Friday, 23 December 2016

Doubtful Sound

Back in Te Anau, and with a very sore bottom, I was waiting for a weather window again so I could kayak Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful Sound was actually given its name by Captain Cook, who doubted it would be navigable by sail.  This was because he thought the wind rarely blew from the East in New Zealand (it is usually a Westerly or North-Westerly) making it doubtful one could exit the Sound after entering the depths of it.

Doubtful Sound is actually much bigger than Milford Sound, but one could argue slightly less spectacular.  However, Doubtful Sound has a wilderness quality to it.  It really is out of reach for the average traveller.  It's a long journey to get there, with few accommodation options, if any, once you are there.  As a result, a trip there gives you a sense of wild New Zealand you perhaps might not get at Milford Sound.  This is precisely why I chose to kayak there and camp overnight in the forest.

Doubtful Sound in cloud looked spectacular.

The Sound in clear conditions was probably more photogenic, but when there in person, the cloud really added to the atmosphere.

Again, I was fortunate enough to do this trip early in the season, before getting overly-popular.  It was easy to book at late notice, which was handy because I could check the weather forecast and not go on blind faith that the weather would be OK.  The weather had been unpredictable in this part of New Zealand even a week in advance, a couple of days out was usually okay.

The team.

I was joined on the trip by two Taiwanese chaps, who were brothers, one living in Queenstown.  They were great fun and very personable.  As well as our guide - a young Kiwi - a German girl made up the rest of the party.  It was a small group, perfect.

They were good fun, the brothers Taiwan.

I was picked-up from Te Anau and it was a short drive to Manapouri, then a 45 minute ferry ride across Lake Manapouri, and then a bus ride across to the Sound that took an hour and a half on a very rough road, hardly surprising given its remoteness.

The first day was cloudy, but in a very mystical and beautiful way.  The bus stopped at the top of a mountain pass and a magnificent view of the Sound, part draped in cloud, was laid-out before us.  The same view the next day was absolutely clear, but the cloud on day one made it seem like an almost fairytale place.  In fact, much of New Zealand feels this way to me, journeying through has a fantasy-land aura about it.

I'm not much of an adrenalin-seeker, but I do like an adventure, so kayaking seemed to fit this bill.  I had cycled, hiked, and run my way around New Zealand, but hadn't travelled under my own steam on water.

On each day, we were to kayak for about 5 hours, and it was surprising how tiring this was, it definitely caught-up with me.  It was a peaceful experience in pristine wilderness, and the vast majority of the time it was only our group out there.  On occasion we were to be joined by curious dolphins and Fjordland penguins swimming in the water.  The dolphins would surface right alongside our kayaks, interested in the novelty of them.

On top of the penguins and the dolphins, even before we entered the water as we packed the canoes on shore, a baby seal waddled out of the water along the beach of stones and into the trees.  We were all concerned, as it was without its mother, but apparently this is quite normal behaviour for seal pups.  I was never aware that seals ever ventured into the forest, let alone baby seals doing it on their own.

Our home for the night, in the forest with the sandflies.

We camped in one of the few flat areas of forest available in the Sound, nestled within the trees, it was quite difficult to find and once we were there absolutely swarming with sandflies.  The main communal tent had seats and a net around it, but still a few made their way in.  It was not for those without a sense of adventure or a tolerance for discomfort, for sure, but made for a great experience.

Looking out from camp at the end of day one.

After a bit to eat, it was time to hit the hay inside our tents.  My watch had stopped working that day, so I had no idea when to get up.  I would normally rise with the sun, but I wanted to be up a little before sunrise.  With this in mind, I woke up at a time that I felt was right and had some breakfast while looking at the Sound and the stars in the darkness.  As it turned out, I reckon I still had a few hours until sunrise, goodness knows what time it actually was.

Our camp was some distance away from where we needed to get back to, and with a little more exploration, we paddled at a reasonable speed, first to a gorgeous sandbank for a food stop, and then back to the canoe shed.

Not a bad place for a cup of tea and some scroggin.

The group had been a chatty bunch for most of the trip, but now everyone was strangely silent because we were simply exhausted and bugged-out by sandflies.  It came as a relief to get on the bus and away from those little blighters.  Still, it was an exceptional trip, and yet again a tourist activity that never felt like I was a tourist at all. In this day and age, it would seem improbable that one could go to a place so beautiful and it be so quiet and unspoiled by visitors.  It was a real privilege to bear witness to such natural splendor once again.

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