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10 reasons to visit Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound? Day trip or overnight? These are the questions you’ll face when deciding to visit the fiordlands, one of New Zealand’s three UNESCO World Heritage sites. Read on for 10 reasons to choose an overnight trip in Doubtful Sound with Real Journeys on The Fiordland Navigator

Real Journeys The Fiordland Navigator Doubtful Sound

Photo Credit: Pete Kelly

1. Arrive in luxury

If you’re beginning your trip to Doubtful Sound in Queenstown, travel in luxury with Real Journey’s glass roofed coach. During the three hour journey, your knowledgable driver will provide commentary on your surroundings as you drive from the Otago region to Southland. Learn about the history of the land and the industries that have thrived here.

2. Two boat trips for the price of one*

Ok… technically you’re paying for both trips. Because Doubtful Sound is one of the most remote places in New Zealand, you’ll take a boat across Lake Manapouri, a coach over Wilmot Pass (the country’s most expensive road and the steepest road a coach is allowed to take), before reaching The Navigator for your overnight.

Lake Manapouri ferry Doubtful Sound Fiordlands with Real Journeys

3. Scenery

Ever heard of Gondwanaland? It’s an ancient supercontinent that broke up 180 million years ago. Wondering why I’m bringing up ancient history? Look around the fiordlands and you’re looking at the greatest modern example of Gondwanaland. Some of the best examples of the ancient plants and animals from Gondwanaland still exist here. Once you arrive, you’ll be glad you spent the extra money to travel to Doubtful Sound. Fun fact: Doubtful Sound isn’t actually a sound at all. Since it’s been carved by a glacier and flooded by the sea, it’s technically a fiord.

Doubtful Sound fiordlands New Zealand with Real Journeys

4. Doubtful Sound is even better in the rain

The fiordlands get rain more than 200 days every year and contains the 7th wettest place on earth… so don’t cancel because of a little weather. During my visit, we experienced an incredible storm.Over 200 days of rain each year in the Fiordlands. Doubtful Sound New Zealand with Real Journeys

We didn’t get to go all the way to the seal colony… but we did see hundreds of waterfalls that don’t exist on drier days.

Doubtful Sound Fiordlands with Real Journeys

And the mist that hung in the air created an almost-greyscale coloring to the area, which accentuated the ridge lines and created a mysterious and moody atmosphere.

Doubtful Sound Fiordlands with Real Journeys

5. History

Doubtful Sound was given its name by Captain James Cook in 1770 when he decided not to enter the inlet, estimating that it was doubtful he’d be able to get his ship, The Endeavor, back out. Twenty three years later, Alessandro Malaspina led a Spanish scientific expedition into Doubtful Sound, where they conducted experiments and explored the far reaches of the Sound, mapping the region. Because of his efforts, the only Spanish names on New Zealand’s map can be found in this region. In the 1800s, Doubtful Sound was an important hub for the seal trade, where hundreds of thousands of seals were killed for their blubber and skin. Thankfully, that practice has been outlawed and seals are free to swim in peace.

6. Wildlife

What’s cruising below the boat? Doubtful Sound is over 1,300 feet deep and with fresh water on the surface and salt water below, these waters are home to all kinds of deep sea creatures. Doubtful Sound is home to one of the southernmost populations of bottlenose dolphins. These dolphins are bigger than normal, as they need extra blubber to keep themselves warm.Bottlenose dolphins in Doubtful Sound New Zealand Fur seals bask on the rocks and dive through the water looking for their next meal.  Doubtful Sound is home to one of the world’s most rare penguins, the Fiordland crested, as well as little blue ‘fairy’ penguins. And if you’re lucky, you may even catch a glimpse of a whale.. Orcas, humpbacks, sperm and southern right whales have been known to cruise these waters.

7. Activities

Lest you worry about spending all of your time on The Navigator, you may choose to take part in a kayak excursion or a small boat ride with a nature guide. Try the water for yourself and see that it is fresh water— knowing that just meters below is salt water. If you’re feeling extra adventurous (or a little crazy)… there’s a jumping platform on the back of the boat so you can find out just how cold 12*C feels. I can tell you from experience that it will take your breath away.

