Doubtful Sound, Fiordland
Doubtful Sound is remote and deep in the heart of Fiordland, a national park and World Heritage Site that encompasses over three million acres. It is difficult to get there which is why it receives a small amount of visitors compared to the very popular Milford Sound further north. The sound, which is actually a fiord, is three times the size of Milford.
Options are a short helicopter flyover which costs $600-$1,200, a kayak package or a ride on the Navigator operated by realJourneys, the only public boat in operation. I had wanted to do an overnight kayak trip but unfortunately they had mostly stopped for the season. The Navigator gave me a great package for $300 (a bit less than the kayak trip would have run) which included great meals and everything.
First off was a 22km drive to Manapouri where I tucked in Juicy for a few days. From there we took about an hour boat ride across island-studded Lake Manapouri.
On the other side is the Manapouri Underground Hydroelectric Power Station built from 1963-1972. Original plans to raise the lake’s water level 30 meters toppled a government and began New Zealand’s environmental movement.
From there we boarded a coach for a 45 minute gravel road ride over Wilmot Pass to the edge of Doubtful Sound. Lloyd, our very knowledgeable driver, offered some great commentary along the way, for example:
- The road was built to haul the heavy equipment to build and run the power station. The road cost $1.00 per centimeter to build in the early 70s making it one of the most expensive roads ever built!
- We are driving through an ancient Beech Forest–Silver Beech and Mountain Beech–some are 600-700 years old.
- There are over 200 varieties of moss including some with medicinal properties that were used in WWI.
- All native NZ trees are everygreen. Any deciduous trees were introduced.
We arrived at Deep Cove were we boarded the ship. Hot cross buns, tea and coffee were waiting for us in the dining room were we received a short orientation as the Navigator got underway.
Fiordland gets up to seven meters of rain a year so this weather was typical. No one seemed to mind as warm coats and hot drinks were in good supply.
By the way, Doubtful Sound was named by Captain Cook. He did not sail into it as he was “Doubtful” that there would be wind to sail out again.
New Zealand is known for its high quality grass-fed dairy products and around 4:30 we had some great cheese platters served. There were some nice local wines available as well.
After that there were optional activities until dinner time. A few went in what are called ‘fun kayaks.’ Those are the smallish plastic ones and they are definitely not fun for a six foot adult. A few others chose to go swimming in the frigid water. I went with on a skiff for a closer look at some of the inlets.
We arrived back at the boat, changed and sipped on tasty Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc while the chef and her crew put the finishing touches on what was to be a really good dinner.
After dinner, we had an informative multimedia show about Doubtful Sound and Fiordland in the adjoining lounge. Then we lingered, yes more wine and some amazing star gazing. The only thing I recognize in the southern sky is Orion and he is upside down with his sword levitating upward. Actually, I can find the Southern Cross now, but the rest is a brilliant mystery, mountains away from light pollution.
Back in my bunk, I drifted off into a delicious dreamy sleep given the promise that tomorrow would be more spectacular.
to be continued…