As published in NZ Fishing News - July 2016
Flying into Fiordland is about as close as you come to time travel. As our helicopter floated through the mist into Dusky Sound it was like we had travelled back 20,000 years. Glacier carved fiords were fringed by some of the most greenest, prehistoric forest I have seen. A National Park since 1904, Fiordland has been left largely untouched by human hands. The water just screamed for us to explore what lay beneath.
Fiordland is one of those bucket list locations like the Three Kings that takes a lot of effort and planning to get to, but potentially offers the adventure of a lifetime. And today our adventure had official begun.
Our home for the week was the Tutuko II. Originally a Hauraki Gulf ferry, it was converted to a liveaboard by Fiordland Expeditions. It now offers 4 ensuite rooms plus a bunkhouse on the top deck. The chopper pad saved us a rough trip down the coast, we had the luxury of flying instead. The new Furuno TZTouch2, radar and autopilot immediately caught my eye as we boarded. You know you’re in for a good trip when you see the latest Furuno kit on a vessel. Even better, Tutuko II is set up with two big TV’s in the saloon and cockpit with live feeds from the TZT2.
There is not a lot of protein packed on board but as our decky/chef Josh promised “You won’t go hungry in Fiordland”, first on the shopping list was some fish. Skipper Richard Abernethy aka Abbo lined up a drift through Cook Pass and the TZ showed some promising sign. Droppers deployed it didn’t take long before the groper started nodding. Capt Abbo got a double. Stu got into them as did Clark, James and Paul. Bevan got a real nice one. And they kept coming with the odd blue cod and terakihi thrown in. Pretty soon two fish bins were full. Dinner was sorted!
I’d heard a lot about how good the crayfish diving is in Fiordland, but to see is to believe. The first dive is a little bit on the extreme side dropping through the first few metres of tannin coloured fresh water. But once you get through that layer and into the pure salt water the world comes alive. Terakihi and blue cod are swimming around happily in a few metres of water, then there’s the bugs! I lost count of the number of crayfish I saw crawling around in the open. The bigger ones would just charge out at you blissfully unaware that they were about to become dinner. I came up from the first dive cackling to myself, no room for any more crayfish in the bag and that was to become a theme for the next few dives. Meanwhile back on board decky Vic beavered away as he did all week filleting the catch, with more being added to the tally by the fishos. Beers tastes so much better after a dive and man it tasted good today. Steve, Al and Devlin were both in their element on the back of the boat feasting on some of the biggest fattest kina you have ever seen! Yep, you wouldn’t want to be anywhere else!
The first nights dinner was to set the scene for a routine that would become a nightly ritual. The Tutuko II has a great big table in the saloon that seated all 12 of us plus crew. Josh whipped up enough seafood to feed two rugby teams – the first night it was crayfish ala naturale – half a big, perfectly steamed crayfish each, then pan fried puka steaks. Bliss! A round the table recap of the days antics followed, with points awarded for any meritorious catches, bonus points added for any good yarns spun, and points deducted for any muppetry. At the end of the trip the Apparelmaster Fiordland 2016 Fishing Legend would be crowned. A card game dubbed ‘Kings and Assholes’ wrapped up the nights festivities. Just like trips to the Three Kings you can’t measure times like this in currency. Out of cellphone range, no email, having a drink, laugh and regaling fishing tales of the day with a great bunch of fellas.
WORLD CLASS DIVING
The diving just got better each day. A wall dive on day three at the Gilbert Islands saw us dropped off via tender a long way up current of the boat, drifting back past the boat for pick up. Vic looked over and said “the water looks clear” as he dropped us in, I thought that was a cruel joke as I could barely see the end of my arms. But three metres down the water turned an incredible blue, with fish everywhere and a colourful rock face filled with sponges and soft corals. My dive buddy Devlin was in front of me and we rounded a corner to see a vertical crack open up top to bottom with crays. Like a supermarket we selected the biggest and moved on. There was a fair bit of cackling through the regulator in amazement at how big the crays were. We both surfaced with two big woohoos echoing off the moss covered rocks.
