Fiordland 2 – Doubtful Sound

After spending the night in Manapouri we headed off to the wharf to catch the boat for the cruise up Lake Manapouri. Whereas you can drive into Milford Sound (usually), to get to Doubtful Sound you have to take a boat up Lake Manapouri to where the power station is located and then catch a bus across the Wilmot Pass to then descend to Deep Cove where the boat departs for the cruise up the sound.

It is raining as we leave the wharf to cruise up Lake Manapouri. Everywhere is shrouded in mist. Lake Manapouri has a most interesting story as it was the focus of the beginning of the conservation movement in NZ. The original plans for the power station included raising the level of Lake Manapouri by 30 metres. This would have effectively destroyed the foreshore and much of the unique vegetation and habitat along the foreshore. Public outrage at this possible destruction was nationwide and in the 60s more than two million people from across both islands signed a petition protesting at this possibility. One of New Zealand’s popular singers of the period, John Hanlon, wrote Damn the Dam, a protest song to support the call for the abandonment of the scheme. The power station was eventually built but with no alteration to the water levels in the lake. Beautiful Lake Manapouri was saved.

It is still raining when we reach the wharf near Manapouri power station where we board the coach for the trip across to Doubtful Sound. The road to Doubtful Sound was built in order to bring in materials for building the power station. It took two years to build the road and, at approximately $80 per square metre, is NZ’s most expensive road. It is now primarily used for tourism.

This is a very scenic trip through mostly silver beech forest. Because of the very high rainfall in the area, the trees are hung with lichen and moss. Waterfalls cascade down the sides of the sheer cliffs which line sections of the road. Our coach driver talked non stop for forty minutes giving us an insight into the vegetation and flora, the history of the road, the history of the area, the building of the power station and the sights along the way. Most entertaining, as well as interesting.  Unfortunately impossible to take any photos at all through the steaming windows and rain.

One fascinating explanation was of the scarring on the cliff faces both along the road and all through the sound. The cliffs are steep and the trees have shallow intertwined roots to try to provide stability on these sheer slopes. However, it does not take much for a landslide to occur and when this happens a section of the cliff face is stripped bare as one tree pulls the next and so forth. First to regenerate are the mosses and lichens, particularly sphagnum moss which can hold up to 20 times its weight in water. This then provides the perfect germinating material for the next layer of vegetation and for young saplings. This whole process is particularly evident when cruising the sound as you can see the bare scars, the moss covered scars, the young vegetation adorning the disappearing scars and then the areas which have regenerated almost fully.

Reaching Doubtful Sound (another fjord) we boarded a fabulous boat (built in Tasmania) with huge windows just made for sight seeing. It is still raining slightly, but clearing slowly.

Misty, mystical and magical are the words which spring to mind when trying to describe Doubtful Sound on this particular morning. Luckily the clouds and mist lift sufficiently for us to see the tops of the mountains, but the low lying clouds and mist give the scene an eerie quality, but one still ethereally beautiful.

The rain means there are small waterfalls everywhere you look.

The scene itself, wherever you look or point the camera, is like looking at an exquisite black and white photograph. There may be no sun, however this beautiful Sound is still intensely photogenic.


Along the way we got up close to seals basking on rocks as well as penguins frolicking in the water. These were very difficult to photograph as they kept diving under the water just as you thought you had them in frame!


We were also treated to a display of arial acrobatics by an albatross which was using the currents above us to great effect.

The rain stopped which allowed for time out on the decks to admire the view. It also allowed for a marriage proposal to take place, including the giving of the ring, which was accepted! The crew then produced two glasses of sparkling for the absolutely joyous couple. What an unexpected yet fabulous addition to our trip on Doubtful Sound.

Back to Manapouri for a short drive around the lake edge where we watched a bus load of crazily enthusiastic youths swimming in the freezing water! Dinner in the Church Restaurant, very laid back but friendly service with good food. Definitely to be recommended.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s