Passage Plan – Lyttelton to Waikawa

We are currently preparing Wildwood for our delivery trip North. We are taking her up the East Coast of the South Island of New Zealand from Lyttelton Harbour – where we live – to Waikawa Marina, which is nestled in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds.

Our aim is to take her up early December on the best weather window and then drive home to do the last couple of weeks at work and then drive back up again on boxing day for some holiday fun!

Last year I attended a passage planning session at the yacht club run by David Kennett who has done the trip many times and he had some good tips to share. I am now going over my notes again to make sure we have got all our ducks in a row for the upcoming voyage.


A couple of weeks out we start looking for a good weather window. There are three websites we check –

  1. Metservice have got a pretty good marine forecast which is usually quite accurate for Lyttelton Harbour anyway.
  2. Predictwind– has got some great graphics showing the wind direction and speed over the course of a few days
  3. Metvuw – Showing the isobars and rain on maps over a period of time

They pretty much all say completely different things, so I am not sure why we look at all of them as it only confuses us. But we wait for them all to line up with what we want and then it is all on!!

Basically we are looking for a nice Southerly to carry us all the way up the coast – preferably without a raging nor-wester waiting for us in Cook Strait. (Cook Strait is not a good place to be in a stormy Nor-Wester)

Sailing in Cook Strait

Tory Channel

So if you make it through Cook Strait in one piece the next hurdle to overcome is the Tory Channel entrance. This narrow inlet has very strong tidal flows. Last year we followed another yacht through with the tidal rip in full roar against us. It looked like a swiftly flowing river in the middle, but we picked our way around the side with the accelerator down as far as it would go – we were barely making 1-2 knots over the ground, and we had to dodge rocks awash, cray pots and huge eddies which felt like they were going to suck us down the plug hole. In addition to that there are the ferries which connect the North and South Islands who frequently charge through the middle of the channel and have right of way. I would prefer to avoid that this time…! The channel is well lit but I wouldn’t fancy going through it at night.

So ideally you want to arrive at the Tory channel entrance when the current starts to flow in a Westerly direction – and using that to your advantage as you are swept along at twice your normal speed until you arrive in Waikawa Marina.

You can download the tidal predictions for Tory Channel entrance here. (remember to add an hour for daylight savings) There are also flow charts that show the speed of the current at various times at hours before or after high tide in Picton.

You need to make a call on the VHF to all ships when you are about to pass through the channel entrance.

Tory Channel


Last year we had four crew on the trip up and just the two of us for the trip back. We did two or three hourly shifts on watch. The main considerations we have with crew are firstly having a way of getting everyone home from Waikawa. Last year our friend Emily took our car up for us and dropped it off. Seven of us came back – us and our friends from Flying Machine. This was a big squash and poor Craig had to have a liferaft on his lap for the five hour journey! We were also super tired, and none of us should have really been driving. Hopefully this year my Mum might come and pick us up.

Other things we noted in the log were –

  • Food that is easy to re-heat (spag bol sandwiches for example!)
  • A thermos with hot water to make hot drinks or soup
  • Scroggin, nuts, sweets – we ate the whole way
  • We took Stugeron seasick pills that were great – no one was sick and they didn’t make us sleepy either
  • Bring warm clothes and decent wet weather gear, a hat to wear at night
  • A red headlamp torch is really useful to keep night vision in check
  • Pump bottles of water for each crew member to keep hydrated

Not so important for this trip, but if you are provisioning for a longer trip – check out this post on how to provision your boat.  Once you have bought all your food divide your fuel, water and fuel supplies in to thirds. Now figure out where on the passage is half way – in miles. Use the first third of your supplies for the first half of the passage. Then when you make that half way point, you can start on your second third of supplies. Save the final third for emergencies.

Got to love good wet weather gear. Makes days like this so much nicer!

Got to love good wet weather gear. Makes days like this so much nicer!


Wildwood used about a litre of fuel an hour at around 2000 revs. On the last trip we had to motor pretty much the whole way. The tank holds about 40 litres, but it is good to keep it full as when you heel over it can get a gulp of air and the last thing you need to be doing when you are trying to negotiate Tory Channel is trying to bleed the motor… So we will fill the tank and will take another 20 litres of spare fuel with us.


