First encounter with Doubtful Sound

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The day after my visit to Milford Sound, I wake up with a completely opposite weather compare to yesterday morning. It’s pouring and the sky is completely overcast. I had in mind to enjoy my second day in Te Anau walking around the village and the lake but it seems that I need to revise my plans. I take my breakfast watching the rain fall when Jill gets a call. It’s Alan, gone to work early, that offers to take me to accompany him during the day. He works at the Tracknet company (Fiordland transport company) in Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park and must bring linen / dairy utensils / food etc on a boat, Southern Secret, belonging to the Holiday Park and doing cruises on the Doubtful Sound! Doubtful Sound is another fjord in the region, much larger, wilder and less accessible that Milford Sound. You can imagine, of course I agree ! The ability to see the fjord for free is a golden opportunity! Alan picks me thirty minutes later with a minibus full of things to put on the boat. We go to the Lakeview Holiday Park to take Clint, the owner of the park, the Tracknet society and the boat and we head on to Manapouri, a small village south of Te Anau along Lake Manapouri, the entrance door to reach Doubtful Sound. Along the way I talk to Clint and I tell him that I work in the farm of Alan’s daughter until late September and that I’m looking for work after that. Clint tell me that his looking for people to work in his park as housekeeper or in the Tracknet company! I tell him that I am really interested.

After passing through hills and meadows, we arrive at Manapouri and I saw the lake, very large and the snowy mountains of the National Park. We reach a tiny port where Piopiotahi is located, a small boat used to make the crossing of the lake. Piopiotahi is the Maori name for Milford Sound. The Maori name of Doubtful Sound is Patea. Clint has another boat with this name. I meet two other employees, in their sixties, seventies, very friendly and bring under the rain the stuffs on the boat. Sheets, duvets, pillows, kitchenware, food, cleaning materials and a very small boat with paddles. I sit in the boat and we’re off!
With the team - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Reaching Doubtful Sound

Crossing the lake is impressive especially with the overcast. It’s very dark and mountains and small islands appear at times in the fog. It’s quite extraordinary. The atmosphere is cold and wet and the place exude something quite unreal. I spend the beginning of the crossing on the outside deck taking pictures and enjoying the scenery but the boat is speeding and it becomes difficult to stay balanced. And it is damn cold. I take refuge in the warm cabin and listen my four kiwi companions discuss between them.Lake Manapouri - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldWe take an hour to cross the lake and reach the shore of West Arm, the western arm (obviously) of the lake. On one side of the arm is a small hydroelectric plant. Employees must cross the lake every morning and evening to reach the factory or going back to their home. We dock at a small pontoon where other boats belonging to other cruise companies are also docked. You can do a day cruise, an overnight cruise (two days with a night in the fjord), or multiple days cruises in Doubtful Sound. It is also possible to kayak (1 day, 2 days, 5 days …). A big boat is preparing to go back to Manapouri. I see the passengers boarding. They spent several days in the fjord. They look a little tired. Or depressed by the rain. We unload our stuffs to load them back into a minivan. And we continue our journey.

To reach Doubtful Sound from West Arm, you have to cross Wilmot Pass. Forty-five minute ride on a small gravel road climbing the mountain to reach a pass and going down on the other side to arrive at Deep Cove, the start of Doubftul Sound. During the ascent to the pass, which is done quite slowly, the slope being steep and the vehicle loaded, it begin to snow! My companions discussing problems related to tourism: a big tourism company, Real Journey, is swallowing all the small companies and is taking all visitation rights in the Fiordland National Park. Real Journey has recently acquired the road maintenance rights on which we drive, which means that very soon other companies wishing to use the road will have to pay a fee. Of course, other companies, including Clint’s one, doesn’t like that, and believe that the road should be managed by the government or the DOC (Department Of Conservation, which is responsible for the cultural and natural heritage of new Zealand) and not by a private tourism company.

We meet some Wekas on the way! Large native birds that can’t fly and very curious. They are endangered species. The descent is impressive (especially as the road is not wide) with a nice aerial view of the beginning of the fjord. We are reaching Deep Cove where there is a small port and a hostel. Almost all the children of Te Anau come spend a holiday camp in the hostel to experience NZ nature, flora and fauna. Lucky ! We park our vehicle near the Southern Secret, the small cruise ship moored in the cove. Some other small boats are present (fishing and cruise) and a large ship with three masts, the Fiordland Navigator belonging of course to Real Journey.

