Most people have heard of Milford Sound but not lesser known (but more spectacular in my opinion) Doubtful Sound!
How to get there
The only way to see Doubtful Sound is from Manapouri (about a 20 min drive from Te Aneu), via a boat from Real Journeys (they are currently the only company that will take you there). They do offer a discount if you do the Te Aneu glowworm caves and Milford Sound tours with them too.
If you’re not hiring a car to get around New Zealand then Doubtful Sound will be difficult to get to. Milford Sound is good (and a similar fjord) and can be visited via a bus day tour from Queenstown. See my review of Milford Sound in this post.
On the way to Manapouri
To get to Doubtful sound you’ll need to first board a boat, then a bus, and then the 2nd boat is when you’ll get to the actual Doubtful Sound.
I recommend going up top on the first boat (there’s limited seating so queue early). The captains spot is open so you can see just how deep the water is. At it’s deepest apparently it’s 550m!
This part is more like a lake… until you dock and then take a bus for about 40 min through forest & waterfalls.
Then you’ll board another boat and you’ll be in Doubtful Sound:
It goes all the way out to the ocean where the water gets a bit choppy, sky is bluer and you may see some dolphins and sea lions!
The boat then turns around back through the fjord. They turn the boat off for a couple of minutes at one point which makes you realise just how remote you are – very peaceful.
Then take the bus, then the other boat and then drive back to Te Aneu. It is a full day trip and you can’t do it from Queenstown.
Things to keep in mind
- It’s a full day so if you’re pressed for time, Milford Sound is the better option
- Because of all the different modes of transport and logistics of getting there only 1 company (Real Journeys) offers day trips – it means a Doubtful Sound day trip is more expensive than Milford
- If you don’t want to be on a boat all day, do Milford Sound not Doubtful Sound
- The boats for Milford and Doubtful are about the same size – I recommend sitting in the middle at the back on the lower level so you can easily go outside for photos
- Take warm clothes & a rain jacket – even in summer it gets cold
- Don’t pre-buy the lunch package – take your own snacks or buy a sandwich from the canteen on board – it’s much cheaper (like a 1/3 of the price)
Milford versus Doubtful Sound
If you’re trying to choose between Doubtful Sound and Milford…
I preferred Doubtful Sound itself as it was bigger, there were no other boats, they turn the boat off so you can hear how peaceful it is, it goes right out to the edge of the island / the ocean. However it is a long round trip to get there.
I’d go with Milford Sound as it’s easier to get to (you can do a day trip from Queenstown if you don’t hire a car), there’s more things to see along the drive to get there, the 1 hour boat cruise all the companies do follow the same route so competitive pricing, they all stick the front of the boat under one of the waterfalls, plus it’s a similar fjord (just smaller) so you’ll get the gist of what a fjord looks like for a much cheaper price.
More New Zealand
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- Day trip to Milford Sound (Self-Drive Itinerary)
- New Zealand South Island 10 Day Self Drive Road Trip Itinerary