Off the beaten path in New Zealand’s South Island

Doubtful Sound

NEW Zealand’s South Island is a botanic garden; a visual feast almost impossible to sate. From the glorious seascapes of the Abel Tasman National Park in the north to the windswept beauty of the Catlins on the Southern Scenic Route, picturesque vistas roll through like a National Geographic highlight reel on steroids. No wonder the Land of the Long White Cloud demands a place on every bucket list – and insight on what to see and where to go is always in high demand.

Two of the South Island’s premier destinations are Franz Josef Glacier and Milford Sound. They will inevitably find their way onto most itineraries, and for very good reasons. However, fewer tourists opt for lesser known twin attractions that offer equally as much – if not more – than the recognised tourism heavyweights.

Franz Josef v Fox Glacier

Roughly 31km south-west of Franz Josef Glacier you’ll find the ominous, brooding presence of Fox Glacier.

Where Franz Josef reclines, Fox hulks…
While Franz Josef invites an approach from the becalmed water of Peters Pool, Fox issues a stern warning against unwanted familiarity…

Both are stunning geologic features; both presenting the viewer with different perspectives. Like multi-faceted diamonds flowing westward toward the Tasman Sea with limitless patience…

Fox Glacier

While I loved the relaxed charm of Franz Josef, Fox made a more profound impression on me. Perhaps it was more in tune with my emotional expectation of a glacier as potent manifestation of Mother Nature’s power. A perception enhanced by the proximity of huge boulders of ice… And the chilling sound that echoed down the valley when they sheared away from the terminal face to crash into the valley below.

Read about the tragic deaths of two Australian brothers killed when an ice shelf collapsed on them.

Aside from the raw power of the glacier, Fox offers the more intrepid visitor with various exploration options: from a terminal face walk to a much more strenuous all day glacier walk. Ice climbing adventures and helikhikes are also available. We booked a half-day eco-adventure, which was both exhilarating… and frightening! Peering down into ice-blue crevices and hearing the ice groan and crack beneath your feet is not for the feint-hearted!

TIP: If you are determined to book a helicopter flight, it is probably a good idea to stay in the vicinity of the glaciers for at least two days due to the cancellation of flights as a result of cloud cover.

Milford v Doubtful Sound

In Fiordland, Milford Sound draws between 550,000 and one million visitors per year. Further south, hidden from view by Lake Manapouri and Mounts George and Troup lies the much more remote Doubtful Sound. If Milford is Rudyard Kipling’s 8th wonder of the world, Doubtful is the sound of silence.

View Solo, Andrew McAuley’s epic, but ultimately tragic, attempt to kayak from Tasmania to Milford Sound. It is spine-chilling…

Doubtful Sound is deeper, three times longer and covers 10 times more surface area than Milford Sound. Accumulating superlatives such as ‘unspoiled’, ‘untouched’ and ‘grandiose’, Doubtful Sound’s absence from many itineraries is predominantly due to its seclusion. Most tourists fortunate enough to visit this fiord do so from Manapouri‘s Pearl Harbour. A launch ferries awestruck visitors across the scenic lake before a short hike over Wilmot Pass deposits the visitor at the head of Doubtful Sound.

Kayak Doubtful Sound

Gliding on kayaks through the serene beauty of this wilderness is an experience beyond compare! The only sound is oars gently dipping in the water. Emerald forests in high saturation and towering peaks in stark contrast reflect dazzlingly on the mirror-like surface. And then there’s the delicious anticipation… Waiting on a dolphin or other mammal to breach! A day prior to our visit, kayakers saw a pod of whales’ surface. The possibilities are endless…

Franz Josef Glacier and Milford Sound, no doubt, will continue to attract large visitor numbers. However, Fox Glacier and Doubtful Sound are both superb destinations in their own right. Doubtful Sound, in particular, has an ‘off the beaten path’ feel, and rewards the determined visitor with a palette of unblemished natural delights with which to paint the most gloriously fulfilling experience.

For more on the South Island of New Zealand: Kaiteriteri Destination Guide

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