Philippe Bourget - 2011-08-19
At the extreme south west of New Zealand Fiordland national park covers an area of 1.25 million hectares. Classed as a Unesco world heritage site, this wild and isolated land is home to fjords, dolphins and the unspeakable fragrance of virgin territories.
This is an adventure to the power of ten! Imagine a mountain range with exuberant and moist vegetation, ten of the most breathtaking and virtually inaccessible fjords, a completely preserved wildlife, all in one of the world’s rainiest places. Welcome to Fiordland, New Zealand’s most authentic terra incognita.
Discovering this natural paradise is in itself an "expedition." From Queenstown, one of the departure cities for the organized tours, you have to travel 120 miles and almost 3 hours by bus heading south to Manapouri, which along with Te Anau, is one of the park’s entry points.
Bottlenose dolphins and fur seals
Once you’re here there are two options. Either you head north on the road 60 miles to Milford Sound, the most famous and visited fjord or start a new journey by boat, bus and again by boat to Doubtful Sound, a haven of silence with a precipitous relief and untouched nature. The latter circuit is more expensive but unforgettable. The first stage consists of crossing Lake Manapouri which takes 40 minutes of peaceful navigation against a backdrop of islands and distant mountains. Then begins a 15 mile climb up the Wilmot Pass, a wonderful pass road that cuts through beech trees with silvery mosses and large branching ferns. Finally, we plunge into Deep Cove, where a small, modern and comfortable catamaran awaits. Here, 7 to 8 metres of rain drench the landscape throughout the year. Coming here and finding blue skies is a very slim possibility indeed!
This is where, in a cathedral-like silence, the cruise begins. For several miles the fjord and its tributaries reveal an extraordinary landscape of green mountains that plunge into marble-like water. No houses or indeed any human presence is to be seen here. Only beautiful dolphins sliding freely and happily through the water, close to the shore, as if moved by a feeling of plenitude. No wonder the director for Lord of the Rings came here to shoot several scenes for his film in this dreamlike and surreal setting.
Captain Cook’s Dilemma
At the end of the fjord is the Tasman Sea with its rocks where sea lions languish fearlessly on black slate protected by a 1946 law which prevents them from untimely hunting. It was at this specific spot that James Cook, aboard the Endeavour, put down his anchor on his first voyage in 1770. Feeling cautious before entering this fjord shrouded in mist and showers, he feared there would be too little wind and gave the place the name Doubtful Harbour.
However there won’t be any doubt in your mind about having made this wonderful trip once you’ve made the journey to this magical place to the beautiful world’s end.
The Real Journeys agency from Queenstown, "the extreme sports capital" on the Southern Island (linked by regular flights to Auckland and Wellington), organizes tours to Fiordland. You should reckon on spending £120 per adult for the trip to Doubtful Sound.