Circumnavigation of Stewart Island
November 2005

I aim to do a solo circumnavigation of Stewart Island. Stewart Island is the third island of New Zealand, located in the south of the South Island.
The island is very small, only 172 square km, covered with a beautiful rain forest. The island is located around latitude 47 degrees south. This is the cause of the extreme climate with a lot of rain and storms.
As can be expected in such southern spots, the sea can get very rough. Large swells travel from the Antarctic supported by strong winds. The west coast can be a paddlers' nightmare.
Other difficulties can be the tidal races and currents that can reach up to 4 knots.
The circumnavigation of the island is about 240km that should take about 5 paddling days; all depends in weather and sea conditions.
When I did my Tasmanian expedition I had the company of Misha Hoichman, a good friend and an excellent paddler. Unfortunately he cannot join me for this challenge and I am forced to do it on my own. I have done some solo paddlings in the past, but never in conditions like Stewart Island has to offer.

Alon Ohad

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Photos from Stewart Island


November 22
Halfmoon Bay

Arriving to Halfmoon Bay, Stewart island by ferry. The forecast was unfavorable, predicting head winds of 20 knots. I decided not to take a chance and cross Foveaux Strait. However winds were not as bad and I was frustrated a bit.

Day 1, November 23
Long Harry Bay

Wind: West, am light pm 15-20, swell 1 meter. Total 44 km.

Good day. It was raining a bit at some point. The wind started to get stronger after passing Gull Pt. Later on, after low water the current direction changed and I paddled against the current and the wind and my progress was only 1 kn. I then got closer to the coast to minimize the current effect. Crossing Smoky Bay was very hard so I decided to call it the day soon after. I then camped in Long Harry Bay. Very nice beach in the north west corner of the island. The big challenge of the day came after. Thousands of sand flies started to bite me and I looked for some refuge in my tent after a very short dinner.
In the morning it was even worse. They waited for me and I burnt the porridge and almost didn't eat that morning at all. I just wanted to be in the kayak away from the sand flies.

Day 2, November 24
Doughboy bay

Wind am light pm South 15 kn, swell 2-3 meter. Total 47 km.

One of my main worries was crossing Mason Bay. Hard landing and big breakers. It was mainly cold that day, numb fingers and feet... But if to be honest, crossing Mason Bay with such conditions was a blessing. It was great feeling to cross latitude 47 south for the first time. It felt like entering new zones remote and wild areas...
I decided to land in Doughboy Bay despite the long paddle in and out of the bay. I wasn't disappointed. I met some penguins on the way and the bay is just stunning. A river from the north, protected waters and wild vegetation all around. I found the DOC's hut and it was such a change from the sand flies in Long Harry.

Day 3, November 25
Pegasus Passage

Wind am very light pm South 20 kn, swell 3 meter. Total 64 km.

Titi (Muttonbird) Island groups were just beautiful! These small brown islands pop up in the middle of the sea were a good contrast to the blue water and white cups created by the wind. South West Cape was my main worry before the trip. It was one of the reasons I pushed so hard to paddle beyond that point as soon as I could and before the weather changed and brought some strong winds and bigger swells. The tidal races can be nasty there.
Well, it was a bit messy but not as bad as I thought it would be. Approaching to South West Cape was not easy with rough seas and head wind. When going between main land and Big South West Cape Island a seal jumped around the kayak almost touching it, it was nice watching him play around me (but he was smelly) :-)
It was a long day and in Port Pegasus I was just thinking about sleeping, but then found a nice cave on Ernest Island, I explored it and it was just a great ending to a good paddling day.

Day 4, November 26
Kopeka Island

Wind: East / South-East am 15 - 20 pm 20 - 25 kn with gusts of 30+, swell 3 meter + wind waves 3 meters. Total 28 km.

It was a mess!!! It was very hard day. One of those one should stay at home. I left the sheltered hut and after 5 km reached to the open sea away from the port. It was a strong head wind but I decided to check the next bay located opposite to "The Brothers", 2 islands only a few km further. It was a mistake! I should have gone back to the sheltered hut.
There was no landing there. I then had to make a decision if to continue or to go back. I decided to continue. The next bay was marked as landing and it was only a few km ahead. Paul Caffyn landed there. After a few hours of fighting the winds and waves I arrived there. It wasn't a place I could set up a camp. I continued with the fear I might end up sleeping in a rock shelve.
The wind got stronger and it was harder and harder to continue paddling. The sea was completely white from the wind breaking the top of the waves. I was telling to myself that it is the same as any other paddle but just a bit slower (it was actually a lot slower).
With great hope I arrived to another bay. I approached Kopeka Island and went around it to the sheltered side. The water was calm and I looked around me there was a river going down into the sea but from a rock shelve. Again not a good place to build my tent, but I might not have a choice. It started to be late and I was exhausted from that long day. A very small piece of sand caught my eye when I was approaching Kopeka Island. I decided to check it out. I entered a very small bay with a tiny beach with 10X7 meters of sand (at high water); it was enough. There was one little problem. The beach was taken by a seal. I wanted this spot, but he didn't give up so easily... he started to move towards me trying to chase me away. I did the same. There was no result. I decided to ignore him for now and started to bring my stuff from the kayak. He could feel I was there to stay and became more aggressive. I then decided I should put an end to it and show some aggression as well and won :-)
What a day...

Day 5, November 27
Halfmoon Bay

Wind: am East 10 - 15 pm North-East 5 - 10 kn, swell 2 - 3 meter. Total 52 km.

After the day before I just wanted to make some progress. The weather on the Island can change so quickly. I wanted to finish. It was a sunny day. Great conditions. I paddled around finding some big breakers in Shelter Pt. The swell was coming from the east after the strong easterlies from the day before. I arrived in Halfmoon Bay at 5:25pm. I finished the circumnavigation.


Janette Kear for hosting me in Christchurch while I organized my equipment and boat.

Murray Watson for helping me to waterproof my boat. It is great to have dry gear after a long day paddle.

Paul Caffyn for helping me with advice and contacts around southland.

Mike and Adele Larsen of Invercargill who gave me a place to stay before and after my trip. They also helped with advice, maps and info about Stewart Island.

Liz Cave from Stewart Island for helping me in the Island, for updating my family about my progress and for being so supportive. Liz is running a sea kayak business in Stewart Island so if you are around give her a call. Liz also circumnavigated the island.

Maureen and Meri The two radio ladies who were a great contact for weather forecasts and updates. They informed all fishermen about my trip and asked them to report when ever they met me.

Mark Elkington of Kayanu for helping me to send my sea kayak to NZ.

Matt Porter of Kokatat for supplying me with a drytop for my trip.

All my friends who followed my trip and were there for me.

Misha Hoichman For helping me plan this trip, updating my website and just being a great support all the way.


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Last updated: November 27, 2005