Doubtful Sound

Visit Doubtful Sound, Fiordland, NZ

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  • Doubtful Sound is a sea inlet more than 40 km long with three main arms, flanked by steep mountains from which cascade hundreds of waterfalls. It is a place of outstanding natural beauty, home to whales, dolphins and penguins.

    Due to the height and steepness of the mountains surrounding the fjord, the only practical way to experience it is by boat. Single-day and multi-day cruises operate from Deep Cove, Doubtful Sound’s most inland terminus.

    Popular ship-based activities include fishing, kayaking and, of course, dining.

    Accommodation in Doubtful Sound (NZ)

    Doubtful Sound has no overnight accommodation facilities, and camping is prohibited in this heritage area. Overnight stays are possible only on board cruise vessels.

    Doubtful Sound’s nearest centre of accommodation is Manapouri, 30 minutes’ journey by coach to the Manapouri power station, then a short boat trip across the Lake.

    Transport around Doubtful Sound

    Doubtful Sound’s only road access is to Deep Cove. From there, boat or kayak transport is the only practicable way to travel about, as the mountains surrounding the fjord are too high and steep for conventional walking or mountain biking.

    The overland route from Manapouri township is a drive of about 3 hours. It is much quicker to travel across Lake Manapouri by boat to its West Arm, location of the Manapouri Power Station, from where it is only a 30 minutes bus ride to Deep Cove.

    The only viable alternative means of transport are by boat journey from a Southland or West Coast port, or by helicopter charter.

    Tourist Activities around Doubtful Sound

    Doubtful Sound draws visitors to see it awe-inspiring, unspoilt scenery, as giant mountains rise from still waters containing small and large islands where seals bask and sea birds including penguins breed.

    Bottlenose dolphins, small whales, such as orca and pilot whales, and large whales like the sperm, humpback and southern right whales are often seen in the huge stretches of deep water (more than 400 metres in places). These animals are most often sighted near the fjord’s sea entrance, about 40 km from Deep Cove. Therefore, an overnight cruise is recommended for those wishing to sight them.

    This fjord is distinctive for the large number of waterfalls cascading from mountain rocks into its waters, the largest falling more than 600 metres. During wetter times of year, mountain edges appear as a lacework of cascading water.

    This fresh water, stained brown with tannins from forest litter, sits on top of the fjords salt water as a layer 2 to 10 metres deep (depending on seasonal rainfall). The darker fresh water layer prevents light reaching far into the salt. As a result, deep sea species are found at the relatively shallow depths reachable by an amateur diver.

    Diving,fishing and kayaking are among Doubtful Sounds most popular, ship-based activities. It is also possible to land and explore and little. There are remnants of early industry such as whaling and whale oil processing, that are not easily found in the lush forest without a guide.

    It is not recommended that visitors who are inexperienced in the outdoors wander into forests or venture alone onto the waters of the fjord, as there are many hidden dangers, not least the difficulty of navigation and the potential for severe weather to occur without warning.

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    Doubtful Sound