Postcard perfect coastal views, ancient fern forests and skyline ridges, Queen Charlotte Track is a popular destination for the outdoors lovers in South Island of New Zealand. Imagine walking or cycling over 70 km while surrounded by raw nature; a spectacular journey dotted with unsurpassed views over the beautiful Marlborough Sounds, friendly cafes and hospitable accommodation.
Walking the Queen Charlotte track should be done over a period of 3-5 days to really make the most of your journey. However, if you are pressed for time, you have day trips options too, leaving from and returning to cosy Picton.
Biking the Queen Charlotte track can be done within 2-3 days. The full track is mountain bike accessible but only between 1st of March till the 30th of November. During the rest of the year, you can mountain bike over about 40 km long track, a shortened version of the total length.
Note that sections of the Queen Charlotte Track are on private land and you need a pass called Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative. The costs are 10 NZD for one day pass, 18 NZD for up to five consecutive days or 25 NZD for an annual pass. Your school kids go for free. The fees are spent wisely on the conservation of the track.
We did our fair share of Queen Charlotte Track and we absolutely loved our adventure, apart from the fact that unfortunately, we mostly hiked in the very heavy rain. Although we both had good quality waterproofs, after few hours of continuous walk, we got drenched.
And when I say drenched, I mean it in the most literal way. Imagine stopping every half an hour to take your shoes off, turn them upside down to get rid of the water. We were not walking on sunshine, that's for sure.
We based ourselves in Picton, in a very beautiful cottage about 10 min walk from the port. We pre-booked tickets with one of the ferry companies which got us to Ship Cove. The trail starts right where the ferry drops you off.
Most ferries leave first thing in the morning and the transfer lasts for about an hour from Picton to Ship Cove. I'm sure when the weather is nice the journey is very pleasant. The landscape looks amazing so all the more reasons to marvel around. However, when there is a massive sea storm and crazy torrential rain like we experienced, the ride becomes super bumpy. If you are sick or afraid of roller coasters, then this is not the adventure for you. Otherwise, it's a lot of fun. G took a video of me laughing continuously, I honestly loved it.
From Ship Cove, there is an entrance into the ancient forest, that's the beginning of the Queen Charlotte Track.
It's marvellous really because after few steps in, you look back and all you can see is raw nature. It is quiet (just the sound of heavy rain in our case), seclusion, beautiful green ferns around you and fantastic native bushes. You feel real, exhilarated.
Day one of the track is from Ship Cove to Endeavour Inlet and it's 15 km long.
The first part of the track is quite hilly, but worry not, as your efforts will be soon rewarded with some amazing views of the Queen Charlotte Sounds. If you are fortunate enough to catch this view on a rainy day, be careful with your camera, as I almost killed mine due to water damage.
You can rest at the Endeavour Inlet as there are plenty of motel and hostel accommodation available.
Day two is from where you left off, Endeavour Inlet to Camp Bay. A 12 km walk alongside the beautiful shoreline. There are an amazing amount of secluded little spots where you can stop to have lunch, take photos and simply breathe in New Zealand's beautiful nature. At Camp Bay, there is a DOC campsite. Places are limited and allocated on a first come, first served basis. When you arrive, pay the relevant fee (6 NZD per adult or 3 NZD per child) and complete the self-registration form at the campsite.
In the morning, pack up your tent and start day three. Walk from Camp Bay to Torea Saddle. This is a beautiful but arduous 24 km long section of the track. Once you get to the top of the ridges you will have some amazing opportunities for panoramic photos of the Queen Charlotte Sounds. You have several campsites along the way: the Bay of Many Coves (6NZD per adult or 3NZD per child), the Black Rock (6NZD per adult or 3NZD per child) and the Cowshed Bay (10NZD per adult or 5NZD per child).
Day four is only a 7.5 km walk from Torea Saddle to Mistletoe Bay. You will enjoy a four-hour walk around gorse and manuka trees. It's a very chilled and reinvigorating walk. This is a wonderful part of the Queen Charlotte Track during late spring. Really, really beautiful.
For the night, you have several options between cabins and campsite. You can also enjoy private accommodation at Te Mahia Bay.
Day five is the last day of the Queen Charlotte Track and it comprises of a 12.5 km walk from Mistletoe Bay to Anakiwa. There are many views through beech trees and plenty of spots to stop an enjoy a tranquil morning. Make sure to check the ferry schedule to properly time your arrival at Anakiwa where you will catch your boat back to Picton.
It's very lovely to have five days to really make the most of the beautiful Queen Charlotte Track. The reality is that many tourists spend about two weeks on average in New Zealand, so it's understandable why you wouldn't want to give up five full days just for one track when there is so much adventure waiting.
You can catch a ferry from Picton, get off at Ship Cove and be picked up at the Endeavour Inlet. Alternatively, you can start from Furneaux Lodge and make your way to Punga Cove. These can all be done in one day. There are plenty of ferries which allow you to prebook your walk so they know where to drop you off and where to pick you up from. It's an excellent option for those who are time constraint, yet they still want to enjoy the natural beauties of Queen Charlotte's Track.
Please check the weather in advance and plan accordingly, but note that weather in New Zealand can be unpredictable. Bring comfortable clothes (so you don't get cold), waterproofs and ideally a waterproof bag. Especially for your camera... as I said before, mine almost died because of water damage. Be prepared for the crazy sun (bring sun lotion) as well as torrential rain. If you get drenched, like we did, don't despair. Just ease into it and enjoy your walk. Laugh about it, be happy that you are one with your surroundings.
Allow yourself time to take pictures, take it easy and really check out nature around you. It's not every day you get to walk amongst native ancient fern forests.
Best of all, have the adventure of your life, stretch and yoga, run and walk. Be free and have fun.