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12 Things to Know BEFORE Booking the Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

12 Things to Know BEFORE Booking the Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise

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Doubtful Sound is a stunning fiord that is one of the most beautiful places to visit in New Zealand. It’s incredibly remote and takes a while to get to, so doing an overnight cruise is a fantastic way to experience it. Not only do you get to discover the fiord’s pristine beauty, but you also get to spend the night and see the sunrise over the mountains and calm waters. 

I’ve visited Doubtful Sound several times from both Queenstown and Te Anau. It’s incredibly tranquil, and you really feel nature’s calming presence. Believe me, it’s a special place, and staying overnight really takes it to the next level!

Plus, you get to enjoy extra activities like kayaking and tender boat rides that you don’t get on the daytime cruises. You can also stay overnight in a comfy cabin and enjoy breakfast on board. It’s the complete Doubtful Sound experience. 

So if you’re thinking about booking the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise, stay tuned. This blog contains everything you need to know before you set sail. 

Don’t have time to read the full article? Doubtful Sound is very remote, so you need a tour to get here! I love this overnight cruise because it takes care of all the logistics and includes transport, two meals, kayaking, and a chance to wake up with gorgeous views and experience the fiord with almost no one around.

1. About Doubtful Sound

RealNZ boat cruises through Doubtful Sound, NZ
What a place!
View of Doubtful Sound, New Zealand
The first look you get heading into Doubtful Sound!

Doubtful Sound is a huge fiord on the South Island of New Zealand. It’s one of the most tranquil places I’ve ever been, and also one of the most beautiful.

This place is bursting with wildlife. When I visited, I could hear birdsong and saw loads of animals, including Fiordland crested penguins, dolphins, and fur seals. If you’re lucky, you may even spot some whales!

When it comes to scenery, expect rugged mountains, dense rainforests, and deep water. This place also has stunning waterfalls, and one of the biggest, Browne Falls, is 619 meters (2,030 feet) tall. 

It isn’t as popular as Milford Sound, mostly because it’s harder to get to. In fact, it’s so remote that Captain Cook thought it would be impossible to sail here, hence the name “Doubtful Sound.” He actually called it “Doubtful Harbour” starting in 1770. However, whalers and sealers referred to it as “Doubtful Sound,” and by 1998, it was officially named Doubtful Sound/Patea.

Compared to Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound is much larger. It measures 40 kilometers (25 miles) from one end to the other and 2 km (1.2 mi) across. 

Since it is so remote, it isn’t overrun by tourists, and the whole place feels pretty untouched. However, you do need to book a tour to get to Doubtful Sound – and honestly, if you have the time, I highly recommend staying the night! The only way to do this is on an overnight cruise, which means you’ll wake up in this super serene environment. What a way to start the day!

Related Read: Want to see even more amazing scenery on the South Island? Read my list of the best helicopter tours in Queenstown. You’ll be flying high over beautiful vineyards, mountains, and fiords.

2. When is the best time to visit Doubtful Sound?

Steep cliffs in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand
Steep cliffs in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

It’s possible to visit Doubtful Sound year-round, but the best time to visit is during the summer months (December to February). The weather is generally more stable, and the days are longer.

This overnight cruise is only available from December through the end of March. So, if you’re visiting during the winter, you’ll have to choose another Doubtful Sound tour.

3. What is included in the overnight cruise package in Doubtful Sound?

Bailey enjoys a coffee on the back deck of a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise
Mornings in Fiordland National Park on an overnight cruise!

This Doubtful Sound overnight cruise includes pretty much everything! 

If you’re staying in Manapouri, you can join your group at the meeting point 20 minutes before your tour begins. However, you can also be picked up from your hotel in Queenstown or Te Anau for an additional fee.

Then, this overnight tour includes a boat ride across Lake Manapouri and a coach ride along Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound. 

When you arrive in Doubtful Sound, you’ll board the overnight cruise. I love the fact that this boat has a comfortable, modern interior, but on the outside, it looks very old-fashioned and charming. It really takes you back in time – you’ll feel like an explorer setting out to find Doubtful Sound (or at least I did on my first time here!).

There are skippers on board who will teach you all about its natural history and help you spot wildlife, including dolphins, fur seals, and penguins. 

