Fiordland Canoeing

These recollections from Gordon Andreassend describe an early Canoe Club trip organised by Jim Mason to visit Fiordland over Dec 1954 – Jan 1955. We are very grateful to Gordon for taking the time to put these ideas down and sending them and his old photos to us. You may also like to read his recollections of other club activities.

Auckland to Milford Sound

This was probably the most ambitions of the early Canoe Club trips. The group of 10 men under the leadership of Jim Mason, travelled by train and inter-island ferry to Dunedin, then by chartered bus to Milford Sound.  Food supplies, folding canoes, and other equipment was carried with us.  We arrived at Milford Sound late in the evening and hastily pitched a camp on the salt flats close to the sea.  We slept well in our sleeping bags, and woke to a bright sunny morning.  We began to sort out our canoes and gear that had been spread over the area.  We found that the cardboard boxes of fresh bread we had collected en-route, had been discovered earlier in the morning by the keas, and they had enjoyed a real feast!  The first major task was to assemble the canoes, and this was accomplished quickly. Food and gear we were taking with us were stowed in the canoes, and by mid-morning we were on our way. In good weather we struck out from the shore and made good speed as we paddled the Sound.  Mitre Peak, Bowen Falls, and many other scenic features were viewed perfectly from the water.  Our destination was Anita Bay situated at the point where the Sound meets the Tasman Sea.  Half way there we were greeted by a small school of dolphins.  Most of us recognized them, but two Swiss canoeists who had joined us in their one-man kayaks, were quite startled. They had seen sharks in the Red Sea when travelling to New Zealand, and thought the harmless dolphins were a type of shark.  There is a hut at Anita Bay which we were heading to, but we got a surprise as we paddled ashore.

Swarms of sandflies came out to greet us and they bit any exposed part of the skin, as we made our way to the hut.

Gordon (left) and Jim in Fiordland.

The hut was a haven away from the sandflies.  It reeked of smoke from the open fire, probably not to the sandflies liking.  We brought our supplies into the hut as quickly as possible and stored the canoes.  The hut was our refuge for 2 nights.  We spent some time outside, well covered up, collecting firewood for the fire, then prepared a meal.  The weather was fine the next day so we pushed the canoes out as quickly as possible.  Fifty metres out the sandflies disappeared, and we spent that day offshore, paddling up and down the coast.  In the afternoon we decided to go out and look at the Tasman Sea.  The waves were coming in, in long swells, about 50 or 60 feet from crest to trough.  In the trough all you could see was dark green water all around you, then you would rise to the crest to see a clear view of sea and sky – going all the way to Australia.  A good meal, and a good rest in the hut that night, and an early start the next morning, saw us paddling back down Milford Sound.

Canoe club trip to Fiordland 1954 (courtesy of Gordon Andreassend). These photographs also appeared in a copy of “The Auckland Weekly News”.

Beautiful scenery once again, and in bright sunlight we headed for a grassy slope some distance away from Bowen Falls.  We decided to pitch our tents on that soft grass, had a meal, and settled down for the night.  At around 3am we were awakened by water crashing on our tents.  We thought we were in the middle of a heavy rainstorm, and shifted to the shelter of a small hill and cave.  With sunrise we found what our mistake had been.  There was a clear sky and no rain.  We had been sleeping under torrents of water pushed out by a heavy rainstorm, several miles inland. The river had risen and the weight of the descending water had created a gale that blew the water away from the fall to our green soft campsite. 

A good lesson learnt – never camp on lush green grass near the base of a waterfall !

Tents and kit dried out that afternoon and we moved to some huts in the Milford township.  We had two days at the huts, spending some time in our canoes, exploring the upper inlets of the sound, and enjoying some walks on tracks around the township.

The Fiordland trip Canoe Club party. (Courtesy of Gordon Andreassend)

Lakes Te Anau and Manapouri

The next day, the bus we had chartered took us from the town through the Homer Tunnel to river flats adjacent to the road, where a small group of us were leaving to continue our cruising down the southern waterways while the remainder were returning to Auckland.

Jim Mason and I were in his two-man canoe, and there were 2 other single man canoes. Our craft were prepared on the banks of the Eglinton River, and loaded with our gear. We were soon paddling down the Eglinton and enjoying some remarkable scenery.  The river enters Lake Te Anau just south of Te Anau Downs.  We cruised the lake, stopping off at the caves on the western shore then paddling down to the entrance to the Waiau River.  The short run between Lake Te Anau and Lake Manapouri was covered fairly quickly, and we were soon heading towards the township of Manapouri where we purchased some supplies. Then it was on to a hut near Hope Arm, where we were to stay for the next 3 days.  A hearty meal and a restful night prepared us for an extensive cruise of Lake Manapouri and some walks along surrounding tracks. One of the single canoeists was a real bushman.  He could tickle reasonable sized trout and catch them, and his rifle brought down a deer that was floated back to the hut to be hung for 2 days before we tackled the venison.  The hut was most comfortable, with pleasant waterfront surroundings, and it was with reluctance that we bid it farewell.  It took little time for us to paddle round to the inlet leading to the lower Waiau River that ran down to the sea.

From the Waiau River to Auckland.

The river flowed at a rapid pace and we soon arrived at Monowai, where a hydro-electric power station had been built.  A short delay while we by-passed the power station, and we continued downstream at a good rate.  The land around us gradually flattened out into farming land and we headed for the small town of Tuatapere, where there was a camping area near the local hotel.  We carried the canoes to the campsite together with all our gear and erected our tents.  We then visited the hotel to order dinner, and were pleasantly surprised to hear that the pub was open after 8pm for drinks, as that is the time that the local farming community can come and relax.  The law required public houses to close at 6pm throughout New Zealand, but exceptions were made in some rural areas.

After our meal, we had a very pleasant time yarning with the local farmers, who were interested to hear of our trip through Fiordland, and down the Waiau river.

A good night’s rest, and we were on our way next morning by bus to Invercargill.  We were dropped at the Railway Station, and packed everything that was being sent by freight to Auckland.  A train that afternoon took us to Dunedin, where we stopped overnight, before continuing on next day to Christchurch.  A one-night stop in Christchurch was spent with my brother, who lived there, and the following day he drove us to Lyttleton to get the ferry to Wellington.  The main trunk line took us from Wellington to Auckland.

We said our farewells at the Auckland Station, and with fond memories of a great trip, prepared to return to work, back in the big city.  We thanked Jim Mason for arranging the trip, and said we would see him on the Club’s next outing in 2 weeks’ time.  

Gordon Andreassend. Hong Kong.  April 2020.