Sat 22 Nov: We had arranged to go on a tour including a cruise on Doubtful Sound. This is more difficult to get to than Milford Sound as you can’t drive there. It’s also 3 times longer and 10 times larger. We had signed up with Real Journeys and went along to their Manapouri office at 9am. We started off on a boat across Lake Manapouri, which has 34 islands in it as well as lovely clear water. It’s the lake we overlooked from where we were staying.
Also heading to Doubtful Sound was a group of divers. It turned out that one of them was quite a senior guy at the hydro-electric power station that we would visit later on. He is an extremely keen diver and keeps a boat moored at Doubtful Sound. At the far end of the lake, we switched to a bus which was to take us over Wilmot Pass. The road was put in to help build the power station, and is in a very remote, but very pretty area. After a few stops along the way to admire the views we came to Deep Cove on Doubtful Sound, where we boarded a large boat. It was overcast and raining intermittently, but it had rained heavily overnight. As a result, the waterfalls were flowing down the steep hillsides.
The hills surrounding Doubtful Sound were not quite as steep or dramatic as those at Milford Sound, but the area was obviously much larger and much more remote and isolated. It was still spectacular and beautiful, but in a slightly softer way. Again, we were lucky enough to see fur seals and more of the Fiordland Crested Penguins.
Everywhere we looked were waterfalls tumbling down the hillsides into the fiord. Most of these waterfalls are apparently temporary, only appearing after there has been rain. In addition to a very informative nature commentary by the guides, the boat also showed a number of videos, including underwater footage of the marine life in the fiords. Next time we will have to dive there.
After 3 hours on the boat, we headed back to Deep Cove, where the buses were waiting. We headed back up to Wilmot Pass and took a detour to the Manapouri Power Station. There is a steep access tunnel leading down to the control room. This is the only road in New Zealand where you drive on the right. This is either because it allows you to see more clearly how close you are to the rock; or because it’s easier to teach Kiwis to drive on the right than to teach the American contractors (who helped build it) to drive on the left!
The power station was a large undertaking that was actually built by an Australian company. It was part of a deal to allow them to build an aluminium smelter, and it provides the power for the smelter, as well as making a small contribution to the national grid.
From the power station, we headed back across Lake Manapouri, where we had a good chat about the Department of Conservation with one of the guides, who had actually trained as a marine biologist, and so was very well informed about the local environment. He also had some interesting views on various conservation projects around New Zealand and the importance of getting buy-in from the local communities.
We had dinner in the same pub as the previous night, and managed to finish trying the rest of the 8 beers they had on tap.