Guide to Port Pegasus, Stewart Island

Port Pegasus notes

 

Colin Quilter

 

Port Pegasus, near the southern tip of Stewart Island, has all the qualities that kayakers might seek for a paddling holiday. It is on a remote and exposed coast, and yet it is also well protected and encloses a complex of inlets and hidden passages which might take a week to explore fully. In February 2010 I spent six days there. I tried to visit most parts of the harbour, and took notes of campsites and places of interest. These might be helpful to others planning a trip.

 

I expected that given its many sheltered arms, Port Pegasus would have numerous beaches and campsites; but that’s not the case. The harbour is an ancient valley which has been drowned by the sea, so the bush-clad slopes which come down to the water are actually old ridges and hilltops. They are often steeply-sloping, and there is little flat land close to the water. Perhaps for the same reason, many of the white-sand beaches in Port Pegasus are only beaches at mid and low tides. At high tide the sand is completely covered, and the water laps at the rocks and bush at the back of the beach. However even if you cannot find a beach to land on, waves in the harbour are so small that it’s usually possible to haul ashore on a rocky shelf, or at the mouth of a creek.

 

In the notes that follow, numbers refer to the numbered places on the map.

Port Pegasus map

 

Huts. There are two hunters’ huts. Both are administered by DOC. The charge for their use is $20 per person per booking (the cost is the same whether you stay one or several nights). They are basic 8-bunk huts in excellent condition with the usual facilities (a potbelly stove, tank water off the roof, etc). Hunters have priority in booking the huts, but if they have not been booked then recreational users are welcome. Entries in the hut books suggest that perhaps 10 parties visit each hut per year, so they are not heavily used. Because of the expense of reaching Port Pegasus (by charter boat from Oban or Bluff), hunters usually form groups which will fill the hut, so that the cost of transport is shared among 6 or 8 people. Having planned the trip many months ahead and paid a great deal of money to get there, they will expect exclusive use of the hut, and rightly so. Kayakers using one of the huts as a base should bring an axe and/or saw because the stove will accept only very short pieces of wood.

 

North Pegasus Hunters’ Hut (1). Beautifully sited on a sheltered and sunny beach in Pegasus Passage. A good base to explore the harbour both north and south of the hut. One minute up the track behind the hut there are two beautiful campsites, in the shade of big rimu trees. There’s another on a grassy flat alongside the hut, but it might be prone to flooding. A hunter’s track leads westward up the spur behind the hut; after 30min you will reach a flat summit where weather forecasts can be received on VHF Channel 23 (see later). In my view this is a great advantage of the North Pegasus Hut.

 

South Pegasus Hunters’ Hut (2). On the western shore of Islet Cove, on a small plateau just north of the beach (and not easily seen from the water). Look for a couple of stakes set into the sand on the beach, and fishing boat moorings in the bay. There are two good campsites between the hut and the beach.

 

Campsites. In addition to those already mentioned, I could find only four locations in Port Pegasus:

 

Bulling Bay (3). This is a nice white-sand beach facing NE. There are 2 or 3 campsites, shaded by trees, on the grassy flat behind the beach. I looked for campsites in Ben’s Bay and Red Beach on either side of Bulling Bay, but couldn’t find anything.

 

Nth Pegasus Bay for KASKAn un-named cove in the entrance to Albion Inlet, on the south side (4). The beach is pleasant and north-facing. There are two campsites on the flat behind the beach, with shade and water.

 

Twilight Bay (5), on the south side of a small peninsula which is just south of Rosa Island. The beach faces east and will get the morning sun; there are two campsites with shade and water.

 

Disappointment Cove (6). There’s a track which leads from here across the isthmus to Broad Bay (10min). Two campsites have been established here by hunters, but the place is rather gloomy, and the landing is more like the mouth of a creek than a beach.

 

Places of interest. The labyrinth of inlets within the harbour is ideal territory to explore by kayak. If the beach you are approaching is already occupied by a bull sea lion and his ladies, then you might want to reconsider visiting it. Bull sea lions have big yellow teeth, weigh up to half a tonne and the ones I met didn’t like a kayaker trespassing on their territory.

