Passagemaking: Milford Sound to Abel Tasman National Park, South Island/NZ

It was a bit spooky sailing out of Milford at midnight without a moon. We had our inbound tracks on the chartplotter to follow, but it’s pretty amazing how disorienting darkness can be, even for feeling whether to turn to port or starboard to follow a line. Also with the steep granite walls, we didn’t feel 100% confident in our GPS. Diana went to the bow, and I stepped away from the helm to try to orient myself every few minutes, as we moved cautiously down the fiord. Though the GPS did seem to have a decent idea about where we were, it was also reassuring to have radar confirming the distance to the rock walls on either side. But what helped me relax most at the helm, was when Diana shouted that the dolphins had come to escort us out. I leaned over the rail and could just see and hear them splashing off our port headed for the bow. It was hard not to feel like they’d showed up intentionally to reassure us.

South Island of NZ and our sailing track. We spent 3 months in that lower SW corner and then dashed up the whole island on the west side in 3 days!

One of the many challenges of the passage from Milford up around Cape Farewell into the Cook Strait, is that there is only one place you might possibly stop, but that requires negotiating a river bar entrance at Westport (just north of Cape Foulwind!), which is safe only in decent weather. Otherwise, it’s a solid three day run (if you keep your speed up), which just barely fits into the cycle of weather shifting from South to North. The weather window that presented itself to us seemed pretty typical, catching the end of a southerly, motoring and motor-sailing through variable winds in a race to meet the Cape with relatively light winds rather than the usual NW or SE gale.Leaving sooner, we’d have had more wind to sail with, but we’d risk arriving too early for the switch of winds at Cape Farewell.

Diana took the first watch just after 2 AM after we cleared the hazards on the north side of the entrance to Milford and could head more directly north. “Really cold, icy hands,” she wrote in the margins of the logbook. “Overcast skies heading further out to clear Arawua Point/Big Bay Bluff.” Just after sunrise on my watch, I got a glimpse of the mountains south of Mt Aspiring, which reminded me of Wyatt’s 100 mile run the length Aspiring National Park. I wondered if he could have seen the Tasman Sea from any of those lofty ridge lines he traversed?

NZ’s wild west.
Hard to sail away from that remarkable corner of the universe. Allora always seems up to the task, even if we’re a bit reluctant.
I’m afraid we have a stowaway!
He looks about as eager as I did for this passage.
His ‘foulies’ are cooler than ours!
There are mountains in them thar clouds!
Sunrises and sunsets don’t go unnoticed out here.

Also in the logbook, I see a lot of scribbles in these notes about fuel rates, and estimates of actual fuel burned for miles ‘made good.’ Allora carries 190 gallons full which is more than enough for the distance as long as the weather is reasonably cooperative, but it makes a difference if you’re burning 1.5 gallons/hour or pushing the engine and burning 2.5 gallons/hour. The extra gallon doesn’t double your speed. People better at the maths would probably be able to calculate exactly what fuel rate is most efficient. I settled upon 1.6 or 1.7 as an nice compromise of efficiency, speed (to make our date at Cape Farewell) and comfort.

We had rain. We had current steadily set against us. We had dolphins streak by in the night leaving comet trails in the bioluminescence. We fussed about the wind, almost-but-not-quite-enough to sail, ever creeping up on the nose. We almost lost a batten in the mainsail. Then later, Otto, our autopilot made a sudden decision to turn hard to starboard out of nowhere. The switch for the high pressure pump on the watermaker heated up and set off the smoke alarm (naturally at night-while I was off watch). We saw no other boats besides the occasional fishing boat working closer to shore. We caught a glimpse of Aoraki (Mt Cook) at sunset, and at Cape Foulwind a couple of seal lions waved as we passed by.

And my lil’ camera could not capture how stunning this scene was!

On the last night, as seems to be a theme lately, Diana drew the toughest watch of the passage. There was just no way to completely avoid a patch of heavy winds slated to meet us as we approached the Cape, straight on the nose. We tried to time it for the least possible, but Poseidon wasn’t going to let us off feeling too clever. For her whole watch, Allora slammed into 20 knots on the bow clawing her way up the last bit of coast to Cape Farewell. Finally, after calling Farewell Maritime radio to try to find out whether it was generally considered advisable to cut the corner at Kahurangi shoals (which they weren’t really able to commit to), we decided it probably wasn’t, so we slogged on. Diana went off watch and very soon after, we were able to fall off the wind. Just five degrees made a big difference. Pretty soon we were motor-sailing and by Diana’s last sunrise watch she was able to shut the engine off and sail along Farewell Spit, an amazing 25km sandbank off the northwestern corner of the South Island at the opening of Cook Strait. The winds were light but sweet. Finally! ~MS

