Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Doubtful Sound

The Glaciers aren’t actually the area closest to Antarctica as you might think. The most southern part of NZ is the Fiordland.  What is a fiord?  Daniel kept asking me and I didn’t know, but we eventually had someone explain it to us.  It’s a very deep body of water that has been carved out by a glacier that connects to the sea.  Most people go to this area to see Milford Sound and take a day cruise through that particular fiord.  However, if you research it further, Doubtful Sound is much bigger and generally agreed upon as the better trip.  It’s just further away and more expensive.  I found a company that was running an off season special a few days before that, so we decided to do Doubtful. 

It still took us most of the day just to get to our hostel in Te Anau.  We stopped at a little turnout and sat on the side of a mountain and ate our packed sandwiches alongside this fantastic river:

We got up early to catch our bus.  It would be a day of transportation changes.  The company we did the tour with picked us up at the hostel in one bus and drove us to Manapouri, the next town over.  Then we all got on two small boats and crossed Lake Manapouri.  It was cold, but I ducked out of the boat a second to get a picture:

Our tour guide was also our bus driver and boat captain.  He told us that believe it or not, he hadn’t seen the Lord of the Rings movies, but he did know a few of the places on the Lake that they had done filming.  He pointed out the mountain where Frodo got stabbed.  Since I have only seen the movies once, I didn’t really remember it, but several of members of our tour were excitedly snapping pictures of it.  Once across the lake, we stopped at the West Arm Power Station, a huge hydroelectric station that supplies 14% of NZ power.  It’s also the reason that you can visit Doubtful Sound at all.  The electric company tunneled through the mountain and built the Wilmont Pass Road the tour buses take to get to Doubtful.  Here’s the station, which they took us through:

To get to it, our guide drove our bus through a tunnel and did some very impressive backing and turning.  He had maybe two inches of clearance on either side.  We actually clapped and cheered for him.  Then he drove us over the pass, which is very, very steep.  He even stopped and let us get a picture of the Sound while we were still high up:

That’s just Doubtful Sound until its first bend.  It goes much further, all the way out to the Tasman Sea.  Doubtful Sound gets about 7 meters of rain a year, so they tell you to bring a poncho and expect to get wet.  You often don’t really get to get further than that first bend because of the weather.  We were very lucky and had a beautiful day, so go to go all the way to the Tasman, which they said they hadn’t been able to do for over a month.  It was a few hours of lovely views like this:

It was very windy and cold, though, as you can see from our pictures:

We were also fortunate enough to make our way past another seal colony.  It was still hard to pick them out from the rocks.  There's two there, a mom on the kelp in the bottom left, and a pup already on the rock:

We were almost back when we had the real treat.  The guide said he had only seen this a handful of times himself.  One of the crew had a very keen eye and spotted a speck of white under a bush.  We had almost decided he was mistaken and were going to finish heading back, when they emerged:  Fiord Crested Penguins, the second most rare penguin in the world. 

I thought they were infinitely more entertaining that the mountain Frodo was stabbed on J

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