Journal of a visit to New Zealand, via Singapore

The Land of the Long White Cloud
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This page last updated: 29th November 2005.
Day 15: Doubtful Sound Map

Day 15 After another takeaway breakfast from the Pop Inn Cafe we go down to Manapouri for our trip with Fiordland Travel to Doubtful Sound.

Having collected our picnic lunches, we wait on the pier for the boat. It takes us across Lake Manapouri to West Arm. There we transfer to a coach for the drive over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove.

Our driver, Ian Clearweather, gives us a very entertaining commentary on the way. Like a radio comic, he has a subtle wit and a pseudo-cynical drawl that is quite endearing. The road took over two years to build and is as much an engineering feat as the power station it serves. Ian stops at various points to enable us to view more closely the alpine mosses and other flora by the roadside, to photograph the sound from the top of the pass and observe the fast flowing Lyvia River.

At Deep Cove we leave the coach and board the catamaran Commander Peak for a cruise on Doubtful Sound. Although there is some cloud, it is not actually raining and there is plenty to see. Although given its name in 1773 by James Cook, the fjord (to give it its correct geographical classification) was unexplored until the Italian navigator Malaspina commanded a Spanish scientific expedition in 1793. His name is remembered in Malaspina Reach, the area between Hall Arm and Crooked Arm. It is here that we are joined by some bottlenosed dolphins who sail with us and provide a spectacular show jumping out of the water and somersaulting back.

As we approach the Tasman Sea, there are clear views of the Nee islets, named after the Spanish botanist, but we don't go close enough to see any seals. On the southern entrance, beyond Febrero Point are two rocks known as the Hare's Ears. The boat turns its back on the sea, but before reaching Deep Cove, diverts into Hall Arm. Here the captain turns off the boat's engines to allow us to spend some time in silence, listening only to the water and the wind in this place that some have called "The End of the World". Those who venture on deck at this point report that the silence is magical. For those of us who stay inside the cabin, the effect is spoilt by the tittering of a group of slightly drunken Australians.

We rejoin the coach at Deep Cove. Ian tells us about the Manapouri Power Station. This hydro-electric station was built between 1963 and 1971 to supply power to the Comalco Aluminum Smelter in Bluff, some one hundred miles away. Water is discharged through a 10km tailrace into the sea at Deep Cove. Plans to raise the level of Lake Manapouri, flooding much of the surrounding area, were thwarted by the swell of public opposition. Instead, a second tailrace tunnel is being constructed in order to increase the station's capacity. After more than a year, over-budget and behind schedule (like most schemes), the tunnel constructors finally broke through in the early hours of this morning.

A 2km spiral road provides access to the machine hall of the power station. At the end is a short section just wide enough for the coach to back into in order to turn round. That the drivers can turn their vehicles round in so narrow a space is a tribute to their skill. From the tunnel a small walkway leads into the machine-hall itself. A visual display-area provides information on the station with photographs and a scale model. This overlooks the hall itself. There are no workers to be seen. Presumably they are all celebrating the breakthrough of the new tunnel. On the roof of the walkway are some small stalactites and in places moss grows on the walls where water seeps through.

It was good to get back into the daylight for the journey across the lake to Manapouri. Despite a liberal application of insect-repellant, Christine's arms and feet, even her toes, have been attacked by sand-flys and she has around two dozen bites. She is pleased to get back to Te Anau.

Journal - Day 16 Photographs - Day 15