Author Archives: sixboats

A beautiful and safe bay

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Visscher's chart of New Zealand up to December 18th

Visscher’s chart of New Zealand up to December 18th

On the morning of December 18th Tasman’s ships sat at anchor near the end of Farewell Spit, on the ocean side. The previous morning they had been 7km to the North of Cape Farewell, and in the day between they had travelled just 27 km.

They had surveyed the end of the sandspit and knew they could enter safely into what appeared to be an excellent harbour; there was shelter from all but a south-east wind.

They could also see valleys that would hold good rivers, and tree covered hills; they should have no difficulty in securing good water and firewood there.

Tasman convened the Ships’ Council, and they determined “that we should try to get ashore here and find a good harbour; and that as we neared it we should send out the pinnace to reconnoitre.”

Accordingly, they then weighed anchor, and moved into the Bay in calm weather.

Model of the Heemskerck's pinnace: Auckland Maritime Museum.

Model of the Heemskerck’s pinnace: Auckland Maritime Museum.

In the afternoon, the pinnace from the Heemskerck and the cock-boat from the Zeehaen were dispatched “to seek a fitting anchorage and a good watering-place”

They were gone the whole afternoon and into the evening, with very significant crews aboard. Both Visscher and Gilsemans were in the small boats, along with the skipper of the Heemskerck, Ide Tiercxz.

They’d sent the small boats ahead to find a safe anchorage, but as evening fell, the decision about where to anchor was made for them.

“At sunset when it fell a calm we dropped anchor in 15 fathom, good anchoring-ground”

Model of the Zeehaen's cock-boat: Auckland Maritime Museum.

Model of the Zeehaen’s cock-boat: Auckland Maritime Museum.

Tasman’s recorded latitude and longitude for that anchorage position is unfortunately woefully deficient. His longitude was always un-reliable, but on this occasion he’d also not been able to measure the sun’s altitude, nor on the day before. So his recorded coordinates cannot be relied on at all. In addition to this, and atypically for an anchorage, he gave no description of bearings to prominent features.

The Sailors Journal also adds nothing of value, and records of the anchorage only this;

“By the help of God we came to anchor in a beautiful and safe bay, in 15 fathoms of water”.

Hendrik Haelbos, the Barber-surgeon added nothing helpful either.

“… and discovered on the eighteenth of December a convenient harbour”

The best we can do to reconstruct this location is to use Visscher’s chart.

Pilot-Major Visscher was recording the coastline as they passed, and we still have the chart that he himself drew. His original chart is the one in the Huydecoper Journal; the chart in the Hague Journal is a copy.

Deriving Tasman's position at anchor

Deriving Tasman’s position at anchor

By taking a clip from Visscher’s map (a), digitising the main features and their course (b), and fitting it to a current map (c), we can approximate the position at anchor (d).

Tasman’s anchorage in Golden Bay was around 40° 45′s, 172° 55′e

As they waited for their boats to return in the growing gloom they saw lights on the shore, and then saw four boats in addition to their own.

Two of the four boats started coming towards their ships, at which their pinnace and the cock-boat turned back.

“about an hour after sunset, we saw a number of lights on shore and four boats close inshore, two of which came towards us, upon which our own two boats returned on board”

Half an hour later, as the last daylight was fading, they had company.

Tasman’s journal for December 18th 1642, up to the return of the small boats.

In the morning we weighed anchor in calm weather; at noon Latitude estimated 40° 49′, Longitude 191° 41′; course kept east-south-east, sailed 11 myles. In the morning before weighing anchor, we had resolved with the Officers of the Zeehaan that we should try to get ashore here and find a good harbour; and that as we neared it we should send out the pinnace to reconnoitre; all which may in extenso be seen from this day’s resolution. In the afternoon our skipper Ide Tiercxz and our pilot-major Francoys Jacobsz, in the pinnace, and Supercargo Gilsemans, with one of the second mates of the Zeehaan in the latter’s cock-boat, went on before to seek a fitting anchorage and a good watering-place. At sunset when it fell a calm we dropped anchor in 15 fathom, good anchoring-ground in the evening, about an hour after sunset, we saw a number of lights on shore and four boats close inshore, two of which came towards us, upon which our own two boats returned on board; they reported that they had found no less than 13 fathom water and that, when the sun sank behind the high land, they were still about half a mile from shore.

Spirit ships

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Looking towards Taupo Point from near Parapara

Looking towards Taupo Point from near Parapara

Diary: Taupo Pa, Mohua

Yesterday was just a normal summer day. It was beautiful; sunny, warm and calm.

We were busy weeding the kumara fields, the children were playing in the sea, and the men were fishing and making.

But today, everything has changed.

First thing this morning there was shouting. There was smoke coming from above Puponga.

The signal fires were lit!

We could see the smoke across the bay, but had no idea what the danger was, except that it was serious. Smoke from the Puponga hills had to be serious.

We have our own people in both directions from the Bay; to Rangitoto in the East, and to Hokitika down the coast. People often pass this way, most often our own, and they use our Bay to refresh themselves either before or after travelling the west coast. Sometimes there are people from other tribes. They have already passed many of our own to get here, so we are cautious, but don’t expect trouble from them. They explain who they are and their purpose, and make their oblations. They take only what they need, and no more. Then they go, usually in pursuit of stones; Pounamu and Pahautane.

People trading or travelling come along the coast; it is the safe way. It is dangerous to cross the open sea, and anyone doing so is either foolish or of foul purpose. If someone wanted to sneak up on us, then they would come from the open sea; from Taranaki, or Whanganui.

That’s why we have the watchers. And this morning, they have lit the fires.

Some of the men took off in boats, to see the people further around the Bay and find out what was happening. We could only sit and wait and wonder.

Soon enough the messages were coming back from across the Bay, and down from up the hill.

Two boats have been seen, coming from Whanganui. This would normally be cause enough for concern; attacks have come from the Whanganui direction in the past, but this news was even more alarming.

They are not ordinary boats. They are Spirit Ships, or the work of some powerful sorcery.

The men say boats are very very big, much longer than anything we have ever seen, and very, very fat. They say the boats must be enchanted as they stand very high above the water, but they don’t tip over, even though they have just a single hull, without any outriggers or anything else to hold them upright.

They had been seen at dawn by the sentries near Wharariki and the others along the Puponga ridge.

The boats had come towards them and then turned towards the sun, which lit their enormous sails. The sails are so white it seems like they are made of tapa… but no tapa can be made that strong. The sails are very high and very wide, and they are squares which go sideways across the boats, not triangles along their length like ours.

The men say they do not know how these sails can make the boats move, or how they are pushed so high, or why the wind doesn’t overturn them.

People from the tops above Wainui and Taupo said the boats were moving slowly along Onetahua and would reach the end by nightfall.

They could be in the Bay any time after that.

Early Maori settlement in Golden Bay

Early Maori settlements in Golden Bay

By the evening we could see them from our hill, but we couldn’t make out any detail. They were just two marks on the horizon, a little back from the point of the spit and as far out to sea.

At night the two boats turned into stars, but the stars didn’t move.

Nobody knows what they are or what it means, though there are many stories starting; stories of goblins and fairy folk and taniwha, of witchcraft and sorcery, ghosts and spirits … but nobody knows.

Runners have gone up the valley, and over the hill, boats have gone around to our cousins at Totaranui and to the bays between and beyond. Word will reach Motueka and Whakatu soon.

We have moved the small children and the old ones out to the Pa at Taupo point, and are moving our Taonga, and food there as fast as we can. The Pa is a good place if trouble comes into the Bay. There are two ways to run, if that’s what we have to do; we can flee into the Bay, or away from it.

Taupo Pa

The Pa at Taupo Point, drawn in 1844.
Citation: Messenger, Arthur Herbert, 1877-1962. Messenger, Arthur Herbert 1877-1962 :Taupo, Massacre Bay. 1921 [i.e 1844]. Ref: A-173-015. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand

The men are assembling with their weapons, and are getting the best boats together. They are working as fast as they can to make them ready and are lashing more into pairs; they are better for fighting from like that.

All around the Bay the other families are doing the same; at Tata, Parapara, Aorere, Pakawau and Puponga.

There will be sentries on the lookout all night, so we won’t be taken by surprise, but I don’t think we will sleep much anyway.

What do they want with us? Will they go past, or will they come in? Will they come in the dark? Will there be fighting? Will we all be killed… or taken?

May the spirits of our ancestors keep us safe.

Smoke and sand

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Steijle Hoek

Gilsemans’s coastal survey of ‘Steijle Hoek’ and the land to its North and South

From their anchorage at Nine Mile Beach, Tasman had moved out to sea at the first opportunity, and then headed North.

They spent the rest of the day and night moving across the Karamea Bight, towards “Steijle Hoek (Sharp Point) where the line of the Coast turns from North-South to Southwest-Northeast.

The weather was calm and they drifted very slowly, but by evening they had rounded the point. Beyond there the prospect changed and at sunset the farthest land they could then see was away to their East and slightly North.

