Real Journeys operates two-day/one-night cruises to Doubtful Sound, leaving from Queenstown, Te Anau and Manapouri; from $NZ278 ($260) to $NZ427 (from Manapouri) and from $NZ338 to $NZ487 (from Queenstown), depending on season. The cruise is often booked well in advance, especially in peak season. More: realjourneys.co.nz where we will moor for the night, and the more hardy among us are kitting up for kayaking and an even closer view of the rainforest and waterfalls. There is much hilarity as a few souls jump in for a swim. They are in and out in no time. “Is it really cold?” I ask. “It is absolutely freezing,” they shrill. Those wimps, myself included, who have elected to stay on drier land and sample New Zealand wines from the bar, feel vindicated in our choice.
As darkness falls we dine on a selection of excellent buffet dishes, everything from fresh and smoked fish to roasts, with salads and vegetables to accommodate all dietary requirements. A choice of rich desserts, fruit and cheeseboards follows.
We share our table with a couple from England who are touring New Zealand. Other guests come from the US and Canada, Germany and Japan, aged from 20s upwards. After dinner, some make use of the card and board games on offer while others choose to listen to Carol’s talk in the observation lounge about the history and ecology of the sound. It’s still raining when we go to bed.
Next morning we emerge to a world that once again has colour. Rosy-pinks tinge the sky and bits of blue are visible amid the clouds. It all looks washed and wonderful. The sun is up there somewhere, lurking.
We cruise down various “arms” of Doubtful Sound and by midmorning the scenery is glorious in Technicolor. Without the rain, the world is a quieter place and it’s about to get quieter still. We’re going “dark ship”, announces Ray, which means all power on the vessel will be cut, leaving us with only the sounds of nature. Silence envelops us like a heavy blanket and we become aware of water trickling down mountains, of the slightest breeze, of water lapping. It is a rare and memorable moment.
Ray restarts the engines and once more we are on our way. We have company. A pod of dolphins has come to join us, frolicking alongside — showing off, actually — much to our delight. Among them is a baby, practising its moves while its mum and “aunty” supervise. After about 10 minutes, they tire of their jumps, flips and turns and subside into the water for a rest. Their performance is another magical moment, a grand finale, in a natural show that has unfolded for us in the past 24 hours.