Doubtful Sound was a no-brainer for us when it came to deciding where to spend our precious dollars for a day cruise out of Te Anau. During our planning, we quickly learnt (from the Lonely Planet guidebook) that Doubtful Sound is not only “three times the length and ten times the area of Milford Sound”, but also that it is “much, much less trafficked” by tourists of the two. Plus, we were already going to spend four days indulging in the sights and sounds of the Milford Track, so Milford Sound was always going to be a case of ‘been there, done that’ for us.
We were super excited to be spending a whole day out of our hiking boots, not carrying a pack, and not walking any substantial distance. This cruise was really the perfect way to spend our first day post-Milford Track!
Our daytime cruise was run by Real Journeys, and was split into two main segments because Doubtful Sound is inaccessible by road. The first segment involved cruising across Lake Manapouri via the West Arm, and then taking a coach over Wilmot Pass in order to reach Doubtful Sound. Along the way, we had the opportunity to visit the Manapouri Underground Hydro Power Station, which was a very interesting inclusion with the cruise package. I am no engineer, but I could really appreciate what an amazing engineering feat this power station is. First, the power station was built here due to the natural characteristics of this location – Lake Manapouri is higher in altitude than Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound, so water falls naturally via gravity to generate power; in addition, the station has access to high volumes of water all year round due to high levels of annual rainfall and snow melt in this area. Second, the power station’s location is very remote (closest town was Te Anau, and access was only via boat), so it would have been very difficult to transport resources and accommodate workers during its construction. Finally, the power station is controlled remotely from an above-ground control centre. All in all, the power station really felt like something that was out of James Bond (but minus the evil villains).
The second segment of the cruise involved exploring Doubtful Sound itself, during which we had a glimpse of the open waters of the Tasman Sea (where the water became a bit choppy and there was a slight risk of sea sickness) and were lucky enough to see some wildlife. Doubtful Sound itself is really magnificent and impressive. We got a sense of its vastness and serenity very soon after entering the fiord. In my opinion, it operated on a totally different scale than (what we saw of) the Milford Sound. I could not even begin to imagine the magnitude and power of the great glaciers that moved through here years and years ago to create these fiords. Absolutely mind blowing and stunning stuff!