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Doubtful- or Milford Sound which one to visit – Backpacking tips

Doubtful- vs. Milford Sound in New Zealand

Recently, the question has been asked which of the two famous sounds in New Zealand is worth more to visit. Should I rather visit the Milford Sound or the Doubtful Sound. Who offers more, where can I go cheaper and who has tried both? We solve this riddle, talk about our experiences and impressions and give recommendations which sound we think is worth more to visit.

 

Visit Doubtful- or Milford Sound

Milford Sound

The most popular question in this context is which of the two sounds is worth more. Milford Sound is accessible by road and offers a wide range of different tours. In Milford Sound there is a larger selection of tour providers, which also has a positive effect on the prices, as prices are lower. The tours by boat vary between two to three hours of length. The Milford Sound is also very popular with tourists due to the good connections. In the mornings and in the evenings, it is mostly relatively quiet, at noon, all the bus providers are also in the sound and everything is accordingly rather well filled. But the Milford Sound offers beside ship tours also an impressive road experience. The Milford Highway from Te Anau to Milford Sound, is an impressive road, including a super impressive tunnel, the Homer Tunnel. If you have your own car, you should allow plenty of time to see the different lookouts and sights. Our two highlights in good weather along the Milford Highway. Mirror Lakes and the short hike to the Key Summit.

Check here the current prices for Milford Sound Cruises. *

 

Milford Sound with the reflection of Mitre Peak

Milford Sound with the reflection of Mitre Peak

 

Doubtful Sound

The Doubtful Sound can only be reached by guided tour and is therefore less touristy. The tours start from Manapouri and last about 7 hours as a day tour. Also, the choice of bookable tours is smaller, as the sound is only accessible by guided tour. According to our knowledge there are currently only two tour providers that offer guided tours in Doubtful Sound for the masses. The Doubtful Sound can only be visited by first crossing Lake Manapouri by boat, then taking a short bus ride over the Wilmot Pass and then getting into the tour boat at the Doubtful Sound. For the Overnight Cruises the effort is the same but the time in the Sound itself is much longer.

Check here the current prices for Doubtful Sound Cruises. *

 

The weather is changing fast in Doubtful sound

The weather is changing fast in Doubtful sound

 

The question of the right sound for your journey will be answered in the rest of this article. For us, a relatively clear opinion has emerged as to when which sound is to be preferred.

 

Doubtful- or Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

Beside the large selection of day tours, you can also take an overnight cruise. These offer the advantage of considerably more time and a great overnight stay including food on board a ship. The best part is that you are in the Sound while no other tourist boat is in the Sound. Apart from the peak hours, there are only a few locals in Milford Sound and very rarely a cruise ship that moves there.

The overnight cruises are also offered by far fewer companies than the day trips. During the Overnight Cruise you get a similar tour as a day tour, but paired with much more time. Normally you will sleep in double cabins on the boat. Activities include kayaking or exploring the coast in a smaller boat. Both activities include a guide who can show and explain the nature and animals. In summertime, weather permitting, a short hike on the popular Milford Track is also offered. The offers change depending on the weather and the season. Highlight is in the evening the sunset on the boat and the morning sunrise. Have fun and enjoy!

PS: With some tour operators you can also book a visit to the underwater observatory. Here you can see the exciting animal world underwater in sound.

Check here the current prices for Milford Sound Overnight Cruises. *

 

Milford sound at night

Milford sound at night

 

Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

As the Doubtful Sound is less touristy, there are also fewer ships on the way. Especially at night you should normally only see 1-2 ships. The sunset as well as the morning sunrise are the absolute highlights if the weather is suitable. Due to the good location, the weather is very changeable and there is a high probability of rain throughout the year. If you can arrive in Doubtful Sound after rainy weather, this is the best option to see many small waterfalls and still have a great view. On the way to Doubtful Sound you first cross Lake Manapouri by boat. Afterwards you can have a look at some information about the hydroelectric power plant in the information building and then you can cross Wilmot Pass by bus. On the way you will drive through rich and largely untouched rainforest. After crossing the pass, you arrive at Doubtful Sound. Here you will board the boat and enjoy the boat tour and overnight stay on Doubtful Sound.

Check here for current prices for Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruises. *

 

Petrified wood at Lake Manapouri

Petrified wood at Lake Manapouri

 

The Milford Sound

The Milford Sound, called Piopiotahi in Maori, is a fjord in the South Island of New Zealand. The approximately 14-kilometre-long water is one of the most famous tourist attractions of the country. As it is part of the Fiordland National Park, it is part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, where the region has been listed as Te Wahipounamu since 1990.

The British writer Rudyard Kipling is said to have described Milford Sound as the eighth wonder of the world after his visit in the 1890s.

