28-Mar-2004 -- Friday, 26 March 2004:
Paul and Dave set sail in Paul’s yacht, Sun Quest, from Paremata, near Wellington, to Endeavour Inlet, near the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. Meantime, Paul’s brother, Sam, travels from Blenheim, taking a Cougar Line ferry from Picton. Sam’s just flown in from East Timor a few days ago, and he’s hoping that Pierre Lavours who had travelled twice as far and signalled his intention to visit the confluence, has tried in vain. [Post script: just as we sign on to submit our visit, we find that Pierre has published his account. Congratulations!]
The rendezvous is made, as are plans to cruise out to the head of Queen Charlotte Sound and moor ready for an early start towards the Confluence tomorrow morning. However, the late afternoon brings a deteriorating weather forecast, and there’s a gale warning in place for the area we intend to visit. We decide to remain at remain at anchor in Endeavour Inlet, and see how things look in the morning. As one of the functions of these commentaries is didactic, it should be noted by mariners that a bowline knot by itself is not sufficient to reliably attach a line to an anchor. It is not the captain’s fault, but as it’s his anchor, we spend the late afternoon practising the use of a grappling iron.
Saturday, 27 March:
We awake to a breezy outlook, but the gales that had been forecast don’t seem to be eventuating, at least until after we enjoy a hearty breakfast, at which time squalls are gusting down the bay, with the stronger gusts whipping up clouds of spray. The gale warnings outside the Inlet are repeated in the morning’s marine forecast, though the forecast for later in the day is for reducing wind strength, but with a possibility of rain.
We study the map to review the prospect of walking to the confluence. We are not convinced of the logic of walking 40-50km in a day through relatively unknown territory to an unknown destination.
So we decide to remain at anchor, but take a walk up to the saddle at the head of the Inlet looking out over the confluence area out to the other side. It’s a most enjoyable walk, taking us through some magnificent bush, including younger bush that is regenerating from previous farmland. We discover some abandoned antimony mines, and reach the top of the saddle, where we are able to look out over the terrain, in very windy conditions. The sight of the hill with the confluence far out on the horizon convinces us that our earlier decision not to go the full distance was a wise one. We arrive back at Furneaux Lodge just as a downpour of rain starts, and are able to enjoy a welcome beer or two at the bar. We find some friends have just arrived, but they seem singularly unimpressed with our day’s hill climb, because they have just finished a 40km jog along the Queen Charlotte track.
At the bar we discover that the lodge is to offer a Degustation this evening, and although it is fully booked, there has been a late cancellation that allows us to join the party. It’s Dave’s birthday, so we welcome the opportunity to give him a special treat. For those who haven’t encountered one, a degustation menu is an opportunity for a chef to demonstrate his prowess by designing a set menu of food and wine in a series of small but delicious courses. It’s worth recording our menu in full, not because the excellence of Marlborough wine and cuisine or the friendliness of the Furneaux Lodge staff need advertising, but to demonstrate the rigours that must occasionally be experienced by those undertaking a confluence visit, and to provide a southern hemisphere contrast to the culinary experience of the visitors to 65°N 23°W (although the sea view there is remarkably similar):
Furneaux Lodge, Marlborough Sounds - Marlborough Wine Degustation
Marlborough Sound oysters, Pinot Gris jelly, coconut crusted oysters, rock sugar dressing. (Spy Valley Pinot Gris 2003)
Roasted scallop, crab ravioli, truffle oil Chardonnay veloute. (Gravitas Reserve Chardonnay 2002)
Pan-fried John Dory, sweet corn tomato salad, spiced broth. (Te Whare-Ra Gewurtztraminer 2003)
Vanilla duck, braised oxtail, shallot steamed pudding. (Spy Valley Marlborough Merlot 2002)
Smoked beef fillet, potato cream, sautéed Shitaki mushrooms. (Te Whare-Ra Henrietta 2003)
Deep-fried sheep cheese, basil oil. (Gravitas Sauvignon Blanc 2003)
Buttered brioche caramelised apples, Manuka honey cream. (Bailey Shot)
We agree that the chef has excelled with the food, the wine has flowed copiously, and we collapse contentedly into our berths aboard Sun Quest at a late hour.
Sunday, 28 March:
Awakening a short time later, at 6 a.m., we discover that the high winds have subsided, and Endeavour Inlet is a haven of tranquillity. The forecast is better, too. We set sail (more accurately, we motor) into a brilliant sunrise, then through calm waters around Cape Jackson and across into Forsyth Bay. We arrive, moor, and set off by foot, taking a farm road up the hill. This road takes us to the top of a ridge about 400m high. We continue along this ridge road, which offers magnificent views in every direction – the bays and islets of the northern Sounds and Cook Strait ahead of us, those of Pelorus Sound behind. The weather is perfect. We stop and chat with a local farmer who remembers meeting a foreigner, quite possibly French, up here about a month ago. If it were he, he had also come by yacht to this remote but beautiful place. This is not the sort of news we want to hear with less than 1km to go! The pointer on the GPS is pointing straight ahead, and we hope that the actual confluence will be on the road, perhaps at a high point we can see just ahead. If so, we will claim it as the world’s most beautiful confluence.
Unfortunately, with about 150m to go, the GPS leads us off the road downhill into low scrub. We scramble down a steep hillside towards Ketu Bay, forcing our way through bush. Two metres of height are lost for every three metres forward. We are intensely conscious that a Frenchman may or may not have trod this path a month earlier, but he hasn’t yet filed his report, so we can’t be sure. Spotting a gap in the thick scrub for a few metres we banter with phoney French accents, “Let’s take zat boulevard to ze left!”
All at once, we come across the confluence with surprisingly little difficulty, it kindly making itself available with a tiny patch of open space, affording at least a glimpse through the bush of the wonderful vista all round. The GPS is “all zeroes” for a short time but drifts 1 point just as the photo is taken, and doesn’t want to return. The confluence is at an altitude of 305m on a fairly steep piece of hillside with loose rock, not a good place for three people to rest. We savour the spot for a few moments, take our photos, and set off uphill again.
The walk back allows us to relish the hilltop scenery again, and take the photos we wish we’d been able to put to official use. Actually, the views were so nice we’ll include them, because they’re taken only about 150m from the confluence, and you’ll be able to understand why the confluence site people think this confluence is in the water. We reluctantly head down through farmland to Sun Quest. We’ve used up most of the day, and it’s too late for Sam to catch the Cougar ferry back to Picton, so we sail directly across Cook Strait to Paremata. As the sun goes down directly over “our” confluence point, both we and the sunset are triumphant.