Kayak Doubtful Sound

8. Food

You may be in a remote area… but you will not be left wanting for food! The Real Journeys crew employs a chef who creates amazing meals! A fresh muffin is waiting for you to enjoy with tea or coffee upon arrival, then a soup course warms you up before water activities. For dinner, partake in a 3-course buffet meal with an entire table full of dessert! And in the morning, choose from cooked and continental options on the buffet.

Buffet Doubtful Sound Fiordlands with Real Journeys

Buffet Doubtful Sound Fiordlands with Real Journeys

9. Doing Good

“Today I am more convinced than ever before that conservation is the real cornerstone of New Zealand’s tourism industry” -Les Hutchins, Founder of Real Journeys

Real Journeys is owned by Les and Olive Hutchins, and their passion for conservation and sustainable travel is evident in their lives and the way they run their business. Each year, Real Journeys donates $50,000 to the Leslie Hutchins Conservation Foundation which  supports “efforts to protect and preserve New Zealand’s southern lakes and conservation areas and to reducing financial barriers for all New Zealanders to experience and enjoy these areas – particularly those at-risk or disadvantaged.”

10. Silence

Charles John Lyttelton, 10th Viscount Cobham, Governor-General of New Zealand (1957–1962) wrote this about the Fiordlands:
“There are just a few areas left in the world where no human has ever set foot. That one of them should be in a country so civilized and so advanced as New Zealand may seem incredible, unless one has visited the south-west corner of the South Island. Jagged razor backed mountains rear their heads into the sky. More than 200 days of rain a year ensure not a tree branch is left bare and brown, moss and epiphytes drape every nook. The forest is intensely green. This is big country… one day peaceful, a study in green and blue, the next melancholy and misty, with low cloud veiling the tops… an awesome place, with its granite precipices, its hanging valleys, its earthquake faults and its thundering cascades.”

Because this part of the world isn’t inhabited (nor is it overrun with tour companies) one of the most special parts of the trip is the sound of silence. The captain will turn off the motor and allow passengers a taste of solitude in nature. Hear the birds sing, the rain fall, and the waterfalls roar as you step away from technology and electricity and experience nature as it is meant to be experienced.

Doubtful Sound fiord lands New Zealand with Real Journeys

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Pilot Mark

Monday 20th of February 2017

Doubtful Sound looks awesome! I absolutely loved my time at Milford Sound and would love to go back and see it again! Maybe next time I will visit Doubtful Sound as well. The landscape here was almost otherworldly, when the mist descended on Fiordland I couldn't believe the beauty of my surroundings. It was extraordinarily beautiful.


Monday 20th of February 2017

It really is unreal! I hope to make it to Milford next time!

Ernie's home: a TSS Earnslaw experience - The Sweet Wanderlust

Saturday 3rd of December 2016

[…] Les Hutchins (remember him from Doubtful Sound?) saw a possibility where others saw loss of profit. He bought the steamship and has recreated it […]

Nellie Searell

Tuesday 6th of September 2016

Went to Sounds on Sea Princess last year was absolutely awesome. Walked Milford track in 1983 then did the Doubtful Sound trip was so thrilled to see the sounds from the ship. Highlight of the trip for me, hope I have the opportunity to do it again.


Tuesday 6th of September 2016

I bet the walk was amazing!! It's an incredible area!


Tuesday 6th of September 2016

Is this where you can see the waterfalls going up due to the strong winds that hit the mountains?


Tuesday 6th of September 2016

I'm not sure! The rain was so heavy during my trip that the waterfalls were all going down!

Carol McEwing-Anderson

Saturday 3rd of September 2016

I'm going in November, having visited Milford Sound in April, I am excited :)


Monday 5th of September 2016

Have so much fun, Carol! I'm sure you'll love it!