Thursday, January 15, 2009

It's A Rainbow Full of Sound, It's Fireworks, Calliopes and Clowns

In 1770, Captain James Cook was feeding his exploring addiction in Southern New Zealand when he came across the entrance to a potential anchorage. The weather and winds being so inclement, he feared entering, feeling he would never be able to get out. Thus, came the name, Doubtful Harbor, later changed to Doubtful Sound.

In 2009, it still isn’t easy to get in and out this place.

Today it involves an hour-long boat ride across Manapouri, New Zealand’s loveliest lake. Next comes a rugged 22 km van ride along sand fly strewn Wilmot Pass to the interior entrance of Doubtful Sound.

Wilmot Pass is known as the most expensive stretch of road in the country, costing 100 dollars an inch and the lives of 5 men. This road was the key to building the power station. The story of the hydro plant on the West Arm of Lake Manapouri is one of vision and remarkable engineering. It also formed the roots of New Zealand’s staunch stand on environmental protection. But that’s another story for another time.

We arranged to spend New Year’s Eve on an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound. The hype on the place was so strong; it seemed like the perfect way to wash away the slime from 2008. Quite a few outfits will take you on a night trip, but the best one is Deep Cove Charters.

The company is owned and operated by Kiwis Chris and Diane Lemin and has been operating since 1991, mainly catering for daily diving and fishing charters. In 2003 they started overnight cruises. In 2007 they decided to build a brand new vessel "Seafinn" with comfort and privacy in mind. Other companies will take on over 70 passengers. Maximum on The Seafinn is twelve. Cruisy.

December 31 began with a tremendous rainstorm. I was thinking about canceling as I reckoned we would just be soaked for 24 hours. Kimberly had other ideas, called me a pussy and punched me in the arm to steel my courage.

Bravely, we pressed on.

Chris picked up the 12 intrepid travelers and drove to The Seafinn docked at Deep Cove. Once on board I felt heaps better as it is the coolest boat ever with lots of comfortable cushy seating and big glass windows. There are 7 separate sleeping cabins for all the couples and an ample galley stocked with plenty of food. The craft ran smoothly in any weather the gods decided to toss at her.

Did I mention the rain? It never stopped. Apparently it rains in the sounds 80% of the time. The good news is that all that liquid created waterfalls, thousands of them, each more impressive than the one before. The stories high steep cliffs shrouded in clouds were hemorrhaging fresh water to mix with the salt of the sound.

I checked the electronic fish finder and saw that hundreds of the beasts prefer to hang around the rivers streaming off the rocks. Downpour or no, it was time to snag the big ones. Within minutes, one of our group, a complete and utter fishing novice, landed a large Blue Cod, later to be eaten for tea.

The competitive streak in me was awoken and, raining or not, I grabbed a rod and dunked it in the briny drink. Seconds later I was struggling fiercely to haul up my catch…a 6 inch Jock Stewart, the clown of the sound.

He was smaller than my bait.

My tiny new goggle-eyed friend was photographed and released. On the second try, I caught him again. I supposed he had an ego that demanded having his picture taken. He was like Paris Hilton with gills.

Eventually, I caught Jock a few more times, and then I reeled in Jimmy Stewart, Martha Stewart, Jon Stewart and Rod Stewart.

None made it to the frying pan.

Lunch arrived and the table was heavy with plates of freshly captured crayfish. 14 of ‘em. If one had to purchase them, the cost would be hundreds of dollars. There was so much meat, try as we might we could not consume it all. Three of the group developed serious cases of the gout after 20 minutes of gorging. The leftovers were thrown overboard to the utter joy of the Stewart family.

The Bottlenose dolphins interrupted our meal.

A pod of 60 live in the sound and came out to put on a show with their leaping ability. Cameras were clicking as they exploded out of the water like missiles, five at a time. It was like a visit to Sea World without the annoying parking hassle. If dolphins held Olympics, these guys are gold medal winners. I wonder if they know how totally cool they are. I like to think they do.

Inside the main cabin, I decided to find out more about my shipmates. One fellow told me he was born in Africa where his father was eaten by a crocodile.

Imagine that.

(Note to self: Do not go to Africa).

After getting to know the younger, fitter, more intelligent on board, I decided that if we were playing Survivor – Doubtful Sound, I would be the first voted off the island. Just to be safe, from then on, I stayed below the radar.

Chris wanted to have us understand the Captain Cook experience so he steered the vessel out into the Tasman Sea where the wind whipped, the rain pelted and the waves topped 30 feet.

It was at that time I offered Kimberly $100 to do Eagle pose. The result was a hard punch delivered to the arm.

As evening fell, we found shelter by a ubiquitous waterfall and enjoyed a sumptuous meal of the aforementioned Blue Cod and Captain Chris’ freshly killed tender barbequed venison, dripping in gravy and served on a bed of gout.

The witching hour was approaching and champagne bottles appeared. One of the cast had a cell phone that read 11:55. But the ship’s clock said midnight so midnight it was and the celebration began. Since we were 5 minutes early, we reckoned we became the first people on earth to welcome in 2009.

Happily, nobody had the music to Auld Lang Syne, so we settled for Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

And here we were as Chris sent hundreds of dollars worth of fireworks into the stormy midnight sky.

After an excellent night’s sleep on the surprisingly comfortable beds, we awoke to a sunny morning. All the waterfalls had dried up as if a team of plumbers made a night visit.

Breakfast and coffee were served and we were gently piloted back to the real world to face 2009 and crocodiles that wear suits and ties below their toothy smiles.
That's your Sound advice.


At 11:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

all i can say is wow - that is an ultimate vacation and best New Year's Eve ever. Gorgeous - thanks for sharing. robin


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