So there’s been a debate raging for years gripping the very heart of both tourists and locals alike here in New Zealand that I’ve been dying to fill you in on involving which Fiordland cruise to choose.
And by “raging debate,” I actually mean just in my own head. I have nothing if not a grandiose sense of self.
So which is better? Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. How do you choose? Which is the better space to visit in our beloved Fiordland? Which Fiordland cruise to choose?
Ever since I visited Milford Sound for the very first time way back when on Christmas Day of 2013 (exceptionally hungover to boot), I’ve been obsessed with this part of New Zealand. And I mean OBSESSED.
From enormous mountains to thundering waterfalls straight from Middle Earth to curious creatures and puzzling legends (hello Fiordland moose, I’m looking at you), gnarly ancient beech forests, and no cell reception, for me, Fiordland is a place of mystery and intrigue.
Often draped in low-hanging clouds lending this wild corner of New Zealand a distinct air of belonging in another world. Jurassic Park, maybe? It doesn’t take much imagination to envision pterodactyls soaring amongst the clouds here.
How can you not love Fiordland?
Home to New Zealand’s largest national park, Fiordland is home to 12 major fiords on the coast, characterized by steep cliffs, enormous mountains in the Southern Alps, steep valleys carved by glaciers, high lakes and heaps of waterfalls, and buckets and buckets of rain.
Of the 12 fiords, only 2 are relatively accessible to visitors, Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound. For many tourists coming to New Zealand, going on a day cruise around one or the other is at the top of the bucket list.
And for a good reason – they will blow you away. Any season, any weather, Fiordland is magical.
And Fiordland in winter is my favorite time to take a Fiordland cruise. Often the days are mild and still, with no wind.
While I’ve explored Fiordland many times, in every which way possible, I often return to both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound on boat trips with RealNZ (even since 2013), who run incredible activities throughout the area.
So if you’ve been keen to check out Milford or Doubtful Sound here in New Zealand, I’m handing you your sign right now!
But here comes the real question: which is better? Milford Sound or Doubtful Sound. If you had to choose a Fiordland cruise, which would it be?
Milford Sound is by far the more well-known and popular option. Iconic and impressive, it’s definitely the place for those who want to tick it off their bucket list. Cruising with RealNZ along the well-known Mitre Peak and beneath thundering waterfalls, it’s famous and well-loved for a reason. It’s amazing.
Milford is also easier to access, with a road built straight to the fiord and many flights and trips available. By New Zealand standards, Milford is busy, especially in the summertime. But if you can manage to stick around, at the end of the day, you’ll have the place to yourself.
I don’t think anyone ever visits Milford and regrets it.
Doubtful Sound, on the other hand, is visited by far fewer people but is equally, if not more, loved by those who journey out there. Wild and remote, it’s a bigger effort to visit, involving crossing Lake Manapouri by boat, a coach journey across the Wilmot Pass, and another boat out into the fiord itself.
Here it’s much quieter with far fewer boats and planes whizzing around, and you’ll likely have Doubtful all to yourself on a day cruise with RealNZ. It’s also enormous, much bigger than Milford, and with a lot more wildlife opportunities, with penguins, dolphins, and seals spotted on the regular.
While the scenery is not quite as dramatic as Milford, Doubtful is still stunning and appeals to people like me, who prefer the quiet solitude and remoteness of the place.
So if you haven’t already guessed, I’m definitely Team Milford. Mostly. Maybe.
What about you? Are you Team Milford or Team Doubtful? Have you been to either? Which sounds more appealing? Spill!