Friday, July 5, 2013

The Travelling Trio NZ - Part 6 - Doubtful Sound Return and to Arrowtown

Day 7 Thursday 27th June

I lay in bed listening to the breathing of Hubby and Son. It’s dark in the cabin but behind the curtain I see that it’s starting to get light. I tiptoe out into the breaking day. The still of early morning is a magical time on the sounds, I’m not missing this. I clamber over hubby and tiptoe outside to see where we are.  Mist is snaking and curling in drifts further up the sound. Birds are calling and somewhere around there is a minor waterfall creating a soothing background patter.  The moon is shining silver brightly against the pale blue. It won't photograph other than as a reflection in the darker water. 
As the light intensifies green begins to emerge from the palette of greys and black. The sky is blue with occasional clouds.  The cold begins to seep through and I retire back to the warmth of the cabin. A sample of Mandy’s lovely shortbread is irresistible on the way!
At about 8.30 Mandy and Dave are up and about, and the generator is started. Brekky is underway.
There’s cereal and the traditional full cooked breakfast of bacon and eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms and we’re not surprised to find there’s plenty available.  Next up we are all kayaking. The sound is like glass. The IRB is lowered to act as a platform then the kayaks are passed down from the upper deck. Not without a measure of trepidation lest we fall into the water, we follow Dave’s instructions to safety board our kayaks.
There's a choice, we can just paddle around the immediate area or head off up the fiord and get picked up when it’s time to go. It takes two hours to reach the end of crooked arm.  Z and A take don’t venture too far but I’m off. Son is behind me. and Hubby is falling behind. I head back to check he’s going OK. Lose the lead and then there’s no catching Son. He’s well into it.
We string out as we round the corner. So peaceful. Time in the wilderness away from the hordes of mankind is vital to the spirit. We paddle and pause. Listen. Watch the reflections in the mirror of the inky water; the ripples and tiny whirlpool created by gentle paddling. Watching the shoreline, I imagine a Maori warrior bursting from the forest and giving a challenge, I paddle on. Eventually we hear the chugging of the Tutoku II underway. Son sits quietly in his kayak. I catch up. He doesn’t need to tell me what he's feeling, I can see it in his face. Anyway I'm not sure there are words that would convey the magic of this experience. We chat quietly and paddle together back towards the boat. The reflections are even better when heading back. We glide across a mirror. I enjoy watching the the little whirlpools of turbulance  created by my paddle.
Following Son as he slowly glides, the glassy surface flexes and rise with the ripples trailing from his kayak.  Hubby is first of our party to take the challenge of getting back out of the kayak. Then Son gives me a demo of how the trim and fit do it. I hand up the camera and do a fair imitation of Hubby’s inelegant self extraction. Well we don’t fall in the water at any rate!
We relax as we cruise down Crooked Arm warming ourselves inside and talking. What a contrast in Crooked Arm to when last I was here! It was an enormous wall of cascading water then. Now it’s the forest and ferns and occasional tiny trickles that you have to look hard to find...and the mirror of course. 
We head back out into the main body of the fiord and are summoned by Dave to the bridge, he’s got some commentary to provide. We head across to Blanket Bay, and up to explore Hall Arm and make our way back to deep cove as we munch on warm scones with jam and cream. 
Among our conversation, Son relates the story of a dinner he had with some foodie colleagues in San Francisco one time. This restaurant was pretty extreme on the service level. Son shakes his head recalling it. We laugh as Dave points out that next time, when he goes out with those guys and they’re exchanging service level stories Son can impress them when he tells them about the waiter he had on Doubtful Sound who just jumped in the water and caught us a lobster for dinner! Haha. Too right!
We pack up and disembark when the time comes. We need to be back at West Arm for the 4.30 Real Journey’s trip back across Lake Manapouri. While Mandy and Dave unload the boat and put her back at her mooring. Richard, Mandy’s partner also gives a hand. He’s come over to sort out a problem with the van. We make a start on a walk along the road and once again we’ll be picked up by the van as it passes.
We pass the hostel and friendly greetings from a school group studying there, and have just enough time to make it to a beautiful lookout to another pretty waterfall before we're climbing back in the van for the rest of the trip over the pass. We laugh as Z and Son note that they each had to do a sort of double take at the lookout. We’ve become so accustomed to the water reflecting the forest, at first they assumed they were overlooking a lake!
We arrive back at West Arm in plenty of time. We 5 passengers find a table together on the boat and chat as we travel across the lake. This is a new boat only 18 months old and has wonderful big picture windows. Dave used to work for Real Journeys and has confirmed my impression that Real Journeys make a substantial investment in asset management. Their boats always look very schmick. As we near the end of the cruise, Son and Z exchange contact details. They’ll catch up if Son and his girlfriend end up in New York at the end of the year.
Back on solid ground, we say goodbye to Z and A. They’re heading for the return coach to Queenstown and then they head up to Rotorua. Joining the Doubtful Sound overnight from Queenstown has been easier than they expected, though it demanded an early start yesterday. Mandy gives us a lift back to Acheron Cottages. It’s getting dark now. It would have made sense to stay another night. We say our goodbyes and each head our separate ways, my head filled with schemes for how to get Daughter1 back on Doubtful for the fishing and maybe some diving.
So… in the wash up. I hear you wondering. What operator should you go with? Which trip is better. I went with Real Journeys on the Fiordland Navigator last time when I was here with my Mum, Sister and Daughter1. That has about 70 passengers. I think I’ve had phenomenal luck. The larger boat designed for enabling viewing through huge picture windows is handy in the storm, especially for the squeamish or those that due to age or infirmity can’t risk getting cold or whatever while viewing. Certainly it was ideal for my Mum in the wet. Yes, there’s a lot of people, but it’s a big boat and that’s not a problem. We never felt crowded. In the fine weather we’ve had this time, the smaller boat and the fishing is ideal.  The intimate party has been great too and we’ve enjoyed making new friends. Obviously you don’t get Lobster for dinner on the Real Journey’s trip either or blue cod.  Of course you can’t make your choice based on the weather because you don’t know that until the day.. look, do eeny meeny miny mo if you have to. Either trip is wonderful.
We toy with the idea of just staying in Manapouri another night given that we’d be setting out late, when ice risk is higher. However my companions are in favour of sticking the plan. Thankfully we’ve had a pretty good night’s sleep last night, so we get underway. I ring ahead to confirm with our accommodation in Arrowtown, no worries there. We have an uneventful drive in the dark. Driving in the dark is also not the ideal because you are missing the scenery, but at least we’re back tracking, so we’ve seen the great majority of this route the other day. Time over I would either get the coach down or stay another night in Fiordland.

In Arrowtown we’re staying at the Settler’s Cottage Motel. We check in and take our host’s recommendation of the Postmaster’s Residence for dinner, just a short walk away. As we’re entering a couple ahead of us comment that there’s a log fire here. Just what we need. There’s also several options for warming drinks. Son has a lemon, honey and ginger option and hubby tried a hot toddy. Our meals are very nice and the ambience is great too. Service is fine. A lovely end to a wonderful day.

Back to our cottage, where we are very comfortable. Another excellent TripAdvisor recommendation.

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