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Published: December 27th 2010
Today was the day of my second big excursion in three days -- a trip to Doubtful Sound. I found myself tired, cranky, and not as enthusiastic as I might have been about the long and complex journey required to reach the Sound.
Mercifully, as I didn't feel much like walking, the tour bus picked me up right at the YHA hostel. It was a surprisingly small bus, and the driver explained that this was only a transfer bus; we would join the main tour group in Manapouri.
Manapouri, as it turned out, was about five miles away. On the way, the driver told us about the diversification of the local farmland, as farmers switched from the once-ubiquitous sheep to beef cattle and red deer.
Manapouri was just a wide place in the road. A pup stood in the middle of the road and barked defiantly at our bus; the driver obligingly maneuvered around him. At the Real Journeys office there, we were given our boarding passes and our preordered picnic lunches, and sent to wait on the jetty for the launch.
The launch, the Fiordland II, was small, and, on the outbound journey, very crowded. It
had two -- rooms? cabins? -- and an outside deck. The larger of these cabins was fitted with seats like a bus, and some of the passengers went into it, but the steps down to it were alarmingly steep, so I stayed in the upper cabin.
The upper cabin had lightly padded bench seating against its walls, and two free-standing benches. The bench-seating and benches could seat about thirty, though not comfortably. There were only twenty of us in the upper cabin -- but unfortunately fully half of the cabin was filled with freight. (The Fiordland II also serves as a mailboat and supply boat for those living and staying near Doubtful Sound.) So we were very tightly packed, with twenty of us in a space meant for fifteen.
I found space in a corner with room to stretch my leg out, and I supported my bad arm on a narrow window-ledge, letting it rest behind the head of the woman next to me. I apologized to her, assuring her that I "wasn't getting affectionate," and trying my best to explain.
After the safety lecture the crew encouraged us to leave the crowded upper cabin and go
Also at Manapouri
to the outside deck, but as steep stairs were involved and I was still very tired, I felt that I preferred my corner, especially after several people did go to the outside deck. I felt somewhat pusillanimous, huddling inside when I could have been out delighting in the water, but I just didn't feel up to it. The outside deck at Milford had been on a level with the main deck.
Insofar as I could see from inside the launch, Lake Manapouri is another pretty lake, very much like Lake Tekapo and Lake Te Anau. It must be a very big lake, though, as it took us a full hour to cross it, and our pilot wasn't doing any fancy maneuvering or slowdowns for the tourists' sake.
At the far end there was another Real Journeys center, this one unmanned. The main room was filled with exhibits on Lake Manapouri and on the Manapouri Power Station, a hydroelectric power station When proposed, the power station was to be a standard flood-the-valley energy project, just like Cromwell's, but these locals won their fight, perhaps because much of the surrounding land was already a National Park. The power station was
designed to work without a dam, taking advantage of the natural height difference between Doubtful Sound, on one side of Mount WIlmot, and Lake Manapouri, on the other.
The tour price included a half-mile descent into the ground to see the hydroelectric turbines in operation. I would dearly have loved to see it; as I said back when I was writing about Auckland's Motat, machinery fascinates me. In fact, one reason I booked this particular tour was because it included the stop at the station.
But a few months before I left I became concerned about the vibration level of the turbines. I found a YouTube video of the site, and the vibration of the motors made my artificial collarbone vibrate painfully even when they were only being reproduced by computer speakers. So I knew I mustn't try to go near the actual turbines.
If I had been going to fly home in a day or two, I'd have done it anyhow. It probably
wouldn't have caused permanent damage. But as it is I can't afford to spend the next month or two with my left shoulder swollen up like a balloon -- and, worse, hypersensitive to
the least noise or vibration.
So I reluctantly told our driver, Ian, that I did not want to go to the power station. He told me to stay in the visitors' center and wait, that the group would be back in 30 to 35 minutes.
It wasn't too bad at first. I went to the restroom, of course, and went out and admired Lake Manapouri, and read all the text on all the exhibits in the center. There was a real turbine, now retired from service, on display outside the center, and a 1/8th scale model of the turbine level of the facility inside it, with mock-ups of both the original turbines (such as the one outside) and their 21st-century replacements.
As time went on, I began to eat my picnic lunch. It was surprisingly good. There was a roast-beef sandwich, with lettuce; I ate that first. There were cheese and crackers, individually packaged, but I ate them together. There were three or four grapes and an apple.
Several other things were left in the picnic-box, but by that time I was full so I decided to leave them for later. Besides, I was getting anxious,
From the Wilmot visitors' center
because it had been thirty minutes and there was no sign of the driver.
A bus pulled up. I bounded over to the door. It wasn't mine. Another bus pulled up, ditto. A driver came in and looked at me in surprise. "Who are you?" he asked.
I explained that I had opted out of the power station tour, and the driver nodded and rushed off to the jetty, where he met a crowd of people -- two more tour groups, they turned out to be. One was going to the Fiordland Navigator, the overnight cruise option; the other, I believe, was having a tour of Lake Manapouri.
The latter group got on to their bus and set off for the power station. By this time I was really worried. Ten minutes passed. The driver of the Fiordland Navigator group rounded up his charges. "You'd better come with me," he said. "Otherwise you'll miss your boat."
