Milford Sound vs. Doubtful Sound

Milford Sound, New Zealand

We love fjords. On trips to Fjordland on the South Island of New Zealand, many people choose: Milford Sound vs. Doubtful Sound. But we didn’t want to choose, so we did both! Here’s our detailed comparison for your choosing pleasure.

Milford Sound

A trip to Milford Sound is about more than just the cruise… to get into the area, you drive along one of the most beautiful roads in the world. You need to give yourself a whole bunch of time to get there because you’re going to want to stop to take pictures or go for a hike basically every 10 minutes.
Driving from Te Anau to Milford Sound, New Zealand

Driving to Milford Sound, New Zealand

Driving to Milford Sound, New Zealand

It took us pretty much all day to get there. We stopped for a few relatively easy walks to some absolutely beautiful places including…

the Mirror Lakes where we saw gorgeous reflections…
Mirror Lakes, Milford Sound, New Zealand

waterfalls along the Lake Marian track…
Lake Marian Falls, Milford Sound, New Zealand

Lake Marian Falls, Milford Sound, New Zealand

and the Chasm.
The Chasm, Milford Sound, New Zealand

The Chasm, Milford Sound, New Zealand

We stayed at the (extremely, absurdly pricey) Milford Sound Lodge, which is the only place to stay in the area. We had mountain and waterfall views outside our window.
Milford Sound Lodge, New Zealand

We did a 9am cruise of Milford Sound on Go Orange. We chose them because they were the cheapest and longest cruise and we’d read that all of the cruises do the same circuit. It was two hours of gorgeous views of mountains, waterfalls, glaciers on mountains, small sightseeing planes dodging mountains, and dolphins.
Milford Sound, New Zealand

Milford Sound, New Zealand

Milford Sound, New Zealand

We saw so many dolphins, including baby dolphins (!), even the crew was freaking out.
Dolphins and waterfalls, Milford Sound, New Zealand

Dolphins, Milford Sound, New Zealand

We marveled at this plane’s flight path.
Milford Sound, New Zealand

Even back on land, we couldn’t stop gawking at the view.
Milford Sound, New Zealand

Doubtful Sound

The Doubtful Sound cruise is a full-day affair of driving and cruising. Again we chose Go Orange as they offered free pick-up so we didn’t have to do any driving that day. We were picked up in Te Anau, which was about 40 minutes away from where the adventure starts. We boarded a ferry that took us across the stunning Lake Manapouri.
Lake Manapouri, Fjordland, New Zealand

Lake Manapouri, Fjordland, New Zealand

We then took a crazy bus ride through the Southern Alps via the Wilmot Pass. It has a road with one of the steepest inclines in New Zealand. Luckily our driver was a pro! We stopped a few times to take in the view. Soon, we could see Doubtful Sound from above.
Wilmot Pass, Southern Alps, Fjordland, New Zealand

The cruise through Doubtful Sound was about three hours. Like Milford Sound, we were surrounded by mountains and waterfalls and it was stunning.
Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Waterfall, Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

It was a pretty calm journey, but then we rode all the way out to the Tasman Sea, and things got pretty choppy (and fun!). Most everyone was on the outside of the boat, hanging onto the rails, while the wind and water whipped at our faces. We saw New Zealand Fur Seals playing on the rocks and Royal Albatross soaring through the sky. And on the way back in we saw more dolphins.
New Zealand Fur Seals playing in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Albatross flying towards the Tasman Sea, New Zealand

Te Anau

We based ourselves in Te Anau for our time in Fjordland, even though we did spend one night at Milford Sound to maximize our time there. It was touristy and backpackery but we liked it. We stayed at the Kiwi Holiday Park, which had a trampoline.
Te Anau Kiwi Holiday Park. New Zealand

Also there is an alpaca farm in town which is always a plus!
Alpacas, Te Anau, New Zealand

Alpaca, Te Anau, New Zealand

The winner

If we had to choose between Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound, we’d go with Milford Sound. You see so much on the way into the area and you get bang for your buck with a quick, yet stunning cruise. But we’re happy we got to experience them both!

Next, we started making our way north, stopping at Arrowtown, Wanaka, and Twizel.

Pin it!
How to choose between Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound in New Zealand

If you’ve been to Fjordland, what do you think is the best cruise? Do you have any other favorite places to explore? We’d love to hear from you!

10 Replies to “Milford Sound vs. Doubtful Sound”

  1. I love places like that! 🙂 We’ve been to Berchtesgaden in Germany in September & the view was almost identical. So good to get lost in the middle of nowhere!

  2. So lucky. I so want to go to NZ. I think the only place closer to the nature feel I have been is Iceland.

  3. Wow. Both places look amazing! I have heard of Milford Sound but not Doubtful Sound. Both look beautiful – great pictures! I think I want to do both when I go to New Zealand.

  4. Such a visually pleasing adventure! Your pictures are amazing! I especially love the mirrored lakes! I’ve never been to either but I’m putting them on my list! This post has given me serious wanderlust!

  5. I’ve read that Milford sound is a bit of a slog to get to, but with the gorgeous views, it probably doesn’t seem so bad? I love dolphins so even i squealed when I read that you’d seen them lol.

    1. Sarah and Justin says: Reply

      “Slog” is most definitely not the word I would use to describe it. The drive to Milford Sound is one of the most beautiful in the world. It was incredible!

      1. That fantastic to hear!

  6. Milford Sound looks amazing!!!

  7. Your photo of the alpaca at the end made me smile! So cute! Just from the photos, it does seem like Milford Sound was little more picturesque, and you got to see dolphins!

  8. I can never get over how much NZ looks like Scotland! I would love to get the chance to go over and explore! I agree, I wouldn’t have been able to chose between the two either!

Let us know what you think!