A quick blink in Bligh Sound/Hawea, – Fiordland

Our logbook for the run from George to Bligh says, ‘expecting 4 meter seas, so ‘battening down the hatches on Allora.’ This pic doesn’t begin to show the waves, but we are getting pretty used to these quick hops being worthy of our full attention!

This northern fiord zigzags around 18 kilometers inland to the head at Wild Natives River (surely on a list to be renamed?)
Sizable slip. Some of these are so dramatic you can just imagine the sound and drama of the actual moment when it let go.

The very steep demarkation between mud bank and deep water.
We finally found a spot to anchor in the middle in 80′ of water, so we had all our 330′ of rode out and were ‘free swinging’ without any lines to shore.

On our one full day in Bligh, Marcus took Namo up the Wild Natives River and hiked up with just enough time (with the tide) to fish one nice pool, landing two fish.
‘Marcus’ Pool,’ Wild Natives River.
I stayed back on Allora and did one of my ‘flash’ mosaics. Here and there along our 7 year journey, I’ve tucked these offerings, almost ‘dialogues with nature,’ into various locations. Here, I share some close ups, mainly because that’s all I got up to in Bligh, but I will save the full images for another post!

As much as we choose to be present for what IS, we are starting to really look at forward at the weather for our tough West Coast passage from Milford to Abel Tasman.
I’m thankful for Lightroom so I can prep some of these blogs before finally getting back into Wifi zone.

 

Bye Bligh!
I feel like I can SEE the richness of this journey in Marcus’ expression!

 

George Sound/Te Hou Hou, (‘Georgious!’) – Fiordland

Logbook entry says, ‘Choppy Sloppy!’
Marcus usually smiles and hand steers through the rough stuff!

The run outside between Caswell and George Sounds is around 14 miles. We left early to try to beat some forecast rain and gusty NW winds, and almost made it. The rain started just as we made our turn in. Diana logged the max wind at 27.2 knots, then went down and crossed it out to a revised 29 knots. By the time the wind had blasted us another two miles down the sound, Diana had crossed that out to record 42 knots. Looking on the chart with the wind howling behind us, we were concerned if Anchorage Cove would be able to offer any shelter from this angle of wind, even though it’s listed as an ‘all-weather anchorage.’ We worried it might be too gusty to safely negotiate the narrow spot between the river bar and small rocky island. We decided to poke in and check it out if we could. Right away the wind dropped into the low twenties then the teens, which still felt like a lot to try getting into the tight spot where fishermen had set up a line we could theoretically side tie to. The rain hammered down as Diana watched from the bow for shallow rocks off the island and I maneuvered Allora in, ready to back out if we needed. Despite whitecaps just outside, the winds this close to the little island dropped to near zero and Allora was able to hover effortlessly while Diana (in the kayak) quickly tied lines on the bow and stern, getting absolutely soaked in the process. It was a kind of a crazy feeling, the sudden stillness and security of that spot with gusts in the forties not half a mile away. We wouldn’t have guessed even from a couple hundred yards out that it was worth chancing. ~MS

Super tricky spot to get Allora tucked up into, it required getting sidled alongside the fishermen’s line while keeping Allora out of a couple way too shallow spots. We sat in 6’8″ of water at low tide and we draw 6’6″!
Good thing I love RAIN! (less so, freezing rain!)
We were tied between an island and the very close shore, with all sorts of debris having also been deposited in the relatively calm cove.
Weather’s clearing! The George River valley as seen from our small spot called, ‘Anchorage Cove.’
A new day dawns!!
Heading up with Namo to explore the George River (Marcus with fishing gear, me with a camera, both with awe).
Might we hear Wyatt saying, ‘watch your back cast Dad?!’
Luscious landscape!

I meandered along the trail in the woods while Marcus ambled upriver casting. People often ask about how we manage to find alone time living on a boat – this is one way.

When I saw this ‘rock of plenty,’ I knew I’d not make it too much farther up the trail!

