On the Fiordland Flyer, our Skipper Andrew kept up a running commentary about Lake Manapouri, Fiordland and the West Arm Power Station. The upper deck actually looked like a rugby stadium, as I was surrounded by people wearing international rugby logo’s and speaking in Spanish, French and even Russian, as they snapped off scenic photos.
Chris Moon, our Real Journey's guide, met us at the Information Centre and drove us over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove. He joked about being ‘new on the job’; however, his knowledge of all things nature based proved that he was anything but inexperienced.
The physical beauty of Doubtful Sound is hard to explain, and I’ll never be able to do the fjord justice with the written word. Rather than me babbling away, I suggest you take a look at my photographs taken from the Patea Explorer. Waterfalls, seals, penguins, dolphins and the sound of natural silence left me on sensation overload with a full SD card.
Back on land, Chris drove us into the bowels of the hillside to see the power station. It was a 'Beyond 2,000 – Buck Rogers' kind of experience learning about how water from Lake Manapouri drops 178m down seven penstocks to the power turbines and is discharged into Doubtful Sound. Over 1,800 men and woman built the road over Wilmot Pass and the underground power station. It took 8 years, of drilling and blasting to dig the access and utility tunnels. Over 1,800 people worked on the project and the power station was finally commissioned in 1971.
The incredible thing about this project is not only does it supply a vast amount of power for Tiwai Point aluminium smelter; the footprint of the power station was altered to maintain the level of Lake Manapouri. It what was New Zealand’s first mass conservation protest, over 265,000 signatures taken to parliament to ‘Dam the Dam’. Somehow the Engineers and ‘Greenies’ managed to get the project work without destroying the Lake. Hearing this story makes me think that there is hope for the planet after all!
I have to admit I was utterly exhausted at the end of the day and I was glad that I only had a 20 minute drive to Te Anau, rather than a bus trip back to Queenstown. Just another reason to stay in Te Anau for at least two nights and explore both Milford and Doubtful Sound when you head to Fiordland.