Milford Sound, New Zealand
Another brilliant day in Fiordland as we head down to the Sandfly Cafe to grab some breakfast before driving to Manapouri to check in for our Doubtful Sound overnight cruise aboard the Fiordland Navigator.
We are a little early so we catch some rays to warm up in the cold but sunny conditions. As we wait to board the ferry that will take us across Lake Manapouri to the Wilmont Power Station we notice some large brown trout swimming in the crystal clear waters under the jetty. Not long after our fellow shipmates start arriving so we size them up. There are about 10 tourists, 10 Real Journeys staff on a training run and no Japanese tourists……. given the boat sleeps seventy passengers, this should be a very pleasant journey.
On arriving at the power station we board a bus that will take us on a 50 minute trip across the Wilmont Pass on the most remote and expensive gravel road ever built in NZ at about $1,00 per cm. We soon reach the pass which is covered in thick snow and we stop at the lookout which offers our first peak of Doubtful Sound lying in the mist (this area is so remote it reminds us of the King Kong movie when they first approached the island as it emerged from the fog). We are informed that this area of the country has the highest rainfall in all of NZ but here we are today with beautiful sunshine.
It’s not long before we arrive at the wharf and catch our first glimpse of the Fiordland Navigator, a replica 3 masted trading scowl waiting for us to board. The crew of 8 give us a warm welcome aboard and lead us into the lounge to introduce everybody and brief us on our upcoming adventure. We are offered muffins and hot coffee before being shown to our cabins as the boat pulls away from the wharf.
The first thing we notice is that this sound is about 10 times the size of Milford and so desolate. Our first stop places us half way up Crooked Arm (an offshoot of the main sound) where the crew lower a tender boat and about 15 kayaks into the water. Debi and I choose the tender boat with a nature guide but we are surprised how many of the passengers opt for the kayaks. The experience was better than expected and on return they offered a 10 min break for hot soup and bread rolls or a chance for a swim if anybody wanted to submerge into the purest water in NZ. Surprisingly there was one passenger who went for a very chilling dip (he was from the Sunshine Coast in Queensland……… I always new that people from that place were crazy.
With everybody back on board we head out to the mouth of the sound and find out why Captain Cook named it so (looking in from the see the entrance is masked by islands and as such he sailed past, not quite sure if he should explore further).
We passed many fur seals basking on the rocks and many crayfish holding pots waiting for pick up by the commercial fisherman. Having read that the Fiordland Explorer sometimes serves crayfish for dinner I was waiting for a pick-up but no such luck. Debi payed me out, telling me that I must have been dreaming and owed her big time.
As the sun set we headed back into Crooked Arm and anchored in a mirror flat bay for the night. On gathering for dinner the chef introduced herself and the wonderful dished she had prepared for us. We then ordered some wine and tucked into a delicious smorgasbord and after dinner our nature guide put on an interesting slide show and we were all off to bed at around 10pm.
After a cosy and comfortable sleep followed by a hot refreshing shower and a change of clothes we had a scrumptious breakfast and headed into Hall Arm, one of the most spectacular arms of the sound. It was surrounded by high snow capped mountains, mirror image water and spectacular waterfalls. Being a nature cruise the boat cut all engines and anchored in a very picturesque bay so everybody could take in the serenity and listen to the stillness.
Twenty minutes later we were underway again and soon disembarked and bused and ferried our way back to Manapouri for the next leg of our journey.
I do think this trip is well deserving of a first place on anybodies bucket list.