International travel

Doubtful Sound – A Personal Pilgrimage

“If there’s anyplace on Earth more beautiful than Doubtful Sound I have not seen it or heard about it. Easily more beautiful than the fjords of Norway or (the old) Yugoslavia. Majestic, spectacular, immense, deserted, magnificent: Words cannot capture it. Two days and a night here, aboard the Fiordland Navigator. We are blessed with clear skies, sunshine and warmth.” Richard Hess (3-31-03)

Images by RJMA few years ago, when Rich told me about his 2003 New Zealand trip, he spoke of Doubtful Sound. He told me that some day I needed to go there and experience it for myself.

So when I learned of the February 2013 trip to New Zealand (led by Dick Griffin of Big Valley Travel Club), I knew that was my opportunity to follow Rich’s advice and visit Doubtful Sound in his honor.

Images by RJM

From my journal:

2/27/13 – Wednesday

Doubtful Sound.

I must start by admitting that I was a little disappointed. I expected calm waters reflecting majestic mountains.

Instead, the water was a little choppy, the sky was a little hazy and overcast; the mountains were, indeed, majestic.

I was awed by the realization that a glacier pushed its way to the Tasman Sea, creating the deep and narrow arms of this fiord, and then receded, leaving room for the sea to come inland. Having seen a glacier (Franz Josef), I comprehend the magnitude of this body of ice.

So the 3-hour journey through Doubtful Sound was an awesome journey, but not in the way I expected.


I had no other words to adequately express my feelings on this personal pilgrimage. Perhaps my photos will speak for me.

Images by RJM
After a 3 hour bus ride from Queenstown, we arrived at Lake Manapouri, which we crossed by boat. It was a beautiful 50-minute cruise.
Images by RJM
We then boarded another bus for the 40-minute trek across Wilmot Pass (seen here, with Doubtful Sound in the distance).
Images by RJM
We finally arrived at Deep Cove, where we boarded our boat and set out for a three-hour cruise of Doubtful Sound.
Images by RJM
We traveled through the fiord on our way to the Tasman Sea.
Images by RJM
Seals sun themselves on the rocks where Sea meets Sound.

Images by RJM

Images by RJM
We turned from the Sea and headed back into the Sound …
Images by RJM
… and soon entered Crooked Arm (which itself is equal in length to all of Milford Sound).
Images by RJM
Here the Captain turned off the ship’s engine, and we enjoyed “the sound of silence,” an experience best described as “reverent.”
Images by RJM
And then we began our journey back to Deep Cove and our goodbye to Doubtful Sound.


A Few Sound Facts

My day trip to Doubtful Sound was organized by Real Journeys, the same company that operates the Fiordland Navigator. This information is from their website.

What is the difference between a sound and a fiord?

Throughout Fiordland the fiords are officially mapped as sounds. Strictly speaking, they should be called fiords.

A fiord is a glaciated valley – typically narrow and steep-sided – that has been flooded by the sea after the glacier’s retreat. A sound, on the other hand, is a river valley flooded by the sea following a rise in sea levels or depression of the land, or a combination of both.

What is the difference between Milford and Doubtful Sounds?

Milford Sound at the mountainous north end of Fiordland National Park is the classic fiord – a deep water inlet between steep sided high mountains. Milford Sound is a middle-sized fiord at around 13 kms in length and it is famous for its dramatic scenery, especially Mitre Peak. This fiord is the most accessible of Fiordland National Park’s 14 fiords and it can be reached by road (coach or car) or by flight connections from Queenstown.

Doubtful Sound is located in the heart of Fiordland National Park where the mountains are still very impressive but not as high as Milford Sound. Doubtful Sound is three times longer and has a sea surface area roughly ten times larger than Milford Sound. Its three arms are Hall, Crooked and First Arm. It is famous for its wilderness scenery and wildlife sightings. To travel to Doubtful Sound visitors first take a launch trip across Lake Manapouri and coach over Wilmot Pass.

Wheelchair Accessibility

Unfortunately the Doubtful Sound cruise is not wheelchair accessible, due to the nature of the wharf in Deep Cove, high sea sills in the vessels and steps on the coaches.

By Jeri Murphy

Traveler, writer, photographer, former wedding officiant, mother, friend, explorer and new Texian ... that's just a little about me!

3 replies on “Doubtful Sound – A Personal Pilgrimage”

I remember so very well Dick’s commentary about Doubtful Sound. Your amazing photos allowed me to re-live his experience vicariously. Your portraits of New Zealand, in photos and words, are mesmerizing. You made it all seem to real. Thanks for allowing so many of us to enjoy the trip with you. We did everything except pack and unpack suitcases.


Thank you, Ted. It was important to me to post this today, and your comments really made my day. I’m so glad you are enjoying taking this trip with me, and I’m sure Rich is delighted as well!


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