How to choose between Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound

Date: 10 April 2019

In an ideal world, if you’re visiting Fiordland National Park you’ll carve out enough time to see both Milford and Doubtful Sound but as a fellow traveler, I know that sometimes you just can’t do it all and you simply have to choose one.

So how to choose? 

The answer is not as simple as it might seem. Although they are both in the same region, each one provides such a unique experience from the other that you’ll want to do your research before choosing.

It’s impossible to say which is better because their both so special so let’s break down their differences. For those who are on a super tight timeline, Milford Sound offers the advantage of being convenient and easily accessible. You can drive right to the Sound from Te Anau, do a quick boat cruise and head back to town all in an afternoon. If you have more time, you can take a longer cruise or a kayak trip.

Because of its accessibility via the famous Milford Road, Milford is a little bit more busy with visitors. Travelers who visit Milford Sound will note the immense steepness of the mountains creating near vertical walls that plunge straight into the dark waters below. The mountains in Doubtful, while still impressive, are not quite as high as Milford, however, the actual sound itself is three times longer and has a sea surface are roughly ten times larger than Milford.


Untouched wilderness

For those wanting a more remote experience, Doubtful is the clear winner. Doubtful Sound is your ultimate digital detox destination. No wifi or phone access allows you to immerse yourself in the beautiful nature that surrounds you.

The journey to Doubtful Sound alone is full of excitement. Visitors start by taking a boat across Lake Manapouri followed by a coach tour over Wilmot Pass. From there, you’ll get on a cruise ship and head out into the sound.

Visitors can do a day trip or spend the night on the boat to fully experience the beauty and remoteness of Doubtful Sound. The overnight cruise provides comfy cabin accommodation and includes all food and meals. You'll have the chance for a cheeky dip in the water or an easy paddle to the shore. For adventurous travelers, take a kayak trip (either one day or 5!) to explore the hidden coves of the sound.

Wildlife will be present in both Milford and Doubtful Sound, however, if you’re really wanting to see dolphins, fur seals, penguins and other rare wildlife such as the albatross, penguins, and whales, Doubtful Sound is likely to provide. It’s not uncommon to be kayaking amounts a pod of curious and playful dolphins at dawn.


Both Milford and Doubtful Sound are spectacular sights to see regardless of the weather. Some people say you haven’t experienced Fiordland at all unless you’ve seen it in the rain. The steep mountains create hundreds of cascading waterfalls through the rainforest and the low lying mist gives off a magical and mystical vibe, and if you’re on a cruise, you’ll have the beauty of seeing it all from the comfort of a protected cabin.

There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to seeing Fiordland National Park, it all depends on what you want. If you just get to one, don’t worry, It’s just another great excuse to get back to Fiordland again soon!

About the author: Liz

Liz Carlson is the creator behind Young Adventuress, one of the biggest travel blogs in the world. An American based in the mountains of Wanaka and always on adventures around New Zealand, she is passionate about Instagram, strong coffee, and saving the kākāpō.

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