Plan for the day
We would be visiting Doubtful Sound (fiord) on a Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise organised by Real Journeys. The entire trip was expected to last 7 to 8 hours. By afternoon we should be back at Manapouri. For the rest of the day we did not have anything plan, if the morning trip was not too tiring we might do some exploration around Manapouri. For the night we would be staying at the same Manapouri Motel and Holiday Park.
By end of the day
By about 2.30 pm we were back at Manapouri. The cruise was a relaxing experience and we were not tired at all at the end of the cruise. One of the reasons could be that we did not have to wake up very early this morning to arrive at the jetty 20 minutes before 8 am. Our motel was only a 5 minutes drive to the jetty!
After the cruise, we did not return to our Manapouri motel to rest, instead we drove to Te Anau town for lunch and some marketing. In the evening we were back at our motel where I cooked a simple dinner.
Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise
Real Journeys organised several different types of visits/cruises to Doubtful Sound. It took me a long while to convince myself to sign us up for its “Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise“. The cost was NZD $260 per person, at this price it was still the cheapest among several of its Doubtful Sound cruises.
The Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise started with a boat ride crossing Lake Manapouri bringing us to West Arm. At West Arm we were transported across the fiordland by a bus crossing Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove. At Deep Cove we boarded a larger catamaran that brought us to Doubtful Sound sailing all the way to the Tasman Sea. After that the catamaran looped back and returned to Deep Cove where we boarded a bus to West Arm and boat across Lake Manapouri again.
Many years ago we had visited Milford Sound cruise, on a two hours cruise. From my reading up I knew that Doubtful Sound was much larger than Milford Sound. But how different was Doubtful Sound compared to Milford Sound? Was it worth a visit? Was it worth paying NZD $520 for two of us?
Real Journeys offered overnight cruise which included staying in Doubtful Sound through the night, I supposed the experience would be very different but the cheapest cost was NZD $445 per person (four to a room on a boat), definitely way beyond our budget. So no matter how tempting the overnight cruise seemed I just could not sign up for it.
I had bought our cruise tickets online one month before our departure to the South Island. I did think of purchasing the tickets only after arriving at Manapouri but was worried about their availability. Real Journey’s cancellation and refund policy, full refund with 48 hours notice prior to departure, did play a part in encouraging me to make the advance purchase.
Manapouri to West Arm
We arrived at the Real Journeys office/jetty at 7.40 am. We picked up our tickets and was directed to the jetty to wait for boarding. The staff distributed lunch packs for those that had placed the lunch order. We did not as we had already eaten a heavy breakfast that would last us till mid afternoon. At 8.00 am sharp we boarded a small catamaran and set off.
Real Journeys’ Jetty and Launch
The sky was gloomy and downcast as we crossed Manapouri Lake. Such weather was expected as this region of the South Island had one of the highest annual rainfall. Crossing the lake took about 50 minutes. We were on our way to West Arm of Lake Manapouri. This lake had many arms (channels) and they were named according to the directions they pointed. So beside a West Arm there was a South Arm and a North Arm.
About 10 to 15 minutes into the crossing we lost all telco signal from “Spark” so that was the end of all internet surfing. Looking at Vodafone signal on our other phones the signals were still strong and steady, unfortunately we did not have a data sim card from Vodafone so we were totally cut off from internet.
I went up to the staff at the boat cafeteria to check if there was free wifi on the boat and sadly was told that wifi was only for staff’s use. So sad to think that Real Journeys was still not up-to-date enough to provide free wifi to their guests.
We went up to the open deck to have a better look at the lake and its surrounding. Though the sky was downcast the scenery was still very lovely. The sun rays from behind the large clouds created many silver linings in the sky, similarly on the horizon where the water met the dark mountains there was a shimmering streak of silvery water.
As we got closer to West Arm, we saw several water falls. Some straight, some crooked mostly thin streaks of water coming out from the mid level of the slopes.
At West Arm we saw many pylons and suspended cables. Apparently Manapouri Power Station, an underground hydroelectric power station was built on the fiordland. These man made structures spoiled the natural beauty of the place!
Ironically this ugly man made structures were also the reason that made Doubtful accessible to tourists today. Doubtful sound used to be inaccessible to tourists. During the construction of the Manapouri Power Station, a road (Wilmot Pass) was constructed to link Deep Cove and West Arm to facilitate the construction of the Power station.
West Arm to Deep Cove
At West Arm there was a Visitor Center with some exhibits showing the construction process of the hydroelectric plant. It was drizzling so we sought shelter at the visitor center while we waited for a bus to bring us to Deep Cove through Wilmot Pass.
At 9 am, two buses arrived and we piled into them. Our driver, John, was also a wonderful guide. The bus took about 30 minutes to reach Deep Cove. During the 30 minutes journey John frequently pointed out the many waterfalls on the left side or right side of the bus. Unfortunately the bus was fully pack so it was not easy to have a good view of the sights that John pointed out.
At Deep Cove we boarded a larger catamaran and were on our way to explore Doubtful Sound! On board, tea and coffee were free and we could have as many rounds as we wanted. We spent most of our time on the open deck where the wind was strong and cold, so it was good to occasionally slip back into the glass sheltered sitting area for a cup of hot beverage.
