From Wanaka, we traveled to Te Anau, the gateway to the Fiordland region in the south-western bit of the South Island. We'd chatted with a nice kiwi couple on the summit of Roy mountain and they recommended Te Anau as a classic kiwi country vacation town, in contrast to Wanaka, which they characterized as "touristy".
(Cruising on Doubtful Sound)
Te Anau is also the gateway town to Milford Sound. The kiwi couple, however, recommended Doubtful Sound as a more mellow, less crowded alternative to Milford. More peaceful, and just as beautiful, they said. As a bonus the trip departed from nearby Lake Manapouri, and included a tour of the underground hydroelectric plant. You drive right into the core of the mountain, said the kiwi guy. Sounded cool to us, and we signed up for the trip.
(Dan on the top deck of the smallish boat. We took all of our rain gear, and enjoyed the decks of the boats while most of the other passengers stayed below)
We woke up to rain and a cloudy sky. The Fiordland is one of the rainiest places on earth, with rain being measured in the meters. But the past month had been unusually dry, with no rain at all. We were not displeased with the rainy day, however. Seeing the Sound in the rain seemed like a good way to experience the region, which after all is usually extremely rainy.
(Part of the generator facility in the hydroelectric plant)
After a high speed cruise across Lake Manapouri (strava says 30 mph!), the boat docked in West Arm, the intake region for the power plant. The plant removes water from Lake Manapouri and it drops a fair way down to Doubtful Sound through an enormously long tunnel drilled through the mountain.
We rode on a bus through a winding tunnel deep into the mountain and got to view part of the generating facility. It was really, really cool in a James Bond film kind of way. Lots of interesting history and technology to learn about, including the story of how the locals were able to prevent having the levels of the lakes raised for the hydroelectric project, thus better preserving the lake ecosystems.
(Clouds and misty mountain peaks in Doubtful Sound)
After a short bus ride over Wilmot pass on a gravel road installed to carry machinery into the hydroelectric facility, we boarded the ship in Deep Cove for the Doubtful Sound cruise. It was really great, and the rain was pretty mellow, which permitted viewing and photography from the decks.
We reached the mouth of the Sound and cruised a bit into the Tasman Sea to a fur seal colony on some rocks. We also saw two large pods of bottle-nosed dolphins, including some babies!
There were lots of little waterfalls running down the side of peaks, but apparently, there are normally many more waterfalls and much more volume coming off of the peaks. The above waterfalls, for example, usually engulf the ship. The low flow was due to the drought, of course.
(All bundled up for the rain and wind)
What a great day! We saw only one other ship the entire time!