While tour buses may flock to neighboring Milford Sound, the wild landscapes of Doubtful Sound are equally enchanting and much less crowded. Framed by looming cliffs and dotted with rocky islets and tumbling waterfalls, this natural fjord is three times longer and has 10 times more surface area than Milford Sound. It is also centrally located at the heart of Fiordland National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Helicopter and small-plane flights offer spectacular aerial views of the fjord and the surrounding national park, while those interested in seeing the fjord from the water can embark on a catamaran cruise around Doubtful Sound, setting sail from Deep Cove. Tours run from Te Anau, Manapouri, and Queenstown, and often visit other natural wonders such as Manapouri Lake, the Te Anau Glowworm Cave, Dusky Sound, and the Wilmot Pass en-route to the fjord.
Things to Know Before You Go
The weather in Doubtful Sound can be unpredictable, so prepare for wind and rain even in summer.
If hiking, wear comfortable shoes and bring water and snacks—there are limited places to purchase supplies.
Cell phone coverage is limited, but free Wi-Fi is available at the Fjordland National Park Visitor Center.
Most Doubtful Sound cruises are wheelchair accessible, but not all activities within Fiordland National Park are accessible to those with limited mobility, so it’s best to check in advance.
How to Get There
Doubtful Sound is located on the southwest coast of New Zealand’s South Island. The fjord can be reached from Manapouri, a town roughly 100 miles (170 kilometers) by road from Queenstown, a drive of about 2.5 hours. The journey includes a ferry ride across Lake Manapouri, followed by a bus ride over the Wilmot Pass. It is also possible to arrive by helicopter. The nearest international airport is in Queenstown.
When to Get There
Summer (December through February) is the most popular time to visit Doubtful Sound, but the area is open year-round. Winter visitors will be at the weather’s mercy and there will be fewer departures to choose from, but tours are often cheaper and the snow-covered landscapes make for some stunning scenery.
Wildlife Spotting at Doubtful Sound
Here you can spot rare Fiordland crested penguins and New Zealand fur seals, especially on the fjord’s islands. Be on the lookout for southern right whales, orcas, and humpback whales as you cruise through the fjord, and look down to spot black coral beneath the water.