From now on, I will be sharing my past travels as part of my Travel Throwback Thursday #TTBT series.


Larger than the more famous and accessible Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound was discovered in 1770 by Captain Cook. Since Captain Cook decided not to navigate through it because he was doubtful he would be able to, it was originally named Doubtful Harbour but was later renamed to Doubtful Sound. Many features within this fjord were named by Felipe Bauzá y Cañas, a Spanish cartographer that mapped out the land features while experimenting the force of gravity to develop the metric system.

Doubtful Sound

Getting There

Not directly accessible via roads, Doubtful Sound can be reached by crossing Lake Manapouri and arriving at the Manapouri Power Station, located at the West Arm of the lake. Take a look around and learn more about the area before catching a shuttle along Wilmot Pass Road. In 2009, the dirt Wilmot Pass Road was rough, which caused many passengers in the vehicle to bounce around as the driver swerved to miss large pot holes.

The route showed the infrastructure of getting into these impressive fjords before modern day infrastructure and the pass is the most expensive road built in New Zealand. Doubtful Sound can also be navigated from the Tasman Sea.

cruise across lake manapouri

Morning boat ride across Lake Manapouri.


As part of Real Journey’s kayaking package (at the time $250 USD pp), we were transported across Lake Manapouri and Wilmot Pass. After arriving at Wanganella Cove, kayaking gear was distributed as we went over kayaking instructions on land. The overnight kayaking package included dinner and tents, so we did not have to carry our own.

doubtful sound hdr

Wanganella Cove and the beginning of our kayaking trip.

Sim, our guide, was a riot. After getting all the instructions over with, we all got into our tandem kayaks. We had already traveled so far and did so much before starting the kayak journey at 10:30 am. With misting rain and fog, the fjord looked mystical. Waterfalls lined the steep mountains around us as we tried our hardest to kayak into strong winds (roughly 25 knots) and choppy water.

New Zealand Trip

Wanganella Cove – the start of our kayak tour.

Rolla Island was a great stopping point to hang onto some tree limbs and rock to the waves. It took us 2.5 hours to kayak roughly 3 kilometers through Deep Cove. Everyone buddied up the kayaks while one held onto the branch. Sim kayaked around to check the conditions before making the tough decision to head back and cancel the overnight trip. The waves were breaking at a meter and would be difficult to cross.

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Half the group buddied together at Rolla Island.

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View of Hall Arm from Rolla Island.

Heading back to Wanganella Cove would be a piece of cake with the wind at our backs. However, we were not going to be kayaking back. What? I never heard of kayak sailing in the past. As a group, we connected together by holding onto other kayaks. The back outside people tied ropes connected to a large sail (which looked like a bed sheet) to their paddles–Andy was one of them. Then, the two front ends of the kayak team held onto the sail, which was me. Once everyone was connected and the sail was constructed, the back people slowly released the rope and held onto their paddles as the sail filled up with wind. The wind was almost too strong for sailing, but it was a great experience!

In no time, we were back in Deep Cove. Before drying out our gear and choosing our bunks for the night, we had to put all the gear away, which we did fast since it was raining. Once we packed up the gear, we all reconvened in the kitchen/lounge area. We learned more about the others on our tour. Our group was diverse with people from Scotland, Wellington, Singapore, and France. Trying to figure out what to do, Sim found a movie that played the history and geology of what makes up Doubtful Sound. I found it extremely interesting.

After the documentaries, Sim suggested a hike to Halena Falls in the rain. I put on my rain gear and was ready to hike. During the hike, I realized that my jacket was not waterproof, which made me look forward to the end of the hike.

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Halena Falls Hike

I was very fortunate for the rain because of sandflies. A sandfly is similar to a mosquito but much worse. They will suck your blood and make your skin itch like crazy. I tried my best to keep my skin covered while outside to avoid getting bitten.


Since the weather was not looking better to kayak, Real Jouneys made up the lack of kayaking by letting us join a three hour catamaran cruise. We were able to see more of the fjord than if we were kayaking.

a welcome arrival

Real Journeys catamaran cruise.

With the amounts of rainfall the in the area, the top 2 to 10 meters is freshwater. Underneath the freshwater is saline water from the sea, where different types of fauna reside. The water is stained from the forest tannins making the water dark and cloudy. These conditions cause deep sea fauna to live closer to the water surface compared to other areas. From the documentary watched the prior day, I learned that some species live as farther down as robotics and divers can reach. There is still so much  to learn about the never ending fjord coastline. The fjords also are home to dolphins, seals, whales, and penguins.

bottlenose dolphins

Bottle-nose dolphins.

Doubtful Sound is a wet climate and is why the mountains are heavily covered in flora. The flora is colorful and thick. The pohutukawa tree, also known as New Zealand’s Christmas Tree, blooms red flowers in the month of December. Even the steep slopes are covered in flora all the way to the water. The most populous tree is the Nothofagus, or southern beeches, which is a shrub-like tree.

Doubtful Sound


As we reached the mouth of the fjord, the skies opened up and the water turned vibrant blue. It was amazing the difference in weather changes over the distance we traveled. The captain of the boat talked about the wildlife and features as he navigated through the arms of the fjord.

mouth of doubtful sound

Tasman Sea – Mouth of Doubtful Sound

After reaching the Tasman Sea, the captain navigated into Crooked Arm, which is where the mountains and water made me feel like I was in a black and white movie. The fog appeared making the features hauntingly beautiful.

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Crooked Arm

After the 3 hour cruise through the Doubtful Sound, we crossed the Wilmot Pass and Lake Manapouri before arriving in Manapouri to meet back up with Kyle and Danielle. A little sad to be leaving our new friends and returning to civilization, I said farewell to Doubtful Sound. There was still so much to see in so little time.

tannin colored wake

What boat cruise would you recommend?

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