Doubtful Sound

The New Zealand Quandary – Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound

Posted on Posted in FriFotos on Twitter, New Zealand, Photography, Travel

We all want the best and when it comes to travel there are so many confusing “best of” options.  This week’s #FriFotos theme is “Best” and I keep thinking how many times I went in search of the best and found something better.  Yesterday’s post, I went in search of the best restaurant in Melbourne and ended up at The Meatball & Wine Bar. For me “the Best” is so subjective but it sure is fun trying it all and finding something more, unexpected along the way.

Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound

One of the more confusing “What is the best?” was on my trip to New Zealand’s South Island.  While I read that Milford Sound was the most popular, I also read that Doubtful Sound was larger, less visited and more serene.  So what was the best Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound?  What must I see and experience?  Posing this question to various travel agents, friends from New Zealand and researching online didn’t get me closer to an answer.  I would do what made the most sense to me at the time – visit both with Real Journeys and decide on my own.

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound is massive, it is the second largest sound in the Fiordland National Park.  The tour consisted of a three hour cruise on the sound and a visit to the Manapouri Underground Power Station.  We would board the bus to a boat, take the boat across Lake Manapouri for about 45 mins, transfer to another bus to drive us over Wilmot Pass to the dock for the cruise.  Each of these steps broke up the long day into reasonable pieces.  It is a long day but so worth it when these are the sights you see.

Doubtful Sound
Stopping on the way to the cruise to admire the view of the Sound from above – WOW!
Doubtful Sound
Streams on the way to Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound – the only boat on the water, our private tour

We would board the cruise of Doubtful Sound and be the only boat on the water that day. Having the whole Sound to ourselves was such a gift seeing the beauty of New Zealand on a clear, sunny, November day.  The scenery was stunning and with my point and shoot, I surprisingly took only a handful of photos choosing instead to experience the Sound as we sailed by.  On the way back we stopped at the power plant which was impressive.  The bus could only go so far in the vehicle tunnel, we had to walk a bit in the tunnel toward the entrance.  The underground power station was build about 200 metres down in the granite rock.

Manapouri Power Plant
The underground power plant is hydroelectric

Overnight Te Anu

Visiting Doubtful Sound was a long day so I opted to stay in the small town of Te Anu so that my tour to Milford Sound the next day wasn’t so long (from Queenstown 4+ hours each way, from Te Anu 2+ hours each way).  Te Anu is the gateway to both Doubtful and Milford.  Exploring the town by foot was quick and easy. Despite its small population of less than 2, 000 people, I managed to the find the Fiordland Cinema, a boutique luxury cinema that seats 52 people in plush leather seats.  The daily film “Ata Whenua – Shadowland” is a 32 minute film  that all visitors to the Fiordland National Park should see.  It was an incredible experience of seeing the Fiordland from above, through the seasons and various climates for an unforgettable inside look.

Fiordland National Park from above
Fiordland National Park view from my plane ride back to Queenstown

Milford Sound

Milford Sound is on everyone’s must do list when visiting New Zealand.  The bus journey is part of the whole experience.  As your drive through the Fiordland National Park, you are surrounded by beautiful landscapes.

On the Road to Milford Sound
On the Road to Milford Sound
Mirror Lake Milford Sound
The lake mirroring the mountains in the background on the way to Milford Sound – this is not upside down photo

Then you get to the Homer Tunnel which is part of the time drain – it took almost 20 years to construct the tunnel to provide road access to Milford Sound and operated by lights, it is essentially a one way road so be prepared to wait a bit at the tunnel. Once we arrived at the boat dock, I felt the swarms of tourists finding their boats to board for the 1 hour 40 minute cruise loop.  Unlike Doubtful Sound the day before, I had to share the experience with many, many boats and many, many tourists.  It doesn’t mean it wasn’t also gorgeous just crowded.  Our driver lamented the lack of rain and the sunny day for the reason that the many iconic waterfalls were dry or low on our cruise.  Lucky me, I got two unusually sunny days!

Milford Sound greenery
The lush green of spring in Milford Sound
Milford Sound cruise
Milford Sound cruise
Milford Sound waterfall
Lucky to see a waterfall in Milford Sound due to no rain in the preceding days

Flying from Milford to Queenstown – the final view of Fiordland National Park

No one is surprised by the fact that I didn’t relish a 5 hour bus ride back from Milford Sound to Queenstown so I upgraded to the flight back.  Yes, it was expensive but so worth it – incredible views and 4 hours in Queentown.  The short flight (about 30 minutes) was just five people.  Traveling solo and using the whole weight balance, I lucked out to be up front next to the pilot for the “best” views.  This flight capped off an amazing two days in both Doubtful and Milford Sounds – now I was experiencing my own Fiordland film!

Fiordland National Park from above
Fiordland National Park view from my plane ride back to Queenstown
Flying Milford Sound to Queenstown
Flying back from Milford Sound to Queentown

My New Zealand quandry of which was “the best” Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound resulted in me having an unforgettable two days in the most spectacular landscape I’ve seen.  Choosing to spend the extra for the flight back to Queenstown was the icing on this “best of” cake.  So hopefully when you go in search of “the best” you find “even better than I thought” – I did in New Zealand!

2 thoughts on “The New Zealand Quandary – Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound

  1. Like you, I couldn’t choose so visited both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound on my NZ trip. The Milford visit was on a rainy day, with hundreds of waterfalls everywhere. Also met some cheeky kea birds in the wild on the road to the sound! For Doubtful Sound, I did the overnight boat trip. Weather was sunny both days. Great naturalist on board, for bird, dolphin and penguin sightings. At night, it was so serene sitting on the deck, with the lights out, gazing at the stars – no light pollution, and everything is reversed in the southern hemisphere, so this was a very cool experience. So happy I visited both sounds – they were very different experiences and both were wonderful.

    1. Lucky you for having rain at Milford, our driver told us that the dry spell was the longest he had seen so no waterfalls for us but still so incredible. It really is a wonderful experience to visit both to compare and contrast on the Fjordlands – just incredible!

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