Day 22 – our 25th wedding anniversary. The long-suffering pulled out all the stops for our 25 year treat – aside from a special holiday travelling for two months, that is!
Doubtful Sound overnight mini cruise with Fiordland Cruises. We really couldn’t recommend this operater highly enough, money well spent.
Our tour started from their head office near our park site with a twenty minute bus to Lake Manapouri harbour for a one hour breezy boat ride across the lake to West Arm on the other side. Our driver Brian introduced us to Kirsten one of the two crew looking after us for our overnight stay on our eventual cruise boat.
We were to share our boat with four other couples – two Dutch, one French, and one American all on introduction seemed a good mix of people to spend our special day with, and the early dull weather after a night of rain appeared to be clearing!
Next we transferred along with half the population of sandflies to Kirsten’s minibus for the forty five minute journey over the Wilmott Pass Road – the only road in NZ that isn’t connected by any other road – down to Deep Cove at the start of Doubtful Sound.
The journey was broken up by a stop at the underground hydroelectric power station an amazing feat of engineering – excavating 1.4 million tons of granite – completed in 1971, 75 per cent of the power generated goes to the smelting works at Bluff, the rest into the national grid.
Temperatures fluctuated wildly the higher we got, driving on rough gravel roads we had just about got rid of all the sand flies before the doors opened at another glorious viewpoint and in they all flew, all for the perfect shot!
At the cove our boat – The Southern Secret – and skipper Jason were waiting for us. Once loaded, safety checks and briefing taken care of, we cast off. Kirsten showed us to our berths – ours was the honeymoon suite at the bow of the boat – very nice it was too, although not if you were very tall!
Soon after lunch was served, mouth-wateringly fresh lobster – my favourite – and a selection of salad and rice dishes, bring your own drinks were opened helping to break the ice between us cruisers.
Lunch out the way we all ventured out in dribs and drabs to the sides, stern and top deck, the latter proved to be a bit too breezy for comfort! This was not a cruise with running commentary, rather when there was something of particular note to see – constant scenes assaulted the mind at every turn – we were alerted by Jason. This left us plenty of time to relax, socialise, eat – food kept coming, cheese and biscuits, home made cake – or scamper about below and above decks.
‘A shout, we stand as the boat drives nearer and nearer until we are almost touching, the water cascades, down, rushing, noise deafening in its intensity, swirling into the crevices and over the edges. The pull as the boat seems to be sucked in, engines powering to hold her steady at arms length. The spray cold like ice, pricking my skin. The view up is all consuming, drowning in this vertical stream of water. These falls are alive with the power of water, and a blanketing duvet of lichens and mosses camoflaging the ruggedness of the granite cliffs’
During the rest of the afternoon, the interaction on and off the boat kept on coming, there was fishing to do – my reasonable size sea perch we ate that evening.
The long-suffering was not so lucky, first catching a rock on the sea bed causing him great excitement as his rod bent over violently, before Jason enlightened him on his stony catch, not only that he lost the weight and hook off the line in the process of retrieval!
His second attempt did not fare any better as his catch – a sea perch – was deemed too small and thrown back. Other catches included Blue Cod, more sea perch to eat at dinner and one Tarakihi served raw with soy dip, pickled ginger and wasabi as an after fishing snack.
Kayaking came next, most but not all the party took to the seas, navigating around a small inlet with shallow cave and waterfall.
A particular highlight was the pod of bottlenose dolphins that joined our boat, racing along at the prow of the boat, so close as to almost be within touching distance.
Champagne was flowing – provided by us for our 25th celebrations – for pre dinner drinks.
Being totally British the long-suffering and I had changed for dinner, imagine my horror – attired in my white Capri pants – as the shout from the skipper came in to hoist up his lobster pots from deep in the sea all wet, fishy and slimed!
Dinner was a feast including roast lamb, the fish we caught, chicken with roasted vegetables, roast potatoes and more besides. Followed by refreshing creamy ice cream and berries mixed.
After dinner Kirsten – a true multi tasker in every sense of the word, fishing, cooking, driver, both boat and minibus, mother and more – produced an electric piano and to our surprise played classical concertos – she was once a professional concert pianist – ending the evening with a beautiful lullaby. It was the perfect way to end our special day.
Day 24 – after an early 6.30am, continental style breakfast Jason took us back slowly to our starting base, but not before more encounters with the Dolphins and all the stunning scenery the Doubtful sound has to offer.
Then it was back in the minibus and ferry boat to Te Anau and Aromoana for the long drive down to Curio Bay the bottom of the South Island. We left the Doubtful Sound behind but took away with us a very special celebration memory to treasure forever.