“we found the furthest point of the land that we could see to bear from us east by north, the land falling off so abruptly there that we did not doubt that this was the farthest extremity.”

Steijle Hoek

Tasman’s progress, December 16th to dawn on December 17th

The visible coast extended to Cape Farewell, but beyond that they could see nothing (Cape Farewell is so named because this is where Cook bade New Zealand Farewell).

Of significance here is the comment “we did not doubt that this was the farthest extremity.” Their understanding was that they had come upon an unknown coast, and had then followed that coast to its northern extremity. Their belief was that beyond this point was the open ocean once again.

This understanding, that south of this point was land, and north of this point was ocean, underpinned a key decision that was made three days later.

They were sailing in the night in fickle breezes that moved from South-West to South, but in the early hours of the morning the wind firmed. This gave them another problem. With the wind from the South and South by East they could no longer sail close enough to the wind to stay with the coast, and they were moving away from it to the north.

Finally, in the early hours of the morning the wind firmed from the south-east and they were able to turn back towards land on a South-West course.

“In the second glass of the day-watch we got a breeze from the south-east, upon which we tacked for the shore again.”

Cape Farewell

Gilseman’s drawing of Cape Farewell, Farewell spit, and the hills behind Golden Bay

With the light of day they saw that they were close inshore… and they saw something else.

“In the morning at sunrise we were about one mile from the shore; in various places we saw smoke ascending from fires made by the natives”

With the dawn they saw their first signs of people in New Zealand… smoke.

On board the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen there was no doubt a resurgence of speculation about the nature of the people. The Great South Land was rumoured to be filled with monsters and savages, and their own experience was that the last land they visited had been peopled by Giants.

Tasman’s location at the time he saw smoke is known quite precisely. He was 7.4km (one ‘myle’) off the coast at Cape Farewell, or to the east; it is only 6 km from Cape Farewell to where the land ends and the sand spit begins. He was along that 6 km length, closer to the Cape than further away from it, as Tasman saw smoke rising from land before he recorded seeing the sand dunes of the spit.

Position at anchor at sunset on December 17th

Position at anchor at sunset on December 17th

The cliff tops around Cape Farewell have commanding views of the coast at the northern tip of the South Island, but people did not live there. People lived near fresh water, and in Golden Bay Maori settlement was located at the river mouths.

There was only one reason for someone to be on those coastal cliff tops at dawn, and that was to watch.

The location was strategic for 3 reasons; this location controlled access to the West Coast… the source of valuable Pounamu, attacks coming from Taranaki could be seen from here, and an observer in this position could give good warning of anyone approaching from that direction; any potential attacker still had to negotiate the 25km long sand spit.

Tasman saw smoke ‘in several places’ from his location at dawn, and this meant only one thing. They had been seen.

The signal fires were lit at dawn, and the whole of Mohua was alerted to the presence of danger.

Inside the Bay people began mobilising.

Visscher's map of New Zealand as at 17th December

Visscher’s map of New Zealand as at 17th December

By the end of that day, Tasman’s ships had only advanced the length of the sand spit, and still lay on the ocean side. They sat becalmed, but not idle. The harbour beyond looked attractive. It was wide but sheltered; and it offered the prospect of a secure anchorage where they could take on fresh supplies of water and firewood. It is not mentioned in the journal, but they must have put out one or more of their small boats to sound the depth at the end of the spit.

“to eastward of this narrow sandspit there is a sandbank upwards of a mile in length with 6, 7, 8 and 9 feet of water above it, and projecting east-south-east from the said point.”

At sunset on December 17th, 1642, The Heemskerck and the Zeehaen sat at anchor in 17 fathoms, on the ocean side of Farewell Spit, 4 km from its tip.

Looking along Farewell spit from the hilltop path

Looking along Farewell spit from the hilltop path running between the Spit and Cape Farewell. From this position Tasman’s ships would have been visible from sunrise to sunset.

They had spent the whole day in sight of their watchers.

The complete journal entry for December 16th, 1642:

At six glasses before the day we took soundings in 60 fathom anchoring-ground. The northernmost point we had in sight then bore from us north-east by east, at three myles distance, and the nearest land lay south-east of us at 1 and a half myles distance. We drifted in a calm, with good weather and smooth water; at noon Latitude observed 40° 58′, average Longitude 189° 54′; course kept north-north-east, sailed 11 myles; we drifted in a calm the whole afternoon; in the evening at sunset we had 9° 23′ increasing North-East variation; the wind then went round to south-west with a freshening breeze; we found the furthest point of the land that we could see to bear from us east by north, the land falling off so abruptly there that we did not doubt that this was the farthest extremity. We now convened our council with the second mates, with whom we resolved to run north-east and east-north-east till the end of the first watch, and then to sail near the wind, wind and weather not changing, as may in extenso be seen from this days resolution. During the night in the sixth glass it fell calm again so that we stuck to the east-north-east course; although in the fifth glass of the dog-watch, we had the point we had seen in the evening, south-east of us, we could not sail higher than east-north-east slightly easterly owing to the sharpness of the wind; in the first watch we took soundings once, and a second time in the dog-watch, in 60 fathom, clean, grey sand. In the second glass of the day-watch we got a breeze from the south-east, upon which we tacked for the shore again.

The complete journal entry for December 17th, 1642:

In the morning at sunrise we were about one mile from the shore; in various places we saw smoke ascending from fires made by the natives; the wind then being south and blowing from the land we again tacked to eastward. At noon Latitude estimated 40° 31′, Longitude 190° 47′; course kept north-east by east, sailed 12 myles; in the afternoon the wind being west we held our course east by south along a low-lying shore with dunes in good dry weather; we sounded in 30 fathom, black sand, so that by night one had better approach this land aforesaid, sounding; we then made for this sandy point until we got in 17 fathom, where we cast anchor at sunset owing to a calm, when we had the northern extremity of this dry sandspit west by north of us; also high land extending to east by south; the point of the reef south-east of us; here inside this point or narrow sandspit we saw a large open bay upward of 3 or 4 myles wide; to eastward of this narrow sandspit there is a sandbank upwards of a mile in length with 6, 7, 8 and 9 feet of water above it, and projecting east-south-east from the said point. In the evening we had 9° North-East variation.

Back to Golden Bay

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I’d really enjoyed Punakaiki, but there were things to do and places to be… and I’d finished what I gone there for.

Next stop was Westport. There was quite a lot to do there, but first a bit of catch up was in order.

Cape Foulwind, Westport

Cape Foulwind, Westport

I wrote up my own travels (or ‘travails’ for that particular post; ‘Disappointment to despair’), and I completed a short piece on a problem that would beset Tasman for his whole exploration; a ‘Lee Shore’. This needed explaining in advance, as I didn’t want to disturb the flow of the storyline by having to explain it later.

Then I set about preparations in earnest for the next block of filming. Good weather was coming in a few days, and I took the wet days leading up to prepare my scripts and illustrations.

I had three pieces to film
– Tasman’s progress up the coast to his first anchorage at Nine Mile Bay.
– Tasman at Cape Foulwind: introducing Gilseman’s drawings and ‘sailing lines of latitude’.
– The Ngati Tumatakokiri at Katawiri (Westport).

These preparations all take time. I know what I’m writing about, but organising it to make the essential points but also be concise, AND natural sounding is a real challenge; and then there are the illustrations. These take as long as everything else put together, even though they’ll only be ‘in camera’ for a few seconds (but I re-cycle them in the blog posts where I can).

I could see the weather window approaching, and by the time three good clear days arrived, I had all three days fully prepared.

I also had a big pile of wood drying.

It had rained for four days, and the tides were extremely high, right up to the dunes… so all the timber on the beach was wet, and it kept wandering around. As I’d walked in the afternoons I had thrown good looking bits up onto the grass… which all together would make a very handsome pile indeed.

When the good weather arrived I headed straight to my first location, Nine Mile beach.

Early morning at Nine Mile Beach

Early morning at Nine Mile Beach

Nine Mile beach is a wonderful little spot and the sort of place I could just move into. It’s a West Coast beach with all that comes with that; beautiful, simple and petulant.

My shooting location was on top of a low cliff that formed a little peninsula at the south end of the beach. It had views north, south and west. I could see where Tasman came from, where he anchored, and which way he went when he left. All that and it was only a few hundred yards from the van, which stayed in sight the whole time.

It couldn’t be better. The sun moved around me, so I could do all my filming from the one spot… facing North in the morning, and south in the afternoon… and all the time I had the beach, rocks, waves and cliffs.

I even had my own blow-hole which was booming away with the high tide and big swells.

The tide was high nearly the whole time. The waves were thumping into the pier I was on and the rocks in the bay. I spent nearly as much time filming the show put on by the waves crashing over the rocks as I did filming myself.

Nine Mile Beach looking south

Nine Mile Beach looking south

When I reached the end of my material I had only one more little job to do at Nine Mile. Whilst I had a heap of wood drying out, I had no dry kindling… so I picked it out of the bush on the edge of the beach.

