Sunday, January 5, 2014

Doubtful Sound

It's FINALLY time to get back to blogging.  Sorry for the hiatus, we have had a lot of activity going on (recently had a big Christmas trip, more on that later) so I haven't been doing a very good job of getting posts up.  This will be a long post, so if you are in it for the pictures the best ones are at the end. I'm excited to finally talk about our amazing trip we took to doubtful sound a bit earlier in the spring.   Spring is Sept-Nov or so here, and it is a very rainy season.  We left out of a little town called Manapouri which we have posted pictures on previously.  There was a nice map from the visitor center showing the route we took on our boat excursions...

Map of our route into doubtful sound (click to enlarge)

We got on our first boat to cross lake Manapouri, more of a shuttle really but still a nice ride.

The weather was overcast, low hanging clouds obscured the beautiful vistas.  Would have been great to see these snowy peaks!

The water was as dark as it looks in the picture.  It was clear but without a blue sky it was almost black that day.

The peaks rise up steeply as they meet the water, and continue at this steep grade deep into the sounds.  The sounds are deep and cold, about as deep down as the peaks are high.

The rain had one good outcome!  Waterfalls!  With the steep terrain the water has to come down somewhere.  They were everywhere.  

At the end of the lake was Manapouri power station. It's the largest hydroelectric power station in New Zealand.  We didn't get a chance to go in, may have to make another trip...

At the end of the Lake we got out and boarded buses to cross the pass (see map above).  We went up pretty high.  Pretty narrow roads with shear drop offs.  And SNOW!  I know you have snow back home right now, but it's spring here and snow overnight was a surprise.  

We were happy to run into a snow plow heading over the pass.  No plummeting off the cliff for us. 

They stopped the bus long enough to catch a shot of a wide waterfall through the trees...

...and a wide stream was full coming down the mountain side.

Once we went through the pass we got our first view of the boat we'd be on for the rest of the cruise.  3 masts (mostly for show) and four levels with lots of deck space for viewing.

Leaving Deep Cove where the boat was docked, it was still pretty overcast to start, but the land forms could still be seen.

Waterfalls merged before entering the sound.

That top deck of the boat had lots of room for sitting, but it was windy and cold, so most people were watching from inside down below.

The clouds broke from time to time letting through some light.  The snow that fell earlier gave us nice snow capped views.

They actually pulled the boat up close enough to these waterfalls that people on deck got wet.  It seemed like we'd run aground, but no shallow water here.

The sun rarely came out, but when it did you could finally see some color in the photos.  

We turned from there and continued up the sound towards the sea.  The closer we got to open ocean, the stronger the wind and weather became.

We pulled up near the appropriately named Shelter Island (small island on the right) with open ocean behind it.  Gusts were so strong at that point there weren't many people out on deck with us anymore.  You could see the wind ripping across the surface of the water.  This was as far out as we got, from here we turned back to calmer waters.

Look at that handsome couple... :)

We went back inland, up Bradshaw Sound, and dropped anchor in Precipice Cove.  It was a very calm cove where we had a chance to get off the boat.  Some people were kayaking, but it was raining so we opted instead for a trip on one of the two tender boats on board (motorboats attached to the ship).

We took our tender boat across the cove.  The ship was in a good position to give you some idea of the scale of the surrounding peaks.

Our guide pulled off a flower from the pohutukawa tree.  This is New Zealand's "christmas tree".  They are in full bloom around December and very festive looking.  These buds were still pretty young.  Keep a watch out for more posts later of full trees in bloom.

Dusk arrived and we settled in to our cabin for our overnight on the boat.

Dawn broke to a calm cove, with beautiful light from the morning sunrise.

A chilly overnight, there is a new frost line up high along the trees.

Wildlife was out in the morning.  Got this picture of a Fiordland-crested penguin enjoying the shoreline. There was a pod of dolphins out very early that morning, I saw maybe 3 or 4 of them together, but unfortunately they were a ways from the boat so my pictures didn't turn out, sorry folks...

Finally some calm weather...

As we started to travel back out of the cove, slow steady perfect waves from the ocean approached the boat.  This picture is of the steady waves we drove into, not created by the boat.

We went back further inland, past Elizabeth island and towards home, but not before the most spectacular part of the trip.  Just before deep cove and docking, we went down the Hall arm.  The sun was peaking through the clouds giving nice rays of light.

As we made our way down the Hall arm, the water was so steady we started to get the amazing reflections the sounds are so famous for.

The further in we got, the steadier it became...

You could even see the clouds and mountain peaks on the water.

The waterfalls came straight down the mountains, and with the reflections, appeared to plummet deep into the dark sound...

Before turning back, the crew took a moment of silence, where for ten minutes they shut down the engines and all the systems on board.  No one was allowed to move on board, or make any noise at all.  We tried to be as silent as possible and enjoy this beautiful site.  You could hear the native birds, watch penguins dip up and down in the sound, and hear the steady fall of 5 or 6 near by waterfalls.  It was a moment of stillness that we don't get enough of in our busy lives usually, but we have been enjoying more frequently in NZ!

We went back to Manapouri the same way we came, but before we got back were greeted by a rambunctious Kea!  It had a very similar size and build as the Kakas we enjoyed on Stewart Island, but these guys were much more mischievous.  Very smart, they liked to dive into peoples luggage and try to dig out food.  They would pull on zippers, tear open garbage bags full of laundry, peck at windows, and just generally follow people around looking for food.  A public nuisance, but fun to watch.  :)

Well that's the end of our doubtful sound adventure.  I've done some math and there are over a dozen posts to catch up on!  Too many experiences to tell everyone about.  We will do our best... :)  

Ta for now!

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