By Colin Quilter
I have made three kayaking trips to Fiordland in the last decade, and when planning each trip I found it hard to obtain information about easy landings and good campsites. Safe landings are few on the outer coast, and good campsites are rare everywhere! Here are some notes, based on my limited experience, which might help other paddlers. I have not included maps or photographs in order to keep the notes as compact as possible, so they can be printed on a few sheets of A4.
Note just one point of terminology: where a campsite is well-established, with an open clearing among the trees, I have referred to it as “a campsite.” Where there is no established site, and you have to search in the bush for a small flat space, (and perhaps clear it of undergrowth), I have described it as “a place to camp.”
If anyone has information they would like to add to this directory I would be happy to receive it, (Send an email).
Milford Sound: Anita Bay A steeply-shelving stony beach tucked inside St Anne Pt, which is the southern headland at the entrance to Milford Sound. The beach is surprisingly sheltered despite being close to the open sea. For paddlers departing Milford Sound for a voyage along the coast but finding rough conditions offshore, this is a convenient place to wait until the weather improves. The walls of an old stone cottage stand in the bush just behind the beach, and small places to camp can be found among the ferns nearby. Sandflies are bad here.
Milford Sound: Harrison Cove A cove at the mouth of the Harrison River, about 5km N of Deep Water Basin. Land on the stony beach east of the river mouth, and small places to camp can be found on flat ground in the forest behind the beach. If you have started paddling from Deep Water Basin late in the day, and don’t have time to go further before dark, this is a suitable place to spend the night.
Transit Beach An exposed beach nearly 2km long on the coast just south of Milford Sound. Often hard to see from seaward across lines of smoking surf! However at the northern end near the river-mouth there is a small rocky headland, (check the satellite image on Google Earth). Tucked inside that promontory a strong rip current has created a narrow deep-water channel, which gives surf-free access to and from the beach. However I expect that with a westerly swell of any size, the outer end of this channel might be entirely closed off by surf. This would be a landing of last resort; Anita Bay, only 4km to the north, provides a much calmer refuge.
Poison Bay At the head of an inlet on the open coast between Milford and Sutherland Sounds. The beach is about 1km long, sandy at the SW end and stony at the NE end. You can paddle straight in through the river mouth at the SW end at all states of tide in calm weather; it might break at low tide and/or with a big swell. The tidal lagoon just inside the river mouth has an excellent established campsite in a mossy clearing on the N bank, and places for more tents in the forest nearby. Sandflies are bad here.
Catseye Bay On the outer coast between Bligh and George Sounds. A magnificent white-sand beach with extensive sand flats at the NE end leading back into a long, open valley. The river winds along the NE side of the valley and meets the ocean at the NE end of the beach, where a small rocky point protects the entrance. You can enter the river mouth through a narrow but deep channel in calm weather or at high tide; it will probably break in rough weather. No information about camping here, but I would look for a place among big trees on the south bank of the river about 500m inland from the beach. (More information needed).
Looking Glass Bay On the outer coast between George and Caswell Sounds. A steeply-sloping beach about 500m long. The S end is all boulders and uninviting; the N end is not much better with smaller stones and a strip of sand exposed only at low and mid-tide. Waves tends to dump onto the beach even in calm weather; this would not be an easy landing in any swell. Since the only soft landing was at the N end that’s where I looked for a campsite. There is dense scrub behind the beach and having pushed through that, I eventually found a small piece of flat ground among larger trees and ferns; it would have become a swamp in wet weather. Not recommended!
Thompson Sound: Beach at the Pandora River mouth. A beautiful white-sand beach backed by dunes. The river enters at the N end. A great lunch stop. I searched the bush behind the beach but could not find anywhere to camp; a place might be found by paddling further up the river.
Thompson Sound: Deas Cove. A sheltered south-facing cove on the N shore of Thompson Sound. The Deas Cove Hut (DOC), 50m back from the beach, sleeps ten.
Doubtful Sound: “The Gut,” a DOC hut (6 beds) above a small beach on the S coast of Secretary Is between Grono Bay and Blanket Cove. The hut is old but in reasonable condition (2014), although DOC are considering demolishing it. That would be a pity. Take a day off from paddling and follow the marked route which climbs steeply from the N end of the beach. After about 2.5hr you will emerge onto open tops E of Mt Grono, at about 1,000m elevation. There are wonderful views from here across Doubtful sound and Secretary Island. For an easier walk, take the track W to Grono Bay (50min).
Doubtful Sound: Hall Arm Campsite. On a river delta on the NW shore of Hall Arm about 5km in from the mouth of the Arm, and about half-way to its head. This is now an established DOC campsite with room for 6 tents, toilet facilities and water on tap.
