We experienced our first rain today, discounting yesterday’s few drops. Our excursion to Doubtful Sound left at 10:30 but first we booked a trip for tomorrow to give us a second relaxing day and the bus out of town for the following day to avoid cycling along the same stretch of road to Queenstown, which we’d pass again on our way across to the west coast.
We’d come to Te Anau for a trip to one of the Sounds that open into the Tasman Sea. Milford is the more accessible, down the road for 120km, onto the boat and into the Sound, so it’s more popular and cheaper. Doubtful isn’t so straightforward but we took the advice of New Zealanders who’d told us it was the better of the two and booked it back in Queenstown. These trips are very popular so it’s a good idea to book ahead.
After a short bus trip to Manapouri we cruised the length of the lake. This was a wonderful passage on New Zealand’s fifth largest and second deepest with the Kepler Mountains on our left, the Hunter Mountains on our right and the Turret Range ahead. After a quick tour of the hydroelectric power station a second coach took us over the Wilmot Pass – trapped between the lake and the sound, this bus could go nowhere else except by boat. Lush vegetation surrounded us – native trees, ferns and moss – thanks to the very high rainfall. The driver explained that the slopes were first colonised by mosses then by shallow rooted trees. If one slips it takes its neighbours with it, precipitating a tree avalanche.
It was dry by now and becoming brighter, perfect conditions for the Doubtful Sound cruise as the rain would form waterfalls down the steep or vertical cliffs into the sound. This was magical with the sun melting away the rising mist. The skipper switched off the engines as we reached the resident pod of bottlenose dolphins, some of which swam right up to the boat as the passengers fired their cameras. By this time it was sunny with spectacular views across the water to the tree covered hills dropping steeply into the sound, fed by waterfalls depositing excess rainfall.
We continued past the strangely named Secretary Island to the Tasman Sea where it became very choppy before we re-entered Doubtful through the southern entrance for the return trip. We saw some very young dolphins close to shore – the captain estimated some were only a day or so old. Then it grew misty again with occasional rain for our return over the pass and Lake Manapouri, arriving back around 20:30.