Nov. 14, 2012 Doubtful Sound Greg and I were picked up yesterday by our tour bus, Real Journeys, at 1130 and so we began our way to Doubtful Sound and our overnight boat trip. Now it is not easy to get to the sound which is in reality a fiord. First, we took a small shuttle bus about 15 miles down the road to the town of Manapouri. There at Pearl Harbor (yes that is the harbor’s name!) we caught a ferry across the fifth largest lake in New Zealand, Lake Manapouri. We sat outside in slightly chilly weather and watched the islands which filled the lake whiz past. This landed us at the harbor of West Arm, which is not a town but is known as the home of the hydroelectric underground power station. From there we got onto a full size bus that slanted upwards from the front to the rear. We were now on a dirty, dusty road which could squeeze two vehicles past each other but just barely. There were cliffs on both sides of the roads. You would not know they were cliffs though because they are tree covered. Made of granite, the cracks served as resting places for seeds which sprouted up and in some cases outward. It’s amazing to think of vegetation growing in this area but the rainfall and sunlight provided sustenance and produce a rainbow of green colors. Of course when the trees get too heavy they slide down the granite sides and cover the road. It was on this road that we went through the Wilmot Pass, one of the remotest roads in N.Z. It was built in the 1960’s to provide access for heavy equipment to reach the construction site of the power plant. At the end of section of the journey, we were at Deep Cove Wharf were we picked up our boat for the Doubtful Sound journey.
Both G and I agree that this is currently the top highlight of our trip. It was purity to the imagination.
The treed mountains in this fiord are rounded and the surround both sides of the water. It is really difficult to tell if you are looking at an extension of the mainland or at an island.
There were several islands with one being a breeding ground for the fur seals. This nameless gray isle was devoid of trees, a result of the noxious nature of seal excrement. We watched two bull elks in a fake free for all where mouths were opened and necks extended, waving back and forth but never touching. As strange as it may seem, G and I were reminded of the ritual role playing of the young elk males. Oh, how we try to relate what we see to what we know!
If that was not exciting enough, we were treated to three yellow crested penguins descending the rocky slope towards the refreshing waters of the fiord. G said it was more impressive in Happy Feet. I don’t know; it seemed really cute to me. It looks like their feet are tied together tight, real tight, and they can take only baby steps. Just try walking like that or better yet, have your spouse walk like that—it’s a hoot!!
Before dinner, but after our 5pm bowl of roasted vegetable soup and hot roll, we went out on a small boat with a nature guide and 10 of the other passengers. We were drifting close to shore discussing the flora and fauna when what to our merry eyes should appear—yes, a pod of dolphins!!! Oh, what a gift! This was part of a pod of 60 bottlenose dolphins which make Doubtful Sound there home. Their silver fins glistened in the setting sun as they playfully swam away.
In the morning when we were awakened and summoned on deck to begin the day’s journey (up at 6:15; breakfast at 6:45) we were treated to a display of dolphin leaping into the air and diving beneath the surface—all of it carefully choreographed. rail and stare at 3 or 4 dolphins. Our nature guide said they were lazy dolphins and were catching a ride in the ship’s wake.
We also had 5 minutes of silence this morning. The engines were cut off; we assembled on the top deck and listened to the music of nature. The gray sky cast a solemn hue on the forested granite. The water stood still and mirrored this marvelous work of God. Dysphonic music rang out from the highest reaches and G and I, being tuneless Taylors, hummed silently along. It was a ball of immenseness and smallness, of significance and insignificance, all rolled tightly together.
It was truly an international ship journey. People visit New Zealand in all different ways. Some like us travel by bus and stay in hostels. The Frenchmen were in a small motor home; the Canadians were flying from place to place and when they couldn’t do that they drove a car. The couple from Holland who are around our age were interesting. They traveled by car but when they got to their lodging they would decide on further means of transportation to get them to their destination. Their next activity requires that they be helicoptered in and let off on a mountain so they can hike back out. Some people stay in B and B’s while other rely on more traditional hotels or motels.