The experience of a cruise in the Doubtful Sound is probably one of the most indelible memories of a trip to the South Island of New Zealand. The Doubtful Sound is a fjord over 40 km long, which with its 421 meters deep is the deepest fjord on the South Island of New Zealand. This is one of the rainiest places on Earth: on average there are over 200 rainy days a year, in fact, between 3,000 and 6,000 mm of rain fall every year. In this region of the country the climate changes suddenly so on the same day you can expect to have both rain and sun, both hot and cold.
The fjord has numerous splendid waterfalls, which are spectacular during frequent rains. In the Hall Arm, there are the Browne Falls that plummet from a height of 619 meters, while the Helena Falls in Deep Cove make a jump of 220 meters. Wildlife is another reason to visit this fjord: while sailing in the fjord you can see bottlenose dolphins, seals, penguins and sometimes, at the point where the fjord becomes open sea, even whales.
THE NAVIGATION IN THE FJORD
The only way to visit the fjord is by boat and bus from Manapouri. Two types of cruises are organized in the fjord: the one day cruise and the two day and one night cruise. The one day cruise is made on board the “Patea Explorer” catamaran while for the two day and one night cruise the “Fiordland Navigator” ship is used, which can accommodate up to 70 people.
The most complete and most beautiful cruise is the one that allows you to sleep on a boat and observe the fjord at the first light of dawn. A truly superb experience! The excursion starts from the Manapouri pier around midday, from here on board a boat you will cross Lake Manapouri to the hydroelectric power station (Manapouri Power Station) located on the opposite side of the lake. From here a bus route will take you to Doubtful Sound, along the way there will be a panoramic stop from the Wilmot Pass from where you have a beautiful view of the fjord. Once in Doubtful Sound you will embark from the Deep Cove pier on the ship for your cruise in the fjord.
The ship leaves around 2.30 pm, after departure you will be offered tea and pastries. In the afternoon there will be a kayak excursion, suitable for everyone. With the kayak you will pass the Secretary Island and you will be able to admire the fjord from a particular angle, if you are lucky you can also meet the sea lions. After the kayak experience, a short snack and then back out on the ship’s decks to admire the landscapes of the fjord. The ship passes by a colony of fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) in the Nee Islets and then reaches the open ocean, here if you are very lucky you can have an exceptional encounter: the whales!
The boat then returns to the fjord where it will anchor for the night in the First Arm. You will be served dinner and then to bed. For the night you can choose between double cabins with private bathroom and cabins for 4 people with bunk beds and shared bathrooms. Get up early in the morning: sunrise is the best time to admire this wild fjord. In the morning at dawn the ship will sail from the First Arm, where we spent the night, until we reach the Hall Arm.
On this route you will be able to admire the wild landscapes of this fjord with waterfalls, virgin forests, mountains. There will also be a chance to see the rare Fiordland penguins (Eudyptes pachyrhynchus) also known as crested penguins. They are endemic penguins from this area of New Zealand, they live only in Fiordland and Stewart Island. They are medium-sized animals that reach 60 cm in height. These penguins are in danger of extinction, according to the latest studies, there are only about 2,500 pairs left.
THE MAGIC OF THE FJORD
The most magical moment of the cruise will be when the boat will switch off the engine at a certain point and for about ten minutes you can listen to the sounds and noises of the fjord. You will hear only the sound of birds and in the distance the sound of water crashing on the rocks of distant waterfalls. This will make you understand why the name the Maori gave to this place: “Patea” which translated into English means “The place of silence”. More appropriate name they could not put it.