Back at the campsite, there was no time to waste. The sun was already low and I still had quite a bit to do.

I made up my flask, changed into long pants, grabbed my coat kindling and Licorice Allsorts, and headed to the beach.

I found a nice tree trunk facing the right direction, started throwing timber down from the dune tops and smashed it all into fire sized lengths.

Sunset fire at Westport

Sunset fire at Westport

By the time the sun had set, my fire was full.

The next day was filming on Cape Foulwind itself. It’s a wild and rugged place. The swell here has come all the way from Australia and it was deep and regular.

Tasman called it Clyppige Hoek (your guess is as good as mine) and it means Rocky Point.

Between the huge swell and the rock spires all around the spectacle was even more dramatic than the day before. I had to keep stopping filming to watch as another huge ‘boom’- ‘shhh’ filled the air. The ‘boom’ was the waves hitting a rock slab, the ‘shhh’ was the spray landing on the water around.

I rounded off another good day with another good fire.

My third day was closer to the campsite. I was filming around where the Ngati Tumatakokiri lived; just inside the Buller River mouth. There the rugged coast gave way to sandy beaches, dunes and a calm lagoon.

The rocks at Cape Foulwind

The Lagoon at the mouth of the Buller River where the Ngati Tumatakokiri had their settlement

As I lit my fire that night I had the satisfaction of knowing that I’d nearly completed all the southern filming… I was heading to warmer places after this. I only had a short piece do to on the beach right next to the campground and I’d be on my way back to Golden Bay… to sunshine and sandy beaches.

It was bitterly cold in the morning; cloudy and dull with an icy wind. I had my camera apertures fully open just to get decent picture.

It was simply too cold for shorts, so I cheated. I organised my ‘B’ camera (the one I use to get the wide angle) to show me from only the waist up. At least that way I could keep my jeans on. Even so, the quick piece I had to shoot left me chilled through… so cold that two hours later I still had the cab heater on full.

The next leg was the only part of the coast that I couldn’t drive. There are no more roads now between Westport and Cape Farewell than in Tasman’s time, and that’s a total of 0.

It was still frozen up in the afternoon as I drove over the top at ‘Hope Saddle’. I think it gets its name from the original mail delivery service to Westport. Apparently they routinely descended the Westport side covered in frost. I like to think they were saying to themselves “I Hope they’ve got the jug on”… but perhaps not.

Hope Saddle

Hope Saddle

I was pleased to exchange the cold of the West Coast for the less-cold of Golden Bay. The daily forecasts had shown me that for that six hours driving, I would get two degrees warmer, and I was ready for that. My last morning of filming in Westport had been absolutely freezing.

Golden Bay is a wonderful place, I really like it here. Takaka, the main town has everything I could need, and not much I don’t. But it’s an unusual place too.

Looking down from Takaka Hill

Looking down onto the plain behind Takaka from Takaka Hill

There’s only one road in, and that’s over a big hill. It makes it like an inland Island… and the people here are exactly like small Island people. I’d pitch them at somewhere between Waiheke Island folk, and Great Barrier folk.

If they don’t have what you want in the shops here, then it’s a big trip to somewhere that does. There are no quick solutions here, and people generally move slower, but think longer term.

It’s a rural community with an overlay of ‘arty’ and ‘alternative’ types. I don’t particularly identify with those two groups, but then, they don’t bother me either.

What everyone here has is an intrinsic care for the environment.

In the supermarket (that’s the supermarket) you get asked if you’d like your stuff in a cardboard box, or in plastic bags. Only ‘out of town’-ers choose the plastic bags, and you get a funny look if you do (I only did it once).

I’ve been in Golden Bay for two weeks now… it’s hard to believe. A favourite saying comes to mind… “time flies like an arrow”, “fruit flies like a banana”.

I like that. It works in so many different directions simultaneously it makes your head spin when you try to de-construct it.

Where I’m camped is right here.

It looks busy in the picture, but that must have been taken in summer. At the moment it’s just me, and a couple in a bus and their dogs.

I’m just 32 steps from the beach (I counted them for you), and from there it’s 20 or 120 steps to the water, depending on the tide.

“Golden Bay” is a fairly new name for the place. The people who settled here didn’t like the name it had when they arrived. Tasman had called it ‘Murderers Bay’ (for reasons that will become apparent soon), Cook called it ‘Blind Bay’, but D’Urville, who came 50 years after Cook called it ‘Massacre Bay’… and that’s the name that stuck.

It’s hard to sell ‘Massacre Bay’ as a good destination for settlers, so when gold was discovered here in 1857 they re-named it ‘Golden Bay’. Within 6 months of the discovery there were over 1,000 men working the beds up the Aorere river… that’s more people than there are in the area today.

It’s a beautiful place, but the sea is the main attraction for me. It is sheltered from the ocean by Farewell Spit which extends fully halfway across the width of the Bay, and it keeps the waves in order. I’ve yet to see one higher than my knee, and they flop onto the sand with a soft whoosh, unlike the constant roar of the wild West Coast beaches.

For most of my time here it’s been cold… not quite cold enough for a night frost, but cold enough to need my duvet and a sleeping bag. In the last couple of days however it’s not been so chill. I think it was the lightning that warmed the air up. We had a four hour period when it was like being surrounded by artilliary… pretty spectacular!

I’ve been busy while I’ve been here and got everything caught up to date. My last days at Westport left me with my documentary being several installments ahead of the blog, book and maps, so I had to address all that before I could get onto any current stuff.

Since leaving Westport I’ve published items progressing Tasman up the coast to where he see’s signs of people, and then he anchors off end of Farewell Spit, before entering the Bay.

I dealt with some Maori Archaeology at Katawiri, and needed to talk about some other journals… the Sailor’s journal, and the Surgeon-Barbers account. They don’t usually add much to Tasman’s ‘official’ journal, but they are important for the next few days. I had to get them introduced before I move Tasman into the Bay, as I’ll quote from them as I describe the events of the 2 days that follow. I don’t want to detract from the events by having to explain where these new journals came from in the middle of all the action.

So that’s it; I’m all up to date and about to start work on some of the dramatic bits.

I’m all poised for writing and shooting some of the big stuff, and I’m getting pretty excited about it all.

Looking across Golden Bay

My bench next to the van. Looking out to Taupo Pa from near Parapara in the centre of Golden Bay

So… a cup of coffee in my favourite seat, a look out across the water, and back into it. From where I sit I can see where Tasman sat at anchor on the spit, where he sailed into the Bay and where the fires were lit to raise the alarm. The campsite is right next to one of the Pa sites that were occupied at the time, and I can look across to Taupo Point, where the main Pa in the story is located.

Next, I’ll tell you all about what the Maori thought of these ships that came over the horizon. It’s mostly written, I just need to finish off the illustrations and then I’ll post it.

And my closing thought on the day?… It’s not just fruit flies… sand flies like bananas too.

Journal, which journal?

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The map of New Zealand in the copy of Tasman's journal held at the National Archive, the Hague.

The map of New Zealand in the copy of Tasman’s journal held at the National Archive, the Hague.Click to open left page at source Click to open right page at source

In 1898 Professor Heeres from The Dutch Colonial Institute, Delft wrote this in the Introduction of a remarkable volume of work.

“For some years past numerous applications, in the first place from Australia, have been made to us for documents and works relating to Tasman and his discoveries. In the course of the investigations required on our part in order to comply with the wishes of such applicants, we soon became convinced that all existing works on the subject are either unreliable or sadly incomplete.”

What follows in his book is an extraordinarily scholarly examination of the authoritative and extant documents related to Abel Tasman’s voyage of 1642.

Included in the book is a set of lithographic plates, one for each page of Tasman’s journal of the Voyage. On the page facing each plate is an English translation of text.

The Heeres book contains plates of the copy of Tasman’s Journal held at the National Archives, The Hague. However, that is not the only Tasman journal.

At the time of its issue there were many published accounts of Tasman’s voyage, in Dutch, English and French, and they varied in detail. Heeres examined the bona fide’s of each document, compared them in meticulous detail, and showed the following:

None of the published works were a journal written in Tasman’s own hand, they were all copies of some other document.

The ‘original’ manuscript, based on the notes taken on board by Abel Tasman, is lost to us. What remains are some ‘original copies’ of that document, and some copies of those copies.

Three of the copies of Tasman’s journal that were made within his lifetime still exist, and these are all thought to be be ‘original copies’.

It should be noted that replication of a journal multiple times was normal practice for the VOC, as they sought to maximise the benefits of the knowledge gained from voyages into unfamiliar locations.

The last page of the Hague copy of Tasman's journal, signed in person.

The last page of the Hague copy of Tasman’s journal, signed in person. Click to open at source

One journal copy, held at the National Archives in the Hague, is signed by Abel Tasman personally. It includes a chart of New Zealand as well as a number of other illustrations. This is the principal reference quoted in “Six Boats”.

