Do the Doubtful Sound. If you go to New Zealand, and go to the South Island, you’ll be faced with a choice at some time. Do I do the Milford Sound, or the Doubtful Sound? The answer is to do the Doubtful Sound. You’ll weigh your options and look at a map. The distance will make you question. Your limited time will make you think. The 4000 providers of trips to the Milford sound will work on swaying you. The answer is still: do the Doubtful Sound.
Well, the answer is that it’s up to you. We did the overnight cruise on the Doubtful Sound with Real Journeys and loved it.
We chose the overnight so we could spend some more time on the sound and get to see it at sunset and sunrise. After you get to Manipouri from Queenstown, the trip starts with a boat ride across Lake Manipouri, then a bus ride through the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove at the base of the Doubtful Sound.
These two legs of the journey are interesting in their own. Riding across the lake at midday is beautiful.
Arriving at the lakeside, you disembark near the top of a hydro electric power plant. They built the power plant inside the mountain, taking advantage of the natural 180 meter drop from the lake to the sound. If you’re interested, you can take a tour of the plant as well. The bus ride is narrated by knowledgeable drivers who give some insight into the area, stories of how the power plant was constructed and the history both before and after the European settlers had come. Upon arriving at Deep Cove, you board the ship you’ll be cruising the sound in.
It’s not easy to describe what this is like, getting to the sound. You feel small, as insignificant as the sand flies that are pestering you. Here the waters of the sound are very calm. The sound opens to the ocean, but the land smooths out any turbulence the waves cause. The ship you board isn’t small, but once on the water with the mountains shooting up all around it doesn’t feel so big. If you look down more, watch the water and the rocks or the small islands as you go by them, you feel like you’re on a ship moving swiftly. If you look up, losing the distinction of the water, you see 100s of meters of rock face around you, wide open spans between sides, heights that lose details due to the distance. As I said, you feel small.
The cruise heads out the sound, towards the Tasman Sea, where the sound opens up. Captain Cook saw the sound when he mapped New Zealand’s coast. He named it Doubtful Bay because he felt if he took his ship in he was doubtful he could get it back out. What we know now is that he was right. The ship he had, the currents of the sound and the wind buffered by the mountains all would have made it very difficult for him to get out.
We were lucky because the Tasman Sea was relatively calm for our visit. This enabled us to go out on the Tasman and see the Doubtful Sound from the sea. This still meant there were 4 meters swells, but broad and regular enough that no one on board had any issues. Seeing the sound from this perspective gave us increased appreciation for the sheer size of the sound.
Back in the sound we took a detour down the Crooked Arm for a little adventuring. Here there were options for kayaking or tender boat and then swim in the sound. We kayaked since it was a great way to see the sound. We paddled for about 3 kilometers in single kayaks. Once you are out on the water in the kayak your perspective changes again. If you thought you were small on the cruise boat, just imagine it from a kayak. Beautiful, wonderful, awe inspiring.
For the evening we moored at the end of Bradshaw Sound. This sound connects to the Doubtful and Thompson sounds, providing good sanctuary for the night. The crew provided a fabulous dinner and a nature presentation afterwards.
Part of this was a Maori legend for the Fiordlands. According to this legend, demi-god Tu-te-raki-whanoa used Te Hamo (his adze) to carve the fiords from rock. Starting in the far south, Tu-te-raki-whanoa created a rough coastline and many islands, gradually perfecting his technique along the way. His work was so stunning that it stopped people from working. They just stood around gazing at the beauty instead. The goddess Hinenuitepo became angry at these unproductive people, so she created the sandfly to bite them and get them moving.
The next morning we woke up before the sun was out, with the starting of the engines as our alarm clock. After a good breakfast and hot coffee we headed out to see the sunrise.
It was a bit rainy, but it didn’t rain for long. We took a small detour before heading back to the marina, on the Hail Arm of the sound, where we did an experiment. The guide asked all of us to find a comfortable spot and try to be as still as possible. They then cut the engines off and we were surrounded by…complete quietness. Just the wind going by and faraway birds singing in the sun. Awe inspiring!
Heading back, the captain demonstrated to us how big the surrounding mountains really are. He pointed to a small cave in the wall that didn’t look taller than a standing person. He then stirred the boat towards the cave until the nose touched the wall. Well, at that point of time the hole proved to be taller that the sails of the boat. And we were not on a small boat