Cruising Fiordland National Park, New Zealand

After our New Zealand North Island road trip, we cruised back to Sydney through Fiordland. We were fortunate to have excellent weather and got to see Dusky Sound, Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound.

We’ve been to Milford Sound and Doubtful Sound on previous trips aboard small tourist vessels operated by Real Journeys (including this amazing Doubtful Sound Overnight Cruise) so we have been eager to do a cruise to Dusky Sound and see it.

When this cruise came up on Golden Princess as the last leg of a Transpacific journey from North America back to Australia (and was perfectly lined up with our trip), we just had to do it. Plus, we had a USD $300 credit to use so that paid for a decent chunk of it.

A quick question for you

Have you ever cruised New Zealand’s Fiordland? What did you like or dislike? Let me know in the comments at the end of this post!

The Route

For us, we cruised around the east side of the South Island then entered Dusky Sound first thing in the morning. Next, we cruised into Doubtful Sound and finally Milford Sound. If you are travelling in the opposite direction you will do them in reverse.

From what I understand the actual route taken through the sounds varies depending on the weather, but I thought I’d share the route we took for those interested.

I actually really like the concept of doing the sounds in this direction because, while Dusky is the largest, Milford has the tallest peaks. So heading North, the sounds get progressively smaller while the mountains get bigger and grander.

Dusky Sound

Cruising in Dusky Sound
Cruising in Dusky Sound

We entered Dusky Sound at 7:00 am and cruised past Long Island, around Resolution Island, through Acheron Passage, past Breaksea Sound and back out to sea. All up, it took about 90 minutes to cruise through this section and we were heading out to sea again by 8:30 am.

Mysterious Dusky Sound
Mysterious Dusky Sound

Doubtful Sound

Doubtful Sound has many smaller arms that you can only see on a smaller ship, and that is absolutely worth doing, but the view from a cruise ship is amazing and you won’t feel like you’ve missed out. Plus, if it’s cold, you can enjoy the gorgeous scenery from a hot tub!

Enjoying Doubtful Sound from the Hot Tub
Enjoying Doubtful Sound from the Hot Tub

We entered Doubtful Sound at 10:00 am and made our way past Secretary Island, through Thompson Sound and out to sea at 11:00 am.

Foggy Doubtful Sound
Foggy Doubtful Sound

Milford Sound

Often referred to as the most majestic of the sounds because of the sheer rock walls rising 1,200 metres out of the water, and at the same time, easily the most accessible. We entered Milford Sound at 2:00 pm.

Majestic Milford Sound Mountains
Majestic Milford Sound Mountains

Milford Sound itself is not as large as the others, so it does not take long to pass the famed, 151m high Stirling Falls and reach the widest section at iconic Mitre Peak. That said, our ship spent the most time in Milford Sound.

Golden Princess surrounded by the Milford Sound Mountains
Golden Princess surrounded by the Milford Sound Mountains

Our ship, Golden Princess, rotated in place a few times at Mitre Peak before heading back out of the Sound. While you are here, you can also spot the second permanent waterfall in Milford Sound, Lady Bowen Falls.

Matt at Milford Sound with Stirling Falls in the Background
Matt at Milford Sound with Stirling Falls in the Background

After making our way back to the mouth of Milford Sound, we left at 4:00 pm.

Golden Princess in Milford Sound
Golden Princess in Milford Sound

While the weather has much more impact on the more complex southern sounds, it doesn’t affect Milford Sound as much except that the wind gusts through the cliffs at the height of the top outer decks on a cruise ship blow water droplets from rain and the waterfalls at you like little bullets!

Stirling Falls in Milford Sound
Stirling Falls in Milford Sound

My thoughts

We absolutely loved the experience of these sounds on board a cruise ship, and the ability to visit Dusky Sound too was so exciting. It didn’t disappoint at all.

Golden Princess on her way out of Milford Sound
Golden Princess on her way out of Milford Sound

As I mentioned earlier, we’ve previously been to Milford and Doubtful on small Real Journeys ships, so we did wonder if being on a much bigger vessel would diminish some of the enormity of the mountains.

I can safely say it didn’t. If anything, it magnified the mountains. Taking in all there is to see from the upper decks is amazing. It’s crazy looking down at the tiny tourist boats in Milford Sound and at the same time realising that the mountains surrounding you are still dwarfing the big cruise ship you are on.

Be prepared

The sounds are all at the Southern end of the South Island of New Zealand, surrounded by massive mountains that often have snow caps all year round. The surrounding cliffs tend to funnel the wind through them as well, so even on warm days, the wind can be very chilling. In Milford Sound in particular, the wind is often also wet as it carries water from Stirling Falls for long distances.

So, make sure you have something warm to wear if you plan on being outside for the whole duration.

Would I recommend it?

Absolutely! This is the most convenient way to see the sounds and one of the only ways to see Dusky Sound. If you cruise anywhere in the Australia-New Zealand region, this is the one to do. In a way, it reminds me of the Alaskan Inside Passage, but it is still quite different and just as spectacular in its own way.

Plus, it’s such a relaxing way to experience it. For us, after Dusky Sound, we went in for a warm hot chocolate and breakfast before arriving at Doubtful Sound. Awesome!

Hot Chocolate with Breakfast - YUM
Hot Chocolate with Breakfast – YUM
Pancake Brekky!
Pancake Brekky!

What do you think?

Have you cruised through Fiordland, New Zealand? Were you impacted by the weather? What did you like the most? Was there anything you disliked? Let me know in the comments below!

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