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Escape to Te Houhou - Exploring George Sound

Day 1. Greeting the Breaksea Girl: Sea kayaking and penguin spotting

Saturday 22nd, clear skies and gentle breeze. At 10am, borne by helicopter from Te Anau to Te Houhou, alighted on the pebbly beach beside George Sound Hut, 44° 59’ 2” south, 167° 26’ 24” east.

We have arrived in Te Houhou, George Sound. Across a stretch of calm water, glistening in the light, sits the Breaksea Girl. The sixty-foot sailboat poses nobly as she waits for us – her passengers for the next three days. Her tender sits already upon the beach, ready to take us aboard. Our bags are loaded. We farewell our helicopter pilot and watch as the last marker of civilisation rotates into the air and takes flight, leaving us alone on the lip of the Fiordland forest.

On board, our welcoming skipper Brian sets our course, while intrepid guide Scotty takes charge of our activities – tailored to what we’re keenest to sample while we’re here. Over the course of the next few days, both make sure we are well fed, serving us as many delicious dishes as spellbinding stories. The treats start coming as soon as we’re settled and we’re nothing but spoiled from the moment we arrive.

The first order of business – after tea, homemade muffins, and some housekeeping – is an adventure. Given the favourable conditions, we elect to go for a kayaking expedition.

It is late October and we have hopes that may be ambitious. You’re never guaranteed to see wildlife, which is part of its allure. But we’re in luck. Having heard them calling from a small island, we decide to paddle its circumference, eager to spot the rare Tawaki – the Fiordland Crested Penguin lately known, with warm thanks to David Attenborough, as the jungle penguin. Hopping along the rocks, this fellow comes down out of the forest to the water’s edge to greet us, before slipping smoothly into the sea.

It's time to put in some effort, and we paddle hard to turn a rocky corner and be welcomed into the calm, sun-kissed conditions of South West Arm. Following the cliffside, we float the afternoon away, stopping on a beach to drink water from a stream cascading out of the trees. The sight of the Breaksea Girl appearing on our tail to pick us up is a welcome sight after the day’s exertions.

Back on board, cosy and dry, we tuck into a welcome cheeseboard, which Brian has prepared while we were out, likely guessing how hungry we’d be on our return. Dinner follows, chats and laughter flowing around the galley. Our cups are filled, in every way.

A small boat approaches, keen as we to moor for the night in the shelter of the bay. Hailed like old friends, it turns out they actually are. A farmer and his son, responsible for the locally sourced lamb rack gracing our plates at dinner. They have come to enjoy the scenery, solitude, and kai moana of George Sound, too, and we exchange notes from our respective decks before bunking down for the evening. Come daybreak, they are gone, and we see no one else during our time in the fiord.

Day 2. Sailing George Sound: Hiking to Lake Alice, diving for dinner, and stargazing

Sunday 23rd, dramatic cloud formations and drizzle. At 9am, retraced our course back to Alice Falls, 44° 58’ 33” south, 167° 26’ 32” east.

A white mist sweeps the mountainsides, pausing to obscure the tops of the trees before moving on. The weather lends a mood to the fiord we’re thrilled to witness, a dramatic vista that sends tingles up the spine. We’re warm and well provided for on the boat with books and games if we want to hunker down and stay aboard, but we’re eager to explore. Wrapping up, we head out on the tender to view the grand waterfall tucked around the corner.

Alice Falls, fifty-six metres tall, swan-dives down the mountainside and meets the ocean in a tumbling spray of white. Drinking it in at close quarters, we’re excited to next visit its source. Fed by the Edith River and nestled at 245 metres elevation, Lake Alice lies a scenic hike away. We pass granite rockpools, home to tiny galaxiids, and spend the tramp discovering countless species of flora, immersed in a thousand shades of green and bathed in birdsong.

Twenty-six kilometres long and fifteen hundred metres wide at its broadest point, Te Houhou has shown us such beauty already and we’ve barely touched on the wonders to explore. Back on board the Breaksea Girl, we make our way out towards the mouth of the fiord, marvelling at the rock formations that greet us, the wingspan of wheeling Mollymawks equally awe-inspiring. This afternoon, we are invited to catch our own dinner, so we can sample Fiordland crayfish and paua, as fresh as it can be found. Our crew is as used to hosting enthusiastic divers as it is complete novices, and Scotty shows us the way. The environment beneath the surface of the fiord proves as fascinating as the world above, the lobster mornay served for dinner divine.

Te Houhou means “make peace” and that is what we find here in abundance. When darkness falls, we stand upon the deck in the still air. Wrapped up warmly, with a hot drink in our hands, we marvel at a thousand stars, the silhouettes of the fiord’s steep sides painted beneath them. The mountains are quiet, the heavens vast. Our dreams sail in league with the sea.

Day 3. Adventures to Remember: A fond farewell to the Breaksea Girl, flying away across Fiordland

Monday 24th, slightly overcast and light breeze. At 11am, set anchor in sight of the end of the George Sound Track, 44° 59’ 2” south, 167° 26’ 24” east.

Our final hours aboard have arrived, and it feels as though we’ve been away for much longer than a few days. A return to the real world beckons and we contemplate the weather, secretly hoping for conditions that will delay the helicopter indefinitely.

Alas, it’s not to be. A hearty lunch is our last meal and we’re swept up above the peaks once more, surveying the vast reach of Fiordland’s ancient forests and gaining perspective on our place in it all. George Sound is one of many fiords along the epic coast that traces the southwest edge of Te Waipounamu. From the air, we gain the sense of countless remote places to explore, while appreciating the special time we’ve had in one of Aotearoa’s most spectacular and untouched spots.

We disembark feeling rejuvenated and more connected, to each other and to Ata Whenua. The taste and touch of Te Houhou lingers long after we step foot back on land and the memory of our time in the fiord remains with us as we return to our lives, a reminder of the beauty, joy, and freedom found in the wild places… and a call to come back there one day.


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