Mountains and Waterfalls and Reflections, oh my! FIORDLAND, Preservation Inlet

 

Heading across the Tasman Sea, the farthest South Allora’s ever been!
I took this pic of Marcus cozily sleeping off watch …
… and then 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 going slow under power uncomfortable, the mainsail slatting back and forth despite the preventer. We had already decided to edge up toward Dusky Sound (another twenty miles onward) and go in there instead as long as the forecast northerly held off. I’d barely turned Allora in that direction when the wind began building, directly on our nose, gusting up to 16 knots. No harm in poking a little further that way, to kill time. The Puysegur lighthouse flashed bright and high on our beam, a reminder of where in the world’s oceans we were. Puysegur hosts gale winds or stronger 300 days a year. The weather models showed the next gale arriving by afternoon, by which time we needed to be safely tied up at anchor. The first issue with the engine I noticed was that the display at the nav station was off. Weird, I thought. Then I noticed the gauges in the cockpit, shutting off  and popping back on. Very weird. Then the engine warning came on, beeping insistently. What the heck? Thinking mainly at this point of not waking Diana who’d had a very rough night already struggling to get to sleep for the first few hours of my watch, I quickly shut the engine down. Then as we slowed in the airless swell, I pushed the button to start it back up. It flashed and went off. I tried again, it stayed on long enough for me to get a couple slow, battery dead, rolls of the engine. I had been thinking it was time to replace this starter battery, in fact, I had just had a conversation with Willy on Pazzo about how you know when your starter battery is dead. I should have known better than to bring this up with him, since the last boat conversation I’d had with him was about our flawless autopilot, which literally failed the next day (the first time in six and half years). For a few panicked moments I couldn’t think about anything except the weather forecasts I’d been looking at that predicted wind on the nose if you tried to sail for Dusky and no wind at Puysegur until the arrival of the gale. I guess Captain Cook would just have had to sit there roll in the three meter swell and wait for however many hours it was going to be until the gale chased him in. I didn’t like the sound of that at all. I went below and switched the starter battery to combine with the house batteries and the engine started up. Phew! But the engine warning was still blaring CHCK ENGINE. Amazingly, Diana was still sound asleep, despite about the blaring warning lights, or me running up and down the companionway, starting and stopping the engine. Okay, I checked the oil. I checked the temperature. I checked the cooling system. I checked the transmission. All good. The engine sounded absolutely fine. I’d installed the display at the Nav because supposedly it might give me more information than just CHCK ENGINE… how about check battery, or check electrical system? I reluctantly woke up Diana to tell her about the situation. It definitely did not seem like a good idea to head toward Dusky, we agreed. I figured out how to make the engine warning beep a little bit quieter below and she tried to get back to sleep. I started a slow zig zag toward Puysegur lighthouse, chugging along at under 3 knots, keeping a wary eye on the churning cauldron of Balleny Breaks less than a mile northeast of us and slowly got used to the steady ringing of the engine warning. We motored up the stunning Preservation Inlet to Last Cove as I kicked myself for ignoring my instinct to replace that starter battery. I’d checked it and it seemed okay, but it would have been relatively cheap and easy to replace it, just in case, and not be in this situation. Our first anchorage in Fiordland. We’ve been working on how to set our anchor and lines, a sleepless night from the passage and an engine with a steady CHCK ENGINE still blaring did not make it easier. With a big blow coming we wanted to get it right. 300 feet of rode and two lines to shore. 

The weather models, all four that we download via satellite, predicted this narrow window for rounding the great cape on Stewart Island and sailing with an easterly breeze up to the notorious Puysegur before the wind switched northerly with forecast 50+ knot gusts. We put a lot of faith in them, and they were spot on. After a long nap, I started the project of dealing with the starter battery. My idea was to replace it with one of the house batteries. In the process, I had the thought to check the Duo Charger which regulates the battery charging from the engine’s alternators. The installation showed two fuses and as I pulled the wires to find the inline fuse, I noticed the one for the starter battery was a bit loose. I tightened it up, started the engine, and the charging voltage jumped up right to where it belonged. A loose wire. That was all. Three turns of a screw. ~MS

Dropping the Mainsail. Last time we’ll be sailing for quite awhile. Fiordland is either glassy calm or all out gales.
Oh so happy to be in Fiordland!!

