Arohanui South Island! Passagemaking Northward.

Leaving Tory Channel, entering Cook Strait. Tough leave, South Island … we’ve felt HELD by you! Arohanui Haley and Liam!

Picton to Opua via Napier and the East Cape (duh, duh, duh)

Diana’s last log entry on the first leg of this passage: “worst passage ever.” Maybe, I’m not sure, but I confess to getting seasick, for only the third time ever. Even so, I think the hardest part was leaving the South Island in dead calm with the threat of drizzle. After two and half years, it felt like leaving home, not least because we were leaving Haley and Liam, and knew it would be a while before we could get back.

Fueling up, (which for some reason is always a little stressful for me), was extra stressful knowing it was the last thing to do before saying goodbye. After multiple hugs and lots of tears, there was nothing to do but cast off the lines and pull away. 

We were on a bit of schedule, running out of time to get to Opua before Maddi arrived from the States. Also, it was crucial to time our exit from the Tory Channel for a reasonably favorable current, the basic recommendation was leave on high tide out of Picton. We led that by an hour or two to try to avoid encountering head winds in Cook Strait. It was pretty mild to start and Diana made some super yummy wraps for lunch (she is the undisputed Empress of wraps in my book). As seems to so often be the case sailing around New Zealand, there was no chance of entirely missing the wind shift, and about halfway across we were sailing close-hauled. At least the seas, at that point weren’t too bad, not stacking up against current or anything. I went down to take a nap, and missed Diana logging 13 knots surfing on seas that were getting pretty steep. In fact, we wandered into the edge of an area of rip tides and overfalls, ‘Korori Rip,’ that was pretty dramatic. As it got dark the wind was on our beam and so were the steep seas. Diana was feeling pretty awful, and then I got sick too. This might have been where Diana logged “worst watch ever,” – she was really feeling bad and then the rudder on the hydrovane (our wind vane steering system) came off and started pounding on the stern. It took Diana a couple minutes to figure out what was going on, what the loud noise was. I donned a PFD, clipped the harness in and took a knife out onto the swimstep, hoping that I could cut the safety line off without losing it. It was pretty wet, but I didn’t want to take time to put on boots, so I opted for bare feet. Anyway, it actually wasn’t that bad, Diana has set up holder for a good sharp dive knife and a pair of pliers under the lid of the lazarette where they are super handy (she’s pretty good at coming up with that kinda stuff). I took the next watch and Diana tried to sleep off her seasickness. Once we cleared Cape Palliser things improved dramatically.

Another way through the Tory Channel and across the Cook Strait … bet they have a smoother ride? (Our food may be tastier?)
Exciting though it was, it was also time to stop taking pictures and turn away!

No doubt timing arrivals, departures, capes and channel entrances can be the trickiest part of sailing. You’re always trading one ideal for another. The next challenge of this passage was the East Cape, which is massive and takes a couple days to fully round. The forecast was for 4 meter seas and forty knot gusts… not super inviting. We liked better the sound of a snug marina slip at Napier to wait for the weather to ease up a bit, but that meant arriving at midnight, which is something we are loathe to do if we’re not really familiar with the layout. It’s never nice to feel like your options are bad or worse. As it turned out, the wind in the harbor was still and the passage in, though shallow, was well marked and very well lit. We glided to the visitor’s berth next to the travel-lift, easy peasy. The quiet and calm felt glorious.

We really like the Art Deco town (stayed awhile on our way south in early 2021) and I wished we had more time to stay; I made a provisioning run to include my favorite health food store, Chantal, a freezer stock up of ready made yummy meals from Mylk and had a dinner date night with Marcus at Three Doors Up in Ahuriri, near the Yacht Club. There’s a phenomenal Astanga studio here, with Peter Sanson teaching, but our tight schedule wasn’t creating the space for a deep breath, let alone 2 hours of it!
We’re back out and it’s CHILLY! A hint of a smile goin’ tho …

Waiting for the gale at the East Cape to ease came with a trade off — the near certainty that we would have to pass through a frontal system to reach Cape Brett. Yeah, I know, a lot of fretting about capes, but there’s a reason so many of them are given awful names by sailors (Cape Fear, Cape Runaway, Punto Malo, Cape Foulwind), they really do run the show. In the meantime, that lay two days in the future. We rounded the East Cape in the early morning, jibed and then enjoyed a glorious daytime sail headed northwest, pretty as you please, even got the guitars out for a little music.

