Doubtful Sound cruise

Trip Start Feb 17, 2005
Trip End Feb 27, 2006

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Sunday, October 9, 2005

I didn't sleep that much on the night prior to my Doubtful Sound cruise - the rain kept me awake! When I eventually rose at 7am, I looked out of the window and couldn't see the lake or mountains for mist and thick clouds. I wasn't too dispondent though, as I knew that Charlotte and me would have a good day, whatever the weather.

Jimmy drove us down to the Visitor's Centre at 8.45am, ready for a 9.30am departure. That gave us time to speak to an advisor regarding Milford Sound cruises. I persuaded Charlotte to do the overnight cruise with me, although it was easy as it was on special offer at just $140. The weather forecast was fine for Sunday and Monday, so it made sense to book it for Sunday night. Milford Sound is renowned for its rainfall (6-7 metres a year), so we were in for a real treat if we could see the magnificent scenery on a clear day...

With that cruise all sorted, we checked in for the Doubtful Sound one, which was on a much smaller boat with a capacity of just 15 people. This appealed to me as it would be more peaceful, and less hectic.

The first leg of the journey was a 50 minute boat ride to the other side of Lake Manapouri. We braved the cold, windy conditions and stood outside because despite the rain, the views were superb. The mist actually gave the lake and overlooking mountains an air of mystery, and I was excited about seeing the Sound later in the day.

There was an underground power station at the other side of the lake, although Charlotte and me weren't very enthusiastic about it - we just wanted to see the scenery. Still, after completing the initial boat journey, a bus took us down an eerie tunnel until we were 2km underground. A short walk followed, before we were ushered onto a viewing platform that provided views of the inside of the station. Some people were more interested than others, but we were glad to get back on the bus some 20 minutes later, especially when we emerged from the tunnel to much clearer skies.

The road from Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound only opened in 1959, and before then it was virtually impossible to reach the Sound. Indeed, Captain Cook was "doubtful" about entering it, hence the name (tenuous link!). Even now, you need to travel for 50 minutes by boat and 1 hour by bus, so the tranquility of the place definitely remains.

The 1 hour bus journey was very scenic indeed, as we passed dense forests, flowing rivers and huge waterfalls. It wound its way up and around the mountains, until we reached a spectacular viewpoint at the summit of Wilmot's Pass. The skies had cleared, and everyone was in awe of the view, naturally taking lots of photographs.

After slowly weaving our way downhill, we were dropped off at yet more splendid waterfalls - we had 15 minutes free while the driver got the catamaran ready. So we had a gentle stroll along the incredibly remote road, viewing fantails in the trees on both sides of us.

We climbed aboard the catamaran at the end of the track, and made ourselves comfortable at the front. We were surrounded by mountains that completely dwarfed us, and the water was so still. It was very relaxing, and I laid down as the catamaran slowly penetrated the Sound - "this is the life" I thought!

The cruise lasted for 4 hours, and for the most part it was warm and sunny, a welcome relief after the rain in the night. It was like living the high life, just relaxing on a catamaran with noone else around, cruising around some of the world's most amazing scenery.

At one stage the sun went in and the wind picked up, so I went inside for a nice cup of coffee. I got talking to an elderly couple from Leeds after detecting their Yorkshire accents, and it turned out that their daughter lives in the same village as me! They were a very friendly, jolly couple, even though threy'd done the Milford Sound cruise the previous day and "not seen a thing!" They'd also been to Japan to visit their son who has taught over there for the last few years, so it was interesting to hear their views on the country.

Charlotte and me went back outside for the final part of the cruise, eager to take in the scenery while we could. Soon afterwards, the boat pulled in next to the wharf, and we had another 15 minutes free until the bus picked us up. Again, we went for a walk, and we were almost immediately greeted by a stunning bird that on first glance looked like a Kaka. It was in fact a Kea, but it was equally beautiful, and a lot more fearless around humans. They actually have a destructive reputation, often ripping up people's tents and destroying the rubber around car windows. He got within a couple of feet of us, and Charlotte got some brilliant shots of him as she is a keen photographer, and has a very expensive camera.

The day was becoming more and more special, and we passed a lovely rainbow on the journey back to the lake. In fact, we saw about 6 more on the boat to Manapouri, as there was a mix of sunshine and dark clouds. We sat at the front of the boat, so we were privilege to more breathtaking scenery. As I looked ahead, I saw a scene that is just typical of the South Island. From top to bottom, I saw the lake's dark blue water, the sandy beach, the dense forest, a backdrop of mountains, the snow covered peaks, the blue sky, and the dark clouds. Such diversity.

It had been a near perfect day, and it wasn't over yet. Charlotte had to drive 20km to Te Anau for the nearest cash machine, and asked if I wanted to go as well and grab a bite to eat. So we found a nice pub that was bizarrely called The Moose, and I enjoyed a chicken burger and chips...and a very welcome pint of Speights!

It was sheer bliss relaxing in my cabin later on in the evening, as once again there was noone else staying there. I made a roaring log fire that kept me nice and warm, until I eventually fell asleep in the early hours of the morning...
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