Short time in Deep Cove

A small path descends into the cove to reach the pontoon where the Southern Secret is docked. Despite the rain, the cove is beautiful. Lot of mist, the water perfectly still, multiple waterfalls, steep mountains and a very quiet atmosphere. The place is incredible. If I would describe Milford Sound as “beautiful”, I would give the adjective “powerful” to Doubtful Sound.

Deep Cove - Doubtful Sound - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Deep Cove - Doubtful Sound - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire Blumenfeld

Deep Cove - Doubtful Sound - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldWe unload our car, taking small steps to avoid slipping on the wet track. The bags being heavy, the task is a bit complicated. A weka appears for a second on the trail. Once all the bags are loaded on the boat, my companions scatter to start some engine repairs or start cleaning the kitchen. This is the first time in months that the team is back on the boat (no cruises during the winter) and they need to refurbish the boat because the tourist season is almost starting. Alan shows me the boat. The six bedrooms are below deck, with spacious bathroom. On deck is the cockpit, the chef’s kitchen and lounge. The boat also has an outdoor deck. Alan begins to tidy the kitchen that he knows well, having spent many years cooking on the boat. I go take pictures of the fjord. Me - Deep Cove - Doubtful Sound - Fiordland - New Zealand - © Claire BlumenfeldAfter a few seconds outside I begin to feel a small bite on my hand. First meeting with the sandflies! Small insect half-fly, half-mosquito, the sandfly is a thirsty for blood insect that lives near river/sea/lake. So you understand, the Sound Doubtufl is the perfect place for these tiny monsters. Attacking only if you stop moving (no worries if you walk), the sandflies strike in groups, like a swarm of vampires, on your entire body. Bites do not transmit any disease but cause lot of itching. I hurry to my pictures going back and forth on the deck to try to get rid of the sandflies. Of course, that doesn’t really work.

Once the kitchen is clear, we sit around a table to enjoy lunch consisting of toasts and pies. My Kiwi mates discuss about the cruise, team rotations and I appreciate this amazing opportunity that I have to be on the boat in the fjord. I have only one desire now : doing the overnight cruise to discover the full Doubtful Sound. But alas, I have to go back. Alan and the other two team members remain on the boat to spend the night and finish cleaning, Clint and I set off again in the opposite direction to return to Te Anau.

The return journey is very quiet. Clint and I discuss about a lot of things. We cross Wilmot Pass then boarding again on the boat to cross the lake. It’s late afternoon and miracle, the clouds finally clear up!

Back in Manapouri, we change transportation again to going back to Te Anau. Clint drop me in the center and I warmly thank him for allowing me to accompany him, Alan and the others during the day. I walk a little in the center of Te Anau (tiny main avenue with shops), my mind still dreaming about my day. The weather is perfect now! I found Julie and Isla and I go see in the cinema of the village (a room of 30 gigantic seats and the ability to order food and wine during the movie) accompanied by Isla, the documentary Ata Whenua. Thirty minutes presenting the Fiordland National park filmed from a helicopter. This is an opportunity to appreciate a landscape that I probably would never have the possibility to see otherwise. Isla seems to enjoy the movie, although thirty minutes is a bit long for her, but whispers comments to my ear every five minutes. The film is very nice, only with music but damn too short. Some images of the fjords seen from the sky are absolutely gorgeous.

Back home where we eat all together (except Alan, stayed on the boat), very good pizzas. Alas, it’s time to leave Te Anau and Fiordland since we must go back to the dairy farm to resume work tomorrow early morning. The return is done at night and I doze, memories in my mind, telling myself that after my stay at the farm, it’s direction Fiordland to do hiking and enjoy the scenery! I will also try with everything I have to apply for a job in Clint’s Holiday Park. Having a job in Te Anau would be the best way to enjoy the wonders of Fiordland.

Note: all pictures published in this article are my creations. They are not royalty free. Thank you for not using them without permission.