Dusky Sound Cruise, Fiordland

Milford Sound is well known to visitors from North America, but the names of Doubtful Sound and further to the south, Dusky Sound, are not so well known. Dusky Sound is the most isolated, historic and pristine of them all and we rate the 7-day Dusky Sound expedition cruise as one of the finest New Zealand vacation experiences available. Access is limited so early bookings are needed.


Before reading our blog, please take a look at this wonderful Dusky Sound video, that shows in images what words would struggle to convey and you will quickly see why this is one of the great New Zealand vacation experiences.

Each year, in April, May, August and September, local operator 'Real Journeys' offer a limited number of these 7 day expedition cruises aboard their purpose-built boat the 'Milford Wanderer'. These include cruising the fiords of both Doubtful Sound & Dusky Sound. Demand always outstrips supply so an early booking is required.

The vast and isolated Fiordland National Park is rich in beauty and unique to the world. It's a massive 4,826 square miles in area and no more than 100 people live in the whole region at any one time!

With on-board nature guides, great facilities and outstanding food, all needs are catered for against an awe-inspiring natural backdrop. 

Included are - 

Visits to Doubtful, Breaksea and Dusky Sounds and Preservation and Chalky Inlets 

1-way helicopter transfer included at the conclusion of the cruise

On-board specialist nature guides who provide informative commentary and evening talks

Guided walks through rainforest and along beautiful deserted shorelines

Visits to historic sites and abandoned settlements

Tender craft and kayaks for exploration of the coastline


Dusky Sound is where English explorer Captain Cook spent five weeks in in 1773, while his crew recovered from an arduous crossing of the Southern Ocean. Time was mostly spent at Pickersgill Harbour where, at Astronomer’s Point, it is still possible to see where Cook’s astronomer had trees felled so he could get an accurate fix on the stars. Not far from here is the site where 1790's castaways built the first European-style house and boat in New Zealand.

Marooned by the fiord’s waters, nearby Pigeon Island shelters the ruins of a house built by Richard Henry who battled from 1894 to 1908 to save endangered native birds from introduced stoats and rats.

Those with an interest in wildlife and history will also enjoy reading this report by a group of scientists from The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa in 2010. It documents changes in the biodiversity of the region since Captain Cook visited in 1773.

If you are interested in joining one of these adventure cruises, email the New Zealand Vacations office or call us on 888 277-2293. 


We'll finish this blog with a personal report of the 7-day expedition from blogger Barry Smith, connected to us via his brother Chris and my friends Stuart and Philippa Hawker who joined Barry on this 2016 cruise. 

Fiordland (NZ) in Winter with Real Adventures - New Zealand - without sandflies!

Well, the title is not quite true - I think I was bitten by two sandflies (editors note - sandflies are tiny midge like flying insects that have an annoying but harmless bite - pack the insect repellant!) in the eight days we were in Fiordland. The secret is to go in winter when the namu (Maori name for sandfly) are frozen, stunned by hail or have been drowned. Anyway in response to an invitation from my little (big) brother, John, we extended the invite on to Rosemary, Catherines sister, and her husband Jim. Together with several of John and Chris's friends we formed a happy group. The other passengers were great - you always meet like-minded people on these Real Adventures type trips.

Milford Wanderer in Fiordland
Cruising in Breaksea Sound

The first day had us cruising down the Doubtful Sound, out to sea for three hours and finally anchoring in Breaksea Sound near the northern entrance to Dusky Sound. Catherine and I were delighted to find John as the cook - he had been cook on our journey to Antarctica several years ago - this boded well for our inner needs and he didn't let us down. I found common ground too (through our climbing experiences) with Richard, our nature guide. That night Catherine and I slept in our warm cabins with not a movement from the ship.


The next morning we landed in Wet Jacket Arm where the first moose had been released in NZ (editors note - Canadian Moose were released into this region in 1910 and despite ongoing claims of sightings, they are believed to have died out in the 1950's) . We inspected the campsite of hunters and had a short wander in the bush - no moose were to be seen - no wonder with all the happy chatter 

After lunch we cruised down the Acheron Passage (Cook's exit passage from Dusky nearly 250 years ago) and into Dusky Sound. Our next call was into Sportsman Cove a delightful narrow entranced area where we shut the engines to enjoy the total peace of the place. That night we slumbered in Duck Cove.

At Richard Henry's Punga Kiwi Enclosure - created ~130 yrs ago
On a Beach on Pigeon Island

Over the next day or so we visited Pickersgill Harbour where Cook moored the 'Resolution' while he and the crew rested after their 123 day journey from the Cape of Good Hope. It was with some emotion that we observed the moss and fern covered 244 year-old stumps of trees cleared by Cook's men as they prepared the site for Wales's astronomical observations - he accurately placed NZ on the global map for the first time. The whole of Dusky is redolent with names and stories of Cook's visit. One such name is that of a student of Linnaeus, Sparrman a young Swedish botanist, who made the first non-Maori ascent of a peak in NZ. A group of us repeated it in 2005. More about our climb here.

Mood of Dusky

We visited the site of Richard Henry's efforts on Pigeon Island (worthy of an entire book) and walked across Anchor Island to Luncheon Cove where the first NZ sealing gang had been placed in 1792. Less than 20 years after Cook! They had also built a house and the first ship built in NZ.  At Facile Harbour we also observed the site of NZ's first shipwreck in 1795 - the 'Endeavour' with 244 people on board - they completed the ship in Luncheon Cove and many of them rescued themselves in it - they named her the 'Providence'. The ballast stones of the 'Endeavour', made of Sydney sandstone, are still visible in the shallow water of Facile Harbour.

Catherine examining dinner - Rosie's not so sure.
JohnS capturing Albatross en route to Chalky Inlet
Lighthouse at Puysegur Point
Ambling on a Beach near Spit Island

We cruised down to Chalky Inlet where we visited North and South Ports and the wreck of the 'Stella'. At the head of Long Sound those who wished had a good kayak about the coast in perfect conditions. At the seaward end of the sound we walked to Puysegur Point and the historic Spit Island both on calm sunny days - the latter, one of the highlights of the trip. Here Ngai Tahu and the so-called 'Lost Tribe' of Ngati Mamoe had their final showdown.

Finally we all helicoptered out to the power station at Lake Manapouri - an absolutely fabulous flight with the ground below covered in snow and ice.

What a trip. I'd recommend it to anyone - the exposure to open seas is minimal but one can never be guaranteed good weather. We had some rainy days but rain is not the problem - it is mainly the wind and swell. But the crew amend the program to suit the conditions - what more can you do. Another part of our paradise called Aotearoa. And full of amazing history.

With thanks to blogger Barry Smith.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Jul 19, 2018