The new GEEK garb, protected (hopefully) from sandflies and the chilly temps!

We started to learn about seeing in this new dimension of the reflection!
Totem

The tides can be sizable and what’s revealed at low can be a wonderland of color.
Last Cove
Stern tying still takes awhile to finesse.
Let the storm begin! This is another ‘all weather anchorage,’ so we hoped the name was apt.
Most of the time it was calm inside and were spared the fury of the wind.
Adjusting the snubber and letting every bit of rode out.

 

These rainbow williwaw’s would wash over Allora with about 40kts of wind – I had to hold on tightly to get the pic!

Cascade Cove, Preservation Inlet

We arrived as the announcement came over the PA on a small Real Adventures cruise boat anchored at dead center in the cove, “the generator will be turned off at 9:30 and then back on again at 6:00 for your convenience…” Two crew walked to the bow, short sleeved black uniforms and to our delight, weighed anchor, the boat disappeared past the head of the cove and left us to the cheerful sound of a small waterfall pouring down the rocks next to a stout blue shoreline. We dropped our own anchor and tied up a boat length from shore. One of our books said that brown trout inhabit the river which flows into the lake above the dramatic falls at the head of the cove. A mere two kilometers as the Tui flies. All we needed to do is scramble up the side of the falls, then bushwack along the lakeshore. We clambered up, relying on roots and branches for hand holds, worrying about the way back down, and somehow made it to the top of the falls. The steep sided outlet of the lake forced us up and up over fallen mossy logs and broken rock faces. Every step was a miniature triumph as we inched and wiggled and scooted minutely closer. The edge of the lake, walking in the shallow was better for a while, until it became a mote of surprise waist deep holes and fallen logs. After hours invested in about a kilometer of progress, we admitted defeat and turned back, now knowing what lay ahead. Many times we expressed gratitude for the near absence of sandflies and the forest herself was pure magic of green mosses and deep ferns and wise old trees. Back at the outlet of the lake where for a brief time there had been trail flags to follow, we found a row boat pulled ashore that we had walked right by. Those Long River brown trout will never know how close them came. The biggest challenge was finding our way back down to the dinghy tied up in the outflow below the falls. We had cleverly laid out markings with sticks on our way up to mark the way, but those didn’t work out any better than bread crumbs did for Hansel and Gretel. We cliffed out, over and over again, but eventually, banged, bruised and muddy found a way down, never more happy to find Namo, dutifully waiting to take us home.

Real Journey’s boat on mooring.
Cascade Falls, as seen from our anchorage.
Waterfalls appeared after every rain.
Some anchorages had water hoses attached to falls (fishermen installed) so we filled up our tanks by scooting RIGHT alongside this wall, keeping Allora’s mast clear of the overhanging trees.
I know, let’s climb to the top of the Falls! And then cross that lake up there to get to the river beyond. Extricating limbs from branches. The adventure begins …
Where to now?
Fiordland’s stunning (and impenetrable) bush.
I am wild about Umbrella Moss!
We kept calling out to each other, so as not to get completely lost!
You could spend a lifetime learning about all the ferns of Fiordland.

Not going that way.
Cascade Falls cascading and falling.
A majestic Rimu.
Dancing with the vegetation.
Wild man Marcus with a sandfly friend!
Plate fungi.
Words cannot describe the magical trees of Fiordland’s bush.
Giddy despite the challenges.
So close to that river, and yet so far …
Gorgeous cliff faces.
We ‘hiked’ to the top of Cascade Falls/Cascade Basin
That river is so close, but without deciding to swim, we just couldn’t get there.
Cascade Falls in low light upon our return.
What a day!
A circuitous track, indeed!
Allora stays put while we go off adventuring.
We’re where we’re meant to be!
Heading over to our last anchorage in Preservation, Isthmus Cove.
Marcus was able to maneuver Allora crazy close to these walls because the steep drop offs and sufficient depths.

