South Island, East Coast

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South Island, East Coast Cruising Guide

An online cruising guide for yachts transiting the east coast of the south island of New Zealand.


Cruising the region

Remember firstly that this region is firmly within the band of winds known to all as the "roaring forties". However heading down the east cost of New Zealand you are effectively in the lee of New Zealand itself so don't be petrified. However it does pay to hug the shoreline somewhat more closely than you might be used to doing in other latitudes. As a recent politician once described it, "be alert, not alarmed".

Much of the information here has been provided by Bill McIndoe, a resident of Dunedin and a regular cruiser in the Nelson and Marlborough Sounds region.


Heading south from Marlborough Sounds

When clear of Awash Rock, on the east side of Arapawa Island turn slightly to port and set course for Cape Campbell. If conditions are rough or it is blowing SW take a big curve into Cloudy Bay to stay between the 30m and 50m line, out of the deep water, and to obtain shelter from any southerly swell coming up the coast. Cape Cambpell will give you shelter to within 2nm.

The black and white, horizontally stripped tall lighthouse is built on a low peninsula with a background of shingle cliffs. Not easy to see. It is important to calculate the Cook Strait tidal flow. Strong tides run in all this area and especially in the vicinity of the Cape and on the coast furthers south. Consult the Central NZ Cruising Guide for this information. Shepherdess Reef projects 1.5nm from the Cape. Have safety clearing courses prepared using paper chart, echo sounder, radar and plotter. There is a large isolated boulder upon which the sea breaks that marks the approximate seaward end of the reef.

It is nice to go with the current.

Double Cape Campbell and set course south down the Marlborough coast heading for a position 5nm off Kaikoura Peninsula.

Past Kaikoura

Position yourself inside the 100m line at a distance of about 4nm from the shore. The waves are smaller in the shallower water. If you get into too shallow water, where the bottom is rocky, there is the danger of crayfish pot lines and buoys. To avoid them stay 5nm clear of Kaikoura Peninsula where the water is too deep or the bottom unsuitable for them to be laid. Avoid moving within 5nm of Kaikoura in the dark.

When you have doubled Kaikoura sail down the coast then do a big sweeping curved course into Pegasus Bay to stay out of the deep water i.e. do not set a course straight for Le Bons Bay across Pegasus Bay. Banks Peninsula will then give you shelter from the southerly swell.

Christchurch / Lyttleton

See the separate page on Christchurch

Banks Peninsula

If you think it time to anchor for a rest and a cook-up I can suggest four options:

(1) Pigeon Bay on the north side of Banks Peninsula, is the second bay along to the east from Lyttleton Harbour. Entrance is easy and it is 4nm up to the anchor position close under cliffs on the point at Holms Bay, to obtain shelter from the SE through to N. There is nothing there except you. It is rather nice but it is not on the rumb line and does take you out of your way

GPS Position: 43° 40.48S, 172° 53.37E

(2) Le Bons Bay on the north east corner of Banks Peninsula. The entrance is easy. Go 1.5nm up the bay and at the turning position (shown below) turn 90° to starboard. Anchor in what I call Yellow Buoy Bay in position (shown below) as close to the cliffs as you dare. If you close the little rocky point that forms YBB and the southern entry point of Le Bons you will avoid the incoming swell. You may see a small yellow buoy which identifies that you are in the right place. I lay an anchor parallel with the shore and a limiting anchor out to the SW in case the wind comes in from the south. If calm I can haul the bow round to face the incoming swell sneaking round the point to reduce roll. There is plenty of water. Although a bit rolly this is a worthwhile stop-over to cook a nice dinner, relax and sleep. It is another 5 hours (26nm) round and into Akaroa.

Le Bons is not suitable in E or SE winds

Turning point: 43° 43.84 S, 173° 06.22 E

Anchoring position: 43° 44.04 S, 173° 06.25 E

(3) Keep on for Akaroa. In the morning sun the Banks Peninsula cliffs are dramatic. In the afternoon they are dark and threatening. To avoid the seas stay close to the cliffs. Watch for the occasional reef off the points. Look for Pompys Piller, a handsome lump of rock.

(4) If everyone is bright eyed and bushy tailed carry on south to Taiaroa Heads, the entrance to Otago Harbour and Dunedin. If the weather is OK it might take 36 hours from Le Bobs entrance to Taiaroa Heads.



I do not recommend Timaru for yachts unless you have friends there or local knowledge.


To enter Oamaru Harbour needs local knowledge, but I can give you an idea. Go into the Bay immediately to the north of the Harbour. Come back up close to the Holmes Wharf breakwater. Nip close round it's end and you are in. Don't believe any transit marks until they are verified by a reliable local. Call a fisherman up on Ch 62. Choose an anchorage, holding is good. The town is fascinating and worth a visit.


Submit the chart details that are required for safe navigation.

Weather Information

Ocean Currents and Tidal Streams

There is an irregular 0.8 knot ocean current running north up the coast. It is driven by westerlies blowing across the southern Tasman. It runs north for 8 hours and south for 4 hours because it is effected by the ebb and low of the tides on the coast. Sometimes the current is not flowing but the coastal tide then flows 6 hours each way.

Sources for weather information:

Regional Radio Nets

VHF and Cellphone Coverage


Books, Guides, etc.

  • The New Zealand Tidal Atlas will give you the tidal story, but not the current component.

Cruiser's Friends

Contact details of "Cruiser's Friends" that can be contacted for local information or assistance.

Forum Discussions

List links to discussion threads on partnering forums. (see link for requirements).

External Links

Personal Notes

Personal experiences?


SailorSmiley.gifContributors to this page

Names: Delatbabel

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