Might have to start calling him, ‘Hendrix.’
Allora meeting the waves. The hint of orange that you can see ahead of our mast is our Stormsail, rigged on the bow to deploy just in case of really high winds. It’s essentially just a reefed down version of our jib/normal headsail. You’d have to go up there to run the sheets and then to hoist it up using a topping lift at the mast, so gladly, I can say, we haven’t had to use it. Later, on our Fiji passage, we sort of wished we had. The sea has so many moods …
Haley (right) and Liam made this awesome sign to welcome Maddi (left) to Aotearoa/NZ! These two hadn’t seen each other in 3 years! They met in Wellington for a few days of solid catch up! Plan: Maddi then flew up to Opua to meet us and crew to Fiji (next post!). We received this sib pic while on our northward passage and it cut right through the chilly temps to warm us through and through!
One more sister shot, because it’s so happy making!
All shades of blue. Oddly enough, there’s a deep sense of grounding while floating on the ocean??!
You can look out and think you see nothing but ocean and sky, and then a blatant reminder that there’s always more!
For instance, these cheery friends!!!
Huddling contentedly, staying warm-ish.
Another night of quiet and watches. NOT!

The squalls started with darkness (naturally). Note to self: frontal passages are not to be taken lightly! Also I’m going to try to remember that the forecasts don’t really represent true wind speeds in these conditions. These are more like what you get with squalls in the tropics (sudden doubling of wind speeds) but over a much more sustained area and time period. Soon we were double reefed on main and jib, taking big seas over the whole boat.

Once again, Diana took the hardest watch (you might accuse me of scheming here, but I swear this is just a matter of chance). Her words from the log: waves over bow, raucous, deluge, still dumping. Mine: rain, clearing, wind finally calming. At least I tried to make up for it giving her a longer watch off, putting in four hours to clear Cape Brett. All the while looking forward to the forecast easing and a swing of the wind for a quiet sail into the Bay of Islands. No such luck. Wind died, and then the engine died, 8X according to Diana’s notes. At 5AM I was back on, and eventually the mystery of the engine was solved. I was so focused on the last engine issue back in Fiordland (which was entirely electrical) that it took me a while to realize that the current problem was oil pressure. I’d checked the oil, but with a heeling boat, the reading was off. I added oil and the engine was happy again. More engineering-inclined-sailors than I have expressed skepticism about black boxes (computers) on marine diesel engines, but for the less mechanically minded (yours truly) they can actually be a life saver. Better the engine shut itself down than damage something, though it’d be kinda nice if the $1000 panel offered something a little more elucidating than “CHK ENG.”

Dawn came quietly, and it worried me a little to see fog along the coast, but it dissipated as we arrived, and pulled into a quiet slip in the Bay of Islands Marina. ~MS

Our radar shows Allora smack dab in the middle of a front – and yet so close to our destination of Opua! Logbook entries say, ‘Wild ride, just took a couple intense waves over the whole boat!’ We also had a series of engine issues in the morning while rounding Cape Brett before arriving in Opua. Plenty of excitement, but NONE matching that of seeing Maddi the very next day!!!!


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).


Magical Milford Sound/Piopiotahi! – Fiordland

The seaward side of Sutherland Sound is blocked by a sand/gravel bar, so deep draft vessels can’t venture far ‘inside,’ and there are no recognized anchorages for yachts.
Couldn’t resist slipping in to Poison Bay/Papa Pounamu, just to take it in.
These would have been the calm conditions described in our book as being necessary to spend the night in Poison Bay, but we didn’t have the time, sadly.
The very dwarfed looking Stirling lighthouse at the entrance of Milford Sound where it meets the Tasman Sea.

