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Doubtful Sound


Doubtful Sound, like so many places, was discovered somewhat by accident. After completely missing Milford Sound as a potential retreat to calmer waters, Captain Cook ventured on down the southwest coast of New Zealand until he reached another sound, which he named ‘Doubtful Harbor’ because he doubted it was navigable under sail. He was concerned that if he made his way in, he might not make it back out again! It was later renamed Doubtful Sound by the sealers and whalers visiting the area.

New Zealand's Deepest Fiord

Doubtful Sound, known as the "Sound of Silence", is about three times larger than Milford Sound and is the deepest of New Zealand's fiords at 421 metres (1,380 ft). It extends inland about 35kms from the Tasman Sea - that’s a lot to explore – but heading out in a boat or a kayak is a great way to do so. Doubtful Sound is home to a range of native wildlife; the tui, bottle-nosed dolphins, little blue penguins, Fiordland crested penguins and you may even spot a Wapiti or red deer that has ventured down from the bush line.

How to Get to Doubtful Sound

The trip to Doubtful Sound is unique. It begins in Manapouri with a majestic boat journey across the lake to West Arm. Here you’ll head over the Wilmot Pass (New Zealand’s most expensive road in terms of cost/meter) by bus, dropping over the summit at 670 m(2,201ft) where you’ll catch your first glimpse of one of New Zealand’s most stunning landscapes before you descend back down to sea level at Deep Cove, the start of your trip into Doubtful Sound.

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Doubtful Sound Cruise

One of the best ways to experience this area is to join one of the Doubtful Sound overnight cruise boats that depart from Deep Cove, which you can do on both the Manuka hiking tour and the Hoiho wildlife tour. The cruise will take you out in the evening to watch the sun go down from the deck and enjoy a wonderful meal on board. There’s nothing quite like waking up to the absolute silence of Doubtful Sound in the early morning – it’s calm, quiet and a long way from anywhere. Precipice Cove, where the boats generally anchor overnight, has to be one of the quietest places on earth. And you won’t find any cruise liners in there either! It’ll just be your boat and one or two others around at its busiest.


You could spend days or even weeks down here enjoying the outdoors – fishing, swimming, diving, sailing, hunting – you name it. In fact, our very own Matthew, who organises our New Zealand adventures, heads into Doubtful Sound every chance he gets to go diving and fishing. Their fishing trips produce a bounty of fresh sea food including blue cod, shellfish, groper and sometimes, with calm waters out in the Tasman Sea, albacore tuna.

Snorkelling and Diving in Doubtful Sound

The diving is like nowhere else on earth -- the rainwater that runs off the steep mountains produces a permanent fresh water layer that floats on the heavier salty sea water underneath. This layer of freshwater is darkened by the mountain soil, which makes it difficult for the sunlight to penetrate, meaning that the salty clear water underneath is home to many species that would usually only be found in the deepest, darkest ocean layers. The freshwater layer can vary in depth from 1 to 10 metres, so descending through the blurry dark water with your snorkel and mask can be daunting at first, but once you break through to the clear layer below, you’ll come across an eerie seascape filled with black coral, an abundance of crayfish (New Zealand’s version of lobster) scuttling over the rocky terrain and unusual creatures of the deep.

Matthew is a great storyteller – give him a call if you want to hear more about fishing and diving in New Zealand!

Trip Reviews

  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Exceeded Expectations

    In planning my trip to New Zealand I specifically signed on to the Rimu trip to achieve 3 goals: first to see as much of the South Island as possible in 2 weeks, second to get outdoors and get a feel for the environment and third to have fun with a group of people. My Rimu experience accomplished all three goals and then some. The mixture of driving, and daily activities was perfect. It allowed us to cover lots of terrain while getting us out and active every day. Our guides, Ben and Emma, were terrific. They were tireless workers who not only made us comfortable but created a positive group dynamic that helped bring complete strangers together into a cohesive group. Ben was great at sharing his knowledge of NZ culture and natural history. Emma was a fantastic cook who kept us well fed even at a hut at 1300 meters. Everything about the trip was well organized and well planned. Thank you for such a great experience.
    Tim Reed Review Image
    – Massachusetts, United States
    Rimu, January 2018
  •   4.38 out of 5 (from 1211 reviews)

    Lots of fun, great guides

    Guides Phil & Jo kept us busy with a variety of fun activities. The time just flew. I'd love to join another trip led by Phil & Jo.
    Rich Partridge Review Image
    – New York, United States
    Kauri, March 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    The Most Beautiful Place in the World

    Thank you to Active Adventures for a most spectacular trip. I traveled with my daughter, to celebrate her college graduation, and my brother. The Kiwi people are the friendliest people on the planet. Our guides were extremely helpful, cooked awesome meals, and taught us so much about New Zealand. They took care of everything. All we had to do was sit back and enjoy the ride. The locations for the lodging were probably the best views in all the country. We stayed right in the center of Queenstown, next to a remote area of a lake with views of Mt. Cook, in a small towns next to the ocean. They were all very clean and neat, always with a pot of tea ready, and cookies for a snack. There was always an excess of food. No one ever went hungry. In fact, I don't think I ever ate so much on holiday. The activities were fun and varied, relaxing at times, strenuous on occasion but with awesome views as payback. I am recommending this trip to all my friends, and already planning the next one.
    Terri Donati Review Image
    – Colorado, United States
    Rimu, December 2017
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Rimu Rocks!

