Inspiring ideas for New Zealand vacation planning - The Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound Expedition Cruise.

Since New Zealand re-opened their borders to US visitors, starting May 2022, interest in the destination has returned to pre-Covid numbers. In this series of blogs, we look beyond the iconic favorite destinations, to lesser known places that are often the highlight of a New Zealand vacation. Today, Dusky Sound.

Milford Sound is an iconic destination for international visitors, but the magnificent fiords of Doubtful Sound and even further to the south, Dusky Sound, are not so well known. Dusky Sound is the most isolated, historic and pristine of them all and included in a 7-day cruise expedition that is one of New Zealand's finest vacation experiences. Departures are limited, so early bookings a must. 

Before reading our blog, please view this wonderful Dusky Sound video. It shows in images what words would struggle to convey and why this is one of the great New Zealand vacation experiences.


Fiordland National Park. 4,826 square miles. Population 100.


The 'Milford Wanderer' in Doubtful Sound.

The vast and isolated Fiordland National Park is rich in beauty and unique to the world. 

There are also a number of 4-day and 5-day expeditions that explore this wilderness region of New Zealand. Please contact us for details.

The 7 day expedition cruise is aboard their purpose-built boat the 'Milford Wanderer' and includes cruising the fjords of Doubtful, Breaksea and Dusky Sounds, Preservation Inlet and Chalky Inlet.

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

  • 7 day expedition cruise of Doubtful, Breaksea and Dusky Sounds and Preservation and Chalky Inlets (with 1-way helicopter transfer included)
  • On-board specialist nature guides who provide informative commentary and evening talks
  • Guided walks through rainforest and along beautiful deserted shorelines
  • Visit historic sites and abandoned settlements
  • Tender craft and kayaks for exploration of the coastline
  • Coach connections from Te Anau and Queenstown at extra cost.

The History of Dusky Sound.

Dusky Sound is where the great English explorer Captain Cook spent five weeks in in 1773, while his crew recovered from an arduous crossing of the Southern Ocean. 

Time is 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. 


Pigeon Island, Dusky Sound, Fiordland.

Marooned by the fjords 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.

If you are interested in joining one of these adventure cruises, email the New Zealand Vacations office or call us on 805 451-9325 


The rainforests of Dusky Sound.

We'll finish this blog with a personal report of the 7-day expedition from blogger Barry Smith.

Fiordland in winter, with no sandflies!

Well, the title is not quite true - I think I was bitten by two sandflies in the eight days we were in Fiordland (editor's note - sandflies are tiny midge like flying insects that have an annoying but harmless bite - bring  insect repellant!). The secret is to go in winter when the sandflies are either 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.


Breaksea Sound, Fiordland.

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. 

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 (editor's note - Canadian Moose were released into this region in 1910 with a view to providing sport for hunters. Despite many 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 into the forest - no moose were to be seen - no wonder with all the happy chatter of our group! 

After lunch we cruised down the Acheron Passage (Captain Cook's exit passage from Dusky nearly 250 years ago) and into Dusky Sound. 


Sportsman Cove, 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. 

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 astronomical observations - he accurately placed NZ on the global map for the first time. 


Punga (a New Zealand tree fern) stumps cleared by Captain Cook's crew.

Over the next day or so we visited Pickersgill Harbour where Cook moored his ship the 'Resolution' while he and the crew rested after their 123 day journey from the Cape of Good Hope. The whole of Dusky is redolent with names and stories of Cook's visit. 

We visited the site of Richard Henry's heroic efforts to save endangered species on Pigeon Island (worthy of an entire book) and walked across Anchor Island to Luncheon Cove where the first NZ sealing gang had worked 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. 

The ballast stones of the 'Endeavour', made of Sydney sandstone, are still visible in the shallow water of Facile Harbour.

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. 


Spit Island, Dusky Sound.

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. 

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, New Zealander or overseas visitor. 

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 New Zealand. And full of amazing history.

With thanks to blogger Barry Smith.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Apr 28, 2020