Day 9-Doubtful Sound

Date: 09.11.2003
Start Location:

Te Anau Top 10 Mountain View Campground
45° 24.890' 167° 42.548'

End Location:

Manapouri Lakeside Motor Park
: 43° 54.179' E: 172° 11.663'

Distance Driven 20km (2,106km)

Time: 10:30
Location: Te Anau Top 10 Mountain View Campground
45° 24.890' 167° 42.548'
Name: Leave for Manapouri
This morning we got up late, had a leisurely breakfast, broke camp, and headed for Manapouri to grab our boat for the tour to Doubtful Sound.
Time: 10:50
Location: Manapouri Lake View Motor Park
Name: Check in for tonight's lodging
Since the park is only 20 minutes walk from the dock, we elected to check in and park the camper van there for the day.
Time: 11:30
Location: Manapouri Visitors Centre
Name: Depart for Doubtful Sound tour

For our journey into Doubtful Sound, we will be taking a water taxi, followed by a bus, followed by the cruise, with said sequence to be reversed upon return. Lake Manapouri is a bit high right now, causing some of the docks to be under water. Evidence this reasonable warning by the local boat club, which says "No boats to be left unattended":

The water taxi ride was uneventful and had no good vantage points for pictures, so although the scenery was great, there is no pictorial evidence on this site.

Time: 13:00
Location: Lake Manapouri
Name: Power plant tour

Lake Manapouri is part of New Zealand's extensive hydroelectric power system, but with a twist. The Lake Manapouri hydro plant generates up to 700MW of power (peak, but normal is about 540MW) and does so by draining the lake from one end, through an underground power station with 7 turbines, and then dropping the water into Deep Cove at the inland end of Doubtful Sound. This system provides a large amount of power without having to raise the water level of Lake Manapouri (which was originally planned, but was scrapped when nearly 8% of the public signed a petition against it— something about which the Kiwis are very proud).

To get to the turbine room, we traveled down a 2km long spiral tunnel dropping 180m into the mountains. This places you right at the heart of the power station, the turbine room.

Time: 13:30
Location: Lake Manapouri to Deep Cove
Name: Bus ride through Wilmot Pass

To get from the power station to our cruise launch spot in Deep Cove, we traveled by bus down a windy, steep, gravel road through Wilmot Pass. Built originally during the construction of the power plant as a way to get heavy equipment into the plant, the road is the most expensive road in New Zealand, clocking in at $2/cm (which is about US$200,000, about one fifth of the per-mile cost of interstate highways in the US). It also has one of the steepest grades, sloping downward at 1m/5m for a stretch after the pass.

Our bus driver/guide gave us the skinny on the local flora (with relatively little fauna to speak of besides birds and sand flies), and we enjoyed yet more breathtaking scenery.

Time: 14:30
Location: Deep Cove
Name: Cruise on Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound, like its sister Milford, is not a sound at all, but a Fjord (or Fiord, as they refer to them here). Carved by millions of years of glacial movement, the Sound is steep-walled and breathtaking. In contrast to Milford Sound, Doubtful is quite a bit wider on its interior, although the inlet doesn't belie that fact.

Where yesterday's tour on Milford was replete with rain, we had occasional sun on the trip through Doubtful. Better for picture taking in many ways, it did reduce the number of temporary waterfalls which are visible. Since neither Milford nor Doubtful have any topsoil to brag about, there is very little to keep rain water from just rolling down the side of the mountains wherever it likes, causing temporary waterfalls. On our trip to the Grand Canyon earlier this year, we saw similar falls caused by rain pouring over low points in the rock faces on either side of the river.

What Milford lacked in waterfalls, it made up for in wildlife. We saw Kea, penguin, seals, and dolphin.

Time: 17:45
Location: Deep Cove
Name: Return trip to Manapouri
After a full three hours out on the boat in Doubtful Sound, we piled back into the bus for the ride back to Lake Manapouri, followed by a slightly shorter water taxi ride, and a walk back to our accommodations. After a quick bite to eat at the local pub, we headed back to the camper van and off to sleep.