One of the finest examples of a fiord environment
Patea / Doubtful Sound spans a staggering 40 kilometres (25 miles) from the head of the fiord to the Tasman Sea. It is the deepest of New Zealand’s 14 fiords and its immense size leaves all who visit feeling humbled yet uplifted by its powerful physical presence.
The fiord branches into three arms which provide opportunity for scenic cruise boat passengers to explore up-close sheer cliff faces, impressive waterfalls and tranquil overnight moorings. Patea / Doubtful Sound also provides shelter to New Zealand’s southernmost population of bottlenose dolphins and tawaki, the Fiordland Crested Penguin.
Spend just a short amount of time immersed in Patea / Doubtful Sound and it is easy to understand why early Māori named the fiord, Patea-meaning ‘place of silence’. Here, visitors find silence amongst a dramatic landscape with echoing birdsong or cascading waterfalls the only sound to break the stillness.
With no road to the fiord, the experience of getting to Doubtful Sound is an adventure in itself. Patea / Doubtful Sound is only accessible to visitors by a tour excursion departing from Manapouri.
Patea / Doubtful Sound’s English name transpired when Captain James Cook approached the entrance of the fiord during his voyage of 1770. The vast fiord was only just visible from the sea and Cook decided if they ventured into the fiord it would be “doubtful” they would be able to sail back out against the prevailing westerly wind. He named it 'Doubtful Harbour' and carried on up the coast. The area was renamed Doubtful Sound many years later by whalers and sealers. Today, visitors to the fiord bear witness to scenery mostly unchanged since the time of early Māori and Cook’s cautious exploration. Patea / Doubtful Sound has kept its stunning beauty well hidden and shares it with those who truly seek a wilderness experience.
INCREDIBLE Patea / Doubtful Sound EXPERIENCES
Larger, yet less visited than its neighbour Piopiotahi / Milford Sound, Patea / Doubtful Sound is a popular choice for wilderness seekers and those willing to go a little further to see a little more.
Day cruises and overnight cruises to Patea / Doubtful Sound depart from Manapouri, just a 20-minute drive from Te Anau. Prepare to be blown away by lush rainforest, immense waterfalls and local populations of kekeno, the New Zealand Fur Seals and tawaki,the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin.
There is no settlement here as there is in Piopiotahi / Milford Sound, instead Deep Cove is home to an outdoor education centre and a small fleet of fishing boats which work out at sea in search of prized cod and crayfish (rock lobster).
There are many ways to experience Patea / Doubtful Sound:
- Tours depart Manapouri daily
- Overnight cruises in Patea / Doubtful Sound offer the chance to relax and savour this special place, and to literally experience the ‘sound of silence’.
- Incredible day and overnight Patea / Doubtful Sound kayak trips operate throughout the summer months.
- Budget accommodation is available at Deep Cove Hostel Outdoor Education Centre.
- Take a scenic flight from Te Anau, Manapouri or Queenstown by fixed wing airplane, seaplane (including landing on the fiord) or helicopter.
GETTING TO Patea / Doubtful Sound
Patea / Doubtful Sound is accessible by boat transfer departing from Pearl Harbour in Manapouri and travelling across Lake Manapouri to West Arm. Here you will be awed by the hydro-electric power station of the Save Manapouri Campaign fame, and although tours are not available to the power station, you will have the chance to spend time at the information centre. You will then travel by coach over the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove where you will board your Patea / Doubtful Sound scenic cruise boat. The Wilmot Pass is a 671m-high (230ft) pass connecting the west arm of Lake Manapouri to Deep Cove in Patea / Doubtful Sound. Day trips and overnight trips to Patea / Doubtful Sound include your transport by boat and bus.
Patea / Doubtful Sound’s inaccessibility is its crowning glory. While a Patea / Doubtful Sound tour will take a whole day, it is well worth dedicating the time to soaking up this epic landscape.
DOUBTFUL SOUND WEATHER
Glorious on sunny days and breathtaking on rainy days, does it really matter what the weather is like in Patea / Doubtful Sound? Just like its famous neighbour Piopiotahi / Milford Sound, Patea / Doubtful Sound receives a huge amount of annual rainfall (around 6 metres/20 feet) and luckily for you, there’s a good chance it will rain when you visit. So, pack your raincoat, your sunscreen and prepare for whatever may come.
Sept-Nov: Spring in Patea / Doubtful Sound can bring higher rainfall and even snow to sea-level. The first forest flowers start to emerge - keep a lookout for the lovely white native clematis. As it is the equinox period you can expected unsettled weather patterns including the occasional exciting storm! Daylight savings starts in October, making the evenings longer.
Dec-Feb: The warmest months of the year in Fiordland. During the summer months Milford Sound often experiences a cool day breeze as the warm air rises. The best times of day to explore Milford are early morning or late afternoon and evening. Daylight hours are much longer so you won't miss out! Keep a look out for the Fiordland Christmas tree - the southern rata has bright red flowers, not to be confused with the pohutukawa found further north.
March-May: You won't notice an change to the colours of the trees as Fiordland native forest is ever-green however the days will start to draw in and be cooler in the mornings and evenings creating moody misty scenes. The weather during the day is still a pleasant temperature but bring layers to beat the morning and evening chill.
June-Aug: Surprisingly, winter in Patea / Doubtful Sound is the most settled time of year. Although the daylight hours are much shorter the skies are often blue and cloudless. The air is crisp and fresh, and snow is seen on the mountains. A trip into Patea / Doubtful Sound is a spectacular event with snow to low levels and sometimes even ice on the fiord! Bring lots of layers, including a warm hat and gloves and you will feel more alive than ever.
FAQs about Patea / Doubtful Sound
How do I get to Doubtful Sound?
You can take a tour or scenic flight. Patea / Doubtful Sound cruises depart from Manapouri. Find a Doubtful Sound trip here.
How deep is Doubtful Sound?
Patea / Doubtful Sound is 421m (1381ft) deep.
How far is Doubtful Sound from Queenstown?
Allow 2.5 hours to drive from Queenstown to Manapouri where your Doubtful Sound departs. Alternatively stay the night before and after in Te Anau or Manapouri.
Can I drive to Doubtful Sound?
There is no road to Patea / Doubtful Sound so you cannot drive. You must first take a boat across Lake Manapouri which meets a bus to take you to Doubtful Sound. When you book a tour all your boat and bus transport is included. Find a Doubtful Sound trip here
What is there to do in Doubtful Sound?
There is no permanent settlement in Doubtful Sound. You can take day or overnight tours, as well as kayaking trips. Scenic flights can be taken from Te Anau, Manapouri or Queenstown.
Where is Doubtful Sound?
Patea / Doubtful Sound is in Fiordland National Park on the southwest corner of the South Island of New Zealand. It can be accessed by tours departing from Manapouri.
Which is better Doubtful Sound or Milford Sound?
Tough question! Piopiotahi / Milford Sound will provide scenic drama, Patea / Doubtful Sound will provide mystery and intrigue. Both are day trips from Te Anau or Manapouri, and very long day trips from Queenstown (allow an additional 4 hours). You can also do overnight cruising and kayaking in both. Patea / Doubtful Sound is much bigger than Piopiotahi / Milford Sound.
Is Doubtful Sound open during winter?
Yes unless it is affected by weather which is not often