A nearly identical document held in the British Museum is thought to be a wholesale copy of the one in the Hague. The British Museum copy contains all the same drawings and charts as the Hague copy, but is not signed personally by Tasman. It bears the note “found signed”, indicating that the transcriber was copying a document that was already signed, and the copyist was not only replicating the document, but also the signature.

Detailed comparison of the two documents shows that words misspelled in the Hague copy are also misspelled in the British copy, suggesting that the document in the British Museum is either copied from the same original document as the Hague copy, or is a copy of the Hague copy itself.

The third copy is known as the ‘Huydecoper’ copy, and is held in the State Library of New South Wales.

Whilst the text of this journal is very nearly identical to the Hague copy, it is missing all of the illustrations. Pages were left for the illustrations, but for whatever reason they were never added. However, two charts, of Tasmania and New Zealand, are included, and these are of great interest.

Visscher's map of New Zealand from the Hudecoper journal

Visscher’s map of New Zealand from the Hudecoper journal. State Library of New South Wales: Ref a287002. Click to open at source

The two charts in the Huydecoper copy bear a note that they have “been drawn with great diligence and assiduity by Franchoijs Jacobszoon, steersman”.

The charts in the Huydecoper copy are drawn by Franchoijs Jacobszoon Visscher; the expeditions Chief Pilot. They are not copied from of charts drawn by him, but are originals in his own hand.

The illustrations in the Hague and the British museum versions of the journal are copied from those originally drawn by Isaac Gilsemans and are not thought to be by his hand.

One other fragment of a contemporary journal exists. It was donated to the National Archive at the Hague by Mr. D. Blok of Amsterdam and consists of just a single leaf. The page itself however is of great interest. It is a rendering of the scene in Golden Bay on the morning of December 19th, 1642. On its reverse is a coastal survey of Farewell spit and the hills behind Golden Bay. It will be discussed further later.

The English translations of the Hague copy, the British copy and the Huydecoper copy are virtually identical. There can be no doubt that they are copies of the same source document. The content and detail are exactly the same apart from very slight differences; none of which are material to the period of the journal written off the New Zealand Coast; between December 13th and January 6th.

The English translations of the texts differ only in the manner in which they are transformed into comfortable English sentences. The information content is exactly the same with only very few minor exceptions.

Whilst we have these three contemporary copies of the journal kept by Tasman on the Heemskerck, we do not have the equivalent journal from the Zeehaen. Nor do we have the daily notes that Chief Pilot Visscher kept, and that are known to have been forwarded to the VOC Head Office in Amsterdam. Neither of these two documents has yet been discovered, and are presumed lost.

The account of Hendrik Healbos

The account of Hendrik Healbos

However, Tasman’s Journal is not the only surviving record of the voyage; two other accounts remain.

Among the papers kept by Salomon Sweers, Council of the Indies member, was a diary kept by one of the sailors on the Heemskerck. It is a rough diary that contains mostly notes on sail changes. It includes daily latitude and longitude, but it is impossible to reconcile these with the positions in Tasman’s journal. On several occasions however it contains details not recorded elsewhere. These details, are included in ‘Six Boats’ where they add to the overall understanding of the day’s events.

The last account of the Voyage is from the Surgeon-Barber Henrik Haelbos. It was included in a book published in 1671 by Arnoldus Montanus “De Nieuwe en Onbekende Weereld: of beschrijving van America en ‘t Zuid-land”, “The New and Unknown World: or Description of America and the Southland”.

This account is not in diary form but is clearly written after the event as a narrative of the whole voyage. It includes a few observations that add to our understanding of the events of December 18th and 19th, and these are included in the ‘Six Boats’ account of those days.

In summing up his observations on the various journals, Heeres wrote of the Hague copy;

“Most probably our manuscript is not an original diary kept up to date day after day: it may be more correctly described as a consecutive narrative, which was most likely digested from the regular ship’s journal in the course of the voyage; which was afterwards copied fair by another hand than Tasman’s, and finally signed by Tasman himself.”

The Journal text presented in ‘Six Boats’ is taken from the Heeres translation of the Hague copy. Excerpts from the Sailors journal and the Hendrik Haelbos account are included where they add detail, .

Notes on Journal sources and Copyright.

The Heeres translation of Tasman’s journal is available as a free e-book here:

A high resolution scanned version of the Hague copy is available free of restriction here:

A high resolution scanned version of the Huydecoper journal is available here.
Copyright is reserved by the State Library of New South Wales, but content is reproducible without seeking further permission on the following terms:
“Unless otherwise stated, you may access, download, print, reproduce and distribute content on this website for individual or non-commercial use provided that the copyright ownership is acknowledged.“

The ‘Sailors journal’ can be found here:
It is out of copyright and made available by the Victoria University of Wellington Library under a Creative Commons license. The License details are here:

The account of Hendrik Haelbos is included in this free e-book:
The volume is a Dutch compilation of many sources dealing principally with the America’s, but has a short final chapter describing discoveries in the South. The Haelbos text begins on page 579 of the manuscript.


Kurahaupo banner

“we saw no human beings nor any smoke rising; nor can the people here have any boats, since we did not see any signs of them”

Range of the Ngati Tumatakokiri

Range of the Ngati Tumatakokiri

Whilst Tasman may have seen no signs of people, they were there. The North and West coasts of the South Island had been occupied for a long time, and in many locations.

The Waitaha people had been there since at least the thirteenth century and were displaced by the Ngati Wairangi and others, who in turn were displaced in the mid sixteenth century by the Ngati Tumatakokiri; descendants of the Kurahaupo voyagers. In time the Ngati Tumatakokiri too fell to other invaders.

Archaeological evidence shows that the whole North facing coast was occupied with settlements in every significant bay and at every major river mouth.

From Tasman Bay and Golden Bay the Ngati Tumatakokiri expanded their influence and control down the West Coast, and inland up the principal rivers.

They controlled a huge area rich with important stone and food resources.

On the West Coast was the highly prized aromatic herb ‘kakara taramea’ which gave its name to the Karamea River, the settlement at the river mouth, and the whole Karamea Bight.

South of Cape Foulwind was Pahautane, origin of a particularly hard flint, and south of that was the settlement at the Hokitika River mouth where they found Pounamu; Greenstone. This beautiful and durable stone was admired above all others, and was traded the length and breadth of the country.

The Kawatiri river gave them access to Lakes Rotoiti and Rotoroa which were brimming with fish and waterfowl. The bluffs to the north of Lake Rotoiti gave them another source of Argillite, otherwise found on Rangitioto (D’Urville Island).

All the major rivers gave them access to the interior, and moa.

Site of the Kawatiri excavations

Site of the Kawatiri excavations

Archaeological excavations at Kawatiri (Westport) reveal occupation beginning in the early 14th century. Carbon dating of items from the site shows that it was in continuous, or near continuous occupation from that time on.

There were people at Kawatiri when Abel Tasman’s two ships sailed past.

The people living at Kawatiri were industrious, and either travelled great distances for resources, or traded widely, or both.

The settlement site was a lagoon just inside the Kawatiri (Buller) River mouth, which is now greatly reduced by silt build-up due to improvements to the river’s flow made to make Westport Harbour more accessible. The site was also much closer to the shoreline than at present due to sand accretion on the ocean beach over the intervening period.

Part of a waka prow found on Farewell Spit

Part of a waka prow found on Farewell Spit

The Ngati Tumatakokiri were living there when Abel Tasman passed by, and despite what he wrote, they did have boats. At that time all Maori had boats.

New Zealand was settled by people who came in boats from the central pacific. It was settled first around the coast, then up the rivers and only after that did some Maori become completely land-bound.

The Maori had no pack animals; no horses, donkeys, or mules, and no wheel. Apart from walking with your load on your back, boats were their only transport.

The Maori used boats for fishing, for carrying people and produce, and for trade; and trade they did.

Boats were how they moved around… and were how they moved things around.

The excavations at Kawatiri revealed large deposits of stone chips left over from adze making, and much of this came from remarkably distant sources.

Sources of the stone used for adze making at Katawiri

Sources of the stone used for adze making at Kawatiri

Pounamu came from Hokitika and further down the west coast, Pahautane flint from between Kawatiri and Māwhera (Greymouth). Argillite from the Marlborough sounds and by Lake Rotoiti, Limestone Flint from the east coast, Silcrete from Central Otago, and Obsidian from the Coromandel Peninsula and particularly Mayor Island (the Maori call Mayor Island “Tuhua”, their word for Obsidian).

Stone is heavy, and the Maori had only 2 choices; either to carry it on their backs, or put it in boats. There is no doubt whatsoever that most of the stone used at Kawatiri was carried there in boats. In the case of the Obsidian, it was the only way.

Between noon on Dec 15th and noon December 16th Tasman sailed right across the Karamea bight, and past another site of significant occupation. At the Karamea River mouth is a huge field of mizzens; old waste pits. Only a few of these have been explored, but the remains subjected to carbon dating show occupation from the thirteenth century onwards, though it is unclear if settlement was continuous, or halted around the early 1600’s. Certainly the site was occupied when European settlers arrived as the location drew the name ‘Maori Point’.

