Very sure about Doubtful sound

Trip Start Jun 05, 2008
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Trip End Jul 10, 2008


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Monday, June 16, 2008

We had to be up nice and early to do the 2 and a half hour drive down to the small town of Manapouri where we would be heading out to Doubtful Sound from. We left in the pitch black at 7.30am and even when the sun rose, the fog and low cloud blocked the views for most of the journey.

In the end we made it in loads of time, despite my worries that the boat would have left without us. So we could look forward to heading out into the sound. Doubtful Sound is a very large inlet (one of 14 down this way, Milford Sound being the most famous) of sea-water, topped with rainwater and ice-melt water. It got it's name when Captain Cook, of discovering the east coast of Australia fame, wasn't sure if the sound was too narrow to swing his boat around in so, being a very literal man, he called it Doubtful Sound. Cos he was doubtful he'd make it out of there (in the 18 century, boats didn't have reverse gears).

To get there, we'd have to pass over Lake Manapouri, then take a bus ride over Wilmot pass and down to the sound. The only reason that the sealed road exists on the far side of the lake (a road that doesn't connect to any other road in the country by the way) was because in the '60's and '70's there was a very ambitious hydro-electricity project installed under a mountain. Basically, they drilled  a big hole in the mountain, let the water from lake Manapouri flow fast through it, generate a bit of ol leckie, and then off the water flows out to Doubtful Sound. So they had to get the drilling gear in by sea, build the road over the pass, and then start drilling. This place is pretty remote.

So we hopped on our lake ferry and set off in the early morning mist. It was all very looming and haunting. Then at the far side of the lake, we all hopped off, got attacked by vicious little sandflies (think mosquitos, only much worse). So onto our bus and on over the pass. There were waterfalls sprouting from everywhere on the way over. Rain was falling heavily (this place is about the wettest place on earth) and the clouds were low, so at the view point atop the Wilmot Pass we didn't see squat. Once down by our super-trendy boat at the sound, the clouds lifted enough to give you an impression of Doubtful Sound's majesty.

It's a fantastic trip. The water is so calm and flat and the quietness of the sound is really haunting. All around you huge walls of mountains drop straight into the sea as trees cling remarkably to the steep mountain walls. Waterfalls are everywhere, pouring off the tops of the mountains. The boat we were on was practically empty so I was about the only one out on deck in the freezing cold. Lisa seemed happy in the glass covered main deck, warm and eating our lunch. Admittedly, I could only stay out on deck for short periods and she did join me between courses of my lunch.

We headed out into the rougher mouth of the sounds and got to see giant albatrosses whirling past, and more fat little seals sitting on rocky outcrops. We got chatting to a nice Australian chap who ran a hospital in Brisbane, and I tried to get him to give Lisa a job. Seriously, though, the info he gave us about Australia, the healthcare industry and economy there has us thinking if we're in the wrong southern hemisphere country.

The way back in from the sound's mouth, we sailed into a smaller side inlet, which was dominated by the huge Commander peak mountain looming above it. There wasn't a breath of wind and the place looked fantastic. Then the captain shut the engines off and asked us all to stay quiet for a little bit. It was marvellous, so quiet and peaceful, just the sound of distant waterfalls, with all these huge peaks around us, it was like God's amphitheatre. I was sure my mobile phone would go off.

On the way back over the Wilmot pass and back to Lake Manapouri, we got taken underground to see the 7 giant hydro turbines that help this water tunnel power most of NZ's south island. It was mildly diverting, but the photo of the Government bod blowing the final part of the tunnel had me in stitches. Basically the charge was way too big and everyones hats got blown off. But there's one fella in the picture with his fingers in his ears and the funniest expression on his face that set me off (the picture should be in the blog here somewhere, see if you can spot him).

We dashed through clouds of sandflies and zoomed back across Lake Manapouri just before nightfall. Then it was back in the car to head back up the road we'd come this morning. This time we bypassed Queenstown and made straight for Wanaka, about an hour beyond. We got in late and into a lovely cosy motel and settled in for the evening.

I suppose we should say, in case anyone is reading this and thinking about coming here, we went with Real Journeys for our trip out to Doubtful. Fully recommend them to anyone, it was a great tour and the boat was fab. Thanks to Lisa's Dad's friend Mike Hanning (another of the Thermo King gang easing our passage around NZ) for the recommendation.
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