Underwater expedition in remote corner of New Zealand uncovers fuller picture of maritime history

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A fuller picture of the most remote corners of New Zealand has been established, revealing the rich maritime history of the region.

Dusky Sound, in Fiordland, is home to some of New Zealand’s most important shipwrecks, and now a team of divers and historians have been given the chance to examine some of the wrecks for the first time.

One of the wrecks to be surveyed for the first time includes what remains of the sightseeing ship Waikare, which sank 110 years ago.

The ship took hundreds of people to a remote corner of Fiordland National Park in the early 1900s.

“It’s not ‘til you're actually down there on the seabed that you really understand how big the ship was,” maritime archaeologist Matt Carter said.

The Waikare sank after hitting an unchartered rock as it was leaving the Sound. However, it’s been deemed by many to be the “jolliest” shipwreck of all time.

“Everyone got off nice and safely and the cooks were able to even get their pots and pans off and cook them a nice meal on Stop Island,” expedition director Willy McKee explained.

A team of eight maritime archaeologists made their way to the remote Dusky Sound last month.

“Tamatea/Dusky Sound is a really important place to the south. People might not know that and most people won't even get there,” Mr McKee said.

In another first, the team were also able to survey the sea floor of Captain Cook’s Resolution mooring spot in 1773, a spot which Cook visited on two separate occasions.

“You're on the bottom looking up and you're thinking, ‘Whoa, Cook was above you in the ship and here we are sort of 200 years on,’” maritime archaeologist Kurt Bennett said.

Divers also scoured the sea floor of New Zealand’s first known non-Māori shop wreckage from 1795, named the Endeavour - the same name as Captain Cook’s famous vessel.

Mr Carter said the vessel was to travel to Sydney, then India, via the Dusky Sound. However, it was “a very unseaworthy vessel".

“No one’s ever dived it before as a maritime archaeologist, so we can bring our professional attributes to it and describe it in a lot more detail than what's already there,” Mr Carter said.

The team took away several pieces during their survey. However, many of their findings have been left untouched.

Videos of their expedition will be available for viewing at Dunedin’s Toitū Otago Settlers Museum at a later date.