doubtful sound

It was one of those late summer days in early 1950 when Mr. and Mrs. Hutchins went out for a weekend hike into Doubtful Sound, it was a 4 day hike return and full of challenges; a boat from Te Anau must be organized to get to the West Arm; from there was a track going beside the river and through thick bush-land over the Wilmot Pass which is 980m above sea level.  From there it took one more day of hiking until Deep Cove where there was a single hut to stay overnight with no comfort. But Mr. and Mrs. were so overwhelmed with the area and the beauty of the location that they bought a boat to show tourists around the area.   It took 4 days to get the first visitors from Te Anau into Doubtful Sound and that was the start of Fiordland Travel which got re branded to Real Journeys as we know today. It was tough making a living at this time with not many customers and tourists around. Still the founder believed in his dream to show foreigners the most beautiful parts of Fiordland. After a few years running the new business a second boat was bought, which was not very reliable and broke down many times. It was sold off after a short time, and a more modern boat was bought in Te Anau, business was going up and down. It was early 1970and the couple were involved in the Save Manapouri campaign to stop the government from raising the lake levels to help generate cheap electricity. More than 260 000 signatures were collected. No dam was built, but the power station still went ahead, which brought workers to Te Anau and they needed to get transport over the lake. That was the first big change in the company’s history.

Nowadays Real Journeys organizes daily cruises into Doubtful Sound. The Patea is the boat which runs day cruises, and Navigator runs overnight cruises. Both are modern standard with all facilities.


The overnight cruise is different to the overnight cruise in Milford Sound on the Mariner but both cruises are special in their own right. Doubtful Sound is ten times larger than Milford Sound; the mountains are not as steep and greener. Usually after boarding all customers get a fresh baked muffin and hot drinks which are complementary for the whole cruise. A short time after the boat leaves Deep Cove you can experience a silence and peaceful atmosphere under which all stress seems to be forgotten and left behind. Very soon the excitement gets bigger about daily water activity, there are 2 options to choose from; one of them is to jump on a tender craft to explore the fiord along the remote shore line; the second option is a kayak paddle on the fiord. Both options leave memories behind which won’t be forgotten for many years after the trip. I forgot the 3rd option – sorry about that – it is jumping from the boat into the Fiord and doing a good healthy swim in the clearest and pristine waters.   Yes we do that activity in late summer and autumn too the only difference would be the water temperature in summer is around 16C and in Winter around 12C – all the time refreshing. Shortly after the last activity of the day the soup service starts, from then on you travel to a seal colony, which is located just before the Tasman Sea. Sometimes you can see whales hanging around that area, but that is a very rare occasion.

The boat stays around this location for a while to see the awesome view back into the fiord.  As soon the boat is back to the fiord the dinner service starts. Everyone is looked after with all food requirements, Vegan, gluten free, lactose or Jain are only a few to mention.

As soon dinner is served, there’s a presentation about the history of the area in the saloon, with is very informative to listen and look at.

Next morning a cooked breakfast served. On the way into the fiord is for many customers a once in a life time experience: we call it the bay of silence, the boat shut down everything, fans, engine, radio’s. Everyone can experience how quiet and how the isolation sounds like without any pollution of noise, surprisingly a camera can ruin the whole experience with its peep- it is that quiet.

Soon after that experience we are back to Deep Cove, the harbour we left the day before.


The buses are waiting already for all passengers to drive them back to the wharf at West Arm in a comfortable air-conditioned coach. From there it is a 45 to 50 minutes boat ride back to Manapouri.


It has changed a lot since the first visitors started travelling to Doubtful Sound and it took them more than 4 days hiking with little comfort in the early days.