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Milford Vs Doubtful Sound

There are a lot of people that ask “which sound is better to see Milford or Doubtful sound” The sounds are in the Fiordland National park, at the bottom of the South Island of New Zealand. Here are some thoughts on the subject.

Doubtful Sound, known as the "Sound of Silence" is about 3 times bigger than Milford Sound and the deepest of New Zealand's Fiords and extends over 40kms inland from the Tasman Sea.  This gives you alot to see on an overnight trip. The trip to Doubtful takes 30 minutes to drive from Te Anau to Manapouri, then an hour boat ride, then a 45 minute bus ride which includes a visit to the hydro dam and a drive over the 670 metre high Wilmot Pass down into Deep Cove. (It is not accessible by car). The whole trip to get there is just under 2 hours from Te Anau. 

The Doubtful overnight trip gives you swimming, kayaking and small boat rides. You will get to see some dolphins, penguins and fur seals. The trip to Doubtful sound would cost upward from $215nzd per person (this price would be for a day trip and depend on season). Overnight Cruises are upward from $336nzd per person (including lunch, dinner and breakfast) and operate between October and March. There is a bit of travelling to get to Doubtful Sound but this means less people and more nature that include the towering peaks with close to vertical sides.

The only thing that stop people going to Doubtful Sound is the travel, but it is more spectacular and relaxing than Milford Sound.

Doubtful Sound

If you are limited on time and can't do an overnight on Doubtful sound, then Milford sound is still a fantastic experience and the trails on the way to Milford Sound are spectacular. You get to go through the narrow Homer tunnel on the drive in while you drive through the rain forests of the Fiordland National park, with lots of little walks and scenic stops along the way.

You should give yourself 3 hours to drive from Te Anau to Milford. Then another option would be to take a half day or full day to hike into Milford Sound, if you have any spare time.

A 90 minute boat trip on Milford Sound would cost around $75nzd depending on season, and you will still see some of the wildlife in the area


If you can afford to fly into Milford sound the flight is well worth it for the scenery

Both sounds are great, the main thing you would have to think about is “how much time do I have”. Doubtful is said to be the better overnight trip. If you don’t have that much time take the day trip of Milford sound. Take any off-ship excursion that is offered, as this will give you a true feel for the flora and fauna in the Fiordland National park.

Whichever sound you are thinking of another good thing to think about is that you will get closer to nature the smaller the boat you are on.

If you are driving to Te Anau yourself to see either sound, you are best to stay in Te Anau the night to get an early start ahead of the many tour busses that set out from Queenstown or arrive later to take a cruise later in the afternoon. Just miss that middle morning time when all the tour buses turn up. If you want to be on one of those tour buses, there are many great tour companies that offer trips from Queenstown for both Milford and Doubtful Sounds

Milford Sound

During peak and shoulder seasons from the start of November until the end of March, book well in advance for either trip. 
Remember this can be a mass tourist experience so ask how big the boat is you will be on, and get there as early as you are advised is possible. The underwater add on may be worth the extra money. This would be up to each person what they get out of it. 
This is one of New Zealand’s most popular scenic attractions. What ever you decide you will experience a great scenic trip.

Reviews / Comments for Milford Vs Doubtful Sound

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FYI. While going for an overnight cruise we parked our car in the car park but left our luggage at the hotel in Te Anua.

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Milford: Definitely the highlight of the trip. We had fantastic weather, which helps. But doing an overnight cruise was very special. Real Journeys provided a great experience the whole way. Friendly staff, expert narration on the bus there & back, excellent photo-ops from their futuristic, glassed-in buses. After 4pm all the day-trippers are gone from Milford. Watching the sunset and sunrise light the peaks around the fjord is amazing. We were on the Friendship, the smallest boat of the 3 on the sound overnight. Just 12 other folks on board. A nice chance to meet other travelers (lots of Brits & Germans everywhere in NZ, a few Israelis on the boat). Plus early-morning sea kayaking on the sound is something I'll never forget.

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