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A Dusky Sound Experience


No doubt, like myself, there will be many within the CCS who hold a special area of interest within the broad expanse of James Cook's life and achievements in exploration.

As a Briton, the Antipodean experience has always held the greatest fascination. My 1997 trip consisted of several Pacific Island groups, Australia's Eastern Coast and New Zealand's North Island. Unfortunately, the two and a half months I allocated had expired before I could get to the South Island. The next opportunity to visit came during the summer of 2006-7.

Arrangements to see Queen Charlotte Sound and most of the South Island was fairly straightforward as far as transport and accommodation were concerned, even within Fiord Land. The exception was access to Dusky Sound, which was my main objective. Access to the two more popular Sounds (Doubtful and Milford) wasn't a problem as transport of every kind was readily available but Dusky Sound is much more isolated. No roads lead to it and it remains one of the remotest parts of New Zealand. Quite simply, the only way is to walk (or tramp, in New Zealand terms), from Lake Manapouri to Supper Cove at the eastern end of Dusky Sound. This would take eight to ten days. Arriving at Supper Cove a Float Plane was available to take two people plus their equipment, to Te Anau. This would prove to be expensive, but possible.


Allan Remnant  with his Cessna 206 Float Plane
Allan Remnant with his Cessna 206 Float Plane
CLICK on any picture for a larger version
The only other option available was by boat with Fiord Land Ecology Holidays on Breaksea Girl1 for periods of five to ten days. Ruth and Lance Shaw run these trips from their shop of rare and historical books named 45° South at Manapouri. This length of voyage wasn't suitable for my purpose, so Ruth put me in touch with Allan Remnant and his Cessna 206 Float Plane. In October 2006 I contacted Allen by telephone and he agreed to fly me into Dusky Sound. He advised time spent within the Sound might be limited by fuel range and the unpredictable weather patterns. Apparently, he had completed a similar flight only once before with a member of the Natural History Museum, London several years previously.


During January 2007 on a flight from Auckland to Queens Town, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman in the adjoining seat. He was Jeff Hall who worked for the New Zealand Conservation Department. He showed me photographs on his mobile phone of his time spent in Dusky Sound. His task had been to trap rodents that had escaped from various ships over the years, no doubt Resolution being the first. As they have no natural predators the effect of the rats meant several native species were in danger of becoming extinct, the Kiwi being a prime example.

On arriving in Te Anau I contacted Allen as arranged for a weather report. And again the following day. And again the following day. On the fourth morning the response was finally positive and there were good weather conditions to reach Dusky Sound, some 70 miles to the southwest. During the 25-minute flight the scenery was majestic, as we passed over and between mountain ranges with bright blue skies above and the occasional white clouds reflecting the sun's rays.

Breaksea Sound  looking west
Breaksea Sound looking west. In the foreground is John Is, followed by Harbour Is, Entry Is and Gilbert Is

William Wales, Resolution's astronomer, appeared to describe the area very well "For every Island, of which there are an infinite number, there is a mountain and the country a heap of mountains piled upon another until you lose their heads in the clouds."

By 08.29 hours we were heading SSW positioned over Vancouver Arm with sparse clouds below and a clear westerly view down Breaksea Sound. Continuing on the same heading the next fiord is Wet Jacket Arm, so named after the consequences of a two-day visit in the ship's boats, consisting of Lt. Pickersgill, Johann Reinhold Forster and son George. The weather turned against them with rain and gale force winds; hence the name.

Supper Cove  from NE of Nine Fathoms Passage
Supper Cove from NE of Nine Fathoms Passage
Cooper Island  with Nine Fathoms Passage on the left
Cooper Island with Nine Fathoms Passage on the left

Over another mountain range and still on the same heading, we drop several hundred feet over Supper Cove and then through Nine Fathoms Passage into Cook Channel, which separates the mainland from Cooper Island (on the right).

Continuing along we then pass Long Island (on the same side). Positioned in mid channel ahead of us is Curlew Island and we are now able to see a splendid panoramic view of Dusky Bay.

On our left hand side is Cascade Cove and Pickersgill Harbour, our destination.


