If you're headed to the southwest corner of New Zealand, then you simply cannot miss a tour of Milford or Doubtful Sound. We highly recommend visiting both of these spectacular waterways, but if you’re pressed for time you might need to choose between the two. This article provides a comparison of Milford and Doubtful Sound to help you plan the perfect trip!

Photo of Milford Sound

Similarities between Milford and Doubtful Sounds

Doubtful and Milford Sounds are both located within Fiordland National Park. Despite their name, these geological formations are technically fiords that were formed by glacial erosion. The long, narrow waterways weave their paths through steep cliffs, providing a unique journey into the stunning interior of the national park.

When you journey into Doubtful and Milford Sounds, you can expect to see dramatic scenery unfold before your eyes – towering waterfalls, impressive cliff faces, fog parting before your eyes as rays of sunlight plunge into the turquoise depths. The Sounds are also home to countless numbers of wildlife. You’re likely to spot seabirds and fur seals during your boat ride. If you’re lucky, you might even catch a glimpse of dolphins or the Fiordland Crested Penguin, one of the rarest penguins in the world. In summary, you can expect to be absolutely blown away in terms of scenery and wildlife while visiting Milford and Doubtful Sounds!

Milford Sound: The Eighth Wonder of the World

When Rudyard Kipling visited Milford Sound in the late 1800s, he was so impressed by Milford Sound that he declared it “the eighth wonder of the world.” With up to 1 million visitors a year, it’s clear that Mr Kipling isn’t the only one impressed by Milford Sound! As one of New Zealand’s most visited areas, you can’t expect to experience solitude in Milford Sound. That being said, the area is well equipped to handle the crowds, so your visit should be a pleasant and smooth experience.

Most visitors drive or take a tour bus to the head of the sound and then take a boat tour from there. There are numerous tour companies operating in the area, ensuring that everyone will get a seat on the boat each day. There are also some cruise ships that offer overnight stays on the sound, providing visitors with the opportunity to experience the rhythm of the sound at all hours of the day.

Photo of boat in Milford Sound

Doubtful Sound: the Sound of Silence

In stark comparison to the hustle and bustle of Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is much less frequently visited, earning the nickname “the Sound of Silence.” When Captain Cook visited the fiord in 1770, he was uncertain whether the waters were navigable and thus named the fiord “Doubtful Sound.” Doubtful Sound is substantially larger than Milford Sound and we think the scenery rivals that of Milford Sound any day.

Unlike Milford Sound, there is no road access into Doubtful Sound – the only way to access the fiord’s stunning scenery is by boat. There are only a handful of tour operators in Doubtful Sound, which makes the experience much more personal and serene. Some companies offer an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound. When the cruise ship turns off its engine, visitors can take in the incredible sounds of natural around them – imagine crashing waterfalls and calls of seabirds filling the air.

Photo of Doubtful Sound

Which one is right for you?

Although it’s less promoted in tour brochures, we strongly encourage a visit to Doubtful Sound. If time allows, by all means see them both! At the end of the day, you can expect to be awestruck during your journey through either of these famous fiords. The right one for you is probably the one that fits best into your tour schedule. We’d love to hear your impression of Doubtful and Milford Sounds - feel free to use the comments area below to share them!

Milford Sound. Fiordland.NZ by Bernard Spragg, CC0 1.0
Dull day at Milford by Bernard Spragg, CC0 1.0
Morning reflections on Doubtful Sound by Susanne, CC BY-NC 2.0