Trip Report: Preservation Inlet and Beyond
Chasing rainbows on the drive over towards our Southernmost Fiord was almost as distracting as the thought of eating delicious succulent crayfish for the next week. I awoke early and threw my gear into my wagon and set off with an energy drink in hand to a hidden little place called Tuatapere where a whirlybird was going to collect me and fly me over some hills to land on a boat. Sounds awesome huh?
I’d never been on a helicopter before, so even that was building excitement up from within and the chopper ride didn’t let me down. Whilst listening out for the sound of rotor blades skimming the air we heard several close Roars from some rather large antlered creatures.. .Was the elusive Moose still present in Preservation…? Better place than any to have a look. I leapt into a small metal sparrow during a hot landing, blurry guillotines promising a swift death if i jumped too high. We ended up packing as much dive gear as possible into the tiny coffin like storage container on the bottom of the vehicle. I didn’t take it as an ominous sign, nothing could bring me down, I was off to one of the most impressive and remote places to dive in NZ there was.
Photos Supplied by Tom Bliss
As soon as the chopper climbed the drizzled ridges it seemed to suddenly plummet from altitude swiftly towards the rugged edge of the upper snowline towards the bush. I managed to capture the entire contents of my stomach with the back of my teeth, and used the same teeth to show the pilot my brave grin as we descended back to sea level towards what at first looked like a dinghy, and upon closer inspection was the M.V.Takapu, a 20 something metre long Charter vessel.. and my home for the rest of the week.
When we landed on the boat, I carefully stepped onto the roof of the vessel, made sure I wasn’t swiftly blown into the churning waters of the inlet, and started unloading the gear from the undercarriage of the chopper. We were briefed by the master of the vessel, marvelled at his impressive moustache, and could only smile when he gave everyone an appropriate nickname. The nickname was actually the same for everyone, and if anyone has been aboard the Takapu - this nickname will certainly still be resonant in the back of your mind, creeping around every corner and haunting you in your dreams.
We unfortunately were in the midst of a small storm pattern that frequently pounds the Deep South, so our opportunity to see the Sea Pens, small colonial marine cnidarians, was plagued by tannin stained water that looked more like a puddle of mud that copious amount of small children had been jumping about in for several hours. We powered past the pens and pulled up to our first site of the trip, a fallen tree that was literally swarming with crayfish, all as big as your cylinder the skipper assured us. Unfortunately the freshwater layer had driven some of the denizens of the deep a bit further down the dive site and lowered our visibility to around 10 metres or so. I saw a few crafty monster lobsters mocking me by staying outside the limits of my reach. Curse my T-Rex arms! I was buddied with a local dive club member who documented the curious leatherjackets, giant blue cod and a multitude of (unfortunately soft shelled) crayfish which ran rampant all over this site.
Photo by Chris Zinsli
After the dive the skipper decided it would be a good idea to race around the corner before the hectic winds that were forecast spun through. We caught a glimpse of the Puysegur Point Lighthouse which was one of the last NZ Lighthouses to be fully automated, and rounded a group of rocks the skipper affectionately called [Deleted Expletive] Corner as we powered into Chalky Inlet. Hunters on the last Charter has spotted deer along this stretch a week earlier so we had our eyes peeled for the vulpines in the amber glow of a terrific sunset.
We pulled into South Port to spend the evening and our ship’s cook whipped up an impressive marine themed feast that still causes hunger cravings with the mere thought of it. The evening passed swiftly with all of us sharing legendary dive tales, which soon turned into hilarious banter detailing unusual life experiences, some of which should never be spoken of again. Sleeping was not an easy feat as it seemed like everyone had packed a personal chainsaw, inhaled it through one of their nostrils, and had accidentally pulled the chain once their eyes were closed. Thankfully, (although it sure sounded like it), nobody snored through the hull of the Takapu and we awoke bright, bleary eyed and ready to jump in the water again.
Over the next couple days I shriveled into a prune like state, becoming more ocean than human. I only completed 2 shallow profile SCUBA dives over the whole trip but was amazed at the quality of another beloved hobby of mine - Spearfishing. I have NEVER been to a place where so many of the South Island’s target fish species have been in such vast quantities and of such decent sizes as Chalky Inlet. Water clarity and depth were never a hindering issue and the fish were bold and trusting. Some would say it’s not sporting if that’s how they act, but I assure you I was very selective with what I targeted, and even then.. added elements of skill to the spearo antics by completing 2 forward flips to disorient myself and shooting them with my left hand before claiming their souls for my own hungry purposes. I had suggested a blindfold to even the odds but the other divers vetoed that idea quickly due to the fact I wasn’t too far from their planned dives and none could comment on my accuracy with a speargun. Thankfully over the course of this charter I got given a new nickname (Master of Arms) from the skipper due to my sharpshooting abilities which was a nice change from the stock standard names that were given out on day one.
In summary, the place is amazing, only visited by worldy yachties and fishermen, and you’ll absorb a real fondness for how intensely untouched this area of the country is. There’s so much more underwater exploring that I’m chomping at the bit to get amongst, I hope i get another chance to visit one day in the near future. If ever you get an opportunity yourselves - take it . You won’t be disappointed!
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