Doubtful Sound: Shoal Cove, Gaer Arm of Bradshaw Sound. In Shoal Cove the Camelot River enters Gaer Arm across shallow tidal flats. There are places to camp in the forest on flat land on the N side of Shoal Cove, at the outer edge of the tidal flats. However for those wishing to paddle up the Camelot River at high tide, the Google Earth satellite image suggests that the easiest entry into the river is on the S side of the cove. (My notes a decade old; more information needed).
Doubtful Sound: Betty’s Brook, a cove on the NE shore of Malaspina Reach opposite the mouth of Crooked Arm. This cove is used as a campsite by commercial kayak tour companies. (My notes a decade old; more information needed).
Breaksea Sound: Disappointment Cove, on the southern coast just inside the Gilbert Islands. Said to be an excellent campsite. (Not visited by me).
Acheron Passage: Muscle Cove, at the mouth of Wet Jacket Arm (on the N side). Named “Stick Cove” in the Mana Cruising Club’s “Boaties Guide to Fiordland.” A beautifully sheltered small cove with an excellent campsite, large enough for several tents.
Dusky Sound: Earshell Cove, on the W coast of Resolution Is. A good base for exploring the N part of Dusky Sound entrance. There are actually three beaches in Earshell Cove.
1). The southern one has attractive white sand, but the land behind the beach is boggy and uneven, with no convenient stream for drinking water. However parties have camped here in the past.
2). The middle one is stony and steep. The easiest landing is at the S end where the stones are smaller, and there is a strip of sand exposed at low tide. There are several small, but well-sheltered places to camp in the forest at the N end of this beach; but you will have to search for them and maybe do some “gardening” to clear them. There is a good stream flowing across a rocky delta which separates the middle and northern beaches.
3). The northern beach is all boulders, and unsuitable for landing. In spite of this there is at least one place where people have camped in the bush towards the N end.
Dusky Sound: Cascade Cove, on the mainland on the S side of the Dusky Sound entrance. An elongated cove extending about 3km SW from its entrance near Heron Is. About a quarter of the southern side of the cove is comprised of a forested delta which has provided shelter to many parties over the years. The best campsite is under big trees above the beach, about 200m from the E end of the delta. There are two mossy clearings with room for several tents. The beach just W of the campsite has a “sealers’ run” where rocks have been cleared away to give a smooth landing right down to the low tide mark. About 100m W of the campsite a good stream crosses the beach. At the far W end of the delta, in a sheltered corner, a barge is moored which vessels frequently use to take on drinking water. The head of Cascade Cove has shallow tidal flats; at high tide you can paddle some distance up the river.
Dusky Sound: Supper Cove. The northern one of two elongated coves which make up the head of Dusky Sound, (the other is Shark Cove). The Seaforth River enters Supper Cove across extensive shallow tidal flats. On the W shore of the cove is the Supper Cove Hut, (DOC, 12 beds), the destination for muddy trampers who have walked the Dusky Track to reach it. There is a helicopter landing pad, built from rocks and logs, on the shore 150m north of the hut.
Dusky Sound: portage between Goose Cove and Woodhen Cove The Five Fingers Peninsula is joined to Resolution Island by a remarkable isthmus which is narrow enough to allow kayaks to be dragged or carried across it. For paddlers heading north or south along the coast this portage offers an alternative route to Acheron Passage, (east of Resolution Is). However the portage is not straightforward.
1) The head of Goose Cove comprises a shallow tidal lagoon nearly 2km long. This will mostly dry out at low tide, so a portage should only be attempted at high tide. The lagoon is separated (along its southern boundary) from the open sea by a shingle spit. There is a narrow channel allowing entry into the lagoon at the eastern end of the spit. Strong tidal currents run in the channel.
2) Approaching the channel from the south, paddlers will have to cross several hundred metres of shallow water in Dusky Sound over which the swell heaps up and may break. In a heavy SW swell and/or at low tide this whole area may be closed out by continuous lines of surf, and the lagoon will then be unapproachable.
3) Having crossed the lagoon, the actual portage across the isthmus is about 200m long. At the head of the lagoon, land at the W side. From the landing a stony passage leads north, (it looks like a dry stream bed and may in fact be one). Kayaks could be carried or wheeled on a trolley along this stretch. The stones soon give way to waist-high grass, with water-filled holes hidden beneath. It would probably be best to drag kayaks through this. Finally, on the shore of Woodhen Cove, there is a barrier of tangled driftwood perhaps 20m wide.
4) There are several places one could camp on the isthmus, and (from the water) it looked like there were probably other campsites on the E shore of Goose Cove, both N and S of the Shag River mouth. Inside the lagoon there is a hut (locked in 2014) for use by DOC staff on the E shore.
For specific enquiries, contact the relevant committee member/s on the list below.
P.O. Box 9271 Newmarket, Auckland.