Snowed in Deep – Deep Cove

“On a Mish” #270 Snowed in Deep. Deep Cove. Fiordland National Park. 5.8.2019. I was very lucky to score winter work on the Fiordland Navigator during 2019, and the benefits of the job were going to pay off big time. After years of back and forth from Christchurch (winter) and Southland or Otago to guide during the summer, I finally had work in the same place both summer and winter. This was going to save the hassle of moving all my stuff every 6 months, and led to me buying a house in Te Anau

Winter is usually a quiet time in Southland / Fiordland but due to an average ski season we had good numbers on our day trips. A great aspect of the bummer ski season was a lot of people ready for mountain weather in their ski gear, now facing 60 knot winds on the bow of the Fiordland Navigator toasty warm. The mountains around Deep Cove and the fiord lacked any snow, and apart from cold mornings the place didn’t seem much different to what it was like during the summer season. This would change drastically in the early days of August. Living in the luxury of one of the Navigator’s cabins meant a very comfortable place to stay every night in one of the most remote locations in New Zealand. “Bad weather” was encouraged, and seeing a deep low approaching was enough to get the crew excited. It looked like the mountains were finally going to get a winter blast of snow, but what made us really amped was the chance for some snow at sea level. A very cold grey morning of rain and low cloud made for a monotone affair in the fiord, and at times the boat was hit with flurries of sleet. So many times I have seen forecasts of snow to sea level only to see three to six flakes and then just sleet and rain, so I didn’t have my hopes up too high and enjoyed the fact that the mountains were going to look awesome once the cloud cleared. We finished the cruise and during the late-ish part of the afternoon the skies began to bombard Deep Cove with thick heavy chunks of frozen shlush. The peace of snow falling outside is a real treat, and that night I was cosy warm in my cabin while the atmosphere completely changed outside. I was happy with the small amount of snow that had fallen during the afternoon, so I wasn’t expecting to see much snow in the morning.

Winter in Deep Cove

Very early-ish the next day excitement threw me out of bed, and after donning all my wet / snow weather gear I opened the door and stepped into the pre-dawn air. Although I couldn’t see very far, I could see snow deep enough to cover the foot section of my gumboots. It was still snowing and as dawn began to reveal more and more, I could see that Fiordland had been painted white overnight. So much snow had fallen that for the first time in a long time, the Wilmot Pass Road was closed due to avalanche danger. Deep Cove was looking more like a remote Alaskan fishing village, with snow covering all the boats. After making the first tracks in the snow around Deep Cove I returned to the ship, and we decided to go for a drive in the winter wonderland. Slight issue with driving, the skipper’s truck had a flat tyre. After one of the coldest tyre changes in New Zealand history we were on our way. Due to the avalanche risk we couldn’t drive too far up the road, and after driving a few of the switchbacks up towards Wilmot Pass we turned back. The road was an untouched masterpiece of snowy brilliance. The beech trees hung low with the weight of the snow, and this gave us a tight corridor to drive in. With the road closed we had the day to ourselves, and as the day rolled on, the mixture of sun and drizzle turned the snow to mush. The road crew could get through the next day, as the avalanche risk had dropped significantly, so it was business as usual for the team on the Navigator. I’m sure none of us will ever forget our rare snowy day down in Doubtful Sound’s delightful Deep Cove!

New Zealand. What a place to explore!

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