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The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT -

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.

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