Kayaking in Doubtful Sound is not the first activity most people consider when in Te Anau. Probably the best known sound in New Zealand’s Fiordland National Park is Milford Sound, with all manner of trips offered to the thousands of tourists who flock there every year. And it was for this very reason that I looked towards other areas, where I might be able to enjoy the peace and serenity of kayaking through Fiordland without the crowds. Only a couple of companies offer Doubtful Sound kayaking trips, and the one I settled on was Fiordland Adventures. Their price was competitive and their promise of small groups (maximum of 10 clients) struck a chord with me. I wasn’t disappointed!
Kayaking in Doubtful Sound is slightly complicated and involves a 20 minute road trip, a boat trip across Lake Manapouri, and another 40 minute road trip before hitting the kayaks. However, I just see this as variety and a chance to see more of the country – and Milford Sound involves a 2 hour trip each way anyway.
The boat trip across Lake Manapouri with pilot Clint was fun and offered new views of the surrounding landscape (including the Kepler Track which I completed only the day before), and on the far side of the lake, the Manapouri power station. This is where the advantage of our small group came into play, as our guide Cloudi was able to provide a great commentary and answer any individual questions we had.
On the other side of the lake our bus journey took us over the Wilmot pass and gave us our first glimpse of Doubtful Sound as we stopped to take photos. It really felt as though we were exploring an area of New Zealand that most tourists didn’t see, which really added to the trip.
After a safety briefing we were soon in our kayaks and cruising over some very calm water. Even though the weather started quite drizzly we were warm enough in the layers provided, and to be honest kayaking in the blazing sun sounds rather hard anyway. Doubtful Sound looks fantastic even in overcast weather – the smooth water, the looming peaks, and the mist in the distance really gave it a serene, magical feel. Kayaking near the shore at first, we crossed to a small island in the middle of the Sound, and in the afternoon explored one of the narrower arms of the Sound, complete with pristine beaches accessible only by water.
Cloudi pointed out lots we would have otherwise missed: areas where land slips had changed the environment, waterfalls that come and go with the rains, and native New Zealand birds hiding in trees. We were even luckily enough, after lunch, to see a small blue penguin making its way across the Sound. Cloudi also pointed out native trees that are known to live for 900 or more years. It was very sobering to think that some of the trees we were gliding past were there before even the Maori set foot in New Zealand. There was also a chance to test the ‘echo wall’ – a particular concave area of cliff where it is possible to talk to somebody at a normal volume, even if they are at the opposite side of the Sound. Or you can simply shout and hear your voice echo far, far into the distance!
A really good aspect of our trip was that our boat met us at specific points – once at a lunch stop after about 2 hours of kayaking in the morning, and again at the end of the day after another 2.5 hours of kayaking. This was a really good idea and meant we didn’t need to kayak back up the way we had come, covering the same ground (or rather, water). Overall we kayaked for just over 15 kilometres.
Fiordland Adventures organised everything on the trip perfectly and I’d thoroughly recommend their services. They are a small operation, and I can only see this as a positive thing – their service was personal and enthusiastic, and it was clear that our guide Cloudi loved kayaking, loved the environment we were in, and loved nature. It is hard not to have fun when this is the case!