Silent Escape at Doubtful Sound
New Zealand’s Fjordland is home to some of Planet Earth’s most stunning landscapes. Most tourists head straight for Milford Sound, which is easily accessible via bus or coach, courtesy of a large mountain tunnel. But for those who have the time and are looking to head a bit further afield, I’d like to suggest the scenic silence of Doubtful Sound.
I opted for an overnight tour of Doubtful Sound aboard Real Journey’s Fjordland Navigator, if for no other reason than to compensate for the crazy trip just to get there. My trek started from Te Anau, a quiet town where I’d been spending a few days relaxing and exploring the nearby walking trails. A bus took me down to Lake Manapouri, where a boat floated us across this massive lake to a dock near the Manapouri power station, almost a tourist attraction in itself as the largest hydroelectric power station in New Zealand.
We were thankful for the power station, though, because its construction led to the road that was built leading down to Doubtful Sound itself. It’s a steep, narrow road and apparently one of the most expensive to be built in the country, with materials shipped in by sea and literally built out away from the coast up to the plant.
Safely aboard the Navigator, we set sail, and the unbroken stillness of the sound became quickly apparent. We were the only ship in sight, and no other human influence was felt in this deep green valley; the gorge walls rose far above us and the dark waters of the ocean around reflected back at me like a giant mirror. Massive waterfalls plunging thousands of gallons of water kept a gentle roar in the background nearly the entire trip.
On board, the ship’s staff took good care of us. Fresh muffins, still hot from the oven, were served in the late afternoon, warming us up as the cold winds from the sea started to make an appearance. Misty clouds appeared, and for awhile the scene felt somewhat sinister, as if we were privy to a scene of nature normally kept private.
The boat was to moor in one of the “arms”, or sections, of Doubtful Sound for the evening, to stay safe from any storms out at sea. A stop was made to allow guests to go swimming or kayaking – those that wished to stay dry boarded smaller boats to go check out the flora on the neighboring cliff face. I stayed on board, just to relax and reflect.
As dusk set, the entire sky was filled with a strange, reddish-blue hue. It was the most stunning sunset you can get without actually seeing the sun. Darkness brought on an eerie blackness, punctuated by the occasional sound of animals out on their nocturnal hunts. On-board it was all action, as a several course meal was served and the bar was opened, fully stocked with delicious Kiwi wines and beers. Guests swapped New Zealand travel stories and at one point a number of board games appeared. It was as if a giant family meal was taking place, unaware or not bothered by the surreal, remote location.
Morning brought a reminder of the natural paradise surrounding – the waterfalls still raged, the water still reflected cleanly. We sped out to the coast to visit a sea lion colony – hundreds of the creatures barked and flapped wildly at our unannounced arrival. The sea, just beyond a treacherous-looking opening at the mouth of the sound, lashed wildly against the shoreline. I think most of us were happy to see us turn and head back inland.
Upon arrival back at the docks, it took the entire journey home to take in all the sensations of that incredible journey. Bus, boat, and after another bus, back in Te Anau I thought back to Doubtful and it almost seemed like a mirage. Like a New Zealand dream…