Sunday, 28 October 2012

Dusky to Milford

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.

Paddle hard everyone, summer is on the way!

1 comment:

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