    The trip was awesome! I met a great bunch of fellow travelers and now have family in New Zealand in Jackie and Emma! I felt like we saw a lot of the South Island in 2 weeks. I loved my first experience in New Zealand and plan on coming back in 2020!
    Terry McNamara Review Image
    – Michigan, United States
    Rimu, January 2018
  •   4.53 out of 5 (from 4983 reviews)

    Rimu is Wonderful - A few tips if you plan to go...

    My husband and I took the Rimu trip in early November 2016 and had a really terrific time. I encourage everyone who is seriously considering the Rimu to go ahead and sign up. That being said, with all of the fun we had, I do wish we had known a few things ahead of time. I include these tips for you, the soon-to-be Rimu traveler, to make your trip more enjoyable. However, I can promise that even if you do none of these things, you will still have a marvelous time:

    1. Guys, if you opt to snorkel with the fur seals be sure to shave your mustache before you leave home. It seems obvious now, but it never occurred to my husband that the mask wouldn’t seal properly to his face with his mustache. Do yourself a favor and shave it off or spend the afternoon dealing with a leaky mask.

    2. I also wish I had known just how intense and challenging the 3-day multi-hike through Nelson Lakes would be. If you’re an office worker and occasional hiker like me, then I encourage you to take this trip but do lots of practice/fitness training in advance. Load up your pack and get on the stair-master or start climbing really steep hills. The hike is gorgeous and worth it, but I can promise you it will be a lot more enjoyable if you’re in good shape for it. Also, there are no showers at the huts and only latrines (port-a-potties) for toilets, so bring baby wipes for exactly the same reason you would use them on a baby (wink wink). And also bring hiking poles! I know it says optional on the gear list, but I really found them to be essential. As for the water bottle – leave that at home and invest in a good water bladder system (a “Camelback” or similar). We found the water bottle to be a hassle to take in and out of the bag (forcing us to stop each time), which made us want to drink less water. The water bladders allow you to keep moving and you’ll find you’re more hydrated.

    3. The sea kayaks (and, honestly, New Zealand in general) are not made for people over 6’ 2” in height (187 cm). Watch your head everywhere you go, and as for the kayaks, it may help to have the taller person sit in the front seat of the kayak instead of the back.

    4. Also, pack enough clothes for a week and then expect to do laundry. Bring some travel-sized laundry soap packets to help save money and make sure you have enough 1$ and 2$ coins for laundry before you get to the hotel (the machines are generally pretty expensive: about $3 for the washer and between $3 - $5 for 30 minutes in the dryer).

    5. Bring good cycling shorts – yes, the ones with the weird-feeling padding on the bum. It will help prevent the dreaded ‘grumpy grundle’.

    6. And finally, a heads-up to my fellow outgoing introverts (yes, we exist): this trip contains long days of social interaction (think 7:15 a.m. – 9:30 p.m.), with few breaks for introspection/solitude. If you need some down time, skip dinner or unfurl all of the emergency blankets and build your own fort at the back of the bus and hang a sign that says, “Stay Out!” (just kidding about that last one).

    A great big thank you to our guides, Rachel and Jordan, who were informative and helpful beyond measure. How they managed to remain cheerful and engaging considering they had to do all of the exertion we clients had to do, plus all of their work on top of it, is beyond me. They are the embodiment of Kiwi hospitality! We are already thinking of coming back for a North Island tour sometime soon.
    Lauren Gerth Review Image
    – Missouri, United States
    Rimu, November 2016



Why travel with Active Adventures?

Above all, we aim to be amazing hosts. We're proud of our kiwi roots, and our professional, warm and relaxed style of running trips around the world is unforgettable.

We're VERY picky about who we select to work in our team, and we have people from all over the world lining up to guide our trips. So we get to hire the absolute BEST in the business.

As soon as you get off the plane, we've got all the details of your vacation covered – top notch meals, comfortable transport & accommodation, amazing guides and INCREDIBLE service.

Whether you’re new to adventure travel, or you’ve never travelled in a group before, you’ll find yourself arriving home positively different from when you left.

With our small groups (no more than 14), you'll get to know our team, your fellow travellers, and have the flexibility and freedom to do as much (or as little!) as you like.

It's all about getting there under your own steam – on foot, in a sea kayak, or by bike. What better way is there to experience mind blowing scenery? If it's your first time, no worries – our expert guides have got you covered.

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