You need to understand that it rained every day. The fjords get around 7m of rain a year (again, from memory, don’t quote me), so rain is to be expected. The forecast for Saturday just seemed particularly grim, however, so Duncan changed our Doubtful Sound cruise to Sunday and moved our “lying around doing nothing “ day to Saturday. No really. We had a day allocated to that. It poured sheets of rain all day, so that is precisely what we did. We entertained going on a three-hour hike, but let it get too late to leave thinking maybe it would clear (or least not pour quite as hard). We went and looked at some birds, and had a nice dinner (steak by a fireplace YAY), did a crossword at the coffeeshop, chatted with some friendly Minnesotans at the store, but basically did nothing. I kind of felt bad, but also not at all. Vacation!
Besides, the Doubtful Sound day trip more than made up for it.
Doubtful Sound is way bigger than Milford Sound, with more arms – some of which are wider, some of which narrow like Milford. It is also a titch harder to get to – you get a boat from the tiny town of Manapouri across Lake Manapouri, which takes about 50 minutes and is beautiful in itself, with lots of large islands and mountains almost everywhere on the horizon. You then get on a bus with a hilarious driver who takes you across this crazy road they built in the 1950s-60s to bring supplies in when constructing the Manapouri power station (a huge station built ‘round then, deep within a mountain, to harness power from Lakes Manapouri and Te Anau). I think the driver said that the road cost $1/cm. Something outrageous, anyway. It took maybe 30 minutes? I can’t remember how long the road was, but long enough to be expensive.
The drive is stunning, up, through, and then down the other side of mountains, with unfortunate (read: ridiculous) views along the way. With all the rain, there were plenty of waterfalls streaming off the mountains, gushing into the rich green ferns and sphagnum. The forests have a lot of beech, by the way, which is cool. The trees were just laden with moss; they looked like stuffed toys.
The boat ride on the Sound itself was about 3 hours, down several different arms and out to the Tasman. There was a little bit of snow-rain but not enough to keep us inside (all the time). It was clear enough to enjoy more peaks than we did on Milford, and the scenery was altogether nauseating (amazing). The sneaky dolphins didn’t appear, but there were seals and more ADORABLE PENGUINS swimming about (they only grow to 70cm!), plus the less-rare Blue Penguins, or Fairy Penguins, which grow to a whopping 40cm.
In one very still arm, the captain cut the engines for a couple of minutes so we could just float and listen to the waterfalls and bird song. It was all mist and fresh air and beauteousness. I almost lost my lunch.
When we finally left the hideous place, we stopped in on the power station before catching the ferry back across the lake. To get to the station, you drive 2km into a mountain. I’m not extremely claustrophobic, but I didn’t love it. Still, the station is a sight to behold. Engineering! Science!
The whole day was about 9 hours.
I’m not usually one to go in for tours. I hate being shuttled around, herded on to and off of buses with a bunch of other people. It doesn’t help that I generally hate people, especially those who seem to end up on tours. These two tours were totally worth it, however, and featured very few if any annoying people – the remoteness probably helps. If I had more time and could somehow afford it I’d love to go back and walk one of the big tracks and actually have time to let it settle in more; to take in the views. The one tiny, 30 minutes return walk we did to a big chasm managed to be completely breathtaking; I can only imagine what the longer, multi-day walks must be like. But for the time we had to spend, I have no regrets. You heard it here (probably not first) kids: Fjordland is HIGHLY recommended.