The Most Beautiful Sound is Silence!

January 23 and 24, 2014

There were so many things that I was looking forward to on this trip:  The Lord of the Rings/Hobbit Tour, the Tongariro Alpine Crossing, climbing Mt. Doom and my kayaking trip through Doubtful Sound.  The LOTR/Hobbit tour was exactly as I had hoped and more and I said it was a highlight and it still is but I have fallen in love with Doubtful Sound.  It has to be the most beautiful place in New Zealand, if not on the planet.  It could also have been the fact that I was kayaking through the Sound.  I don’t know.  But I love it.  If I don’t do anything else in New Zealand I will still be happy because I kayaked through Doubtful Sound.  And I slept in a tent.  In the rain!  And I kayaked through the rain and wind.  And lost two hats along the way.  It was the best experience I have ever had during those two days of my entire life, not counting the days I became an Aunty.  I don’t really know how to describe it.  You just have to have done it to realize how amazing it was.  But I will try to describe it for you.

The first day started off early.  Very early.  They were going to pick us up at 6:15 am.  That means a very early wake up call, which didn’t happen, which kind of annoyed me, but thank goodness for alarms on iPhones and additional alarm clocks.  I was ready and waiting for them when the van arrived.  And as I hopped in, and Marcel, our guide from Real Journeys introduced himself, I came to realize I forgot my sleeping bag in my room so I had to run up and grab it.  No problem.  Except that in my rush to get to my room, I became disoriented and lost in the halls.  Yes, I got lost in the hotel.  Stop Laughing!  Okay, It’s kind of funny.  Well now that part has been taken care of, I won’t be getting lost in Doubtful Sound or in the surrounding area of the campsite.  Nothing else bad can happen now.  Right?  When I hopped back into the van, I came to realize there were two others already in the back of the van.  Naoki and Takashi from Japan.  We had one more person to pick up, Paul from London and then we were on our way to catch our boat to cross Lake Manapouri.  The drive to the boat took about 25 minutes.  Marcel grabbed the weather report and then we drove down to the dock and started to load our gear on to the boat.  Afterwards, we all boarded the boat and headed off.  While we tried to warm up, Marcel was reading the weather report and indicated that due to the weather, there was a chance that we might be switching to a cruise through Doubtful Sound.  Hmmmm.  That would be a bit disappointing, but as we looked out the windows and saw the dark clouds and rain coming down, I was kind of expecting it.  I was kind of expecting it the night before when I arrived in Te Anau.  Well, hoping for the best, Marcel handed out all the gear i.e. wetsuits, thermal clothes, etc for us to change into, all the while he was telling us how much rain Doubtful Sound had received the other night.  110mm.  I wonder how much rain we will receive while we are out there.  I hope our campsite doesn’t flood.  We were all decked out in our gear by the time we arrived on the other side of the lake.  The weather hadn’t changed much though.  But we persisted.  We unloaded the gear from the boat and then reloaded it onto the bus that was going to drive the 22 km road to the start of our kayaking drip.  We drove on the most expensive road in NZ.  $2 per cm of road.  Crazy!  And even then it was a scary road.  Well, we made it to Deep Cove!  Deep Cove, NZ not North Van.  And here we unloaded our gear from the bus and started load up our kayaks.  We had double kayaks and Marcel had a single kayak.  I was paired up with Paul.  And thanks to Will’s advice (Milford Track guide) I sat in the back of the kayak and did the steering while Paul did all the paddling work.  Kidding!  I paddled and I think my instructor back in North Vancouver would be proud that I remembered what he taught me.  I was replaying how to do a Solo Paddle rescue, even though it was double kayaks.  And then I was looking at our kayak and wondered where our spare paddles were and then where the water pump was and where our rope was located.  Anyway, after loading up our gear, Marcel gave us some quick instructions on how to paddle.  Out of all four of us, I think Paul and I had the most experience.  Our Japanese friends indicated that they had probably paddled at most for one minute ever.  Well okay!  Marcel was unfazed.  And now we were going to be paddling in the rain.  But when we headed out on the kayaks, it actually looked like it was going to clear up a bit.  How foolish that thought was.  It was still raining when we started but it was acceptable.  And as we followed the coast and went further and further away from Deep Cove, it was less and less likely that we would be switching to cruising.  Yay.  I missed kayaking and it was so easy to get back into the groove of things.  But wait!  What they hell kind of kayaking was Paul doing?  Those are not the sweeping strokes that I learned in class back home.  And where’s the torso rotation?  Hmmmm.  Good thing I’m sitting in the back and I’m steering.

