Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound are undoubtedly two of New Zealand's most beautiful attractions, so when it comes to comparing the two - start with the premise that both are spectacular! Both offer completely different experiences, so it is worth knowing all about these fabulous natural wonders. Read on to help you decide whether you should include a trip to Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound in your New Zealand holiday itinerary...or if you’re really lucky, both.
Milford Sound, situated on the west coast of the South Island, is a picture-perfect natural wonder with breath-taking scenery around every corner.
Described by Rudyard Kipling as the 'eighth wonder of the world', Milford Sound was carved by glaciers during the ice ages, and is truly breath-taking in any weather. The surrounding cliffs rise from sparkling waters, and waterfalls magically cascade, with some reaching as high as 1000 metres. Wet weather isn't anything to worry about at Milford Sound - in fact, it's something to be grateful for. When it rains in Milford Sound (and it often does) the waterfalls multiply with magnificent effect.
The best way to explore Milford Sound is by cruise. This can be a day time or an overnight cruise and both are an excellent way to experience the Sound. For the more adventurous, Milford Sound can also be seen by sea kayaking, diving or flightseeing. If you're curious to find out about the fiord's marine life, you can visit an underwater observatory at Harrison Cove and marvel at black coral and 11-legged starfish.
For something different, you can hike or trek the Milford Track. Beginning at the northern end of Lake Te Anau, the track winds its way through some of the world’s most spectacular wilderness. If taking this route, your journey ends with a boat trip from Sandfly Point to the Milford Sound wharf.
Milford Sound is an easy day trip from Te Anau or Queenstown. The small village of Milford Sound also has limited places to stay so pre-booking is advised, or you can choose from the many options in Te Anau or Manapouri.
Sometimes called the 'Sound of Silence', Doubtful Sound is the deepest (421 metres) and second longest (40 kilometres) of the South Island's fiords. The stunning serenity of the fiord, named Doubtful Harbour by Captain James Cook, has many contrasts with the nearby Milford Sound.
Doubtful Sound has some beautiful waterfalls, especially during the wetter seasons. In the Hall Arm, the Browne Falls cascades from a mighty 619 metres; Helena Falls at Deep Cove tumbles 220 metres. Wildlife is another reason to visit this fiord; unique water conditions mean that the area is teaming with marine life. From your cruise ship or kayak, be sure to keep an eye out for bottlenose dolphins, fur seals and penguins.
Tours to Doubtful Sound depart from Manapouri and involve a very scenic bus trip across Wilmot Pass. When you reach the fiord, you can explore in a sea kayak or cruise with one of many cruise operators; ask us for more information so we can help you choose the best option for your travels!
What’s the difference?
Milford Sound is much smaller than Doubtful Sound, so it perhaps feels more imposing than Doubtful Sound. When visiting Milford Sound you’ll constantly be looking upwards at the overhanging cliffs and beautiful waterfalls.
Doubtful Sound is three times longer and, as aforementioned, ten times larger. It too has an abundance of impressive scenery, though there is much more to explore, so you may need more time to appreciate it to it's full extent!
There's a reason Milford Sound is the most popular tourist destination in New Zealand; it is undoubtedly worthy of a visit. The views are truly spectacular and you’ll be in awe of the tumbling waterfalls that surround you. If you’re short on time, a day trip on Doubtful Sound may be good just to see it, though we do recommend a longer, overnight tour to truly appreciate it in all its beauty! Many people who stay overnight in Doubtful Sound consider it to be a highlight of their trip to New Zealand.