It is 6.30am and dawn is breaking here in Te Anau, in the heart of Fiordland. The area has been lashed by a storm for the past twelve hours and I have woken frequently during the night to hear the wind howling and the sound of rain beating against the windows. Oh, and did I mention the thunder?
Today we are venturing into Doubtful Sound, though the difficulty of access creates a limitation to the number of people who go there, thus ensuring a more ‘remote’ experience. First we must cross Lake Manapouri by boat, followed by a bus journey over the rugged Wilmot Pass. This 22 kilometre road connects West Arm of Lake Manapouri to Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound, and was built during the construction of the Manapouri Power Station project.
As I am strictly a fair-weather sailor, I am beginning to seriously question the sanity of taking this trip but, other than Milford Sound, this is one of the places I have been most looking forward to visiting during our trip to New Zealand. We checked the comprehensive weather forecast yesterday afternoon at the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre, which indicated that the rain and wind would start at 6pm and last for 12-15 hours. They were spot on with the start time – as the rain began at 5.55pm, so let’s hope that they are equally accurate with the end time. The weather forecast shows a much improving trend with sunshine expected for the rest of the day. So, fingers crossed and sea-sickness pills at the ready!
EDITED LATER IN THE DAY:
We were picked up by coach at the duly allotted time and as we drove towards Pearl Harbour at Manapouri, for our first boat trip, we were treated to the most magnificent rainbow – a sign of good things to come.
Our adventure began with a 30km cruise across the crystal clear waters of Lake Manapouri with it’s many bush-clad islands, sandy beaches, coves and bays. Once again, we chose to use one of the smaller companies to take us on our trip for the more personal experience. www.doubtfulsoundcruise.com This family run business has a maximum of 50 passengers at any time, and on our trip today there were 20 of us. As we crossed the lake, the sky was clearing, with sunshine and blue skies all around us….PHEW!
The largest hyrdo power station in New Zealand is located underground on the edge of the West Arm of Lake Manapouri, and we had the chance to drive the 2km down the spiralling tunnel underground for a short visit. The generating units are housed in a cavern excavated from rock 200 metres below the surface of the lake. The machine hall looks like something straight out of a James Bond film, with seven giant generators humming away beneath the floor. Soon afterwards we boarded a coach for the spectacular journey over the 670 metre high Wilmot Pass road to Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound. This is one of New Zealand’s remotest roads and was built in the 1960s to provide heavy equipment access for the construction of the power station.
Doubtful Sound is the second largest of Fiordland National Park’s 14 fiords (Dusky Sound is the largest). It is three times longer, and has a sea surface roughly ten times larger than Milford Sound, due to its greater length and three arms. Doubtful Sound reaches about 430 metres at its maximum depth and is subject to tides, however the range is only a moderate 2-3metres. There is a resident pod of about 60 bottlenose dolphins within the Sound, though sadly we weren’t to see any of them during our trip. We did however get to see the fur seals basking in the sun at Nee Islets, near the sea entrance to Doubtful Sound. This is exactly the same place that Captain Cook sailed past in the Royal Navy ship Endeavour on his first circumnavigation of New Zealand in 1770. Cook skirted past the entrance to Doubtful Sound wondering whether there was sufficient wind to manoevre his vessel in the narrow reaches, and because of the layout of the entrance thought this was the opening to a natural harbour. He thus named it Doubtful Harbour.
Back to the present day – once we arrived at Deep Cove, we boarded the Tasman Explorer to spend the next four hours cruising the awe inspiring beauty of Doubtful Sound with its rugged mountains clad in dense sub tropical rainforest, and waterfalls cascading down steep mountain sides into the pristine waters below. It is like nowhere else in the world.
Towards the end of the cruise, the captain manoevred the boat towards a waterfall and asked for a volunteer to lean over the side to collect a cup of water direct from the waterfall. How could I resist? I did take a bit of a drenching, but hey, at least I did it! Shortly afterwards the engines were turned off for a few minutes as we drifted in silence enjoying the spectacular beauty of Doubtful Sound.
This was yet another magical day and certainly a trip that we will remember for the rest of our lives.