We originally planned to go to both Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound during out epic New Zealand road trip, but with the intense flooding that happened just before our visit, Milford was no longer an option without a very long bus ride. So, we chose to spend what we would have on two day tours (plus a little) and splurge for a Doubtful Sound overnight cruise! And it was soooo worth it!
It was around NZ$300 each to book the Real Journeys Overnight Doubtful Sound cruise for a quad share mixed-gender room plus all food and activities. The only thing that was extra was alcohol. It really is a wonderful experience on a beautiful historic ship with comfortable accommodations. There are private rooms and multi-night options available as well.
The Journey to Doubtful Sound
When you arrive for your cruise in Manapouri, you won’t be boarding your boat for the overnight cruise just yet. It is actually quite the journey to Doubtful Sound and will take multiple hours.
First, you’ll take a leisurely and scenic boat ride for about an hour or so across Lake Manapouri.
Then, you’ll board a bus to go across Wilmot Pass where your driver will stop for you to take in views of Doubtful Sound in the distance as well as beautiful waterfalls. This takes about an hour as well and your guide offers great commentary along the way.
Finally, you’ll reach Deep Cove where you will put eyes on the gorgeous Fiordland Navigator for the first time where you will be spending the night and exploring the gorgeous Fiordlands National Park from the water.
Our Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise Itinerary on the Fiordland Navigator
Deciding to fully blow our budget to take the Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise was a decision we waivered on a bit. Luckily, our procrastination allowed us to book last-minute for the best weather we had had in weeks!
It took about five minutes to realize that we had definitely made the right decision. And when it was all said and done, we felt that the unique accommodation-food-activity combo was well worth the price. When in New Zealand, right?
Our day started off with gliding through the Fiordland National Park – by coves, next to waterfalls, and with bright blue skies greeting us at every turn!
Before making our way to our anchoring spot for the night, we got to go out to the Tasman Sea and visit seal colonies. It was extraordinarily windy, but a highlight of our trip!
En route, they served a delicious soup to hold us over until dinner. There was also always tea, coffee, and hot chocolate available. While the skies were clear, it certainly wasn’t warm out on the water, so this was highly appreciated! We were also given some kind of delicious strawberry muffin as well. I think we both had three.
Once we set anchor for the evening, we had the choice to go out in a kayak or in a tender boat to explore closer to the sides of the fjords. We split into two groups and loved getting to see the boat from the water and were also amazed at how lush the greenery was.
It was so surprising to see that there was water dripping from the plants even though it hadn’t rained in days. Just be warned: there WILL be bugs! My ankles got full-on attacked.
After exploring on the water, you have the option to hop in for a swim before cleaning up for dinner. While the views and ambiance of the fjord was magical, we thoroughly enjoyed our amazing buffet dinner. It is one of the best meals we’ve had in recent memory – with plenty of vegetarian options – and we also had some fantastic conversations with fellow travelers.
Between dinner and bed, there was stargazing. Ahhh that Southern Sky! It was such a clear night and the cool crisp air paired with the peaceful silence made for a very romantic, memorable night for us nature lovers.
After a surprisingly great sleep in our bunks, we woke early for more exploring and breakfast the next morning. The sunrise was subtle, but spectacular with the clouds rolling over the fjords and mountains in the distance.
Throughout the tour, there’s an on-board nature guide offering insights and pointing out wildlife, waterfalls, and sharing stories.
While our encounters were fleeting, we saw dolphins, seals, penguins, and many different species of birds. We even saw the rare Fiordland Crested Penguin swimming a few yards away!
Tips for Planning Your Cruise
- The Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise is available from September to May and prices vary depending on the season.
- Consider the season and weather before planning your trip. We planned last minute for a good sunshiney day, but missed out on big waterfalls by not having any rain.
- The entire trip takes about 24 hours total and covers much more of Doubtful Sound than the shorter day-trip version
- There is free parking in Manapouri next to the Real Journeys office or an overflow option walking distance away.
- You will NOT have any phone signal. At all. Seriously.
- There are a lot of bugs at dusk, so make sure to bring plenty of spray and cover up as much as possible!
- Also, bring a jacket no matter what season – something warm as well as waterproof.
- Before or after the trip, we recommend staying in nearby Te Anoi – especially if you also plan to go to iconic Milford Sound as well.
This was exactly the mini-retreat we were hoping it would be. We were treated to the most magnificent views, delicious food, peaceful moments, and wonderful company. It was completely worth the cost and we would recommend it to anyone – although, not very family oriented. It is more for singles, couples, or friends.
Ironically, when our peaceful cruise ended and our cell phones began to get signal again, we all had notices from our respective home countries calling us back. The pandemic had kicked off around the world and everything was changing. Strange really, to have such a stark contrast.
But we were so grateful we trusted our gut that our Doubtful Sound getaway would be well worth it. We needed that break from reality more than we knew as we were headed into lockdown shortly after!