At noon of December 16th Tasman’s ships passed the entrance to the Heaphy River, another site frequented by the Maori. But as with the Karamea site it isn’t known with any certainty if there was anyone actually at the Heaphy site at that time.

Tasman said there were no people there, but at the time Kawatiri was well established as a settlement, not a transient hunting location.

Whilst it might have been difficult to see the Heemkerck or the Zeehaen, from Karamea or Heaphy, they could easily have been seen from the dune tops at Kawatiri.

The Three Steeples from the mouth on the Buller River

The Three Steeples from the mouth on the Buller River

On the morning of Dec 15th, Tasman was off the Three Steeples. He recorded that “one mile west of this point we could sound no bottom.”

In that position he was 2 Dutch myles from the dune tops next to where the Tumatakokiri lived. His ships would appear about as prominent on the horizon as those rocks. If there was anyone looking, they would have been noticed. At that distance they would be clearly distinguishable as two vessels. An observer with keen eyesight could count the sails.

We don’t know if they were seen that day; no sighting of strange ships has survived into the contemporary oral tradition. It might have been remembered in the Ngati Tumatakokiri tradition, but that was lost with their demise. All that we know for certain is that it was perfectly possible for Tasman’s ships to be seen.

Two days later however, they were seen, … and of that, there is no doubt whatsoever.

Clyppige Hoek

Abel Tasman banner

On the morning of December 15th their most urgent task was to get further out to sea.

Tasman's progress Dec 15 to Dec 16

Tasman’s progress from anchor to the south of Clyppige Hoek, to near Steijle Hoek.

Tasman had not called the Cape “Clyppige Hoek” (Rocky Point) because it consisted of rolling dunes. It is a tangle of reefs, shallows, rocks, and pinnacles.

They were in a dangerous position.

From their location at anchor, the rocks on Clyppige Hoek formed an obstacle to their North, and to the South were cliffs right back to Punakaiki. This was a lee shore, with a south-westerly current and a prevailing south-westerly wind. They needed to move further out to sea to give themselves room to manoeuvre and options should the conditions change.

With the first breeze of the day they made their way out to open sea, and then turned north. Level with the Cape, Tasman described a prominent landmark.

“northward from this point extends a large rocky reef; on this reef, projecting from the sea, there are a number of high steep cliffs resembling steeples or sails; one mile west of this point we could sound no bottom.”

These rocks are still called “The Three Steeples”.

His mention of features like the Three Steeples was not at all incidental, it was a duty that was laid out in great detail in his written instructions.

“All the lands, islands, points, turnings, inlets, bays, rivers, shoals, banks, sands, cliffs, rocks etc., which you may meet with and pass, you will duly map out and describe, and also have proper drawings made of their appearance and shape, for which purpose we have ordered an able draughtsman to join your expedition; you will likewise carefully note in what latitude they are situated; how the coasts, islands, capes, headlands or points, bays and rivers bear from each other and by what distances they are separated; what conspicuous landmarks such as mountains, hills, trees or buildings, by which they may be recognised, are visible on them; likewise what depths and shallows, sunken rocks, projecting shoals and reefs are situated about and near the points; how and by what marks these may most conveniently be avoided; item whether the grounds or bottoms are hard, rugged, soft, level, sloping or steep; whether one should come on sounding, or not; by what land- and seamarks the best anchoring-grounds in road-steads and bays may be known; the bearings of the inlets, creeks and rivers, and how these may best be made and entered; what winds blow in these regions; the direction of the currents; whether the tides are regulated by the moon or by the winds; what changes of monsoons, rains and dry weather you observe; furthermore diligently observing and noting whatever requires the careful attention of experienced steersmen, and may in future be helpful to others who shall navigate to the countries discovered.”

Tasman’s journal was not simply a record of his adventure; its main purpose was to be a guide for the safe passage of subsequent voyagers.

Ships and cargoes were extremely valuable, and detailed knowledge of an area could reduce losses. This was the commercial driver; hence such comprehensive instructions on what details should be recorded.
Multiple copies of journals were made, and these were provided to skippers entering unfamiliar areas.

The “able draughtsman” provided by the VOC was the Ships’ merchant and trader, Isaac Gilsemans, who draw the coastal surveys and other illustrations in the journal. The charts of their discoveries were made by the expedition’s Chief Pilot, Frans Jacobszoon Visscher.

A view of the mainland south of the Clypyge hoeck

Part of an illustration drawn by Isaac Gilsemans from the deck of the Zeehaen. The caption reads ‘A view of the mainland south of the Clypyge hoeck as you sail along the coast; below there are views of the Clypige Hoeck’ (click to see the original)

Tasman’s journal comprises three separate records of the voyage; his own written observations, the coastal surveys drawn by Gilsemans, and the charts drawn by Visscher.

As they progressed along the coast, Gilsemans recorded the skyline, and Visscher mapped the coast.

A clip of Visschers chart of New Zealand showing their knowledge of the land at December 16th.

A clip of Visschers chart of New Zealand showing their knowledge of the land at December 16th

Tasman recorded the latitude of Clyppige Hoek as 41° 50’s. Their ability to measure latitude is quite remarkable considering they had only a cross staff or a hoekboog; the latitude given is wrong by just 9km. Visscher located the point on his on his chart of the coast.

With these three pieces of information, anyone in this latitude, and approaching from the west, would be able to identify where they were with complete confidence.

At noon on December 15th they were abreast of the Cape, and Tasman wrote “As we still saw this high land extend to north-north-east of us we from here held our course due north”. He was looking across the Karamea Bight.

The most distant land he could see was the point of Kahurangi, where the line of the coast turns from north-south to south-west to north-east. Tasman called it Steijle Hoek, Steep Point. Clyppige Hoek and Steijle Hoek are only 100 km apart, but the conditions were so calm that it took them over a day to cover the distance

They sailed through the night and at daybreak they were level with the township of Karamea, By midday on December 16th they were abreast the Heaphy River mouth, where Tasman recorded an ‘observed’ latitude of 40° 58′, and an ‘average’ longitude of 189° 54′.

This is the full journal entry for December 15th, 1642.

In the morning with a light breeze blowing from the land we weighed anchor and did our best to run out to sea a little, our course being north-west by north; we then had the northernmost low-lying point of the day before, north-north-east and north-east by north of us. This land consists of a high double mountain-range, not lower than Ilha Formoza. At noon Latitude observed 41° 40′, Longitude 189° 49′; course kept north-north-east, sailed 8 miles; the point we had seen the day before now lay south-east of us, at 2½ miles distance; northward from this point extends a large rocky reef; on this reef, projecting from the sea, there are a number of high steep cliffs resembling steeples or sails; one mile west of this point we could sound no bottom. As we still saw this high land extend to north-north-east of us we from here held our course due north with good, dry weather and smooth water. From the said low point with the cliffs, the land makes a large curve to the north-east, trending first due east, and afterwards due north again. The point aforesaid is in Latitude 41° 50′ south. The wind was blowing from the west. It was easy to see here that in these parts the land must be very desolate; we saw no human beings nor any smoke rising; nor can the people here have any boats, since we did not see any signs of them; in the evening we found 8° North-East variation of the compass.

As they rounded Cape Foulwind, and crossed the Karamea Bight Tasman made the note that: “we saw no human beings nor any smoke rising; nor can the people here have any boats”.

In these observations he was quite wrong. There were people there, and they did have boats.

To Anchor

Abel Tasman banner

Tasmans progress to his arrival in New Zealand

Tasmans progress to his arrival in New Zealand

As Tasman and his ships crossed the sea now named after him, he saw a large high land, and turned to it straight away. He fired a cannon to alert the Zeehaen to his change in course.

It was a momentous occasion.

1628 Map of the World

1628 Map of the World (click to enlarge)

The land they had already discovered, “Anthony van Diemens Landt”, wasn’t unexpected; the Dutch already knew about Australia. The VOC already knew of over half of its coastline; to the North, West and South, only the eastern limits were unknown.

From Van Diemens Landt they sailed directly East, now in completely unknown waters; they were beyond all the extremities marked on their charts.

This English map from 1628 shows “The Southern Unknown Land” as a vague line bearing the inscription “This South part of the World (contayning almost the third part of the Globe) is yet unknowne certayne sea coasts excepted: which rather shew there is a land then discry eyther land, people, or Comodities.”

They were sailing in a huge area that was a blank on the maps. At this latitude, the whole ocean between South America, and Australia was a void, filled only by the imaginings of the cartographers.

There, in that void, Tasman had found land.

In the afternoon Tasman convened the Ships Council, and they had decided to make for the land “as quickly as at all possible”.

Whilst there would have been excitement about this new discovery, it would have been tempered with apprehension. The rumours about the Great South Land spoke of Gold and Silver, but Tasman’s written instructions also noted that “it is well-known that the southern regions are peopled by fierce savages”.

There were also practical matters to consider. The last time they had taken water and firewood on board was in Mauritius. That was 67 days ago, and they had a contingent of 110 to be kept fed and watered; re-supply was important. The other concern was that this was a lee shore.