Yachting NZ have got a great list of gear that yachts should carry when they are doing coastal voyages. So aside from the regular stuff we usually carry – we will also have the following on board

  • Rig the jacklines and we will wear our harnesses when we are in the cockpit
  • Life raft – we bought one of our own last year. The most expensive thing I have ever bought that I hope I never have to use
  • Grab bag – to go with the life raft
  • Mobile phones & chargers – there is good coverage all the way up the coast
  • We will make a Trip Report with Maritime Radio on Channel 16
  • Secure the anchor

July 034


For the trip we have got the following:

  • Chart # 63 – Banks Peninsula to Kaikoura
  • Chart # 62 – Kaikoura to Cape Campbell
  • Chart # 46   – Cook Strait
  • Chart # 6153 – Queen Charlotte Sound
  • The New Zealand Cruising Guide – Central Area – a wealth of information about the different anchorages and passages around the Marlborough Sounds and beyond.


We have also got the handheld GPS chart plotter, the iPad with Navionics app – which is complemented with the Garmin Glo GPS which hooks in via blue tooth.

We also have the compass – the red light isn’t working on it at the moment which is a bit of a pain, and the auto helm which worked really well last year – we just need to make sure it doesn’t get wet – Craig recommended wrapping it up in glad wrap! We also have another navigation app on Andrew’s iPhone and of course the charts and our plan of what to steer…

I have got the whole route plotted on my navionics app, handheld GPS and the waypoints are also marked on my paper charts and noted in the passage plan – which I have detailed below. Feel free to use this as a guide if you want, but make sure that you plot your own course on your own charts and follow the line you have plotted very carefully to make sure you haven’t accidentally plotted a track over a hazard! This very important and even if you are out in the middle of the ocean! Team Vestas Wind in the Volvo Ocean race just recently ran aground because they hadn’t zoomed in on the chart and the reef wasn’t showing up on the unzoomed view of the map. It is very unlikely that you will be sailing exactly on the line that you have plotted unless you are motoring. So make sure that you carefully check for any hazards not only on the plotted track, but also take notes of any potential hazards like a mid-ocean reef that could be of concern if you happen to stray off course to maintain some speed with the wind etc.

The Plan 

Head out of Lyttelton Harbour first of all and then basically carry on!

Start point at Lyttelton Heads – 43°35.68’S, 172°49.10’E

Call up Akaroa Maritime Radio on Channel 16 and do a trip report for the voyage. They will want to know the vessel name, departure point, destination, ETA, and number of people on board.

Listen on channel 16 for the regular weather updates – you want Conway and Cook forecasts. They are broadcast at 0533, 0733, 1333, 1733 and 2133 hours. They advise you on channel 16 and then you have to change to channel 68. As you move up the coast you need to call a different station (which all goes back to Maritime Radio anyway) and tune in to a different channel as per this handy map!

We write every forecast in to our log book as we go along along with the current conditions we are experiencing.

maritime radio

The course to steer for Kaikoura is 40°T – but once you calculate in the variation of 24°E – you get a magnetic course of 16° – apply your deviation to that of course and you are ready to go! We didn’t get round to finishing our deviation card before we left, but our compass course ended up being 10° on this leg.

We plot the course to be anything from 2 – 15 nautical miles off the coast. It is hard to judge the distance of how far away you are from the shore once you are out at sea.

It is 80 nautical miles from Lyttelton Heads to Kaikoura Peninsula. So if you are motoring at 5kts – which we were last year. It will take 16 hours to get here.

Keep an eye out for fishing boats and the commercial shipping also goes up and down this coast on a regular basis. We did call up the Spirit of Endurance on the radio to see if they could see us on their radar and they could – just. Need to get a radar reflector!

Along the way is Motunau light 2FR and Point Gibson Fl 10s 76m 10M

Just North of Point Gibson is Bushett Shoals – weed and the seabed rises to 36m. Kaikoura Peninsula light Fl (2) 15s 41m 9M

There is also a bit of a current of around 1.5kts running along this coastline. Check the charts for more info on the direction it is heading for your trip – it felt like we had it against us the whole trip!

