Doubtful Sound/Patea is a fiord located in the southwest of New Zealand's South Island. It is part of the Fiordland National Park, within the UNESCO Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site. The fiord is located in a remote and rugged area of the country and is one of the most spectacular and unspoiled natural areas of the world.
Doubtful Sound is not reachable by car, but you can take a tour which will organise all your transport, travelling across Lake Manapōuri by boat, then across Wilmot Pass by road before reaching Doubtful Sound/Patea. An alternative would be to take a scenic flight by helicopter or a float plane.
The fiord is approximately 40 kilometres long and surrounded by steep mountains and dense rainforest. It is home to various wildlife, including dolphins, seals, penguins, and bird species. Doubtful Sound/Patea is also home to many waterfalls, including the Browne Falls, which at 836 metres, could be the highest waterfall in New Zealand. Or is it? Depending on the definition used, some say it is a 'cascade', as the water flows down over the rock rather than free-falling. Otherwise, the Sutherland Falls near the Milford Track is usually officially quoted as the highest waterfall in NZ at 580 metres.
A Brief History
The Ngāi Tahu iwi (Māori tribe) had inhabited and moved through this area for centuries, fishing, hunting and gathering. Captain Cook was the first European to discover Doubtful Sound in 1770, but it was not until later that it was explored in detail. The fiord was named Doubtful Harbour by Cook, as he was uncertain whether he could exit the 'bay' again if he sailed his ship into it. In the late 1700s, the first European settlers arrived in the area for sealing & whaling. Living in such a remote area with over 7 metres of rainfall a year and an abundance of biting sandflies would have been a harsh existence!
The area was declared a National Park in 1952 and in 1986, was included in the Te Wahipounamu World Heritage Site. Today Doubtful Sound is a popular tourist destination with visitors coming to experience the stunning scenery and wildlife and being most popular for sightseeing, kayaking, fishing and other outdoor activities.
On your visit to Doubtful Sound, your first part of the journey will involve a boat ride across picturesque Lake Manapōuri. At Manapōuri's West Arm, you will see the above-ground part of the Power Station, the central hub to the Mānapouri Hydro-electric scheme, New Zealand's largest hydropower station. Read more about the Power Station and its interesting History on our Manapouri Page.
Talk to our friendly team to find out which tour option is the best for you!
Our friendly reception team can recommend which tour will be best for you, and they will make the bookings on your behalf (note that all reservations require a minimum of 24 hours' notice if you wish to change your plans).
Doubtful Sound Kayak Tour
Explore Doubtful Sound by Sea Kayak
Take a full-day kayaking tour of Doubtful Sound to experience the very best of Fiordland's wilderness! Feel the wind on your face and the spray of water as you paddle through the inky waters of Doubtful Sound. Meet your fellow paddlers in Te Anau before being transported to Manapōuri to embark on the first part of your adventure. Travel by boat across Lake Manapōuri to West Arm, then by bus over the Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove (Doubtful Sound/Patea). Sea-kayak for four hours on the Sound, and your support boat will be on hand to bring you back to base to save back-tracking with the kayak. The friendly and knowledgeable guides will ensure a safe and memorable day!
- Wetsuits & all kayaking gear provided
- Paddle for 3.5 hours, up to 15 kilometres (weather & fitness dependent)
- Small group, just ten guests per tour
- Suitable for experienced and non-experienced kayakers. (Guests must have a reasonable level of fitness and be able to get into and out of kayaks, for example)
- Transport included from Te Anau, return to Te Anau (free car parking available at the base)
Tour operates daily during the Summer Season from November to April. Meet in Te Anau at 6:45am and return at approximately 5:30pm. Contact us to make reservations or book direct online through the Doubtful Sound Kayak website.
Doubtful Sound Overnight Tour
With Fiordland Cruises & the MV Southern Secret
Take the trip of a lifetime on board a small ship for a personalised tour of Doubtful Sound/Patea, a maximum of 12 guests. Stay in comfortable, private ensuite cabins while cruising the waters of Doubtful Sound. Relax and enjoy the sights, see if you can spot some wildlife, or have a go at fishing or kayaking (weather dependent). Includes all transport from Te Anau or Manapōuri, meals and ensuite cabin.
Departs daily during the Summer Season (September to May). Departs Te Anau & Manapouri 9:00am-10.00am, returns at 12:30pm the following day. Additional sailings, including Charters, may be available in the Winter months, depending on availability. Contact us to make reservations or book direct online through the Fiordland Cruises website
Doubtful Sound Day Tour
With Real NZ
Meet your tour in Te Anau or Manapōuri and begin your full-day journey with a cruise over Lake Manapōuri. Then, board your bus at West Arm and travel over the Wilmot Pass and into Doubtful Sound. From here, sit back and relax on a comfortable all-weather vessel for your 3-hour cruise. In this ever-changing environment, you will experience the grandeur of remote Fiordland and may encounter dolphins, sea lions, bird-life and penguins.
Departs daily during the Summer Season (September to May). Picnic lunches can be pre-ordered when booking, and tea, coffee & snacks available to purchase onboard. Departs Te Anau &. Contact us to make reservations or check out our Package Tour add-ons, including Doubtful Sound Day Tour, on our Packages Page