"Is there any way we could leave a message for Ian?" I asked. "I'd hate to have him looking for me and calling me, when I've gone on with you."
"Honey, the only reason you're still here is that
Much like the ones I didn't get to photograph at Milford
he's forgotten about you," the other driver told me. "I did that myself last week."
I was still dubious, so he agreed to go give his passengers their required safety lecture and then come back for me if Ian hadn't shown up. At that point it had been 45 minutes since my group left.
The other driver came back, and there was still no Ian. Reluctantly, I gave the new driver my boarding pass and began to get on the bus.
Suddenly there was a general cry, from driver and passengers alike, of "Wait! Wait!" And sure enough, here came another bus, driving as fast as it could pelt -- or at least as fast as it could pelt safely
It was Ian, and I scrambled aboard.
I never did find out if he had
almost forgotten about me, or what.
The man next to me said that the most amazing part of the power station trip had been when the bus driver had made a three-point turn in the narrow space at the bottom of the steep access road to begin the upward climb. If I understood correctly, the access road had had an 8%!(NOVERB)
at the Tasman Sea
The road over Wilmot Pass was even steeper, with a 10%!g(MISSING)rade. We stopped several times for photo opportunities, usually with waterfalls, but once with a rushing river, white with rapids. There was a stop at the top of Wilmot Pass, which no doubt had a fine overlook on a fair day, but the rain was getting steadily worse and we were completely fogged in.
At one point on the downward slope a sign read, "Slow -- Ford." It took me a second to parse this, but, sure enough, it was
a ford. Sadly, we did not actually get to go through water, as the river was not high enough to inundate the raised place where the road went through, but it was clear that when the river was high the road would be flooded.
Another sign had been posted near the ford. It had been meant to say, "Danger -- Ice!" a superfluous warning at a ford in winter. Someone had evidently agreed with me about its essential uselessness, because an "M" had been carefully lettered in front of the "I." In the other direction, as I saw on the return trip, the addition had
We reached the berth of the Fiordland Navigator, and I was immediately thankful that I hadn't chosen the overnight cruise. Not only was it a wet, gray day, not only was the rain much harder on this side of the pass, but the Navigator's guests had to climb a long flight of steps down to its berthing.
Not that the Patea Explorer, our ship, was much easier to get into. There was a ridiculously steep downward slope from road to jetty, and then a ridiculously steep upward slope up the gangplank. And when I say "ridiculously steep," I mean it was the sort of slope I wouldn't have dreamt of risking my knee on. Unfortunately, I had to.
I grabbed the handrails with both hands. If it hadn't been for my bad arm, I'd have just slung myself along like a chimp and never put weight on my legs. Since I couldn't do that, I compromised by taking the weight on my good arm and good leg, taking as much weight on my bad arm as I dared, and dragging my bad leg behind me.
The crew watched me with some concern, and when
I finally made it on board (last, as usual), I was directed to the downstairs deck. No one suggested that I go up to the viewing deck, which involved steps, even though almost our entire party had been sent there. The only exception was a group of four, two adults with two small children, who had evidently been routed into the downstairs area because one of the youngsters was in a stroller.
I didn't mind too much. It was quiet, except for the youngsters, and they were fairly good. It was furnished just like the Luminosa, with padded seats with tables; it was meant to be the restaurant area.
I settled down at a pleasant table by a window and ordered a hot chocolate to go with the rest of my picnic lunch.
The rest of the lunch turned out to consist of three things, none of which I could recognize. The first of these is apparently called a "honey muesli square" (I looked it up on the company's website) but I've never had anything quite like it. It tasted rather like gingerbread, but it was much crunchier. They had given me a fine big piece. It wasn't
square, though, more pie-shaped. I promptly named it "Crustimony Proseedcake," after Pooh.
When I finished the Crustimony Proseedcake, I unwrapped something that looked as if it might be a sort of Danish, though it was spherical and you could not see the filling. A cautious bite revealed that it was an enormous Fig Newton. I ate it happily enough as well. The third thing turned out to be a Cadbury's chocolate piece; I decided to save it for later. When I eventually ate it I found it was a peppermint patty.
Between the fog and the pouring rain, visibility was poor, especially since the rain kept streaming down the windows. In this first part of the trip, I was vaguely aware of round mountain islands -- not rippled like the Cromwell mountains, not pointed like the Tekapo ones, not even gently sloped like the Applachians at home, but round, curving in a perfect hemisphere out of the water, looking for all the world as though the manager of a giants' baseball team were cleaning -- or possibly "fixing" -- his team's baseballs by dipping them into the sink.
The sides of Doubtful Sound, which were much farther
apart than those of Milford, were also much more sloped. Our guide explained that this was a characteristic of New Zealand's fiords; the farther south you got, the wider the fiord and the more sloped the sides. Milford, as the farthest-north fiord, has vertical walls and a very narrow channel;
it was like a flooded Zion National Park. Doubtful Sound was more like a tidal river, but one with mountains on its banks.
