Is Milford Sound the only fjord worth seeing? Doubtful.

Posted by on Mar 1, 2013 in Countries, Featured, New Zealand | 4 comments

This trip to New Zealand is all about “going with the flow” and seeing where life takes us.  Even for the Type A planner like myself, it is easy to allow this laid back country to wash over you. For the better part of a week, Mike and I have been cruising the South Island and stopping whenever and wherever we feel the urge.  Most towns in New Zealand have one or two main streets and a handful of shops making it simple to breeze through stopping only to revel in the views.  When the moment came to decide how to spend our time in the Fiordland region however, we had to choose which sound to visit:  Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. Fiordland, an area on the Southwest coast of New Zealand, is the most untouched area of the country.  Ancient glaciers carved out the landscape of Fiordland leaving behind the famous fjords that are now sprinkled throughout the country’s largest national park, Fiordland National Park.  A visit to the South Island of New Zealand is not complete without a trip to one of these awe inspiring sites. Tourists flock to Milford Sound to enjoy one of the short (1.5-2.5 hour) fjord cruises that depart several times a day.  According to the guidebooks that Mike and I read, Milford Harbor is dominated by a large cruise center resembling an international airport.  The crowded attraction is stunningly beautiful and relatively inexpensive which is probably why it is so popular.  But Mike and I have been enjoying the LACK of crowds in New Zealand so the thought of driving 5 hours from Queenstown for a short, crowded cruise made us a bit weary. We instead opted to visit Doubtful Sound which has been described as “the heart of Fiordland National Park”.  While Doubtful has smaller peaks and costs more, it promises a full day (almost 8 hours) of nature cruising, wildlife siting, and remote views.  More importantly, when we asked advice from several locals, every Kiwi recommended Doubtful over Milford.  We were told that we would feel as if our boat was the only one on the water and THAT made the difference. Mike and I drove the 2 hours from Queenstown to the town of Manapouri to depart on our amazing day in the fjords.  We  boarded a boat in Lake Manapouri for a 40 minute cruise to West Arm, the beginning to the overland portion of the day.  Even the cruise of Lake Manapouri afforded some ridiculous views that we did not think could be matched.  Little did we know that there was much more in store.  We hopped on a bus and drove throughout Fiordland National Park taking in the scenic tropical landscape and traveling over Wilmot pass before reaching Deep Cove, the entrance into Doubtful Sound.  After boarding a second boat, we weaved through the beautiful fjords.  We were struck by how peacefully enchanting this cruise was.  The misty clouds hovered over the fjords and the glasslike water rippled only when interrupted by marine life.  In fact, we were lucky enough to cross paths with a small group of bottle nose dolphins, a colony of seals, and a straggler penguin.  Doubtful Sound was so quiet that we could actually hear the dolphins calling to one another.  I cannot describe this with any other word but “magical.” At the end of the sound, we emptied into the Tasman Sea and had the chance to look back at the sound to truly grasp its magnitude.  From that angle, it was easy to understand why the explorer, James Cook, gave the sound its name; he thought that if he ventured in, it was doubtful that he would return alive.  We circled back through Doubtful Sound and headed toward the last portion of our day trip: a brief tour of the Manapouri Power Station.  You may be wondering why I would care about or even mention a trip to a hydroelectric plant.  Yet, this addition to the day was a surprising treat.  I was interested to learn that the building of the power station is not only one of the proudest construction achievements in New Zealand’s history, but also marks the beginning of the country’s focus and commitment to environmental conservation.  Instead of easily building an above ground dam, the country chose to drill 2 km underground to preserve lake even though it took 1,800 men 8 years to complete. All in all, Mike and I were thrilled by our decision to visit Doubtful Sound.  The secluded tour was more than just a cruise through a sound.  It was a day’s journey over lake, land, and fjord.  A day to experience nature and truly appreciate what makes New Zealand so special.  In the end we think the tour of Doubtful Sound was worth the extra money.  And, for a couple on a budget traveling for 9 months, that says a lot.


  1. Love the pictures and your inspiring us to take a trip!! You both look so happy. The scenery is awesome.

  2. First off Kat, I’m a little disappointed that I didn’t make the original blog list and had to get it from Simmons. He said you were probably born blonde and forgot. Awesome so far, but I was promised some beer blogs by The Pisco Duo. Keep them coming.

  3. What beautiful pictures. We are enjoying all the posts! Keep them coming and enjoy. God bless.

  4. Certainly looks like you made the right decision to tour Doubtful. Love the pic of the two of you with the lake and mountains behind.

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