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Doubtful Sound is beautiful, tranquil, and famously difficult to get to! Thanks to its remote location in Fiordland National Park, it’s probably one of the most serene places you’ll ever visit. And as it’s so hard to reach, the only way to go is to book a tour.
You can travel to Doubtful Sound from either Te Anau or Queenstown. Queenstown is much further away, but if you’re short on time, then you might not be able to fit an overnight stay in Te Anau into your itinerary. If this is the case, then I highly recommend this Doubtful Sound tour.
Although I’m Canadian, Queenstown is where I call home these days. I’ve been living here since 2018, and I’ve been to Doubtful Sound many times. Trust me, I know what makes a good tour! Plus, I love taking day trips and tours from Queenstown, so I’m well acquainted with all of the best companies around.
With all that in mind, I’ve written this guide to the best Doubtful Sound tour from Queenstown! Keep reading to learn why I love this particular tour and what to expect when you book it.
Don’t have time to read the full article? Doubtful Sound is one of the most remote destinations in New Zealand! You’ll need a tour to get here, and if you’re coming from Queenstown, I recommend this wilderness cruise. It takes care of roundtrip transportation along with an epic cruise through Doubtful Sound.
About Doubtful Sound
Doubtful Sound is an enormous fiord on the South Island. It’s 40 kilometers (25 miles) from one end to the other and 2 km (1.2 mi) across. Compared to Milford Sound, it’s actually three times longer and ten times wider. However, it’s not as popular as Milford Sound, partially because it’s so remote – which is also part of its allure.
This destination feels completely untouched. It’s brimming with waterfalls, native wildlife, and birdsong. On this wilderness cruise from Queenstown, I saw fur seals, dolphins, and Fiordland crested penguins, to name a few! The whole environment has such a calming effect, and you’ll leave feeling completely re-energized by nature.
Because it’s so remote, you need a tour to get here. In fact, it was named “Doubtful Sound” because Captain Cook thought it would be impossible to access this fiord. Originally, he named it “Doubtful Harbour,” but whalers and sealers started calling it “Doubtful Sound,” and it was officially renamed Doubtful Sound/Patea in 1998.
Luckily, people did find a way to access this fiord, and you can take advantage of this by joining a tour. It’s one of the most beautiful destinations in New Zealand, and if you love exploring remote places, Doubtful Sound delivers! Plus, because it’s not overrun by tourists, this place maintains its serene beauty. You’ll feel like you’ve got the whole place to yourself!
What is the best Doubtful Sound Cruise from Queenstown?
This wilderness cruise is the best Doubtful Sound cruise from Queenstown. The journey to Doubtful Sound from Queenstown is long and involves several different stages, but with this tour, all you need to do is sit back and enjoy the ride.
In fact, this tour handles everything for you, starting with pickup at central Queenstown hotels. From there, you’ll head to Manapouri Port to take a cruise across Manapouri Lake, followed by a coach ride along Wilmot’s Pass to Doubtful Sound. The journey is long but oh-so scenic – and I honestly enjoyed each step of the way!
It takes around 4 hours to travel from Queenstown to Doubtful Sound, and then the wilderness cruise itself lasts for roughly 3 hours, so you’re looking at a pretty long day here. You’ll pass by some beautiful landscapes on the journey from Queenstown to Manapouri, and then you take a cruise across the lake. And once you board the bus on the other side of the lake, you’ll have amazing panoramic views of Doubtful Sound!
Once you reach the final destination, you’ll enjoy a nature cruise through Doubtful Sound. This was my highlight, of course!
The nature cruise in Doubtful Sound is on a spacious catamaran boat which allows you to get pretty close to the fiord’s granite peaks and pretty waterfalls. Plus, since Doubtful Sound receives very little boat traffic, you can spot a ton of wildlife here, including dolphins, New Zealand fur seals, and Fiordland crested penguins. I even spotted some whales during the winter months!
This cruise runs year-round, and the price varies slightly according to the season. During the winter months, it costs $429 NZD. From October to April, it’s slightly more expensive at $479 NZD.
