Friday, July 5, 2013

The Travelling Trio NZ - Part 5 - Doubtful Sound Overnight with Fiordland Expeditions

Day 6 - Wednesday 26th June

Exciting day!! We are to meet Mandy of Fiordland Expeditions at the Real Journeys offices in Manapouri at 9.15. Our car is staying at Acheron Cottages. I’m beginning to wonder if I’ve got the instructions wrong when we finally intersect with Mandy and subsequently with Dave who clearly lives up the Kiwi stereotype in my head - friendly and funny. We travel with the day trippers across Lake Manapouri to West Arm.
Disembarking at West Arm
Fiordland Expeditions has their own bus for transporting us and the gear to Deep Cove. There’s only 5 of us on the overnight trip this time. Our new friends are a young couple from New York. A happy coincidence because Son’s girlfriend has only messaged him in the last day or so suggesting they take a holiday to New York later in the year.

 The trip across the Wilmott Pass is so different from my last time here when a storm raging across fiordland created an astounding amount of run off. The creek was a raging torrent and there were numerous ephemeral waterfalls by the road. There’s still a couple, but they are modestly pretty. As we pass Stella falls a call goes up asking if anyone wants a photo. Yes Please. I have people at home who will be very interested what it’s like now. The difference is amazing. Where there had been a creamy white river of water plummeting down the Cliffside there’s now a string of silver ribbons arrayed across an area of bare rock.
Stella Falls was named for a ship which once looked after the lighthouses around the area and having come to grief is now used by professional fisherman as a permanent mooring base complete with helicopter pad in another of the sounds,.  We learn again of the astonishing amount of rainfall experienced here and the uses of sphagnum moss. As we travel we discuss the weather and Dave comments that a lot of people call and consider cancelling when there is heavy rain. They struggle to believe that the fiords are at their best in rain and mist. Cancelling for weather reasons in Fiordland? Big mistake!
We make a stop at the lookout which was a bit of a dud when I was last here. The rain was so heavy visibility was almost zero. Today in the clear weather we get a beautiful view over Deep Cove from the snow encrusted lookout. 
Down at Deep Cove, we watch the Real Journeys passengers board and head off while Mandy and Dave load the MV Tutoku II, get the heaters going and warm the engine, then we board and get settled and start to get to know each other.
The boat has a large eating area off a generously proportioned galley. We assemble for a welcome and a glass of sparkling wine. None of us have brought along wine or beer to enjoy along the way, so it’s water for our beverages from now on in. Our ensuite cabin is just next door and has a comfortable double bunk and a single bunk above. I'm surprised at the size of the ensuite. Bigger than I expected. It’s warm and dry and there’s a walkway through to the bridge which can accommodate several additional people to watch the view ahead. We can also watch the action behind us from the fishing deck, but the indoor viewing is fairly restricted. It’s best to be outside and we are glad we’re well rugged up as we watch the scenery from the upstairs viewing area.  It’s not long before a couple of dolphins find us and spend a few minutes playing in the bow wave. They’re bottlenose dolphins and we’re all delighted to see them. The water is crystal clear and the dolphins lie on their side apparently observing us peering over the bow to watch them cruising effortlessly and making regular breaches to catch their breath.
Meanwhile Mandy has been busy whipping up a tasty lunch of macaroni cheese. Well above average macaroni cheese I have to say. There’s plenty more if we want it. Some of the men go for seconds, but I am pretty confident there is not going to be a shortage of food on this trip so I abstain.

Lunch concluded we’re in need of heading out to catch our dinner. Dave will don his wetsuit and rustle up some lobster. He proclaims that he will trade lobster for fish.  You have to catch a fish to get some lobster. Haha. Righto.  We motor out to a little bay where we anchor up and as Mandy baits our lines on the fishing deck, Dave is out hunting underwater. We’re just after bait fish here and it’s not long before we’re getting satisfying nibbles on the lines and shortly after are hauling in Crimson Wrasse and Jock Stewart cod. With enough bait caught our subsequent catches are released. 
We’re still bringing in the fish when Dave returns with 5 lobster. One is a really beaut big fellow, a couple of others smaller but legal, and just to show us before release, he’s brought back a female laden with eggs and one that is too small to keep. Having explained a thing or two about them and given us a look the two visitors are released. The others go into a tub awaiting sacrifice.
Then we’re on the move again to the area where Blue Cod are caught. It’s not rough but there’s a bit of a swell out here, we are not too far from the entrance to the sound. As we travel have a dozen Buller’s Albatross (Mollymawks) and a Shy Albatross follow the boat anticipating some easy food. They are such beautiful creatures and so graceful as they skim above the water and swoop across our wake. As we stop so do they. ..waiting their chance.
I am highly delighted to be the first to catch a blue cod. I’m also very interested to see what the actual fish looks like. We are all catching fish and having a great time. 

Z, our New Yorker companion wins the prize for best fish of the day with his catch of a beautiful big blue cod. Nice work! Oh dinner is going to be delightful. 

Catch of the day!
There was a bit of excitement when I get distracted and a Mollymawk decides he might have an opinion about whether the bait should go to the fish - fortunately I won the argument; and another when a fish returned to the ocean becomes bird food.
Ok little fella, you get another chance

Off you go

Oops not quick enough to avoid the Mollymawk
We are nearing sunset now and Hubby is feeling a little unwell with the swell, he just needs to endure as we duck across for a look at the seal colony near the entrance to the sound. We pull up in the lee of the island and have a good look then we’re cruising back to shelter. As the light changes the colour slips through a kaleidoscope of colours. Doubtful Sound is a spectacular place. 

When we’re back on the calmer water Hubby recovers OK and is fine for the rest of the trip. Son spends a long while up on the top deck watching the sun set over the western horizon. 
As we round the corner into Crooked Arm, and lose the sight of the glowing horizon and silhouetted rocks, we gather around the table for some very enjoyable conversation. 
We seem to have a lucky knack of landing on tours with other people with whom we get along and have some things in common. We laugh and chat as we try not to overindulge in a tempting platter of nibbles and watch in delicious anticipation as we watch the crayfish go into the pot.
It’s well and truly dark before we anchor up so we’re following our progress on the radar.  Safety moored dinner proper can begin. Our first course is a warming plate of thick soup. This is followed by the lobster which we’ve watched as it is cooked in a large pot and chilled by resting in the open air on a board out on the fishing deck. With tips on the best way to extract the tail and delicious leg meat, Dave demonstrates the skill of extracting the whole leg in one piece. I don’t think anyone else seriously took up that challenge, we’re happy to just gobble it up in pieces! 
Course three is beautifully battered blue cod and an accompanying salad. This is the best blue cod of the trip. A short pause to catch our breath before dessert which is a little sticky date pudding. In between courses we have ducked outside to check out the star filled sky. A cloud extinguishes the southern cross before we get a chance to point it out to our new friends. Conversation flows and it’s approaching 11pm before we note the time and drag ourselves off to bed, just as well it doesn’t get light until 8am. We are certainly not going to bed hungry. Mandy reveals her supply of ear plugs and Son retires well armed with defense against the snores of the old folk. What a fantastic day!

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