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Published: October 6th 2010
The two days we spent on a boat in the wonderful wilderness of Doubtful Sound were fantastic and two of the better days we have had in the four months we have been travelling. Anywhere that takes a boat ride across a lake, a coach over a blizzard hit mountain and another boat through a moody and misty fiord is worth the admission fee alone. It was unlike anything we had done before.
The day started with us checking in at Lake Manapouri, which was a short drive from the lake at Te Anua where we had spent the previous evening looking at glowworms. As we boarded the boat at Manapouri, we were joined by a band of over excited youngsters all dressed as pirates and saying "Aaarrrr" loudly every two or three seconds. Being the grumpy old sod that I am now, I had a whinge to Rachel about how I was dreading the trip now. Miserable aren't I! To be fair to Captain Pugwash and his numerous comrades, they were a good laugh and livened the trip up.
Once we had made the hour long journey across the stormy Lake Manapouri, we were herded onto a large
coach ready for the next part of the journey. What followed was a very slow trek along steep and snowy roads. We had to stop at the topofone particularly steep hill to put snow chains on the coach and at some points we thought we were going to have to turn back and abort the trip. Eventually we reached a place named Deep Cove which marked the start of Doubtful Sound. Doubtful Sound is the larger and less visited cousin of the world famous Milford Sound in the Fiordland National Park. It is a fjord which reaches in land through a series of narrow 'arms' from the Tasman Sea. The glaciers which formed these arms have left deep gouges in the rocks which now form mountains and deep water filled valleys and these in turn contain waterfalls, rare flora and fauna and various creatures such a seals, penguins, dolphins and rare sea birds.
On board our ship, 'The Fiordland Navigator' we were shown to our room, for which we had chosen the most cost effective (yes that means cheapest!) quadshare room. Two bunkbeds in a shoe box is how I would describe the room! Rachel and I wouldn't be
sharing a bed for the first time since we married over four months ago. But in the end, its only for sleeping in so who cares how big or small the room is! Thankfully we hadn't been paired with a couple of over excited pirates and we climbed back to the top deck ready to board a tender craft and explore the Sound in more detail. The tender craft was a little tin boat with an outboard motor which allowed us to get up close to the shore and to learn about the history and the nature that is abundant in this wonderful place. We spent an hour flitting around the sheltered cove and returned to the ship as the heavens opened. We were thankful for the delicious warm soup that the crew had prepared whilst we were on the small boat and were soon toasty and warm in the main cabin.
We spent the next couple of hours getting to know some new friends and taking in the magnificent views of Doubtful Sound as we sailed out towards the Tasman Sea. Daniel and Jennifer (from Brazil and Miami) and Tom and Jill (lucky enough to be living in
Hawai'i at the moment) were our company as we watched the amazing scenery and caught sight of a large group of playful dolphins frolicking in the water around the boat. The sun even came out for a brief few minutes as we rounded a large island at the point where the fjord became the Tasman Sea. The beautiful greens of the vegetation, the pure white of the snow on the mountains and and the impenetrable darkness of the calm water all combined to make this area one of the most naturalluy beautiful we had seen. The atmosphere of untouched stillness (despite the pirates in the background) only added to the feeling that we were somewhere very special and seen by very few people.
Within a short time the sun had set and we were anchored in a quiet cove off the main body of the sound and enjoying a drink with our new friends. A delicious dinner followed, beef, lamb, chicken, vegetable, pasta and lots more, all of a very good standard and we were soon stuffed! We spent the rest of evening getting to know Jenny, Daniel, Tom and Jill over a few beers and some very amusing
games of dominoes. Everything Floyd had taught me in America went out of the window, as Jill and Tom introduced 'Mexican Dominoes' to us. Chaos ensued! It was very good fun and it was great to meet and get to know some interesting people, especially after enjoying (or should that say enduring) three weeks of only each others company in the campervan!
The engines started and woke us from our sleep in the world's narrowest beds at 6.45am on Wednesday morning and we were soon enjoying a simple breakfast. If we thought the view and atmosphere from the deck of the ship was spectacular on the previous evening, we were completely astonished by the magical scene that greeted us after breakfast. The snow had fallen practically to sea level, the mist was clinging to the mountains and the water was feezing over due to the icy rain and snow. It was almost otherworldy, and it seemed like we were viewing the world in black and white. The dolphins joined us for another brief moment and we saw a large adult seal floating by. The captain steered the trip into another cove where he turned the engines off and let
us enjoy 'the sound of silence'. Its not until you stand in one of the most beautiful and remote places on earth in complete silence that you understand just how hectic, noisy and busy the world really is. The couple of minutes we spent in the snowy wonderland of Doubtful Sound was bliss.
Sadly, it was soon time to head back to Deep Cove and finish our trip. The coach ride over the mountains was even more treacherous as the blizzard intensified and the snow fell on top of the already deep snow and ice that lined the road. Again, we made it to our destination safely and were soon on the road back to Queenstown in the trusty campervan. We did however have one last highlight, and that was dinner and drinks with Jill, Tom, Daniel and Jennifer at a lovely seafood restaurant in Queenstown later that evening. It was a great evening and we had a lot of fun and a lot of laughs during the meal and our visit to a little Irish pub. We were sad to have to say goodbye and hopefully we can keep in touch and see each other again. I mean
who would we be to turn down another trip to Hawai'i or a visit to Brazil!?!
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