Tours leave in the morning and last for roughly 12 hours. Prices cover all the transportation we mentioned, along with your guides. You’ll need to pack food and beverages and plan to spend extra for any souvenirs or meals while out. If you’ve rented a car in Queenstown and prefer to drive yourself to the meeting point, make sure to get there 15 minutes before departure.
Although it’s a long day, this tour promises to be a fantastic adventure. It’s an amazing way to see Doubtful Sound if you’re based in Queenstown, especially if you’re short on time.
Related Read: If you have your heart set on seeing another incredible place nearby, Milford Sound tours from Queenstown are also popular. It’s not quite as remote, but it’s equally (if not more!) beautiful.
What I love about this cruise
Obviously, the thing I love most about this cruise is that it allows you to experience the remote and beautiful Doubtful Sound. Most tourists head to Milford Sound instead because Doubtful Sound is so difficult to get to. As such, doing this cruise means that you get to see a part of New Zealand that most people miss out on.
And having been here a bunch of times myself, I can promise you that you’ll be hard-pressed to find somewhere more peaceful. Doubtful Sound is totally untouched, which is really special, and it’s an amazing place to see wildlife.
I also really like the fact that everything is taken care of for you from start to finish. You don’t have to worry about navigation or how to get from A to B – if you did, visiting Doubtful Sound from Queenstown would probably be really stressful. I think it’s amazing that this tour allows you to access such a remote place with no hassle involved!
Another thing I love about this tour is that it’s run by one of the most reputable tour companies in Queenstown. They provide well-organized, high-quality experiences, and they’re committed to sustainability and conservation.
And finally, I love how much you learn along the way. There’s commentary on the buses as well as onboard the cruise in Doubtful Sound. The crew will teach you all about the history and ecology of the fiord and help you spot lots of wildlife, too.
Should you book this Doubtful Sound Cruise in advance?
Yes, you definitely should. Only a handful of companies operate tours to Doubtful Sound, and this is by far one of the most popular cruises. It’s also one of the only cruises from Queenstown that gives you free 24-hour cancellation through Viator, so lots of people book it well in advance, particularly during the summer. I recommend that you do the same so that you don’t miss out!
You can easily secure your spot online through Viator – which is how I booked my tour as well!
Why I Book Tours with Viator
Viator is a trusted online booking system for tours around the world! I almost always book 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!
Is visiting Doubtful Sound worth it?
Yes! Doubtful Sound is just so untouched and serene. You really feel like you’ve immersed yourself in the wilderness here, which is why it was one of my favorite experiences in New Zealand.
Although a bit far, it’s definitely possible to visit from Queenstown – and this tour makes the whole process super easy and enjoyable. Overall, it’s worth the effort because it’s one of those places you’ll never forget. So if you’re staying in Queenstown and want to check out this remote gem, don’t hesitate to book this Doubtful Sound tour online!
Related Read: Another experience that’s worthwhile is taking a Walter Peak Farm Tour in Queenstown! You’ll get to see sheep farming firsthand – something New Zealand is famous for!
Must-Do Activities While in Queenstown
After exploring Doubtful Sound, there are plenty of other activities to keep you busy in Queenstown. Honestly, there are so many fun things to do in Queenstown it’ll be hard to choose which ones to do! Below are some of my favorites:
- Take a cruise – Aboard the TSS Earnslaw Steamship Cruise you’re in for a scenic and relaxing cruise in Queenstown that’s great for any afternoon. This is one of the last coal-fired steamships in the world and you get to watch the crew add coal to the flames to power the vessel as you take in mountain ranges and lush green valleys. You can also upgrade this tour here to include dinner at Walter Peak High Country Farm.
- Watch a sunset – As the day draws to a close in Queenstown, make sure to head to the shores of Lake Wakatipu to watch a sunset. It’s one of the best viewpoints to watch the sun sink behind the Southern Alps. I like watching from Queenstown Beach or Perky’s Floating Bar where you get a view of the lake and delicious food and drinks too!
- Go canyoning – Climb and jump off waterfalls, rappel, swim, and trek as part of this Queenstown Canyoning Adventure with a qualified guide. This thrilling full-day activity is perfect for those who love adventure and exploration! As long as you aren’t afraid of heights and have a basic swimming ability you won’t need any other skills.
