Doubtful for Sure

It would be incorrect and unfair to say the West side of New Zealand’s South Island is the best for visiting. The rolling hills of the Eastern Plains, unending sheep-clad green pastures, unexpected surprises hidden in the coastal cities, and the raw natural beauty of the south – they all have utter charm. That being said, the drama of the landscapes to the West is second-to-none in this world. And this is where we headed to as we started looping back north.


The West side of NZ’s South Island is a rugged place. A soaring rocky mountain range, stretching from the Northern tip of the island, complete with year-round snow peaks and glaciers, meets the ferocious Tasman Sea to the West, leaving a thin coastline in between. At the bottom end of this range, the southwestern corner of the island, lies Fjordland. A jagged landscape forged by gigantic glaciers which existed there during the last ice age. And this is the scenery of today’s story …


… which started with a double jamboree. Adriana had returned from a work trip at the other side of the world, and it was her birthday – which we celebrated with sparkling candles over Argentinean alfajores in a roadside NZ hotel:


Travelling that part of New Zealand is tricky because of weather. Already moody at those high latitudes, it gets even more shifty with the approach of winter. One needs to take risks when planning a trip there. We had allotted two days for that area, and chose the township of Te Anau, at the border of the eponymous lake, as our base. For our first day there the weather forecast was iffy, and we decided to play safe, trying a boat ride on the lake. And luck played on our favor – nobody else took that risk, the weather cleared up a bit, and we had charming old m/v Faith all to ourselves, with rainbow and everything:


Upon knowing we are sailors, the captain promptly had me steer the ship …


… and handle the sails …


… stopping soon after at an inlet for a photo-op with rainbow and all …


… followed by a leisurely hike amidst native forest:


On our return from the hike we were treated red-carpet style on deck …


… steaming tea, ours-d’oeuvre, and a live concert of bagpipe:


Certainly not the standards we are used to onboard Pesto !


But it was the following day that we played our card. See, the main highlight of Fjordland are … well … the Fjords ! Two are prominent for visiting: Doubtful to the South and Milford to the North – the latter being normally favored by tourists due to its more dramatic landscapes. The forecast was resolute on a clear day, and for sure all tourists would go Milford. We went Doubtful instead. Admittedly less dramatic in scenery, Doubtful is significantly larger than Milford. Moreover, it is much closer to Te Anau, meaning we would be able to use more of the day to enjoy the place.

The getting there is an attraction in itself, starting with a boat ride across lake Manapuri (yup, it’s another lake)…


… followed by a bus ride through a steep and windy gravel road over the mountain range …


… from where we have a panoramic view of Doubtful Sound beckoning below:


Down there, we boarded a boat, this time on salt water of the Tasman Sea, in the seclusion of the Sound:


The steep walls – some over 500 mtrs high – were carved off the rocky substrate by the enormous forces of glaciers in the past:


They are now covered in moss, over which a thin temperate forest desperately hangs on to, cut eventually by the waterfalls which come from the melting ice above:


We must have spent at least 3 hours sailing inside the Sound, some times enjoying the vistas outside …


… others from the warm comfort of the boat’s cabin …


… boy, it was cold that day !


The Tasman Sea wasn’t too angry that day and the boat ventured to the mouth of the Sound, where we spotted an Albatross – always a majestic sight:


Looking back into the Sound – man it is SO beautiful – this is more or less the view Captain Cook had from his ship. Supposedly one of the first Europeans to take sight of this place, he gave the name Doubtful to the Sound presuming it might be difficult – if not impossible – for a sailing vessel to come out of it given its Westward orientation, against the prevailing winds of the region:


It would be many years later that another explorer would send a rowing boat into the sound – awaiting with his sailing ship outside of the Sound – to prove it was possible to sail in and out. Poor Cook never got the opportunity to lay his eyes on the full beauty of this place:


The name he gave stuck at least.

As we sailed back into the tranquility of the Sound …


… a pod of dolphins greeted our passage from a distance – and quite an athletic group they were, as Adriana managed to capture with the camera at its maximum zoom:


And that crowned a fantastic experience in Fjordland, New Zealand’s Southwestern corner.


We were now ready to move to the alpine region of the island – another story in itself. To be posted soon.

4 Replies to “Doubtful for Sure”

  1. Oh my gosh! We are literally following you! Thank you and a Blessed Happy Birthday to Adriana. Hugs to all

  2. Miss you guys! I’m back in Fiji, working on Del Viento on the hard, Windy and the girls to follow in 10 days, then we’re off for Australia by way of Vanuatu and New Cal. Sail safe and best wishes.

  3. Hello Michael, it’s been quite some time ! I wish you a productive work season on Del Viento, and a safe and enjoyable passage to the West. Cheers

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