The Sound of Silence

Trip Start Sep 09, 2004
Trip End Ongoing

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Sunday, April 3, 2005

I've just had the most beautiful, long, hot, invigorating shower ever. I had to drag myself out in the end. I'm not quite sure how long I stood under it but it was still complete, heavenly bliss. It took ages to scrub away the thick layers of insect repellent from around my neck and the backs and insides of my ears. I can still smell it now. It's horrible stuff.

Thankfully this time, I've come away with no stupidly self-induced injuries to whine about (I think). I've just got back from the Sea Kayaking adventure of a lifetime and I'm totally, totally knackered. I have a huge smile on the inside though and I feel completely, what can I say? - Spiritually moved? Spiritually fulfilled? Not really sure. What I can say is that the whole thing was the most spiritually rewarding experience. As the intensity of my experience in the Fiordland grows, the point in trying to describe the many magical moments I've encountered there starts to dwindle. It simply can't really be described. It can only be experienced, felt and shared.

I can however mention a little about the 'Doubtful Sound' - the sound of silence. I've already mentioned a few of the incredible facts about the Fiordland itself, so it's understandable as to how excited I was to be a part of this adventure. I've also mentioned that the Doubtful Sound is not commercialised like Milford and as a result it's a lot more remote and untouched. A lot more. I'd previously read this and been told this, and now I'm delighted to say I know this. The adventure in parts was harsh and hard but with it came rewards that were far, far greater in return. The beauty of doing something like this is that you get to be with nature in its rawest, most natural form. We spent the three days in two ways; either sat on the ocean in our small plastic kayak or in the bush beside a secluded beach either preparing and eating food or wrapped tightly in a sleeping bag. Either way, we were among the purest, wildest, most untouched, unspoiled nature and wildlife that on a spiritual level, gripped our hearts and souls.

When I say we, I'm referring to Paul; an English guy of similar age, Paula and Kerry; two rough and ready Aussie chicks in their mid-to-late thirties, myself and Adrian; our guide. Adrian, I would say was in his early to mid-twenties and has pretty much seen and done it all; a seasoned Kayaker, keen climber and fanatical all-round adventurer.

To put things in perspective a little, we were, over a three day period (on average) approximately sixty to seventy kilometres away from any kind of civilisation. What's more is that this distance can't be crossed as simple and as straight forward as shooting up the nearest highway - this is across extreme, rugged, inhabitable wilderness of which the majority of the location is largely inaccessible. Adrian and the others picked me up at 6.10am Thursday morning and from there we drove to Manapouri, just South of Te Anau. After transferring the gear from the trailer to the boat we blasted across Lake Manapouri for a good hour or so landing at Hall Arm before once again, transferring all of the gear into a third hold. From Hall Arm we took a forty to sixty minute steep four wheel drive descent down in the valley to Deep Cove where we loaded our kayaks with the three days worth of general supplies and insect repellent. A quick safety briefing later and we were off and out to experience the real wonder of the Doubtful Sound.

The Doubtful Sound actually got its name from Captain Cook who came across it on his voyage of discovery. It became aptly named as he was 'doubtful' as to whether the winds in the sound would be sufficient to blow the ship back out to sea, and sailed on.

We paddled out a good 30km's before finding a suitably habitable beach. Playful pods of bottlenose dolphins accompanied us for most of the afternoon as we made our way there. They were resting too which made our friendly encounter with them that little bit longer. We even paddled alongside a baby swimming joyfully next to its mother which made our friendly encounter just that little bit more magical. When we arrived and set up our first camp, Paul, Adrian and l stripped down to our shorts and went for a swim. It was perfect. The sun was low in the sky getting ready to settle for the night, the water completely still and crystal clear and we were bathing in pure bliss - the only humans residing there for miles and miles. It was a very mild evening too which was very unusual for where we were. I spent the night under the insect shelter in my sleeping bag completely uncovered. We didn't use the tent as Adrian said it wouldn't rain. He wasn't wrong.

The next morning was as gorgeous as the last - another bright, clear, sunny day. We headed around Seymour Island heading North West. Adrian kept saying how unusual it was to have such perfect conditions; no head wind and a clear sky. The water at times was like a sheet of glass mirroring the towering peaks all around us. He suggested we make the most of it and paddle right out to the sea to get a good look at what Captain Cook would have seen when he first decided against chancing the Doubtful Sound. That's exactly what we did. Adrian was quite excited as he'd never took a group out this far before, the conditions were so fine. The girls decided to stay put and hang around one of the beaches we'd come across while we set off for the additional two-hour jaunt to meet the vast expanse of hostile ocean. It was incredible.

