Welcome to Fiordland - New Zealand
Milford & Doubtful Sounds - The differences
The most asked question about Milford and Doubtful is "Which is the best Fiord" and the honest truth is there isnt an easy answer, you have to experience them both to see which appeals to you most. For me the fiords are about how you experience them.
Milford is a short 9 km narrow Fiord, therefore it is dramatic and spectacular. Whether you take a cruise or become part of the nature by kayaking, you will enjoy it's breathtaking beauty.
Because it is easily accessible by the Milford road it is a cheaper cruise option which also provides the opportunity by not only experiencing the fiord but the many scenic highlights ( Pops Lookout, Eglinton valley, Gunns lake, deer Flat) & 30 min short walks (Mirror Lakes, The Chasm, The gantry, humbolt falls and along the Milford bay walk) or longer 2 to 3hr walks to Key Summit, Lake Marian, Gertrude Saddle, Tutuko along the way. Making for a great day out.
Doubtful is remote wild and expansive, 40 km long and with 4 arms. To access Doubtful Sound you must first cross Lake Manapouri (considered the most beautiful lake in the world) by boat, arriving at the west arm of the Lake where the Manapouri Power Station is situated. A visitor centre provides opportunity to learn about the Hydro dam before taking the bus over the Wilmot pass (40 mins), which is the highest pass in the Southern hemisphere, passing through 2 types of forest and the wild moss gardens. This in itself is a wonderful journey before you reach the base of Doubtful Sound. An experience on Doubtful really makes you feel like you are in the wilderness. With so much infrastructure required to access this remote location, tourism in this area is minimal compared to Milford.
Summary - Whichever Fiord you choose, Milford or Doubtful, I can personally assure you it will blow your socks off. They are both magnificent and both worth every penny.
Doubtful Sound Options
Overnight Excursions if you have the time really are the ultimate way to experience Fiordland. A night amongst majestic mountains, native forest & clean waters refreshes the soul. There are a variety of overnight trips which provide experiences to suit all.
Wilderness Sea Kayaking provides multiple day trips on Doubtful Sound from overnight trips to 3,4 &5 day trips (but make sure you check their itinerary in advance of coming),as you can't get any closer to nature than this. This is the ultimate way to not only see the beauty but become a part of your surroundings. A max of 8 in a group.
Now I have reached my 50's and gotten a bit soft, Real Journeys overnight cruise is now my favourite adventure in fiordland and provides comfort with either a private room for 2 with en-suite or a 4 share room. After cruising through the beauty of the fiord, watching the baby fur seals frolicking around the rocks, and enjoying the the amazing wildness of the area the vessel moors up for the evening in a sheltered arm of the fiord. Guests can then choose to explore the sound in a small tender boat with a guide or take a guided kayak experience or have a drink and watch everone else from the comfort of the lounge. Once everyone has returned the brave at heart can enjoy a dip by launching themselves into the water!! Great fun to watch!!! A magnificent buffet evening meal and breakfast provides the ultimate end / beginning to the day.
Deep Cove Charters provide the option of Deep Sea fishing on their overnight excursions and take just a small group. This trip is renowned for serving only local wild foods such as crayfish, venison & blue cod. The vessel is only a few years old and purpose built to provide comfort to small groups. Chris your Captain was a local fisherman in the area, so can provide some interesting info on the area.
If you are short on time or want to see both fiords then a flight is a great option, either by Helicopter or Float Plane. By air you are able to really see the expansive Mountainous ranges, the mountain pools which feed the many waterfalls, the rivers and lakes weaving & interconnecting, wonderful experience. My choice would be to cruise or kayak a fiord and fly the other.
And of course there are day cruises on Doubtful Sound with 2 different companies, Real Journeys provide a larger type vessel which provides plenty of indoor and outdoor space to spread out and enjoy. Doubtful Sound cruises provide a smaller vessel providing a more intimate environment. Both cruises include a tour to the power station, though Real Journeys during the summer often provide an 11am cruise without the power station at a reduced price.
Milford Sound Options If driving to Milford yourself, then get away by 8am so you can take the nature cruise with Real Journeys, Mitre peak or Cruise Milford.
Most bus tours aim for the 12 or 12.30 cruise options, so if you are driving in then the early Nature cruise allows all afternoon to explore the highlights of the Milford road. (Buses don't depart milford until round 3ish).
Sea Kayaking is also an excellent option, with trips departing early so you are able to get out onto the Fiord before the boats start cruising and in the calm of morn. These trips are available with Rosco's Milford Sound Sea Kayaking or Wilderness Experiences.
In the height of summer Rosco also provides an afternoon sea kayaking experience for the 'Water Confident' called the 'Twilighter', where you cruise up one side of the fiord and are dropped overboard into kayaks above Stirling fallsoff and then kayak back down the other side of the Fiord, experiencing the thrill of kayaking under Stirling Falls 'if you dare'. This is an adventurous sea kayak experience of the Fiord and for the water competant is a wonderful experience. The kayak guides are brilliant. Passionate, skillfull and interesting.
All the above options are available with transport and for cruise options with transport, I recommend Trips n' Tramps. This is a locally owned business who take small groups and provide 2 options for experiencing Milford. The first stops along the way to show you all the highlights of the Milford road as well as stopping for a 'billy tea' followed by a nature cruise. The second option is the same as above but also includes a short walk up Key Summit or you can stay onboard and while the others are walking you can go with the driver to deliver the mail to the Hollyford camping ground (an experience in itself)
For any further information on any of these trips, I am happy to assist, or have a look at the following website -
Fiordland Local offers knowledge, information and opinions on activity and accommodation from Fiordland, Southland and surrounding areas from a local perspective. Want to know about Fiordland then ask Fiordland Local.
Regards Mike & Donna
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Photo's - 1. Stirling Falls Milford Sound, 2. Milford Fiord Cruise, 3. Milford beauty 4.Doubtful Soun 5. Exploring Doubtful Fiord in a small tender. With the overnight cruise boat 'the Mariner' anchored up in the distance, 6. Swim time (even in May!!!!)after the kayaking and exploring the fiord. 7. 1st light in Doubtful & 8. Hall Arm at Doubtful sound, early morn. 9 left. Learning about the Fiord. 10 far left. Kayaking in the Fiord