During the day, you get to enjoy activities like kayaking, which is just amazing. I love kayaking through fiords because you can get so close to the shore and see even more wildlife. Plus, it’s a lot of fun!

You’ve also got the chance to go on small tender boat rides to get closer to nature. These activities are only available on the overnight cruise, so this is such a unique opportunity. Trust me, not a lot of people can say they’ve been kayaking or on a small tender in Doubtful Sound! 

The overnight cruise also includes a 3-course buffet dinner, and there’s a cash bar on board if you want to purchase alcoholic drinks to go with it. Overnight, you’ll stay in a private cabin with a shared bathroom, and you’ll be treated to a continental breakfast in the morning. 

In summary, this overnight cruise covers your transportation from the Manapouri Visitor Center all the way to Doubtful Sound and back. You get to stay in a private cabin on the cruise, which includes dinner and breakfast. However, you’re responsible for buying any alcoholic drinks at the cash bar. And if you need transportation from Queenstown or Te Anau, you’ll be charged an extra fee.

I like that it covers meals and transportation, so you don’t need to worry about too many logistics. You can simply sit back and enjoy the ride.

Click here to learn more about this tour and secure your spot online with Viator.

Why I Book Tours on Viator

Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book all of my tours using Viator for a couple of reasons:

  • Free cancellation on most tours – Most of the tours on Viator allow you to cancel and get a full refund up to 24 hours in advance. This is handy in case plans change, or if booking an outdoor activity, the weather forecast is looking grim.
  • Reserve now and pay later – You can secure your spot on some of the most popular tours well in advance and not pay until closer to the day of the tour.
  • Pay in your chosen currency – Avoid costly international transaction fees by choosing to pay in your home currency.
  • Peace of mind – When booking with tour operators you find in person on the street or in small booking offices, you are often promised one thing and given another. This online platform holds tour operators accountable with a written description of inclusions as well as the opportunity for customers to leave reviews.

Check out the Viator website here

4. How much does a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise cost?

Views from the front of the boat in Doubtful Sound, New Zealand
On the cruise!

The price of this Doubtful Sound overnight cruise depends on how many people you book for. If you book a single room for one person, it costs $1,479 NZD. And if you’ve got two people, it costs $799 NZD each for a shared private cabin.

It’s pricey, but an overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound is the kind of thing you only do once! Click here to check current prices and availability for the overnight cruise.

5. Do you need to book a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise in advance?

Bailey on a kayak in Doubtful Sound during an overnight cruise tour
Kayaks are included on the overnight cruise!

Yes! They book up months in advance – and I’m not talking just a few months, either. They can book up over 6 months ahead of time, especially during the summer.

Spots are super limited, and lots of people want to do this cruise – so if you’re considering it, I recommend booking as far in advance as possible

banner asking people to click to join the Queenstown Diary Facebook Group

6. What are the departure and arrival times for a Doubtful Sound cruise?

Bailey sits inside on a Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise
So stunning!

The tour departs from Manapouri at 1 pm, so you need to be at the port at 12:30 pm to check in and make sure that you’ve got plenty of time.

If you’re coming from Te Anau, the coach will pick you up around 11:30 am. This will ensure you get to Manapouri with plenty of time to spare. And if you’re staying in Queenstown, you’ll get picked up at 8:30 am. 

It takes 2 hours to cruise across Lake Manapouri and cross Wilmots Pass. So, you’ll arrive in Doubtful Sound at around 3 pm to begin your wilderness cruise.

The next day, you’ll make the return trip home, arriving back in Manapouri around midday. If returning to Te Anau, you’ll get there an hour or so afterward. If you’re heading back to Queenstown, you’ll get there in the late afternoon/evening. Just make sure to let the tour operator know if you need transfers from Queenstown or Te Anau when you book your tour.

Related Read: After your tour, you’ll probably be hungry! Check out my favorite restaurants in Te Anau as well as some great restaurants in Queenstown, depending on where you’re staying.

7. Is there overnight parking for the Doubtful Sound overnight cruises?

Yes! There’s free overnight parking in Manapouri on View Street. It’s a 2-minute walk from the Visitor Center, where you check in for the cruise. It’s super easy, and there’s plenty of space. 

