip – thank you Bruce for organising it for us.