Piopiotahi (Milford Sound) resonates with awe and leaves us speechless, like the Grand Canyon or Machu Picchu, or the Magellanic Clouds on a vividly starry night at sea. The sheer mass and scale, the soaring beauty, each breathtaking turn. Words just pour out, but fail to capture what it feels like to sail into this magnificent fiord. The day we spent in this unique-in-the world place, was blue and lit with sun, the water impenetrably deep, granite walls towered over us, beyond imagination and comprehension, the waterfalls gushed bountifully without end. Apparently Captain Cook missed Milford on his first pass, and actually that’s not entirely surprising. Approaching from the sea the fiord begins rather humbly and then builds and builds in its symphonic crescendo of magnificence. A bit much? Not really. Every time I stepped away from the helm and out from under the dodger I caught my breath as I looked up and up. ~MS

The tour boats run in a clockwise loop around Milford, and there were probably FAR fewer than in non-Covid affected years, (saw maybe 12 all day), but we were able to stay quite clear of them just by scooting to the middle or going the other way – basically we had the luxury of no rules! But who’s looking at boats with these sheer rock faces in our midst?

Excited visitors to this breathtaking sound are at risk for ‘Milford Neck Syndrome.’ By the end of the day, my neck wouldn’t support my head anymore – had been looking up too much!!

There’s a resident pod of Bottlenose Dolphins in Milford – they dashed over eagerly to welcome Allora!

Heading up toward Deepwater Basin, the tourist concession. Milford is the only fiord that can be reached directly by vehicle and because of that, it normally receives up to 500,000 visitors per year! When we went via car (with Wyatt) in April 2021, ours was the ONLY car in the massive parking lot. Now, a year later, tourism is inching its way back.
Iconic Mitre Peak, 1683m
Some people book their big Milford trip a year in advance and then get one of the 182 rainy days/year. Feeling such gratitude to the weather gods!
Bowen Falls adorned by a rainbow, as if it needed more?!

We had to keep Allora off shore just enough to avoid a full shower from the downpour of Stirling Falls. She drops 150 meters (a 35 story building worth!)

We were both giddy all day and so so glad we made this quick but rich visit!

Real Journeys offered up their mooring in Harrison Cove since they wouldn’t be using it. This saved us figuring out how to find a suitable anchoring spot in otherwise super deep water.
So EASY! No kayaking multiple lines to shore anymore!
Low light on Donne Glacier, but there’s a GLACIER in our anchorage?!!!
Last light on the peaks.
Wyatt left NZ for the States on this day. Something about that fact coupled with our sort of ceremonially special last hours in Fiordland left us feeling a bit stunned. We fell asleep super early and woke back up at midnight to start our passage up the West Coast. At 12:15 am, we left Harrison Cove in such pitch blackness that we were grateful for the silhouetted ‘steep as’ granite walls and the resident dolphins which escorted us out with an utterly magical and hushed Fiordland goodbye. Haere rā!




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.


Doubtful/Patea, aka Gleeful Sound – Fiordland

Dash from Dagg to Doubtful:

The relatively short distances between sounds along Fiordland’s rugged coast allow for mad dashes timed to brief calms, but you can’t really read the ocean’s mood sheltered in the steep granite walls of the fiords. Often the designation, “all weather anchorage,” means that fishermen have figured out that even in the worst conditions, certain spots are spared. The only way to know when it’s time to go, if you don’t have the benefit of years of local knowledge, is to study the weather models that we download twice a day from PredictWind. Because they are downloading via Iridium satellite, the resolution of the models cannot be higher that 50km. So there’s a bit of an odd effect as the models average how much the wind on the Tasman Sea is slowed down by the mountainous Fiordland coast, giving the appearance of lighter winds close to shore. They probably are a little lighter compared to what they are 20 miles out at sea, but our experience is that the models generally underestimate what it’s like on the outside and overestimate what we’ll experience once inside.  Wind or no, gale or no, the seas are almost always a mess, particularly where local winds funnel through the openings of the sounds. Schedules are well known as the bane of sailing but in the land based world they are unavoidable, and Wyatt had a particularly narrow window of time to squeeze in a visit to us amid preparations to leave New Zealand. So we considered ourselves unreasonably lucky when the wind that pinned us down for a couple of days in Daag, relented in perfect time for us to make the dash. We arrived at the opening of Doubtful with what Wyatt would call a ‘splitter bluebird’ sunny day. ~MS

