Browne Falls, Cleve Garth Falls, Helena Falls, and the Doubtful Sound Waterfalls

Fiordland National Park / Doubtful Sound / Patea, South Island, New Zealand

About Browne Falls, Cleve Garth Falls, Helena Falls, and the Doubtful Sound Waterfalls


Hiking Distance: tour
Suggested Time: 8 hours

Date first visited: 2004-11-26
Date last visited: 2004-11-26

Waterfall Latitude: -45.39845
Waterfall Longitude: 167.0896

Browne Falls could very well be the tallest waterfall known in New Zealand so far as it was said to be 619m or 838m (depending on who you talk to and what the height criteria was based on).

However, this waterfall was only known to us because of this height discussion.

Doubtful_Sound_023_11252004 - Browne Falls
Browne Falls

Truth be told, when we visited the Doubtful Sound in November 2004, this waterfall really blended in with the other waterfalls tumbling into the fiord.

We only knew which waterfall to single out based on anticipating where we’d find it after consulting a detailed map (Tumonz) prior to our trip.

By the way, Doubtful Sound was technically a fiord and not a sound though both essentially behave like inlets.

Fiords are glaciated valleys filled in by rising seas while sounds are typical valleys filled in by rising seas.

Doubtful_Sound_026_11252004 - Browne Falls (right) with a thin companion waterfall (left) as seen from a Doubtful Sound Cruise
Browne Falls (right) with a thin companion waterfall (left) as seen from a Doubtful Sound Cruise

Anyways, I highly doubt most visitors would have been able to spot Browne Falls as it was merely an ordinary thin mountain cascade that only gained notoriety in the internet literature as a result of debates over waterfall heights.

Its fortunate circumstantial geography happened to meet the criteria of waterfall enthusiasts trying to identify the highest waterfalls in the world.

This waterfall was being fed from Lake Browne at the top of one of the cliffs flanking the fiord.

Therefore, I’d imagine that its tendency to drain over the Browne Falls to provide longevity to its flow was what helped its stature in academic and enthusiast circles worldwide.

Accessibility of Doubtful Sound

Doubtful_Sound_040_11252004 - Alas, I didn't have a digital SLR camera back in November 2004 so this was the best I could do to capture a dusky dolphin doing a backflip in the Doubtful Sound
Alas, I didn’t have a digital SLR camera back in November 2004 so this was the best I could do to capture a dusky dolphin doing a backflip in the Doubtful Sound

That said, the real benefit of making Browne Falls our excuse to do a full day tour to Doubtful Sound was experiencing the “sound of silence” itself.

After all, Julie and I were treated to a variety of unexpected sights such as the playful Dusky Dolphins doing backflips or Fiordland Crested Penguins chilling out in one of the more hidden corners of the fiord.

We even spotted other waterfalls that we didn’t expect to see going into this visit.

Among these waterfalls were the Cleve Garth Falls, Stella Falls, Helena Falls, and Alice Falls among others (and those were just the named waterfalls).

Plus, we were treated to a mindblowing vista from Wilmot Pass looking down towards the secluded Doubtful Sound.

Doubtful_Sound_107_11252004 - Context of some of the waterfalls tumbling into the remote Doubtful Sound
Context of some of the waterfalls tumbling into the remote Doubtful Sound

I look at this excursion as one of those compromises made between Nature enthusiasts and industrialists.

A highly controversial hydroelectric project that threatened to dramatically alter the greater ecosystem of Lake Manapouri as well as that of the Doubtful Sound area ultimately resulted in one of the most sophisticated schemes in the world.

What came about was that the hydro facility was developed deep underground beneath the West Arm of Lake Manapouri with very tight regulations on the lake’s level.

This was to ensure minimal disturbance of the ecosystem prior to the commencement of this project.

Wilmot_Pass_038_11252004 - Looking into the Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass
Looking into the Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass

The silver lining to this project was that the Doubtful Sound used to be one of the most remote locations in New Zealand.

Only the hardiest and well-prepared of trampers could witness the practically pristine fiord.

However, after the project, Lake Manapouri and Doubtful Sound were connected by the Wilmot Pass Road to enable day tours.

Thus, people like us who couldn’t devote nearly a week or more of hard tramping were now able to experience this otherwise inaccessible and pristine part of the wildnerness of Fiordland National Park.

