G’day! This is Dianne from Go WalkAbout Travel, your travel expert for Australia and New Zealand. Many of my clients traveling to New Zealand ask me about Milford Sound. They want to know the best way to visit Milford Sound, and what unique experiences I recommend.
Milford Sound is located in the remote southwest of New Zealand’s South Island. It is included in Fiordland National Park, the largest national park in New Zealand. It’s actually a fjord, not a sound. Fjords are deep, jagged waterways carved out by glaciers. Their edges are steep, so cliffs often drop straight down into the water and waterfalls often fall over these cliffs. Sounds are more like drowned valleys — the walls are not as steep, and the waterways are often wider than fjords. However, once Milford Sound and other fjords in Fiordland National Park were named, those names stuck.
For decades, Milford Sound has been one of the most popular tourist attractions in New Zealand. National Geographic dubbed the multi-day hike here, which is called the Milford Track, the “finest in the world.” Rudyard Kipling called Milford Sound “the eighth wonder of the world.” A survey by TripAdvisor awarded Milford Sound the top Travelers’ Choice Destination Award in 2008.
Well, I’m here to tell you that although Milford Sound deserves all of that fame for its dramatic landscape, impressive waterfalls and unusual ecosystem, it’s not the only place in New Zealand to experience these natural wonders. In fact, there are lots of other fjords in Fiordland National Park other than Milford Sound.
My favorite is Doubtful Sound, which has the same scenery as Milford Sound, but doesn’t have the crowds.
Unlike Milford Sound, no one lives at Doubtful Sound. There are no hotels, shops, or cafes there to spoil the gorgeous New Zealand landscape. There isn’t even public road access to Doubtful Sound — no parking lots for carloads of RVs, caravans or buses.
Doubtful Sound is between three and ten times larger than Milford Sound, depending on how you measure it. That means it is possible for each boat to find a private cove, waterfall or mooring away from the rest. It is at Doubtful Sound that you can really immerse yourself in the scenery that made New Zealand famous. The best moment of any cruise on Doubtful Sound is when they turn off the boat’s motors and you literally hear “the sound of silence.”
Since civilization is farther from Doubtful Sound, you’re more likely to see marine life there — some of which can only be found in Fiordland National Park and nowhere else in the world. Three species of dolphins (Dusky Dolphin, Hectors Dolphin, and occasionally Bottlenose Dolphin), New Zealand fur seals, Little Blue Penguins, Fiordland Crested Penguins (one of the rarest in the world), Southern Right Whales, and Humpback Whales can all be found at Doubtful Sound.
If Doubtful Sound is so remote and hard to reach, then how do you get there? My favorite way to visit Doubtful Sound is on an overnight cruise, where you have enough time to really experience nature in utmost comfort. At Go WalkAbout Travel, we have a close relationship with a small boat cruise operator that takes only ten people at a time. Being on a boat this size ensures personal attention for each passenger, and also keeps the itinerary relaxed, able to customize per the interests of each guest on board.
Begin your adventure with an overnight in Te Anau, which is about a 2-hour drive south of Queenstown and closer to the cruise departure point for both Doubtful and Milford Sounds. From Te Anau, you’ll have a short drive to Lake Manapouri where the tour begins. Ride on a water taxi across this large glacial lake to the opposite side, where a vehicle picks you up and takes you on a short private road over Wilmot Pass in the dramatic Southern Alpine mountain range. Board the cruise at Deep Cove in Doubtful Sound, and embark on an enchanting trip around and through the fjord for almost a full 24 hours.
Shorter one-day tours to Doubtful Sound are also available from Te Anau and Queenstown. If you still prefer to visit the more famous Milford Sound, then it also has overnight and day cruises departing from Queenstown and Te Anau. Whether you choose Doubtful or Milford Sound, I recommend bookending your trip with a night in Te Anau instead of Queenstown, since it’s so much closer and makes the journey shorter and easier.
By visiting Doubtful Sound, you spend less time on the road and more time in the nature of New Zealand than if you went to Milford Sound. You also get to experience more of what makes New Zealand so famous — the scenery, not touristy shops!
To learn more about visiting Doubtful Sound, Milford Sound and the rest of New Zealand, contact us at Go WalkAbout Travel today!