John Roughan

John Roughan is an editorial writer and columnist for the New Zealand Herald.

Fiordland: Where history speaks

Travelling Dusky Sound, John Roughan gains a deeper understanding of how Cook first saw New Zealand.

The Milford Wanderer anchored in Milford Sound. Photo /  Supplied
The Milford Wanderer anchored in Milford Sound. Photo / Supplied

Dusky Sound, deep in Fiordland, feels oddly familiar to anyone who has read a book on the voyages of Captain Cook. The bush-clad islands and the peaks beyond remain just as they were in the landscapes artist William Hodges painted in 1773.

Probably nowhere else in New Zealand is it possible to see so much of the New Zealand that Cook saw - exactly as he saw it.

A seven-day cruise of the southern fiords took us close to the ancient virgin forest covering the landscape from the snowline to the sea. When our guide mentioned that mountain beech and southern rata can live for 250 years, it struck me that these trees could have seen Cook's visit.

Our ship, the Milford Wanderer, operated by Queenstown-based Real Journeys, is about the same size as Cook's ships - according to her captain, Peter Bloxham, who has made his own copy of Cook's journal entries for this part of the country.

The weather was typically wild when the explorer came here on his first voyage and he could not bring Endeavour too close to a windward coast.

He passed a wide inlet studded with islands but didn't venture into it since it was late in the day. On his chart he called it Dusky Bay.

Four years later, he came from the southwest after two months in the Antarctic Ocean searching for the great southern continent. His crew needed rest and his ship, repairs. He remembered Dusky Bay and its islands that likely offered shelter from weather from any direction.

Our cruise entered the sound from the north, through a narrow fiord on the inside of Resolution Island. Though far from warm on this fine day, this place must have been paradise to sailors from polar seas.

Captain Bloxham steered us to the mouth of the sound to Cook's first anchorage in the lee of what is now Anchor Island. It has a beach, which meant we could go ashore for a bush walk.

Cook found the anchorage lacked sufficient shelter and sent the ship's boats north and south in the bay to find a better spot. We followed suit, finding a sublime lagoon in Earshell Cove where we spent an afternoon in kayaks.

Cook's other boat, commanded by Lieutenant Richard Pickersgill, found a cove so perfectly shaped for mooring a ship that it could have been a man-made dock. Cook noted there was even a rata growing laterally from a bank that would have made the perfect gangway to the ship.

There is a lateral rata there today, though probably not the same one. But on Astronomer Pt above the cove there are tree stumps where the bush was cleared for Cook's officers to carry out a star-test of the newly invented longitude chronometer. In the silence history speaks to you.

CHECKLIST

Getting there: Real Journeys runs cruises throughout Fiordland.

Online: fiordland.org.nz

John Roughan visited Fiordland as a guest of Real Journeys.

- NZ Herald

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