Fiordland: The Expensive Road You Can’t Drive To


The most expensive road to construct in New Zealand is unreachable by car.  You can’t drive to it. You can see it as a small white line in the above photo of Wilmot Pass at Doubtful Sound. It is 12 miles long and is not connected to any other roads.  DoubtfulRoadBusIt was constructed in the 1960s to build an underground hydroelectric power station.  One end is in Doubtful Sound on the Ocean and the other is at Lake Manapouri. All equipment to build both the road and carve out the granite mountain for the power plant came in by boat.  The gravel road cost $5 an inch in 1960s dollars.  It is now used primarily for moving tourists (me!) from a ferry at one end to a boat cruise at the other so they/we can experience Doubtful Sound.

The following photo is from the road looking down at Doubtful Sound. It’s an exact reverse angle from the first shot.DoubtfulSoundThis is a good example of what Milford Sound looks like in the previous post – 1 mile high mountains careening steeply down to narrow fiords. More than 1/2 the tourists never get this view, because it is raining and cloudy.

A section of trees slipped away here revealing the granite and no soil. It will take a 100 years for it to grow back and fill in.

On the ocean side it rains 9 meters a year – 30 feet.  If they get 5 sunny days in a row it is considered a drought. There is no soil.  Trees hang on to each other.  Sphagnum moss does well here.  However. tourists in the rain do get to see all the waterfalls.  This was day two of no rain and since there is no soil to hold water there were no more waterfalls. Bone dry after a day of no rain. After being in 2 weeks of waterfall weather I was delighted to trade waterfalls for views. Beautiful weather… and Sand Flies.

According to our guide, the Maori have a story that Fiordland was made by a male god learning to use a shovel.  A female god thought Fiordland so beautiful and was so in love with it that she created a blood thirsty monster to protect it so no one would destroy it.  The monster? Sand Flies….  It appears to be working.

Doubtful Sound looks the same now as it did 1000s of years ago.  A one point on the cruise, the captain turned off all the engines and machines.  We were to be quiet.  Again, there was that silence.  Afterwards he made the comment that this is what the Maori, British and Spanish experienced when they first saw it.  Nothing has changed.

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