The Doubtful Sound Experience – Lake Manapouri and Wilmot Pass

Lake_Manapouri_048_11252004 - Cruising across Lake Manapouri at the start of our Doubtful Sound experience back in late November 2004
Cruising across Lake Manapouri at the start of our Doubtful Sound experience back in late November 2004

Our full day tour began with a coach pick-up from our accommodation in Te Anau, which then whisked us away to Pearl Harbour at Lake Manapouri.

That was where we were grouped with the rest of the tour and went on a boat vessel that took us across Lake Manapouri.

There wasn’t much in the way of waterfalling along this 75-minute part of the tour, but it was relaxing and we could see the effects of a late season storm bringing a new dusting of snow on the lush rainforest surroundings.

When we reached the West Arm dock, we then boarded a coach that proceeded to drive us up the unsealed Wilmot Road.

Wilmot_Pass_027_11252004 - Cleve Garth Falls
Cleve Garth Falls

We strategically sat on the left side of the bus so we could take fleeting photos of Cleve Garth Falls as the bus driver rushed his way towards a fern area and lookout, where he made a stop (by then the falls were well behind us).

Cleve Garth Falls might have been known mostly to workers of the West Arm Power Station because it sat in the backdrop dropping in multiple tiers.

It appeared thin in our photos because I reckon that the late season storm might have re-froze its creek thereby constricting its flow.

Beyond the stop, the Wilmot Pass Road peaked at Wilmot Pass itself where we got a gorgeous view down to the Deep Cove section of Doubtful Sound.

Wilmot_Pass_047_11252004 - Fleeting glimpse of Stella Falls as seen from our descent between Wilmot Pass and the Doubtful Sound
Fleeting glimpse of Stella Falls as seen from our descent between Wilmot Pass and the Doubtful Sound

Off to one side of the cove, we saw a thick waterfall, which turned out to be Helena Falls.

Even the threatening clouds and short sprinkling of snow flurries that conspired to block our view didn’t do enough to deny us the majestic view of where we were about to go.

After Wilmot Pass (the drive took about an hour), we went down some switchbacks where the driver rushed his way past Stella Falls.

Fortunately, it didn’t matter which side of the bus we were sitting on this go because switchbacks were within view of it.

Doubtful_Sound_002_11252004 - Looking at our boat vessel fronting Alice Falls in the background at the Deep Cove arm of Doubtful Sound
Looking at our boat vessel fronting Alice Falls in the background at the Deep Cove arm of Doubtful Sound

However, we had to be quick with our cameras (a quick DSLR would have been really handy here though we didn’t own one at the time).

Ultimately, the coach ended at the Deep Cove dock where we then boarded an awaiting vessel for the next three-hour part of the tour.

The Doubtful Sound Experience – cruising the fiord

Even though we were able to get severely angled views of Helena Falls from the dock, we would punt that until later at the end of the cruise.

Instead, we headed deeper into the inlet where we passed before the thin Alice Falls (said to be 200m tall though I suspect it might be exaggerated).

Doubtful_Sound_012_11252004 - Cruising about on the Doubtful Sound
Cruising about on the Doubtful Sound

Our cruise continued its meander in the Doubtful Sound noticing mostly unnamed waterfalls along the way as well as a few side arms.

The highlights of this part of the cruise was seeing Dusky Dolphins doing backflips, which happened early on in our cruise.

Not long afterwards, we went deep enough in the Doubtful Sound to pass before Browne Falls.

This waterfall was also joined by a companion which conspired to confuse most people about which waterfall was which.

Doubtful_Sound_057_11252004 - Closeup off-centered look at a Fiordland Crested Penguin during our Doubtful Sound Cruise
Closeup off-centered look at a Fiordland Crested Penguin during our Doubtful Sound Cruise

Beyond Browne Falls, we saw a small penguin colony where some Fiordland Crested Penguins were chilling out before we encountered another waterfall protruding from the thick bush at Grono Bay.

Nearby this sight, we also saw what appeared to be a very remote shelter though I didn’t recall what was said about who lived here and why it was there.

Then, we went towards the choppy Tasman Sea as we were heading to the mouth of Doubtful Sound.

I’d imagine that this might have been what Captain Cook must have experienced when he doubted that he could sail his way in and out of this inlet (hence the name).

Wilmot_Pass_055_11252004 - This was perhaps the cleanest view we got of Helena Falls from near the causeway and tailrace tunnel
This was perhaps the cleanest view we got of Helena Falls from near the causeway and tailrace tunnel

When we went back into the Doubtful Sound, we explored a few more side arms before the boat driver literally allowed us to enjoy the sound of silence as he shut off the engine and let Nature fill our ears.

