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Stewart Island Doubtful Sound

17th January 2012

Past Monkey Island to the Land of Massive Peaks, Fiords and the Eccentric Campsite

    Aaron was strutting up and down the communal kitchen this morning. He had been up since 5am expecting a phone call to go and shear a flock of sheep. He waited a long time for the call, and eventually it arrived. The farmer had thought it was unlikely to rain overnight and had left his sheep out. It had rained, the fleece was wet, and so Aaron's services were postponed. He was not a happy bunny.
Panoramic View of South Fiordland Across Te Waewae Bay with Monkey Island in the Foreground      (please use scroll bar)

    An English couple, Guy and Pipa, from Chichester turned up in the kitchen. They had a son who lived in Gisbourne, so they were combining visiting and touring. I learned they were keen sailors and raced most weekends. Their touring route would be tracking mine for the next couple of days, but due to time constraints they would have to squeeze the rest of their break into the next three weeks.
    They had used a variety of transport modes in their travels, a mixture of busses, trains, and now a campervan since the latter is the only viable option for this neck of the woods. As travellers do, we compared notes, and then discussed families. I was amazed to hear that their granddaughter had travelled the world by her first birthday. It is indeed a different world for the new generations.
Clifden Suspension Bridge
    I said my farewells to Alan, who gave me some good pointers regarding campsites in Manapouri and Te Anau. Then I was off. I said farewell to the wind-blasted city of friendliness, and headed west, picking up the coast at Riverton; a surfer's hideout due to the consistent swells created by the southerlies. From there I followed wind-ravaged cliffs overlooking Te Waewae Bay, admiring the tenacity of the wind-sculpted macrocarpa trees which had been almost bent into submission by the fierce southerlies.
    I rounded a hill and was presented with a magical view across Te Waewae Bay to the southern edge of Fiordland, a wall of towering snow-capped peaks. I pulled off at the bottom of the hill to make a short detour to Monkey Island to take in the vista and stretch my legs. The air was fresh and cool, and the sun poked through the scudding clouds. A trio of kids splashed about in a stream carving its miniature Grand Canyon across the beach. A couple of people had made it to the lookout on top of the island. At one time it had been a Maori lookout for whales, and later an unloading point for supplies before roads reached the area. Today it was a cool place to chill out, awesome as they say in these parts.
    My long journey back up north then began in earnest, following the course of Waiau River up through Tuatapere, once a thriving timber town but now a sleepy farming centre. I stopped off further along the way to marvel at the Clifden Suspension Bridge (yes, sounds like Clifton), spanning 111.5m above the once mighty Waiau River. It remains as a memorial to those involved in its design and construction from 1896-1899. It claimed fame as having the longest span of any suspension bridge in New Zealand. From the 1860s Clifden settlers were reliant on the Waiau ferry to get goods and stock across this dangerous stretch of the river. By the early 1890s the ferry was replaced with a government funded punt attached to a wire rope. The Clifden Bridge saw the demise of the punt, creating a much sturdier connection to the far side of the river. It was in use until 1978 when a modern bridge was built a short distance further down the river.
Campsite Alpine Cabins
    It was while marvelling at this engineering feat, Guy and Pipa turned up. We exchanged views on the bridge, the river, then bridges in Christchurch, and finally had a good discussion about the sorry plight of that once beautiful city. Guy had an excellent description of it, "Like a war zone without the shell holes." Our conversation started to include a string of places with Maori names, and we all agreed that we had difficulty with the Maori language. Mind you English is bad enough. Guy told a funny tale of some Australians he met in the UK who had just come down through "Looboroo." It took a while for him to decipher "Loughborough" from that little gem.
    We parted again and I carried on northwards, still tracking the river, and passing between the Takitimu and Hunter Mountains to Manapouri. This small place, sitting by the lake of the same name, was once the centre of New Zealand's first major environmental campaign. An aluminium smelting company, the one I had seen on Tiwai Point from Bluff, wanted cheap hydroelectric power for the smelting process, and the government agreed to build a power station on the lake. The scheme also planned to raise the level of the lake by 8m in the process. This created a public uproar, and although the power station went ahead, the lake level was kept the same. The government fell at the next election. Manapouri also served as the gateway to Doubtful Sound, one of the many fiords on the island's rugged southwest coast, where precipitous cliffs, thundering waterfalls and marine wildlife, created a unique wilderness environment.
    Once in Manapouri, I headed straight to the Real Journeys travel office and sorted out tickets for both Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound cruises. The Doubtful Sound cruises are always heavily booked, so I just managed to scrape a place on the 7am tour the next morning. For that start time, I would need to arise by 6am, thus necessitating somewhere to stay in Manapouri. After booking, I asked the lady behind the desk, "The chap who ran the campsite where I stayed in Invercargill told me there is a good site here run by an 80 year old eccentric lady. Could you advise me how to get there please?" She gave me a puzzled look, and said, "Perhaps he is referring to Joel." She called a colleague over, and asked her, "Would you consider Joel an eccentric 80 year old?" The two women looked at each other, then slowly nodded and smiled at each other, and agreed that yes he must be referring to Joel. I was given instructions on where to find the campsite, and thanking them, I left.
A Sample of the Vintage Vehicles at Manapouri Campsite
    Manapouri is small, and I found the site with no difficulty. I drove into what resembled an alpine village. A sign on the office door said, "If empty, ring the bell. If you have no joy, honk your horn three times." The bell worked for me, and an old lady descended a flight of steps from a nearby building, walked over and invited me into her office cum shop cum museum cum gallery. A manikin dressed in an old red military uniform hung from the ceiling. "Who is that?" I asked. "That is Baron von Munchhausen. He features in a children's story, and he avoided a conflict by saying he had been knocked over by a cannonball." That explained the big spherical object sticking out of his backside, though I must admit I don't recall the story; perhaps it belongs to a different nation. I pointed out, "You have a Union Jack hanging over there, and German flag over here, and ..... ," but she cut me short. "And there is a Norwegian flag, and here is a Swiss flag. I am trying to create an alpine feel to this site," she said. I couldn't make the mental connection between the Union Jack and the Alps. There was an oddball collection of artefacts in the office, but I thought I'd be here all day if I started asking more questions. Despite being in her 80s, this old dear was as bright as a button.
Panoramic View of Lake Manapouri from Campsite      (please use scroll bar)

    "Park anywhere you want," she said. "The toilet block and other facilities are in that building over there," and she left me to it. I drove past cabins that would definitely fit into an alpine village, and past a line of Morris Minors that would look out of place in an alpine village, and found a place to rest up on. This old lady had a mass of vintage vehicles scattered all over the campsite, 13 of them being Morris Minor models. "They are there for people to photograph," she told me. "An English person once told me I could get a fortune for them back in England, but I think it would cost me a fortune to send them there. They are staying here," she said with a loud full stop in her voice.
    I explored the site. Signs were handwritten in English, German and French. It was twee, clean, tidy, unique, and, I think the word I'm looking for is eccentric, but it will do me. Perhaps I ought to purchase some lederhosen. The view from the front was absolutely out of this world, looking down the start of the long Lake Manapouri, with towering peaks on either side. Absolutely stunning.
    I shared a beer with a bloke from Swansea in the evening. He and his wife were also going across to Doubtful Sound in the morning to do some kayaking, We both had to be up at the crack of dawn, so we called it a day after a single beer, and had an early night.

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Stewart Island Doubtful Sound

Uploaded from Great Lakes Campsite, Te Anau on 18th January at 16:30

Last updated 18.1.2012