Story by Jeanine Langvik
How on earth are we going to get through there we thought as we made our way down to the lookout over the tidal flow at French Pass. The sea was racing through the pass like a whitewater rapid at a speed of 13 knots an hour creating huge eddies on the sides. You could actually see that the water level was higher on one side of the pass than the other, and the effect of the flow of so much water through such a small narrow channel made it look like a rapid on a river. It was quite impressive and made us a little anxious.
It was a beautiful sunny day and we had arrived in French Pass that morning to start our pre-millennial circumnavigation of D’Urville Island. The forecast was great – a huge high was approaching the country and we were ready to tackle the notoriously exposed west coast. After waiting 5 hours for the tide to go slack we were ready. It took some time to pack two weeks of food and gear for Jeanine and Wayne, and a week’s worth for Allan and Lyndsay, into our kayaks, but we managed to pack it all in. Finally, at slack tide we cruised through French Pass. The difference from just a few hours before was amazing – not a ripple on the surface. We didn’t stay long at the pass, as the window of calm water, between the tidal flows, was only 30 minutes long.
Encouraged, we powered on with our exceptionally heavy boats around the rocky southern point of the island and on to Te Puna Bay – a large sweeping bay with a steep surf-prone beach riddled with a whole forest of driftwood. I bet Lyndsay’s mind visualised the huge bonfire he could have made!! However, the farmer came along and got chatting while we made a late dinner, so fires were out of the question. Allan impressed us all with his latest decadent acquisition: an espresso machine for primus use and the funny noises it made frothing the milk for our cappuccinos.
The next day was dead calm and the barometer was on the increase so we decided to cover the west coast as far up as we could. The west coast is a desolate place with huge cliff faces, underwater caves and huge arched islands. It was quite spectacular – a bit like the western side of Kapiti Island. We entered Greville Harbour and landed on a sandy and rather soggy beach for lunch. We would have liked to explore the inner reaches of the harbour, but decided to go on to Port Hardy that night and make the most of the calm settled weather. At aptly named Seal Point, some seals jumped off the rocks and came out to play with us. Diving and swimming all around us, they made great company.
Late in the day, we finally rounded Nile Head and could just see Cape Stephens in the distance – tomorrow’s destination. We found a great campsite just into Port Hardy and had a good rest before taking on the top of D’Urville Island. Having got through French Pass and the Western side of the island without a hitch Cape Stephens was now the last challenge.
6am the following day the weather was good and we headed out across the bay towards the top of the island. It was quite windy, however, we decided to proceed having timed the tides to be favourable. In hindsight this decision was perhaps not a wise one, as we were slightly late reaching the Stephens Passage and the tide had turned on us. Around the top the water looked fine, although we could see the tidal rip across Stephens Passage. In the distance was Stephens Island – a huge menacing rock. Through the first tidal rip it went fine, just a bit bouncy – then we hit it – a patch of really messy sea: huge waves, eddies, and a tidal flows that obviously did not agree with us. It was a bit like paddling in a washing machine – waves coming from everywhere. The next hour I paddled flat out covering perhaps a kilometer at the most – trying to keep up with Allan in front of me. I always knew we would get through OK, however, it was not an enjoyable place to be! I’m sure we were all happy we had such heavy boats laden with two weeks supply of food and wine. After some confusion as to the whereabouts of the full party I spotted Lyndsay on a beach in the distance and headed inshore. I got caught up in a huge eddy which was like paddling through thick mud. Exhausted I finally landed on terra firma. We were all pretty knackered and decided to wait out the wind. After a couple of hours sleeping in the sun we headed out again – this time without further excitement.
After a long day we camped in Whareata Bay, had a swim and lazed in the sun, and found some mussels which we cooked up in wine and herbs and garlic – yum. We were amazed that we had almost covered D’Urville and it had only taken us 2 and half days. Stuart, John and Ann took the best part of a week to do this trip the previous year – but then we had certainly been lucky with the weather, but in retrospect we should have waited a bit longer before heading around through Stephens Passage.
We crossed over from D’Urville Island to the top of the South Island the follow day and camped on some farmland near Post Office Point. Wayne finally tried fishing and had some instant luck and pulled in a few fish.
We called in at the shop that lies in Bulwer- we had visions of eating ice creams and some nice food, while sitting in the sun. However when we arrived a middle-aged Kiwi bloke who ran the store greeted us: “Ice creams – no way” he said, “we stock only the essentials of life – fuel for the boats, beer and ice to keep the beer cold”. So much for the ice creams, but the beer was sure nice and cold.
The great weather continued on for a couple of more days until New Year’s Eve, when it clouded over. We were camped at Waiona Bay to celebrate the new millennium. This Bay is one of my favourites in the Sounds – really nice native bush and it quite sheltered from any wind. The rain set in just before midnight – so here we were sitting there around a campfire in the rain determined to last there for the remainder of the old century. We thought we may get up early to see the new millennium sunrise – but the rain put an end to these plans and in fact after a few days we wondered if we’d ever see the sun this century.
On New Year’s Day we caught up with Kirsty Woods, Dale, Greg Ord and their paddling party who informed us that they were practising a particularly advanced form of kayaking. They each had coffee plungers and wine glasses, stools strapped onto the decks of their boats and breakfasts consisted of bacon pancakes with maple syrup… Not to forget the collapsible Ortlieb washbowl! Wayne thought this was just too much to take and demonstrated his approach to washing the dishes: throwing them into the sea. As Lyndsay’s eat/drink bucket floated out to sea, a ritual stoning took place…
The rest of the trip consisted of rain and more rain – but was a great place to be. Kayaking into Nydia Bay (to find several flooded campsites) reminded us very much of Fiordland – not only the dampness of Fiordland, but the bush and scenery was fantastic.
After about 8 days Lyndsay and Allan left us to head back to Wellington, while we both kayaked back out the Pelorus and explored a couple more of the side bays in the area. It never ceases to amaze us both how much area there is for kayaking in the Sounds. Some of these bays are quite impressive – we came across a sizeable gannet colony in Clova Bay and paddled over some huge stingrays.
Later on we met up again with the “advanced kayakers” who were still finding bottles of wine and other goodies within their kayaks even after several days on the water. Eventually we parted with the “advanced kayakers” at the entrance to the Kenepuru Sounds. At the Portage we were looking forward to some nice food so we stopped there for a graze but we were in for something out a time warp from the 70’s. Both the carpets and the food have that distinctive touch. However, the Portage is a great location and is one of the narrowest points between the Queen Charlotte and the Kenepuru/Pelorus Sounds. However, despite being one of the narrowest areas between it was still a steep and tiring climb up and over the hill to the other side, towing our kayaks (on wheels) behind us.
The Sounds seemed to be alive with club members on this trip, because in the Queen Charlotte Sound, en route to Picton, we came across Suzi Penny who was out sailing. We made the most of this, and not only did we enjoy a tow but also went aboard for a few refreshments – it looked a nice way to travel. It was a great way to finish a great trip.