After passing by Browne Falls and Alice Falls once more, we then returned to the dock where the coach driver took us towards the causeway and tailrace tunnel, which was where the outflow of the West Arm Power Station was.

That also gave us the opportunity to get a closer look at the impressive Helena Falls (also said to be 200m though I still wondered whether that was exaggerated, too).

Nevertheless, it was a rare thick and permanent named waterfall within the Doubtful Sound that I’d argue might be even more scenic than Browne Falls.

The Doubtful Sound Experience – West Arm Power Station and the home stretch

Lake_Manapouri_055_11252004 - Looking back at Wilmot Pass Road just as we were about to take the boat ride back across Lake Manapouri to end our tour
Looking back at Wilmot Pass Road just as we were about to take the boat ride back across Lake Manapouri to end our tour

Next, we drove back towards the West Arm Power Station side where the driver gave us the option of checking out the power station or just heading back to the boat.

I think most of the tour didn’t care to see the power station so we just headed to the boat and motored back across the lake to Pearl Harbour.

Just at that time, the weather really started clearing up and we could finally start to see blue skies for the first time in what seemed like several days.

And thus ended our full day of touring the Doubtful Sound and its waterfalls.

Lake_Manapouri_061_11252004 - Cruising back across Lake Manapouri as the weather had significantly improved by the end of the day of our Doubtful Sound Cruise in late November 2004
Cruising back across Lake Manapouri as the weather had significantly improved by the end of the day of our Doubtful Sound Cruise in late November 2004

Overall, this tour took us on the order of 8-9 hours in total away from our accommodation at Te Anau.

