Planning to go to Milford Sound? Well why not take a moment to consider Doubtful Sound instead? Trips with Real Journeys depart from Queenstown daily and are a 13 hour round trip.
Fact alert! Captain James Cook discovered Doubtful Sound in 1770 and named it 'Doubtful Harbour' as he was unsure of whether he could sail into the inlet or not. It was later renamed as Doubtful Sound but it's actually a Fiord. Doubtful Sound is the second largest Fiord in Fiordland and the deepest at 421m.
What will strike you the most about Doubtful Sound is the complete serenity and isolation, with only a couple of companies operating trips to the Sound due to the access route. I chose to visit Doubtful as I had heard it was even more beautiful than Milford Sound but less visited because it's more remote.
I arrived promptly at Real Journeys office at 6:40am for a 6:50am departure. The early departure is essential due to the remote nature of the Fiord, believe me it is quite the adventure getting there! The coach took us on a winding course along Lake Wakatipu with the Remarkables mountain range coming into focus as the sun climbed. Our driver Brownie turned out to be as good a story teller as he was bus driver as he regaled us with tales of the Maori legends of Lake Wakatipu and stories of his time in Queenstown.
2 short hours later we had arrived in Manapouri and were ready to embark on the next leg our journey; a 50 minute boat ride across Lake Manapouri to the Wilmot Pass. The 'transfer' is probably more stunning than most cruises you have been on with huge rock formations rising each side of the lake and countless waterfalls to be seen.
Once on the other side of the lake you will take a 50 minute coach drive over New Zealand's most expensive road, with incredible photo stops on the way to finally arrive at Doubtful Sound. We climbed aboard the purpose built Catamaran for our 3 hour cruise around this untouched Fiord.
On the boat as we cruised around we stopped off at waterfalls, islands and other places of interest all narrated by our nature guide Paul. I am pretty sure what he doesn't know about the area is not worth knowing! We cruised straight out to the Tasman Sea for a look at the Seal Colony and on the way saw a group of Fiordland crested penguins. Another highlight of the trip was when the crew handed out cups and drove the vessel underneath hundreds of tiny waterfalls so you could drink the freshest water that New Zealand has to offer. Finally the crew took us into a small, undisturbed bay and switched off the engines so we could enjoy the complete silence of this remote Fiord.
The trip does not end here! On the way back (access permitting) we were driven 2km into the mountain at the edge of Lake Manapouri to see the inside of New Zealand's largest hydro electricity station. The station powers the aluminium smelter located in Bluff, 170kms away. The electricity used by the smelter each year is more than is used by the entire South Island! If you have ever wanted to see Batman's lair in real life then this is it!
We took the ferry back across Lake Manapouri and started the final leg home. As the biggest moon I have ever seen climbed higher in the sky an exhausted and content group relaxed as we wound around the lake back to Queenstown.
Without a doubt this trip is a must do while you're in Queenstown. We travel the world to experience areas like this. Whilst Milford Sound is perhaps the more famous of the two, Doubtful Sounds just feels that bit more special. If you ever yearn for a day away from civilization to make you appreciate the exquisiteness of the natural landscape then Doubtful Sound is the Fiord for you...
Author: Nomads Queenstown.