Doubtful Sound is one of those places where, no matter how hard you try, you will never be able to fully describe it. Same with pictures—it’s hard to get pictures to truly show the size and beauty of the fjords. You have to experience it in person. I’m still trying to figure out how to describe the fjords that we saw, and when I can tell that the person really has no idea what I’m even talking about, I then say “think of Lord of the Rings scenery.” Now, I have never seen the movies (with no intentions to ever watch them), but most of the people then get it. I have no idea if I’m even that accurate with the scenery.
We went through the company Real Journeys for our trip to Doubtful Sound. We were picked up from our hotel before 7:00 AM and taken to their office in Queenstown. We actually could have easily walked there from the hotel, but being fetched from our hotel was included in the price of the trip. It was early enough to where we got to see a beautiful sunrise over the lake. We loaded up the coach bus shortly after 7:00 and were off for the day.
While most tourists in the area choose to go to Milford Sound, I am so glad we did Doubtful Sound. There aren’t the crowds that you see at Milford, no fly over plane/helicopter tours going on, plus Doubtful sound is 3x longer and has a surface area of 10x that of Milford Sound. It’s basically untouched by man. That being said, it also made for a much longer day because Doubtful is much harder to reach from being isolated.
The coach we had boarded had passengers for both places, but only 3 of us were headed to Doubtful. So this is how our day went as far as getting to Doubtful Sound…
– Coach leaves Queenstown
– We met another coach where we left our current coach, and hopped on one going to Doubtful (rather than Milford)
– Take a 45 minute boat ride across Lake Manapouri
– Take an unexpected helicopter ride over the Wilmot Pass (details below)
– After the 3 minute helicopter ride, hop on a coach and ride down into the valley
– Finally boarded the boat to take the cruise
And then reverse all of that to go home. It ended up being a 10 hour day, but it was so worth it.
We were notified the day before about the helicopter ride, but we didn’t exactly know what that meant. Turns out, there was a storm just days prior that wiped out a bridge, so the coaches weren’t able to drive through the Wilmont Pass like normal. Thankfully, there just happen to be coaches on both sides of the bridge (already being rebuilt when we visited), so Real Journeys had hired two helicopters (each holding 6 passengers + the pilot) to take us over where the bridge had been blown out. If RJ hadn’t done this, our entire day would have been cancelled and we wouldn’t have been able to see Doutbful Sound. They said starting the following week, the bridge would be in a spot to have visitors walk across. I guess it cost them $1K/day for each helicopter (or something like that).
Now we had been in a helicopter just a few days prior for White Island so it wasn’t a big deal to us. However(!) this time it kind of was. The weather turned out to be on the nasty side that day (wind, rain, fog), so not exactly ideal weather to being flying in. I sat behind the pilot the first time, which probably wasn’t the smartest of me but I also didn’t really have a choice. Because of the weather, the pilot wasn’t able to see out the window at eye level, so he had to use the ones by his feet and also had to OPEN THE DOOR in order to see to land. Oh, and the “landing pad”…they just had to find the widest spot on the road in one area in order to land. “Oh hey, there’s the edge of the road and a straight drop off with cliffs!” It was a bit nerve-racking. Watching the helicopter leave to go back for more passengers gave me anxiety. In order for them to gain enough momentum during take off, the pilot basically had to do a nose-dive with the helicopter down into the valley to head back. The one pilot was more dramatic than the other, and I had to stop watching at one point.
Back on a coach heading down to the boat is when it kind of set in that we were literally in the middle of nowhere, with no civilization (other than the people on the tour), and surrounded by land. Even with the rain, it was so neat to experience and see. We were told that since it was already raining that day, that we should hope it just pours. Apparently when it rains (which it does most days), that waterfalls appear EVERYWHERE. Water just pours out of every nook and cranny. We stopped inside one of the arms of the fjord and just sat in silence at one point of the ride. All you could see and hear were the waterfalls. It was amazing. Also because of the rain and fog that day, we didn’t get to the see the top of most peaks. Once the weather did clear enough for us to see them, you basically had to crank your neck to the see the tops.
We were the only boat out cruising around the fjord that day, so it really did make for an unforgettable experience—even with the less than ideal weather conditions.