We walked down the little walkway towards the ferry that was going to take us across Lake Manapouri so we could catch a bus that would take us along a dirt road through the Wilmont Pass, only traveled by other people who were about to experience what was in store for our little group, Lou, me and the Koalas. It was cloudy and drizzling and I was hoping that I hadn’t made a big mistake. When we loaded on the bus the fog was so thick you couldn’t see the tops of the trees. I’m worried, probably not much to see in Fiordland when the fog is so thick you could cut it with a knife.
When I saw the Navagator, designed like a traditional sailing scow, waiting for us in Deep Cove all doubt about doing Doubtful evaporated. I had wrangled for weeks over which fiord to cruise, Milford or Doubtful? Milford or Doubtful? I had asked multiple people and gotten different answers and I wanted this to be the highlight of our trip. Just one look at a sailing vessel with the stately masts, a crew ready to serve and cabins that were immaculate and roomy for a sailing ship and I knew the next two days were going to be special. Ashlie came in beaming about her accommodations and that her and the little Koala had a cabin all to themselves.
Within minutes we had been through the safety talk and the clouds started to part, the sun was peeking through the peaks and creating some dramatic scenery. Doubtful Sound is exquisite in every way with waterfalls, mosses and plant life that would fill a color palate covering the sides of shear granite cliffs that towered over 3000 feet on either side of the ship. The ship is cutting through the water and a pod of dolphin is escorting us towards the Tasman Sea. Pinch me is this real. We reach the Tasman and find a seal colony hanging out and looking like they were wondering what took us so long, albatross diving and playing a dance across the water’s surface as the ocean slammed into the walls.
Ash loaded into a kayak to get some Mommy time. Lou and I loaded into a tendered skiff to get an up close view of the cliffs, flora and fauna that creates this wonderland. The Little Man slept through most of our tour but that’s okay, he has been a gem , this whole trip he has been through extreme sensory overload.
Back on the ship the crew is offering up a swim in the frigid sound which sounds like a terrible idea to me until I see Mr. Bean in his bathing suit. Mr. Bean is the name several of the passengers gave one of the passengers, a 70 year old New Yorker from upper Manhattan who was soaking up every ray of sunshine, drop of frigid water and every second of his Doubtful experience. How could I let Mr. Bean show me up, minutes later I am standing in my bathing suit on the stern of the boat about to make the plunge. Half way down it’s too late to turn around, “What the heck are you doing” flashes through my mind, and then everything goes black and extremely cold but exhilarating. Thanks Mr. Bean.
Later the crew laid out an awesome meal and we continued to meet other passengers who were sharing the same amazing experience that we were privy to. The ship was set up to encourage conversation and comraderie. The night wrapped up with a cool breeze, clear night with a million points of light watching over us.Morning started out early with the grinding sound of the anchor being pulled in and a continuation of beauty. The sun coming up over the fiord created a beautiful and dramatic orange sky. A few penguins came out for the sight. Then the crew did something unique, something that I have never seen an organized tour group do. They asked everybody to be silent, no walking, no talking, they cut the engines and generators and we sat in the middle of the sound for about 10 minutes bathing in the original sounds of Doubtful, waterfalls and waterfowl, a wonderful silence that penetrated your soul; a time to reach inside of yourself and grasp the awesome sights and sounds of God’s creation. Some of the passengers wept. Wow!
After our moment of meditation the captain turned the boat and headed straight for the side of the sound and put that mammoth vessel inches from the granite wall that is now towering over us, water slipping down sides is showering the deck. Unbelievable! What an experience!
I have to say that when people ask me in the future Milford or Doubtful, I will only be able to say that I loved experiencing Milford from the air and Doubtful from the water. When they ask if this was the “trip of a lifetime”, I can only say that it was a blessing to spend a week with most of my family, Lou Ash and the Kel Man. The only thing that could have made it better would have been the Bird, Mike and Reid. To experience a bunch of firsts with the Kel Man was a gift. I know he won’t remember much of this trip but I believe that it will make and indelible mark on his personality and his appreciation for the incredible opportunities that lie before him, he is one lucky baby.