 

Bald Cone (7). In my opinion this is the standout attraction in Port Pegasus. Reserve it for a blue-sky day; there’s little point in viewing the inside of a cloud. On a clear day the view from the summit must be one of New Zealand’s finest. Bald Cone is made of granite. Weathering of the summit rocks has formed a fantastic jumble of immense boulders and slabs. It’s a unique landscape, and from the top Port Pegasus is spread out like a map beneath you. The track begins in a creek on the southwest side of the hill, (that is, on the northern shore of South Arm). There’s a small inlet (marked with an asterisk on my map) which leads you to the mouths of two creeks. The western creek has a small waterfall; don’t go there. The eastern creek has the track leading up from its southern bank; a piece of rope hanging from a branch marks the beginning of the track. When I was there in February the track had been marked along its entire length with pieces of blue masking tape; they won’t last long but in any case, if you go carefully, the track should be recognizable. Approaching the summit the route follows a steep, bare rock chute. Someone has helpfully hung a rope down the chute, which makes it an easy scramble. There is said to be an alternative route up the north side of Bald Cone, from Shipbuilders Cove.Bald cone for KASK

 

Cook Arm (8). Both reaches are very shallow at their heads. The western reach will probably give access to the Fraser Mountains (Gog, Magog and Hielanman) but I didn’t seek it.

 

Belltopper Falls (9). Just south of the falls is the site of a failed fish-packing plant, now marked only by a stone jetty and rusting machinery (a seawater pump)?

 

Weather reports. Forecasts for coastal areas Foveaux and Puysegeur are broadcast continuously on VHF Channel 23. Of course, the limitation with VHF is that it is line-of-sight and doesn’t penetrate into the beaches and coves where kayakers are likely to camp. There may be places in Port Pegasus where Channel 23 can be heard at sea level with a handheld radio, but I couldn’t find them. However I did succeed on hilltops; for example the on the hill behind the North Pegasus Hut, and on top of Bald Cone. Medium-wave radio signals penetrate much better than VHF, so at your campsite you might well get the coastal forecast broadcast every morning after the 4am news on Radio NZ National, (the Invercargill transmitter broadcasts on 720 kHz).

 

Getting to Port Pegasus. A lengthy and expensive trip, however you do it. I drove from Auckland to Bluff with my kayak on top of the car. Costs (for the return trip) were petrol $400, Cook Strait ferry $380, Foveaux Strait ferry 1 passenger $126, 1 kayak $50, lock-up car parking near the ferry terminal at Bluff about $5/day. That’s a total of about $1,000 before I even started paddling. There are several charter vessels which can take parties of kayakers from Oban to Port Pegasus; eg. Aurora Charters (Colin & Margaret Hopkins, www.auroracharters.co.nz).

 

Bald cone view east for KASKHaving paddled between Oban and Port Pegasus I think that’s a feasible option for competent paddlers, depending of course on the weather. There are plenty of beautiful and sheltered places to land and camp along the coast. For example, (beginning at Oban) great places to stop are Chew Tobacco Bay, Kelly’s Bay in Port Adventure, Little Kuri Bay and Big Kuri Bay. All have hunters’ huts. The only problematic stretch of coast is the 25km between Big Kuri Bay and Port Pegasus, which has no obvious landings. Paul Caffyn and Max Reynolds landed at Toitoi Bay, but that is close to Big Kuri. About mid-way along this stretch is Kopeka Island and I suspect there may be a sheltered landing behind it; I regret paddling past without checking it out. All of the headlands along this coast are subject to tidal races, but they are not severe, (the flood tide sets NE, the ebb tide SW). In fine weather there will be a cold land breeze flowing down off the hills in the early morning, then a mid-morning calm followed by a sea breeze (often fresh) beginning about noon.

 

Finally…….. These notes were written in 2010, and with the passage of time they will become inaccurate. If other paddlers have visited Port Pegasus since then and can contribute useful information, I would be happy to receive it (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) so this guide can be updated.

 

Cheers,

 

Colin