Wilderness Kayaking In Remote Doubtful Sound


If you like getting up close and personal with Mother Nature, you’ll absolutely love this overnight kayaking trip! 

Group of people kayaking in moody rainy Doubtful Sound

Enjoy two full days of guided kayaking in the pristine wilderness of the unspoilt Doubtful Sound, also known as the Sound of Silence. Home to fur seals, bottlenose dolphins and Fiordland Crested Penguins, you’ll explore one of the most remote areas in New Zealand. On top of this, you camp in the ancient podocarp forest with its native birds and lush tree ferns! 

With loads of experience operating in this remote wilderness, this is a fantastic small-group overnight kayaking experience.

Here’s a breakdown of what to expect from this tour:

Day 1: Venture into Doubtful Sound

The early bird catches the worm - or in this case, ventures deep into Doubtful Sound. A short drive brings you from Te Anau to Manapouri, where you board a motorboat. Watch the golden sun rays reach over the mountains, increasingly bathing more and more of the lake into a warm light.

Not long into your boat ride, you’ll reach West Arm. Here, you change over to a bus for the overland part of your journey, a 24km | 15mi drive over Wilmot Pass to Deep Cove, the starting point of your kayaking journey.

After some prep and instruction time, you’ll start kayaking into Doubtful Sound. The actual kayaking route is determined by the weather and can change depending on how calm or rough the water is. The experienced guides do everything in their might to ensure your safety along the way. They also scout out the local wildlife for you. With some luck, you can watch NZ Fur Seals sunbathing on the rocks and spot Fiordland Crested Penguins on Rolla Island, their favourite nesting place. Your group might even be accompanied by a pod of frolicking dolphins!

On your first day, you’ll kayak for about 5 hours, broken up into smaller chunks with breaks in between. You’ll set up camp at Hall Arm Camp Site, a small clearing in the ancient podocarp forest, in the middle of nowhere. 

After dinner, either stay with your new mates to exchange stories and the highlights of your day. Or you go and sit somewhere by yourself, listening to the sounds of the New Zealand wilderness at night - hear calls of kiwi birds, the morepork (an owl) and the weka (another flightless bird).

Your accommodation: Hall Arm Camp Site - Doubtful Sound

This is a backcountry campsite in western Fiordland. Located in a beautiful forest beside the water, amongst ancient podocarp forest that comes alive at night with the calls of the local birdlife. Relax along the shore as the long southern twilight descends in the fiord and spend some time star-gazing. Bring your own food – The guides supply hot drinks.

Day 2: Raw Wilderness Doubtful Sound

The stillness and silence of Hall Arm in the morning, broken only by birdcall, lure you back to your kayaks. As you paddle out of Hall Arm, keep looking out for Doubtful Sound’s resident bottlenose dolphins. 

If time and the weather permit, you’ll circle Elizabeth Island and explore Olphert Cove before heading back to Deep Cove with a tailwind. Now that you’re used to your kayak, how about testing out your newly acquired kayaking skills? Or just put the sails up for a cruise trip home.

Information on the Doubtful Sound 1-night wilderness kayaking tour

Quick Overview

  • Maximum capacity 8 per guide
  • Lake Manapouri ferry & Wilmot Pass coach included
  • Approx 5 hours of kayaking each day
  • Competence in water & moderate level of fitness required
  • Personable and experienced guides
  • Hot drinks provided
  • Overnight camping included
  • Complimentary coach transfers are available from Te Anau/Manapouri from/to Queenstown
  • Min age 16yrs

What to bring

Fiordland National Park is a massive wilderness area of rugged snow-capped peaks and luxuriant rainforest. It’s one of the wettest places in the world with high annual rainfall and waterfalls that cascade into the deep fiords. Kayaking within this world heritage area is unbeatable - but often encounters a huge variety of weather. With this in mind, we’ve prepared the following list so you’re ready, whatever the weather.

  • Swimsuit or underwear (to wear under your wetsuit)
  • Plastic bag for wet gear
  • Shorts
  • Soft shoes or sandals (note they will get wet)
  • Warm socks
  • Towel
  • Sunblock / Sun hat / Sunglasses 
  • Insect repellant (sandflies are abundant in the Sounds)
  • Camera (disposable or waterproof)
  • Water bottle
  • Change of clothes, socks, footwear and rain jacket for wearing after kayaking
  • Next to skin layer (thermal or wool - merino works great)
  • Warm tops, Long trousers or track pants & Underwear
  • Shoes for campsite
  • Waterproof jacket & Rain trousers (if available)
  • Warm hat
  • Sleeping bag
  • Torch / Flashlight
  • Plate, cup and utensils
  • Toilet gear
  • Personal medication
  • Spare plastic bags (ziplock)
  • Food (Te Anau has two good supermarkets which stay open late - (food needs to be quick to cook, eg pasta or Backcountry Meals)

We provide

  • Thermal top and leggings, Fleece top, hat & Pogies (paddling gloves)
  • Long john wetsuit (Doubtful Sound)
  • Paddle jacket & spray deck
  • Life jacket (buoyancy vest)
  • Dry bags (for your clothing and camera)
  • Map
  • Double kayaks and paddles
  • Group safety and emergency gear
  • Hot drinks
  • One or two-person tents
  • Thermarest mattresses 
  • Gas cookers 
  • Pots and cooking utensils
  • Chairs
  • Communal shelter (insect-proof)

What to wear when kayaking

Please wear your swimsuit or kayaking underwear layer beneath warm clothes/waterproof jacket on pick-up (makes changing into paddling gear easier and quicker). The best way to carry your other gear to the launch point is in a backpack.


On a kayaking trip, you will eat more than usual and there is plenty of storage space on the kayaks. Bring food that is simple but nourishing. Please remove excess packaging and carry food in bags (supermarket cloth bags are ideal).

Food Suggestions

  • Snacks: Bananas, chocolate, muesli bars
  • Lunches: Sandwich-type food (cheese, salami, tuna), fruit, biscuits
  • Evening meal: pasta, rice or noodles with sauce plus soft vegetables, meat, canned fish, specialised hiking meals (just add water)
  • Breakfast: cereals, fruit, yoghurt, toast, baked beans

How to book

At First Light Travel, we create comprehensive customised NZ self drive packages that include everything you need for an amazing travel experience: vehicle hire, flights, coach, ferry, accommodation and a huge range of amazing activities like the ones you would like to do. We give you a high-quality experience with in-country backup and support if you need it.

So if you would like us to create a self-drive or guided package for you that includes this extraordinary activity in New Zealand, get in contact with usOr if you want to see what some of the thousands of happy customers have to say, click here.


Alexandra Diethelm
Alexandra Diethelm
: 23 Nov 2022 (Last updated: 24 Nov 2022)

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