Attracting a fraction of the visitors to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is possibly its rival for natural beauty. Ten times the size of Milford Sound, there are only a couple of boat trips a day through RealNZ, a daytime and an overnight cruise. I’ve done the former twice now, eleven years apart, finding that little had changed in this remote part of New Zealand other than the size of the boats.
It’s a full day trip, starting from the wharf at Manapouri, a small community 20 minutes south of Te Anau. An hour cruise takes you across Lake Manapouri, the second deepest lake in New Zealand. The boat moors close to the Manapouri hydroelectric power station, a huge and controversial development at the time.
From here there is a change of transport to coaches, to drive what was once the most expensive road per kilometre in New Zealand. It was built to move the huge turbines for the power station brought in by water to Doubtful Sound. It travels over Wilmot Pass, at 671m the second lowest pass over the Southern Alps after Haast Pass. The cloud cleared to give the first glimpse of Doubtful Sound.
The sound (actually a fjord like all the sounds in Fjordland, created by glaciers rather than rivers) was explored on another boat. Starting from Deep Cove the boat heads all the way to the Tasman Sea before returning to explore some of the arms of the fjord, taking about three hours.
This is the boat used for the overnight trips, which I’ve heard excellent things about, but the timings didn’t work for me on either visit, with them running from the afternoon through to lunchtime the following day.
At the mouth of Doubtful Sound there is a colony of New Zealand fur seals.
While not quite as high or steep as Milford Sound it is still an overwhelming experience at times, with the scale hard to capture in photos.
Fjordland is one of the wettest places in the world, so it was almost disappointing that it wasn’t raining as the landscape comes alive with waterfalls. There were still a fair number around though.
The sun came out for the return journey across Lake Manapouri, a lovely spot.