The Doubtful Sound overnight cruise is a real treat for the soul. It had been on my bucket list since 2005 and in May I finally made the decision to go ahead and book the trip. Fjordland National Park is renowned as the home of the fjords of the Milford and the Doubtful Sound and the region is also well known as being the location of The Great Walks: the Milford, Routeburn and Kepler Tracks. In 1986 Fjordland was declared a World Heritage Area and in 1990 it was linked with three other national parks – Mount Aspiring, Westland and Aoraki Mount Cook, to form an expanded World Heritage Area of South West New Zealand. The Doubtful Sound is wild and remote, with extraordinary scenic beauty, abundant wildlife and full of dense but wonderfully varied vegetation.
I had been on a Milford Sound day trip in 2005 and I enjoyed that experience but I’d heard that the fjords in the Doubtful Sound were more dramatic and narrower than the Milford Sound. So I really wanted to see that with my own eyes. In the late 1980’s I went on a trip to Norway to see the Hardanger Fjord near Bergen. It was my first time seeing fjords and I was absolutely mesmerised with the beauty of it all. I was hoping to experience something similar in the Doubtful Sound and I wasn’t disappointed.
An added benefit of the Doubtful Sound cruise for me, was the chance of staying overnight in a boat in the middle of a fjord. The whole idea of being on the water surrounded by nature really appealed to me. I’d heard from other people who had been on the cruise that even though it was expensive, it was well worth the money and that you’re looked after really well from start to finish.
The excursion includes a cruise across Lake Manapouri and a coach trip over Wilmott Pass to Deep Cove, where you board a vessel for a cruise on the Doubtful Sound. Overnight accommodation is included, along with a three course buffet dinner and cooked breakfast. Water activities such as kayaking, swimming or exploring the fjord by small boat are also part of the programme, along with informative commentary provided by the coach drivers and nature guides, tea, coffee and delicious snacks.
I was looking first at the price for a single room but even in off-peak season between 1st April and 17th May/1st September and 31st October, leaving from Queenstown, the price was very expensive. I was thinking of doing the trip around the 7th May and the cost for a single room was $771. It is cheaper if you leave from Manapouri or Te Anau. I had no car, so Queenstown was the closest place I could get to with the bus. Then I had a look at the quad share: sharing a cabin with 3 other people and the price was much cheaper: $305. I always prefer staying in a room on my own if I’m travelling but with the prices of single rooms on this trip I had to rethink that policy. At the Earth and Sky Observatory in Lake Tekapo where I work, we offer “famil” prices (industry rates) for our tours, for people who work in front line positions in the tourism industry, so I thought I’d ask Real Journeys who run the Doubtful Sound trips, if they could offer me something similar.
I was offered a Local Specials Rate, which is launched only to Southland and Otago residents during the off-peak period between 22nd April and 17th May. The Local Specials price leaving from Queenstown was $448 for single occupancy or $249 per person in a quad share. That wasn’t a bad discount. Because of the bus connections from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown I had to book accommodation in Queenstown the night before and the night after the trip, had to pay for return bus transport from Lake Tekapo to Queenstown and for food in Queenstown. So it was still going to be expensive. I thought though “hey, life is short and this trip is something I wanted to do, so why not just do it”. So I did. I booked the quad share on the overnight cruise for $249 and a single room in The Butterfli Lodge hostel in Queenstown for two nights and went on the trip on 7th May.
To find out more about my experience on this trip, read the next 3 blog posts.