Cannibal Bay was named by Sir James Hector in response to the human bones he unearthed there. The small bay has a wide beach exposed at low tide and is neatly hemmed by rocky pasture covered headlands at both ends. The rock stacks at the northern end are very impressive.
3 km east of Owaka, Cannibal Bay is signposted on the right along Cannibal Bay Road (unsealed). This leads 8 km to the beach. The track starts on the beach.
Walk the length of Cannibal Bay, making sure you keep well away from the sea lions. Don’t disturb their slumber and if possible stay landward side. They can chase and bite, so be wary.
At the far end of the beach a DoC sign entering False Islet Scenic Reserve commences the track over the sand dunes to Surat Bay. Keeping left at the junction leads to a farm gate, from where you should follow the fenceline down to Surat Bay. Watch and smell for the presence of sea lions, who may be resting in the dunes and will give you a bigger fright than you give them.
Return via the same track.
False Islet is named because it looks like there is water between it and the mainland. In fact a narrow neck of sand known as a tombolo has accrued to join it to the land and separate off Cannibal and Surat Bays.
Bull sea lions are absolute monsters, tipping the scales at 400kg. You don’t want to get in the way of one, so be especially vigilant if passing between them and the sea – their escape route. They prefer to slumber on the sand, unlike fur seals who use the rocks as their mattresses. The sea lions are often observed flipping sand onto their backs in an effort to keep cool.
Surat Bay takes its name from the Surat, an immigrant sailing ship which was wrecked nearby in 1874, after nearing the conclusion of a 94-day voyage from Gravesend, England. An inquiry into the accident found that not only had the captain steered the vessel into deeper water after striking rocks off Slope Point, but discipline on the vessel deteriorated after it was found the hull was taking in water. Later allegations pointed drunkenness of the crew as an explanation to why a distress signal was not released to a passing steamer and why the captain has pulled a pistol on the ship’s doctor, who had released a couple of lifeboats with women and children. Around 100 passengers were eventually ferried ashore at Jacks Bay and the ship was laid to rest around the headland in Surat Bay. It seems the experiences of the Surat have since been studied and replicated by Greek shipping crews, as enquiries into maritime incidents with Hellenic crews have yielded similar misadventures.
South Island ▷ Southland ▷ Owaka
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