The lake region of Fjordland is a mix of steep mountainous terrain and flat fertile valleys often separated by a lake. We expected to enter winding steep mountain roads as we traversed this area but we found that the roads were flat and straight on the eastern side of the lakes. The 2 main lakes are Manapouri and Te Anau. They are only separated by 20 km and we stayed in Te Anau but we spent a lot of our time down in Manapouri. We actually looked at property in Manapouri where we found something in our range (under NZ$30,000) that we liked. We decided against it but we asked at many of our stops and they kept telling us that our price was too low.
Manapouri is the departure point for the Doubtful Sound tour. You begin on Manapouri Lake. You cross to the power station. The Manapouri Power Station is an engineering feat. It draws water from Lake Manapouri and drops it 600 feet to turbines which then drain into the Doubtful Sound below. The power is used primarily to drive an Aluminum smelting operation on the south coast which refines ore from Australia.
There are no roads to the power station but there is a regular ferry barge which will haul your vehicle and trailer boat. Once at the power station there is a gravel road over the summit and down to the Doubtful Sound. This was built to bring in the huge turbines and excavation equipment and the road is maintained in good condition.
The tour takes you over the summit by bus and down to the sound where you board a boat for a tour of the sound but that is another story (see Sounds of Fjordland).
The Doubtful Sound tour is operated by Fjordland Travel and they do all of their tours well. This one is expensive and if you are on a budge then pass on this and drive to Milford Sound instead. One other note, they offer a lunch which is a little pricey by New Zealand standards but we bought so we wouldn't have to carry it all day. Wrong, they hand it to you before you board so bring your own lunch if you can.
We also took the Glowworm Cave tour also operated by Fjordland Travel and this was a big hit with us. There are glowworms in just about every cave in New Zealand but they take you across the lake in a cool older ferry and then give you an explanation of what you will see. They then take you in small groups into the cave with a boat ride at the end in a completely dark cavern where the glowworm are so thick they look like stars. Another must see!
The only word of caution is that you must walk through a 30 foot section which is only 4 feet high so if your back is bothering you you may want to pass.
Te Anau is the place where we ran into the tourist rush. We had been cruising into holiday parks without reservations and having no problems but it all changed in Te Anau. The place we stayed was packed. Campers were assigned spots in the driveway island in the entrance. We realized that we needed to begin booking ahead but we still found that 4 days ahead was usually enough. It started to become a little to tourtisty and crowded for us but we started to hit overload in Queenstown, still down the road a bit.
As we left Te Anau we passed through Cromwell. It is the Pit Fruit Capital of New Zealand. Yea, I know, just think of them as pits in apples and pears. These huge displays of local accomplishment at the city entrance were actually common and we got a big kick out of them. This was one of the best but we also saw a huge trout and a few others. It reminded us of the US in the 50's (OK, we're not the old). New Zealand in general seemed to capture the good qualities of that era while embracing the advances of the modern world. We really loved our visit in this country.