Voyage Log: New Zealand Fiordland and The South Coast – Coral Adventurer
Milford Sound to Wellington | 19 January 2023 – 27 January 2023
This trip diary was compiled by: Guest Lecturer Mark Steadman
Day 1: Milford Sound
19 January 2023
It was an early start to the day in Queenstown as the guests met in the foyer of the Hilton Double Tree Hotel. After signing in with the Coral Expeditions crew, we boarded the bus for a wonderful journey along Lake Wakatipu and into Fiordland National Park. The scenery was spectacular with high mountainous peaks all around, some still covered in winter’s snow. Soon after driving through the eerie Homer Tunnel, we ascended into Milford Sound, truly an amazing sight to behold. The expedition team met us at Deep Water Cove jetty and quickly transferred us to Coral Adventurer. After lunch Captain Miles sailed us through the glacier-carved fiord and past mighty Mitre Peak, standing at 1692m. He then thrilled us with a close encounter with Sterling Falls – the bow of our ship being just metres from the cliffs. As we cruised further through the sound, a small pod of rather large Bottlenose Dolphins (up to 3.5m long) accompanied us having lots of fun riding our bow wave. Being a bright sunny day, we all loved the incredible views of Milford Sound.
Later in the day our purser, Sara, gave us a safety briefing in the Bridge Deck Lounge. She introduced the members of her hard-working crew and explained all the ins and outs of life onboard our ship. Next, Alistair, the Expedition Leader, introduced his members of the expedition team including Matteo and Mark – the two Guest Lecturers. Alistair went on to explain how the cruise will run, the expected good weather and some of the activities coming up. To finish off a great first day, Chef Dylan and his crew served a fantastic three-course meal including a lovely Pavlova for dessert.
Day 2: Thompson Sound, Doubtful Sound and Acheron Passage
20 January 2023
Our blue skies from the day before had disappeared. Instead, we awoke to light rain as we entered Thompson Sound just after sunrise. The high cliffs were shrouded in swirling mist as we slowly sailed through the winding fiord, passing many small tree-covered islands. During breakfast, we all gazed through the windows admiring how lush this part of the world is – between 6 and 7m of rain falls annually onto Fiordland. Fiordland National Park is approximately 1.26 million hectares and was designated World Heritage status in 1986.
We spent the morning cruising further into Thompson Sound which then merged into Doubtful Sound. Parts of Doubtful Sound are an incredible 420m deep. We learned from the Guest Lecturers how Captain Cook was the first to pass by this area in 1770, but the first Europeans to enter the fiord were members of a Spanish scientific expedition led by captain Alessandro Malaspina in 1793. As we cruised past the aptly named Punto Febrero and Malaspina channel, Amber held a fun games activity in the Bridge Deck Lounge.
Just before lunch, Expedition Leader Alistair held a very informative presentation on the many activities on offer during our southern New Zealand cruise. During the afternoon, Captain Miles took Coral Adventurer through the Acheron Passage where we were rewarded with amazing views of high cliffs and the rainforest growing right down to the water’s edge. Guest Lecturer Mark gave a great talk on the early navigators and explorers of New Zealand, and we were treated to the sight of the 2,000-passenger ship Noordam cruising past us in a rather tight channel.
The late afternoon saw us cruising into our overnight anchorage in Dusky Sound, in a small secluded spot called Cascade Cove. After dinner, the expedition team played the very interesting BBC documentary, “Coast – New Zealand”.
Day 3: Dusky Sound
21 January 2023
Waking up onboard the ship anchored inside Dusky Sound is an unforgettable experience. The scenery here is just stunning as we were surrounded by many more glacier carved fiords. (A true sound is actually a valley carved out by a river, followed by a rise in sea level that then floods the valley with seawater). After another tasty buffet breakfast, we boarded the Xplorer in groups of 10 to cruise around the corner to Pickersgill Harbour, named after Cook’s lieutenant. Here we were dropped off onto a small rocky landing for a wonderful walk amongst pristine NZ rainforest. Our guides, Mateo and Mark, explained all about Cook’s 5-week stay in the area (in 1773) as well as the use of the new Harrison H4 chronometer – used to accurately calculate their longitude. Local Tomtits (a type of robin) and fantails were seen flitting about the trees as well as translucent filmy ferns, and long lived Rimu and Totara trees. Definitely a privilege to visit such an historic and pristine part of Fiordland National Park.
During lunch, Coral Adventurer pulled up her anchor and glided over to Resolution Island – the site of an amazing effort during the 1890’s to save the flightless Kakapo and Kiwi from introduced predators. We were all certainly eager to board the Xplorers once again in the early afternoon for a cruise to Pigeon Island, where Richard Henry set up his house for his 14-year stay transferring over 750 of the endangered birds to the newly established Resolution Island sanctuary. Next, we cruised over to a secluded cove called Luncheon Cove (by Anchor Island) where Mark and Mateo explained the extraordinary history of New Zealand’s first sealing gang, first permanent dwelling and first ship built (in 1792), and NZ’s first shipwreck and marooning of 35 people (in 1795). We also enjoyed rides in the zodiacs with Alistair and Alana, maneuvering into the small bays and coves for close-up views of NZ Fur Seals, Reef Egrets, Variable Oystercatchers and beautiful Bull Kelp swaying in the swell.