Milford Sound was named in 1823 by the Welsh settler John Grono after an inlet on the Welsh coast called Milford Haven. In the Maori language the sound is called Piopiotahi, which means a single Piopio, a small songbird that was considered endemic in New Zealand and is already extinct.

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The Milford Sound is located on the southern part of the west coast of the South Island of New Zealand. It is located about 70 kilometres from Queenstown (as the crow flies) and about 85 kilometres north of Te Anau. The fjord, which is between 455 metres and almost 3 kilometres wide, reaches a depth of approximately 320 metres at its deepest point. From there, the mountains rise steeply with a gradient of up to 80 degrees. The Mitre Peak is with a height of 1683 metres the highest mountain of the Milford Sound.

Milford Sound was originally created by glacier movements and the flooding of the valley by the rising sea level. The early settlers and sailors were responsible for the name Sound. Even though the name is actually not correct nowadays, it has never been changed again. The correct name would be Fjord.

Milford Sound is known for its abundant rainfall. These are mostly regular throughout the year. In the yearly average, there were about 6700 millimetres of precipitation in Milford Sound.

Besides its impressive mountain landscapes, Milford Sound also offers partly impressive waterfalls. The probably most famous waterfalls are the 151 metres high Stirling Falls as also the 162 metres high Bowen Falls.

Milford Sound can be reached by car or bus via State Highway 94 (SH94). From Te Anau the journey to Milford Sound is about 120 kilometres. Since there are no refuelling facilities along the way, you should fill up your vehicle with enough fuel before starting your journey in Te Anau.

In addition to the journey by vehicle, it is also possible to arrive by air. In Milford Sound there is a small airport for domestic flights and sightseeing flights. Nearly all flights that start there are for tourists.

 

Milford sound during sundown

Milford sound during sundown

 

Is the Milford Sound worthwhile?

After we have already been to Milford Sound four times, right in front. We find the Milford Sound cool.

But the Milford Sound is not for everyone. Here we give you a few points for whom the Milford Sound is worthwhile. For you, Milford Sound is worthwhile if you

– you want to spend a night with a great starry sky.

– You want to do a boat tour or a kayak tour, but you don't have several days.

– You want to have the chance to see penguins, seals and dolphins.

– You would like to do a boat tour.

– You are not afraid of other tourists.

– If you want to get off the boat on the way to the sound and you are not afraid of a hike.

 

Which Milford Sound Tour

In Milford Sound there are mainly two types of day trips. Most day tours last about two hours and include a boat trip, the two big waterfalls and a stop at the Seal colony. The captain or a crew member explains what is to be seen and stops at the points of interest. Mostly a small snack or at least drinks like tea and coffee are included. A larger meal can also be booked for an additional charge. The offers for this vary from provider to provider.

The longer tours last three hours and offer in addition to everything mentioned above a nature guide. This guide is independent of the captain and runs over the ship. He talks to the participants and can also answer individual questions.

Apart from the classic tours there are also offers without a boat tour. You can also go kayaking in Milford Sound, or book a sightseeing flight by plane or helicopter.

Have a look at the overview of all tours in Milford Sound. *

 

Milford Sound on a Budget

In Milford Sound there are several ways to save money.

Overnight stays on the way to or from Milford Sound are cheaper at the DOC campsites along the Milford Highway.

You can easily find cheap tour offers at Bookme. As a rule of thumb, the earliest and last tour of the day is usually cheaper than the well-filled lunch tours.

If you want to save on travel costs, it helps to offer empty seats to others a few days in advance. For example, through our community section here on the blog.

Have a look at the overview of all tours including the discount possibilities in Milford Sound. *

 

 

Milford Sound Overnight Cruise

Beside the large selection of day tours, you can also take an overnight cruise. These offer the advantage of considerably more time and a great overnight stay including food on board a ship. The best part is that you are in the Sound while no other tourist boat is in the Sound. Apart from the peak hours, there are only a few locals in Milford Sound and very rarely a cruise ship that moves there.

The overnight cruises are also offered by far fewer companies than the day trips. During the Overnight Cruise you get a similar tour as a day tour, but paired with much more time. Normally you will sleep in double cabins on the boat. Activities include kayaking or exploring the coast in a smaller boat. Both activities include a guide who can show and explain the nature and animals. In summertime, weather permitting, a short hike on the popular Milford Track is also offered. The offers change depending on the weather and the season. Highlight is in the evening the sunset on the boat and the morning sunrise. Have fun and enjoy!

PS: With some tour operators you can also book a visit to the underwater observatory. Here you can see the exciting animal world underwater in sound.

