Cape Farewell, my lovely
Trevor Fishlock follows Captain Cook’s tracks in the glorious South Island of New Zealand
HIP Cove had gleamed in my imagination for years: a bay of adventure, a magic watercolour meeting of the mountains and the sea. So it seemed natural, as I planned a trip to New Zealand, that I should make it the point where I would step ashore.
Introducing imagination to reality disappointment. But I had no choice.
I am an admirer of Captain Cook and the idylls of Ship Cove are spliced into his epic.
I have read him, written about him and pilgrimaged to his Yorkshire roots. I have seen his birthplace in Marton, Middlesbrough, his schoolroom in Great Ayton, his monument on Easby Moor. At Whitby in North Yorkshire, I saw his statue and the house where he lodged as an apprentice.
I boarded the replica of Cook’s first expedition ship Endeavour as shipwrights completed it in Fremantle. I visited Cook’s boyhood home, too, a cottage shipped to Melbourne in 1934 as a salute to the man who put Australia and New Zealand on the map.
Cook broadened the world’s mind. His circumnavigation and charting of New Zealand was a masterpiece. Ship Cove, on the northern fjord coast of the South Island of New Zealand, was a key point in his ocean strategy.
Between January 1770 and February 1777 he based himself here five times; 100 days in all.
It’s tempting to bite off too much of New Zealand’s enthralling landscape. My wife and I limited our travel and stayed within sniff of the sea. Arriving from Australia, we landed in Christchurch, drove up the coast to Kaikoura and sat on our hotel room balcony gazing at the long scimitar of surf beneath the peaks of the Southern Alps. In the morning dazzle we rode Pacific swells and watched a play-school of dolphins and the exhalations of sperm whales.
Two hours north, at pretty Picton, we entered the sublime water world of the Marlborough Sounds. There are four of them: Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru, Pelorus and Mahau. Picton is the ferry port for Wellington, the capital, across Cook Strait.
It is also a launching point for exploration of Queen Charlotte Sound and a base for numerous boat companies serving lodges, campsites and settlements in the bays and inlets. Water taxis are part of the pleasure of travelling the sound and of gaining access to the 67km Queen Charlotte track.
Sure enough, a boat buzzed us across the sound and a minibus delivered us to the door of the lodge we had booked at Portage. The driver paused to show us an entrancing view of Kenepuru Sound, blue water and precipitous forested mountain slopes. ‘‘ Here’s yer piece of paradise,’’ he said.
Next day the angry tail of a cyclone raged and howled. The storm’s temper gave way to a clearing evening sky, then a bright dawn. In 45 minutes a water taxi with a pluming wake delivered us to the little jetty at Ship Cove.
Cook grew to love this ‘‘ very snug cove’’. It’s a beautiful spot and remains much as he saw it, small waves gentle on the shore, shading palms, sunlight filtering through tall green ferns, a sparkling rill running down from a forest waterfall to the sea.
Cook’s piece of paradise was a seaman’s choice, a safe anchorage in the shelter of Motuara Island. I was quite moved, walking the beach and imagining the arrival of Cook and his 90 men 238 years ago.
They careened Endeavour here and hauled her on to her side to scrape weeds and barnacles from her hull. Smiths made a forge to repair ironwork. Coopers cut timber for water casks. Sailors netted hauls of fish.
Officers tracked the stars and spare hands harvested wild celery and other anti-scurvy greens. I imagined the local Maori, tentative but friendly enough, wondering what to make of these men they first took for goblins.
Cook — Capinny Cook, the Maori called him — climbed to the top of Motuara Island to name the sound after Charlotte, George III’s queen.
After an absorbing hour wandering the cove, we
Blasts from the past: Sand patterned by strong winds on the beach at Farewell Spit at the northern tip of the South Island started on the winding Queen Charlotte track, heading for Furneaux Lodge 14km off. We savoured the rich, warm, earthy smell. The glades were loud with the rhythmic rasp of cicadas. Chicken-sized wekas, flightless birds, rootled in the undergrowth close to our feet. Cook’s men also walked this thick forest of ferns and beech trees and were entranced, as were we, by melodious birdsong, the fluting and tinkling of tui and bellbirds.
From time to time the path curved to the edge of ridges and opened up exhilarating views of mountains, islets and drowned valleys. We walked high above Resolution Bay, turned along Endeavour Inlet and, 31/
2 hours from Ship Cove, reached Furneaux Lodge. There we boarded a water taxi which, to our pleasure, went by way of the Bay of Many Coves, making many stops.
Across the sound in Picton next day we picked up a car (driving in New Zealand is a pleasure) and went by the coast road to Havelock. We stayed in the genial town of Nelson and swam from its sandy beach. Later we walked half an hour to a restaurant, ate blue cod on the terrace and watched the sun go down.
An hour’s drive next day brought us to Motueka, an amiable town with a street of shops, a large Victorian pub and a hinterland of hopfields, vineyards and apple orchards.
It’s a gateway to the national park named after the Dutch navigator Abel Tasman, who stopped some miles north of here in 1642.
Tasman and company were the first Europeans to see New Zealand. But in the confusion of the first meeting of whites and Maori, four of Tasman’s men and one Maori were killed. Tasman left without landing.
Like most visitors to the park, we were there to walk some of the 48km Abel Tasman coast track, one of New Zealand’s great walks. A bus collected us from our motel after breakfast, drove us to the park edge and decanted us into a boat.
On the beach at Onetahuti, our adventure began. After being kitted and instructed, and with a guide leading the way, three couples, including ourselves, paddled about 1km to Tonga Island. Drifting in silence, we watched the fur seal colony. By the time we had paddled 3km south we were ravenous for lunch on the beach at Bark Bay.
Here we left the others, having chosen to walk the Tasman track south through the forest. It was another lovely trek and we arrived in Torrent Bay in plenty of time for a swim before our beach rendezvous with a water taxi.
Next day we drove the twisting mountain road, said to have 365 bends, out to Takaka. After lunching on mussels, on we went to Farewell Spit, the 19km curving beak of yellow sand at the northern tip of the South Island. It’s wild and hauntingly beautiful, a reserve for 100 or more species of birds, and we were treated to the spectacle of a mass rally of hundreds of black swans.
We walked then, over hills and dunes, to Cape Farewell. It was appropriate. We were leaving soon. Early in February of 1770, Cook left Ship Cove, circumnavigated the South Island and headed into the Tasman Sea, steering for Australia. During his voyages he bestowed names on numerous landmarks and features of the Pacific. As New Zealand slipped from view, he looked back at the cape he called Farewell. The Daily Telegraph, London
Recommended accommodation: Lemon Tree Lodge in Kaikoura, www.lemontree.co.nz; Portage Resort Hotel in Portage, www.portage.co.nz; Cambria Housen in Nelson, www.cambria.co.nz; Equestrian Lodge in Motueka, www.equestrianlodge.co.nz.
Safe anchorage: Entrancing views from a jetty at Ship Cove