Kayaking Doubtful Sound in Fiordland National Park – Oh Wow!

Site of Destruction….

A belated birthday present for Hound #2 was a 2 day, overnight kayaking trip on Doubtful Sound in the Fiordland National Park. Planned & booked months ago, the dates fell on an awkward period where we were 2 weeks into a kitchen / bathroom renovation / expansion and had to leave the house with most of the back ripped off. But operating under the theory that ‘shit happens’ we took off anyway…

Off to an Early Start…Crossing Lake Manapouri on the Ferry…Ferry Captain informed us all about going to Alert Level 2 – oh joy.

New Zealand at any given moment can have some very wild weather, as evidenced this past Spring with such massive amounts of rain that the South Island was literally cut in half  by floods & damaged bridges. And Fiordland is an area at the top of the wild weather list with rapidly changing conditions – mostly wet, windy & cold. It is a wee bit of a paradox to travel in Fiordland as you do want some rain so that the waterfalls come to life, but not incessant rain to make your kayaking time on the water totally miserable. We lucked out…the day & night before we set off on our kayak adventure got a decent dollop of the wet stuff but our first day on the water was perfect – still, calm water and no rain.

The Starting Point…

We booked out trip with Go Orange and met our great guide Cam just before we boarded the ferry.  After taking the bus over Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound, he whipped us (6 folks + Cam) into shape quick snap getting the kayaks to the water’s edge, shifting all the support gear too and getting us all suited up in thermal tops & leggings, fleece tops & hats, long John wet suits, paddle jacket & spray deck and life vests.

Let’s go kayaking!!!!

It is next to impossible in words or photos to accurately convey what natural awesomeness surrounded us  – towering rock mountains with sheer vertical walls that disappeared straight into the clouds & the dark water; at every turn a series of waterfalls ranging from mere trickles or slivers to big, gushing torrents; and dense & vibrant vegetation clinging to the vertical slopes that the movie wizards would be hard challenged to create with their CGI tools.

Cruise’n…Perfect Day – Enough Rain the Day & Night before to bring the waterfalls to life but still, calm & no rain first day on the water.

Our guide Cam was a wealth of information – from historical to the scientific (geology, flora & fauna, marine life, etc…). After several hours of leisurely paddling with lots of stop, rest & look time we headed for a rocky beach for some lunch. The weather co-operated and we had a good dose of sunshine and blue skies…

Our Lunch Spot…

After lunch, Guide Cam steered us to an area of the fiord that had suffered a major earthquake in 2009 causing the mountain in the picture below to be cut in half. You can see the crack to the right side of the photo centre but above the cloud bank it widens significantly. Guide Cam also pointed out several of what he called ‘travalanches’ where a huge section of vegetation, trees, ferns, palms, etc…rips away from the stone wall face & come crashing down into the water. Cam said he has heard several (sounds like a massive explosion or thunder clap) but has never actually seen one which he’d like to do!

Earthquake Crack – Just to the right of centre an earthquake split the mountain in 2.

Sheer Rock Walls that Go from the Top to the Bottom & Alive with Flora.

As the afternoon quickly passed by, Cam steered us towards our camp site for the night. After hauling the kayaks out of the water & resting them under a covered site (the NZ kea will cause mischief otherwise), we were all given a tent & Therma-rest sleeping mats to get set up ASAP before the evil sandflies devoured us. Go Orange maintains for the season an insect netted tent which offered a sweet respite from the blood drawing sandflies to cook our dinners (they provide gas cookers), chat and play cards. At 10pm it was time for a deserved sleepfull rest….

Overnight Camp Site

We awoke the next morning to a more typical fiordland day & weather – pissing rain and a slightly chilly temperature. We snarfed our breakfasts down & set about disassembling our tents & camp site and packing it away in the kayaks. Unlike the calm, glassy water of the previous say, a Southerly was moving up the Sound,  pushing the water into white caps & swells. It was at our backs which was the only good thing about it as our guide Cam kept looking over his shoulder to monitor the front & making some tactical kayaking decisions (skip lunch, make a bee line to the base, when to cross). He kept us close to the shore line for a good stretch which was calmer but he knew we’d need to cross to get back to the base camp. Crossing we hit a bit more water than we’d encountered before with swells crashing over the kayak’s bows but all ended safe & sound….

Stunning Rock Walls created when the Glazier Retreated…

Only to be shocked by the ferry captain’s announcement that the country had gone into Alert Level 3 and was headed for Alert Level 4 in 48 hours! Which set off a wave of panic as most of the crowd were foreign tourists in camper vans. We’d befriended a Swiss couple on the kayak trip & began helping them to hatch a plan as to where to go for the 4 week lock down. They decided to try & get to the North Island to warmer weather but were denied a place on the ferry in Picton. So they rang us & are now ensconced (maybe happily?) in our spare bedroom till things get sorted….

And in the ‘besides that Mrs. Lincoln how was the play’ category, we’d highly recommend the Go Orange overnight kayak adventure and all the better if you can get the great guide Cam…

On Our Way Home – Stretch the Legs Stop in the MacKenzie Country.