We had to ‘hot bunk’ which (sounds better than it is), means sharing the same berth in shifts because the boat is heeling too much in one direction to utilize the other side. I left Marcus a chocolate on his pillow to further sweeten his off watch experience!
Gotta love modern times – ship captains of yore didn’t used to provide their first mates with latte’s as a wake up! Feeling grateful …
First light on the last day of our passage.
Oh hello dawn, we see you!
The same sunrise unfurling.
Allora and her crew get some sweet, smooth motion before finally rounding Farewell Spit and finding an anchorage.
Allora seems to keep a steady pace, but her crew at this point can feel like horses heading back to the barn, anxious to just GET THERE! It’s definitely a lesson in savoring what IS!
Before we even tucked into Abel Tasman, my phone started ‘bleeping’ frantically, the first Wifi messages in nearly 3 months came flooding in. I have to say, both sides of the phone equation are awesome – putting it away, disconnected from the world and then THIS! Siblings reunited for the first time in 3 years! Love in pixels!
And Grandma Elizabeth sandwiches are always delicious!
Marcus’ reaction when I shared these pics.
Bark Bay, our first anchorage in Abel Tasman. We contemplated getting Namo off our foredeck and exploring that little sweet beach, but instead, we just sat on deck and savored the stillness.
This gull landed as we were just feet away on deck.
Grey skeletal remains of wilding pines (invasive conifers in NZ).


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!

Caswell/Tai Te Timu Sound – the 45th parallel – Fiordland

Pretty little welcome rainbow as we get set to enter Caswell Sound.
There are a number of rocks studding the entrance to this fiord and caution was definitely on our minds. Often we can see that there’d be gorgeous coves to explore, but not in Allora!
How do you REALLY feel about that entrance, Marcus?!
Shirley Falls, dropping 365 meters from Lake Shirley on Caswell’s southern side. There is supposedly evidence of an old marble works that ran between 1882 and 1887 here, but I suspect it’s quite overgrown!
Ooh, let’s go look at THAT one?!!
And then this sweet, unnamed waterfall, one of a zillion that show up after each deluge. Thank you sun, for lighting her up!
We may have chosen to skip Caswell were it not for the Stillwater River at the head. It’s a gorgeous fiord though, with steep shores and rugged peaks and we spent 3 lovely nights here.
This boat, Ponowhai 3, came by to offer us some fresh fish, and I missed the shot where they were holding up the enormous Grouper (they say Groper here in NZ, same fish), but they passed over a downright SLAB which ended up being 4 meals for us two. Gratitude to the boat folks AND the grand fish.

Big Fish

a big fish lived here
under this rock
in this sound
70 meters of water
down down down
finning the murky fathoms
there must be something it is like to be
a big fish
broad tail to the tide
jaw slowly moving, gills filtering
oxygen and salt from darkness
listening to the strange whirr of a prop churning distantly overhead
scent in the current
vibrations of much younger, much smaller, more foolish fish
everyone makes mistakes
joy to the world!
big fish on!
the breathless mystery of something deep
that unremitting pull of an invisible line
uncompromising bite and stick and metal barb
is there hoping it might break free
what is it like
to be another’s flesh and dinner?
exhausted thrashing on the surface
searing bright light and fierce dryness
the gaseous, ethereal world
where white birds like cherubs flitter and follow
where albatross glide like shadows of another understanding
what is it like, big fish?
now that two men hold you in firm hands
knife wielding hands
careless hands
is this the dance?
waves surge against the rocks
seaweed starfish worms green saltwater alive
o’ fish shaped wave
these men call you big fish
men who came to find things to take
big trees all in a row
is there something it is like
to be a man holding a gray dead fish
for a picture
flesh stripped from her ancient bones ~MS

‘Stay put,’ we always say as we zip off to check out the Stillwater River on this grey and soggy day.
Our big adventure: get Namo upstream just far enough to pick up the scenic track along the Stillwater River which leads to Lake Marchant. We had to be tide conscious though, as there were 9′ tides here!
This is the two bunk hut run by the Department of Conservation (DOC), mainly used by hunters, but we were there just past the season, so were able to burn a bit of our paper trash in the fireplace before setting off toward the lake. Caswell sits on the 45th parallel and Wyatt’s NZ friends/roommates, Tanya and Ben had just been there in February raising funds and advocating for women suffering from domestic abuse. They scrambled, ran and traipsed the entire 45th as it crosses the South Island in NZ, from where they were dropped via helicopter at the ocean entrance to the sound to Oamaru on the east coast. We had heard from Wyatt about their effort and knew that they had planned to be exclusively off trail, but ended up coming down off the staggeringly high ridge to seek shelter from a massive storm for 3 days in this hut. The river, just below in this pic, was so high – they were worried that it would flood and the cabin might be washed away. Indeed, we were there just following a big rain, and the flow was anything BUT a still river! It would have been terrifying to be in their situation, truly. You can read about it here: I think Ben might be putting together a documentary on their arduous mission? We found their entry in the logbook which all DOC huts have and made our own, too. ~DS
The most humble DOC hut we’d ever seen.

