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Published: December 7th 2013
Wednesday 4th December, 2013. Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, South Island, New Zealand
We had to get up early again as we had to be at the Wharf in Manapouri (about 20 minutes drive from Te Anau) at 7.40 for an 8 am departure. We arrived first at about 7.30 am and were issued our boarding passes immediately. Doubtful Sound is not accessible by road. It is necessary to go by boat across lake Manapouri (the 5th largest in NZ) to the "neck" and then cross the Wilmot Pass before taking another boat up the Sound itself.
Doubtful Sound was originally named "Doubtful Harbour" by Captain Cook when he sailed past in the Endeavour on his first circumnavigation of NZ in 1770. He skirted past the entrance wondering whether there was sufficient wind to manoeuvre his vessel in the narrow reaches. Scientists on board wanted to land but Cook was not prepared to take the risk. It was eventually explored 23 years later by a Spanish expedition under the command of Alessandro Malaspina. Malaspina was also "doubtful" about sailing into the sound, so he despatched a long boat with a hydrographer called Don Felipe Bauza in charge. They landed at the
eastern end of Bauza Island, at Marcaciones Point where a plaque now commemorates the event. No other part of NZ has a collection of Spanish place names like Doubtful Sound.
While we were waiting to board M went to watch the trout feeding on the wharf. On the way back to re-join D she heard a familiar voice. She turned around and was amazed to see two fellow members from the U3A in Catalunya. M stood in front of them and waited to see if she got a reaction. It took a few seconds when Marjorie said "is that you Mandi?" - neither of us could believe it. Marjorie said she was looking at M for a few moments thinking "that lady looks just like Mandi from back home in Spain"! It was Mike and Marjorie Duxbury. We knew they were in Oz and NZ but they had left on Oct 3rd - before we had even booked our trip. We had no idea of their itinerary and they had no idea of ours - so it was very doubtful that we would cross paths. How apt then, that we met on an excursion to Doubtful Sound!
Sound is located in the heart of a designated World Heritage Area. It is remote, wild and imposing. You really do feel that you are in the middle of nowhere and close to the wildlife. It is a spectacular place. We crossed the island-studded Lake Manapouri and were loaded on a coach for the crossing over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove where we spent about half an hour looking at the various exhibits in the visitor centre before boarding our boat for the trip down the fiord (sound).
Doubtful Sound is the 2nd largest of Fiordland National Park's 14 fiords (Dusky Sound is the largest). It is 3 times longer, and has a sea surface area 10 times larger than Milford Sound, where we were the day before yesterday. This is due to its greater length and its 3 arms - Hall, Crooked and First. At its maximum depth it is 430 metres, however, near the entrance the water is relatively shallow - 90 metres. The waters of Doubtful Sound are subject to tides by the range is only moderate 2.5 - 3 metres.
We cruised slowly down the sound, taking in the magnificent scenery. After about an
hour we stopped at the side of the fiord and the skipper killed the engine. He called it the "sound of silence". It was amazing out there in the wilderness - all we could hear was different bird songs. We cruised out into the Tasman sea where we saw a colony of Fir Seals (sea lions). Then the nature guide spotted something remarkable - a juvenile Humpback Whale!! M ran from one side of the boat to the other as various sightings were made. Eventually the guide decided there might actually be two juveniles - either that or one was giving us a merry dance. M never did catch a glimpse of the elusive creature but D did "I saw its tail - but that's all" he proclaimed. M replied rather shortly " that's all you're likely to see - what did you expect it to do - jump out of the sea and wave!?". This was a bit of sour grapes as she had missed it completely.
We cruised back up the sound and took a detour down the Crooked Arm which is the part of the sound where all the photographs used in the postcards are taken.
While looking at the scenery we chatted to Mike and Marjorie and exchanged experiences and tips. They had been to Oz before coming to NZ so had done the trip the opposite way around to us. They are leaving on 12th December to go to New York to visit Marjorie's daughter.
We travelled up the West Arm of Doubtful Sound where we disembarked the boat we were taken to a viewpoint for a photo shot of the sound from above. Then we were taken to visit the Manapouri Underground Power Station. This sounds really boring - but it was fascinating. This power station is one of NZ's greatest engineering achievements. The majority of the work was completed underground in a remote location. The only external signs of the installation is the control building, a switchyard and two sets of transmission lines that loop across the head of Lake Manapouri to join the national grid. We entered the power station in the coach by means of a 2 km long spiral tunnel so we could view the immense underground machine hall and to learn the story behind this incredible power station.
The western shores of the lake were an
ideal location for the power station due to the high rainfall and its height above sea level. The project involved the construction of the 2 km access road, a 9.8 km tailrace tunnel (to take the water out again) plus a road between West Arm and Doubtful Sound to transport workers and equipment. Water is taken in from Lake Manapouri through the West Arm Intake, down vertical penstocks where the force of the water powers the 7 turbines which drive the generators. After the water has been discharged it flows through the tailrace to exit at Doubtful Sound. A second tunnel was added in 2001 to increase output using the same modern tunnelling methods as employed by the Channel Tunnel back home. It now produce 30% more electricity from the same volume of water.
We crossed Lake Manapouri again, said our goodbyes to Mike and Marjorie and went back to the Youth Hostel for dinner of Liver and onions washed down with some vino. A great and surprising day.
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