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Queen Charlotte Track Explained: A number of our guests visiting the Marlborough Sounds will spend a day or two on the Queen Charlotte Track. Knowing where to spend your day can be challenging with the myriad of options presenting them selves, particularly when you don’t know the area at all! Although some of us in the Luxury Adventures Team have walked, kayaked and biked the track, we’ve enlisted the help of local experts and owners of Sea Kayak Adventures, Aaron Price and Natalie Sutton to demystify the options and spread some light on how to spend your time on the Queen Charlotte Track.
Queen Charlotte track
Location: Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand.
Nearest airport: Blenheim, which is just over a 1-hour flight from Auckland and then a 30 min vehicle transfer or drive to Picton, your main point of departure for the track.
Length: 70km’s or approx 45 miles in its entirety.
Options: Walking, mountain biking and kayaking. Either day trips or around a 3 – 5 day adventure to complete the entire track utilizing on track accommodation.
Accommodation: Many on track options or days trips. Around Blenheim or the Sounds if you’re not staying on the track.
Access: Anakiwa, Mistletoe Saddle, Torea Saddle and Kenepuru Saddle are all accessible by road. Anakiwa, Mistletoe Bay, Torea Bay, Camp Bay, Endeavour Inlet, Resolution Bay and Ship Cove can be accessed by water taxi or ferry.
Our guests usually have around 2 – 4 days should they visit the Marlborough Sounds region, why spend time on the Queen Charlotte track? Stunning native bush, wildlife and history, all in wrapped up in a package of beautiful scenery – the Queen Charlotte Track is utterly unique. We have some of the best walking and biking that New Zealand has to offer. With a seamless network of cruises and pack transfers, resorts and lodges the area is amazing for all fitness levels and abilities. The region is famous for great food and wine, so whether you’re here for one day or five, the Queen Charlotte Track is brilliant every day.
What would you recommend as your “go to” section of the track for a day walk? For a 1 day walk with a fairly easy gradient, I would recommend the Anakiwa to Mistletoe Bay walk. Linking in with a water taxi for your journey home means its a great one way walk in some of the most mature native bush we have to offer. But if you are a fairly fit person then the ‘Jewel in the Crown’ would be the Torea Bay to Camp Bay section. It is a challenging 24 km walk along the ridge-line with spectacular views over the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. Water taxis are needed but are very regular and easy to organise.
Describe the bike/kayak/walk combo and how they work? If you want to experience the Queen Charlotte Track from 3 different aspects then this is the trip to do. The 3 days starts with a water taxi out to Ship Cove and then you walk from Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge. Here you will transfer across to Punga Cove for your nights’ accommodation. Day 2 is a mountain bike ride along the Queen Charlotte Track to Portage Bay. For those of you not keen on mountain biking there is also a quiet, scenic road ride available from Punga Cove to Portage Bay. Day 3 is the day to get out on the water in the kayak, exploring all the beaches and bays along the way, to Anakiwa. Your bags will be transferred for you each day meaning you will only have to carry water, lunch, a spare layer and of course a camera for all those spectacular photos you will take. For anyone with a shorter amount of time here in the Marlborough Sounds, then we also have 1 day and 2 day combo’s. You can choose what activities you would like to do and we will organise the rest.
When would you suggest is the best time of year to walk, bike or kayak the track? If you want super hot and sunny weather, then January or February are the times for you. The only downside is that these also tend to be the busiest times of the year for the region. March and April tends to be a bit quieter and the weather is a bit more settled while staying more than warm enough to enjoy the outdoors. This is our favourite time of the year.
What equipment and clothing do you recommend on a day hike or bike ride? Although the Queen Charlotte Track is classed as an easy walk, we would still recommend that you wear walking shoes or boots as there are lots of tree roots and rocks on the track. The last thing you want to do on your Queen Charlotte Track adventure is twist an ankle or stub your toe on your pedals. As the weather here in NZ is always changeable we always recommend taking a water proof jacket and extra thermal layer. Also a decent water bottle and of course your camera. We will provide all the gear for specific activities like biking and kayaking so you don’t have to worry about much at all.
Are there several places for food and water along the track or is it best to bring your own? Each night there are plenty of options or lodges and accommodation. Where ever you stay will have full restaurant facilities so all meals will be taken care of. During the day you will have to carry a packed lunch but these can be purchased from your accommodation or organised by us. Water is a little more challenging as our summers can be very dry. We suggest people to carry enough water for the day and if there is a chance to fill up along the way it is a bonus.
Can you suggest two options each for walking and biking the track for one day only. A moderately fit option and something a little harder for those wanting to challenge themselves and see more?
Biking Option 1 – Moderately fit: Starting at our base in Anakiwa a really nice day ride is what we commonly call “The Loop” It is 50% road and 50% on the track which gives you a really nice change of scenery. Start by riding the road along the quiet Keneperu Road all the way to Te Mahia saddle where you will join the track and ride back to our base completing the loop.