8. What are the best Doubtful Sound overnight cruises?

A cruise through Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound is just as beautiful as Milford Sound but much less busy!

This is the best overnight cruise in Doubtful Sound! One of the things that I love about this overnight cruise is the fact that there’s a maximum of 28 passengers on board, so it never feels too crowded or commercialized. It’s a really special experience that’s all about getting closer to nature, and I also think it’s great that you get to enjoy kayaking and tender boat rides, too!

If you want to sleep on Doubtful Sound, I highly recommend booking this overnight cruise well in advance.

9. Is a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise suitable for children?

Doubtful Sound, New Zealand
Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Yes, kids love the cruise. It’s super exciting for them as they get to enjoy a real adventure and spot tons of wildlife along the way. Plus, they love kayaking and the tender boat rides. 

Related Read: Looking for more family-friendly activities? Check out my list of the best free and cheap things to do with kids in Queenstown!

10. What if I have dietary requirements?

Views from the boat on a Doubtful Sound cruise in New Zealand
Views from the boat on a Doubtful Sound cruise in New Zealand

Those with dietary requirements should let the company know when booking, and they will accommodate your needs. There are also plenty of vegetarian and vegan options at the buffet. If you have allergies or intolerances, the crew will make sure you enjoy a delicious meal on board. It’s super easy to contact the company about this through Viator

11. What to bring on a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise?

Fiordland Crested Penguins in Doubtful Sound
Fiordland crested penguins in Doubtful Sound

Layers

It can get chilly out in Doubtful Sound, so make sure you bring some layers with you. This area receives a lot of rainfall, so I definitely recommend a good waterproof jacket, as well as sweaters and gloves. If you’re visiting New Zealand in winter, you’ll want thick layers. But even in the summer, you can get chilly when you’re out on deck, so be prepared.

Camera

Doubtful Sound is stunning, so you’ll want to capture as many photos as humanly possible. Even though I’ve been here several times, I can never seem to stop snapping away when I visit. Of course, smartphone cameras are amazing these days, but if you do have a proper camera, it’s definitely worth packing it! 

Swimwear

The water in Doubtful Sound is pretty cold, but you can jump in if you’re brave enough! I recommend bringing swimwear in case you do feel the urge once you get there – it’s always best to be prepared. And even if not, swimwear is a good idea for kayaking expeditions. 

Change of clothes

This is an overnight cruise, so you’ll definitely want to bring a change of clothes. I actually think it’s a good idea to bring two changes of clothes. After kayaking or tender boat rides, you might want to change into something clean and dry. It also rains a lot here, so a few dry sets of clothes are definitely a good idea.

Ear plugs

If you’re very sensitive to sound, then you might want earplugs for the morning when the cruise begins sailing. They need to switch the engines on to get going, and although it’s not super loud, you might wake up if you’re a light sleeper.

Having said that, I tend to leave my earplugs out so that I do get woken up when the engines come on. Then I wrap up warm, go out on deck, and watch the sunrise. It’s a spectacular experience that’s definitely worth waking up for!

Cash for tips

Tipping in New Zealand is a gray area. There’s not a huge tipping culture here because servers get paid a living wage, so lots of locals will tell you that they don’t tip. However, in Queenstown and popular South Island tourist destinations like Doubtful Sound, tipping is much more common. Tipping is generally just a part of tourism, so in this case, it’s really up to you if you want to tip or not.

When I did this overnight cruise, I decided to tip. Partly because I’m from Canada, and we do have a tipping culture. It was also because I had such an amazing time and was really impressed by the service. 

Tipping is all in cash, so I recommend bringing some with you just in case. At the end of the cruise, you can decide whether or not to tip. 

12. Is a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise worth it?

Views as we enter Doubtful Sound, New Zealand
Views as we enter Doubtful Sound, New Zealand

Yes! This is such a unique experience because Doubtful Sound is so pristine and peaceful. It’s hard to get to, and there are only a few tours to choose from, so not many people ever get to see it – and even fewer get to stay overnight. If you’re able to do an overnight cruise here, my advice would be to go for it!

Trust me, you don’t want to let this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity pass you by. Secure your spot on this tour before it sells out!

Other Activities to do While You’re in Te Anau

Glow worms in a cave in New Zealand
Aren’t they beautiful?

