Totaranui Totter (1984-1994) Race Report

The Totaranui Totter –Adventure magazine Issue 30 1985

We chugged out of Picton on the Mahau with skipper Dave “Bully” Hayes on the tiller. Four o’clock on a cloudless morn; the Southern Cross hung low in the sky. Another endurance event. Surely this one had to be unique. No application forms, no Robin Judkins laying down a screed of unintelligible rules and regulations, no money required, in fact training or ability doesn’t appear to be a prerequisite.

Aboard the boat we had 8 starters…a few teachers, a preacher, a water diviner and forestry worker. At 5am the diesel fumes penetrate my sleeping bag as a few of us try to catch up on some sleep. My mind scans the track ahead from Ship’s Cove to Anakiwa; possibly the most historic track in the South Island. I think of those who have set foot on this path; Maui, Kupe, Capt. James Cook, Banks, Solander, the great Te Rauparaha, and the people of the Ngatimamoe, Rangitan, Ngati Toa, Ngati, Kuita, Ngati Tama, Nagati Apa, Puketapu and Ngatirahiri.

It takes two hours to reach the start at Ship’s Cove (Meretoto), a bay that has felt the anchor of many great adventures. Cook spent three weeks here on his first visit to New Zealand in 1970, on his second visit in 1773-4 he called in three times, and on his third in 1777 he spent 13 days here. In 1820 the Russian explorer Thaddeus Bellingshausen with his ships the Vostok (East) and the Mirnyi (Peace), stayed  a few days here before penetrating the Antarctic Ocean, reaching the Southern most latitude of 67° 15´ south. Two Soviet Antarctic bases are named after his ships.

At 6.25am the 8 of us trotted out of Ship’s Cove past the stream where Cook drew his fresh water. Orme Collins set a fairly steady pace. Orme won the inaugural event last year in 9 hours 45 minutes and this year looked fit and fast. I discovered his secret; no water and raw wheat which he munches as he runs along. My old friend Don Mackay steadily runs behind me. Don is better known for his mountaineering feats in the late 50’s and 60’s when he was a member of various NZ and US expeditions to the Andes. From a lookout below the first saddle we cross, we can look out over Motuara, Long and Kapiti Islands, with the Tararuas as a backdrop. Motuara Island was where on the 31st January 1770, Capt Cook raised the British Flag, and took possession of the mainland in the name of King George lll, and named the water the Queen Charlotte Sounds after the King’s consort. He also used the Island as a vegetable garden. Once over the saddle we drop into Resolution Bay, named after one of Cook’s ships. The run from Resolution Bay into Endeavour Inlet involves another climb over a saddle then plunges into regenerating podocarp forest, dominated by young Rimu.

At this stage I was passed by Fred Grieg, the flying vicar from Picton. Fred had hoped to run last years inaugural event but as it was held on a Sunday it clashed with his pulpit duties. However, this year it was on a Saturday. I teamed up with Keith Munroe who was obviously pacing himself well. Keith blew up last year and was determined to finish. We chat about our children as I size him up. He’s got the build of a racing sardine and floats along effortlessly. What he floats over I tend to plough through. We passed the NZ Workers Union holiday camp in Endeavour Inlet, a place where the late Norm Kirk was a frequent visitor.

After three hours or so we reach Camp Bay having covered the first 29 kilometres. The joyride was over. We filled our water bottles with enough water to reach a water tank, marked on the new Park’s Board map, about 1½ hours away. The track claws its way up to Kenepuru Saddle from where one gets the first view of the mighty Pelorus Sounds. With one foot in the Pelorus watershed and the other in the Queen Charlotte catchment I tried to imagine how Hannibal felt as he crossed the Alps with his navigator Pelorus. Some historians credit Pelorus for developing the compass which Marco Polo later used in his numerous journeys. The sight of the compass is known as the Pelorus. No compass was needed as I scrambled up the parched clay ridge to the high point at 1530 feet. Not a breath of wind, not a cloud in the sky. At least 30 degrees. On the summit I looked through the heat haze to Blumine Island and Wharehunga Bay, where in 1773, a party of Cook’s men led by Furneaux were captured, killed and eaten.

I could see Orme and Don ahead of me, but no sign of the water tank so clearly marked on the map. I had finished my water and had this sickly feeling the water tank had been removed. There was at least a two hour run to the only other tank on this waterless ridge. There were 42 kilometres behind us now, but with no water, no drinks and no way out I began to think better of Robin Judkins, the organiser of the Coast-to-Coast; I was hoping he would pop out from behind a manuka bush with his sponsors product.

With Picton in background the track is up and down, up and down. The high points which my map showed in feet were never ending. I cursed the Park’s Board for not informing us of the missing water tank as the first signs of heat stroke appeared. I no longer seemed to be sweating. A tall Kanuka tree beckoned me to lie under its shady fronds. The minutes ticked by until Fred Grieg, the local Vicar, helped me to my feet…What a Godsend. Fred had spotted something blue down the ridge! Was it the water tank? Fred had also been feeling the heat but had paced himself well.

The blue water tank was full of cool, clear, water. We walked and ran together. Fred carried my pack. The parable of the Good Samaritan locked into my thoughts. With 50 kilometres behind us we spotted the rocky headland behind which shelters the Hotel Portage and the Portage Saddle.

Once over Trig N we enjoyed the steep decent down to the saddle where we knew Bully Hayes was waiting with his boat down at the jetty in Torea Bay. We gratefully stopped at the 50 kilometre point, Portage Saddle. Bully was there to great us and told us the heat and missing water tank had taken its toll. Orme pulled out at this point and Don staggered through looking poorly, Keith was well out in front; Fred decided to go on the final 20 kilometres to Anakiwa. I decided to call it a day.

We arrived back at Anakiwa by boat in time to see Keith Munroe cross the line in 11 hours 13 minutes. He looked great and said how he carried excess water with him which was the key to his finishing so well. Don McKay came in an hour or so later and Fred finished third in 13 hours. Only three finished. Orme and I talked about next year’s event.

The next day I found that the Parks Board never put in the water tank which is shown so clearly on their new map.

Report written by Bob McKerrow

Warden at the Outward Bound School

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