31.12.2010 - 01.01.2011 19 °C
The morning arrives and our tent is dry (which feels like the first time in weeks). We hang around the campground until 11:30am taking pics and wandering about the strange collection of kiwi antiques until it is time to catch the Real Journey boat on Lake Manapouri. We are heading to Doubtful Sound, the second largest of the Fiordland National Parks 14 fiords. It is a very remote place, as you have to take a boat to get to the road leading into the fiord. We catch the boat leaving Pearl Harbour heading to the West Arm section of the Lake. Here the West Arm Power Station (an underground power house) was completed in 1976. Electricity is generated via water from Lake Manapouri which drops 230 m over 10 km on its way to Deep Cove, Doubtful Sound through an underground system excavated from the granite.
From West Arm a coach bus shuttles us over Wilmot Pass on the most expensive road in NZ. This road was required in order to build the power station and cost two dollars a centimetre. This road is also incredibly steep dropping 680 m over 8 km. Finally through the clouds appears Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound. From the coach bus we board the beautiful 50 m long cruise ship, the 'Navigator' for New Years (holding 80 people). Everyone is given a quick briefing on today's schedule before we are ushered to our bunks. We are located on the bottom level of this 3 level ship. There are even showers on this boat – which was unexpected as it is just an overnight, small cruise ship. Our ship pulls anchor and we smoothly head towards the Tasman Sea through Doubtful Sound (which is technically a fiord).
Shortly after leaving Deep Cove, the Captain announces that we are heading into Crooked Arm and we have the option of either kayaking or taking an interpretive nature cruise on a small boat. Julie and I want to take photos, so we opt out of kayaking and hop into the small motor boat to get a closer look around the fiord. In our eyes the weather is perfect despite the clouds and cool temperatures because it isn't raining and this is one of the world's wettest regions receiving 5.3 m of precipitation annually. Our nature guide takes us up close to cascading waterfalls, fur seals (one of which is a male which has recently lost a battle for territory with another male), native birds along the shores, and many other points of interest. As we are admiring the pristine and wild landscape a call comes over the radio that dolphins have appeared, so we scoot towards them for a closer look. We keep a good distance to prevent disturbing these graceful creatures and watch as approximately twenty bottlenose dolphins (including calves) playfully make their way in the same direction that we are headed. These dolphins are larger than those found in temperate or tropical habitats as they require more blubber to stay warm in these southern regions. The bottlenose dolphins in Doubtful Sound are living close to their ecological limit. The amazing display of dolphins holds everyone's attention until the time comes to board back onto the cruise ship.
Now it's time to go swimming! I feel the urge for a dip into the cool waters, so diving off the rail of the ship seems to be the best course of action. The water is stained the colour of tea from tanins and other organic matter from the rainforest floor through which the rainwater runs. This freshwater is less dense than the sea water and forms a layer about 8 m deep (depending on rainfall) on the surface that floats and mixes only partially with the salt. The waters here average a bracing 11 degrees Celsius. I dive into the black abyss and it is exhilarating, so much so that I do it twice!
Cloudy skies begin to part and the suns gleams through as we cruise past colonies of fur seals basking on various rocky islands and our vessel pokes it's nose into the fairly calm Tasman Sea (the sea located between NZ and Australia). The ship returns to calmer waters in Precipice Cove located at the end of Bradshaw Sound and dinner is soon to arrive so we head to the dining room. The dining room is enclosed by windows and it is difficult to draw the eye away from the surrounding wildlife and rainforest especially since a fur seal is putting on a show. It is tossing a fresh fish around in the water as sea gulls try to snatch small bites. Back inside the dining room the feast is fit for a king, or two skinny Canadians. We definitely eat our monies worth, tasting everything from roast turkey to raspberry cheesecake. A friendly pair of Dutch travellers make good dinner company and even better monopoly players later in the evening.
Midnight arrives quickly and everyone heads out onto the deck to watch fireworks being set off from another boat. It is an amazing display in this remote location. We ring in the New Year with flutes of champagne and more munchies before heading to bed.
I don't sleep a wink and get up at the crack of dawn, only laying in bed for a couple of hours. The waters are calm as the sun slowly rises from behind the towering walls of the Fiordland mountains into a cloudless sky. The cruise ship's engines start up at 6:30am and breakfast is served early. We eat like we've never eaten before as the ship makes a southern turn into Hall Arm. The landscape is so pristine, a wilderness like no other in NZ, untouched and unaltered by human influence. The rainforest is dense, growing in the absence of soil. Beneath the trees, vines, and ferns are mosses and lichens clinging onto the smooth solid rock. The interlocking roots of the trees depend on the build-up of leaf mould for nutrients. It takes hundreds of years for the forests to grow this dense on such a steep and smooth rock face.
The Captain slows the ship to a crawl and finally stops dead in the calm waters reflecting the surrounding rainforest. Everyone is called to the deck and told to find a comfy place to be stationed for the next 10 minutes. The ship's engines are shut down to reveal true quietness never experienced before. Within our typical lives our ears receive a steady stream of noise from the time our alarm wakes us in the morning until we fall deep asleep at night. The quietness we experience in this incredibly remote part of the world is truly powerful. We reflect in silence on things we are grateful and fortunate for in our lives. This quiet moment in time passes too quickly and suddenly the ship's engines start up again and we make our way back to Deep Cove. The dolphins bid us a fond farewell before we dock and we thank the crew for an unforgettable voyage.
The clear blue skies make for excellent views of Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass as the bus climbs it's way up the steep road. Arriving back in Pearl Harbour after the cruise back across Lake Manapouri, we decide to head south to camp at Lake Hauroko. It is New Years day and being wise to every store being closed, we have already stocked our groceries for the coming days. Lake Hauroko's shores are teeming with sandflies but being off the beaten track, it should make for another quiet night. This is NZ's deepest lake and a sacred spot for the Maori. We relax by the water's edge after a short swim in the deep cooling waters.
The winds start to howl through the forest that surrounds us as dusk approaches. It is a very eery night listening to the heavy winds coming in gusts They seem to slowly seek out our tent through miles of forest. They get louder and louder the closer they get until their fingers grasp onto our tent shaking it wildly. I could not settle my imagination, thinking of supernatural Maori beings gusting their way around the lake. It is another sleepless night before heading off further south to the Catlins for a couple days.