New Zealand EN, Travel Blog

New Zealand Diary Day 13 – Doubtful Sound Kayaking

Day 13 started awfully early. We had booked with doubtful sound kayak tour (The guys were amazing and I highly recommend them) and we had to report at their office in Te Anau is at 6.30am. Which mean we had to wake up at 5.30, lucky us their office was just a 5 minutes drive from our apartment.

After reporting to their office, filled the paperwork and enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee we hopped into their minibus and transferred to Manapouri harbour where a boat was waiting for us to cruise across Manapouri Lake.


It was still so early that we got to enjoy the sun slowly coming out with all those beautiful colours.

Facts about Manapouri Power Station

The Manapōuri power station project is considered the birthplace of New Zealand’s environmental consciousness.

The original plans for the power station were developed in the 1960s and proposed raising the level of Lake Manapōuri by up to 30 metres. That meant that Lake Manapōuri’s famed wooded islands would disappear, and the fragile shoreline beech forest would be left to rot in the water.

A number of New Zealanders realised the extent of the environmental impact, and protest became widespread and passionate. In 1972 the Government confirmed that the lake level would not be raised. In February 1973 the Government created the Guardians of Lakes Manapōuri, Monowai and Te Anau to oversee the management of the lake levels.

The new plan and original construction of the Manapōuri hydro station was a huge engineering achievement. The project took 1,800 workers eight years to complete in extremely harsh conditions. The project involved constructing the power station 200 metres below a granite mountain in an underground cavern.

Several access and service tunnels were built. The 10-kilometre tailrace tunnel was excavated to take the water that flows out of the station into Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound. All this was completed using drill and blast excavation methods to carve through the hard Fiordland rock.

The first power was generated in September 1969, with the installation of two generating units. The station became fully operational in 1972 when the seventh and final generating unit was commissioned.

In 1998, work began on the second tailrace tunnel. An additional outlet for the station was drilled, allowing it to generate to its full rated capacity.

In 2002, the second tailrace tunnel was completed. It runs parallel to the original 1970s tunnel and allows the station to achieve a maximum continuous rating (MCR) of 850 megawatts, although resource consent conditions limit generation to 800 megawatts.

Source: here
Watch Video: here

So at the visitor centre, we change into you kayaking gears that we provided by the tour, that also included well needed thermal layers and hats.

Once everybody was dressed and ready we got into a minibus and travel 22 km by coach over the Wilmot Pass Road (670 metres above sea level) and stopped to take some photo of this breathtaking view


And then down again to the start of the Doubtful Sound.

Fact about Doubtful Sound:

Doubtful Sound was discovered and named ‘Doubtful Harbour’ in 1770 by Captain Cook, who did not enter the inlet as he was uncertain whether it was navigable under sail. It was later wrongly renamed Doubtful Sound by whalers and sealer.

It is wrongly named because it is technically not a sound but a fiord.

A sound is a large sea or ocean inlet, deeper than a bight and wider than a fjord; or a narrow sea or ocean channel between two bodies of land

A fjord or fiord is a long, narrow inlet with steep sides or cliffs, created by a glacier.

In the photo below you can see the Helena Falls which are the fall created for the power station


We arrived at the harbour and unloaded the equipment to the boat. After that, the guide gave us the briefing and safety guides, and he was talking this little guy came and say hello. This is a Weka bird.


Our tour was split into two parts. The first was 1,5 hours kayaking, then we will rejoin the boat which will be waiting for us further down. There we will have a nice cup of tea or coffee with our lunch, and then we will get back into our kayaks for another 2,5 to 3 hours kayaking.

When we were fully briefed it was time for us to get into your kayaks and start our beautiful tour.

I have to say if you are new to kayaking there is not a more uncomfortable sitting position that the one you have in a kayak. Within 15min my legs and pelvis were burning, but it was worth the pain.

Our luck was at its best once more. The sky was blue and there was not a single blow of air. The water was so calm that our guide told us that instead of taking the route that gets us further used the fjord we will take the route that goes towards the sea which is a route he hasn’t been able to take for many months because the weather was never good enough. And if you add that because of the pandemic we were probably the last group of the season I mean what a treat!

So we slowly pedalled our way taking in the amazing sceneries!

The most impressive was the number of waterfalls that came down the mountain. The top left photo from the above group is a waterfall that comes from a lake that is on top of this mountain.

Another topic that our guide talk to us about was the animals leaving in Fiordland especially the birds.

He told as that record from Captain Cook said that the song of the birds could be heard from the open sea. Unfortunately, we could hear only silence. This is because, since the arrival of man 1000 years ago, two-thirds of New Zealand’s native forest has been wiped out, converted to grasslands and urban areas.

The good news is that it’s now the goal of both government and volunteer groups, such as the Department of Conservation (DOC) and the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, to conserve the remaining natural habitats and eco-systems, and save the wildlife that lives in them.

More about New Zealand Conservation program: here

So towards the end of our day, we arrived at a very specific spot that is the only one from where you can see the opening of the fjord and the sea.


There we hopped once again onto the boat, some of us took a quick jump into the (freezing for me) water before heading back the harbour and from there to Manapouri and back to Te Anau.


I will admit, every day in this trip was wonderfully and unique and even if Hobbiton brought tears to my eyes for some reason this place was the highlight of this trip for me!

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