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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 3 (June 1, 1940)

Special Account of Dusky Bay

Special Account of Dusky Bay.

Captain Cook devotes a chapter of his journal to describing Dusky Bay, and to detailed instructions concerning the best way of entering and leaving it.

“There are few places where I have been in New Zealand,” he says, “that afford the necessary refreshments in such plenty as Dusky Bay, a short description of it and of the adjacent country may prove of use to some future navigators, as well as acceptable to the curious reader. For although the country be remote from the present trading part of the world, we can, by no means, tell what use future ages may make of the discoveries made in the present.” Particular note is made of the birds and other animals found in the bay. Cook speaks of five different kinds of ducks, the largest being as big as a muscovy duck, and having such very beautiful, variegated plumage, that they called it the painted duck. Amongst the small birds, he mentions particularly the wattle bird, the poy bird, and the fantails. The most remarkable fantail was one—so small, that Cook in describing it, said: “the body is scarcely bigger than a good filbert, yet it spreads a tail of most beautiful plumage, full three-quarters of a semi-circle, of at least four or five inches radius.”

Unfortunately for the birds in Dusky,
(Photo., E. J. McClare). “Ab” class locomotive being turned in the station yard at Auckland.

(Photo., E. J. McClare). “Ab” class locomotive being turned in the station yard at Auckland.

the Resplution's cat, discovering how unsuspecting they were, used to wander off daily and procure for itself a full and tasty meal.

During the first few days of their stay in the Sound, a four-footed animal was seen by three or four of the Resolution's company; but as “no two gave the same description of it,” Cook could not say what it was. However, all the witnesses agreed that it was “about the size of a cat, with short legs, and of a mouse colour.” One of the seamen who had the best view of it, said that it had a bushy tail, and was more like a jackall of any animal he knew.

More than once, Cook refers with gratitude to the fish in Dusky; not only were they in abundance, but in great variety. A species of cod—which the sailors called the coal-fish, on account of its colour—was considered the best and most savoury of all.

Almost the only annoying thing was the host of sandflies. They were tormenting; and “exceeded everything of the kind ever met with.” The other evil was the nearly continuous rain, though in fairness to Dusky, Cook adds: “This may only happen at this season of the year.” Yet the people felt no ill-effects from the rain; on the contrary, “the sick and ailing recovered daily,” due to the healthiness of the place and to the fresh provisions—seal-meat, fish, and spruce beer.

The great work done during Cook's stay in Dusky, says Dr. McNab, was, of course, the accurate survey and charting of the sound. Cook must have worked very hard to have accomplished what he did in the time; “distance, length of coast line, and weather, were all against him.” The chart is, without exception, the finest made during his second voyage.