Looking at a map, Fiordland National Park takes up a huge section of New Zealand. Visiting the famous, but small, Milford Sound didn’t seem to do the Fiordlands justice. I wanted to see more of the awesome beauty this national park had to offer and my guidebook recommended Doubtful Sound. Although many people skip it, it’s just as beautiful and dramatic as its sister Milford. It’s also much less touristy because only tour operators are permitted and you cant drive yourself. I wanted to do something more exciting than a boat tour and kayaking seemed like a full day of fun and exercise. Kayaking Doubtful Sound was one of my favorite experiences during my entire New Zealand trip.
Transportation to Doubtful Sound
After much research Doubtful Sound Kayak seemed like the best company around. I was attracted by the small group size and good price. The meeting time was 6:30am at their office in Te Anau Lakeview Holiday Park. They laid out biscuits and tea as everyone filled out the necessary paperwork. After signing our lives away we got into a shuttle and drove to the boat slip in Manapouri.
A little boat was waiting and it sped over Lake Manapouri towards Doubtful Sound. It took an hour to reach the Manpouri Power Station where stacks of warm clothes had been set out. After changing into long-sleeve wool shirts and cozy hats, we drove about 30 minutes to the start of Doubtful Sound.
We reached the final boat slip and our guide demonstrated some proper kayaking techniques. He was funny, informative, and made the trip exciting. After learning some kayaking basics it was time to get started. The main part of Doubtful Sound was very choppy, so we got into another boat and headed to a calm arm of the Sound. After a shuttle, boat, bus, another boat, and a final sip of hot tea (it was going to be a cold day) we finally began our kayaking adventure!
Kayaking Doubtful Sound
The group took its time enjoying the views and waterfalls. We weren’t slow but definitely didn’t rush either. After all, this was probably the only time I’d be in Doubtful Sound and I didn’t want to speed through the experience. We took a lunch break back on the boat and warmed up with a cup of hot cocoa. Even though it was cold and raining the wool clothing and consistent hot beverages kept me warm. The day was a perfect demonstration of typical Fiordland weather. Half rain and half gloom, with a lucky 20 minute window of sunshine in the afternoon.
Learning about the history and ecology of Doubtful sound made me really appreciate my surroundings. Our guide went into detail about the fragile ecosystem of Fiordlands National Park (and all of New Zealand), and the problems being faced today. Humans unintentionally brought predators, like stoats and weasels, to New Zealand. These predators are killing native bird species at a rapid rate because they never evolved to have any defenses. Many New Zealand birds, for example, are flightless and therefore an easy meal.
Something our guide said stuck in my mind. “When early explorers first came to Doubtful Sound they wrote that the birds were so loud they could not sleep at night.” Listening now, however, Doubtful Sound was all-over quiet. Besides a few chirps here and there, little was heard except my kayak paddle hitting the water.
After lunch the rain stopped and the kayaking continued. We made it all the way to the end of the arm and kayaked under waterfalls, into caves, and through trees hanging over the water. The day went by at a perfect pace and as we headed back to the boat the sun finally made an appearance. What a sight!
The boat turned towards the main part of Doubtful Sound and back to the boat slip. We huddled in the boat slip “office” for one last drink and talked about our day. Everyone had positive things to say. I logged it in my mind as an adventure I wouldn’t soon forget. Kayaking Doubtful Sound is one of my Top 3 New Zealand experiences. Doing something fun while surrounded by breathtaking landscape is hard to beat.
Check out the video below. Because of the rain most of my video and pictures got water spots on them, but now I know to waterproof my GoPro next time!
Interested in Visiting Doubtful Sound?
There is no public road to Doubtful Sound so the only way to get there is with a tour. Choose between a wilderness or overnight cruise, a helicoptor tour, or a kayaking tour. Many companies combine Doubtful Sound with a Te Anau Glowworm Cave Tour, which I would also recommend. Te Anau is a good “in-between” location for both Doubtful and Milford Sound. If you want to know more about Milford Sound read about my experience here.
Doubtful Sound is beautiful even on a rainy day. Don’t let bad weather stop you because there’s only a 50/50 chance of getting good weather. There are plenty of thick layers to keep you warm, and drink something hot whenever you can. I’m a wimp when it comes to the cold but I felt comfortable all day.
There are a few different kayaking companies but Doubtful Sound Kayak does a great job. The gear was of good quality and our guide was awesome. The only problem I had with them was due to my own lack of research. We booked a hotel in Manapouri, where the boat slip is located, thinking we only had a 5 minute drive to the office. That morning we put the address into the gps and unfortunately saw the office was back in Te Anau. It was a 20 minute drive just to fill out paperwork, then the shuttle went back to Manapouri where we had already been. It was fully my fault for not going over the confirmation email so if I could go back I would book accommodation in Te Anau instead.