MARL­BOR­OUGH

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about New Zealand’s Great Walks . . .

and let’s face it, New Zealand has a lot of them.

While the Mil­ford Track is un­doubt­edly the best known of New Zealand trails with its en­vi­able ‘finest walk in the world’ man­tle, there are few that ri­val the rep­u­ta­tion of the Queen Char­lotte Track in the Marl­bor­ough Sounds for not only the stun­ning coastal and ridge­line views but the food, wine and ac­com­mo­da­tion ex­pe­ri­ences to be had along the way.

Whether it’s a beer and a gourmet burger in the bar or a fine din­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in an up­mar­ket re­sort or lodge, there is some­thing to savour for ev­ery­one at a bud­get that ap­peals along this 70km track lo­cated at the north eastern tip of New Zealand’s South Is­land.

The track’s start is just a stone’s throw from the largest wine grow­ing re­gion in New Zealand near Blen­heim or a quick jaunt across the Cook Strait by ferry or plane from the cap­i­tal, Welling­ton. Al­ter­na­tively take a scenic train, bus or car ride from Christchurch fol­low­ing the spec­tac­u­lar east coast with its large pop­u­la­tions of New Zealand fur seals and snow-capped moun­tains be­yond.

With its many en­try and exit points, flex­i­ble wa­ter trans­port ser­vices to carry your bags and va­ri­ety of qual­ity ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions to suit your bud­get, the Queen Char­lotte Track is truly great and ut­terly unique amongst New Zealand trails. If you have one day or many, there is a pack­age for you of­fered seam­lessly by an ar­ray of qual­ity ser­vice providers.

Here ad­ven­ture is wait­ing for out­door en­thu­si­asts of any age who visit the shores and tra­verse the ridge­lines of these ma­jes­tic Marl­bor­ough Sounds. Com­pleted by most walk­ers in four or five days and moun­tain bik­ers in just two or three from his­toric Ship Cove to pic­turesque Anakiwa, com­fort and great cli­mate col­lide to create this iconic Kiwi track open 365 of the year.

Hike it, bike it or even kayak it – the op­tions are end­less. In the sum­mer’s peak, walk­ers get pri­or­ity on the north­ern reaches of the track from Ship Cove to Camp Bay al­though

moun­tain bik­ers are able to bike the south­ern sec­tions. Out­side of the sum­mer months, bik­ers can com­plete the whole track from March 1 through to Novem­ber 30 al­though it is a chal­leng­ing ride in parts.

Af­ter spend­ing a night at one of the large va­ri­ety of ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions in pretty lit­tle sea­side port Pic­ton - with its trade­mark slum­ber­ing sleepi­ness in winter turn­ing to buzzing hy­per­ac­tiv­ity in sum­mer - most visi­tors will hop aboard one of the num­ber of wa­ter taxi providers based in and around the vi­brant wa­ter­front and head straight for Ship Cove.

Some choose to walk just a day and the his­toric re­serve of Ship Cove is a favoured stop but day walks are also avail­able where the road meets the track such as at Anakiwa, Torea Bay and Mistle­toe Bay. Lo­cal providers can help visi­tors pick the best sec­tion of the Queen Char­lotte Track to ex­pe­ri­ence – there’s so much choice.

Those start­ing the trail at Ship Cove can see first-hand the shel­tered lit­tle bay the English ex­plorer Cap­tain James Cook used as his home base while he ex­plored the South Pa­cific in 1770 and it has changed lit­tle. There he had found fresh wa­ter, strong tim­bers and also in­ves­ti­gated the po­ten­tial medic­i­nal prop­er­ties of the nearby for­est. Cook pre­pared a drink high in Vi­ta­min C out of the twigs, leaves and bark of the New Zealand rimu tree for his sailors. It was ei­ther drink it or be flogged – not so much choice for them . . .

Charts of an­other type are ev­i­dent now as walk­ers clutch maps with track gra­di­ents when leav­ing Ship Cove – this is no stroll in a park and there is some work to be done to gain the el­e­va­tion re­quired to truly ap­pre­ci­ate the grandeur of the Marl­bor­ough Sounds land­scape. Truly a ‘Sound’ by def­i­ni­tion, this net­work of sunken river val­leys is a unique ge­o­log­i­cal area where the sea level has risen over mil­lions of years and flooded these steep-sided plains.

There is rich Maori his­tory here too as many of New Zealand’s indige­nous peo­ple lived in and around these abun­dant coast­lines.

Early Maori

knew this place – Queen Char­lotte Sound – as To­taranui and be­lieved the main body of the Sound was the trunk of the giant New Zealand na­tive tree of the same name with its var­i­ous bays and coves the branches of the tree.

You will fol­low in the foot­steps of the first Euro­pean pi­o­neers on cen­turies old bri­dle paths that formed the ba­sis of the Queen Char­lotte Track when first es­tab­lished.

Now the great qual­ity of track al­lows walk­ers and bik­ers to pass eas­ily side by side and on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment by the Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion, who main­tains the track, en­sures a great ex­pe­ri­ence in what is a suc­cess­ful joint ven­ture be­tween the depart­ment, the lo­cal coun­cil and al­most a dozen pri­vate landown­ers. Visi­tors are re­quired to have pur­chased the ap­pro­pri­ate pass if cross­ing the pri­vate land sec­tions and these can be pur­chased in Pic­ton or along the track.

And of course, the ac­com­mo­da­tion op­tions are end­less. You can camp at Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion camp­sites or opt for ac­com­mo­da­tion in back­pack­ers, home stays, re­treats and lodges or ho­tels along the way all while tak­ing ad­van­tage of the wa­ter trans­port ser­vices which al­low your lug­gage to be trans­ferred each day. Pro­vide for your­selves for food or take the night off, ev­ery night of your hike if stay­ing at the back­pack­ers, lodges, ho­tels and re­treats with restau­rants or ca­ter­ing op­tions.

Sleep­ing op­tions are of­ten less than half a day’s walk apart and for those with a lit­tle more time, or seek­ing some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent, there are many other ac­tiv­i­ties that can be en­joyed along the way. These in­clude swim­ming, fish­ing, sail­ing, sea kayak­ing, bird and dolphin watch­ing, div­ing and his­toric side trips. Glow-worm grot­tos add to the nightlife.

There are guided and un­guided pack­aged walk­ing op­tions avail­able too and both can have their packs car­ried for them from any of the ac­cess points along the track by ar­range­ment with trans­port op­er­a­tors.

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