As we approached the edge of the sound, the sheer mountain faces, waterfalls, birds, seals and other magnificent wildlife were in abundance. As well as taking a few pics we took in the scenery and its magic before heading sensibly back. As we had been sitting there the tide had started pulling on us, drawing us out to sea so it was quite a good idea to start paddling inland. Adrian had already clocked a few cloud patterns earlier that day and had told us that some serious 'Souwesterlies' were coming over - a good time to get a move on. We got back to the girls and found a suitable lunch spot at a nearby beach. We came across a fisherman who had been chugging around from Christchurch. He kindly chucked us a couple of the plump, glistening blue cod he'd just caught. Paul's generous contribution of soy sauce and sesame seeds made a nice lunch that we hadn't previously counted on. The cod was gorgeous, like a thick shark steak.

The next haul over in to Crooked Arm was probably the most fearsome part of the whole adventure. Adrian had read the weather perfectly. Out of nowhere came the 'Souwesterly' wind. Luckily, we'd all been able to raft together at just the right time. Between the five of us, we managed to successfully create a tight sail and holding on for dear life, took the wind sharply, sailing right across the fiord and over to Crooked arm where we set up our second camp. The wind was ferocious and turned the serene surroundings we'd been accustomed to into a very harsh, hostile place. In an instant too. I couldn't believe the difference. When we arrived we were greeted by an incredibly cheeky 'Weka' - a large brown flightless chicken thing which runs along at quite a speed generally getting up to all sorts of mischief. By the time we'd unloaded the kayaks and set up the insect shelter it had already rummaged through my food bags, taking off with two of the fat sausages I'd been thinking about. After a good feed and a few laughs we got in to our bags and gradually drifted off to sleep surrounded by the heavenly banter of the native birds and the constant pounding of the nearby waterfalls. Within minutes the storm arrived and pelted the Fiordlands with heavy rain. I did actually manage to get a little sleep but only for a short while. Not that I minded.

When I awoke this morning, I opened my eyes to the most amazing waterfall towering above us which had been created through the night. It was hurtling down from hundreds of metres and looked spectacular. I just lay in my bag with a smile on my face staring right up at it. It didn't seem at all real as to where I was. When we got up the rain had stopped and the water was calm once again. Even the sun began to appear over the mountains as the clouds decided to move on. After breakfast, we loaded the kayaks and took a leisurely paddle along the southern face of the mountains in the direction Deep Cove. For the hell of it Paul and I managed to swing the kayak in to the path of a few high waterfalls that pounded on us as we drifted slowly through, screaming like kids in awe and excitement. Between yesterday and today we covered a good 60 kilometres and by the time we got back we knew we'd had a good run but more importantly, one hell of an experience.

What really made this experience was what it involved. We had no electricity, no gas, no running water, no toilets, no heating and no real easy 'get out' like the many conveniences and luxuries that most of us are so used to. And that's what I loved about it. We were in a humanly inhabitable wilderness miles away from any kind of civilisation and had nothing but ourselves, our kayaks and our basic supplies. It was so raw and so real. We didn't even sleep in a tent. If we needed to cook, we used the modest little portable gas stoves that we'd stowed in the kayaks. If we needed warmth, we put another layer of clothing on. If we needed the toilet, we knew exactly where to find the shovel and the roll of paper sitting next to it. If we needed water we'd take a short walk through the bush to the nearest water supply (waterfall, river or stream) to fill our water bottles or whatever handy container we could find. Daphne had previously explained that they've actually conducted tests and the water here makes Evian and Volvic look like sewage water. I'm not surprised. It was the freshest water I've ever had the pleasure of drinking. I never ever thought I'd see the day that I would drink freely from rivers and streams. Before then I'd naturally and automatically assumed that this was just stupid. Another eye-opener?

Oh and the sandflies were ever present and ever effective but this time we'd got a new weapon - a lethal mixture of Savlon and baby oil. It worked too. They'd come crash landing on to our necks and faces before bouncing off in disgust at our ugly, foul stench. Wa-hay! F**k you! It must have really pissed em' off! As much as they're a pain in the arse though, they're here for a reason. There's an old Maori belief that goes along the lines of:

Te Hine-nui-te-po, goddess of the underworld, looked over the work of land-creator Tu Te Rakiwhanoa. "It's so beautiful, people will live here forever", she said. "I will create the sandfly - to remind them of their frailty and death."

I like that. Why should we spoil it? The last three days in the Doubtful Sound will stay with me forever. Again, it was another soul warming experience that was most rewarding on a very spiritual level. Unforgettable!
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