Found this online: “Nurse logs are described as offering a verdant opportunity to contemplate the passing of time, the generational handoff, and the support we can offer each other.” HERE, HERE!

I was right there with this and still don’t know what it is I was seeing?!

No fish, still smiling – tough day on a beautiful river.
Heading back out of the river just in time for some new rain to fall. Allora is just there on the other side of the river bar.
Before we left this anchorage for another, I had designs to see if the existing water hose was flowing so we could fill our tanks. My outfits are devolving, but my motivation was intact!
This was the waterfall right near Allora which was off color from the recent downpour, but the hose would have been buried far above in cleaner water (I hoped).
Sadly, the hose wasn’t producing more than the faintest trickle. There was a fair surge in this little cove and the thick, heavy hose was all entangled in the exposed low tide rocks. Got that cleared but still no water. After some soaking wet, slippery scrambling a ways above the falls, I found the other end of the hose and ‘yahoo’, all I needed to do was secure it back in the water! I was PRETTY tickled with my own cleverness and couldn’t wait to tell Marcus about my heroic efforts (yeah, I’ve been reading about the role of the ego, yeah, I still need to read more!) but you probably can sense the anticlimax here – it didn’t work!!! UGH. So sad. I was exhausted and deflated, but thankful that I’m also reading about gratitude so I could be appreciative of our water maker!
We moved down to the end of the sound, poked into a somewhat famous (for sandflies) anchorage called, ‘Alice Falls,’ but didn’t stay because we were itching (pun) to sit at an old school free- swinging anchorage, which was also an option at the head of the bay.
More typical weather for Fiordland.

Little Blue Penguins seem pretty tiny to handle what Fiordland must dish up?!
My mom moved from southern to northern California while we were in George Sound. Thank you, dear siblings, for manifesting such an effort! Wish we could have helped, but know that we were sending soggy hugs from Fiordland! Weird to be on the other side of the planet when bigger life changes occur.

The rain eased but the wind came up in our free swinging yet exposed anchorage, so we moved back over to Alice Falls – tucked back in a very sweet cove offering lots of protection. Believe it or not, besides the prolific sandflies, this place mainly gets complaints about the noise from the roaring falls!

The next morning, we had glorious sun!
Good thing, because EVERYTHING was wet! Scenic laundromat.
We took Namo over to the George Sound DOC hut, to take the hike up to Lake Katherine.
Again, mainly a hunter’s cabin, but it was past the season, so we found it empty.

This hut is mainly used by hunters during the season. There is also an ‘expert’ rated 18 km (one way) tramping (backpacking) route from Lake TeAnau to George Sound, but it’s seriously overgrown and described by Wyatt as ‘burly.’ We hiked up just 2k (one way) to Lake Katherine and it took AWHILE on some very soggy but ‘georgeous’ trail!
Nicer hut than the Caswell 2 person.

One of the first things we had to do was something Marcus had hoped to avoid entirely – a classic 3 wire bridge with no netting or boardwalks. These are being replaced almost entirely by swing bridges or suspension bridges, but some remain in Fiordland. This river was just too high to try to wade.
So many glorious hours spent traipsing through Fiordland’s grand forests. In Japan it’s called, ‘shinrin-yoku,’ or eco-therapy forest bathing. (It was our most frequent bathing!)
Noticing the wee ones.
Textures, too.
And oh so fresh mountain water!!!! (Consider that we normally drink reverse osmosis water from our de-salination system).

Some Root Beer gummy worms?

Had hopes of seeing this Wapiti at the lake since this track was so fresh.
Lake Katherine.
Look what showed up just as we arrived?!
Sweetly imperfect.
Colorful plate mushroom.