Biking Option 2 – A little challenging: After picking up a bike at our base have a short ride to Anakiwa where a water taxi will meet you and take you to Torea Saddle. From here you will join the track. Going towards Endeavour Inlet for a short up to Blackrock Lookout. This is a great view. From here turn around and head back to Torea saddle but instead of stopping keep going along the track all the way back to Anakiwa. This is a great ride where you will get to see a big chunk of the track in just one day.
Walking Option 1 – Moderately fit easy walk: Starting in Anakiwa walk through to Mistletoe Bay. This is a 12 km journey that takes most people between 3.5 and 4 hours. If you want to go a bit further you can but then still come back and finish at Mistletoe where a water taxi will meet you and bring you home back to Anakiwa.
Walking Option 2 – More challenging: Starting in Picton you will join a short water taxi ride to Torea Saddle. From here you can walk the “Jewel in the Crown”. This is a walk along the ridge line with views to both sides all the way to Punga Cove where a nice cool drink will be waiting for you while you wait for your last water taxi. The famous Mail Boat will pick you up and take you back to Picton finishing your big and amazing day.
Where are the main pick up and drop off points along the track? The main pick up and drop off points are Ship Cove, Endeavour Inlet (Furneaux Lodge and Punga Cove), Torea Bay, Mistletoe Bay and Anakiwa. Depending on the trip you are doing is what ones you will use. Some of them are boat access only while others have road access. We will generally use the water taxi’s as they are faster and much more convenient to move around the sounds. The main start points are either Anakiwa or Picton. (Starting in Picton means that you have to get a water taxi)
Can you explain the kayaking logistics, rental, pick up/drop off points etc? With kayaking there are two options for you to choose from – A guided trip or a freedom rental. They both have pros and cons as mentioned below. Start times and the routes will be fairly similar for both guided and freedom trips. If you are looking at doing just a half day or a full day, we run our trips from Anakiwa or our satellite base in Portage Bay (Summer months only for Portage) The easiest thing is to do a round trip back to the place you started. The nice thing about the Sounds is that you can generally make it a round trip so even though you will come back to the same spot you won’t have to paddle along the same cost line at all. If you wish to paddle somewhere else or do a 1 way journey we are happy to organise anything at all. We can arrange water taxi drop offs or pick ups from anywhere in the Sounds. For people first looking at a map of the area, it can be hard to know where to start with planning a trip, as the Marlborough Sounds has 20% of NZ’s coastline to play with!
What equipment and clothing do you recommend bringing for a day kayak? This is our standard list for a day trip. If you are on a multi day kayaking trip, we would send you an extended list.
Can you do self-guided kayaking or do you recommended a guided option? This is a regularly asked question. It really comes down to want you want out of your day or days of kayaking. If you are after the freedom to do as you please and cruise at your own pace then the ‘Freedom Rental’ is the way to go. You get a full safety briefing before heading off which covers the map so you know where to go. However, if you would like to learn about the locals, flora and fauna and even a bit of the areas history, having someone there to show you is the way for you. If your lucky a guide will also show you a few of our special spots along the way that you might miss without them. The other massive positive about having a guide is they provide an extra level of safety. All our guides are fully qualified and trained to a high standard so that you can sit back and relax… well you might need to paddle a bit as well!
When I rode the track I brought my own mountain bike. If you wanted to rent a bike is this fairly seamless to organize and what types of bikes do you offer? We have a fleet of 20 bikes available for hiring so it is easy to get a size that is right for you. We primarily stock the Specialised Rockhopper 29er hard tail and Pitch 27.5 hard tail for the Queen Charlotte Track. These bikes are ideal for the track. New for the 2016/17 season, we will have some ‘Premium’ bikes available. They will be a Specialised Full Suspension bike. Included with all rentals are – a helmet, repair kit, high viz vest (if on the road) and 24/7 contact with base. We do our best to make it as easy for you as possible. We go through a safety briefing which includes some useful info about the track and bikes. When your riding you can always go at your own pace. There are no rules on how far you have to go or how fast you have to get there.
What are the pitfalls of walking or biking the Queen Charlotte Track track, any thing we should know about? Some sections of the track are quite difficult to ride depending on your ability. We are more than happy to advise you the best route for you. But when you get here, there might be the odd small section you will want to walk. This is no worries at all and we always make sure you have more than enough time so there is no rush. During the summer it can be very hot and dry in Marlborough. New Zealand’s sun can be quite brutal at times so make sure you have plenty of water and sunscreen. If you are prepared for it, you will have no issues. During peak season it does get busy so the sooner you book the better. We will always do everything we can to accommodate everyone but leaving it to the last-minute may leave you disappointed.
Tell us some more about your self and Sea Kayak Adventures. We are a small company that prides itself on customer service. Not only do we love what we do and where we are but we love showing everyone else why. Everyone in the company wakes up and wants to go to work. It’s important to us that every day is special for everyone involved. For Nat and I, this is the only industry we can see ourselves in. We have both traveled all over the world in this industry before returning to NZ to make a life here in the Sounds. We hope that our passion is evident through our work.
Aaron & Nat are owners operators of Sea Kayak Adventures.
Kay Campbell is a luxury travel consultant for Luxury Adventures. Talk to us about planning your next visit to New Zealand, Australia or the South Pacific Islands.