The Doubtful Sound, an Experience That Must be Lived.

The two night cruise in the Doubtful Sound may be the most incredible two nights spent out in pure, ancient nature.

By: Nick Palastro + Save to a List

Back in September of 2016 I did an overnight cruise of the Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. It truly was a spectacular experience and was the highlight of that trip. You're out in the fjord with just a few dozen other guests and your tour begins in the afternoon when the majority of other boat tours have docked up and flights have ended. You get to experience solitude and adventure as you can choose to kayak around Harrison Cove under the shadow of Mount Pembroke our hop in a tendercraft with a nature guide to get up close and personal with your surroundings. The one night cruise of the Milford Sound is what I would recommend if you just had one night to experience the fjord.

HOWEVER... If you had TWO nights to spend, there is not a better experience than the two night cruise of the Doubtful Sound. In September 2022, I did just that. These cruises are more exclusive as there are fewer dates to choose from. There is a one night option of the Doubtful but, you will be missing out. The fjords here are grand maze and you will not get to appreciate the variety and pure grandeur of nature that you get to experience by spending two nights out in this ancient maze of fjords.

With the two night cruise, you get to explore the entire lengths of the Doubtful, Bradshaw, and Thompson Sounds along with tributary fjords of the First, Crooked, Gaer, and Hall Arms and the Precipice Cove. You get multiple chances to kayak or explore by tendercraft in some of the most incredible scenery you cannot even imagine.

The weather in one fjord valley may be dramatically different than the weather just a few kilometers away in a different part of the fjords. Try waking up and imagining a Jurassic surrealism with low hanging mist as the sun punches it's way through the clouds to illuminate fresh snowfall up the upper rainforest peaks followed by a rainbow so powerful you're able to see its colors reflect in the distant water.

By the afternoon, more drama unfolds in a different arm with low angled winter light illuminating the cliffs of rainforests as clouds swirl across their peaks.

Ephemeral waterfalls cascade down from the sky, snaking their way to glass waters of the fjord. 

Beautiful light illuminating the beech tree rainforest along the shores of the fjord.

...and as you're cruising around, cheeky wildlife may appear! Kea Parrots, Fiordland Yellowcrested Penguins, Fur Seals, Albatrosses, and Dolphins all may make an appearance if you're lucky. On this particular cruise, I did see plenty of seals and a couple penguins hopping around the rocks but they were all very distant. This Kea and dolphin were photographed along the Milford Road and in the Milford Sound. They are out there though so you will never know what you may encounter.

The Kea Parrot is an endangered species and is also the world's only species of alpine parrot. They are very, VERY smart and playful so keep an eye on lose gear as they may just take it away!

Your last morning is spent waking up and cruising along the Hall Arm where magic seemed like it was a guarantee. Vibrant rainbows appear in front of snow frosted rainforest peaks reflected in the rippled glass water as waterfalls cascade down the slopes. The highlight of highlights is here where the captain completely silents the boat for ten minutes. All motors and generators are switched off so that the only sound you here is distant waterfalls, squawking birds, and a soft breeze as you absorb the 360 degree views towering all around.

It is impossible to put into words the experience you get while taking the two night cruise of the Doubtful Sound. With the shear size and grandeur of it all, you will get to experience so, so much. While the Milford Sound is more intimate and its cliffs more shear in height, there simply is no comparing the pure peace and quiet of the Doubtful Sound. You feel like you're transported away from the real world into something prehistoric that you must see to believe. The folks at RealNZ put on a sensational cruise. They have friendly and knowledgeable staff and perhaps even more important, they feed you so many buffet meals. Breakfasts, lunch, snacks, dinners, and desserts are all included in your adventure. You're welcome to sit with the captain as he maneuvers the vessel through the glacier carved mazes and there is a nature guide who can answer just about any question you can think up.

The two night cruise of the Doubtful Sound is just special and when I am able to make another trip back to Aotearoa New Zealand, I will no doubt be booking this cruise again!

As a special trip bonus, I even got to enjoy a Fiordland Flight with late afternoon light reflecting off of the Tasman Sea, filling the fjords with gold and shadow. This particular shot was flying by Lake Marchant and the Taswell Sound.

Thank you for reading!

I hope you enjoyed my little story of experience and photos along the way.


We want to acknowledge and thank the past, present, and future generations of all Native Nations and Indigenous Peoples whose ancestral lands we travel, explore, and play on. Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!

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