Well, as with Milford Sound, the rain brought on a lot of temporary waterfalls and mist.  But from our vantage point, low in the water it was a completely different experience.  This was so much more personal.  And we were the only ones on the water.  There was another group of kayakers, but they were separate from us and eventually they went a different way.  I think they were only one day kayakers.  And there were no other boats.  I think we only saw two large boats the entire first day.  But then again, I could’ve missed them because the weather changed from rainy to windy and rainy.  Thank goodness I took my motion sickness pills.  I can’t tell you how long it took for the weather to change.  I didn’t have a watch on.  I didn’t have a cell phone with me.  I had no way to tell the time.  And here in New Zealand, the sun doesn’t set until quite late.  It was kind of liberating really.  But the wind picked up and the water became quite rough.  Thank goodness the double kayaks are very stable but with the wind…Oops there goes the rain hat that Marcel gave us.  Good thing I still had my baseball cap and the thermal touque that he gave us.  Of course when we stopped for coffee break, that’s when I realized that my baseball cap was gone.  Hmmmm.  Well at least I still had the thermal touque.  But I really liked that cap.  Good thing I had a string on my glasses.  That would really suck if that got blown away.  Thank goodness I brought my bug spray.  Sandflies are the devil!  They are the worst thing that could ever happen to a person in New Zealand.  I will have to save up all my pent up rage against theses pesky insects and redirect it agains the possum, stout and rabbits that I come across on my travels.  My goal before the end of this trip is to run over at least one of each.  KIDDING!  But these are pests that all New Zealanders love to hate.  They are doing a lot of damage to the bird population and to the native plants.  But I digress.  Sandflies.  They are horrible.  They are like mosquitoes but they attack in swarms.  I had 30% DEET.  And the non chemical stuff as well.  I have to say that the chemical stuff works the best.  I have never been so covered in chemicals ever on a trip.  First I am layered with 60 SPF and then after letting that absorb, I am covered in 30% DEET.  And then I slather all the bug bites with anti-itch cream.  And at the same time I take an antihistamine, mainly for the hay fever that I started experience when I arrived on the South Island but it helps with the itching from the bug bites.  And trust me, as the days go by, the itching gets worse.  EVIL SANDFLIES!  I can’t say enough how horrible these things are.  Even when you are slathered in chemicals, they still bother you.  They don’t bite you, but they fly around you.  Careful you don’t eat them!  They are not extra protein that I want.  Anyway, after our coffee break, we were back into the kayaks and headed off again in the wind and rain.  But even in the wind and rain it was a beautiful sight to behold.  We were so close to everything.  We paddled up to waterfalls and filled our water bottles with pure mountain fresh water.  It was delicious.  We finally made it to our campsite, called campsite 2.  Apparently campsite 1 was already taken.  We brought our kayaks up and before we could unload, Marcel took us around to get oriented.  He showed us where our tents would be set up and where the toilet was located.  One long drop for non liquids only.  Make use of the bushes but make sure it’s away from the creek, since that would be the source of our drinking water.  Washing dishes would be out where we had landed our kayaks.

We all helped set up each of our tents and then we unloaded our gear from the kayaks.  The first thing we did was change into dry, warm clothes.  Then meet up in the insect free tent.  As it was my first time sleeping in a tent, my first time camping, my first time sleeping outdoors, I was the last one to arrive in the insect-free tent.  I had to commit murder, gleefully.  The sandflies made it inside my tent.  And before I was going to strip down, I had to make sure there was nothing that was going to bite me.  The last thing I needed was a bit on my back where I could not reach to scratch.  Horrible creatures.  After the mass killing, I was changed and ready to join the others in the tent.  The boys were already snacking on marshmallows and crackers and salsa.  I pulled out my apple.  Even though I’m on vacation, I still try my best to watch what I’m eating.  Well, after snacking, Marcel pulled out a deck of cards.  While they played, I took photos.  And after a few games I joined in.  And it was fun.  For me, there were no electronics, no watches, no iPhones, no iPods.  I only brought a magazine and my cameras, my waterproof one and my fancy one.  Yes, I brought the fancy one.  I had it in a plastic bag within my own dry bag, Thanks Tina and then I put that dry bag into the dry bag that Marcel provided.  It was well protected from any moisture.  The only thing that I could not protect it from was if we capsized and all our things went to the bottom of the Sound.  Marcel told us how there was one kayaker who had brought his fancy camera along and he dropped it into the water.  The kayaker turned to the guide and asked him if he could swim down to get it.  The Sound is over 300 metres deep.  The camera is probably still down there somewhere.DSC_3966

