08-Feb-2003 -- It may be theoretically possible to set foot on this confluence, one of the southern most intersections outside of Antarctica, but a very high degree of difficulty is involved. I, along with my wife, Celeste, and our friends, Gerry and Corky Weston, experienced the challenges of getting to 47°S 168°E on our recent vacation to New Zealand.
The first hurdle is getting oneself to the town of Bluff, NZ, the southern most settlement of any size in the world. (Motto: It may not be the end of the earth, but you can see it from here.) For us, this was a six day journey of 12,500 km, originating in Boise, Idaho then by air though Denver, Los Angeles, Auckland to Christchurch; then by auto to Dunedin, Invercargill and Bluff. There, the mode of transport changes to a ferry for a one hour trip across the Foveaux Strait.
We arrived at Stewart Island on 7 February at 10:30 AM. Our guide book accurately describes the island as “characterized by bush-filled bays, sandy coves, windswept beaches and a rugged interior of tall rimu forest and granite outcroppings. The only settlement is tiny Oban, its buildings huddling around halfmoon bay and creeping up the hill towards the airfield, as if cut into the bird-filed bush.” (Rough Guide to New Zealand, Second Edition). It is a delightful place to visit, even if you are not in search of a remote confluence.
At the ferry dock we were met by our energetic B&B hostess, Phillipa Wilson, who, together with her husband, Ian, are the proprietors of the Port Of Call B&B. Phillipa gave us a quick tour around the part of the island that can be visited by car (not much) and we spent the rest of the day looking about, in preparation to our intended assault on 47°S 168°E the next day.
We quickly observed what our pre-trip research had predicted--the area south of Paterson Inlet is covered by impenetrably thick scrub forest. Bushwacking one's way from the coast through 6 km of this dense native bush and rainforest to the confluence would require more than one days effort, even if it could be physically accomplished. And, the thick forest canopy would obviously deflect satellite signals rendering the GPS useless. Finding the spot by an overland march was clearly improbable, to say the least.
In addition to these physical barriers we discovered an equally formidable regulatory hurdle. This area is some sort of wilderness with access tightly controlled by the New Zealand Department of Conservation. Entry into the area is generally restricted to purposes related to land management objectives, of which confluence hunting is not one.
Just when the quest seem doomed to an unsuccessful conclusion, Ian, who is also an eco-guide and water taxi operator, learned there was a helicopter on the island doing work for a wildlife filming expedition. Ian, demonstrating typical Kiwi ingenuity, induced the pilot (for a modest compensation) to give us an over-flight of the site the next morning before starting his scheduled work.
So, on 8 February at 9:30 AM, we picked up our helicopter pilot, Mike Reed, at his hotel. His lovely wife, Lisa, who was accompanying him on the work, was baffled at the idea that anyone would go to this effort to visit a place where two lines crossed on a map. She wondered if were part of a weird religious sect who thought a convergence might be some kind of an energy portal to the universe. We assured her, not to her complete satisfaction, that while we might be weird, we weren’t that weird.
We then drove a short distance to the airstrip atop Fern Gulley Road. The weather there was overcast and cool. After necessary pre-flight activity, Mike, Gerry, Ian and I lifted off at 10:30AM. Celeste and Corky remained in the car at the airstrip, where they were joined by Lisa, who continued to wonder what was being accomplished by this exercise. Celeste and Corky shared a similar sentiment with Lisa, we were later told.
Our flight path took us across Paterson Inlet at a bearing of about 150 degrees. To our left we could see a series of small islands, including Bench Island, named by Captain Cook who passed through this area on the first of his three great expeditions in 1770.
Just after crossing the inlet, we picked up 168°E on the pilot’s GPS and set a new bearing of about 180 degrees. In a short time we passed over the spot and my GPS was registering zeros in the dd and mm columns. I tried to take photos in sequence of the confluence point and my GPS clasped between my knees. Vibration in the helicopter made focusing difficult, however. The point is on the SE side of a large hill, over which the forest canopy is very dense in all directions. From the air, the canopy looks like tightly woven carpet. Buffeting winds made hovering or circling above the spot inadvisable. Closer inspection and more accurate GPS readings were not possible as a result. We returned to the airstrip, landing down safely at about 11:10 AM.
Although our adventure probably only counts as an “attempt” under DCP guidelines, we left Stewart Island the next day with the satisfaction that results from boldly going where no one has gone before.