|Up at 5am to get ready, we made it in time to the base at six. There we met our guide for the trip, Bevan, a young dreadlocked kiwi who had just started a month ago. He seemed pretty cool so everything should be good. We also met Barry our boat captain and driver to get us to the sound.
We got going in the van and picked everybody else up from around town, then we drove the 15km or so south to Manapouri, a tiny village on the shores of Lake Manapouri. From there, we hopped on the boat with our gear and sped across the lake for an hour to get to the other side.
Our destination was the hydroelectric power station on the western shore. Back in the 1960s they built an entire power station into the hillside here to provide power for the aluminium smelter all the way down in Bluff near Invercargill. They then built underground tunnels from Lake Manapouri down to Doubtful Sound to provide a sufficient head of water for the turbines further down. The whole project was hugely controversial at the time as the original plans were to raise the level of the lake by 30 metres which would have flooded a vast inland area. However, massive environmental protests were eventually successful, preventing the proposed rise in water levels.
Of course, as a side benefit of the scheme was the building of an access road from Lake Manapouri down to Doubtful Sound, thus opening up a previously inaccessible area to people. Because of the difficult conditions and geology of the area the road cost about $5 an inch apparently.
We transferred our gear into a 4WD and drove for 45 mins over into the Sound. The scenery around the lake was already very impressive, but once we drove down into Doubtful sound we begun to appreciate the magnificent scale of the place. It had been a little misty but once we were down to the edge of the water the sun had begun to come out and it looked like we were in for a fine day.
We put all the gear we needed into dry bags and stuffed them into our kayaks, then we had a quick recap on how to kayak, although everybody had done some before.
Once afloat in Deep Cove we paddled our way gently into the sound. The sheer sides of these glacial valleys were covered in lush vegetation in various stages of regeneration as there are frequent landslips and tree avalanches. The Sound itself is about 100 metres deep and you really get a feel for that paddling close to the edge, where you can see how quickly it drops off into the deep water.
Although still tidal, the surface water here is freshwater from the huge amount of runoff from the hillsides, changing only to salt water about 5-10m down, which in theory makes it quite drinkable. The water was really still today, disturbed only by our kayaks and the very occasional boat that passed us. It was a very relaxing way to travel.
We paddled around Maupo Island, apparently a popular place for the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin to breed, and they certainly proved their rarity today as there were none to be seen. It looks like I am cursed not to see any penguins this trip. We did see a seal basking on a rock though, and he let us get quite close.
We pulled up on a rocky beach and had coffee and a snack, before continuing down Hall Arm. The weather was holding up well and we could see the a long way down the sound and up on to the peaks. As we came down to the bottom of Hall Arm, we could see the huge faultline scarring the hillside above, apparently opened up during a previous earthquake.
Having reached the end of the Arm, we paddled back up on the other side and made our way back to where we were to camp for the evening. Once we had pulled the boats on shore we got our first full introduction to our hosts for the evening - sandflies. The area is notorious for them, but nothing prepares you for the full onslaught of these nasty biting things. Within seconds, everyone was flapping their hands around their heads and running around like extras in a low budget horror film. A good dose of DEET was called for - an insect repellent that melts plastics but can be merrily slapped onto skin..
The campsite was well hidden in the trees but not from the sandflies. Fortunately, they had built an insect shelter - a huge netted communal area that kept the little buggers out.
Once we had the tents up we all sat in the shelter, cooked our food and chatted. It turned out that David was a skydiver and he thought that my little incident the other day was 1 in 100,000, although I suspect that was if the first chute failed to open at all - mine did, it just crumpled again, which probably pushes the odds even higher...