Saturday, December 14, 2013

Wilderness in Doubtful Sound

We enjoyed the warm hospitality of our motel hostess in Explorer Motor Lodge, Te Anau. She was a testament of the famed southern hospitality. She helped to book our trip to Doubtful Sound and had been most accommodating to our many requests. 

Above: Lovely Te Anau

We started our day at 7.15 am driving to Manapouri to catch the 8 am ferry. The cruise took us across the crystal clear waters of Lake Manapouri.

Rainy Lake Manapouri

Thereafter we took a tour bus bringing us to Wilmot Pass on a 22 km road which was built due to the power station. It was the most expensive road in NZ. Along the way, we learnt the flora and fauna of Fiordland's most dense rainforest and kept our eyes peeled to view Doubtful Sound far below. However the thick mist blocked the view. This was the typical weather in Fiordland where more than 260 each year were rainy days. 

There were 3 permanent and many temporary waterfalls which would pour after the rainfall. Then there was the challenging Dusky track which would need 7-10 days to complete. With the track running alongside a river, trekkers would need to wait for water level to come down. This little sanctuary also housed the Deep Cove Hostel where 12 year old children would camp for a week to experience nature.

On reaching Deep Cove, we boarded the catamaran Patea Explorer for a 3 hour cruise. Doubtful Sound is one of 14 major fiords formed 15,000 years ago in a scenic part of New Zealand’s South Island. Like all fiords, it contains fresh water in its top few yards and a much denser, colder, saltier layer below. There is little mixing between the two. Consequently, we have what is known as the deep water emergence as in what we have learnt in our cruise of Milford Sound the day before.

Onboard the cruise, we drank in Fiordland's rugged seascapes. It was like taking a step back in time where we saw the most stunning scenery of Doubtful Sound just as what Captain James Cook experienced yore years ago. During the first voyage to New Zealand by the English explorer Captain James Cook (1728–79). He skirted the fiord and made the unpopular decision not to go in. With largely westerly winds, he was skeptical of being able to sail out again if he entered it. That night, 17 Mar 1770 with the flickering light in his cabin, he charted his map and marked the spot "Doubtful Harbour".

The ethereal mist near Tasman sea was a result of the westerly wind picking up the moisture from the sea and hitting the boat. This gave Doubtful Sound a mythical feel.

Mythical Doubtful Sound

Lying at the geographical heart of Fiordland National Park, Doubtful Sound is a place of towering peaks and bush-clad islands, of twisting hidden arms and sheltered coves. It is home to a wide variety of plants and animals. A lone penguin and a colony fur seals were also spotted. Doubtful Sound was indeed an unspoilt wilderness.

Spectacular Doubtful Sound

The waterfalls here were stunning, with sheer thundering raw power on par with Niagara Falls. Millions of little water droplets splashed on us as the ferry ventured near them. When we approached one of the bush-clad islands, the captain shutdown the engine and in silence, we listened intently to the sound of the fiord. We were struck by the quality of its silence - a silence broken only by birdsong, or the rushing of a distant waterfall.  

Tumbling Waterfalls

Above: Commanding View of Commander's Peak
Below: Red flowers of NZ's Christmas tree in full bloom

The next leg of our tour was a coach ride some 2 km down the spiral tunnel hewn from solid granite to the immense underground machine hall. We arrived at the fully-operational Manapouri Underground Power Station - an fascinating engineering feat in NZ.

Left: Driving underground Lake Manapouri
Right: Power Station

Cross section of the power station 

Above: The powerful vision of Peter S Hay

Thereafter we arrived back at West Arm Visitor Centre and viewed the fascinating interpretation display on Fiordland National Park before boarding the ferry back to mainland at around 3.30 pm.

This marked the end of the trip to Doubtful Sound. We next drove back to Queenstown (Bella Vista Motel) - a 2 hour car ride. As there was still daylight, we took the opportunity to walk around the city to enjoy the spectacular alpine scenery that Queenstown boasted, with a hearty dinner by the Wakatipu lake to boot. That was not all. We were in for a treat as Christmas came early with Christmas carol. It was such a joy to be here again!

Quaint Queenstown by Lake Wakatipu

Above: Great alpine view
Below left: Christmas Carol

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