Snowed in Deep – Deep Cove

“On a Mish” #270 Snowed in Deep. Deep Cove. Patea / Doubtful Sound. Fiordland National Park. 5.8.2019. Patea / Doubtful Sound is a very remote location. To get there is a mission in itself, but well worth the effort and an experience unlikely to be forgotten. Living in a place of consistent beauty is even better with picturesque views 24 / 7. Now I have always said snow makes any scene even better, however I never thought that I would see the white stuff when living at sea level in a fiord…

I was very fortunate to score winter work on the Fiordland Navigator in 2019, and I knew the benefits (not just financially) 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 bonus for places like Piopiotahi / Milford Sound and Doubtful is that a bummer ski season sends a lot of people, ready for mountain weather in their ski gear, our way. During the summer it is hard to convince a newbie to Aotearoa to pack clothing for all manners of weather no matter what the season is. But being kitted out in your skiing gear is perfect for facing 60 knot winds on the bow of the Fiordland Navigator as we power our way into another Fiordland storm.

When the boat wasn’t sailing the expanses of New Zealand’s second biggest fiord it’s is parked up in Deep Cove. I was disappointed that it was well into winter and the mountains around Deep Cove 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 passenger cabins meant a very comfortable place to stay every night in one of the most remote locations in New Zealand / the World. We also had use of the galley (kitchen), so the food was usually as epic as the surroundings.

“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 where we were.

A very cold grey morning of rain and low cloud made for a monotonous affair in the fiord. White and grey ridges appeared out of the darkness 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. I don’t like to be negative but I didn’t have my hopes up too high and enjoyed the fact that at least the mountaintops were going to look awesome once the cloud cleared.

We finished the day’s cruise and during the late afternoon / early evening the skies started to bombard Deep Cove with thick heavy chunks of frozen slush which proceeded to bond with whatever it touched. The peace and quiet of snow falling outside is a real treat, and that night I was extra cosy warm in my cabin while the atmosphere changed outside.

Winter in Deep Cove

I was happy with the small amount of snow that had fallen during the afternoon, and I wasn’t expecting to see much snow in the morning. No point in getting your hopes up when it is very rare to see snow at sea level in New Zealand.

Very early-ish the next day the ‘what if it had actually snowed’ idea got me out of bed. I purposely didn’t look outside as I donned all my wet / snow weather gear, opened the door, and then stepped into the brisk pre-dawn air.

Although I couldn’t see very far, I could see snow and it was snow deep enough to cover the foot section of my gumboots. Wow, this is much better than expected!

It was still snowing lightly and as dawn began to reveal more and more, and when light allowed it I could see that Fiordland had been completely painted white overnight.

So much snow had fallen that for the first time in a long time, the Wilmot Pass Road (only road into the area) 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 the Skipper Dave decided we should go for a drive in the winter wonderland since we now had the day off. We set off after breakfast and immediately ran into a problem. The skipper’s truck had a flat tyre. After one of the coldest tyre changes in Deep Cove history we were on our way.

Due to the avalanche risk we couldn’t drive too far up the road. This wasn’t really an issue because everywhere we looked we saw awesomeness. So after driving a few of the switchbacks up towards Wilmot Pass we turned back and followed the only tracks in the otherwise crisp clean environment.

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 through with branches lapping at the car in places. With the road closed for the day we had the day and the place to ourselves. Of course I wasn’t just going to sit around and do nothing, so after doing some chores I went back out into the winter world and played around in the snow.

As the day rolled on, the mixture of sun and drizzle turned the snow to mush and mud, which made it much less inviting than during the morning. The road crew armed with a grader could get through the next day, as the avalanche risk above the road had dropped significantly. The day of being snowed in Deep Cove was over and it was business as usual for the team on the Navigator. As we started to explore the fiord once again the small team running the boat still had visions of the place the day before. And 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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