Eve was the driver and guide of the other bus and she was our commentator for the Doubtful Sound journey. She was a very knowledgeable guide and her broadcast commentary was very informative. She frequently drew out attentions to the various landmarks and wild lives along the way. It was fun staying on the open deck, at times the wind was very strong, so strong that I could hardly stand properly, it was fun fighting against the wind!
Beside our catamaran we did not see any other vessels on the water until we saw a triple mast three level large sail boat. That was the boat that brought tourists out to the sound for the overnight cruise and it was on its way back to Deep Cove.
Half of the guests stayed in the sheltered sitting area most of the time as they preferred to enjoy the view that could be seen through the large glass windows. It was only when Eve mentioned wild life sightings would most guests came onto the open deck.
By about 10 am the drizzle stopped and the sky cleared up. So we continued our cruise with bright blue sky and huge white cloud. We were lucky to see Doubtful Sound in the “downcast sky” situation and in the “blue bright sky” situation. Both were beautiful in their own ways.
I somehow preferred the “downcast sky” look, it created a bluish grey surrounding that evoked a melancholy longing mood in me. Longing for something which I had no idea of. I just stood on deck staring out, hypnotised by this strange vastness that went on and on. When sky brightened everything came alive, even the guests chatted and moved around more often. To me the fiord lost its mysterious quality and did not look special any more.
The boat took us all the way up to the Tasman Sea that was where the the Sound ended and the open ocean began. The waves were very strong and when they rocked the boat hard Eve told all the guests to return to the sheltered hall, till it was safe to come back to the deck.
Near the Tasman sea we saw a couple of huge rock islands and they were populated by a colony of seals. Everybody was excited as these were the second type of wild lives we saw on this cruise. Seals were definitely cuter than birds!
At another location, Eve pointed out a penguin nest. It was not easy to spot the penguin as there were only two and they were pretty tiny. The nest was in a rock cavern and soon the penguins hopped in and were out of sight.
Just when we were least expected, a tourist beside me pointed out to a pair of dolphins swimming near the water edge. They were bottle nose dolphins and they were having fun frolicking in the water.
During one part of the return journey, the skipper steered the boat to a section of the Sound and turned off the engine of the boat for whole five minutes. Eve told everybody to kept quiet and listen. SILENCE was what we were listening. It was very quiet, no water lapping sound, no creature calls, no vehicle sound. It was pleasantly quiet not a deafening silence.
We were back at Deep Cove near 1 pm, though the entire “Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise” was 7 – 8 hours long, that part that was on the Doubtful Sound water was only half of that.
On the return trip across Wilmot Pass we were driven to a higher ground where we got a panoramic view of Doubtful Sound. We felt that Doubtful Sound certainly looked most beautiful at this high angle. It was a view to treasure in our memory forever.
Return to Manapouri
Six and a half hours earlier we were at West Arm Visitor Center, now we were back again. The place and its surrounding looked totally different from that seen this morning. The sky was bright and sunny! We were only too happy to stay out of the center and wandered near the jetty waiting for our boat to arrive.
The Doubtful Sound Wilderness Cruise came to an end when we reached Manapouri at about 2.30 pm. The last part of the journey crossing Lake Manapouri was very boring and I spent my time regretting having purchased the Spark data sim card because like before there was no signal!
On our way to the motel we drove down to Manapouri waterfront. It was beautiful but the sun was too hot to come down for a stroll so we drove on. Unlike Lake Te Anau, Lake Manapouri was devoid of activity and visitor.
Pies at Lake Te Anau
We drove up to Te Anau town for lunch. While seeking out for a eatery we came upon this pie shop, Miles for Pies. This shop was along the main street and faced the lake front. It was the lovely smell of its pies that drew me into the shop.
There were no pies on displayed as the pies were still being baked in the oven in the kitchen behind a cashier counter. A pretty young girl at the counter was taking orders.
The menu showed a variety of meat pies. Beef, venison, bacon, steak. The pies were about NZD $6 each. We ordered two steak pies and sat down at a table outside the shop to wait.
Finally the pies were out of the oven and we collected ours. Surprising the moment the pies were ready, many customers started coming into the shop to purchase the pies. How did they know that the pies were done?
We loved the pies, they were huge, the meats were tender and juicy and the crusts of the pie were hot and crispy. Yummy Yummy!
I would love to go for another pie but did not want to spoil my dinner as it was already 4.30 pm in the afternoon.
Home Cook Dinner in our Motel
We bought fresh salmon from the supermarket at Te Anau and baked it with onions, yellow capsicum and ham in the oven. For seasoning, I added some vinaigrette and mixed herbs which I bought early in the trip. The vinaigrette provided me oil, vinegar and herbs, it was a small bottle and should last me for the entire trip. The mixed herbs came in a small package and consisted of theme, sage and marjoram which nicely intensified the taste of whatever I cooked. I also found it very useful to line patchment/cooking paper in the baking tray or cooking pot while cooking. As firstly it blocked my food from the remnant stains that were stuck in the tray or pot and secondly it made washing up so much easier.
Dinner was lovely and delicious and took no more than 30 minutes to prepare and cook. We had one main dish (salmon and bacon) and a huge plate of salad and apples. Our home cooked dinner was so much cheaper than dining out.
After dinner it was about 8 pm and we still had plenty of time watching the sun set from the windos of our motel.