Authorities

Browne Falls (and the Doubtful Sound) resides in Fiordland National Park near Te Anau in the Fiordland region of South Island, New Zealand. It is administered under the jurisdiction of the Department of Conservation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Lake_Manapouri_002_11252004 - Waiting at Pearl Harbour for our Doubtful Sound tour to begin
Lake_Manapouri_030_11252004 - Looking across Lake Manapouri as we cruised across this lake on the first part of our Doubtful Sound tour
Lake_Manapouri_034_11252004 - As we were cruising across Lake Manapouri, we could see the temperate rainforest carpeting the neighbouring mountains with a fresh dusting of snow
Lake_Manapouri_036_11252004 - Looking in the distance towards some thin cascade off in the distance while on Lake Manapouri
Lake_Manapouri_037_11252004 - Broad panorama of the scene in front of our vessel as we cruised Lake Manapouri
Lake_Manapouri_050_11252004 - Looking towards the West Arm of Lake Manapouri as the first leg of our Doubtful Sound Tour was coming to a close
Lake_Manapouri_052_11252004 - Looking towards some unnamed ephemeral waterfall spilling into Lake Manapouri
Wilmot_Pass_004_11252004 - Looking towards some snow-capped mountains covering the bush while we were driven up towards Wilmot Pass
Wilmot_Pass_005_11252004 - The coach stopped momentarily for us to take a look at the Spey River Valley en route to Wilmot Pass and Doubtful Sound
Wilmot_Pass_008_11252004 - Looking back down the Spey River Valley from our stop en route to Wilmot Pass
Wilmot_Pass_019_11252004 - Another look at the Spey River Valley en route to Wilmot Pass
Wilmot_Pass_023_11252004 - The unsealed Wilmot Pass Road
Wilmot_Pass_025_11252004 - Our first fleeting look at Cleve Garth Falls along the Wilmot Pass Road
Wilmot_Pass_029_11252004 - Direct look at Cleve Garth Falls during our drive up to Wilmot Pass
Wilmot_Pass_031_11252004 - Looking back at the context of Cleve Garth Falls blending in with the fresh new dusting of late season snow during our late November 2004 visit to Doubtful Sound
Wilmot_Pass_033_11252004 - Driving through some rain and snow as we were getting closer to Wilmot Pass
Wilmot_Pass_035_11252004 - The view from Wilmot Pass given the new dusting of snow on our late November 2004 visit
Wilmot_Pass_036_11252004 - Looking down towards Helena Falls as seen from Wilmot Pass
Wilmot_Pass_039_11252004 - More focused look towards Doubtful Sound from Wilmot Pass under some threatening clouds
Wilmot_Pass_048_11252004 - Looking up at a creek that might have been the very one that came from Stella Falls as seen during our drive down from Wilmot Pass to Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_006_11252004 - Direct view of Alice Falls as we started cruising the Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_008_11252004 - Cruising about on the Doubtful Sound during our late November 2004 visit
Doubtful_Sound_013_11252004 - Looking towards a hanging valley above the Doubtful Sound with a yacht parked in the body of water as seen from our cruise in late November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_014_11252004 - One of the thin ephemeral waterfalls feeding the Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_016_11252004 - Zoomed out context of the ephemeral falls in the previous photo during our Doubtful Sound cruise seen in late November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_021_11252004 - Our first look at Browne Falls as we went deeper into Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_022_11252004 - More direct look at Browne Falls as we continued to pass before it on our Doubtful Sound Cruise
Doubtful_Sound_038_11252004 - A school of playful Dusky Dolphins were entertaining us doing backflips and playing hide-and-seek with us on our Doubtful Sound Cruise in late November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_044_11252004 - Looking towards the front of the vessel where dozens of people braved the frigid cold temperatures and wind chill to fully experience the Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_045_11252004 - Typical scenery of the Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_048_11252004 - Looking at a trio of Fiordland Crested Penguins
Doubtful_Sound_051_11252004 - Looking towards those penguins on a slippery slope by the Doubtful Sound during our cruise in late November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_065_11252004 - A focused look at an attractive waterfall protruding from the thick bush cover by Grono Bay
Doubtful_Sound_068_11252004 - Contextual view of the waterfall by the Grono Bay section of the Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_070_11252004 - This built-up shelter well into the Doubtful Sound struck me as strange for I knew not what it was there for nor who would live there in apparent isolation
Doubtful_Sound_071_11252004 - Looking towards an interesting mountain scene while cruising the Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_074_11252004 - Looking towards another ephemeral waterfall while cruising the Doubtful Sound in late November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_091_11252004 - After a brief interlude out in the open ocean at the mouth of the Doubtful Sound, we cruised back into the calmer confines of the fiord
Doubtful_Sound_105_11252004 - Context of some more ephemeral waterfalls spilling into the Doubtful Sound as we returned to the fiord and headed back in the direction of the dock
Doubtful_Sound_108_11252004 - Direct look at a pair of ephemeral waterfalls spilling into the Doubtful Sound as we continued to head back to the dock
Doubtful_Sound_116_11252004 - A small craft dwarfed by a thin waterfall in one of the side arms of Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_125_11252004 - Another pair of ephemeral waterfalls spilling into Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_126_11252004 - Looking across Doubtful Sound towards another ephemeral waterfall twisting before ending up in the Doubtful Sound
Doubtful_Sound_143_11252004 - Direct look at Browne Falls as we were returning back to Deep Cove
Doubtful_Sound_145_11252004 - Another fleeting look at Browne Falls (right) and a companion waterfall (left)
Doubtful_Sound_145_11252004 - Another look back at the Browne Falls with companion waterfall as we were winding down our Doubtful Sound Cruise part of the journey in November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_147_11252004 - Looking towards a side arm of the Doubtful Sound lined with steep walls as seen towards the end of our cruise portion in late November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_153_11252004 - Context of a rivuleted cascade tumbling by a small boat during our Doubtful Sound Cruise in late November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_154_11252004 - More focuseed on the rivuleted cascade tumbling into the Doubtful Sound as seen in late November 2004
Doubtful_Sound_178_11252004 - Another look at Alice Falls, but this time the sun came out for the first time on this day
Lake_Manapouri_057_11252004 - Looking across towards some parked boats on the shores of Lake Manapouri as we were on the final leg of our Doubtful Sound day tour in late November 2004
Lake_Manapouri_061_11252004 - Cruising back across Lake Manapouri as the weather continued to improve

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Since we only did this excursion as part of an official escorted tour that included transport from our accommodation in Te Anau, I’ll have to punt you to Real Journeys (the tour operator) for the specifics about the logistics of partaking in this tour.

Apparently, it was possible to extend this tour into two days with an overnight in one of the other remote fiords on the vessel, which I’d imagine would be an even more relaxed experience than our day tour.

I also believe that this tour can start and end at Queenstown (two hours drive further to the east of Te Anau, but that would require a very early start and late finish).

Tagged with: doubtful sound, pearl harbour, manapouri, fiordland, te anau, queenstown, southland, south island, new zealand, waterfall, browne falls, cleve garth falls, helena falls, wilmot pass



Visitor Comments:

Stopping for Cleve Garth Falls January 8, 2011 8:33 pm by Chris O'Kane - I am a bus driver on the Wilmot Pass Road and I always stop to let people get a photo of this waterfall. ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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