Their expectation and experience was that south-westerly winds dominated in this latitude, and they were sailing in “huge hollow waves and heavy swells” coming from the South-West.

Tasmans progress to his arrival in New Zealand

Tasmans progress to the New Zealand coast

As they continued south-east and closed on the shore, it became apparent that this was indeed a large land. They were approaching a coast that ran from South-west to North-east. It was not a group of islands with passages between and offering the chance of shelter behind, but a continuous lee shore… and they were approaching it in darkness.

Turning east would slow their progress towards land, but importantly it would also give them an easy tack to run parallel to the coast should a strong south-westerly blew up. They instructed their steersmen to continue on their South-east course unless the wind strengthened.

At 10:00 pm they turned East, and held that course until daylight.

With the dawn they found themselves close to the shore.

Serpentine Beach, Kumara Junction, with Mt Cook and Mt Tasman in the background

Serpentine Beach, Kumara Junction, with Mt Cook and Mt Tasman in the background

Tasman’s expedition first met the coast of New Zealand between Greymouth and Hokitika, near Kumara Junction, on the morning of December 14th, 1642.

“We were about 2 myles off the coast, which showed as a very high double land, but we could not see the summits of the mountains owing to thick clouds. We shaped our course to northward along the coast, so near to it that we could constantly see the surf break on the shore.”

They turned to follow the coast north, and began the first documented exploration of New Zealand.

Tasman's approach to Cape Foulwind

Tasman’s approach to Cape Foulwind

At midday Tasman recorded an ‘observed’ latitude of 42° 10′, placing him between Barrytown, and Punakaiki. Towards evening “we saw a low-lying point north-east by north of us, at about 3 miles distance;”.

He named it Clyppige Hoek, Rocky Point. Later, James Cook called it Cape Foulwind; (he wasn’t having a good time when he sailed past there). The Maori that lived in the area already had a name for it; Omau. It was a favoured place for seals and shellfish.

They sailed towards the Cape until the wind dropped away completely, and then found themselves drifting in a current that carried them closer and closer to the shore.

Tasman's position at anchor

Tasman’s position at anchor

As they drifted, the water was becoming shallower, until they found themselves in 28 fathoms, “where, on account of the calm, and for fear of drifting nearer to the shore, we ran out our kedge-anchor during the day-watch”

Conditions must have been very calm indeed as their “kedge-anchor” was not one of their main anchors, but a small one. It was the light anchor that they used for ‘warping’; pulling themselves into the wind, and out of awkward harbours… like Mauritius.

In the morning he reported “we then had the northernmost low-lying point of the day before, north-north-east and north-east by north of us”. This shows that the direction of their drift had been constant, and towards the Cape, and from this we can calculate his position at anchor.

Tasman’s first anchorage in New Zealand was 5 km off Nine Mile Beach, immediately to the South of Cape Foulwind.

Nine Mile Beach

Nine Mile Beach

This is the complete journal entry for December 14th, 1642.

“At noon Latitude observed 42° 10′, Longitude 189° 3′; course kept east, sailed 12 miles. We were about 2 miles off the coast, which showed as a very high double land, but we could not see the summits of the mountains owing to thick clouds. We shaped our course to northward along the coast, so near to it that we could constantly see the surf break on the shore. In the afternoon we took soundings at about 2 miles distance from the coast in 55 fathom, a sticky sandy soil, after which it fell a calm. Towards evening we saw a low-lying point north-east by north of us, at about 3 miles distance; the greater part of the time we were drifting in a calm towards the said point; in the middle of the afternoon we took soundings in 45 fathom, a sticky sandy bottom. The whole night we drifted in a calm, the sea running from the west-north-west, so that we got near the land in 28 fathom, good anchoring-ground, where, on account of the calm, and for fear of drifting nearer to the shore, we ran out our kedge-anchor during the day-watch, and we are now waiting for the land-wind.”

Lee shore

Abel Tasman banner

Shipwrecks on the Hokitika shoreline

Citation “Shipwrecks at Hokitika River mouth, West Coast. Greymouth Evening Star : Photographs of the West Coast. Ref: 1/2-050050-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.”

In January 1642, whilst the voyage was still being planned, Visscher had written to Head Office in Amsterdam making recommendations on the timing, and the course of the expedition.

His recommendation was that they should explore in an easterly direction. But their understanding of the winds at that latitude gave cause for concern.

“so that with the wind blowing hard from the west, which would make the coast there a lee shore, one would be exposed to many perils.”

Their experience and their expectation was that westerly gales were normal in this latitude and that when they approached land, they would be coming from the west.

Any new land discovered would lie across their path, and downwind of them… a lee shore.

Their square rigged ships couldn’t make way into the wind, the best they could achieve was to sail across it. A lee shore meant they risked being wrecked if the wind and swell strengthened.

After sighting Land, Tasman turned the Heemskerck towards it, fired a cannon to alert the Zeehaen to his change of course. In the afternoon, he convened the Ships Council. They decided to make for the land “as soon as at all possible”.

As they continued on their south-east course through the afternoon and evening, more land came into view and it became apparent that the land was large, and ran from South West to North East.

It wasn’t a group of islands with passages in between, this was a continuous lee shore. It was extremely dangerous to stay on this course in the darkness.

“In the evening we deemed it best and gave orders accordingly to our steersmen to stick to the south-east course while the weather keeps quiet but, should the breeze freshen, to steer due east in order to avoid running on shore, and to preclude accidents as much as in us lies; since we opine that the land should not be touched at from this side on account of the high open sea running there in huge hollow waves and heavy swells, unless there should happen to be safe land-locked bays on this side. At the expiration of four glasses of the first watch we shaped our course due east.”

Tasman's approach to the New Zealand Coast

Tasman’s approach to the New Zealand Coast

They decided that if the wind picked up they would turn to the East “to preclude accidents”. This would slow their progress towards land during darkness, allowing daylight to return before approaching the shore, in search of “safe land-locked bays”.

At 10:00 at night, they turned to the east, and in the morning they found themselves 2 myles from the shore.

Abel Tasman reached the New Zealand shoreline near Kumara Junction; north of Hokitika and south of Greymouth.

Tasman is sometimes referred to as ‘the timid explorer’, but his reluctance to approach the west coast of New Zealand shouldn’t be interpreted as lack of daring, but as due prudence. New Zealand’s West Coast is a dangerous place for shipping; the wrecks along its length are silent testament to this.

Shipwreck on the Greymouth Bar

Citation “Ring, James, 1856-1939. The steam ship “Hawea” run ashore at the entrance to the Grey River, Greymouth. Ref: 1/2-137181-F. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.″

During the West Coast Gold Rush of the 1860’s, Hokitika was a busy place. It was the main supply port for men and supplies bound for the gold fields… but it was a lee shore, and dangerous. In a single gale in 1863, 8 vessels were driven onto the shore around Hokitika.

Tasman’s caution navigating the West Coast of New Zealand was perfectly appropriate.

When James Cook sailed down the West Coast of New Zealand, he showed the same caution as Tasman, only occasionally going close ashore. Despite charting the entire West Coast of both Islands, Cook noted none of the main harbours; Kawhia, Aotea, Raglan, Manukau, Kaipara or Hokianga. He never went close enough to the coast to see the entrances.

Tasman had encountered difficulties with the lee shore in Tasmania and had the same problem again. It would continue to be problematic for the duration of his exploration of New Zealand.

From disappointment to despair

The Heems banner

Over the next few days things went from disappointment to despair.

What I’m doing is a factual account, and I couldn’t use the footage I’d shot; I had to go back and re-shoot the scenes in the right place, and against the correct background.

A forecast break in the weather signaled an early start, and I drove back down from Westport to Lake Mahinapua, 10 km south of Hokitika.

West Coast bush

West Coast bush

Just after midday I set off up the track with my full kit; tripod, cameras, sound kit, spare batteries, script boards, waterproofs and lunch.

It was a good track. The sign said “Swimmers Beach: 15 minutes”.

From the car park at the lakeside there was no mountain view, but a kilometre around the lake to the north was “Swimmers Beach”, and it was the perfect place. It looked across a big lake, wide and clear, it was on Tasman’s sight-line, and it was exactly the vista I needed. I strode off confidently. I had four hours of light, and my filming point was just 15 minutes away down a good, level track.

I arrived back at ‘the Heems’ three hours later, soaked, cold, bloodied and exhausted, having failed to even get my camera’s from my pack (or my lunch for that matter).

I opened the door, slumped heavily onto the van steps, dumped my sodden pack, and pulled out the flask.

“Fifteen minutes my arse” I muttered into the coffee.

After ten minutes on the track I’d passed a sign saying “Swimmers Beach 5 minutes”. A hundred yards later the track stopped abruptly at water. Presumably the track normally ran along a little beach here, but now, it was under the lake.

I stepped up to the lake edge and looked in… it looked deep… too deep. I couldn’t see the bottom.