If you’re visiting Doubtful Sound, chances are you’re staying in Te Anau. This small town is worth exploring in its own right since there are so many incredible things to do here! To get an idea, check out some of my favorite activities below.

  • Glow worm caves – If you haven’t seen these magically bright creatures, it’s a must while in Te Anau! This guided cave tour allows you to get up close with hundreds of these glow worms. It combines both walking through the narrow cave passages as well as a boat cruise through the dark caves.
  • Go jet boating – With close proximity to awesome rivers, jet boating is one of my favorite activities here! This tour will have you jetting down the Waiau River at speeds of up to 80 km (50 mi) per hour. Your driver will also perform high-speed spins and sharp turns before bringing you across stunning Lake Manapouri, where you will hop off for a guided walk.
  • Eat at Miles Better Pies – There are several awesome restaurants in Te Anau. But when you’re visiting New Zealand, you have to try its famous pies! One of the best places to do this is at Miles Better Pies. This place is a bit of an establishment, and my personal favorite pies are the Lamb and the Thai Chicken Curry.

Where to Stay in Te Anau

Our campervan at a holiday park in Te Anau

Most people who visit Doubtful Sound use Te Anau as a base. It’s the closest place with a wide variety of accommodations, and although only a small town, Te Anau boasts lots of amazing places to stay. I’ve stayed here plenty, so to help you out, I’ve rounded up my favorite options for each budget. Read on to learn about each one.

Luxury – $$$

The Fiordland Lakeview Motel and Apartments offers everything from studios to 3-bedroom townhouses. These are fully equipped apartments, and some have magnificent views of the lake as well as access for those with limited mobility. The property also has laundry, BBQ facilities, free parking, and a car wash. These accommodations are quiet, clean, and super spacious – perfect if you like privacy and comfort.

Prices for studios start as low as $341 NZD when you book a few months in advance.

Mid-range – $$

Aden Motel is just a 2-minute walk from Lake Te Anau and a 15-minute walk to the city center. They have studio,1 bedroom, and 2 bedroom apartments that are absolutely beautiful. It’s an eco-friendly property with a playground (and a big trampoline!), BBQ, and lovely gardens. The staff are super friendly, and the units stay nice and warm in the wintertime.

For the price, it’s the best value place in town, and I’ve seen prices as low as $189 NZD on Booking.com.

Budget – $

For budget travelers, you can’t beat staying at the Te Anau Lakeview Kiwi Holiday Park & Motels. It’s perfect for those on a road trip in a campervan or motorhome and has budget rooms available. They offer self-contained studios, bungalows, and private rooms with views of Lake Te Anau and the mountains. Some units come with private cooking facilities and balconies. Rooms are clean, showers are hot, and the whole property feels like a giant park. Prices start at $68 NZD and you can reserve your room online.

If you’re a social traveler, the Lakefront Backpackers is another good budget option, and they have dorm beds and private rooms. Staying here also feels like you’re in a park, although you’re just a 5-minute walk from town. They offer indoor/outdoor kitchen facilities, BBQ, laundry, free unlimited WiFi, storage, and a movie room to relax after a long day exploring Doubtful Sound. Dorms start at $39 NZD, and private rooms at $98 NZD. You can book your stay on Booking.com or through Hostelworld.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your campervan or motorhome through JUCY or Star RV! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy!

Thanks for reading!

Bailey smiles at the camera on the back of a Milford Sound cruise
Thanks for reading!

Doubtful Sound offers an unforgettable experience. However, it’s so remote that it’s the sort of place you’ll probably only visit once. As such, I recommend staying overnight to enjoy it a little longer and see the sunrise over the water. This overnight tour is my favorite option because it takes care of all the logistics and includes several perks like kayaking and a comfy private room onboard.

I hope you found this guide super useful! If you want to learn more about New Zealand, check out my other blogs here. I’ve lived and traveled all over the country and love sharing what I’ve learned. To get started, you can just click on one of the links below.

The BEST time to visit Queenstown – Comparing the 4 Seasons

22 Free and Cheap Things to do in Wanaka

15 BEST Places to Go Surfing in New Zealand + Complete Guide

RealNZ Review (Real Journeys) – What I think of RealNZ!