Such a happy place.
Gorgeous hiking!

Perchance some fish thoughts, hmmm?

Nearing the lake, we had to slog through some boggy ground.

Plenty of water to be had and squeezed from our clothes!
Marcus had to be super sneaky and crawl around so as not to be seen by the fish at the glassy lake edge.
Stealthily casting to fussy fish.
Fish on! I had to run from this vantage point all the way slopping through the marsh to get there for a pic!

Several nice fish in the shallow water’s edge, but they were super spooky.


Brown Trout from a brown lake – not easy to spot! This one took a small nymph.
Back at it! Tying on a fly in sandfly country means there are sacrifices which must be made and sometimes you just have to hope it’s a male that lands on your face and finger (the females are the biters).
Neat place to be just hanging out. I heard the ‘pffft’ of a startled deer as I was taking some pics in the grasses, but never saw it.
Thistles throw a gorgeous flower to seed.

Going to have to do some research to learn about this fungi?!

Oh, I see your whimsy, Nature!
And your complexity, too.
Sweet spot, captivating to us both.
Another exquisite purple.

Took our face protection down for a pic and see, I’m just about to get bit. Their sensors are spectacular!

Through the droplet glass.
Moody and broody and time to go back!

Allora just waiting for us!
We saw no real wind here but got plenty WET. Waterfalls appeared all around our boat!
Had to bail Namo out and secure her up on the davits with the drain plug open!

Leaving Caswell in sloppy conditions, but arguably easier than Ben and Tanya’s method!




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.


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.


Dagg/Te Ra Sound, shared only with Wapiti in the ‘roar.’ – Fiordland

Heading north along the west coast of the South Island, soon to turn east into Dagg Sound!
The sun started making an appearance, highlighting the seemingly endless layers unfolding into … infinity?!
We both saw a crazy optical illusion as we headed out of Breaksea Sound – of breaking waves in the distance ACROSS the entrance/exit. Turns out, the path was clear and calm, but some light bending effect had us both pretty focused and ready to retreat back to Stevens Cove if necessary! In general, the chart plotter and real life conditions both need our attention. We found our Navionics charts to be thankfully accurate in Fiordland, though still a fair amount of erroneous depth readings and the occasional goofy moments when small islands would be charted which weren’t there.
Approaching the Dagg Sound entrance.
Always a nice exhale when we cross from the ‘outside,’ to the ‘inside!’
The ‘grotto’ beneath this waterfall must have been gorgeous?! I wanted to drop the kayak and go over there, but we had an anchorage to go find.
Dagg Sound is 8+ miles long and branches into two arms. We first chose
‘Anchorage Arm’ and had glassy calm conditions. Instead of trying to find shallow enough depths in the middle to anchor in, we snugged up super close to shore utilizing some fishermen’s lines which are rigged in place. Wonderful protection from winds, mellifluous creek sounds and voracious sandflies!
Such a little creature to cause so much mischief!
My armor: fleece onesie, scarf and balaclava/hat (ready to be dropped over my whole face when, after about 7 seconds of being outside, every sandfly in the universe descends on me. Haha, unless Marcus is out there too!)
Caught this Albacore on the ‘outside,’ just seconds after videotaping Marcus setting out the rod and line, and commenting that I wasn’t sure I wanted to even catch a fish because of the large swell!
Went out on Namo with MS to explore the colorful shoreline at the end of the day.

We moved to the southern arm of Dagg to the ‘All weather anchorage’ since bigger winds were predicted and we liked the idea of a swing anchorage instead of being tied so close to shore.
Always fun to see what’s around the corner!
New spot!