About the time we reached the ocean, or rather the Tasman Sea, the fog lifted, though it was still raining hard. The crew hoped we would see fur seals; there's a large and active colony near the entrance of the fiord, but none appeared. I tried to get up and go outside to greet the ocean, having noticed that there were narrow outside passages, with railings, on either side of the restaurant area, but the guide urged me to remain seated because of the roughness of the waves, so I meekly sat back down. It *was* pretty choppy, perhaps a bit stronger than at Milford.
At this point I was feeling rather sulky and almost wishing I hadn't paid $200 in U.S. dollars to do all this. Fortunately, the return trip was more interesting.
Now that the fog had lifted somewhat, the view was naturally quite a bit better. Fog still cloaked the farther mountains, but the shoreline could be seen pretty clearly, and the rain had brought forth innumerable waterfalls. Just as at Zion -- heck, just as at home in a downpour -- water was cascading down every available slope. Every round hill or sloping bit of shore trailed streams of shining water, rivulets that almost seemed to glow of their own accord with silvery light. They really seemed to be streamers, not streams; they looked like the fine silver-foil some people drape over Christmas trees and call "angels' hair." At least, the smallest ones looked like that.
Suddenly there was an announcement that dolphins were feeding by the boat. A good many people had found their way downstairs and into the restaurant by this time, but there was a general rush outside.
Even I went out. I had seen dolphins before at Myrtle Beach, but these were much closer -- one broke water right next to the ship! -- and seemed larger. I found out later that they really were larger; the colder temperatures select for a larger size, and the Doubtful Sound dolphins are some of the largest members of their species.
I tried to take pictures of them, but could never click fast enough to catch them in the air. So I began to use my camera's video function, and I filmed what I hope is a video clip of the dolphins leaping about. I shall not post it here however; I suspect it will need editing to be interesting and I have neither the time nor the know-how to do that on my trip. Perhaps when I'm back at my desktop.
I went back to my seat, deciding grudgingly that the dolphins had made the journey worthwhile. There were more and still more waterfalls for the rest of the journey through the fiord; I believe there were even more than there had been on our outbound trip three hours before. For some of them, I went outside briefly and took pictures, as all my earlier pictures had been marred by being shot through a rainswept window.
I got some very good pictures, but I got so cold that I ordered another hot chocolate. This time I only ate one of the marshmallows. The kindly waitress asked me whether I wanted to keep the other two marshmallows when she took my empty glass (for the choc had been served in a tall glass like an ice-cream soda) and I did, but I gave them to the hostel's free-food shelf. I don't know if anyone will want them, as they are not wrapped.
When we got back to our starting point, it was back to the bus -- down the ridiculously sloped gangplank this time; then up the ridiculously sloped link to the road, as the whole bus watched my struggle. When I finally got there, as far as I could see, the bus was full, packed solid. The aisle was pretty narrow, too. I called, "Where can I go? Where's a seat?" as I had after the power station, but this time, for whatever reason, no one spoke up.
In distress, I turned to the driver, "I don't see a seat."
The driver grunted, "Oh, there must be one back there somewhere," and showed no inclination to help, settling into his seat and turning his back on the situation. As I was wondering what on earth to do now, a very kind, and very small, lady in the front aisle seat said, "Would you like this seat?"
Of course, I accepted with alacrity (and profound thanks), and the lady went back in back to try her luck. It turned out there really wasn't a seat, but that this was because we had three extra passengers, a naturalist and two people who were staying at the local hostel. Once they were dropped off there was room for her to sit down, and I hope she got a double to herself out of it. She deserved one.
I was fairly well off in her old seat, as well off as I could have been on that bus. As I had on the outbound journey, I had my foot in the aisle and only about two-thirds of myself on the seat, but this time the dangling leg was the bad one, which was better.
When we got back to Lake Manapouri, that journey was better too, as the cargo had all been dropped off. Once again there were twenty passengers in the upper cabin, but as we were now twenty in the space of thirty, we did well. That was a good thing, as no one wanted to go up to the upper deck in the pouring rain.
Finally, there was the bus-journey back to Te Anau, and that was handled not by our bus of the morning but by a contractor in a van. A curious incident happened as I was boarding the van. I was the first Te Anau passenger to reach the parking lot, and the driver told me to go on over and get into the van.
Well, I was already starting to get into the back part of the van, when a young woman -- a twenty-something, I think, not a teen -- came running breathlessly up. "You go in there,' she said imperiously. "I
get the front seat. I asked the driver."
I would have thought nothing of it if we had both been ten-year-olds, but as it was I bridled a bit, especially since it ought to have been obvious to her that I was already climbing into the back, and the front and back sections were divided so that I could not have climbed into the front from the back.
I secured the seat I had wanted all the time -- the one in the far back, which does not require wiggling sideways to get into and which has room for my leg and the pizza bag. Once there, I retorted that I didn't see why she was so particular about it, but that I had already been planning to get into the back. She responded, "Excu-u-se me?!?" but before the conversation could degenerate further someone else showed up and she fell silent. I felt I had made my point and said nothing else, to such effect that after the people in the middle seats were dropped off, the girl in the front seat chirped, "So, now it's just us!" to the driver, who corrected her.
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