Serene, Surreal, Silent Doubtful Sound
15 Mar 2010
|With Gerard off 'trempin' I decided to splash out and do one of Fiordland's Must Do's - an overnight cruise on brooding Doubtful Sound. Doubtful is less well known than Milford - probably because it cannot be accessed by road like Milford. It is the second biggest of the 14 fiords (the biggest is Dusky); 3 times longer than Milford and 10 times larger so it had to be good!
Captain Cook sighted it first in 1770 but never ventured inland. He named it Doubtful Harbour as he 'doubted' whether the winds would fill the sails to let the ship get back out to the ocean much to the annoyance of Joseph Banks, the botanist who was itching to get off the Endeavour to explore the sound's flora and fauna.. In the end it was the Spaniards who explored it and there are some really obvious Spanish names along the sound - a break from all the English and Welsh names!
To get to Doubtful Sound (Patea to the Maori) you first take a one hour boat ride across lake Manapouri - in the direction of the West Arm Underground Power Station. Passed the Channel Islands (yes the explorers were fond of naming things the same as back home!)and Pomona Island en route - a protected space and famous for its pest-free status (no rats, no possums, no weasels..birds can live in peace).
The sun was high in the sky as we reached the PowerStation. West Arm is regarded as one of NZ's greatest engineering achievements. It is an enormous source of sustainable hydro energy in the South and is built UNDERGROUND 180m below.. Apparently you have to travel 2km down a spiral tunnel to view the immense turbines down under. It was finished in the early 70s and involved thousands of workers.
That was pretty much the end of the sunshine.. Once on board our bus to Deep Cove, Grey and Dark Green were the colours of the day and Jet Black at night. (Sunny days /blue skies occur about 15% of the time the guide said.) That said it was pretty dry which is good going in fiord terms. At Deep Cove we got on board the impressive Fiordland Navigator.
Doubtful is dark and brooding.. it reaches a max depth of 421 metres (the deepest of all the fiords) and rises to 900m above sea level at Commander Peak. Water temp averages 11 degrees celsius... Swimming in these waters?? No thanks although 6 or 7 people braved the cold waters donning their 'swimmers' later in the day.
All the usual NZ superlatives apply - stunning, spectacular but because of its remoteness (it is far less touched by man, woman and tourists than Milford) it's also solitary.
It's also home to alot of rare wildlife..like the fFur crested penguins - they have a yellow stripe over each eye but as they are moulting (losing their feathers) around this time of the year we didn't see any. Saw loads of fur seals at a colony out by the sea. The highlight was being serenading by the pod of 50+ Bottlenose Dolphins. So cool to see them jumping and having fun. Apparently these dolphins are the largest of their kind (up to 10 feet in length)and much larger than other dolphins found in temperate or tropical waters. (Doesn't make the photos any easier mind you.) They are also the most friendly and reputedly never leave the Sound waters.
Food on board was delicious and we had a fantastic slide show done by the skipper in the evening - everything from botany, bird sounds to history and kiwi jokes about the aussies. If only all powerpoint presentations could be so entertaining!
Outside where we 'stayed' (can't use the word moor or anchor as actually no point in having an anchor as the water is far too deep!) the waters were dead calm.. and just black. I have never been anywhere so BLACK. No starlight, no moonlight. Just blackness.
The following morning we made our return to Deep Cove and did the so-called 'Sound of Silence' in picturesque Halls Arm when the engines and cameras were turned off for 5 minutes. Amazing to hear the wildlife and rushing water of the waterfalls. Worth getting the credit card out for this one.