I decided to try and follow the shore through the bush… but it was really hard going, just dense, dense, dense bush. So I went back to the end of the track; perhaps I could wade around until I came to the beach.

I found a firm log to stand on and lowered a leg into the lake. The water was up to my shorts before I pulled back out, still with no sign of the bottom. I couldn’t go that way… not with a pack full of electronics. It would have to be through the bush.

The bush was so thick that you could never make a whole stride. Underfoot was alternately fern and moss, or fern and bog. Branches and roots hidden in the fern turned my ankles at each step. Rata vines obstructed progress at all heights; round my feet, knees, waist, chest, neck and head. Sometimes they got so wrapped around my pack that I couldn’t move forward or backwards. I had to take my pack off, thread it though the vines and wriggle through after it.

Topographic map detail showing the 'Swimmers Beach Walk' and the 'Mananui Bush Walk' to Ruatapu Beach.

Topographic map detail showing the ‘Swimmers Beach Walk’ and the ‘Mananui Bush Walk’ to Ruatapu Beach.

There was no respite. It was constantly over, under, or between branches; down onto my knees, up over fallen boughs… but always tangling, wet vines.

After an hour, I was blowing hard, scuffed and soaked. My boots were bags of water from the bogs, and my pack and the rest of me were soaked through from the dripping foliage.

Even though progress was incredibly slow, I simply must have completed the remaining “5 minutes” to the beach, but I could still see no sand. There was bush, or lake, but nothing else. There was no hard stuff in-between, and no firm place to stand my tripod.

There was no beach here today… not for swimmers, nor for over-zealous trampers.

I leaned back, resting on vines that held me up from the ground, and took a few moments to catch my breath. Then I pivoted around, and began threading my way back through the tangle.

It took twice as long to get back.

It seemed there were twice as many vines, twice as many bogs, and twice as many impenetrable flax barriers. Sometimes the vines conspired in groups to knot my feet to the ground, and sometimes I couldn’t force my way through the flax even on my knees, and had to double back. My shins, hands and arms were a mess of scratches, and I had earned a fat lip from a particularly stroppy vine.

I tripped twice as much, and swore twice as often.

Occasionally I saw a boot scuff on mossy bark reminding me that some imbecile had come this way just a couple of hours earlier.

I didn’t want to be lost in this. I still had plenty of light, but the bush was very dis-orienting. There was only an even grey sky, and the occasion glimpse I got revealed nothing of the sun’s position. All I could do to keep my direction true was to keep returning to the lake edge, but incredibly, the lake edge was even harder to get through. There, the rata gave way to walls of flax, twice my height and totally impenetrable.

I was relieved when I found the track again. I was only a kilometer or so from the van, but no-one knew I was there, or which direction I had gone. Certainly, no-one would expect that I’d gone straight into the bush… only a complete nutter would have done that.

Sitting on the van steps I figured that after all the recent rain, the beach probably didn’t even exist… it was under a metre of water. Or perhaps it is called “Swimmers Beach” because the only way to get to it, is to swim.

Either way, it was of no use to me today.

I was soaked, cold, filthy and tired, and was going to get no result at Mahinapua. I needed an alternative.

Fortunately, in my research, I’d seen another possibility.

Google Maps is really good, you can flick between the map and the satellite view. Sometimes “Streetview” lets me get a view of somewhere that I’m researching from the road, and while searching I’d seen this bridge… and the view from it. It was a few hundred metres off the sight line I wanted, but it should be accessible, and it definitely had clear sight of the mountains.

As I headed back towards Hokitika I turned right, towards Kokatahi and its bridge across the Hokitika river.

It was ideal. The valley was wide, but river itself was narrow, weaving through a broad flat expanse of boulder shoals and beaches. I had clear line of sight to the peaks… at least I would if they weren’t in cloud.

I pulled back onto the Hokitika campsite and soon had their washer and dryers filled and spinning. The carpet of the van was wet and muddy from where I’d dumped the pack, but the heater would dry it, and then the mud would brush out.

I showered for ages, retrieved my laundry, and then took my weary bones off to meet some friends. I was sorely in need of good counsel; I was feeling sorry for myself, and hadn’t spoken to anyone for three days.

Back at the van I still had work to do. Everything in my pack had been soaked. I’d sorted out my clothes, but the remainder was still wet. I dried my cameras slowly in the warm air of my heater, and then fired up my laptop and printer. The scripts and pictures that I needed for filming were all completely destroyed, just a blur of mingled colour on a sodden mat. I needed to re-print them all, and to adjust the scripts for the new location.

It was late when I got to bed, but I set the alarm just in case. In early evening the sky had cleared… and if it held, then I might get another shot at it first thing in the morning.

I woke to a clear sky and immediately packed-down to leave.

It was only about 20 minutes to the Kokatahi bridge and I was there before the sun had reached the valley floor. I knew exactly where I was going… there was a place I could drive right onto the river bed, where the stone base was compacted hard over the years by the wheels of fishermen’s cars.

Dawn at Kokatahi

Dawn at Kokatahi

I was in sun by the time I was set up, and I got into it straight away. The sky was clear and all the peaks I needed to identify were cloud free. It wouldn’t stay that way for long, whisps of cloud were already forming around the tops… so I got the essential mountain shots first.

I only had three scenes to do, but I did all three several times more than was strictly necessary… I might not get another go at this. If those peaks got snow covered then their appearance would be entirely different to what Tasman saw, and what I was trying to achieve would have to be compromised by explaining the presence of snow.

The 'high lying land' that Abel Tasman first saw, seen from the Hokitika river at Kokatahi

The ‘high lying land’ that Abel Tasman first saw, seen from the Hokitika river at Kokatahi

I had some lunch and moved on while the weather held. What I was doing next was the preceding piece of dialogue. It had me on a beach on the line Tasman was looking down when he saw land. But from the beach you couldn’t see the high land… there were dunes in the way. I already knew this; it was why my other locations had been so important.

I set up to film, but after a few minutes my sound system died… flat batteries, so I called it a day. I’d got the critical stuff ‘in the can’. For the rest I didn’t need a clear mountain view.

My batteries going flat was odd. I carry a spare for just this reason; a single battery doesn’t last for a whole day’s filming. But when I put the spare battery in, it yielded nothing at all… even though it was fully charged with the other one the night before.

I was to be plagued by this problem for over a week.

My sound kit would work in the van, but not on the beach. I tried everything. I charged and recharged my batteries, I tested leads, re-made leads, assembled, disassembled… always with the same result. It all worked perfectly in the van, but it would fail after a few minutes out at the beach.

Testing my sound kit in the van

Testing my sound kit in the van

I went back to Ruatapu beach four times. Each time I returned empty handed. Nothing I tried would make my sound kit work there for more than 10 minutes. I would set up, run a trial scene, review it, and then… silence.

I was completely at my wits end.

Between the weather and my equipment problems, I had achieved nothing for over a week… and I had no idea how to make everything work again.

If I couldn’t sort it out soon, then I’d have to give up, and head back to Piha… perhaps someone in the camera shop in Auckland could figure it out.

I was completely out of ideas. I’d tested everything, and I’d tried everything I could think of.

I was confused, and lonely, and beaten.

I needed uplifting company.

It was bitterly cold as I walked to and from meeting with some friends, and I started to think about just that… the cold.

My kit had worked flawlessly for months… but now it was winter, it would only work reliably indoors.

I devised a test.

I made an extension lead for the battery, and then headed over to the camp kitchen with all the gear I needed; camera, tripod, sound kit, charged batteries, leads… and a portable radio, and a fan heater.

In the kitchen there were five Japanese, and a freezer.

I put my battery on the extension lead inside the freezer, and wedged the door closed with a broom. Then I connected everything up while the battery chilled.

The batteries in the freezer were connected to the base unit, which was connected to the camera standing on my tripod. My wireless waist-belt unit had fresh batteries in it, and was on the workbench on the other side of the kitchen. It was connected to the lapel microphone, which in turn was set in front of the radio.

It must have looked odd. There I was with my bits and pieces of camera equipment distributed throughout the kitchen, but when you’ve stood alone in public places all over the country filming, talking to yourself, you get over being too self-conscious. Though I was rather hoping that the owners of the iced cream weren’t coming for it any time soon… I wanted that freezer door to stay shut.

The Japanese were doing something to food that involved a lot of shouting and making the kitchen stink of ginger, garlic and soy. But apart from stepping over the broom that I had wedged between a table leg and the freezer, they appeared otherwise completely oblivious to my presence.

Perhaps this is normal behaviour in Tokyo.

Satisfied that everything was properly connected, and that my batteries were chilled to the outdoor temperature I switched it all on.

I turned the radio on, raised the volume and checked the sound level meter on the camera.


Zip, Zilch, Rien, Nada, Nienta… Nothing!

Nothing at all on the meter… not even the slightest flicker.

I was delighted.

You have never in your life seen anyone so happy to see nothing happen!

Sitting in the freezer was a fully charged battery that half an hour earlier had powered my rig flawlessly… but now… nothing.