We saw the full flow of waterfalls after the previous day’s rain as we left Dagg Sound. By the time we got to Doubtful, they were less vigorous, heading into their ‘elegant’ phase!
The clouds came and went, as they do; a reminder that Wyatt would soon join us and then be off again. Even these monolithic mountains, seemingly in stasis, are ever in flux.
We scooted directly on up to Deep Cove so we’d be all set for Wyatt’s morning arrival the next day. SO EXCITED!
Allora on a mooring (all by herself) in Doubtful Sound, tucked right up next to the roar of Helena Falls. Evening spent getting the aft cabin clear of STUFF to welcome Wyatt the next day. Here, I don the particular ‘happy parent’ expression, just moments after snagging Wyatt off the bus!
Yep, the same one!
Triad of smiles.
Wyatt made a fairly long journey from Wanaka to meet up with us: ( 4 hours via car to Manapouri via Queenstown, Ferry across Lake Manapouri to West Arm, Bus via Wilmot Pass Road).  We hardly paused before whisking Wyatt away on the last leg of this long adventure toward Hall Arm.
Oh, how we love VISITS!!!
It was a dramatic day, light wise. Sometimes it’d be broody and dark and then beams of sunlight would break through and highlight just one sliver of the mountainside.

Think we would have been happy gathering anywhere, but this is most definitely Wyatt’s giddy inducing environment!
I have interspersed Wyatt’s pics throughout this blog post – and used ©WS to indicate his shots.
These two …
We had to stay ‘on our game’ to keep anchoring strategies as thorough despite Wyatt’s being with us. Thankfully, the weather cooperated, with the max wind being 21 knots, and Wyatt always has a good sense of being responsible to the situation, anyway.
Anchoring – We never did buy the ‘marriage saver’ headphones which might be a bit softer in the decibel department for communicating between bow and stern. But in this steep sided environment, sometimes our voices would even echo! (Fun for music playing, too!)
Found our spot! Hall Arm is actually breath-taking!!
Oh yeah, this’ll do!
©WS We anchored in 68′ of water – so pretty deep – with all our rode out.
I think all 3 of us held a quiet awareness around how hard our next goodbye would be, as Wyatt was planning to leave NZ after spending 2.5 years building community in Wanaka and sharing some real quality time with us.

Ok, let’s go EXPLORE!!

©WS Snagging one of these close ups sometimes involves a bit of scrambling! (Wyatt was too busy grabbing me from the icy water after I slipped and fell in to take a picture!)

Ha, Wyatt caught us both entranced!

We have experienced a profound cumulative effect traveling through the wilderness of these southern fiords, as we mash through the tangled forest or glide like a whisper through glassy, watery mountain reflections. We feel a growing, deepening awareness of the liveness and power of this unfettered place. Every day Diana peers a little closer into the magical profusion of the rainforest, its tiniest creatures (or the smallest we may perceive) all this abundance of life fueled by fresh water, gray stormy clouds, shifting rays of sunlight, massive stone faces fading softly into the distance. The boundless imagination of nature is vividly accessible here, free of scheming human interference. Inexhaustible, effortless celebration. We feel blessed to feel like we belong, to participate at our particular scale, with our particular way of perceiving. Gratefully reconnected as dolphins come to play alongside Allora, turn and smile and look back at us with familiar eyes, into our own delighted gaze. As the sky softens at sunset, or looms heavy with rain before the storm, as water gushes from waterfalls that were not there before the deluge, thundering into the fiord, as williwaws tornado in wild rainbow mists across startled coves, how delightful it is to be alive, a part of, this marvelous, miraculous world. ~MS

