31 March - 1 April 2010, New Zealand
Cruises on Milford Sound, with its majestic fjords, are one of the most popular tourist activities in New Zealand. Recalling our experience with another of New Zealand’s most popular tourist activities, we elected for a more serene cruise on Doubtful Sound. Doubtful Sound has similar scenery to Milford Sound, but is significantly larger and more remote. We started the tour with a boat trip across Lake Manapouri to West Arm. We then travelled by bus along the Wilmot Pass road to Deep Cove and boarded the Fiordland Navigator for our overnight cruse.
The light rain that started to fall during the bus ride grew heavier as the boat departed the dock. The rain shrouded the peaks of the fiords but gave rise to hundreds of waterfalls, with most pouring into the dark water below but a few scattered into mist by the strong winds. After a couple of hours of cruising the fjord we sailed into a cove and were given the opportunity to explore the area in kayaks. We tentatively left the comfort of the Fiordland Navigator and set out into the unrelenting rain. Paddling the coastline, we sought closer views of the surrounding rainforest. After 45 mildly chilling minutes in the kayaks we returned to the boat for dinner.
To save money in New Zealand we bought groceries and cooked most of our meals. Lunches often consisted of bread, cheese, and some fruit, while we typically ate pasta or stir fry for dinner. Eating delicious food is one reason I particularly love to travel; in that regard the combination of our budget and my cooking skills were a real setback for New Zealand. Fortunately we forgot all about that for the 18 hours we were aboard the Fiordland Navigator. There was always an ample supply of coffee and tea, muffins were served shortly after boarding, and we had soup for a midafternoon snack. The buffet dinner was easily the best meal we ate in New Zealand, with a variety of salads and vegetables, prime rib, lamb, smoked salmon and an equally impressive dessert spread. With food like that we probably could have stayed moored at the dock and I still would have considered the tour worthwhile.
After dinner the ship’s nature guide presented some information about the history and ecology of Doubtful Sound. This optional activity was attended by us and the other science nerds. Captain James Cook explored the area in 1770 and, uncertain that it was navigable under sail, gave Doubtful Sound its name. The waters are home to varieties of marine life that normally grow in much deeper, darker depths. They thrive in Doubtful Sound because rainfall filters through the surrounding vegetation and carries tannins to the water below. This creates a dark surface layer of fresh water, reducing the amount of light that reaches the salt water.
The following morning, awaking to continuing showers, we ate breakfast and set sail for the return trip. Along the way we spotted several members of a small resident population of bottlenose dolphins. On arrival at Deep Cove we boarded the bus back to West Arm, and took a brief tour of the nearby hydroelectric power station. Manapouri Power Station is unique among hydroelectric installations because it relies on the natural elevation difference between Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound, rather than a high dam to provide sufficient head for the turbines. Late in the afternoon we returned to our car and headed inland and further south, again in search of blue skies.
See more pictures from our Doubtful Sound cruise in the Gallery.