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  • Day18

    Feb 8 - Doubtful Sound

    February 8, 2020 in New Zealand ⋅ ☀️ 0 °C

    We got to have a bit of a lie in (aka sleep in) today, not that my body clock seemed to know that. We weren’t leaving until 8:45 a.m. Since I had lots of time available, I demonstrated the pancake making machine in the breakfast room - twice. Our American friends say they have never seen such a contraption. Must be a west coast thing, because they are certainly in every Holiday Inn that we have stayed at on the east coast.

    We continued our journey south to the land of fiords. The day started with light rain, but the farther south we got, the more valiantly the sun shone. Linda, as usual, educated us about Lake Wakatipu that we skirted, about the Maori legends that explain the geological formations and about famous/infamous people who helped to shape the area. This area received a metre (40 inches) of rain over a 60-hour period just a few days ago. There was evidence of road damage, but blessedly, the road, which had been closed just two days ago, was open and ready for us. One of the interesting topics that she covered was the deer farming industry of New Zealand. NZ before man arrived had no mammals and therefore, no major threats to its native birds and forests and grasses. Man, unfortunately, introduced animals that ravaged the landscape. One such animal was the deer. 500 were imported and soon, their massive numbers had eaten their way through vast swaths of land. A government-sponsored deer cull had to be introduced which eventually pulled the numbers down to a manageable level. There is still deer hunting allowed - no quotas are issued. As long as you have a firearms license, you can take as many deer as you like. That process is keeping the numbers in control. A flourishing deer farming industry (just like cattle farming, but with deer) has been established with lucrative exports to Europe. Any deer that do escape the 6-ft high fences that surround the farms spend their time, not searching out the wilds, but searching how to get back in where its mates are and the food is plentiful.

    We eventually arrived in Manapouri, a little town on the shores of Lake Manapouri. We picked up our lovely boxed lunches and dined in the sunshine. It’s not particularly warm here, but it’s NOT raining. We are counting ourselves extremely fortunate to be just 2-3 days behind the monsoon rains. We gathered up the leftovers and offered them to our fellow ferry travellers - David and I were like a traveling food bank.

    The ferry ride was about 45 minutes. It brought us to a site dominated by the superstructure for a big underground hydro electric dam. It is the largest hydroelectric power station in New Zealand, and the second largest power station in New Zealand. Completed in 1971 despite loud and long controversy, Manapōuri was built to supply electricity to the Tiwai Point aluminium smelter near Bluff, some 160 km (99 mi) to the southeast. The station utilises the 230-metre (750 ft) drop between the western arm of Lake Manapouri and the Deep Cove branch of the Doubtful Sound 10 km (6.2 mi) away to generate electricity. The station is the largest hydro power station in New Zealand.

    We climbed on another bus - not as spiffy as what we have come to appreciate over the past two weeks - and travelled about 20 km over an unpaved road that brought us to Deep Cove - population of 2. Deep Cove sits at the far eastern point of Doubtful Sound which is actually a fiord because its deep valley was carved by a glacier. Captain Cook got close to the entrance to Doubtful Sound in 1770. He decided that he would not be able to sail his ship "The Endeavor" back out; he resisted entering the inlet and instead continued around the island, and hence, the name "Doubtful Sound". The unpaved road was put in to allow for the building of the hydro dam. The road is reputed to be the most expensive roads ever built in New Zealand. It now serves as the supply line for the tourism industry here. We stopped a couple of times on the bus drive to see wonderful waterfalls and to get a view of Doubtful Sound from high atop Wilmot Pass.

    This part of NZ is out of kilter these days because the only road to Milford Sound, a hugely popular destination, got washed out and isn’t expected to be repaired for at least another week. As a result, people are being diverted to Doubtful Sound and the bus/foot traffic is far, far heavier than usual.

    Our floating home for the next day is the Fiord Navigator. The ship can hold 72 passengers plus crew. Today, we have 66 passengers. A couple of days previously, we were each issued a black cloth bag - like a reusable grocery bag - and told to pack what we needed in that plus a knapsack. The rooms on the ship are SMALL and not designed for stashing jumbo suitcases. That packing session took a bit of planning and head scratching.

    After a safety talk, we got to see our rooms. My room is about 8’ x 12’ and that includes a broom-closet sized bathroom. It’s got a double bed and nice-sized windows. It's only missing Doug. We set sail almost immediately. We are in Fiordland National Park, the largest of NZ’s 14 national parks. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The southern ranges of the Southern Alps cover most of Fiordland National Park and combined with the deep glacier-carved valleys present a highly inaccessible landscape.

    Courtney, one of the crew members, kept up a running commentary about what we were seeing as we cruised westward towards the Tasman Sea. The forests around us are temperate rain forests - thick with mosses, ferns and beech trees. Everywhere, there were waterfalls. The gnarled, moss-covered trees look like something out of Lord of the Rings.

    Despite the light rain, most of us took the opportunity to go out in a tender boat for a closer look at the water, the shoreline and the vegetation. Some brave souls (Jennifer, David and Bob included) did the same trip by kayak.

    On return, the staff served soup to warm our chilled bones. By this point, we were almost out at the Tasman Sea. We pounded through some heavy waves and were rewarded for hanging on tightly by getting to watch a huge seal colony on the rocks. There were some young ones who put on a good show for us.

    Dinner was excellent - I can’t imagine the logistics that Jorge, the chef, has to go through to feed that many people in a kitchen the size of our living room.

    After dinner, Courtney gave a 30-minute talk about Doubtful Sound and its wonderful birds.

    Time for bed - it’s been a long day of seeing more of beautiful New Zealand.
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