Our return. More my kind of thing – I’d have paid to go on it!
Idyllic scene, lovely day.
It’s entirely unnerving to send that drone up and off the deck of Allora. I give Marcus huge credit for being willing to face the tummy tumult -maybe he’s tempted by the comfy clothing?
He uses the screen and I watch the actual drone, just in case.
So worth it, right?!
We tried scrambling up the true left side of Alice Falls the next day to maybe reach Alice Lake, but neither of us had what it would take!
After 5 nights in glorious George, we set out on a ‘splitter bluebird’ day for Bligh Sound. Too cold for sandflies on this sunny am!
And LOOK WHO accompanied us, smiling all the while?!
Thanks for the mighty sweet escort!

Northward to Charles/Taiporoporo Sound, Mesmerizing – Fiordland

We glided through Thompson Sound early in the am so as to avoid forecasted weather and seas on the outside.
On our way out to open ocean. Had to go check out this unusual formation?!
What looked like snow was actually bare white stone under shallow rooted vegetation (including trees) which ‘slide’ in big rains.
This mauve color was authentic and WOW!
The rocks at the fiord ‘mouth’ are always treacherous and we keep PLENTY of distance. This weather is more characteristic of the area than the gorgeous month + we’ve been wildly lucky to enjoy.
Of all the fiords, we only skipped Chalky Inlet and Nancy Sound. This was the narrow entrance to Nancy and although you can’t see it in this pic, it looked sufficiently tight and rough to make us feel ok about our earlier decision to give it a miss (based on our need to get to Picton for some much needed boat work before our Fiji passage in June).
Charles Sound/Taiporoporo. It had rained the day before, and often we are on the lookout for debris, but this downright tree wasn’t going to be missed! Later, we did hit a log at full speed and never saw it, just heard the dull thud on Allora’s hull 🙁

Charles Sound doesn’t have quite the extensive ‘tentacles’ as Doubtful or Dusky – there are only two! We chose Gold Arm and found such a dear spot for Allora just through this narrow gap, behind Catherine Island. There was a fisherman’s line in place, so we pulled right up alongside it and secured Allora at all 3 cleats, Voilá! (No anchor.)
Birdsong and sandflies aplenty!
The shoreline of Charles is entrancing!

Seaweed left high and dry on display at low tide.

Abstracts

My favorite of Diana’s photographs from Fiordland are the “abstracts,” which she discovers by looking in a very careful, unique way, at the tidal line along the rocks, that magical transitional space between the hidden world underwater and the green, vibrant life-on-fire world above. Bare stone, stained and painted with time and color, bent and reflected by the still, secret, freshwater shimmering over the tide, the infinite, creative capacity of nature. Diana uses framing to share this vision, to point out Nature’s mastery of abstract art. It’s no surprise (and no accident) that these images feel so profoundly connected to her mosaic work. Most of the time these photographic expeditions are her solo meditations, which she shares with me when she gets back to Allora (after hours in the kayak!). But I’ve also been with her, paddling Namo gently into position, sitting right next to her, appreciating the wholeness of a beautiful place but without quite seeing what she is seeing. These images, for me, represent a particular (and particularly magical) collaboration between Diana and this very, very special world we are navigating in Fiordland.~MS

 

We heard dolphins exhale RIGHT beside Allora, so donned our goofy outfits, lowered Namo off the davits and went out around the corner to see if they’d still be about. A visual feast: the bush, the shoreline, dolphins and the water, ahhh!!!
There were 6, and they were nonplussed by us. (I just went down a Wifi wormhole reading about how ‘nonplussed’ is a contronym!)
See the dorsal fin shape in the intertidal zone, too?!

After that glorious evening light, we settled in for what would be torrential rain all night. We saw 38.5 knots of wind as our max, but from the N/NW – a good direction for this location.
In the morning the water was chocolate colored and there were gushing waterfalls EVERYWHERE!

We had hopes of taking Namo up the Windward River at the head of the bay, but it was a raging ‘NO!’

Sinuous lines, ‘tidelines’ of foam where two currents meet.

