Long Island Submarine monitoring station

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Long Island

Located 35 kilometres from Picton, Long island guards the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound.  It is the first marine reserve in the South Island and has a long history of fortification.  To the local Maori the island was known as ‘Hamote’ and was occupied with a heavily fortified Pa.  When Captain Cook arrived in 1770 and named it Long island, this was still evident. He planted what was possibly the first vegetable garden near one of it’s beaches.  Even 75 years later Captain Wakefield said ‘it was crowned with heavy fortifications’.  Sadly there are no traces of this today, and even the location of the Pa is not accurately known.   During colonial times the forests on the island were burned and up to 400 sheep were run on a farm there.  Farming failed however and by the early twentieth century much of the island was regenerating into fern and bush. 

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Long Island - remnants of the monitoring station. Image supplied by author

A visit from a ranger in 1925 led to a recommendation that the island become a reserve.  In 1926 the Long Island scenic reserve was established.  Since then, predators have been eradicated and native species re-introduced.  There are even little spotted kiwi on the island now.  In 2006 a population of 100 Maud Island frogs was established, but this was not very successful, possibly due to a lack of predator proof habitat.  In 1991 a group of dive clubs got together and recommended that the area around Long Island and the neighbouring Kokomohua Islands be made a marine reserve.  This was acted on and the establishment of a marine reserve has seen a recovery of marine life around the islands.

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Long Island - remnants of the monitoring station. Image supplied by author

The Second World War

Back in the 1940’s the world was at war.  New Zealand sent troops and aid, and of course we never thought the war would come to us, but it did. 

We entered an arrangement to provide shelter to the American navy in Queen Charlotte Sound.  Due to the threat posed by the Japanese navy, a series of installations were planned and built around the Marlborough Sounds to protect against incursion by the enemy.  A number of these are still here, and you can visit them, if you know where to look.  Most involve an adventure to get to, all are worth the trip.

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Long Island - remnants of the monitoring station. Image supplied by author

A visit to the site

This is the story of a trip to Long Island to find the submarine monitoring station on the Eastern shore.

You need a good day to visit the outer sounds, and an even better one if you want to beach your boat and go exploring.  This one was perfect.  We headed out at 7.30am on a flat sea, 40 minutes later we arrived at the southern tip of Long Island.  With it’s reefs, rocky shore and hazardous rocks, this is not a place I normally approach too closely, although there is a stunning beach on the south-west point. But today was different, we needed to get close to spot the clues; a pipe sticking out of a hillside and the rotted remains of a jetty on a pebbly beach.  I was immediately nervous; there had been a number of landslides after recent heavy rains.  Maybe the clues had been covered? 

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Long Island - remnants of the monitoring station. Image supplied by author

We motored slowly along the shore, about 20 metres out, scanning the shore and bush.  The first pebbly beach we came to had a couple of huge slips.  We nosed the boat into the shore and I leapt onto the beach to explore.  After 10 minutes of scrambling up the landslides and climbing crumbling rock I could find nothing.  Ok, cross that one off and move along.

The next beach was larger and more promising - no landslides!  A rusty pipe was visible at the northern end of the beach along with a couple of posts sticking out of the rocky point.

We beached the boats and waded ashore.  The pipe was sticking out of a small clay cliff, but a little further along was a pile of rocks next to the cliff.  I scrambled up and found myself on a flat shelf of forest.  Directly in front of me was a solid concrete building with another a little further back.  Success!  These were the monitoring station and ‘housing’ for the soldiers.

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Bathymetric map showing the trench from Long Island to ‘Barracks Bay’ on Blumine. Image supplied by author

A short walk back into the bush led to a round concrete cistern that clearly supplied the water for the people there.

It’s hard to imagine now, but the area would have been cleared when the station was built.  To visit it today is kind of spooky, with the trees and bush all around and overshadowing the buildings.  DOC use this as a landing site to access the island and traps for the traplines were piled at the entrance to one of the buildings. 

This installation was never completed but the plan was to run a loop cable on the seabed to Blumine Island.  On the bathymetric map the trench from Long Island to ‘Barracks Bay’ on Blumine is clearly visible.  A number of cable trenches were dug at this time, it’s not clear which had cables laid and which were not used.

We spent a happy hour or so exploring the area and discussing how people would have lived here.   Before leaving we placed a geo-cache here for any other intrepid explorers to find.  It’s worth the trip to see monitoring station, and the bird life in the forests and bush is amazing.

2019

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Further sources - Long Island Submarine monitoring station

Books

  • Neal, K & Leov, N (1999)  The price of vigilance : the building of the gun emplacements in the Marlborough Sounds, 1942. Nelson, N.Z. : K. Neal and N. Leov

Web Resources