Thursday, May 28, 2015

Off to Fiordland: Doubtful Sound

At least it is a nice ride on the ferry.
The southwest area of South Island is knows as Fiordland. The whole area is Fiordland National Park established in 1952 and covers an area of 1.2 million hectares – or about 4,633 square miles! It is uninhabited and difficult to access with limited roads and dense bush and mountains. In the earliest years, the Maori hunted, fished and gathered pounamu here for hundreds of years.

This Captain is tired. Too much driving and now an early
morning and long bus ride to a ferry and a bus and a ferry!
In 1773, Captain Cook and his crew became the first Europeans to visit the area. Cook drew maps and described the area and soon whalers and sealers arrived. However, they found it too hostile: steep mountain terrain, incredible isolation and the wettest climate in New Zealand – and today it is infested with those awful little sandflies (namu) that have eaten me alive. Even the Maori couldn’t live with the sandflies and left the area! Cook actually named it Doubtful Sound because he was doubtful that he would have the right winds to sail out so he never really explored this fiord.

As a result, the area was never developed as the same conditions exist today. There are a couple of small towns on the edge of Fiordland and the beautiful glacial Lake Manapouri. In order to get to Doubtful Sound, we took a ferry 30 km across the lake to a waiting bus. This was after a 2.5 hour bus ride from Queenstown, but the bus was much better than driving early in the morning or staying overnight at the end of the trip. Once on the second bus, we traveled through Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove, which is the entrance to Doubtful Sound.

The terrain is rugged with steep mountains, deep glacier-shaped valleys and hundreds of waterfalls. The bush is a blanket of dense sub-tropical rainforest. Unfortunately for us, it rained most of the day so we did not see much wildlife on the road or water. However, the rain brought to life hundreds of waterfalls everywhere you looked! Spectacular!

This is truly untouched wilderness as only a couple of people live in a camp that is near the Manapouri Hydro-electric Power Station there. It gets so much rain that it is not a pleasant place to be on a regular basis. The complex geology of the area has evolved over the last 500 million years.

Doubtful Sound itself was pristine, quiet except for the sounds of nature and a visual feast. It is 421 meters deep making it one of the deepest fiords. It has three distinct arms branching off the main body of water that runs in about 40 kilometers from the open ocean. Doubtful Sound is three times the length and ten times the area of Milford Sound, the other more popular tour destination.

If you look closely, you can see the fur seals on the rock.
The tour boat took us into a couple of arms and all the way out to the Tasman Sea. On rocks near the Tasman Sea, we saw a number of fur seals basking in the sun when it finally came out. It is not uncommon to have rain on a fiord tour.  Unfortunately, we did not see any of the 60-some bottlenose dolphins that live in Doubtful Sound and it is the wrong season for the Fiordland Crested Penguins.

Although a very long and rainy day, it was well worth the time. At one point the Captain turned off the engine and asked us to refrain from talking. The silence of the fiord was deafening. Other than a few birds and the falling water, it was silent. You could just take in nature with the sights, sounds, smells and the air on your face. It is not often that we are so still and just absorb what is around us!


By the way, these are not really Sounds! Technically, they are fiords - very large and imposing fiords. A Sound is often formed by the sea flooding a valley. Sometimes one is produced by a glacier carving out a valley on the coast and then receding. Such glaciers formed sounds have steep vertical walls that extend deep underwater. This means a boat can go up close to the wall without hitting bottom. The term "fjord" is used in most of the world, but in New Zealand, it is spelled "fiord." The Sounds in New Zealand are really fiords created by glaciers.

No comments:

Post a Comment

We would love to hear from you here. You can see earlier posts at