For the first time in a week, I was smiling. It was a broad triumphant smile that said ‘look at me, aren’t I the smart one’. I was the veritable ‘Cheshire cat’.

I took the battery out of the freezer and set it in front of the fan heater. Two minutes later bingo!… the sound level meter started to flicker.

I left it all running, and put the battery back into the freezer. A few minutes later… it all stopped working again.

Woo-hoo! Nothing! Brilliant!

I was grinning from ear to ear, hopping from foot to foot and congratulating myself roundly. If I’d had more joints in my arms, I’d have clapped myself on the back.

The Japanese still saw nothing. It was like I was a poltergeist in the room, which they hoped would go away if they ignored it assiduously enough. They sat in a row, their heads in rice bowls, taking turns to bark at each other in staccato bursts.

I had one more small experiment to do, and then I would be back in business. It involved boiling a large stone, wrapping it up, and seeing how long it stayed warm.

The next day I finished filming on Ruatapu Beach.

My pack for the day contained a new item. I had my tripod, cameras, sound kit, lunch, flask, warm hat, gloves, waterproofs… and a hot rock with some batteries strapped to it, wrapped up in woolen socks and a fleece.

I knocked the 4 scenes off in rapid succession. The set-up between shots took time, but once I was ready, they all went pretty easily… after all, I’d had plenty of practice.

My sound kit worked perfectly for the whole duration. Hot rocks rule!

I took some time to sit and enjoy the moment on the beach. It was just perfect. Yes, it was winter, but I was quite comfortable in my shorts with my coat. There was no wind, just frosty air and the gentle touch of warm sun on my skin.

Five Japanese walked past, but I don’t think they saw me.

By mid-afternoon I was driving back through Hokitika heading north. I wouldn’t be coming back this way again, I had everything I needed, and I was very pleased with it all.

Boiling a stone is all well and good, but the easy and obvious solution to my battery problem was a simple hot water bottle. I’d have bought one in Hokitika, but couldn’t. I’d walked the few streets looking for “Ye olde hotte water bottle shoppe” but there wasn’t one… so I’d had to improvise.

The Warehouse would have them, but that would have meant driving to Greymouth again, and I wasn’t quite that desperate yet. However, my next shooting location was at Serpentine Beach, North of Hokitika, and just South of Greymouth. Greymouth was the closer campsite, so I drove there in search of a ‘hottie’.

The Warehouse obliged, and I pulled back onto the familiar Greymouth campsite (at the end of the runway, by the cemetery) just as the sun was setting. As soon as I had the van level and plugged in I headed to the beach. It was littered with new wood, all freshly dried from the day’s sun and the sea breeze, and by the time the last of the sun had gone, my fire was crackling nicely.

I popped back to the van for those important things… long pants (I was still in shorts from the day’s shooting), a fold-up chair, my Swandri, a flask of coffee… and of course, Licorice Allsorts.

I wasn’t on my own for long. Soon a young Aussie couple of from Brisbane joined me and we got down to exchanging notes on where to go and what to do. That afternoon they’d been on the Monteith’s Brewery tour, so I was happy to advise them that they’d done everything Greymouth had to offer, and that there was no need to linger.

Early tomorrow they were heading to the Glaciers… they had a “Heli-tramp” booked. They’d be helicoptered high up onto the Franz Joseph glacier, and then go for a walkabout.

They had described at length how beautiful the scenery was so far on their trip. They’d only come from Christchurch, through Hamner to Greymouth. It was tempting to say “you ain’t seen nothing yet”, but I thought it better for them to find out for themselves.

The forecast for the next day was fine, and it should be an experience of a lifetime. I hoped it would be a good one for them.

I think Matt might have overdone the wine a bit. As they got up to leave he fell in the fire, but it was OK, there was no harm done. I only had to push a few sticks around and it was all good again.

Aussie’s!… no surprises there.

His sleeve was peppered with holes from his elbow to his shoulder. He was missing bits of hair from above his ear, and the red on his forehead looked like it would hurt in the morning. But his principal concern right then was that he’d spilled the last of his wine.

As he and Deb’ tottered off into the darkness he said he was fine, and not to worry… he had another bottle back at the van.

I didn’t have high hopes for their 7:00 a.m. start.

It was late by the time I’d finished pulling burning Australians from the fire, and I had a prompt start planned for myself, so I turned in too.

I was on Serpentine Beach before midday. An icy wind was dropping straight down from the snow covered peaks of Arthurs Pass, and it was very cold.

My field kit on Serpentine Beach. The batteries are strapped to a hot water bottle inside the Spiderman blanket.

My field kit on Serpentine Beach. The batteries are strapped to a hot water bottle inside the Spiderman blanket.

I was fortunate with the direction of the sun, and the background I needed. It meant I could set up my camera’s using the van as a wind-break. But I was still cold filming in my shorts and short sleeves.

The chill came straight down from the mountains, and straight up my shorts. I was cold from the instant I took my coat off.

I eyed my cissy batteries with envy. They sat there on the ground, resting on a hot water bottle, and wrapped in a child’s blanket ($20 total from The Warehouse).

Still… they worked fine, and that was all I needed.

It was afternoon as I drove through Greymouth again. But this time I wasn’t distressed to see it, it would be the last time.

A Black Hole is a phenomenon well known to astronomers and physicists. It is a body so massive that it’s gravity can’t be escaped; not even by light.

That’s how I felt about Greymouth; it had kept pulling me back. I just couldn’t get away from it.

As I descended the hill past Runanga, a sense of well-being and calm began to flow through me. I was past the Event Horizon. I had achieved escape velocity. I was finally free.

I checked off the now familiar places as I passed them; Nine Mile creek, Ten Mile creek, Fourteen Mile Bay, Barrytown, Burke’s Road… and then, Punakaiki.

I arrived in Punakaiki with enough light left for me to check out my next shooting location.

Punakaiki is famous for its layered rocks and blow-holes (it’s ‘Pancake Rocks’ to the tourists), but that’s not why I was there.

Tasman had passed Punakaiki on the afternoon of Dec 14th, and I’d explain that part of his progress from here. The sun’s position meant I could indicate his passage, with the blowholes (and the tourists) at my back.

I moved to the northernmost point on the track and looked up and down the coast. I had to look again… it was far more than I had expected. On the distant skyline, to the south I could still make out Mt Cook and Mt Tasman. They were 200 km’s away! (125 miles). That’s where I’d filmed the sequences at Gillespies Beach.

On my horizon to the north I could see Cape Foulwind… and that was completely unexpected. Tasman had described sailing towards a ‘low lying point’… it was named Cape Foulwind by Cook (he wasn’t having a good time). Tasman’s journal contains an unmistakable drawing of Cape Foulwind. It removes any shadow of doubt that the coast Tasman was sailing along was New Zealand.

I’d expected to have to stop at another location to make this particular point, but I could do it from right here. It only needed a minor re-write.

Late evening at the campsite at Punakaiki

Late evening at the campsite at Punakaiki

The campsite was delightful. It was dry and level, and thoughtfully planted throughout so that it seemed to be a part of the surrounding bush. It also backed directly onto a broad sandy beach.

That evening I sat and watched a glorious West Coast sunset from the beach, sheltered from the wind by sheer limestone cliffs and the thick line of bush that topped the dunes.

My chosen locations were at and around one of the lookout points on the Pancake Rocks, ‘Blowholes’ track. I didn’t have too much to do there, just two short pieces of dialogue, and me walking up to and then away from the vantage points. But this time I was the tourist attraction. There were a lot more than just my two cameras. It feels odd talking to a camera with half a dozen strangers looking on and snapping away, but I’m getting used to it.

By the afternoon I was sitting in the sun enjoying a coffee made by someone else. It had been quite a while since that had happened, and I enjoyed the moment, watching the steady procession of tourists in and out of the Blowholes track.

Then I walked back to the campsite to get ready.

Punakaiki is an oasis on the West Coast. It has a micro-climate quite different to its surroundings. I was struck straight away by the warm air, but you could see the difference in the bush too… it was thick and lush, but different. The bush here is sub-tropical like the Waitakere’s… with Nikau, Rimu, Matai… even cabbage trees.

I felt very at home, and set about gathering wood.

reparing the sunset fire at Punakaiki

Preparing the sunset fire at Punakaiki

My fire that night was a grand affair; it was more bonfire than campfire, and I was joined by two young lads from England on their ‘gap year’. I’ve no idea, of their names, I’ll call them Bill and Ben.

They were good company, flush with the excitement of youth, and on the adventure of a lifetime. They were full of questions about New Zealand, its History and Geography… and I was more than happy to oblige.

We watched the sunset, and burned some old trees. Later we watched the stars, meteorites and satellites, and then the moon came big and bright, lighting the beach and the breakers.

It was a good fire, and in the absence of Australian’s, nobody got hurt.

The fire left a deep warmth that easily outlasted the few paces through the night’s chill, back to the van and bed.

I was warm, comfortable and happy again.

As my sister Jane had recently written in a comment; “All’s well that ends well”… and it was.