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Cruise on Doubtful Sound (part 1)

Monday 9th November 2015

sunny 17 °C

This morning I had mixed feelings as I was looking forward to our overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound but was still quite disappointed and irritated by the mix up with our booking. We got up early and finished packing the last few bits for our trip. We would be leaving our large bags at Manapouri and all we needed with us was a change of clothes and toiletries. We then made the short walk down to the Real Journeys office and checked in. Our coach was really comfortable with seats slightly angled out to give better views out the large windows. We travelled alongside the very scenic Lake Wakatipu until we reached a section of road known as the Devil's Staircase.

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The driver pulled over and we were able to get out and take in the view back up the valley. By the time we had reached the end of the lake the weather had thickened, which shouldn't have boded well for our cruise later in the day. Fortunately we knew about the inversion layer which often occurs in the area when cold air is trapped beneath warmer air. This normally only lasts a few hours and can result in clearer weather later on. The farmland of Queenstown gave way to a wilder more native landscape with hillsides full of red tussock grass and heather.

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We stopped at a Scientific Reserve which is protected because of its ancient dwarf bog pine forests. As we were walking to the viewing platform we had great views of the snow capped mountains that mark the edge of Fiordland, which certainly started to raise my expectations and excitement for the day to come. By this time we were only about ten minutes from Manapouri where we got off the bus leaving our fellow passengers to continue on their journey to Milford Sound. We only had a short wait until we were able to board the boat that was going to take us across Manapouri Lake.

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Although the weather had improved it was still quite windy and pretty chilly and the crossing took about 45 minutes. We knew we were nearing the other side of the lake when the large hydro-electric power station came into sight. Some of the people on the boat were going for a tour there and the rest going on two or three different cruises.

We got on one of two real journeys buses and with our fellow passengers made the twenty minute or so drive across the Wilmot Pass towards Doubtful Sound. We were quite lucky because not that long ago the road was washed away after heavy rain. People were having to get off buses and walk across to another set on the other side of the river. Fortunately when we were there the road repairs were advanced enough for the bus to get across.

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We stopped once to look at the view towards the Sound, and we were also able to see a number of large waterfalls some of which are temporary after rain and others present all year round. There is a steep descent on the gravel road from the top of the pass into Deep Cove where the boat was moored and it was good to get there and be able to board the Fiordland Navigator.

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We still had mixed feelings as were weren't sure what our cabin was going to be like. As we suspected it was down in the bowels of the boat. We were fortunate in a way in that we had been given the family room with a small en-suite, whereas there were others that were in shared bunk rooms with communal bathrooms. However they had either booked late or chosen to have cheaper tickets and we had done neither. The crew were brilliant and even arranged for me to be able to see and take photos of one of the cabins we should have had, so that we could use them when making a case with our agent. Once we had sorted this out we vowed to put the accommodation issues behind us for now and concentrate on enjoying the trip.

Once we had travelled a way into the Sound we had the choice of either going kayaking or in a tender, which given the temperature of the water is what we decided to do. A crew member took us close the the sheer walls of the flooded glacial valley and told us about some of the flora and fauna.

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Once we were back on the boat a few brave souls went for a swim and then we were all served a warming bowl of soup as it was going to be a couple of hours before dinner. We then continued up Doubtful Sound towards the open sea. The scenery was stunning with the steep green hillsides with massive waterfalls, fed from lakes high on the peaks, that poured into the deep blue waters below.

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At one point some bottle nosed dolphins swam alongside the boat, and once we reached the Tasman Sea we also saw small penguins and fur seals. It was quite choppy when we were in open waters and a few of us got a bit wet from the spray. The sails were put up for a while, assisted by a bit of engine power.

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We then made our way back into the Sound as the sun went down and we made our way towards our mooring for the night.

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Dinner was buffet style and all the food was delicious. It was nice sitting and chatting with different people from around the world although there was as there was a party of Swedish people numbering over twenty and they all sat together on reserved tables which sadly meant that they didn't mix much. After dinner the naturalist on board gave us a presentation on the wildlife and geography of the area and and we then went up on deck to look at the stars but it despite being about 10pm it still wasn't quite dark enough. Shortly after we went to our cabin hopeful, but not necessarily anticipating, a good nights sleep.

Posted by Gill's Travels 23:28 Archived in New Zealand Tagged new_zealand doubtful_sound

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