Something happened when the twenty North American Wapiti Roosevelt gifted to New Zealand in 1905 found their way into the heart of Fiordland’s steep and impenetrable wilderness. Maybe there’s a perfectly rational scientific explanation (maybe it has something to do with crossing breeding with Red Deer?). They got a bit smaller than the fat and happy elk of Yellowstone (which certainly makes good sense given the dense rainforest) but they also changed their tune, no longer bugling with that iconic, haunting call that resonates across the frosty parklands, lodgepole forests and granite peaks of the Rockies. Our visit to Daag coincided with height of the “roar.” It’s a sound that does not “belong,” but also feels so fitting, as though giving voice to the thick ferny jungle of that unpeopled wilderness. Deep, guttural, plaintive and haunting (in their own way) – their roars echo across the still water and ridiculously precipitous canyon walls. You can hear individual stags make their way up and down the steep shore, and we paddled Namo as stealthily as we could manage along the shore hoping for a glimpse, and though they often seemed very close, we never saw them. We could only imagine their antlered heads tilted back, belly’s trembling as they gave voice to the wilderness.~MS

There’s a 1 kilometer trail between Dagg and Doubtful Sound, so we set out (too late) to try to dash across, but only got halfway and had to turn back, both because of light and falling tide.
One of the many amazing things about the bush is that there are very few ‘pokey’ things. I am in the occasional habit of ‘greeting’ the ferns as I walk by, but I found one that didn’t want to be touched.



We had one day and night which was cloudy and rainy; the water became very brown with loads of fresh on top, heaps of forest debris floated around us and new, gushing waterfalls sprouted everywhere! Most folks agreed that these conditions were more the ‘norm’ and that we’d been having wild good fortune to experience a of almost non-stop glorious conditions.
Guess we’re playing music!


When the weather cleared, I went on a ‘playdate with nature’ hike across to Haulashore Cove/Doubtful Sound, while Marcus went out on Namo to perchance catch sight of the Wapiti which roared in ‘surround sound’ most of the time we were there!
Ok, wanna go have a close look?!
Seaweed on shore, looking so ET!

Last sight of Allora for a few hours.
Even a ‘dead’ tree stump is quite full of life.

The kōtukutuku, also known as ‘the tree with the peeling bark’ or Fuchsia, is one of the most easily recognisable trees in the New Zealand bush. I must have been hungry, because I saw artisan CRACKER!
Most of this short trail is in dense forest, but occasionally I’d pop out and see these peaks.

Too many years of berry bewareness to feel free enough to nibble these, however tempting!

Just seein’ if you’re paying attention!

Classic ‘Tarzan’ vines following their twisty, viney nature! And Spanish moss/Tillandsia usneoides is not a moss at all, but a bromeliad, which means it is in the same taxonomic family as pineapples and succulent house plants!

Although Spanish moss grows on trees, it is not a parasite. It doesn’t put down roots in the tree it grows on, nor does it take nutrients from it. The plant thrives on rain and fog, sunlight, and airborne or waterborne dust and debris.

Known for it’s friendly, ‘cheet cheet’ call and it’s crazy flying antics, the Fantail or Pīwakawaka often follows another animal (and people) to capture insects. Time and time again, though, they acted as guides; when we were off track in the woods, they’d appear, chirping energetically, as if to say, ‘no … not that way, THIS way!!’ I learned to always follow them!


Some fungi fun: I haven’t had the time to research ID’s on most of these, so write me if you know and are keen to share?!

These ‘nurse logs’ are fallen trees which become garden beds for new life with the help of insects, microbes and fungi, eventually turning back into rich humus.

REALLY want to learn about this ‘web,’ which was considerably thicker than any spider web I’ve ever seen and the filaments looked to be made of the same ‘stuff’ as the mushroom?! Anyone?!

My very favorite find! In a process called, ‘gutturation,’ the mushroom will ‘weep’ excess pigmented moisture!!

Quite late by the time I got back to shore.

Marcus had dropped me off, so I hailed him on the handheld VHF to come retrieve me – thankfully he could get across the ‘bar’ in what amounted to no usable light.
Our red half way track and my green, very distracted by flora track. A 1 k hike turned into almost 6 round trip! I didn’t get any interesting pics from the Doubtful Sound side, but that’s our next Fiord, so there will be PLENTY!
Eagerly heading out of Dagg … Why? Because Doubtful is our next Sound and Wyatt is joining us there!!!! Allora scoots along with a bit of extra oomph!
Formations near the exit of Dagg Sound.
Wonderful little ‘nook.’
On the outside now, through the pass. Last look back at Dagg.






Vancouver Arm: Head of Bay, Third Cove, Stevens Cove, Breaksea/Te Puaitaha Sound – Fiordland.

