March 8, 2014
Doubtful Sound, not really a sound at all but a fiord, is one of the most spectacular in Fiordland National Park. While not the most easily accessible, if you have the time it is worth the journey in all but the worst weather.
The tour with Real Journeys starting at Manapouri, a 15 minute drive from Te Anau and the closest access point to the sound, involves an hour boat ride across Manapouri Lake followed by a 45 minute bus ride to reach the larger boat for the 3 hour cruise. On the way back they stop at the underground power station for about 45 minutes before completing the return bus/boat journey back to Manapouri.
Our morning started with heavy low clouds crossing Manapouri Lake and for the bus trip out.
As such we were completely unaware of the impressive valley views on either side of the bus.
While low clouds continued to hover about the mountain tops during the first part of the cruise, as we approach the Tasman Sea the sky opened to a brilliant blue. In any case, the interplay of clouds, sea and sun is a magical setting.
As we near open waters, the captain decides that the sea is calm enough that we can go out past the rocks that mark the entrance to Doubtful Sound or rather “fiord”. He explains that a fiord is a valley formed by a glacier while a sound is formed by a river.
Near the entrance to the sea seals sun themselves on the warm rocks.
On the way back up the sound the captain spots a pair of yellow crown penguins barely visible in the vast deep waters.
The dolphins, however, are much easier to spot. The native bottlenose is a large species with only about 60 remaining in the sound.
On the bus trip back to the power station we stop at the viewpoint overlooking the sound, now visible albeit against a backdrop of clouds. On the way over this view was nothing but white.
The bus then drives down a two kilometer tunnel to the underground power station which is an impressive operation that uses the water from Manapouri Lake, over 200 meters above the sound, to generate hydroelectric power.
The boat trip back over Manapouri Lake is in nearly full sun, quite the contrast from the morning’s trip over and a delightful end to a long but extraordinary day.