Instead of moving Allora over to Emelius Arm, we left her tucked by Catherine Island and ventured 5 miles with Namo in the FREEZING early morning! Visibility was almost nil, but we went slowly and visualized a log free path!
By the time we arrived at the head of Emelius Arm, the sun had started coming up over the peaks, so we knew we’d be warm soon! It’s always harder than we imagine to find where the river (which comes from up high in the canyon ) flows into the sound. Sometimes our guide books showed an approximate position, but not always. We were tempted to follow these shadow arrows, as they seemed to be pointing the way!
Found the Irene River, though at this early stage it was as still as a lake. Our plan was to take Namo up as far as we could and then hike up beyond that until the tide dictated we return.
Hallelujah for the sun!
Sun makes us all so warm and fuzzy!
Through a narrow little offshoot, trees all around, we took Namo back and in (following the sound and a glint of white water) and look what we found?!

 

Looked it up on our favorite (offline) app, NZ TOPO 50, and learned that this beauty is Marjorie Falls!

 

Super hard visibility for seeing the myriad snags. It was gorgeous, but took intense focus getting upriver.

Time to hike/fish and let Namo rest.
And to the cicada’s surprise, two new creatures showed up!

Happy to get in the forest on foot and lay some hands on these wise elders!
Marcus didn’t end up seeing any fish, but it was such a pleasure: gravel beds, a reasonable trail on the true left bank, deer sign and a sun dappled forest.
I left this for Marcus so he might see it on his way back down river. Glad I took the pic, because he didn’t!

A fine, fine day!
Had to tear ourselves away and still we left about 1.5 hours after our intention, so the water was REALLY ‘skinny’ for our return.

We negotiated snags the whole way and had to walk/pull Namo out the last 200′!

What a beautiful sight, to see Allora peacefully resting just as we’d left her! Phenomenal day!
Left Charles Sound at 10am – 3 days of solitude and bliss.

 

9° south of the equator

“It’s hot here,” the Pastor’s lovely wife said with a smile, “it’s always hot. Sometimes you can see some flowers blooming and you know it’s Spring, but it’s always hot.” The village of TeTautua does not own enough cars to have much of a road so its houses tend to meander along foot trails, which double as scooter and motorcycle paths, a web centered on the imposing blue and white Cook Island church. Ungirded by streets, houses with deep porches, windows without glass, only tattered cloth curtains, lay scattered at random angles. You might forget to notice that there are no dogs (they have been disallowed by the island council, which makes everything its business). Their absence, as much as the haphazard city planning, creates the feeling of a ghost town, especially if the children are in school and the hot sun is broiling the gray coral gravel underfoot.

Hakono Saitu

The island is losing its population, slowly, people emigrating to bigger more populous islands, or New Zealand. Though there is an abundance of fish, there are few (maybe none) of the occupations that keep idle hands busy in even the smallest midwestern ghost town. In the big village on the other side of the atoll there is a nurse. There is a policeman, somewhere. There are teachers. But there are no stores. There are scant few gardens, a difficult enterprise in the hard limestone pavement that constitutes the earth of an atoll. There are thriving coconut groves, possibly the remnant of a copra operation, the kind that is still subsidized in French Polynesia. For a while there was a booming pearl farm business, which succumbed to cyclones and a disease among the oysters. Perhaps the mental, emotional, spiritual space that in North American suburbia is filled with cars and traffic lights, malls, donut shops, Home Depot and Costco, here is filled by the sea herself and the Cook Island Christian Church.

Takake Akatapuria
Tumukahu Marsters/Pastor

It’s no secret that missionaries did a number on the South Pacific. This is still one of the main places those white shirt and tie young scrubs in the Salt Lake airport are all headed. But it was news to me that God apparently doesn’t want you to fish on Sundays (I thought Jesus was a fisherman). No work, no play, no music, no swimming (sound familiar?). Like a friendly, island version of the Taliban, they take these injunctions seriously in Penrhyn and they made it their business to see that we anchored right by town to ensure that we weren’t off enjoying ourselves on Sundays doing the devil’s worst out of sight of the church’s two story pulpit.

