Trip Start Oct 29, 2003
Trip End Ongoing

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In a tent!

Flag of New Zealand  ,
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

It was still dark when the van picked me up from the hostel at Te Anau to take me, five other Brits and a couple of Germans on a two-day kayak trip to Doubtful Sound. This part of the New Zealand coast has some spectacular scenery, and most tourists - and I think all the Japanese ones - visit the more accessible Milford Sound a bit further north. Doubtful Sound is much more quiet mainly because it is harder to get to but also because the Department of Conservation keeps a strict rein on it.

We sped along Lake Manapouri as the sun rose above the mountain peaks around us. This is one of the wettest places in the world but it looked like today would be sunny and cloudless - a rarity indeed. Forty-five minutes later we docked at the impressive Lake Manapouri Power Station - although we couldn't see it because it's buried in the mountain - and then drove along Wilmot's Pass to Deep Cove at the end of the sound.

It was probably close to 11am when the kayaks were loaded with camping gear and we were in our wetsuits ready to hit the water. After a safety briefing I was paired with Stefan from Dresden whose command of English was not the best - and it turned out he paddled like a fraulein. Fortunately it was a calm day so it wasn't much of a problem.

The lakes and fiords in this area are the results of glacial action during the Ice Age. Such were their immense power the glaciers created huge trenches which were then flooded by the rising sea water (at its deepest Doubtful Sound is nearly 1,500 feet deep). We paddled along Hall Arm seeing only one other boat all day, surrounded by silence and sheer dramatic 'Cliffs of Insanity' cliffs reaching up to a mile high above us. From the water they looked higher.

After lunch on a wonderfully secluded beach we paddled through a narrow channel and for only the fifth time this season it was warm and calm enough to raft the four kayaks together and jump in for a swim. It was refreshingly cold. Back on the kayak I struggled to get back into the wetsuit without falling off (amid plenty of scheißes Dresden behind me was not to lucky). Eventually he clambered back in and we were off for the 90 minute paddle to camp.

On dryish land I thankfully put some dry clothes on whilst being mercilessly feasted upon by approximately five million sandflies. Despite being asked vier times in the pre-trip briefing if he had his own plate and cutlery Dresden replied ja when he should have said nein. He ended up taking mine but I didn't want to argue with him (besides, look what we did to his city).

Following a dinner strangely tasting of insect repellent the sound became almost eerily still and silent in the fading light. Thankfully the sodding sandflies disappeared (there wasn't space on my hands for anymore bites anyway) and the silence was periodically broken by the high pitched calls of the female kiwi bird. With torches and mugs of wine in hand we followed Adrian our guide in to the pitch black forest and across streams to see if we could find some but to no avail. The long day came to an end as I snuggled up in my sleeping bag to the sounds of a snoring Dresden in tent next to me. It was that close to being a perfect day!

I think my screaming shoulders woke me up in the morning. I had brought some baked beans on toast for brekkie and ate while watching the clouds roll in and the white caps form in the gusty wind. Clearly today would be a bit more challenging. The first challenge was to get into the cold wet wetsuit without whimpering like Herr Dresden. Then it was to pack down camp and load the kayaks for the next leg of our trip.

Dresden wanted to switch places and sit in the back which meant he had to paddle and steer at the same time. Nicht a gut idea. Such was his inability to keep a straight line I think we paddled twice as far as necessary. At one point he even managed to zig-zag into the face of a giant cliff. Needless to say, my patience was wearing out.

When New Zealand was being discovered and mapped by that man Captain Cook he named this magnificent fiord Doubtful Harbour because he, um, doubted it would make a good harbour because the constant easterly winds would make it impossible to sail out of. Today it was those easterlies we were paddling against and the choppy waters and Dresden's navigational skills did not make it any easier. At last we found a beach for lunch where I put on more layers in a futile effort to keep dry.

Our destination in Deep Cove was across a wide channel which meant going through the windiest and roughest waters. About ten minutes after lunch we were trying to raft up with another kayak in order to hoist a sail use the wind to help us. But before we could a strong gust came and the wave hit us broadside. I tried to lean against the wave to try and prevent a capsize but it was too late. Holy crap! Many of you know I'm not a strong swimmer in a paddling pool. This was something I absolutely did not want to happen. As I went under I kicked away the spray-skirt in a combination of panic and baked-beans to blast out of the cockpit.

I bobbed up grabbing desperately for the kayak. Somehow my glasses had miraculously stayed on and I could see Dresden's petrified face clinging on to the other side. I don't think he would have looked more scared if The Hoff had asked him to be his special friend. Along with his paddle, maps and seat cushions what remained of his English skills were swept away. With Adrian's help we righted the kayak and pumped out the water. Exhausted and cold I hauled myself back in and was eventually joined by a visibly shaken Dresden. Getting my breath back we rafted up to hoist the sail and finally got back to Deep Cove.

Fortunately the dry-bags containing my camera and clothes worked and I was thankful to get into some dry warm gear for the return trip across Lake Manapouri. All in all it was a fantastic trip in some awe-inspiring scenery. I can't think of a more beautiful place to capsize!
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LottTracy30 on

It is cool that we can take the loan
moreover, that opens up completely new possibilities.

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