Today we enjoyed the luxury of a bit of a sleep in and late breakfast as our tour didn't leave until 12.30.
A short walk down the road is the waterfront area that serves the lake, the ferry for the power station workers is moored at it's own jetty while the tour boats have a large facility next door. A bit further along are the private jetties for a variety of pleasure boats.
Our tour company is a well organised mob that have obviously been doing this for a while. There are a number of different tours to the other side of the lake, all using the same boat (a modern catamaran with a couple of decks). Some doing our power station tour, others doing an overnight trip, others doing kayak tours.
The trip across the lake takes about 45 minutes and as usual there is a bit of a commentary that is quite informative. We plonked ourselves in a seat up front so being the nerd I am, could get a good view of the helm and the navigation data. The depth readout soon started ticking over as we left the jetty, 70 metres rapidly became 200 metres which then showed 400 metres, damn this lake is indeed deep. The skipper said that the deepest point is around 440 metres, only about 50 metres less than the deepest lake a bit further south.
There were a couple of little kids on board, about 5 or 6 years old, well mannered but full of beans. I remarked to their mum (a young German lady) on their boundless energy, with a tired look she replied "they never stop, even when they sleep, they just keep going". Must be a handful travelling with them, great experience for the family though.
Lake Manapouri was chosen as the site for a hydro power station back in 1904, due to its size, elevation above sea level and proximity to the coast. Basically it meant thy could pipe the lake to the sea to provide the kinetic energy to run turbines. Making the concept a reality of course was more problematic, particularly as the rock is solid granite, with work not commencing until 1964. Eventually it also took a deal with Conzinc who would take 85% of the power to run an aluminium smelter in Bluff, to make the project happen. The station generates enough electricity to power Auckland, still 85% goes to the smelter, with any surplus going into the national grid.
Apparently a while ago the smelter's parent company approached the NZ Government saying that unless they got a better deal they would close up shop. After gaining government "assistance" they posted a huge annual profit. Hmm sounds very similar to some shenanigans being played out by large multinational companies in Australia, particularly in Gove recently (with an aluminium smelter too).
The bus trip to the power station took a bit of a detour to show us the view from the top of the mountain overlooking Doubtful Sound. Well they assured us the view was there, like yesterday it was socked in with solid cloud, so the view was a grey wall of mist. An interesting facet to the place is the existance of ancient Beech trees, some of which are reputed to be up to 800 years old. These trees and the location were featured in the Lord of the Rings movies as the home of the Ents, talking tree-people.
Evetually we arrived at the entrance to the power station access tunnel, 2.5 km of it descending some 200 metres under the mountain in a gentle spiral. This tunnel was constructed by the old method of drill and blast, at a rate of about 20 metres per day. Like the Snowy Mountains hydro project, manpower was predominately post WW2 European, a number of which lost their lives on the project.
At the bottom of the descent we arrived at the turbine hall, a cavern of 111 metres in length 18 metres wide and 39 metres deep. It's big, really big and is quite inspiring when you reflect on the methods used in its construction. They have 7 turbine units down there.
The whole tour is quite informative and well worth it should you venture this way. Pity the weather wasn't a bit kinder on the day but I'm not complaining at all.
Funnily enough while we were walking back to the motel we heard the sound of a raucous Harley, our friend from yesterday. On spotting us he pulled over for a yarn, he'd caught up again with his initial travelling companions but things were still not going well with the ladies of the group insisting on girly indulgences so he'd headed off on his own again. "Been having a ball, put three tanks of fuel through it today alone", he grinned. Looking at the wear patterns on his tyres he had certainly been exploring the limits of the Harleys' cornerning performance envelope. Good on yer mate, enjoy.
Tomorrow we are back on the road, initially heading to our Southern most point of the trip before turning North for our return run up the Eastern side of the Island. Depending upon the weather it could be around a 600km run, so an early night. The skies currently look clear over that way..... fingers crossed.