In the southwest corner of New Zealand, the Milford and Doubtful sounds are a major tourist attraction. They are different but equally beautiful. There is no perfect time to see the sounds, they are equally beautiful in the rain or sun shine. The ideal way to see either of the sounds is by doing a overnight cruise. If you have the time see them both.
The most popular destination in the world for 2008
Milford Sound is the better known of the two, and is four hours drive from Queenstown. You would drive through to Te Anau, 2 hours from Queenstown, and then another two hours on a good sealed road and a easy drive through some breath taking scenery with several interesting stopping places on route. Self drive guests are advised to take cruises other than the midday ones, these serve the bus tours, and they can be very crowded with commentaries in various languages. A full day option other than the big tour buses is to go with, The Milford Sound B.B.Q Bus. or Milford Sound Select.
To avoid having to drive yourself this long distance, the Coach Cruise and Coach option is a sensible choice, or Coach to Milford to enjoy the commentary and fly back for a different perspective. If you choose to fly back after the cruise on the sound, approach the pilots at the airport for availability of seats on the planes. The bus drivers have been directed to not recommend the private airline companies. Glenorchy Air for example. A one way return flight to Queenstown is $395.
Tripadvisor area experts for NZ strongly suggest that you dont drive yourself, as there are many accidents every year on this road.
Another good option for small groups is, the two local Limousine services. Up to Seven of you can travel in luxury with a personal guide, that will show you the sights, as well as join you on the boat if you wish. At $100 p.p. return this is very good value for two couples traveling together.
If time is short for you – fixed wing or helicopter trips including a cruise takes 1/2 a day. The cruise out to the Tasman sea ( several boats and times are available ) gives you a opportunity to view the magnificent waterfalls and appreciate the shear size of the glacier walls.
If you would like to stay over in the sound – There are a couple of options, you could stay on two of the boats, the over night crusies. One of these boats, is the Milford Mariner.This sleeps 60, and has private cabins with ensuites. Contact the Realjourneys.co.nz
The other option is to stay at the Milford Sound Lodge. This we understand is very nice, and not to mention also very handy to the CBD.
Extra options include
The Underwater Observatory,to see the ‘Black Coral’, or take a helicopter flight over the sound, from the small airport at Milford.
Walkers of the famous Milford Track end their 4 day trek at the Milford Hotel. For the general public the only accommodation is a back packers hostel, or on the two ‘Overnight’ boats – the luxury ‘Milford Mariner’ or the cheaper option on the ‘Milford Wanderer’. Overnight cruising on the Milford Mariner in the long southern twilight provides, a very special dinner and bed and breakfast experience.
For those that want to drive to Milford. Try and avoid midday as that is when all the buses arrive and the boats can be full. Mitre Peak Cruises. This is the cruise we recommend for those that want to drive themselves to Milford. The cruise is two hours long, and a there is a maximum number of 75 passengers. This cruise is the only trip that goes out into the Tasman sea past St Anne’s lighthouse so you can enter the Sound from outside.
The longer Milford Sound Nature Cruises are with the Real Journeys company. The departure times are 12.30 and 1.25pm
If you would like a quick look at the Coach / Cruise / Coach option which we thoughly enjoyed view this photo galley. This was the nature cruise which is slightly longer.
Doubtful Sound – the Sound of Silence.
The half day cruise
After the easy two hour drive from Queenstown to Manapouri, you can see Doubtful sound one of two ways. Firstly there is the 9 hour Real Journeys day trip. Limited in numbers so bookings are essential. You are taken by launch ( approximately an hour ) over the Lake Manapouri, where you are taken by coach for an exciting ride inside the mountain to see the Manapouri Hydro Power Station ( it could be likened to being in a James Bond movie).
Next a 22 km coach ride, passing over the ‘Wilmont Pass’ gives you an appreciation of the hundreds of different Lichens, Mosses and lush Ferns in this forest of birds. The bus takes you to Deep Cove where the large catamaran boat will give you a 3 hour cruise taking in the most dramatic of the scenery.
Doubtful Sound it self, is practically untouched by man, the physical grandeur of the towering peaks, waterfalls and the lack of wind create a powerful atmosphere of solitude and silence. To really experience this, it is best done on a slow quite boat.
The overnight cruises
No one lives in Doubtful Sound, it’s you and nature. The overnight cruise for this sound is on the Fiordland Navigator. The trip departs Manapouri at 12.30 pm and returns at 11 30 am. Sole occupancy of cabins is available. $565 pp twin share. The over night experience we had recently would be very hard to beat. Of the two sounds Milford and Doubtful, we think Doubtful is the better choice, as there is no other inhabitants, no planes, no helicopters, just you and the Sound of Silence.
Not only that, it is 3 times larger and the crew do try to show you all of the sound in the 20 hours you are on the boat.
Consider it as one of those trips of a life time.
If the weather is really bad with lots of rain, that is definitely the time to see these mountains, the water falls are amazing and they disappear when the rain stops.
Doubtful sound is 3 times longer than the Milford Sound, and with a surface area 10 times larger.
On the 1/2 day cruise you travel at a steady speed so to be able to get out to the Tasman sea where the seals are and then back again.
Captain James Cook sighted the entrance to Doubtful Sound on his first voyage to New Zealand in 1770. He called the place Doubtful Harbor. Something to do with it being Doubtful if they would be able to get out again from lack of wind.
We would be happy to help you put your visit to Milford and Doubtful sounds together. We can send vouchers to you, if you are visiting Fiordland prior to coming to Queenstown.
Check out flight options to Milford sound. Queenstown Scenic Flights