Bathymetric chart of Vancouver Arm – gives an image of the size, shape and distribution of features underwater.
We just spent one quick night at the head of the bay in Vancouver Arm. We had plans in place to meet Wyatt in Doubtful Sound, 2 north of here, so we had to strategize our short stays with the weather predictions and what protection each anchorage might offer.
Third Cove Anchorage. We worked hard finding suitable depths to anchor in here and ended up dropping in 25 meters (83′), which is quite deep, but the mud bank at the head of the bay was also tough to see and the edge of it fluctuated, so all in all, challenging. Our ‘guidebooks’ didn’t say anything about where other ‘yachties’ would anchor. First impressions: amazing birdsong and echoes in this biggish bay!
I wonder if we were hideous even to the flora/fauna …?!
… ok, I feel better now. This flora is pretty ‘warty!’ We had heaps of fun checking out the very colorful intertidal zone. Started at higher tide, but it was dropping really fast, so we had to be sure Namo didn’t get stuck ‘high and dry.’ Not sure what these are, but they were ALL OVER!
You can probably imagine the smell that went along with this falling tide and exposed sea creatures?
Marcus found this one shell just sitting in this position. No others about.
Then we made it to the very spongy and lush forest. We’d been told there was a waterfall to be found, but we never found the ‘trailhead.’
No matter, there’s plenty of water and wonder right here!

The Audrey Hepburn of the plant world – playful and elegant, both.

These little ‘webs’ of water droplets were everywhere!

One version of an Umbrella Moss.
This whole area had a playful feel about it. I took a million pics, very sprite like and Marcus had the good sense to keep track of how we were going to actually make our way back to Allora. Gratitude on all counts.
Sticta Coronata.

Dr. Seuss land
A cello leaf.

NEED to put these in my INaturalist/ISeek app to find out what they are, besides so wonderful?!
Clever seed design!

Allora, free swinging in deep water, but staying put, thank goodness! (Imagine leaving your home for the afternoon and wondering if ‘she’ll’ still be there when you return?)

It seems to be an autumn thing that massive schools of Kahawai, Kingfish, and other predators chase the baitfish up to the heads of the sounds and gleefully spend their days slashing and crashing and feasting upon them. It starts at dawn and continues until dark. At completely unpredictable moments the water will suddenly boil with feeding fish only to disappear within a few moments. The first Kahawai I caught was with a spinning rig, which is well suited for frantic Hail Mary casts into the abyss. I will admit that catching that fish was closer to an accident than anything premeditated. One fish nearly chased the lure right into the boat. As we traveled through the fiords, the fairly constant surface action was nearly impossible to ignore, and sometimes the predators would use the boat to trap the bait and Allora would find herself at the center of the melee. Finally, at the head of Daag Sound I couldn’t stand it anymore; I rigged my 8 weight and propped it next to the dinghy ready to go at the next irresistible provocation. What ensued was pure madness. The fish would pop up, I would zoom over with the outboard roaring, then kill it as I coasted in, frantically start casting and get maybe one quick retrieve before the fish disappeared. As I zigged and zagged across the fiord, I’m probably lucky that we were certainly the only people then in Daag Sound so that no one arrived with white straight jacket and concerned expressions to intervene. Back and forth I dashed, tangling myself in my line, frustrated at the utter futility of stripping the fly back with the dinghy still moving forward. Once every tenth attempt, everything would work out, I’d even get in a second or third cast, and manage to get my fly to move fast enough to get some attention, and a slash maybe, a miss and back to the frantic game. I was exhausted and my shoulder was on fire by the time all of the crazy variables aligned and a willing fish slammed my fly and headed straight for the bottom of the Sound. The seriously outsized strength of that fish made me instantly regret picking my lighter 8 weight over my sturdy 9. In fact, I was pretty sure I was going to break the rod. What a relief it was to release that fish and release myself from any future notion of fly fishing for Kahawai. A River Runs Through It, it was not. ~MS

We let this Kahawai go since at that point, we weren’t even sure what it was! Turns out it would have been within regulation size to keep, but we already had a dinner plan in place and it always feels good to release them.
Cityscape in the rocks (a bit dystopian).
And mountains, too!
One lone dolphin came cruising through the anchorage and did a rather quick loop around us. We kept thinking there must be two because he’d go under and then come up much farther along than we’re used to seeing, but we never saw more than the one.
Moving from Third Cove to Stevens Cove!
We stopped to fill up Allora’s water tanks at a little floating hut which is used by fishermen during the season. Our watermaker worked fine in this mix of fresh and salt, but it’s always nice to get quick, free fills.
Another (power) boat queued up for a water fill after us so we got to talking and they shared a small Pāua (abalone) which they’d just harvested and described how to prepare it. I read that there’s a place in Hong Kong where they charge $2k per person for a Fiordland NZ Paua dinner! It was ALOT of work and yielded very little to massage this muscle into a source of protein! It would have been at least 5 years old.
The name wasn’t the only thing compelling about Stevens Cove. It was super close to the entrance/exit of Breaksea Sound, so we’d be poised for a quick transit up to Dagg Sound when ready. The only thing is that it’s such a tiny spot that we had to hope we’d fit in there! The opening can barely be seen in this picture near the turquoise water.
It was our trickiest maneuvering/anchoring to date, but we settled in to our little namesake anchorage quite sweetly. This is normally used by power boats/fishermen since it’s so close to outside and they squeeze 3 little boats in here.