Well, after a few games of cards and other silly games, it was time for dinner.  Yummy, Herb and Garlic roll with canned Tuna.  Apple, Banana, chocolate and muesli bar.  The other’s had instant noodles.  Bleh.  I’d rather eat cold food rather than eat instant noodles.  Of course I might have to eat my own words later on.  It is the cheapest thing around.  The only person who appeared to be eating really good was Marcel.  Pan fried chicken with apricot sauce and toasted bun with cheese.  After dinner, more cards.  A game called President.  Some of you may know it as Big 2.  Japan has a name for it as well which I cannot pronounce nor even attempt to write down.  There are variations to the rules of the game.  But whatever.  It was fun.  After a few more games, Marcel cleaned up his dishes and decided to turn in.  It was still light out.  But we had another early start.  And his would be earlier since he was going to be the one to wake us.  I told him he’d need a stick to poke me awake.  I’m glad he didn’t poke me with a stick.  Since it was still light out, I went around the campsite and back out to where we had landed and took some more photos.  The water had receded drastically.  It was amazing how far out it was.  What was even more amazing was, where it had been covered in water when we first arrived, there was now a whole new life emerging.  Little plants and flowers that bloomed when the water receded.  It was amazing.  It was still raining and it would continue to rain all night.  The mist was still there, but it just set the mood to how mystical the setting we were in.  Well, it was time to retreat into my little tent.  And thankfully Marcel had several cans of bug spray.  We each took some and sprayed it into our tent before heading inside.  After giving it a chance to kill those little devils, I went in to kill what still survived.  I made sure that all my stuff was inside the tent and that there was no food in my tent.  All the food and our gear had to be tucked away into our kayaks.  Apparently the Kea birds and the rats can be very destructive.  Yay.  Kea birds are destructive.  Good lord!  There are rats!  Not as long as I have nothing for them to attract their attention.  And Marcel was kind enough to tell us that there are no sandflies at night.  However it doesn’t get dark until late.  Well that’s not too helpful.  Oh well.  I have retreated.  I have unrolled my sleeping bag.  And thank goodness for Bev.  When I told her I was going to Doubtful Sound, she gave me a big warm sleeping bag with a liner.  I used her liner and my liner and wore all my warm clothes, including my waterproof jacket and pants.  I had the liners over my head, just incase Marcel was wrong and the sandflies came out at night, and just in case they were smart enough to figure out a way into my tent.  And while I lay there all snuggly warm, trying to get comfortable on my sleeping pad, I heard it.  A Kiwi bird.  It was amazing.  I heard it twice.  Marcel had said that there were Kiwi birds here.  He even tried to imitate the sound of the Kiwi.  Tried.  Good thing I watched the in-flight nature show when I first flew over from Vancouver.  So I knew what these birds sounded like.  But to hear it outside, while camping, while in my damp tent and my warm sleeping bag.  That was something like…Wow!  Wow!  Anyway, after 13+ km of kayaking that day, I was asleep a lot quicker than I thought.

And awake a lot sooner than I hoped.  I knew it was morning.  I just didn’t know what time it was.  I tried to go back to sleep but the sound of the creek would not allow me to get more rest.  But at least the rain stopped.  And soon I heard Marcel coming around to wake us up.  And he was kind enough to tell me that it was like glass out.  So that got me up quick.  First thing before breakfast, get into our gear.  That is not as easy or as quick as one would think.  Everything was still damp.  And no one wants to go from dry and warm to damp and not so warm.  But we were on a time crunch.  The goal was to get back on the water by 8am.  After changing, we were supposed to take down our tent.  While I was taking down my tent, Marcel came by and sent me off to have breakfast while he continued to take my tent down.  Thanks Marcel.  Anyway, after breakfast, after taking more photos, after cleaning up the campsite, after reloading all our gear, we were on our way.  And it was beautiful.  The rain has stopped sometime in the late night or early morning.  And we would not see anymore rain for the rest of the day.  The water was like glass.  It was so serene, so peaceful, so quiet.  Other than us and the birds, and the sandflies, there was no other noise.  The silence was so peaceful.  I have never felt so serene.  It was so peaceful.  I don’t know how else to describe it.  I did not want it to end.  Every time we dipped our paddle into the water, we broke the glass.  It was just amazing.  It was so beautiful.  So silent.  And with the acoustics of the Sound, we could hear the sound of boats long before we could see them.  And we could hear them long after they had left.  And that disturbed my peace.  But thankfully, there weren’t a lot of boats, unlike Milford Sound.  While at Milford Sound, we did see fur seals and its was interesting to see, but we saw it from the deck of the boat.  But in Doubtful Sound we saw a pair of Blue Penguins and a pair of Fiordland Crested Penguins, the second most rare penguins in New Zealand.  We were at water level with these creatures.  We paddled after them to try to see them up close, but they kept swimming away and then a boat came by and spotted the penguins as well.  Oh the annoying boat that disturbed our peace, that broke the glassy surface of the water, that drove the penguins away.  Eventually our experience had to end and it was time to return to our starting point.  In total we kayaked over 25 km in the two days.  Marcel thinks maybe more since we hugged the coast line for both trips.  It’s 25 km from point to point, but due to the weather we followed the coast line.  This was the best experience ever!  I have fallen in love with Doubtful Sound, in bad weather and not so bad weather.  Now just like Milford Sound, when we were out of our kayaks and were packing things up for the bus ride back, the sun came out.  That’s alright.  I will never forget this experience and I am so glad we did not go on a overnight cruise.  It would not have been the same, not by far.

I have fallen in love with Doubtful Sound.


3 thoughts on “The Most Beautiful Sound is Silence!

  1. So great to read about your adventure and I agree – sandflies – bleck…and the bites stay for ever. It was great traveling with you and I definitely will now go look for your other postings!


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