When travelling, one can become obsessed with documenting everything. Get the perfect selfie, the best caption, the most likes. How do you overcome the pressure to constantly market yourself, and capture a moment with your memory rather than a camera?
Deep into the Jurassic landscapes of Doubtful Sound, the answer becomes pretty darn clear.
Waking up early enough to see the Orion’s Belt and the Southern Cross in the same sky, I jump onto a Real Journeys tour, and instantly warm to my driver Bruce.
“It’s real simple today folks.” He tells us, “You get on a bus. Then a boat. Then a bus. Then a boat, and voila! You’re at the Sound.”
Two hours’ drive and a majestic dawn later, we arrive at Manapouri Lake. Bruce drops off the newspapers at the local newsagent – “That’s my community service done for the day.” – and we jump aboard our first boat.
As soon as we dock at Wilmot Pass, the remoteness of the Sound becomes apparent. Without roads, houses or phone signal, I feel like I’m an extra in Jurassic Park – one of those characters who aren’t important enough to get any lines, save for the improvised “Help meeeeeeee!” as they get carried off into the clouds by a Pterodactyl.
We get onto bus number two and drive on through the Fjordland National Park, past curling Beech trees, their branches covered in moss (seriously, I could almost imagine the set designers stapling the stuff to the bark for optimum otherworldiness.)
“It rains 200 days a year, sometimes 9 metres of rain.” Bruce tells us, stopping the bus so we can take photos of the waterfalls. “Hence all the moss on the Beech trees.”
We reach the east arm of Doubtful Sound and board the Patea Explorer, a fine vessel with plenty of window-seats where one can try grasp the beauty of New Zealand’s wilderness (good luck with that…)
Flyaway waterfalls float down sheer cliffs, and I remember a woman who’d told me to go to Doubtful Sound when it was windy.
“The wind catches the waterfalls and sends them flying back up into the air.” The woman had said, her eyes bright.
I ask Bruce if this was true, and he nods. “And they’re changing all the time. Waterfalls come and go with the weather.”
We cruise westwards, where the Sound meets the sea and has a choppy dispute. A few kids start screaming as the boat rocks, but a colony of seals soon has them excited and laughing.
We pass another island, home to one solitary penguin. I feel a bit sad for the fellow, he looks like a tiny groom who’s just been stood up.
Like every trip in New Zealand, I meet some great characters. As well as a botanist, a lawyer and my delightful Bruce, I discover the larger-than-life Rohan and Lawrence, best friends from Australia, whose stand-up comedy acts have half the boat laughing.
Note to self, if an Aussie comedian says; “Does Mary Poppins want a photo?”, just say no.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please could you refrain from talking or taking photos for a few minutes.” Bruce’s kind voice echoes over the tanoy. That’d be a challenge for the Aussies. “We are going to listen to the sound of silence.”
Our captain guides the boat into Crooked Arm, an inlet that points South-West from the Sound, and powers down the engine.
Wow is it peaceful. We all stand motionless, in remembrance to a time forgotten, savouring the simple lap of waves against a distant beach, the wind rustling the Beech trees.
That is until a woman behind me takes a photo, the snap like a firework in the valley.
“I was ready to throw her off the boat. Couldn’t she just for one moment not document everything?” Rohan grumbles to me after.
The boy has a point.
On the bus journey back, I doze with a smile on my face, falling asleep to Bruce’s tales of the magical landscape we’re travelling through. I’d got lost in the social media race, but Real Journey’s have created a trip that reminded me why I wanted to travel in the first place: to explore, to experience, and to be utterly in the moment.
Massive thank you to Real Journeys for the trip! You can get more info and book here on their website.