Without a doubt the most common question we get asked “which is better? Milford or Doubtful?”
The answer is neither, they are both magical in their own special, quite different ways. The closest thing to a right answer is BOTH, GO TO BOTH!
I think back to my time spent in each sound and I’m reminded of the sheer beauty and expanse of Doubtful as well as the dramatic near vertical cliff faces in Milford. Truly mind blowing. I’m not being much help here am I? Unfortunately, there is no way I can tell you to choose one or the other but don’t go anywhere. I CAN tell you what I think about these 2 beautiful Fiords we have in our backyard so hopefully you can choose which one that will best suit you.
I’m going to take a stab in the dark and guess that a lot of you will be more familiar with Doubtful’s more famous neighbor, Milford. Which is fair enough. Doubtful Sound is hidden away, on the West coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Not accessible by car, there are very few ways of seeing it for yourself. Buuut its remoteness might be the best thing about it- this truly is a wilderness experience.
Fun fact: Neither Milford nor Doubtful Sound are actually sounds. They are both fiords. As in, formed by glaciers. Doubtful Sound is the 2nd longest and the deepest Fiord in the South Island, coming in around 10 times bigger than Milford.
Unless you have access to a boat big enough to enter Doubtful from the sea, I would recommend sticking to the more typical way of getting there. Real Journeys offer both day and overnight cruises that start from the charming little town of Manapouri. You’re escorted onto the first boat of the day to start the trip across Lake Manapouri. The huge mountainous peaks of Fiordland National Park border the lake, which as 444m is the second deepest in the country.
It’ll be early in the tour when you start feeling like you’ve entered the set for Jurassic Park! As you reach the end of the lake you can see the massive Manapouri Underground Power Station (That’s an impressive story for another day!).
New Zealand’s most expensive road, the Wilmot Pass, will take you up and over into Doubtful Sound. The Milford Road is world famous for its beauty but the views from the top of the Wilmot Pass are truly spectacular
All aboard! It’s time to head down to Deep Cove and join the Patea Explorer for a 3-hour cruise. As you head out into the Fiord it’s hard not to be hit by a sudden feeling of complete isolation. Barely any other boats or people as far as the eye can see. The Fiord is wide and U-shaped just as the glacier had carved it out millions of years ago. The rolling mountains and sheer vastness is truly breathtaking. Doubtful Sound has many arms, one of which you will venture down and experience, what I thought was, the most magical part of the day. The Sound of Silence. The crew will ask everyone to be dead quiet, put your cameras away as they begin to shut down the engines. For a few moments you will stand in silence as the water quietly laps the side of the boat. It’s an amazing experience you can only get in Fiordland.
As you cruise back to Deep Cove to join the bus and then head across Lake Manapouri you can reflect on an incredible day on the water. If you want to escape the crowds and get lost in the peace and wilderness, Doubtful is for you.
What are the main differences to Milford Sound you ask?
- No car access. Tour includes transfer over Lake Manapouri and bus over Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound
- Doubtful Sound is almost 10 times larger than Milford
- Rolling mountains rather than sheer granite cliffs
- Vast, remote, open Fiord
- Less people (limited companies operating in Doubtful)
- Longer tour (3-hour cruise, 8 hour tour total)
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