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The Queen Charlotte Track is a 71km walk that winds its way between the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds in New Zealand’s Marlborough region. While 71km sounds quite daunting — especially for someone as out of shape as I was when I tackled the Queen Charlotte — this track is actually one of the more luxurious tracks in New Zealand. I found it to be a perfect introduction to the fine Kiwi pastime of tramping.
Unlike most of the other tracks in New Zealand, you don’t have to carry a multi-day pack on the Queen Charlotte Track. Instead, due to the track’s proximity to water, a boat comes to pick up your pack every morning and delivers it to your next stop by the evening. This isn’t a free service, but it is included in a round-trip ticket to and from the track. Even if it wasn’t included, I would have paid extra because it made the walk much more comfortable.
You may have picked up on the fact that I said ‘your accommodation’ instead of ‘your hut.’ That’s because the Queen Charlotte Track has hostels and resorts instead of the standard DOC huts. I alternated between these and the DOC campsites and was happy with the nights I spent in both (although it was nice to have a shower when staying in the hostels)!
No, you don’t. Each day on the track can be done as a day walk, and which part of the track you do depends on how long you want to walk for and on your fitness level. For all day walks, your prearranged boat will come pick you up at your chosen finishing point. The most commonly walked section is the first section of the track from Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge. Doing this part of the walk means you can stop at historic Ship Cove, where Captain Cook spent over 150 days at anchor on five different voyages, and where there are still cannons and monuments in his honour.
The Queen Charlotte Track is fairly simple technically. There are some reasonable hills — especially coming out of Ship Cove — but you always climb at a gradual grade rather than going up very steep inclines. The track is rather wide so there’s plenty of space to walk next to one another or pass other people comfortably. This is a very good thing, as trampers share the trail with mountain bikers outside of the peak season. The track was hard packed but I would still recommend sturdy boots as I imagine it could get slippery in the rain. There are no tidal crossings (as you’ll find on the Abel Tasman Track) or three-wire bridges; all water crossings were on well-built bridges.
Most importantly, the track is spectacular. Around every corner there is a new stunning vista of aquamarine and deep blue sounds surrounded by lush green hills. It’s hard to say whether this is the most spectacular place I went in New Zealand because everywhere I went was beautiful and so completely different from the places I’d been before, but I will say that it was worth every step of the 71km that I walked.
The Marlborough Sounds have a more temperate climate than much of the South Island so the Queen Charlotte Track is open year-round. I tramped in the height of summer and the temperature may have gotten up to around 28C at the maximum. It was a very pleasant temperature to hike in! The average winter temperatures are around 10-20C though, so I would recommend making sure that your chosen accommodation will be open for the season or taking a thicker sleeping bag and a four-season tent.
As I mentioned above, you will be sharing the track with mountain bikers outside of peak season. Peak season is from December 1 to February 28, and during this time, bikers are only allowed to go from Camp Bay (just past where most trampers spend their first night) to Anakiwa. It’s a very good track to bike on and it doesn’t require you to be an advanced rider, but I was much happier tramping it because it meant I got more time to enjoy the views!
Unless you are staying in a DOC-managed campsite, you do not need to pay the DOC directly. However, in 2010 the “Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative (Q.C.T.L.C.) Pass” was introduced, which requires all trampers and bikers using the land between Kenepuru Saddle (near Camp Bay) and Waima Way (near Mistletoe Bay) to pay a fee for the use of the private land in these areas. There are three different passes you can buy: a $25 pass valid for one year, a $12 pass valid for 4 consecutive days, or a $6 pass valid for one day. These passes can be purchased at various locations in Picton (including the i-Site and the Villa Backpackers) as well as at locations along the track.
This is just a primer to get you excited about the Queen Charlotte Track; I’ll be continuing tomorrow with plenty more about preparing for the track and what to do while you are tramping along this remarkable trail.
Here’s a few useful links for planning your hike or bike:
Have you tramped the Queen Charlotte Track (or any other track in NZ)? What did you think of it?