I thought that couldn’t be beaten. In fact I said so to the skipper. So he had a bit of a treat in store the next day. “I think you’ll like this dive Carl” he said with a sly grin on his face. We jumped off the boat in Little Harbour and entered an underwater world I will never forget. The dive started as another wall dive, but this time there was Black coral as shallow as 8m. I was filming some of the black coral below me at 15m when I looked up to see a little ledge and crack half way down the wall. There were crays backed into the crack as you’d expect, but on the outside of the ledge was a huge cray in the open, its tail pointing out ready to swim into my catch bag. The dive finished in a bouldery bay that was loaded with more bugs. I grabbed six crays that dive, and wouldn’t have fitted any more in my bag. They were all monsters.
THE MEANEST CHOWDER
Trips to New Zealand’s most remote locations very rarely come easy, and we had two days bunkered down in Breaksea Sound out of squally winds. Fiordland lived up to its reputation of being the rainiest spot in New Zealand. But skipper Abbo always found somewhere sheltered for our adventuring. Josh had a good plan - dubbing the worst weather day “Chowder Tuesday“. Steve and Al chipped in collecting some of the biggest fattest mussels ever. Add to that groper, cod, crayfish and I can safely say we feasted that day on the meanest chowder ever! While some of the guys persevered that day in the rain, I sat in comfort with another bowl of chowder, a rum and watched the endless waterfalls bucketing into the ocean from the hills. Beauty! That night the leftover chowder was matched with battered blue cod and a chardonnay. OMG, heaven!
One of the nice twists with our adventure was delving into some of New Zealand’s pioneering history. Fiordland has lured navigators and men of the sea for hundreds of years. Tutuko II had quite a few good reads on board about the first European navigators to explore the fiords, like the legendary Capt James Cook. On his second voyage to New Zealand Cook spent 6 weeks tucked in up Dusky Sound, anchored in some of the same spots we spent time. Not a whole lot has changed since then. Capt Abbo took us to Luncheon Cove, the site of the first Eurpoean dwelling to ever be built in New Zealand. The imagination ran wild with what it must have been like living in this wild place as a sealer or whaler.
The wind abated and we got out to the lee of Breaksea Island. Capt Abbo had a treat in store for us. Monster cod and terakihi were on the menu today. Paul wound in the biggest blue cod I’ve ever seen - close to 60cm and so was crowned King Cod!
Bill and Paddy got the bragging rights on some XOS terakihi. Deon added more cod to the bin. I reckon a measure of a good trip is whether you can take a break, kick back and enjoy watching others catching fish. Half way through this session I did just that, with a steiny in hand. Paradise!
All good trips must come to an end and after five days at sea we had to wrap things up. Our last day was dubbed ‘Double Points Friday” I chose to just fish today and not get wet, and get my Blue Cod tally up. I had my new Maven Gulf 6’ 6” with me with a Calcutta 400b and it was the perfect little all round set up. I nailed down a blue cod rig that slayed it, a twin dropper with 4/0 J hooks and a 2oz Lumo jig head with a nuclear chicken below it. Boom, every drop.
Our last session round the saloon table saw Devlin and Steve tied in first place for the Fishing Legend award. Two very worthy recipients who fished and dived hard all week, and were totally in their element. It came down to a fish off in the dark, then the toss of a coin which Steve one. Well done mate! Josh raised the bar even higher on the last night whipping up a Pavlova for our final meal. Love your work Josh!
Pretty soon we were packed up and the chopper departed with the first crew. While we were waiting for it to return Paul pulled up a groper which flapped around the on deck around our pile of bags! Only in Fiordland! We left that on board for the incoming crew. The flight out was a wilder one than the trip in, but our pilot was on his game and we landed back in Te Anau safely, making our way back to reality.
What a trip! Big thanks to the crew aboard Tutuko II and the great bunch of fellas I got to enjoy a week in paradise with, big cheers to Bevan, Bill, Al, James, Steve, Stu, Deon, Clark, Paddy, Devlin and Paul – a week I’ll never forget! I’m already planning how I can get back on another chopper and into the magical land that is Fiordland again, real soon.