May 04, 2020
Stewart Island Lords River 2020
I was supposed to leave Wanaka at Friday the 20th March 4.30am and woke with a fright at 4.50am!! It was a quick trip down to Bluff to meet the boat – Aurora - at 8.00am.
We loaded onto the Aurora, 2 boats and a shitload of gear anticipating 13 hunters living for a week on the Island.
We had 2 blocks – South and North Lords to Hunt & Fish. The trip down was it’s usual roll with only 1 casualty to sea sickness (not me!!). We pulled into Lords where it was nice and flat and unloaded onto the beach. We quickly set up tents and the kitchen area as the weather was nice and we wanted to get out that afternoon. One crew went fishing and diving while the rest of us went for a hunt.
I got onto a nice broad leaf clearing and which I prefed, and set it up to be able to stalk in on. The guys from the boat trip had a very successful catch so we had a good feed of Greenbone, Paua, Crays & Kinna for dinner. I thought to myself if this is the standard of food we are going to be eating and from the amount of deer sign we seen it was shaping up to be a great week. A few beers were consumed in anticipation of the coming week.
Saturday dawned wet and there was no rush getting out of bed, considering the previous nights entertainment.
Once everyone surfaced we had a good feed and I then took 2 boat loads of Hunters up the river and dropped them at designated spots, I then continued further and went hunting in my own area of bush. The weather had finally cleared and there was good sign but no animals actually seen from any of the guys that day.
I headed back down the river 4ish and picked up the guys on the way back to camp – where I proceeded to go and sit on my broadleaf. When it got dark I headed back to camp where 13 heads were counted, dinner was cooked and we regrouped and talked about our days activities.
Sunday – as forecast the weather was very stormy and wet, 4 of us ventured out in the boat to get fish but were turned back fairly quick with some big swells. Others went and sat on their broadleaf while the rest stayed at camp. The night was very stormy with heavy rain and wind as only Stewart Island can put on.
Monday – Not much eventuated until mid afternoon when the weather cleared. As we had been hut bound for a day and a half we were all keen to get out and do something. 3 headed up river around 4.00pm and others headed out to their broadleaf stands, I took a friend up to my broadleaf stand and we were lucky enough to have a deer pop out in the sunshine which my mate saw and shot - a nice fat hind. By this stage it was 5.30, so we headed back to camp very pleased with ourselves another member of the group had shot a yearling buck as well. The guys in the boat returned 6.30ish but there was only 2 in the boat, when there should’ve been 3. About the same time Dylan received a message on the Mini InReach that NZ was going into lockdown on the Wednesday night. That was all his partner sent us so we turned the Mountain Radio on at 7.00pm to hear the SKEG, at the same time 4 guys took the big boat up the river with a rifle and headtorches to pick up the missing hunter. They were out until 9.30ish when it became too wet, windy and dark to hear or see anything. Knowing Eli would stop and hunker down for the night and not wander round in the dark, they decided safest thing to do was return to camp and resume search in the morning.
Over the Mountain Radio SKEG we had been informed of the Covid 19 situation and all Doc blocks must be evacuated by Wed 12 noon, and we were informed that the Aurora would be there Tuesday 9.00am and we needed to be packed up and ready to go.
It was a very quiet, somber night knowing we had someone left out in the bush and not really understanding the whole Covid 19 situation. A crew was up before light and back out on the river searching for Eli, while the rest of us were back at camp packing to leave the island. The boat arrived on time at 9.00am, we were not ready to go and informed the skipper we still had a hunter out. The skipper headed up the river to help get him, but as there was still no sign of him, the call was made at 10.00am to contact Search and Rescue.
We finished packing up camp and loaded everything onto the Aurora, then proceeded up river to where our other boat was periodically firing a shot into the air and listening for any reply.
2 teams of 3 SAR people arrived and headed into the bush starting at Eli’s entry point. We were told that there was nothing more we could do at that point so with heavy hearts we left the Island at 5.30pm with only 12 guys. From a personal point of view it was a very surreal feeling to leave a Man behind.
Got in to Bluff at 8.30pm, unloaded and were interviewed by the Police. It was a quiet trip home on my own, getting home 1.00am exhausted. The next day 2 more SAR and rescue teams went in with dogs to help with the search for Eli. I must admit I was starting to think the outcome might not be a good one….
Two and a half days, 3 nights and approx. 26kms later it was with utter disbelief I got the phone call to say Eli had been found and was Alive!! Aside from being bit battered and bruised, he was hungry and in good spirits.
It was such a relief to have 13 Men back home with their families, we have unfinished business down there and we will return.
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