Resolution's  mooring amongst the trees
Resolution's mooring amongst the trees, with new growth visible. Initially cleared for tents for the sailmaker, blacksmith and cooper to make repairs
Allen manoeuvres the aircraft across the water in the direction of Resolution's mooring. We can clearly see the new tree growth within the area that Resolution's crew cleared in order to erected their tented workshops.

Nearby was an area of secondary tree growth where William Wales placed his observatory. Two tree stumps used by him to place his instruments still remain.

My views were verified by Ruth and Lance who occasionally stop off at Pickersgill Harbour for lunch.


Pickersgill  Harbour
In the middle of this picture is Pickersgill Harbour
To the right is Crayfish Island
Entrance to  Pickersgill Harbour
Entrance to Pickersgill Harbour
In the middle is Crayfish Island with Resolution Channel
In the foreground is the western end of Indian Island

After a circular flight on the northern side of Anchor Island, we then proceeded along the Bowen Channel and headed north up the Acheron Passage where we sighted Breaksea Island on our left (the


's outward passage). We proceeded up Breaksea Sound and along Vancouver Arm, heading northeast, finally returning to Te Anau. The whole flight had lasted 1 hour 35 minutes.

Positioned roughly on the charts at 45° south, 166° east and almost at the south western tip of New Zealand's South Island, Dusky Sound lays directly in the path of Antarctic weather systems providing a constantly changing climate which enhances the lush green vegetation, and supports large numbers of wildlife including the pristine waters with their bountiful supply of fish.

Nowhere could there have been a more resourceful landfall for Commander James Cook and his ship's company to have occupied along this coastline and Richard Pickersgill's choice of harbour to rest, re-fit and replenish their ship after the passage from Cape Town covering a distance of almost 11,000 sea miles during a period of 123 days in pursuit of the Great South Land.

Resolution stayed for 47 days and it would appear that little has changed since their departure on 11th May 1773, for it remains just as isolated, secluded and almost inaccessible, seldom visited by man to the present day.

Dusky Bay
Dusky Bay

Bob Rawlinson


  1. See Cook's Log, page 43, vol. 28, no. 4 (2005).

Bob gave an extensive talk about his trip to members at the Marton meeting in October 2007, illustrated with many more pictures than can be shown here.

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 13, volume 31, number 1 (2008).

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We are about to visit Dusky Sound next week with real journeys Have heard such wonderful reports about this so am really looking forward to seeing and extending mu knowledge
By Patricia Clapham on 9/14/2022 5:05:17 AM Like:0 DisLike:0
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My thanks to Bob Rawlinson, I appreciated and enjoyed his comments on the difficulties of accessing Dusky Sound and Pickersgill Harbour. Sadly, I have never managed to get there myself. I would nonetheless like to recommend a really good book that explores the history of this area, with much comment in it about Cook's time there.
The book is DUSKY BAY - IN THE STEPS OF CAPTAIN COOK, by A.Charles Begg and Neil C. Begg, first published in 1966 by Whitcombe and Tombs. It is quite a rare book these days, but it is excellent if your interest is in Dusky Bay history.
I have long been a fan of the Begg brothers' work, and in particular of their book THE WORLD OF JOHN BOULTBEE, first published in 1979 by Whitcoulls of New Zealand. See also the book JOURNAL OF A RAMBLER, edited by June Starke, for another publication that recounts Boultbee's journal. John Boultbee became a sealer and adventurer in New Zealand in 1827 and 1828, and he was a rarity in that he was educated and could thus maintain his journal. In it he records finding one of the Cook Medals on New Zealand's West Coast, cast for the 1772 exploration with RESOLUTION and ADVENTURE, and he drew both faces of that medal in his journal. He later greatly lamented giving it away to a colleague who coveted it, and thus it was lost again. There is no way of knowing if Boultbee added this anecdote later in Ceylon as an embellishment to his writings, but in general his journal is entirely credible. I recommend his story as a unique one.
By Allan Tonks on 1/11/2017 1:06:33 AM Like:0 DisLike:1

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