It is possible to stop at Kaikoura if you really had to. There is fuel here but there are no nice bays to tuck in to and there are lots of reefs and a very rocky shore. If it was a nice day then you would probably want to keep going and if it was bad weather then you would probably want to turn back to Lyttelton. There isn’t really anywhere to hide along the way on this journey if things turn to custard.

It is at about this stage that we would consider topping up the fuel tank if we had been motoring for a while. Other hazards in the area are whales which love to feed here. We didn’t see any last year, and I did spend a fair amount of time at night worrying about hitting one. Watch the depth sounder go from 40m drop off to over 1500m.

I usually also call up Maritime Radio again at this stage in the trip and update our trip report. At this stage they usually want your lat & long, course you are steering, speed and that kind of thing. So be sure to have that all on hand before you make the call!

Once you get to Kaikoura – 42°26.99’S 173°44.89’E you can adjust course slightly to 35°T – with variation applied 12°M and steer to Clarence River for 18.5 nautical miles. So at 5 kts you will get here in three and a half hours.

Once at Clarence River you can adjust course again to Cape Campbell 33°T – apply variation of 23°E = 10°M. This leg is 33 nautical miles- so about another six and a half hours.

Keep an eye out for Cape Campbell light Fl15s 47m 19M


Watch for rocks off Cape Campbell – the reef goes out a long way. With any luck you will be here roughly 24 hours after leaving Lyttelton. So if it is under that then you are making good time and you have officially arrived in to Cook Strait!

Our Cape Campbell waypoint is 41°43.52’S 174°20.34’E

Once past Campbell – steer a course for Tory Channel 360°T less variation = 336°M. You have got 29.3 nautical miles to go to get to Tory Channel entrance – so a good six hours at 5kts. With any luck the wind will still be behind you and not on the nose blowing at 50kts…

You do have the option of stopping in Port Underwood if you want to shelter or wait for the tide, or if it is really rough at Tory channel entrance, you do have the option of going right round through Cook Strait even further and in to the top of the Marlborough Sounds. This is an option, but there are quite a few rocks and islands to navigate. You could also choose now to go in to Wellington instead. Again there are a few things to watch out for if you decide any of these passages, so make sure you check your route and read up in the cruising guide of any specific hazards to look out for.

It is at this stage you should also check the Tory tidal charts again to decide if you want to pick up the pace or slow down to co-incide with the tidal stream. Remember you are looking for the tidal stream heading West – ie tide flowing in and you want to be in as far as you can up the channel before it starts flowing in an Easterly direction (out) again.

Check the charts as you go over the submarine power cable that crosses from the South to the North Island, as this can play havoc with your compass.

West Head light M9(N) WR 10s 46m 8M – has a red and white sector. Avoid the red as they mark Jordy Rocks – the white sector is fine. Then there are leading lights to show the way through the channel. See the chart for more details, although I don’t think I would be super confident going through here in the dark.

On arrival at Tory 41°13.03’S 174°19.65’E make a call on channel 16 to ‘All Stations’ advising of your passage through the channel. Remember that the ferries have right of way and keep a sharp eye out for cray pots! Their buoys are everywhere around the side of the channel and the last thing you need is one of those lines around your propeller!

Once we are through the channel then I cancel our trip report on Channel 16 – this time with Picton Maritime Radio.

From there it is a matter of picking your way through Tory Channel all the way up to Waikawa Marina – about 15 nautical miles, depending on the current, this can be either a quick trip or a fight against the tide! Try to stay out of the middle of the channel and on the inside edge of the corners if the current is against you, keep an eye out for the mussel and salmon farms, some of which are not on the charts and have dubious lights, and watch out for the ferries who can sneak up on you very quickly!

Give the marina plenty of notice if you are coming to stay, as visitors berths are difficult to come by this year. There is fuel here, haulout facilities, a great chandlery at Oddies Marine, a bar, a lovely yacht club and hopefully a car or a ride back to Christchurch for us and the crew.

