How To Get To Doubtful Sound

In which Bennett travels to Doubtful Sound

“I thought this coach trip was only going to take 3 hours?” “American tourist, May 2016

Someone hadn’t done their Milford Sound research. The coach trip there takes 5/6 hours at least, depending on how leisurely the tour is or whether you’re going for a day or on the overnight cruise (you can read about our experience for my birthday in 2014 here). Whilst I’m still not convinced that spending that amount of time on a coach is leisurely, this woman should have done a little more research into the trip that her travel agent had ‘organised for her.”

If she had done her research and only wanted to spend 3 hours on a coach, she should have insisted her travel agent book her not on the overnight cruise on Milford Sound, but the overnight cruise on Doubtful Sound instead, run by Real Journeys (in fact, both overnight cruises are run by Real Journeys, so it would have been super easy!)

OK, so getting to Doubtful Sound is a wee bit more challenging than just a 3 hour coach ride from Queenstown, however I believe our American friend would have enjoyed it a lot more than hearing the words “6 hour coach trip.” There are three legs on a journey to Doubtful Sound, whether you are just doing a day trip or the overnight trip like we did:

First Leg

This is 3 hours on a coach from Queenstown to Manapouri. Real Journeys can usually pick you up at your hotel, or from their office at 88 Steamer Wharf. You can also catch the coach from Te Anau to Manapouri as well (only 20 minutes!) or make your own way to Manapouri with your own car/campervan – there is lots of free, unlimited car parking close by to the Lake Manapouri wharf.

Second Leg

A delightful 45 minute cruise across Lake Manapouri to “West Arm” and the Wilmot Pass.

Craig and Bennett enjoying the crossing!

Craig and Bennett enjoying the crossing!

Lake Manapouri

Into the rain, typical Fiordland!

Once over at West Arm, you can view the Manapouri Power Station from the outside, and in the visitor’s centre too.

Manapouri Power Station

Manapouri Power Station is on the right hand side – you can see all the power lines coming out of it!

My, what a feat of engineering! There is a model where you can see the full extent of how the power station is mostly underground under the mountains (I thought I had a photo of it, but apparently I do not, so you’ll just have to go visit it yourself!)

Lake Manapouri

Lake Manapouri put on a better show when we were leaving

Third Leg

Only a brief stop in the visitor’s centre however, as soon again you are whisked away to the final leg of the journey to Doubtful Sound: one more coach ride. This one however, takes only 1 hour and traverses the Wilmot Pass, the only stretch of road in New Zealand that is not joined to another. Driving along the pass to Doubtful Sound, you have the gorgeous Spey Valley (yep, named after the Spey in Scotland!) to your left. Well, we didn’t going out as the weather was low and wet, but we did get to see it on the way out, only to our right this time, not the left. At the highest point of Wilmot Pass, you might be lucky enough to get a glimpse of Doubtful Sound, gently stretching out in front of you.

Looking towards Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound is just where that little patch of cloud is hanging!

Again, we weren’t so lucky on the way in and the coach driver didn’t stop, but we did see a little bit on the way back and we took a short stop to take some photos. The coach drivers are acutely aware of when people want to take photos!

Wilmot Pass, Doubtful Sound

Craig and Bennett posing at the Wilmot Pass

Suddenly, waterfalls and boats appear before you. The wharf at Doubtful Sound is not flash by any stretch of the imagination, but you don’t want it to be. Doubtful Sound by comparison to Milford Sound is meant to feel more like the road less travelled and a big flashy wharf would not fit in. It’s time to get on your home for the next 18 hours or so (or 2, if you’re doing the day trip) and that experience I will save for next time!

So, who fancies that trip to Doubtful Sound?

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Author: Bennett

2 years as an expat in China and now doing the same in New Zealand, Bennett sure likes to experience "slow travel!"

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