Day 20: Manapouri - Doubtful Sound - Cascade Creek
15 January 2010
3585km - map

Getting up early at 7am we drove north to Manapouri, stopping very briefly at the Clifden(sic) Suspension Bridge which is a very old, unused bridge based on the design of its British cousin but on a slightly smaller scale. At Manapouri we boarded a boat which took us across Lake Manapouri under grey skies to the West Arm hydroelectric dam where we boarded a bus for the 22km journey on an unsealed road through Wilmot Pass. Built solely to enable the hydroelectric dam to be built, it cost $2 per cm in the 1960s - a very expensive road and it's not even tarmac'd!

Thw Wilmot Pass brought us to Doubtful Sound and another, bigger boat. This cruiser took us on a 3 hour trip around the enourmous Fiord taking in the scenery and tranquil atmosphere to the Tasman Sea and back. Not as famous as the second largest Fiord, Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is less frequented by tourists and so is very quiet. We were treated to perfect sunny weather which we're told is a once in a month occurance - the annual rainfall in this area is over 5m and it rains for about 200 days each year. The scenery is magnificent, mountains, waterfalls, seals and a running commentary describing it all.

The fiords were made by glaciers tens of thousands of years ago and so the sides of the fiord drop almost vertically into the water down to over 300m below the surface. The sides of the fiords only support vegetation by a very lengthy process of lichen becoming moss becoming grass becoming plants, shrubs and eventually trees. All griping on to just a few centimeters of soil and occasionally a huge swaith will slip and fall into the water and the process starts all over again.

Back on the bus after our trip round Doubtful Sound we get to visit the inside of the West Arm power station, the largest in the southern hemisphere. The coach descends down a 2km tunnel that spirals down to 200m below ground where we can see the turbine hall from a viewing platform. 500 tonnes of water flow through the turbines every second and generates over 700MW in the process. The main reason for building the power station was to supply an aluminium smelting plant 100 miloes away on the south coast as 85% of the electricity generated here goes directly to it. While we wait for the boat back across Manapouri lake we encounter our first Kea parrots, considered a pest here they pester for food and will undo zips on bags and shoe laces in search of food.

Back across Manapouri Lake and back to the campervan we stop for provisions in Te Anau and continue north looking for a campsite. We stop at a place called Knob's Flat (mainly because it sounded funny!) but it turns out to be just lodges and no campervan or tent camping - the owner tells us how he's been meaning to contact the guide people to get his entry updated. He also tells us that none of the sites leading up to Milford Sound (our destination tomorrow) have power, they all use generators as mains electricity hasn't made it out here yet.

So instead we stay at a Department of Conservation (DOC) campsite at a place called Cascade Creek, drop our $10 in the collection box and set up camp for the night. Mosquitos have given way to sand flies today and to be honest we'd rather the mosquitos were still here. At least mosquitos are slow enough to be squashed easily and their bites are less irritating. We had a nice dinner of pasta, bacon, tomoatoes and a large but stunted courgette type vegetable we bought last week.

The Clifden Suspension Bridge
Doubtful Sound viewed from the Wilmot Pass
Doubtful Sound
West Arm Hydroelectric Power Station
A Kea Parrot looking for food