Milford Sound vs Doubtful Sound

One of the most common questions I was asked to help people resolve when I worked in the Fiordland Tourism sector was whether to do Milford Sound or Doubtul Sound. Both are incredible, gorgeous and breathtaking places that are well worth a visit (and if you have time, I always recommend both). But, most people don’t have the time or finances to do both, so here’s my guide to why I make recommendations one way or the other for different situations.

Active Travellers

Budget Conscious, With Kids

Stay in Te Anau the night before. Head off early self-driving, stop only at Mirror Lakes and for a toilet break if needed. Do a Nature Cruise as early as possible, then do the village walks – out to the point, and up to the lookout. Head home via stops at The Chasm, Monkey Creek, The Divide (walk up to Key Summit for amazing views), and Lake Gunn Nature Walk. Alternatively, pack an overnight bag and head in to one of the huts on the Hollyford Track before you return to Te Anau. If your kids are older (late high school age), and have good physical fitness, a kayak and walk on the Milford Track would also be an absolutely amazing way to see the sound.

Budget Conscious, No Kids

Ideally, you’ll be in a campervan for this one, because if you’ve got time but not heaps of money, and are active, I’d fill up my campers fridge and pantry and spend multiple days along the Milford Road, and at least one night at the lodge / Campground in Milford Sound, allowing heaps of time to explore and do multiple of the walks that are available. If you don’t have a camper, just prepare for a long day of walks, or consider doing one day into Milford Sound and another to do some of the walks.

Treating Yourself, With Kids

Walk in to Milford Sound. Literally. Book yourself into a guided walk with Ultimate Hikes. While kids must be at least 10 years to go guided, we had a 7yo on our independent trip and she rocked it. The bonus of going guided is you get a night in the lodge with a view of Mitre Peak included, and finish your trip with a cruise on the sound. Your transport to and from Queenstown is all included, as are your meals. You carry only your clothes, lunch and camera. Sweet.

Treating Yourself, No Kids

Depending how much you are treating yourself, I’d double-whammy this one. Hike the Milford Track, then take yourself off to Doubtful Sound overnight. If you don’t have the time or inclination for both, then I’d pick just Doubtful Sound overnight. It’s the lazy-persons idea of an active holiday, but you’ll get the opportunity to kayak and swim in the sound in the evening, and being out of contact with civilisation for 24 hours while eating amazing food and seeing stunning scenery? Unbeatable.

Relaxed Travellers

Budget Conscious, With Kids

Starting in Te Anau for the night, self-drive in to Milford Sound. Leave reasonably early, and enjoy various stops along the way. Aim for a late afternoon Nature Cruise on the sound, then head back.

Budget Conscious, No Kids

Pick up one of the multiple buses into the Sound. This is best done departing from Te Anau, where it’s a later start than from Queenstown, but the road is quieter. This way, you don’t have to worry about parking in Milford Sound (which can get really full), and you get the awesome commentary from the driver which will help you learn heaps about the road, while relaxing and enjoying the view.

Treating Yourself, With Kids

Head in to Doubtful Sound. Its so much harder to get to (an hour across the lake, then an hour on a bus over the pass before you set foot on the sound itself), so there are a lot fewer people around. Overnight is best if you can swing it in your schedule, as you get to be on the sound itself for about 20 hours. Day trippers are best staying in Manapouri or Te Anau, as it’s a long day.

Treating Yourself, No Kids

These were always the most fun people to help out. If you’ve got the time and money to do it, DO BOTH. This will also be the only time I don’t advocate for staying in Te Anau around your trip, despite the extra travel time in a bus I’m suggesting. What you want to book is a coach-cruise-fly day or overnight trip to Milford Sound, followed by the overnight trip to Doubtful Sound. You’ll need a night in Queenstown between the two. The views on the flight are raved about (its something I’ve never afforded to do).

Whichever way you chose to visit the gorgeous Fiordland National Park, you’re assured amazing scenery. Don’t worry if it rains, that just makes the waterfalls more impressive. Go summer for long days and short nights, lots of sandflies, kayaking, and overnight boats. Go winter for solitude, daytime boats, epic views of the milky way, and being stuck in Milford Sound when it snows.


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