Fiordland 2 - Doubtful Sound
Trip Start Sep 15, 2008
35Trip End Jan 20, 2009
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The next day we were up bright and early to go on our 24 hour cruise on even more remote Doubtful Sound, so named by Captain Cook, who, when sailing past the entrance, decided not to investigate further, as he was 'doubtful' he would be able to sail out of it again.
Whilst Milford Sound seems to get all the publicity, many consider Doubtful Sound, ten times the size and much less accessible, to be superior. Having now visited both we would firmly agree. Milford Sound is certainly awesome, but Doubtful Sound, by its very remoteness and freedom from the commercialised aspects of Milford Sound is, in our minds, the more dramatic and impressive of the two.
As we pulled up at the departure quay on Lake Manapourri, for the first leg of our journey to Doubtful Sound, there was a slight question mark in our minds and over the next hour or two the question mark became even larger!!
The previous week in Otago Peninsula our attention had been drawn to a newspaper headline referring to an oil slick in Doubtful Sound. Because of our intended trip we had read on. Apparently the oil slick had occurred after a boat - the Waverley - had sunk in the Sound the day before, after hitting a rock. Fortunately all passengers and crew had been rescued, before she went down. A hasty checking of his records and John was able to confirm the Waverley was the boat upon which we were due to sail!! Before he could contact them, John was contacted by the firm with whom we'd booked and offered a cruise on a boat that was still afloat, with a discount as a sweetener and an assurance that our new skipper, Chris, had an excellent reputation.
Waiting for us at the quay was not Chris, but his wife Diane. She informed us that Chris wouldn't now be taking us out, but, instead, we would be in the capable hands of a different skipper, - John - to whom she then introduced us. With this news, we, and the only other passengers - Polly and Mark, a couple in their mid-thirties - boarded a large fast catamaran to take us on the first 30 km stage of the journey - 45 minutes to the huge hydro-electric power station at the end of Lake Manapouri.
The only reason Doubtful Sound is accessible by road is because a road had to be built across the mountains from Lake Manapourri to access the tail race of the power station which discharges into the sound. There is no dam, the power station has been blasted out deep in the mountain and exploits the 200 metre height difference between the lake and the sound.
Whilst waiting at the landing stage at the other end of the lake for our connecting minibus to be loaded with supplies, we were somewhat disconcerted when a crewman from another boat called across to our skipper
"Hi John, so they're trusting you with another boat then. How many is that you've managed to sink now?"
As you can imagine our trust in our 'capable' skipper diminished rather abruptly.
This trust diminished further some way along the winding, bumpy gravel road, just as we were about to descend a steep mountain pass, with a precipitous drop on one side and all enshrouded in mist. Our 'skipper' stalled the mini-bus engine, struggled to re-start it and when he had, to get it into gear. His fellow crew member told us not to worry. It was only because John had never driven the mini bus before!!!! And that was meant to reassure us!!?
Despite this non-too promising a start and an occasionally somewhat unconventional approach to their passengers (we've come to learn that a casual approach to customers and an assumption that they will fend for themselves is often the norm in New Zealand) Mark, Polly, John and Anne, who all got on really well together, actually had an excellent 24 hours aboard the boat. - sailing up and down several of the arms of Doubtful Sound and out into the open sea, revelling in having so much beauty totally to ourselves for the majority of the time; exclaiming with wonder as we passed numerous picturesque waterfalls, plunging down the steep, tree-clad mountainsides into the Sound; being lucky enough, to spend quite some time at two different locations, watching the antics of groups Fiordland penguins on the shore: Having a Blue Penguin swim by; passing a colony of fur seals; hauling in a handful of crayfish pots. In addition John tried an alternative career when he was handed a fishing rod and quite soon landed a seriously BIG fish! It was by far the largest catch of the day and we all enjoyed eating it for dinner that evening (another slight unusual aspect of the cruise - having to catch your own dinner!). Perhaps he could forget about psychometric tests and the like and become a fisherman instead.
Returning, safely, to Lake Manapouri the next day, we then drove a short distance to Lake Te Anau and booked into an excellent motel, once again with superb lake views. We used our time there predominantly to catch up on a few admin tasks and do some washing etc., but did also manage to fit in a couple of enjoyable lakeside walks. One was to the huge control gates that control the outflow of water to from Lake Te Anau (also an immense lake) to Lake Manapourri to serve the needs of both the hydro-electric power station and regulation of lake levels to preserve the right ecological balance.
Two days later we were on the road again, continuing our journey northwards to Queenstown.