Our bus driver, Sean, was a mine of useful and interesting information. No doubt all of the nuggets that he passed on to us had been delivered to his passengers on hundreds, if not thousands, of previous occasions, but it was all new to us – so you’ll have to excuse me if I feel the need to share some of them with you too.
Unless you want to spend weeks wandering on foot through the forests, or you’ve won the pools and can afford to take a helicopter or seaplane, the only way to get to Doubtful Sound is by a 50 minute boat journey from Manapouri. The journey takes you to West Arm where, between the late 50s and early 70s the New Zealand government spent 40 million dollars burying a hydro-electric power station 230m down in the heart of a granite mountain in order to capture the force of the lake water as it rushes down into Doubtful Sound and then on towards the Tasman Sea. The result is something that looks like the set from a 1970s James Bond film whilst producing 14% of New Zealand’s electricity supply.
A 20 minute bus journey over an unmade road (according to Sean it cost $2/cm) takes you to Doubtful Sound (which it turns out is actually a fjord) and from there it’s another 90 minute boat journey out to the sea. According to Justin (who drove the boat and had almost as many nuggets to impart as Sean) the sound/fjord was named by Captain Cook who discovered the entrance but thought better of sailing in as he considered it ‘doubtful’ that he’d be able to sail out again. He would probably therefore have been a little surprised to have seen the 15 deck high cruise ship that weaved (wove?) its way between the islands just in front of us……..still, that’s 200 years of progress for you.
For once Denise’s wildlife jinx didn’t come into play and we had seals and bottlenose dolphins a plenty. Note to self: when taking picture of fast moving dolphins remember to set the shutter speed to something sensible. Ah well…… a fantastic day nonetheless.