If you don’t have a lovely Mum like mine to come and pick you up, there are regular buses back to Christchurch, as well as a daily train or you can do a one way rental car hire. It takes about 30 odd hours to sail here and about 5 hours to drive home…

In total the trip is 182M. Last year it took us 36 hours – and that was pretty much motoring the whole way in both directions due to lack of wind so an average of about 5kts. We left first thing in the morning on both trips and arrived in the early evening of the following day.

Click here to read my passage planning article in Boating NZ Magazine

Tory Channel


39 thoughts on “Passage Plan – Lyttelton to Waikawa

  1. Fantastic planning!! I know what you mean with the weather. In the end we downloaded synoptic charts and made our own forecasts – it’s just learning to have faith in yourself and abilities – you can do that with all the studying and qualifications you have! Of course, this didn’t mean we disregarded other information – we just took the best bits and used our knowledge! This is almost part of a book, this article, crammed with fantastic information. Great stuff!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks so much Jackie, and good idea re the weather charts. I should start doing that for this trip. It is all very well studying but when you have got a real trip in mind it all becomes a lot more interesting and important! 🙂


  2. Well written Viki, should link it in the clubs newsletter, I remember the phosphorescence with the dolphins, awesome, we met fishing boats too, long nets, dont get too close to observe the lights! rehearse those night lights too, who’s covering radio in Pegasus bay now?, I think Barrys gone, I think I did a plan for a Kaikora approach too, its a nasty place to come in at night so we planned it first, good luck on your trip

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes I accidentally got a bit close to a fishing boat last time. The lights are deceptive until you get really close! I don’t think anyone is doing the radio in Pegasus anymore. What a legend Barry was. I might have a look at some Kaikoura options just in case as well! Thanks Dudley! 🙂


    • Snow is only fun if you can ski on it! Are you in the USA I presume? Looks terrible on the news!
      Keep warm and I will be sure to post some pics of the trip!
      Thanks for following the blog 🙂


      • Further north. Much further north. Alberta Canada. When you folks do the “tour”, let us know when you get near Victoria, or Vancouver. In a little place called “Telegraph Harbour”, on Thetis Island, they will deliver pizza to the boat. It’s worth the trip, and it would be just that for you!.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. A very handy planning guide. Thanks for sharing it. The tail end of a southerly. Just be careful it does not turn out to be a south easterly. We once made that mistake in out enthusiasm to get away. Turned into 50 knt blow with cold rain and vis. right down but exciting!. Quite an ugly situation because everything was a lee shore. Managed to find Cape Campbell and shelter behind it. Tory Channel – I agree – best to stand off until morning before entering.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Graham.
      That does sound like a challenging trip! I am not usually a big fan of Southerlies – it makes getting to my boat in the dinghy quite tricky! Good suggestion to shelter behind Cape Campbell too. We didn’t get close enough last time to check that spot out. I was worried about the reef. But I’ll note that as a possible shelter place. Cook Strait in a big Southerly does not sound like much fun!


  4. Great trip planning Vicky! Well done.
    I hope it goes smoothly.

    One thing I have found great as part of the kit is an AIS receiver. They use next to no power. Wire it into the chart plotter and set a collision alert for two miles and set the alert for max vhf range. If you are going to cross paths with anything big that’s sending an AIS signal, you’ll know well in advance.
    They are not totally fool proof though. Myself and crew still have no idea what a 200m cargo ship looks like when on a trip down from North. We should have been able to see. Radio’d them, they could see us, but not them. So keep a look out even if you have one 😉

    I’m envious of your travels!
    Have fun 🙂


    • Thanks Paul, and great suggestion, we will definitely get AIS when we get the bigger boat. It would be a great tool to have in the middle of an ocean as an extra backup warning of approaching ships! I have read stories of ships turning up in port with a rig tangled around their anchor and they had no idea that they had even hit anything! So anything to make yourself more visible to others. Then I am all for it!
      Thanks for your comment! 🙂


  5. Great post Viki. Thank you for all the detail….fantastic. The Cook Strait was the navigation part of our Boatmaster exam last week. Please say “hello” to the light at the entrance to the Tory Channel for me as I feel I’m on first name terms with it!! 🙂
    Safe sailing and have a wonderful holiday.


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