Posted by: sunnyharvy | March 29, 2016

The Sound of Silence

Anyone who has traveled here will recognize why the Maori name for Doubtful Sound, Patea, is so appropriate. Translated it means…”The place of silence.” There is a cloistered serenity within Doubtful Sound that contrasts with the highly publicized Milford Sound.


Getting our first glimpse of Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass.

At 421 metres deep, Doubtful is the deepest of the NZ fiords, and three times larger than Milford. It is long and winding with three distinct ‘arms’ and several outstanding waterfalls in the area from Deep Cove to the open ocean, a distance of around 40.4 kilometres.

Before getting to NZ, neither of us had ever heard of Doubtful Sound and the tour is much more extensive (and expensive) than the highly touted cruises on Milford Sound, so it took some time to research and decide.


You can drive to Milford Sound…not so for Doubtful. Our all-day tour began with a one hour boat ride across beautiful Lake Manipouri (above). We then boarded a motor-coach for a 45-minute drive over Wilmot Pass on the only NZ mainland road not connected to any others. Construction of the unsealed road took two years to climb up and over the 2,200 foot pass. It holds the record as the most expensive road ever built here.


We boarded the Patea Explorer in Deep Cove for our 3-hour cruise.


A bit of the gob-smacking (NZ slang) scenery en-route.


This chart shows how extensive the sound is.


Bottlenose dolphins swam off our bow for a time.




A couple of the dolphins surfed our boat wake too.


This extremely remove company harvests and ships crayfish to restaurants around the world.

We were incredibly lucky to have a sparkling sunny afternoon for our cruise. It reportedly rains 2 out of 3 days with an average total of over 21-feet falling each year!

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. I found this fascinating.


Vertical wall faces with trees growing out of them surround the sound. The co-mingled roots are what hold the trees in place in just a few inches of soil. However, the scars in the photo below were caused by tree avalanches.


When Captain James Cook got close to the entrance of the sound in 1770, he decided on the name ‘Doubtful Harbor.’ That’s because, fearing he would not be able to sail the Endeavour back out, he resisted entering the inlet and instead continued on around the island.

When is a Sound not a Sound?

When it is a fiord. Early sealers and whalers renamed Cook’s harbour Doubtful Sound. As a post-glacier valley flooded by the sea, it should technically be called Doubtful Fiord. However, the second name has stuck.





Our day-long adventure ended back where it began, at our cozy Possum Lodge campsite in Manipouri.


Pearl Harbour in Manipouri.


  1. I have loved all your photos and posts Leslie. What a wonderful life you are in right now. Thanks for sharing.

  2. So glad you decided on the 3 hr tour – for you – and us to see the photos of the gob-smacking scenery and learn! Was wondering about the name “Doubtful Sound” as you started to tell the story! Certainly looks like “the place of silence”. Love the photo of the sunspot on the dolphin. 21″ of rain/year – wow – and no wonder about the tree avalanches on the vertical walls. That is fascinating about the underneath salty water having so many species usually only found in the deepest, darkest ocean layers – because of the mountain soil darkened fresh rainwater layer that floats on the heavier salty sea underneath!

  3. So beautiful !

  4. This may be the most magical of all your posts

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