This was it, the day I had been waiting for the entire trip! It was time for our Doubtful Sound cruise. First, let me begin with some history of Doubtful Sound.
Doubtful Sound was named ‘Doubtful Harbour’ in 1770 by Captain Cook, who did not enter the inlet as he was uncertain whether it was navigable under sail. It was later renamed Doubtful Sound by whalers and sealers.
A Spanish scientific expedition commanded by Alessandro Malaspina visited Doubtful Sound in February 1793 to conduct experiments measuring the force of gravity using a pendulum, a part of the effort to establish a new metric system. The officers of the expedition, which included Felipe Bauzá y Cañas, a cartographer, also made the first chart of the entrance and lower parts of the Sound, naming features of it. Today these form a unique cluster of the only Spanish names on the map of New Zealand: Febrero Point, Bauza Island and the Nee Islets, Pendulo Reach and Malaspina Reach.
Doubtful Sound (like many of the fiords in the area) is unusual in that it contains two distinct layers of water that scarcely mix. Dependant on rainfall the night before The top 2-10 meters is fresh water, fed from the high inflows from the surrounding mountains, and stained brown with tannins from the forest. Below this and partially insulated by the fresh above is a layer of warmer, heavy, saline water from the sea. The dark tannins in the fresh water layer makes it difficult for light to penetrate. Thus, many deep-sea species will grow in the comparatively shallow depths of the Sound. Such species includeblack coral (Antipatharia fiordensis) which is normally found at depths of 30-40 metres, but can be found at just 10 metres and is within the range of qualified recreational divers.
Doubtful Sound isn’t actually a sound, it is a Fiord. The English and Welsh explorers who discovered them gave them the name sounds because they did not know better. A sound is a drowned river valley cause by the land sinking while Fiords are created by glacial action, producing U-shaped valleys with steep cliffs. The region was named Fiordland in recognition of the error, rather than renaming each sound.
The cruse we took was fantastic. It started great because we received a 50% discount due to no one taking cruises in the winter. We also received free bus transportation from Te Anau to Manapouri (which was a huge relief on me because driving a camper day after day is rather exhausting). The cruise actually began with a smaller cruise across Lake Manapouri to reach the small section of land separating the Lake from the Ocean, known as Wilmot Pass.
Doubtful Sound is, in my opinion, a lot more spectacular than Milford and it is A LOT more remote. No one lives in or around Doubtful Sound (unlike Milford which has a city at the head of the Sound). There is also NO car access to Doubtful, everyone that arrives either gets in from the ocean or has to be ferried across Lake Manapouri.
Once we boarded our boat we were pleased to hear that the cruise only had 30 people on it, including the crew! That might sound like a lot but the boat is made to handle up to 400 and a normal doubtful sound cruise has, on average, 250-300 people! The boat was so big that Ash and I didn’t seen anyone else most of the trip which made it feel like a private cruise. Truly spectacular.
We also had PERFECT weather. The captain told us that winter generally has the best weather in the sounds but it is still extremely rare to get sunny weather the entire day, which we had! We also timed it right to see all the wildlife. We saw a numerous amount of seals that sat on every out cropping of rocks in sight. We also saw dolphins, which are rare these days (according to the Capitan/tour guide). The dolphins swam along with the boat for a good 30 minutes; some were even jumping out of the water seemingly posing for photos. We also got to see the rarest penguin on earth. The Fiordland Yellow Crested Penguin is only found in Fiordland National Park and hardly is ever spotted by humans. Even our captain was giddy to see it. He said after 12 years of cruising the sounds he had only seen it a handful of times!
(The falls in the photos is New Zealand’s second highest waterfall and it is named Browns Falls! Fantastic. We also had a stop off at the Manapouri Power Station which where the generator photo is from).
I had high expectations of Doubtful Sound but there really aren’t any words to articulate just how much it beat my expectations. Fiordland National Park and Doubtful Sound are easily the top 5 most beautiful places in the world and a place that I think EVERYONE should see at least once. The beauty in one day changed my life perspective and once again reaffirmed the notion that no matter how tough life gets, there is always something to life for and to admire.