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.
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.