There were these two ‘keyholes’ inside Stevens Cove where you could see the main Sound which would cover over at high tide and I could squeeze the kayak through, theoretically, but my kayaking happened at lower tide, so no go.
View of Allora from the Sound.
Time to go check out the ‘archipelago’ of nearby islands!
New forms to take in!

Tried to see this Chiton better, but the surge was quite strong and I really didn’t want to tip.
Then I just got into the abstract of it. I could feel myself shift from trying to make something ‘clear’ to allowing it to be simply light and color.

Shadow play.
The ocean is miraculous!

One of my favorite pics. See the green sea worm?! (Going to look that up, too!)

The water at sunset.
Preparing to slip away from Stevens Cove, the birds regaled us with some riotous farewell songs! Dagg Sound, here we come!


Delightful Dusky/Tamatea Sound – Fiordland

Dusky is the longest and most extensive fiord in Fiordland at nearly 24 miles in length. Named ‘Dusky’ after Captain Cook’s evening sail by in 1770, and ‘Tamatea’ after the renown  Māori explorer who spent much time there. He’s also known for the coining the longest name of a place near Hawke’s Bay ‘Taumata­whakatangihanga­koauau­o­tamatea­turi­pukaka­piki­maunga­horo­nuku­pokai­whenua­ki­tana­tahu,’ so I’m glad I didn’t have to work that into our logbook! ~DS

From ‘the outside,’ transiting open ocean between Preservation Inlet to Dusky/Tamatea Complex. The endless layers of blue …
Sometimes the entrance to the fiord would be relatively narrow and the transitions could be tough depending on the conditions. We avoided a reef by taking a dishearteningly named shortcut, ‘Broke Adrift Passage,’ leaving Preservation.
Thank you, Albacore, for being just the right size and feeding us.
We wove our way back through the narrow twists and turns to find ourselves alone in this magical nook.

Inner Luncheon Cove on Anchor Island, Dusky Sound 

We are anchored in an 18th century naturalist’s illustration. The Kākā, subtly colored parrots, russet and carmine, gray and mossy green, chatter in mobs back and forth. Fur seals and their pups bawl and rumble along the densely wooded shore, draped on rocks, sunning just out of the vivid green tide, or hidden mysteriously in the forest. Rays and Broadnose Sevengill sharks patrol the shallows. Bellbirds chime and Wood Pigeons dive and soar in mating displays, wind whirring in their wings. The water is supernaturally still after the tumult and breaking swell of Broke Adrift Passage, and the long motor up the easing blue Pacific around Cape Providence. The scale of the world is abruptly more intimate. Captain Cook dined on crayfish here in 1773. He left behind a recipe for brewing beer from the bark of Rimu trees, molasses and yeast. The island is also predator free, and refuge to the rare ground parrot, the Kākāpō, once thought to be extinct – rediscovered in Port Pegasus, Stewart Island by Rodney Russ, a sailor/explorer we met in Christchurch.

A chance to sit on the bow and meditate outside, to the constant music of birds, “Here and now boys, here and now.”

The dearth of sandflies and still air made for a pleasant barbecue, cooking up fillets of the Albacore tuna we caught on our way into Dusky. 

The trails on Anchor Island are named and well marked, though oddly, do not seem to clearly indicate which of the many paths lead to the lake (just a kilometer or two away). We weren’t very far along the “wrong” trail when a mob of Kaka settled noisly into the trees over our heads. We sat still and waited and they ventured closer and closer, sailing back and forth, gnawing at the branches with their strong beaks and then landed a few feet away, turning their heads upside down for a curious closer look. A South Island Robin/Kakaruai (re-introduced in 2002) also hopped over to say hello, as they do, finally summoning the courage to peck at the bottom of my shoe. ~MS

Itty bitty baby fur seal curious about my kayak.
Some facts. Thanks Southland Historical Committee!
We’d have to consider the sizable tides when tying up Namo (our dinghy).
Until this encounter, we’d only seen Kākā from a distance.
A connection was made.
Gorgeous underbellies!
Such a treat!
South Island Robins follow hikers, nibbling on what gets stirred up underfoot and generally being joyful.
Still haven’t figured out what these are called – besides COOL!!!
The view from atop Anchor Island and the freshwater lake in the interior.
Coulda stayed here forever!
Dusky (Bottlenose) Dolphins bringing GLEE with every splash!!!
And smiles …