I found myself seeing abstracts in the tidal zone.
Our last anchorage.

Next stop: Fiordland/Dusky Sound

 

Port Pegasus, Pikihatiti, southernmost region of Rakiura/Stewart Island

Port Pegasus

After a long period in the 19th century of surprisingly energetic efforts to master and exploit the natural “resources” of Rakiuru,  whaling, mining, seal fur trade, fishing and harvesting lumber, New Zealander’s finally left most of this southern island alone, so that ninety-eight percent of the island is under the management of the Department of Conservation (DOC). It is wild again, and feels that way. There are a few DOC huts scattered about, and a system of trails but most of the island is difficult to reach in any other way than a boat. Port Pegasus still has the remans of some of the settlements, rusted and covered in the bush, but arriving by sea it feels beautifully raw and untouched with very few visitors. We saw a few other boats, including Pazzo, who we met in Lyttelton. The fishing was ridiculously prolific. We caught something on nearly every drop of the jig, and it took less than fifteen minutes to have our first legal sized Blue Cod for tacos. All in all, a very special, wild, rarely visited place that was a little chilly from steady winds that certainly had a whiff of Antarctica on them. 

Ben’s Bay Anchorage, Port Pegasus, only accessible by boat.
South Island Robin or Toutouwai, is found only in NZ. They follow hikers hoping to benefit from the stirred up soil.
A preview of the intense reflections seen in Fiordland.
Rosy Sundew, Drosera Spatulata
We have to collect all of our rubbish, so everything gets reused.
Gorgeous hike up the Tin Range Track. There was a tin mining boom here in the 1890’s. We followed the old RR ties up to the top.
Mesmerized by the close up flora.
Allora at her happiest!

Beach found on a 15 minute hike from the protection of Disappointment Cove.
Pretty notably these sea lions rule this beach.
Sea Lions can’t hide their movements!
Fiordland Crested Penguin fledgling.

Tucked up in the all weather anchorage/Disappointment Cove with 5 lines next to s/v Pazzo awaiting a storm.
Plentiful Blue Cod! Yum, yum, more fish tacos!
Jellyfish
Marcus giving Willy from s/v Pazzo a filleting ‘how to.’

Serenity.

Minerva North, Haven in the Pacific

©s/v Taurus

Of all the places Allora has taken us, North Minerva Reef, is a stand out. The reef literally emerges only 90cm at low tide, and when walking on what feels like the Pacific’s very precipice, we had the surreal sensation that we’d been transported to another world. I urge you to read this article from New Zealand Geographic, which lays out the inherent hazards and contentious history of this fascinating ‘land:’

empire-of-the-sea

We, like many others, made a stop at Minerva North, to break up the often difficult  passage between Tonga and New Zealand. Most boats poise themselves to try to stop, but the weather conditions have to be right to enter the pass and take the time in ‘pause’ mode as opposed to continuing onward, so we felt lucky to manage 3 days in the fold of the protected lagoon. We weren’t alone, though! The 30 boats at anchor around us were dubbed, ‘The Minerva Yacht Club!’

Wyatt and I freedove the pass and found a wonderland of color and life.
Marcus sought some Giant Trevally in the surf, but the surf almost sought him!
Remnants of a less positive interaction with the reef.

“Whales! One o’clock, Starboard bow! Not that far!”

