Today I wake up to patches of blue sky and no rain or wind. I am disappointed I am not waking up onboard the Milford Marina but today is Doubtful Sound tour take 2 and so far it is looking promising.
Aside from getting a discount on the price, Real Journeys are also starting the tour a couple of hours earlier so we can get out on the water sooner. From what I saw yesterday, I know this tour is going to be great!
Today is such a a different day. The lake is still. The day is peaceful. We are ready for the adventure to begin. We check in and I take a few minutes to look around at the other passengers, there are a lot here I recognise from yesterday. (I later learn that 30 of the original 36 people took up the 1 night offer, it’s great to see so many people here.)
We board the boat to take us across Lake Manapouri. We all started bonding yesterday so today as the tour begins we can pick up where we left off. Its pretty cool again outside on deck but the views are much clearer. Snow is on the mountains and I can see channels twisting down the sides of the mountains, scars from yesterday’s plentiful waterfalls, I imagine. Fiordland has a changeable climate. There are only 3 or 4 permanent waterfalls in Doubtful Sound, all the rest come and go with the weather, sometimes appearing as little as 30 minutes after rainfall and drying up just as quickly when it stops raining.
The coach ride over is just as beautiful as yesterday and this time when we stop for the views, we can actually see them! Including our first glimpse of Doubtful Sound.
We arrive in Deep Cove and prepare to board the Milford Marina. It’s such a great feeling to stepping onto the boat after yesterday’s drama.
We are warmly welcomed by the crew and seated in the dining room to go over house keeping, Covid rules and then get shown to our cabins. The rooms are small, but they are tidy, comfortable and have everything we need, including a private bathroom. We have a small, high, window, we are quite low in the boat and look out about 0.5 meters above sea level.
Once unpacked (and welcome chocolate eaten) we head back to the dining room for lunch and to get acquainted with our table companions. The Captain wastes no time setting sail and before long we are full steam ahead, venturing out into the Sound. After a delicious lunch, I head outside to take some photos. The first thing I notice is how quiet it is. I love real silence, I find it so energizing. In our busy city life there are few opportunities for it.
Our journey takes us all the way up to the end of Crooked Arm. It’s the perfect spot for some water sports. We have the option of going out in kayaks or a tender craft. Daniel and I choose the kayaks (We are happy to see all the kayaks are single, no double kayak for us today.) We have perfect weather for paddling too. The rain is holding off, there is no wind and the water is so flat and still. In one of the wettest places in the world, I can’t believe our luck! Kayaking in this stillness is food for the soul. I am at the back of the pack because I keep stopping to just look around and soak it all in.
I paddle up to a waterfall and look up. The sheer size of the mountains is captivating, but what takes my breath away is watching the water droplets falling. Its like everything else around me has stopped as I watch each individual drop falling towards me in slow motion. It was such a spiritual experience. A simple moment that was so peaceful. One that I will remember for a long time.
We continue paddling around the edge next to the mountains. The rock is black and looks so solid, it amazes me how plants can grow here. But grow they do. There is such a variety of plants, trees, shrubs and mosses. Layers and layers of textures and shades of green. I also note how black the water appears to be. I later learn that this is from all the tannin that runs off the mountains straight into the sea. So much rain water runs down the mountain in fact, there is always a layer of fresh water sitting on top of the salt water. Our guide reckons there is currently about 4-5 meters of fresh water sitting on top. How incredible is that? I have never heard of anything like that before. And because of this unique layering, deep sea creatures and plants can be found much closer to the surface because it tricks them into thinking they are much deeper than they are.
As usual, when I am out in nature, I get lost in my thoughts and in awe at how marvelous creation is. So I am in that state when I hear our guide say ‘Lets just keep our distance from the seal’ “hmm, what seal?” Then I notice a little head popping out of the water only a couple of meters away. It looks around for a bit and then slips gracefully into the water.
Our time for kayaking has ended and we all make our way back to the boat. For those who are brave, it’s now time for the ‘polar swim.’ Am I one of those brave ones? You bet I am. I know it will be cold, but when am I going to get another chance at this? There are 5 of us that take up the challenge. The only way to do it is to jump.
I plunge into the water. My first thought is, ‘this isn’t as cold as I was expecting’ and this water is really brown!’ Then I surface and try to take my first breath and that is when the cold hits. Even swimming the couple of meters back to the boat was a real effort. And just because I am a bit of a nutter, I jumped back in a second time, just to make sure I got it on camera! I can now officially say I have swum in Doubtful Sound, I reckon that’s pretty cool!
I then head straight to the shower to warm up. For the first few minutes I can’t even tell if the shower water is hot or cold. I am that numb! But the feelings slowly return and after a hot drink in the dining room I am back at human temperature. I wrap up warm and head back outside. The Milford Marina is heading out to the Tasman Sea, I don;t want to miss this. We make a couple of stops along the way to see the seal colony and are lucky enough to spot a Fiordland Crested Penguin.
As we get closer to the Tasman Sea, the swell gets bigger. One of the crew members tells us they haven’t been out here in a while as the weather hasn’t been good enough so we are pretty lucky! The boat is rocking up and down, side to side. I almost feel like I am on a ride in an amusement park! We are all holding on tight. I feel the boat rise, then pause for a second while I wait for the fall and the feeling of leaving my stomach up in the sky as the boat crashes down into the waves. Then it repeats again and again. I am lucky to be pretty tolerant of motion sickness! But also, this is pretty awesome. We even see an albatross, gliding above the ocean.
Daylight is fading and the lighting is beautiful. As we make our way back into the Sound, we watch the sun slip behind an island. We find a quiet place to dock for the night in a sheltered cove. After enjoying another delicious meal and table chats with the other passengers, we head to the saloon with a generous helping of dessert to watch a presentation from the onboard nature guide. This is quite a spectacular place with an amazing and unique eco system. I fall asleep listening the the gentle hum of the generator, thankful for all the amazing experiences of the day.