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Errol Flynn's ghost sails Australasias biggest volcano lake

March 19, 2007
Errol Flynn's ghost sails Australasias biggest volcano lake

By Garth Morrison
Editor GoSeeNewZealand and GoSeeAustralia

I wonder what the odds about it are?
There I was at the wheel of Barbary a 16 ton ketch once owned by actor Errol Flynn. Our crew of travellers from all over the world rode a light breeze which filled the yachts sails and sent us slipping through the translucent water of the apparently peaceful Lake Taupo.

But the biggest lake in Australasia is not only an unusual place to relate to Flynn the greatest movie swashbuckler of the sound period.

It is also volatile like Errol Flynn. The lake lies in a caldera part of a chain of active volcanoes that stretch to White Island in the Bay of Plenty.

Taupo is the most frequently active and productive rhyolite volcano in the world. New Zealand`s two most active caldera volcanoes are Taupo and Okataina (which last erupted from Mt Tarawera in 1886, killing150 people). When Taupo blew in 181AD it was the most violent eruption in the world in the past 5000 years

Tim Kelly is to blame for us being in the frying pan and the fire. Come sailing, said Tim the multi-skilled manager from DeBretts Resort Taupo. Ya gotta experience it.

Flynn would have enjoyed the challenge, he was not a dull fellow. So we did. It is damn hard to say no to a guy with an Irish name like Kelly who comes from Detroit and puts so much go into the DeBrettsResort and attached Taupo Hot Springs complex.

Bound for the Rock Art Lake Taupo
Bound for the Rock Art Lake Taupo

When we got down to the boat-crowded Taupo waterfront off Lake Terrace for the popular 5pm cruise there was Barbary. It is not hard to find her, the white 50ft hull overfills her berth and the twin white masts poke skyward begging for sails to be set.

They are tall placemarks among a gaggle of hotwater boats. A Viking among a fleet of gentle pleasure craft. Barbary, like Flynn, is from another time.

Shades of Flynn films like In the Wake of the Bounty, The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood stir. Designed in 1905 in Scandinavia to tread down oceans Barbary is a heavy, solid, seakindly hull with the spoked wheel hooked to the rudder by a steering screw system which is big on strength.

I found Flynn's ghost was aboard when I dived down the main cabin hatch, and there was his picture looking suitably devilish on the starboard bulkhead forward.

Born in Hobart Tasmania in 1909 Flynn was a direct descendant on his mothers side of Midshipman Young from HMS Bounty.

Gentle sailing Lake Taupo
Gentle sailing Lake Taupo

He had two loves, which were interchangeable, women and the sea. These were closely followed by writing and reading and freaking people out.

He had four children by three marriages. Errol Flynn died at 50 in 1959 of a heart attack. He is buried in Forest Lawn Memorial Park Cemetery, Glendale, California.

It is said there are six bottles of whiskey in his coffin, a parting gift from his drinking friends. With Barbary owner Bill Dawson 'retired' our Acting Skipper Luke filled in the rest. Barbary was built in 1926 and raced in California.

Flynn is said to have won her in a card game in 1938. She cruised until 1945 and in October 1947 arrived in New Zealand from Fiji under the command of Capt D.K. Matheson after an 11 day passage.

In 1951 she was purchased by H. Davies and in 1973 after a refit she joined Greenpeace anti-nuclear protest to Mururoa Atoll in the Pacific Ocean.

In 1976 Barbary broke her moorings in Auckland and was wrecked. Between 1981 and 1983 Taupo identity Bill Dawson (Barbary Bill) salvaged and restored her and gave her a new life cruising Lake Taupo over the last 24 years.

Lake Taupo has a perimeter of 193 km and is 186m at its deepest point. It is noted for its short-finned eel and trout. The first trout fry were released in the Taupo region more than a 100 years ago. Anglers can troll all year once they get a Lake Taupo fishing licence available in Taupo or Turangi. Check with Visitor Centres.

Yes that is Errol Flynn and yes  he once won Barbary in a card game
Yes that is Errol Flynn and yes he once won Barbary in a card game

Experienced fly anglers work therivers and streamsduring the runs in June to August. Like trout the rules jump around so check with Dept of Conservation that you have them right.

We motored out under a powerful diesel engine towards Acacia Bay, Rangitira Point and Mine Bay's startling rock carvings in the Maori style which turn the cliff face and surrounding rocks into a controversial artistic statement.

Unlike many cruise operators Luke prefers to sail and when a light breeze rippled the lakes waters the well cut low-aspect sails went up.

What a surprise! Heavy she may be but Barbary sails like a witch in light air. Luke said her ocean strength comes into its own when big winds stir the 616sq km surface of Lake Taupo into steep, sharp seas.

This may be a lake but it is New Zealand's biggest one and all cruises are subject to operational conditions. We did well under sail until time started to catch up and with the need to save daylight the Iron Topsail kicked back into life to take us under power to the Rock Carvings in Mine Bay created in the late 1970's by a group led by John Randall.

The carvings reach a height of more than 10m and have a claim to being the biggest of their type in the world. Luke said the artists meant well and created the carvings as a tribute to Maori culture. Unfortunately the combination of images jarred Maori beliefs. Randall offered to remove them but generously Maori elders told him to leave them in place.

The result is an unusualTaupo attraction which can only be reached by boat.

Garth gets his head together at the wheel of Barbary Lake Taupo
Garth gets his head together at the wheel of Barbary Lake Taupo

Summer cruises aboard Barbary include a swim stop and the athletic led by two Dutch girls, Brits, a Scot or two and Tim Kelly hit the water.

The water was said to be refreshing. But after being spoilt at DeBretts Resort in the 27deg minimum temperatures of the Taupo Hot Springs I was happy to take their word for it.

As we headed home at sunset an evening breeze kicked in and Barbary was back under sail.Luke must have seen I badly needed a sailing fix and generously offered the wheel.

I was in that totally relaxed state which good yachts produce in me when something small under sail called Hot Mango hauled up on our course and started to overtake.

As far as I am concerned if two yachts are going in the same direction its a race, so I eased Barbary down to squeeze the Mango out and planned a great dump of dirty air from our big sails for her helmsman. Alas Skipper Luke is a better man than me and took over the wheel in the interests of peace and harmony on Lake Taupo. You know I think I hear Flynn laughing.

No the water is fine but then we are from Holland
No the water is fine but then we are from Holland
Clare from Scotland enjoys a local brew
Clare from Scotland enjoys a local brew
Face to face with Lake Taupo carvings
Face to face with Lake Taupo carvings
Thar be  monsters. Rock  carving Lake Taupo
Thar be monsters. Rock carving Lake Taupo
Tim Kelly of DeBretts Lake Taupo Resort takes sailing time out
Tim Kelly of DeBretts Lake Taupo Resort takes sailing time out