There isn’t much about humpback’s that you can get “used” to
fin and back slipping above the waves
scale inspires awe
flukes waving goodbye, whispering into the drink
surge of whales on the move
juvenile males on a mission
shouldering water ahead of them as they porpoise on the surface
strange knobby heads rushing through the foam
in calmer water, a spy hop, slipping up to peak at YOU
soft blow of a sleeping whale
the sudden totally unexpected wild audacity of a breach
that always always comes out of nowhere
and again
young whale under the stand up paddle board
gripping the camera, ready to go under
calves in the anchorage, sleeping with Mom
arced above her head
curious little ones spy hopping by the stern
or practicing their breaches
flopping, silly half out
then the day they show everyone what they’ve got
~MS

(Rough camera moves, sorry, but the proximity had us sufficiently EXCITED!!!)

 

Suwarrow, A Nature Reserve

Mahi Mahi detail. Caught this Mahi-Mahi enroute from Suwarrow to Tonga.
LARGE coconut crabs are abundant in Suwarrow.

Our stop in Suwarrow was comprised mostly of hiding from 30 knots winds created by a squash zone from a gigantic 1044 high in the south with effects that had people digging in from the Gambier to Tonga. So we don’t have much to offer about what you might do there to enjoy yourself. What we found out was more what you can’t do, and after French Polynesia and the Tuamotos the list felt onerous. Here’s what the ranger who was running things in the winter of 2019 said:

No anchoring except at anchorage island by the ranger station. Period. 

No diving. Period. (Why?)

No fishing inside the lagoon. 

No going ashore on ANY motu in the park anywhere except the ranger island (supposedly because of their rat eradication program)

Technically the rules even dictate when you can leave through the pass (not before noon) though I have no idea how they think they would enforce that. 

There are more no no’s, mainly things you’d expect to be prohibited. At the bottom of the list, there’s a caveat that says the ranger can add anything he wants to the list, and the current Ranger took that to heart. 

That leaves snorkeling, pretty much, and nothing else.

Unfortunately, though this obviously feels excessive and extreme, the behavior of some yacht visitors has served to make the ranger feel more adamant about enforcing and expanding his rules. It doesn’t help that some people feel they have a right to harvest coconut crabs and even lament not having taken more when they found out they could sell them for big money in Niue. Or that some members of the ARC (Atlantic Rally for Cruisers) showed up before the legal opening, trashed the place (according to the ranger) and left their flag planted on the beach. Suwarrow is a designated sanctuary and should be treated with the same respect as a national park anywhere. 

Because the forecast called for the possibility of SE winds over 50 knots we asked for permission to anchor in the better protected SE corner and were denied. Unwilling to test the ranger’s theory that the allowed anchorage would be safe (there is at least one yacht sunk on the NW corner of that tight anchorage with south exposure), we moved, despite his objections to the south east corner, invoking our right under international law to ‘safe haven.’ Our biggest concern was the 3 mile fetch that the allowed anchorage would be exposed to. The anchoring was very poor in the SE, with coral and bommies everywhere, but it was definitely a safer spot. If we did drag we had miles to react rather than the tight lee shore of the approved anchorage. This decision did not make us popular with the head ranger, but we felt we had no choice for the safety of our boats. In the end I don’t think we saw over 35 knots, but I personally would make the same decision again. 

We left as soon as it was over.
~MS

Underway.

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

The Bird Motus of Penrhyn, Cook Islands

A birder’s paradise, the motus around the east side of Penrhyn held nesting colonies of Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Noddy’s and White Terns. An occasional Booby and Magnificent Frigatebird would liven up the scene, but for the most part, the Tropicbirds RULED!

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

 

Maupiti, a gem in the Society Islands

For sailors, these outlying islands are tempting and we’ve had Maupiti in our minds since reading an article about it in a sailing magazine while still in Bozeman. It did not disappoint and it was fun to have some days to explore the little, sleepy island some call Bora Bora’s rival. Maupiti was our last stop before saying ‘au revoir’ to French Polynesia. We would have liked to be able to make it to its’ neighbor Maupiha’a (Mopelia), some 130nm  away, but we felt the tug to gain momentum westward …