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Doubtful Sound


Doubtful Sound, like so many places, was discovered somewhat by accident. After completely missing Milford Sound as a potential retreat to calmer waters, Captain Cook ventured on down the southwest coast of New Zealand until he reached another sound, which he named ‘Doubtful Harbor’ because he doubted it was navigable under sail. He was concerned that if he made his way in, he might not make it back out again! It was later renamed Doubtful Sound by the sealers and whalers visiting the area.

New Zealand's Deepest Fiord

Doubtful Sound, known as the "Sound of Silence", is about three times larger than Milford Sound and is the deepest of New Zealand's fiords at 421 metres (1,380 ft). It extends inland about 35kms from the Tasman Sea - that’s a lot to explore – but heading out in a boat or a kayak is a great way to do so. Doubtful Sound is home to a range of native wildlife; the tui, bottle-nosed dolphins, little blue penguins, Fiordland crested penguins and you may even spot a Wapiti or red deer that has ventured down from the bush line.

How to Get to Doubtful Sound

The trip to Doubtful Sound is unique. It begins in Manapouri with a majestic boat journey across the lake to West Arm. Here you’ll head over the Wilmot Pass (New Zealand’s most expensive road in terms of cost/meter) by bus, dropping over the summit at 670 m(2,201ft) where you’ll catch your first glimpse of one of New Zealand’s most stunning landscapes before you descend back down to sea level at Deep Cove, the start of your trip into Doubtful Sound.

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Doubtful Sound Cruise

One of the best ways to experience this area is to join one of the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise boats that depart from Deep Cove, which you can do on both the Manuka hiking tour and the Hoiho wildlife tour. The cruise will take you out in the evening to watch the sun go down from the deck and enjoy a wonderful meal on board. There’s nothing quite like waking up to the absolute silence of Doubtful Sound in the early morning – it’s calm, quiet and a long way from anywhere. Precipice Cove, where the boats generally anchor overnight, has to be one of the quietest places on earth. And you won’t find any cruise liners in there either! It’ll just be your boat and one or two others around at its busiest.


You could spend days or even weeks down here enjoying the outdoors – fishing, swimming, diving, sailing, hunting – you name it. In fact, our very own Matthew, who organises our New Zealand adventures, heads into Doubtful Sound every chance he gets to go diving and fishing. Their fishing trips produce a bounty of fresh sea food including blue cod, shellfish, groper and sometimes, with calm waters out in the Tasman Sea, albacore tuna.

Snorkelling and Diving in Doubtful Sound

The diving is like nowhere else on earth -- the rainwater that runs off the steep mountains produces a permanent fresh water layer that floats on the heavier salty sea water underneath. This layer of freshwater is darkened by the mountain soil, which makes it difficult for the sunlight to penetrate, meaning that the salty clear water underneath is home to many species that would usually only be found in the deepest, darkest ocean layers. The freshwater layer can vary in depth from 1 to 10 metres, so descending through the blurry dark water with your snorkel and mask can be daunting at first, but once you break through to the clear layer below, you’ll come across an eerie seascape filled with black coral, an abundance of crayfish (New Zealand’s version of lobster) scuttling over the rocky terrain and unusual creatures of the deep.

Matthew is a great storyteller – give him a call if you want to hear more about fishing and diving in New Zealand!

Trip Reviews

  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)

    Great trip with fun and knowledgable guides. Accommodations and food were great.

    David Brodie Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Kauri, April 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Rimu - NZ South Island

    Our Rimu trip with Ken and Elder was truly a trip of a lifetime. The two of them were the perfect pair to lead our adventure -kind, warm, funny, and incredibly encouraging (for those of us who weren't quite sure we'd make it up the mountain!) My husband and I were fortunate to have both of our adult boys join us which made for a very memorable experience. New Zealand's South Island offered some of the most breathtaking landscapes we had ever seen. The hiking, kayaking, and biking was challenging and exhilarating. It was hard to say goodbye to the group who became like family. We have stayed in touch with some, and look forward to our next trip with Active.
    Gigi Altaras Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Rimu, November 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Rimu Trip - Should be #1 on Your Bucket List

    First of all, the guides were "hands-down" the "BEST EVER"!!! They made this trip extra special. Katie C and Lauren were always looking out for our best interest. They were great at engaging each of us in the group, they took the time to get to know each one of us, they made sure they included groceries that you liked and more. They were fun, energetic and full of happiness! They worked very hard and feed us very well. The food was amazing!!! A big THANK YOU to both of you beautiful young women! Thank you active adventures for hiring fun and inspiring women!
    Vicki Igou Review Image
    – California, United States
    Rimu, December 2017
  •   4.60 out of 5 (from 1887 reviews)

    Wonderful Choice!

    A trip to New Zealand was on my "bucket list" and my husband chose this trip for the south island. I think this is a wonderful way to see the outstanding scenery of the south island. We will be back!
    Lissa Jackson Review Image
    – Tennessee, United States
    Tui, April 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Amazing South Island Rimu Trip!!

    The diversity of what we saw and did on the Rimu trip was amazing!! Beautiful mountain and glacier views, our first sea kayak experience, the sub-tropical West Coast rain forests, caving to see glowworms, cycling the Hawea River Trail, and a challenging but very rewarding Angelus Circuit hike. We were fortunate to be with a wonderful group of people - a great team that encouraged each other throughout the trip. Our guides (Dani & Pepper) were outstanding, very positive, and full of energy. We were so impressed with Active Adventures that we will be hiking on their Mont Blanc tour this summer.
    Kevin Cahill Review Image
    – Washington, United States
    Rimu, February 2018



Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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