Up early this morning for our trip to Doubtful Sound. Why Doubtful Sound? For the simple reason that I had already been to Milford Sound. Once upon a time a trip to Doubtful Sound meant an overnight cruise, these days it's a half-day trip from Manapouri.
First up we caught the ferry across Lake Manapouri, which is NZ's fifth largest lake, with a shoreline that is 160 kilometres around. The trip took about fifty minutes to West Arm where we boarded a coach which would take us across Wilmot Pass Road. Google map it, you'll see the road is twenty kilometres that seemingly goes nowhere. In fact it is to service the Manapouri Power Station, a hydroelectric plant at West Arm. Construction materials are shipped in via Doubtful Sound and then trucked over the hill.
Today in the coach it took us about fifty minutes to traverse with a quick photo stop on the way, where we also spotted some Kea (alpine parrots similar to Kaka) high up on the mountainside. The road took us through the heart of Fiordland, and it's hard to describe the scale of this place, it is a place you really need to see for yourself.
At the bottom of the pass we boarded another boat for our three-hour cruise on the sound.
Now, it's kind of confusing but here's the run down on the difference between a fiord and a sound. Perhaps you, like me, thought it was to do with their formation. That sounds were carved by water and fiords by ice, but apparently that isn't the case. Doubtful Sound is in fact a fiord because it's a valley carved by glacial action that has been flooded with water. The word sound is a corruption of the old Norse word 'sond' that simply means a body of water narrow enough to swim across, technically making Doubtful both.
Anyway, what it all amounts to is that we found ourselves cruising on Doubtful's black water with 1600-metre-high mountains covered in pristine temperate rainforest plunging straight into the sea on either side of us. Pretty amazing.
The weather wasn't great, but with 200 rainy days a year in Fiordland that's to be expected and the boat was pretty well equipped to keep everyone dry whilst still seeing the sights.
We saw Brown Falls (NZ's highest waterfall or steepest river for purists), and Secretary Island (NZ's third highest island; South Island and North Island are the only ones higher).
At the mouth of the fiord, which is three nautical miles across, we had views of the Tasman Sea and a curious White-capped Albatross flew right alongside the boat giving spectacular views.
Back in the inner fiord we ventured up Crooked Arm (an offshoot of Doubtful that is the size of Milford Sound) and saw a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins swimming slowly right by the shore. Yeah, that's right, we saw dolphins swimming under trees.
For a while the skipper cut the engine and we floated silently, with only the sound of the cascading waterfalls to listen to. Magic.
All too soon the trip was over and we climbed over the mountain once again and cruised back across the lake.
For the afternoon we drove up to Te Anau where we visited a little bird sanctuary with captive Takahe (the only truly wild Takahe now exist in Fiordland), Kaka and a Morepork (NZ's native owl). In town we visited the Big Takahe, and admired the lake, which is NZ's second largest.
For dinner we grabbed some pies, I had a venison one. It was okay, maybe like really rich lamb or something.
After that we drove back towards Manapouri, stopping on the way to have a look at the River Anduin, I mean the Waiau River, no I mean the Anduin. Yep, it finally happened, we found a Lord of the Rings location. Personally, I think we've shown remarkable restraint being ten days into our trip, but that's over now. This one was just a little teaser, a blink and you'll miss it type scene from Fellowship, but man it feels good to be back in Middle Earth.
We went to the beginning of the Kepler Track, where a narrow suspension bridge spans the river and for a quick tramp through the beech forest. Can't wait to get stuck into it tomorrow. Mavora Lakes, here we come!