Remembering Fiordland’s lost

Te Anau resident and historian Merv Halliday created a memorial at Lynwood Cemetery, to the 73...
Te Anau resident and historian Merv Halliday created a memorial at Lynwood Cemetery, to the 73 people who have disappeared in Fiordland over the past 138 years. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Fiordland National Park is still one of the remotest places on the planet. So if someone were to wander off into the thick, rugged bush land and get lost or injured, it would be easy to disappear. John Lewis takes a look at some of those who never came back.

"Do you copy? This is kayak one. Do you copy, over?

"I've got an emergency situation. I'm in a kayak about 30km from Milford Sound. I need a rescue. My kayak's sinking. Fell off into the sea and I'm going down."

Crew members of the cruise ship Clipper recover a kayak from the Tasman Sea off Milford Sound....
Crew members of the cruise ship Clipper recover a kayak from the Tasman Sea off Milford Sound. The kayak is believed to belong to missing adventurer Andrew McAuley. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
They were some of Andrew McAuley’s last known words.

The 39-year-old Australian mountaineer and sea kayaker is probably one of the best known of the 73 people who have disappeared in Fiordland over the past 138 years, never to be seen again.

He was aiming to be the first person to kayak solo across the Tasman Sea, from Australia to Milford Sound.

He had already made a name for himself by kayaking non-stop across Bass Strait in 2003 and the Gulf of Carpentaria in 2004.

And in 2006, he led an expedition in the Australian Antarctic Territory where members paddled over 800km within the Antarctic Circle.

On January 11, 2007, he set off on his attempt to cross the Tasman, but it ended after he radioed for help on February 9.

His partly flooded kayak was discovered by rescuers on February 10 — heartbreakingly, only about 56km short of his destination — but his body was never found.

The incident was well publicised in the media, and it was the subject of a book and a 2008 documentary film called Solo: Lost at Sea, which incorporates video footage recovered from a memory stick in Mr McAuley’s on-board camera.

The furious and unforgiving Fiordland coastline has taken many lives, and in some cases, it has kept the bodies as well.

Of the 73 people who have gone missing in Fiordland, 25 were boaties or commercial fishermen, travelling off the coast of Fiordland.

Doubtful Sound PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
Doubtful Sound PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY

And another 14 people have been lost in Fiordland’s deep, dark lakes while boating, kayaking or canoeing, or crossing its treacherous rivers.

Fiordland National Park covers 12,607sqkm, making it one of the largest national parks in the world.

So if someone were to wander off into the thick, rugged bush land and get lost or injured, it would be easy to disappear.

That has happened to many people over the past 130 years.

But the disappearance of 24-year-old Terrence Michael Joseph Smith is perhaps one of the more bizarre incidents.

He was a surveyor on the Manapouri Power Station project, and disappeared while on a walk over the Wilmot Pass on April 17, 1966.

The Christchurch man had worked on the project since 1964, first as a road surveyor, and later as a tunnel surveyor.

He was walking from the Deep Cove end of the road which was under construction, towards the West Arm of Lake Manapouri where he intended to catch transport back out to civilisation.

Australian kayaker Andrew McAuley. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Australian kayaker Andrew McAuley. PHOTO: SUPPLIED

The road construction over the Wilmot Pass had gangs working from both sides, and was about 550 metres from joining.

Mr Smith had earlier been advised by a Deep Cove constable not to walk the road on that day because blasting operations were in progress.

The company had also issued instructions that no-one was to walk the pass at that time.

It appears Mr Smith disregarded those instructions and walked into the blasting area in Wilmot Pass Rd.

His body was never found, but bone and flesh fragments found a few weeks later were identified as being human.

Clothing fragments were also identified as being similar to what Mr Smith had been wearing when he went missing.

It is believed his body is buried beneath a rock slide in the area of the pass.

There have also been several aircraft disappearances in Fiordland over the years, prompting some to believe there may be a version of the Bermuda Triangle in the area.

On August 16, 1978, a Cessna 180 (ZK-BMP) took off from Big Bay in South Westland, heading for Riversdale in Southland.

On board were pilot the Rev Cyril Crosbie (37), Trevor Collins (50) and Peter Robertson (49).

Despite a very thorough search for the small plane, it was never seen again.

A similar incident happened later that year, on December 29, when a Piper Cherokee Six (ZK-EBU) took off from Taieri on a scenic flight that was meant to go past Queenstown, Milford Sound, Preservation Inlet and then back to the Taieri.

On board were pilot Edward Morrison (28), Stuart family members Earl (40), Elizabeth (37), David (18), Alec (38), Rosie (37), and David Hogg (20).

Their plane was last seen flying past Milford Sound Aerodrome from the direction of the Sutherland Falls, out towards the Sound entrance.

They, too, were never seen again.

The earliest recorded disappearance in Fiordland was Ronald Raymond, a trigonometrical and general survey party member, who went missing on March 17, 1882, after a boating accident on the Hollyford River, near the Pyke Junction.

The latest person to go missing was Christchurch man Michael Goodson (65), who was boating with his partner Rosemary Spiewak (69) on Lake Hauroko, on May 26, 2019.

Ms Spiewak’s body was recovered, but Mr Goodson’s was not.

Te Anau resident and historian Merv Halliday said Mr Goodson was the latest, but he would certainly not be the last.

For the past 30 years, he has been making a list of all the people lost in Fiordland.

It wasn’t something he set out to do. It was a bit like stamp collecting, he said.

"I collected one, and then I collected another one, and then another."

Before he knew it, it had become a personal obsession.

"I’ve always been interested in history and I’ve written two or three books on the history of our area — particularly Fiordland."

He said he had found a common theme among all those on the list — complacency.

"People go into that area and they’re complacent as to the nature of the area that they’re going to.

"If you’re going to be pretty casual about the whole thing, and not go there prepared for any event, you may not come back out.

"When I started this project, it was no big deal for people to just go off for the day and do their thing. But what wasn’t widely known was that there was over 70 people who had gone off and never been seen again.

"When you consider that all those people have gone missing and never been brought out, that’s an awful lot of people.

"Each and every one of them has a sad story, and every story is totally different.

"Each and every one of them has mystery involved because they never retrieved the body — they’ve never known the full story as to how the accident actually happened.

"So it has captured everybody’s imagination."

Mr Halliday described Fiordland as "an intimidating piece of country", and many people would be surprised how easy it is for someone to disappear there.

"As far as an aircraft in the bush is concerned, it doesn’t take long for the tree canopy to close in over the top and undergrowth to grow up from the bottom.

"A thing like that, let alone a body, would be very hard to find."

Once Mr Halliday completed the list of the lost, he decided it would be a good idea to erect a memorial to them in Fiordland.

"The poor individuals who have been lost, have had no recognition or home or base for any reference in the future.

"That’s heart-breaking for families."

So in October 2017, he established the Lost in Fiordland, but not forgotten memorial at Te Anau’s Lynwood Cemetery.

It is now a place where families and friends can go, to remember loved ones who have been kept by Fiordland National Park.

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