Doubtful Sound – Tuesday 21st February 2012


As often happens, when I have to get up early, I don’t sleep well. I can never work out why this is. Is it excitement, anticipation, or some mis-cued autopilot going off too early? Anyway, today we pack our overnight bag, and leave the rest with the car, at the motel. For today we are going on an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound.
The journey is very much part of the experience, but as with most trips, it begins with a pick up from the motel in a coach.
Important background reading
Lake Te Anau feeds Lake Manapouri but has its water level strictly regulated under government legislation. Lake Manapouri feeds the hydo-electric power station which provides all the electricity for the aluminum smelting at Bluff. Once the water has turned the turbines it runs through a long tunnel out to Doubtful Sound.

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This is all a key feature of the area and runs as a sub- plot to the whole day!
The coach takes us from Te Anau to Lake Manapouri, where we board a boat up to the power station. There are lots of different tours using this boat, so it feels a bit crowded, especially as we have booked our cruise on the Southern Secret because it only holds a maximum of 12 passengers.
Many of these tours stop to tour the power station, but we, eight, get on another coach, well minivan.
So why is it so important I explain about the power station? Well, everything needed to build this power station had to be brought in by boat to this point, and then they had to build a new road from the far edge of Lake Manapouri to Doubtful Sound which has sea access, so large equipment could come in that way and to support the project.
Now, of course, they no longer need the road but it has been seen as a wonderful tourism opportunity. Most coaches grind their way up the steep road, visit the tunnels and take the day trippers to cruise on Doubtful Sound.
‘The Southern Secret’ is wonderful! A luxury motor cruiser with a galley kitchen that many houses would appreciate, and spacious en suite cabins. It really is very comfortable.
While we wait for new gas bottles to arrive, we spot 12 dolphin and before long set of to join them. They play and leap, and as we approach five decide to swim under our bow. They stay for some time and I am captivated by them.

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We cruise towards the sea and eat our packed lunch, which is enormous, and before long we see more dolphin. They stay for a slightly shorter time, clearly we are not very entertaining for them and they set off on their own adventures.
Doubtful Sound is very rare, very green. It’s raining for much of the day but it has a different feel to Milford Sound. For one thing it is clearer, less mist! It’s calmer, more remote and far less traffic on it. We rarely see another boat.
After a time we stop engines and Ken, John and I choose to kayak off the back of the boat. We are in single kayaks and I find it hard to keep up with the men (I didn’t say that!) but it was brilliant to feel so intimate with the scenery.

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As soon as we are back on board, we find the others fishing. I am quick to pick up a line and others seems thrilled to be able to show me what to do. Actually it seemed very simple, casts line overboard, wait three seconds, feel something bend the rod, pull and hey presto! Trouble was I couldn’t stop laughing! (I think it helped that the captain used radar to find the shoal of fish in the first place!)

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Huge eyes! Ugly brute! Not really very big! Nasty fins! Altogether we catch about 12 of these, which are cooked for our dinner.
Dinner seems a peculiar mix! There are these Jock Stewart fish, a massive crayfish, chicken, lamb…

The crayfish, which I named Herbert, was already on board when we arrived. He was sitting in a large bucket, looking none too happy. Jamie our host, picked him up to show us but his back was thorny and he managed to get to the floor, where he danced a hornpipe, flapping his segmented tail and careering backwards.

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Now I did not realize that crayfish got to be so big. They said he might be 20 years old! Nor did i know they drowned in fresh water. You can also stab them in the head, or throw them into boiling water, but if you try the latter, be careful because they can, quite rightly protest violently against this treatment and flick water onto you with their powerful tail. Herbert was drowned in the sink.
Anyway he was incredibly tasty, especially his legs.
So first course was hors d’oeuvres of cheese, then we had fish, which we knew was very fresh, then chicken and lamb. For dessert we had meringue with fruit and cream. Amazing!

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We were an intriguing group, and you’d doubt, initially if we would get on well, but we did! A group of friends, retired biology professors, who had worked together in their lab, having attended Cambridge, their wives. All very well travelled and fascinating conversation. Then a couple from Essex, who had a very different education background but were more streetwise. All of us were retired. Over the course of 24 hours we got on very well and enjoyed each others company.
But how interesting, only one said they sometimes woke in the morning, strolled over to the TV and instantly felt tired. I want to avoid this at all costs!

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