Fanny Cove, Dusky Sound

It was still when we arrived after the move from Anchor Island. Along the way we enjoyed the company of some of Dusky Sound’s residence Bottlenose dolphins, and stopped for a closer look at a waterfall, a hundred feet of depth under Allora’s keel a boat length or less from shore. We ate some bread that Diana pulled from the oven just as we entered the broad cove and thought about our plan for anchoring. The forecast was for twenty-five to thirty knots of northerly on the outside (a little less than the full Pusygar gale which prevails three hundred days out of a year), but all the models showed much less fifteen miles inland form the open sea. Still with the wind and williwas, we didn’t really know what we might get. The dramatic cove with the huge granite wall of Perpendicular Peak at the head is much bigger than in looks on the chart. The opposite of intimate Luncheon cove. We dropped in 60 feet of water and laid out all of our 100 meters of chain at a shallow angle along the shoreline, still sitting in thirty feet of water but with rocky shallows close by. Our first line would not really hold us off, and we ran a second as the wind came up and it was clear that the topography of cove seemed to twist the north wind with just a hint of west in it to solid west, coming at Allora from the port side and pushing us toward shore. The cove is big enough for a reasonable bit of fetch too, but the water on the east side is just too deep. Already worn out from setting the first two lines we debated putting out a second anchor from our midships cleat, but we worried about dealing with picking it back up if things got rough and we hand to move. We finally settled on putting out a third shore line using forty feet of chain to tie around a rock and pulled that up tight. By then the wind was pushing us with gusts of 18 knots. It went against every sailor instinct to be holding off a lee shore this way, but as long as our lines held it would take some mighty force indeed to drag 100 meters of chain and an anchor uphill. A power boat came in, and poked around on the east side and dropped anchor along the east side which we thought was too deep and we briefly wondered if we’d read the situation wrong (having no advice in our books about where to anchor in this broad open cove). But then they sent a dinghy over and we recognized the driver as he approached. Junate! from Hokey Pokey, a catamaran we knew from Papeete and the Gambier! We shared a brief excited catch-up about the last three years before he headed back. They’d also decided that it was too deep to anchor on the more protected east side and were zooming off (as only a power boat may) to find a mooring in another cove, much too far away for us to make before dark. And we were left alone with the wind, checking our shorelines and worrying how much more the night would bring. Just before dark the wind gusted to the mid twenties and Allora settled back about fifteen feet closer to shore than she had been. Our starboard shoreline went momentarily slack and the depth rose to twenty five feet. It began to rain.  We donned foulies and went on deck ready to take more drastic action if it turned out that our anchor was actually not holding. We tightened up the breast line chained to the rock to pull us out into deeper water, and checked the GPS. We finally decided that the low tide had allowed some slack in our chain which the gusts shook out and we were holding fine. We made sure the dishes were away and everything was ship shape for the night, just in case, and then the wind quit completely, the rain settled in gently. In the middle of the night we woke up to an amazing stillness, just the finest pitter patter of rain. Light from a still nearly full moon softly lit the stunning granite faces that guard the entrance to the cove and the fine rain softened their reflection in the still water. It felt like a big reassuring landscape hug for a wonderful, still, uneventful night of sleep. ~MS

We could motor over and get super close to shore with Allora because of the steep drop offs/depths.
Couldn’t resist. Dropped the kayak while Marcus held Allora just off shore. The force of the water was strong enough that I couldn’t swish under it like I’d imagined.
This is one frame of one spot in one fiord. Think about the scale and magnitude and impenetrability of this wilderness area?!!
I kept seeing an Animé character in this one!
Fanny Bay: Choosing the exact whereabouts of where we’d be about!
It’s so exciting to add a whole (reflection) dimension to your visual field.
After 7 years, my Oru kayak is on its’ last adventure (I was sitting in a fair amount of water!), but boy did we get about! (Me here in full dork garb for sandfly avoidance.)
There are more where this came from! I had a blast cruising along the water’s edge and finding snippets to savor.
There were heaps of these backlit webs, but no spiders to be seen?

Special spot, Fanny Bay.

Ahhh, the graceful FERNS!!! So so many!!!
The wind in Fiordland has two speeds: gale or glass.
We ended up feeling like we wound our own web with all the lines securing Allora!
Had some fun trying to find a lake which we’d read was just a kilometer up the forest basin.
A healthy shelf fungi – they get HUGE in Fiordland.
It was love at first sight – Marcus meets sponge moss! Nap time.
Hehe. Seeing through new lenses.