Just before pre-dinner drinks, Mateo gave an interesting talk on the introduction of mammalian pests to NZ, and their detrimental effects on our native birds. After another wonderful dinner, “Hunt for the Wilderpeople” was shown in the Bridge Deck Lounge.
Day 4: Rakiura/Stewart Island & Ulva Island
22 January 2023
Rakiura/Stewart Island is approximately 85% national park and is home to about 20,000 Brown Kiwi and 400 resident humans. Ulva Island is also home to kiwis, as well as the endangered Saddleback, robins, Kaka, Weka and Mohua (Yellowhead). Some of the groups this morning were lucky enough to spot a kiwi casually strolling along the path, probing the ground for tasty invertebrates. Kiwi are usually nocturnal but are often seen during the day on Rakiura. This is thought to be because the available hours to feed during the night over summer are greatly reduced – hence the kiwi must also feed during the day to find sufficient food. The passengers in groups of 10 were ably led by Ulva and her team of super knowledgeable and enthusiastic guides. Many interesting plants and birds were seen along with some fantastic scenery and great stories of the island’s history. Some of us encountered the reason why this area is known as a rainforest but it certainly didn’t dampen our spirits – we could all appreciate such a beautiful and special part of the country.
Also during the morning, many of us took the opportunity to visit the Bridge and the Engine Room where we were fascinated by all the bells, whistles and buttons – and we had to resist the urge to press the big red ones. After lunch, many of us took the Xplorer over to Golden Bay where we enjoyed a lovely stroll over a small forested hill into Oban township. Cafes, museums, smalls shops and even a pub were open for our perusal. Another small group stayed on the Xplorer for a cruise further into Paterson Inlet to Kaipipi Shipyard where the expedition team explained the history of the Whaler’s Base, beginning in 1924 and ending in 1932 as a repair station and over-wintering base for 5 Norwegian chaser ships. All in all, a wonderful afternoon in a very pleasant place.
Once back on board, Mark entertained us with stories about volcanoes, earthquakes and glacier carved hanging valleys. Drinks in the Bridge Deck Lounge were followed by a lovely dinner and the documentary, “Hidden New Zealand”.
Day 5: Dunedin
23 January 2023
The weather in Dunedin was a little cool in the morning but it certainly didn’t stop everyone enjoying this very picturesque city that sits on the hills surrounding Otago Harbour. After the discovery of gold in the early 1860’s, Dunedin was transformed into the economic capital of the entire country. Much wealth was spent on constructing many incredibly ornate and beautiful buildings that have, fortunately, been saved and restored to their former glory. Dunedin is the site of the country’s first university, high school for girls, hospital, botanical gardens, daily newspaper and art gallery.
A small group accompanied Mateo for a great trip along Otago Peninsula – they had fantastic views over the Southern Ocean, visited a penguin rehabilitation sanctuary, cruised along the back roads past lagoons and bays, and visited the city’s iconic sites. Meanwhile, a second group accompanied Mark to discover a more in-depth look at the city and its heritage. We visited Baldwin St, which is officially the world’s steepest street; the university clock tower and railway station with their incredible architecture; Signal Hill and Olveston House; and even large sandstone sculptures at the mouth of the harbour in the shape of molars. Some passengers chose to just spend the morning casually strolling the streets of George and Princes St, doing a little bit of shopping and taking in the sights of this historic city.
After lunch, Mateo gave a great talk on pelagic seabirds and, especially, the Royal Albatross which actually breeds on the NZ mainland – the only albatross to do so. Just as he was finishing his presentation, Coral Adventurer slowly cruised past Taiaroa Heads where we could all easily see the many albatross on the side of the cliff sitting on their eggs while others glided by on an incredible 3m wingspan. Certainly, a wonderful way to end a great day.
After dinner, the expedition team played “The Grand Budapest Hotel” upstairs in the lounge.
Day 6: Akaroa
24 January 2023
Akaroa translates to ‘long harbour’ in Māori, with European settlement of a mixture of British, French, and German nationalities during the 1840’s. The surrounding mountains are the remains of an extinct volcano that last erupted approximately 6 million years ago. The harbour is now home to the diminutive Hectors Dolphin – the world’s rarest and smallest dolphin at only 1.4m long. Those of us who chose to cruise with the Black Cat catamarans along the harbour were treated to amazing views of these very cute marine mammals, including some babies. We also saw fur seals and babies, some Blue Penguins, Spotted Shags and, of course, some fantastic scenery. The second group chose to visit the Pohatu penguin conservation area, on the other side of Banks Peninsular. We had spectacular views, local history stories, and even stopped at some bushes where we found tree weta (a type of large, ancient cricket) and some native geckoes. The highlight, though, was a walk around the penguin nesting area where we were able to see, up close, moulting White-flippered Blue Penguins hanging out in their little shelter boxes. Our guides were very knowledgeable and we all returned to the wharf knowing everything about penguins.