Naturally, we were invited to church. Hats strictly required for women (strictly not allowed in Tonga) but definitely NOT permitted for men. Diana showed up with a beautiful head wreath from Rapa (made for church there) but here she was told she had to have a hat that covered the top part of her head (cuz God is looking down, I guess?). Long pants for men (in the tropics!), luckily Mike had a light pair I could borrow so I didn’t have to wear jeans. The Pastor’s white pants (God only knows how he kept them white) were unhemmed and about eight inches too long for him, so he walked on them, barefoot when he greeted us at his house and then under sandals for the service. He carried a bible, well worn with pieces of folded paper tucked among its pages, King James translated to Māori/Tongarevan, the language of the Cook Islands.

We arrived in the morning to find out that regular church had been cancelled because an elder woman, Mama Takulani, mother of 12, had died in her sleep early that morning. She had lived on Penrhyn her whole life, in this village of about fifty people, with barely one dirt road and about four cars to drive on it, no stores, no post office, nothing but a collection of very simple homes occupied by people who must know each other very, very well.

We gathered at her house, the palangi (foreigners) outside on plastic chairs to witness a three hour funeral, mostly singing, which seemed unscripted and improvised, arising spontaneously from the group of women seated on the patio floor. Men joined in, and the harmonies were unlike anything we’d ever heard, oddly discordant and complex, a fascinating mix of church hymns and Polynesian music, all the more intense as an expression of mourning. Speeches were given by men, long speeches, in the local language, with occasional acknowledgements in English to the visiting Palangi. The woman’s body was carried to the church, in through the left-hand door, briefly spoken over, then exited through the right-hand door. She was buried in a pre-built concrete crypt in a hole dug that morning by a backhoe outside her bedroom. She was covered with a tapestry and laid in the ground. It felt very odd to witness something so profoundly personal and significant for our hosts, though they went out of their way to make us feel welcome, and afterward there was a feast, with an insistence that visitors eat first.

The next Sunday (Father’s day!) respecting their local commandments and traditions, I did not fish. The first time that has happened since I became a father, 27 years ago. Instead, we went again to church to be harangued, mostly in Tongarevan, but also in English, by a series of men who (like the pastors of Rapa), utilized a hierarchically arranged pulpit (literally with stairs) to wield their authority. Maybe you need something organized like this on an island with nothing but turquoise water and sun and fish, to keep people from running amok, though it felt so out of place with the usual island vibe of very friendly, relaxed, open people. Singing provided some relief in the service, though the performance was more structured and a little more hymn-like than what we witnessed at the funeral. There’s a lot of this kind of singing in Penrhyn, all through the week, several times a day on Sunday. They grow up with this music, so they sing with passion and confidence and subtlety. The women often hold a hand to their face as they sing, and I wasn’t sure if it was to help them hear their voices (the way you might imagine Sting in a recording studio), or to hide their faces and wide open mouths. One young woman held a book that blocked most of her face. Afterward, there was another generous feast at the Pastor’s house, with pictures of the gathering of foreign visitors (representing several countries in Europe and North America) to be posted on Facebook.

When it seemed we would be on the island for another Sunday (waiting for a weather window to depart, and fishing) we decided we would skip church, but thought we’d better say something about our decision in advance. The Pastor seemed relieved (the unexpectedly large group of sailors must have been hard on his freezer, which would not be refilled until the next supply ship, months out). He did admonish us not to do anything on our boats, especially not swim, and seemed to joke (not sure here) that the sharks were in league with God and would enforce the no swimming on Sunday rule. Diana spent about five hours in the water cleaning our hull anyway, and lived to tell.

Though we chaffed at being required to observe the religious regulations of the island, presented to us as Law (which almost certainly cannot have been constitutional in a country governed by New Zealand) we were also overwhelmed by the generosity of their reception. Gift giving and hospitality is a pervasive and vibrant cultural practice throughout Polynesia, and they outdid themselves. We did our best to give back, too. And although the dogmatic Christianity was a tad stifling, we still managed to have some good connections. The Pastor was a bit of an odd duck in that way, at least for me, it was very hard to engage him in a regular conversation. His relationship to the visiting foreigners seemed mostly about the opportunity to give speeches and express the piety of his flock and the importance of his position as their spokesman.

