Smith relishes sheltered port after storm

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 13:00 27/02/2014
Courtney Lott
STORM TOSSED: The HMNZS Wellington was tested by a violent storm in the Southern Ocean.

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Conservation Minister Nick Smith has described waves "higher than any of the buildings in Nelson" during a nightmarish southern storm.

The Nelson MP was back on solid ground on Stewart Island yesterday, after the HMNZS Wellington was forced to turn back from its voyage to the subantarctic islands earlier this week.

The hurricane-strength winds and 14m waves were described by the ship's captain, Lieutenant Commander Phil Rowe, as the worst in his 28-year Navy career.

Yesterday, the ship was anchored in Stewart Island's stunning and sheltered Port Pegasus.

Dr Smith and the non-Navy staff were ferried to shore to tramp on Bald Cone and visit Broad Bay, one of Stewart Island's endangered sea lion haunts, though there was only one sea lion and three penguins to see.

"It felt truly bizarre to go from a Southern Ocean environment of 14 metre swells to the millpond of Pegasus Inlet where the wave height wouldn't have been 14 millimetres," he said.

"It was truly a wild storm and I never expected to see waves higher than any of the buildings in Nelson."

The most unnerving moment "was when the captain advised me that we needed to turn back but that we couldn't actually make the turn until the sea calmed, simply because the ship was not fit to take that scale of waves on the beam".

"The look on the captain's face was cool as a cucumber until there was an alarm for a fire which later turned out to be a fire extinguisher that had been thrown out of its catch. It was the only time that I thought I was in any danger."

Dr Smith added he would be approaching Nelson fishing companies "for a share of the quota, given the contribution I've made to feeding the fish".

He said the Stewart Island excursions were an unexpected upside to being forced to turn around.

"I've always had an ambition to get down to this bottom corner of Stewart Island and there are ambitions by some for marine reserves in this area.

"It was also a good experience today to meet my first New Zealand sea lion having signed out tens of thousands of letters about their survival during my political career."

Commander Rowe said the ship had come through largely unscathed from the storm and he was pleased with the way the crew had handled it. Fairfax NZ

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