During the afternoon, many of us chose to casually stroll around the lovely township of Akaroa sampling the local fish and chips, ice cream and boutique shops. Another group accompanied the expedition team for an exploratory walk through the Garden of Tane. Here we learned about many native plants and their Māori uses, visited the local historical cemetery, and had nice views over the harbour and lighthouse.
After dinner, David Attenborough’s “Our Planet – High Seas” was screened in the Bridge Deck Lounge.
Day 7: Kaikoura
25 January 2023
Māori have long been residents in Kaikoura due to its abundant seafood. The first shore-based whaling stations were set up in the early 1840’s with over 100 men employed in the industry. Today, the locals are very proud of the marine life on their doorstep with Dusky Dolphins, fur seals, Humpback Whales and albatross occurring in large numbers. The reason for our visit today, of course, was to view the majestic Sperm Whale – it’s mostly the bachelor males who live in this area. The males can grow up to 18m long and weigh up to 40 tonnes. Our catamaran, Wheketere (meaning fast squid) took all of us approximately 20km out to sea in search of the elusive cetacean. Captain Puki had the hydrophone in the water several times listening for their echolocation clicks. As the tension and excitement grew, he suddenly announced that a whale had been spotted. It was a Sperm Whale – Zues. We watched him floating on the surface, taking in huge lungfuls of air and slowly reoxygenating his body after the last 45 minute dive. Definitely, a privilege to have such a close encounter with this amazing creature.
On the way back to the ship, the swell had picked up quite a bit which made for an adventurous ride on the Xplorer – there was much laughter as the spray covered the poor expedition team at the front. Once onboard Coral Adventurer, the captain made the decision to leave Kaikoura due to the excessive swell in the area. The safety of the passengers and the ship (our home) was paramount in this decision. The afternoon was, though, full of activities with engine room tours, Bridge tours and another lecture by Mateo, this time on all the facts and figures that makes New Zealand tick.
After another fantastic meal in the Dining Room, expedition crew member Jesse hosted the famous NZ Quiz upstairs in the lounge.
Day 8: Marlborough Sounds
26 January 2023
The weather was once again on our side as we enjoyed bright blue skies all day. The morning was busy with groups going to Motuara Island and to Ship Cove, and one small group of walkers hiking over the forested hills to Resolution Bay and back. Motuara Island had all introduced predators removed in the early 1990’s and is now a sanctuary for many rare birds, geckoes, weta and frogs. The island walkers had a steady climb up to a lookout which gave great views over the many bays and coves. Birds such as Saddleback, parakeet, bellbird, robin and tomtit were seen along the way. The Ship Cove walkers followed a forest trail to a beautiful little waterfall – one that Cook’s men may well have used to fill their water barrels. Lots of interesting plants were pointed out along with sightings of the flightless Weka hanging around the monument. This large monument was erected in 1913 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of Cook’s landing at Ship Cove (on his second voyage). Just before lunch, the hikers emerged from the forest, weary but elated to have completed the arduous 12km walk.
After lunch, 12 enthusiastic kayakers had a ball exploring the coastline, ducking into small bays and winding their way between rocky outcrops. Meanwhile, a second group cruised on the Xplorer over to Cannibal Bay, past a historic fortified Māori pa, then on to Long Island where we had a delightful time beachcombing for shells, sea urchins, seaweeds, and other marine critters washed up by the prevailing winds. As we slowly cruised back to the ship, we passed the rare King Shag, Spotted Shags and the highlight of the afternoon, an Australian Gannet diving into the water right beside our boat. It was a spectacular sight to witness.
In the late afternoon, the expedition team displayed the trip photos in the Bridge Deck Lounge. Everyone enjoyed the presentation showcasing photos from every day of our journey from Milford Sound to Marlborough Sound. Captain Miles’ farewell drinks were next followed by a hilarious attempt to have all passengers in one single photo on the back deck. Our last dinner onboard the ship was shared with newly made friends with conversation flowing throughout the evening. Lastly, Purser Sara once again introduced her amazing hospitality team who received lots of applause for an outstanding job over the past 8 days.
Day 9: Wellington
27 January 2023
Today was our last morning onboard the majestic Coral Adventurer. From fiords and sounds to penguins and kiwis, and from goldrushes and shipwrecks to shags and Sperm Whales – we had an incredible and unforgettable experience travelling the length of the beautiful South Island of New Zealand.
On behalf of Captain Miles, the crew and the expedition team, thank you very much for sailing with us on our journey exploring Aotearoa – Land of the Long White Cloud.