Check here the current prices for Milford Sound Overnight Cruises. *

 

Milford Sound with your own vehicle

Milford Sound is easily accessible from Te Anau via the Milford Highway (SH94). Only in bad weather the access is temporarily restricted (current highway traffic information). The approach from Te Anau is about 120 kilometres each way. Since there is no gas station on the way, you should make sure that there is enough fuel in the vehicle. In Te Anau there are several petrol stations where this is possible without any problems. For the journey from Te Anau you should ideally plan on 2.5 hours or more without a stopover. This way you can relax and stop without having to hurry.

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The Doubtful Sound

The Doubtful Sound, called Patea in Maori, is an estuary in Fiordland National Park on the South Island of New Zealand. It is also called “The Sound of Silence”. The estuary was named Doubtful Harbour in 1770 by British navigator and explorer Captain James Cook. After he was unsure whether it was safe to anchor in the waters. 23 years later the Spanish navigator Malaspina sailed the waters, measured them and gave Spanish names to some of the distinctive points of the Doubtful Sound, which are still used today.

The Doubtful Sound begins about 46 kilometres west of Te Anau (as the crow flies) and stretches over a length of about 30 kilometres westwards to the Tasman Sea. Its widest point inland is about 2.5 kilometres. From Doubtful Sound, various inlets branch off into the side valleys of the Fiordland mountain landscape. The Doubtful Sound is also a fjord in the classical sense of the word, created by glaciation. But as the early European settlers called these fjords Sounds, the name was not changed. With a depth of 421 meters, the Doubtful Sound is the deepest of all the fiords in the Fiordland region. The coasts and mountains surrounding Doubtful Sound are considered to be almost untouched. Only the smaller ships of some companies based in the region make day or overnight trips here. The tours are also popular because in addition to the countless waterfalls in the Sound's waters, seals, penguins and dolphins can also be observed. Besides the guided boat tours, the Sound is also a popular destination for kayakers.

Worth seeing waterfalls at Doubtful Sound are Browne Falls, Helena Falls and Lady Alice Falls.

 

Doubtful sound in the rain

Doubtful sound in the rain

 

Is the Doubtful Sound worthwhile?

After we have been to Doubtful Sound in the meantime, here is our assessment.

But the Doubtful Sound is not for everyone. Here we give you a few points for whom the Doubtful Sound is worthwhile. For you the Doubtful Sound is worthwhile if you:

– You like to spend time on ships.

– You want to do a boat tour or a kayak tour and you have at least one day.

– You would like to have the chance to see penguins, seals and dolphins in unspoiled surroundings.

– You would like to make several boat trips.

– You want to have as few other tourists around you as possible.

– If you like to have everything compactly shown and explained without having to drive or stop yourself.

 

 

Which Doubtful Sound Tour

As the Doubtful Sound is only served by two tour operators for day trips, the choice is easier here. Besides the day tour which takes about 7 hours, there is also the Overnight Cruise which gives you more time on site in the Sound. Good food, sunset and sunrise included. Also, the time to enjoy animals and nature is much more pleasant.

Additionally, there are kayak tours which are offered in the Doubtful Sound. These kayak tours are usually offered in smaller groups of up to eight people.

Have a look at the overview of all tours in Doubtful Sound. *

 

Boat cruise on Doubtful sound

Boat cruise on Doubtful sound

 

Doubtful Sound on a Budget

Unlike in Milford Sound, the savings opportunities in Doubtful Sound are significantly limited. The only way we know to save money here is to book a tour in advance through the website below. There you will get discounts, because last places are sold cheaper and with discount.

Check out the overview of all tours including discount possibilities in Doubtful Sound. *

 

Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

As the Doubtful Sound is less touristy, there are also fewer ships on the way. Especially at night you should normally only see 1-2 ships. The sunset as well as the morning sunrise are the absolute highlights if the weather is suitable. Due to the good location, the weather is very changeable and there is a high probability of rain throughout the year. If you can arrive in Doubtful Sound after rainy weather, this is the best option to see many small waterfalls and still have a great view. On the way to Doubtful Sound you first cross Lake Manapouri by boat. Afterwards you can have a look at some information about the hydroelectric power plant in the information building and then you can cross Wilmot Pass by bus. On the way you will drive through rich and largely untouched rainforest. After crossing the pass, you arrive at Doubtful Sound. Here you will board the boat and enjoy the boat tour and overnight stay on Doubtful Sound.

Check here for current prices for Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruises. *

 

Doubtful Sound with your own vehicle

Even though this question is often asked by Google. Unfortunately, a visit with your own vehicle is not possible. Instead you have to book a tour from Manapouri or use one of the tours with bus pick up by the tour operator. These are available for example from Te Anau, but also from some other cities. Due to the exposed location and the environment for protection, there are only a few tour operators who are allowed to drive their buses over the pass.

 

Comments, questions or ideas

Have you been to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound? Then we would appreciate your comment here under the articles. How did you like it? What did you like best? Would you do it again or would you prefer something else?

 

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