Sea kayak expedition – Doubtful Sound



The day began at 5am for me as I had a ferry to catch – a free ride across lake Manapouri to West Arm – site of the Meridian mangaged hydro station that drains this huge lake through the long tunnels that exit into Doubtful sounds at Deep water cove . HL2 ( her Ladyship two )and another single kayak were loaded on the ute together with all the requirements for a one week adventure into the land of the never ending sandflies .

We had found another companion for this trip , Leigh Marshall , she heard about our trip and was keen to join us as she wanted to see this little corner of fiord land via sea kayak before moving north to begin a new job with the Motueka office of DOC.

day one
After loading up the kayaks we finally got paddling just after 1 pm into a nice little tail breeze which gradually picked up and gave us an uncomfortable chop with some wave deflection coming back from the deep sided cliffs. The tops of the steep hills are 1000 – 1400 metres high and the waters are very deep – in some places several hundreds metres
We finally found our first camping spot – after about 4.30 pm -( 17 Kms ) a nice spot directly opposite the entrance to Crooked arm . The spongy moss of the forest floor giving us two nice platforms for the tents. I managed to get a fire going that made for a pleasant evening of swapping yarns of a adventures passed.

Day two
Paddled about 24 Kms up the Bradshaw Sound and into the Gaer Arm with a lunch stop at a place close to Macdonell island. Conditions brilliant – almost no wind and plenty of sun. Had the lure out and caught 2 barracuda – but they were too difficult and dangerous to handle so was happy to see them flick off the lure alongside HM2.
Not a lot of sea birds but did spot a couple of seals lazily spinning . the campsite was right at the head of this arm where the Camelot river exits. Leigh had the energy to paddle on up for a while while Barb and I were content to set up the camp site and I to get a good fire going for the evening ahead.

Day three
We paddled 21 Kms backtracking into Bradshaw Sound and onto Secretary Island . Conditions were perfect – mirror calm – one did not need to look up to the lofty peaks surrounding us – just at sea level was the most stunning reflections of the views above. Secretary Island , the 6th largest island in NZ, has a DOC hut ” Gut Hut ” place that has few visiters – mostly kayakers and the odd fisher or diver or DOC. Worker. Doc have been attempting to rid it do a residual population of a few deer and some stoats as it may eventually turn into a major sanctuary for endangered bids.

Day four
The weather forecast was not looking so great, and it was correct – the winds started blowing over 30 knots from the south?? in the wee hours of the morning – still fine and dry but the seas a mass of white caps and big wind waves. The Gut hut an ideal sanctuary for us – but a good chance for a day off the water to read books. The wind only got stronger as the day progressed – up to 45 knots – real gale. Leigh was able to keep us amused with accounts from her adventurous life so far.

Day 5
Woke to a tapering gale – steadily dropping wind and a perfect fine day. By midday we were all packed and ready for the water- conditions settled progressively and the sea of white horses was replaced with only some residual wind waves. These also died down as we made the passage back to the mainland and on up the long arm to Deep Water cove. An annoying stiff head breeze slowed our progress and this was exacerbated when the main axle in the steering rudder sheared leaving us rudderless with a very hard last 6 Kms to the finish. HL2 was difficult to keep in a straight line and lots of aggressive corrections were required – shoulders feeling the strain as we made it into deep water cove. Barb paddled like a soldier – as we made those difficult last Kms.
A few high fives as we celebrated the successful trip – Leigh managed to get transport back to West Arm and the last ferry across manapoiri and home ( Te Anua)
Barb and I stopped at an outdoor education Lodge – the only place here – and enjoyed an overdue warm shower and a nice little bunk room – very ritzy actually.

20140414-105233.jpg Gut hut – tucked into the bush on secretary Island – a refuge from the gales





Free barge ride across lake Manapouri – thanks meridian energy!


Wilmot Pass – isolated road across to Doubtful Sound – normal road rules and road signs do not apply




Getting set to go – Leigh and Barb loading kayaks


First campsite opposite Crooked Arm






Secretary island

The barge made a 6 point turn leaving west arm – and a guy working there sent me this picture of our departure from his cell phone – an unusual event with a new skipper – tricky job actually . Was a long trip back into about 20 knots headwind – a great adventure all up.









  1. hey Bruce, seems like an amazing and underrated part of Fiordland! My friends and I are planning on doing a similar kayak trip to gut hut and we were wondering where and how you managed to get those kayaks from. Cheers!

  2. Hi Bruce! I really enjoyed reading this blog post. I’m currently doing a college project on the Gut Hut and I would greatly appreciate it if I could get some information on it (eg. its water supply availability, toilets etc.). Let me know if you could help out.Thanks a tonne!

    • Hi Chami — happy to help , a while ago but I may have some more pics – I’ll check back . Maybe easier to make it a phone call , my cell is 0224077190 Bruce

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