So much green … So much life …
Finally made it to the lake, but we’re not getting any FKT’s (fastest known times)!
OOPS! Also not making any ‘how to’ videos on leaving your tender! Didn’t quite calculate THAT tide right! Sorry Namo!
Back on Allora, watching the moonset.
On the move again, heading through Bowen Channel toward Shark Cove.

Shark Cove Anchorage – our bow anchor and two stern lines to shore. See ‘backstory’ below!

Seaforth River, Dusky Sound

It took us three tries to get the anchor to hold in Shark Cove. Communication from bow (Diana) to the helm (Marcus) is always a bit challenging (West Marine sells headsets called “marriage savers”). The view is different, too. We did alright for the first couple of attempted sets, but both got a little impatient and grumpy by the third. It held, and we were finally tied up, but tired and neither of us feeling great about how the teamwork had held up. There’s a lot at stake — sudden weather switches, unpredictable williwaws make it crucial to get this right. Every couple of days we get another chance to see if we can improve on our mutual desire to work together.

We got a little of a late start for the longish dinghy ride over to Supper Cove where the Seaforth River enters the Sound. It’s reported to hold brown trout! The Dusky trail slopes along the banks, through mud puddles and a podocarp forest of magnificent rimu, kahikatea, miro, mataī and tōtara trees. The river tumbles off some boulders and then flattens like a lake for several kilometers. Tea stained with tannins, spotting fish (the only way to fish in New Zealand) was tough. Ultimately we didn’t see any, though a few rocks got some very intense attention.~MS We took Namo over to the next bay, Supper Cove, to be able to hike on the Dusky Track. It’s an advanced tramper track – 84km one way, but we just did 6km and found it muddy but heavenly (not bushwhacking).

An official TRAIL, baby!
Forest light can look like studio light!
Focus schmocus, look at those colors!
The non-green vegetation really stood out.
The leaves of the Beech trees leach acidic tannins into the rivers making them appear ‘tea stained.’
Sticta Coronata, a lichenized fungi. We learned from our Lyttelton artist friend, Virginia, that it makes fabulous natural dye for fabric!
Virginia’s Sticta dyed wool.
Back in Shark Cove. No sharks spotted but some magical kayaking and wise trees!
Some really lovely Australians invited us aboard their custom built boat of 30 years, s/v Fine Tolerance for tea!
I’d heard a waterfall from the kayak and went back to get Marcus so we could try to find the source! Took this pic to show that we can drink the water ANYWHERE in NZ without fear of getting Giardia. This ‘quick cup’ is our favorite thing from Wyatt’s running world – clip it on your backpack and it’s light as a feather – voila, water at the ready!
Paradise found!
What is it about falling water?!!
Just might have to be a mosaic someday?!
Our last night in Shark Cove. We ended up with just under two months in Fiordland and we’d have loved twice as much at least.
We saw so few other boats, but at dusk this boat ‘Flightless’ showed up and picked up the big mooring. In the wee hours of the morning (hence the soft focus), the morning, the helicopter dropped in from the head of the bay, landed and shifted out crew for this tour boat operated by a conservation minded company called, ‘Pure Salt.’
The Acheron Passage is a north/south running inland route which connects Dusky Sound to Wet Jacket Arm to Breaksea Sound. Quite nice from our perspective as we didn’t need to go ALL the way back out to the open ocean to traverse up to Breaksea. Plus, we had the benefit of securing ourselves in what’s known as an ‘All Weather Anchorage,’ and the safest spot in all of Fiordland for a W/NW blow due in the next day. Sure couldn’t imagine it with these mirror like conditions though …

While Wet Jacket Arm and Breaksea Sound are still part of the Dusky/Tamatea Complex, I’ve broken them up, if for no other reason than my own sanity, so I can feel a sense of progression, ha! ~DS







Mountains and Waterfalls and Reflections, oh my! Preservation Inlet/Rakituma – FIORDLAND,


Heading across the Tasman Sea, the farthest South Allora’s ever been!
I took this pic of Marcus cozily sleeping off watch …
… and without knowing I had, he took this of me in the same state!
Arriving early (too early)!


Last Cove, Preservation Inlet

My first series of thoughts were about the precariousness of our situation, and how much we depend on our engine, despite being a sailboat. What in the world would Captain Cook do? We had arrived at the entrance to Preservation Inlet a couple of hours too early, despite our attempts to slow Allora down. No wind but a big southwest swell colliding with a northerly chop was making g