The layout of Doubtful/Bradshaw/Thompson Sounds. You can see why they’re called ‘arms.’
©WS We moved each night because Wyatt had just 5 with us and although we KNOW ‘more isn’t more,’ we couldn’t resist! Also, weather necessitated we seek certain protection, so we had THAT excuse (wink).
Gaer Arm up Bradshaw Sound is a famously hard spot to set anchor, normally only a daytime or fair weather anchorage. The Camelot River is at the head and offers great potential for dingy/kayak exploration at high tide, so we strategized and came up with a plan since we had some moderate winds forecasted.
Anchored off the mud bank of the Camelot at the head of the arm.
Just starting up the Camelot, Allora barely in sight. We timed our Camelot River foray and left two hours before high tide, towing the kayak behind Namo. We crept up 2k carefully avoiding snags and rocks until reaching a clear ‘no go’ spot for Namo. At that point, the guys hiked a couple more kilometers up the gorgeous river and I turned back toward Allora with the kayak, so as to be on the boat for the predicted winds.
Learned something about how cloudy days can actually be more subtle light for shooting.
I turned back toward Allora while Marcus and Wyatt fished upstream.
Making my way back to Allora in some pretty ‘skinny’ water. There were sulphuric smelling hot water bubbling spots all across the shallows!
Allora nicely sitting just where we left her and in very placid conditions. The wind did end up picking up, but not in any significant way and our anchor stayed set nicely.
We moved across Bradshaw Sound to Precipice Cove/MacDonnell Island, an all weather anchorage.
Still quite giddy about having one on one time with Wyatt before he flies back to the States.
Wyatt went off on a long kayak while we heard word about our long awaited boxes of pre-ordered ‘fresh’ veggies! Real Journeys offers the service in collaboration with a grocery store in Te Anau. It’s kind of a miracle and although it didn’t go flawlessly, we were more than happy to jump through a few hoops to get celery and lettuce and carrots, oh my!
The Milford Mariner, a boat run by Real Journeys, called us on the VHF and said they had our 3 boxes of veggies! We were expecting them to arrive the day we picked up Wyatt, but they kept going missing. Anyway, we zipped over to the head of the bay and their lights made them look even more angelic in my eyes! The first ‘freshies’ since leaving Oban a good two months ago! I definitely did a vegetable dance!
Instead of the 45 knot winds which were predicted, we saw only a few mild gusts but LOTS of rain, enough to almost fill both of our water tanks (200 gallons!).

Before heading to Crooked Arm, we went a bit farther on to see some of the waterfalls at the head of Precipice Cove.
©WS Yeah, it DID rain A LOT!
Marcus was super generous to be helmsman while Wyatt and I ran around gleefully taking pictures!
Looking down into Thompson Sound from Penoulo Reach.

A frisky band of Bottlenose Dolphins took to leaping in the wake of a Real Journeys boat which whizzed by us. We weren’t even sure if the folks on that boat saw the antics because they just kept on keeping on. Meanwhile, we stopped and spent over an hour and a half with these VERY social and smiley creatures! All of these dolphin shots are Wyatt’s. My camera fogged up and he needed an SD card anyway, so I just spent the whole time giggling!
Always and already …
We spent our last evening at the end of Crooked Arm, just 1 mile as the crow flies to Dagg Sound. I was sure Wyatt would want to run across, but we didn’t arrive till quite late in the afternoon and we were cherishing our last time for sweet conversation.
And what an evening it was! Fiordland showed off a wee bit.
We shot this when we thought Wyatt had the possibility of extending his stay one more day, hence the smiles. We learned soon after that we had to rush in the morning to get him back to Deep Cove for an earlier bus because they’d cancelled the other option. 🙁
One last kayak outing.
Leaving Crooked Arm and working our way back to Deep Cove, Marcus maneuvered Allora right up next to these stunners.

Last things to say. This appears to have more lightness and less tears than I remember?
©WS Such gratitude.
Back at Deep Cove. We ran Wyatt over to the place where we’d picked him up and we saw his bus leaving – 15 minutes EARLY! It was against my better interests, because I’d have loved to KEEP him for 2 more days, but I screamed my throat raw, the driver stopped and he made the bus. No Italian style protracted goodbyes though – he was off in an instant! OUCH, rip the bandaid! (Was glad we’d had that heart to heart in the morning!) Ciao bello!
Marcus and I took a walk, hardly talking, just savoring the blissful blur of the 5 past days traipsing all over Doubtful Sound with our baby!
The light was even a bit melancholy.
Never too disheartened to be lit up by a new mushroom find!
We found a trail right up to the base of Helena Falls.
Last light of the day along the tail-race looking in the direction which Wyatt headed, starting this new chapter in his life.
We had to fuel up Allora and do some laundry (real life after sustained play), so we stopped one last night in Snug Cove/First Arm of Doubtful before heading northward.
Almost like a dream …


Doubtful we’ll ever forget this.


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!