- See Milford Sound – This day trip to Milford South with a picnic lunch will give you the ultimate chance to explore the beauty of Milford Sound in Fiordland National Park. Not only will your guide stop at several impressive viewpoints on the way from Queenstown but there is also a cruise in Milford Sound included.
- Wine tasting – This Central Otago Wine Tour and Tasting is my personal favorite wine tour in Queenstown! It is one of the best values for money as for $239 NZD your tour bus will stop at 4 different boutique wineries in the Otago region that include a wide range of wine samples and a provided gourmet lunch platter. As you hop between wineries you’ll gaze out the window at spectacular views.
Where to Stay in Queenstown
Finding the right place to stay in Queenstown can be hard. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of awesome choices, but things book up fast! For that reason, I highly suggest booking your accommodation well in advance.
Honestly, during peak times, any of the best hotels in Queenstown will be fully booked several weeks in advance…you have been warned! To help you plan ahead, here are a few places I personally love and that would make an awesome place to stay in Queenstown.
Kamana Lakehouse – $$$
For a luxurious stay, I highly recommend Kamana Lakehouse. This hotel is located just on the outskirts of town. Although it’s super peaceful, it’s just a 5-minute drive into the center of town. The place overlooks both the lake and the mountains, and the onsite restaurant uses local, seasonal ingredients to create the freshest meals. To top it off, many of the rooms boast lake views, and some even have outdoor baths!
The trick will be snagging this for your dates (it’s a popular place!). Rooms start around the $400 NZD mark, and you can check availability and book online here.
La Quinta Queenstown – $$
If you’re looking for a mid-range hotel, then you should seriously consider La Quinta Queenstown. This beautiful hotel is right by the airport but still very quiet. Plus, the views are amazing (although you won’t find me recommending a place without great views!). The rooms are all studio or one-bedroom apartments, which is really handy if you want to cook or even just have breakfast in your room.
Prices start at $200 NZD and you can book online here.
Absoloot Hostel Queenstown – $
My top choice for budget travelers is the Absoloot Hostel Queenstown. This small hostel has dorm rooms and budget private rooms, and it’s really clean and comfortable. The location is in the heart of Queenstown – the window from the kitchen looks out over Lake Wakatipu!
Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand
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.
- Motorhome – A motorhome is larger and more comfortable than a campervan. Many motorhomes will comfortably sleep 6 or more people – perfect for a family visiting New Zealand. Motorhomes are the most expensive option, but with one you won’t ever need to stay in a hotel and you’ll save money that way. My top choice for a motorhome company is Star RV because they have beautiful motorhomes at affordable prices. You can check prices and availability for Star RV motorhomes online here. Alternatively, you can use Motorhome Republic to search all motorhomes in NZ. For more detailed info, read my complete guide to renting a motorhome in New Zealand!
EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! 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! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.
Travel Insurance Has Your Back!
Life can be unpredictable and when you’re traveling abroad, the last thing you want to worry about is getting sick or injured and having to pay out of pocket for treatment.
If this concerns you, SafetyWing can help! SafetyWing specializes in very affordable and comprehensive medical and travel insurance that is aimed at digital nomads, remote workers, and long-term travelers. It costs just $45 USD per 4 weeks!
To start coverage, you must purchase it after leaving your home country, so we usually buy it as soon as we land at the airport.
Since using SafetyWing we’ve been reimbursed thousands of dollars when we’ve gotten sick. During the pandemic, they’ve even gone as far as to pay for our last-minute flights back to Canada before the border closed!
Thanks for reading!
There’s nowhere quite like Doubtful Sound. So if you’re staying in Queenstown and looking to visit a remote destination, look no further! Since it is so remote, you’ll definitely need a tour – and this one is my favorite since it takes care of all the logistics, and you get an epic wilderness cruise upon arrival!
If you found this information helpful, check out my other blogs about New Zealand. There’s just so much to see and experience in this beautiful country, and I love helping others take advantage of it all. To get started, click on one of the links below.