We were the fourth boat to visit Penrhyn in 2019, but within two days there were eight more boats. Most of them part of a group of kid boats (that is, boats which have kids on them, who generally drive the social schedule), all loaded with school supplies to give to the children of Penrhyn. Liza, of the boat Liza Lu, is a teacher from New York whose class had started a pen pal relationship with Penryhn before coming. She had more postcards to deliver and spent time at the school helping the kids compose new post cards that she would mail back to her school. Our friends on Alondra, marine biologists with two girls, eleven and twelve, brought in microscopes and spent a day with the students peering at everything from fly eyes to butterfly wings and gecko toes. A huge hit. The boat ‘Panacea’ with Tuomo, Reka and their kids presented a slideshow about how they’d come to be there aboard a sailboat, and shared glimpses of all the countries they’d seen. The families aboard s/v’s Luminesce, Calle II, Itchy Foot and Caramba all participated, too, and Adagio’s crew were elemental helping with the mosaic. It was an unusually bustling ‘point in time’ on the sleepy eastern side of Penrhyn … ~MS

Mad for Kio Kio, bonefishing in Penrhyn

Every fisherman dreams about a secret fishing hole somewhere. Someplace no one knows about. No one goes. No one (or hardly anyone) has ever fished. A place where you show up knowing you won’t see a single soul and that the fish have never seen a fly. This dream fishing spot is naturally chock full of fish, too, everywhere you turn. 

The Cook Island’s atoll, Penrhyn, might just be that place.

This atoll lays more than 800 miles of open ocean from anywhere. There are no flights. It is visited by just two supply ships a year. The only way to get here is in your own boat, sailing far off of the normal tradewind route. There was a time when expensive flights from the main islands of the Cooks occasionally brought an intrepid fly fishermen from New Zealand, though because there are no hotels or any other tourist infrastructure on Penrhyn the only way to fish these remote flats, even then, was to stay as a guest with the pastor at Te Tautua and have him take you. This apparently did happen at least once. Years ago. Basically, the only people who ever visit, in very, very small numbers are sailors. The intersection of committed bonefishermen and blue-water sailors who can actually get themselves to Penrhyn yields a very tiny slice of humanity. I’d bet there aren’t more than about five of us in the whole world, and that includes our friend Mike, who’s introduction to fly fishing was walking the flats with me in the Gambier and Rangiroa.

The pastor insisted on taking us to his spot, though we had our own dinghy and knew from Google Earth exactly where to go. Wishing to be gracious guests of the island, we accepted the ride. We spotted the first pod of fish even before getting out of the boats and over the next four hours (the limit of the pastor’s desire to stay and harvest noddy bird eggs), I landed at least fifteen bonefish (which is a lot of bonefish), considering the amount of time it takes to land each one and the fact that a fighting ‘kio-kio’ clears the immediate area on the flat of willing fish. Mike caught nearly that many, as well, and we were often doubled up with fish on at the same time. 

We fished this singular spot for a couple weeks going back on our own, and it wasn’t always as good as the first day, the tide and the weather have a lot to say about how good the fishing is going to be, but it was always our spot and the fish were always there. They aren’t as big on average as the bonefish in French Polynesia, but Penrhyn is chock full of them. 

We pinched ourselves regularly to make sure it was not just a dream. ~MS

 

Sweet Tuamotus, Last round through …

 

The majestic Humphead/Napolean Wrasse. This guy is 3.5 feet!

I’m going to ask Marcus to wax poetic about our final weeks in the Tuamotus. Suffice it to say that this region of French Polynesia is most definitely a favorite of ours and I even heard Marcus say he could live there. If fresh produce was available, I might be on board! For the time being, these pics can be a placeholder. These are shots from Tahanea, Fakarava and Rangiroa.

I shot a gazillion shots to finally snag this one! Thanks, Katie, for holding such enthusiasm!