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Queen of the slipstream

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November 2019 Issue

Explore the majestic sounds, eat fine food and stay in luxury accommodation on the Queen Charlotte Track.

As part of the New Zealand Cycle Trail network, the 73km Queen Charlotte Track is at the very heart of the Marlborough Sounds. 

The trail climbs over beautiful bush-clad saddles, hugs numerous aqua blue bays and stunning inlets and sidles below the ridgeline dividing Kenepuru and Queen Charlotte Sound, delivering amazing views at every turn. 

It is a unique trail in many ways, offering a historic snapshot going back over 800 years to when Māori first lived in the sound and then when Abel Tasman arrived in 1642, followed by Cook’s many landings in the 1770s. 

Slowly but surely, a world-class multi-use track has been developed from a rough collection of old bridle trails, pack tracks and fire breaks. 

The track is best ridden from Ship Cove to Anakiwa over two or three days to really take in the scenery and enjoy the great accommodation and food along the way.

Meretoto to Camp Bay, 28km
The day begins with an amazing boat ride from Picton to Meretoto/Ship Cove invariably featuring dolphins, sea birds, spectacular coastline and a host of islands. 

Captain Cook’s Monument at Ship Cove marks the start of the track with a host of interpretive panels to peruse. From here, a steep climb to Ship Cove Saddle leads to Schoolhouse Bay (this section will soon be replaced with a much more gentle track). From the saddle, the views are stunning: to Motuara Island and the hazy end of the outer sounds and Wellington’s wild coast. 

A relaxing climb heads from Schoolhouse Bay to Tawa Saddle, which straddles the ridge above Resolution Bay and Endeavour Inlet. A long flowing single-track descent drops into Resolution Bay through coastal beech forest to sea level and Furneaux Lodge.

The track then wanders around the headland past classic seaside baches and boatsheds into Big Bay. The bay’s old mining town is long gone but the farm settlement remains with its menagerie and campsite. There is a long beautiful section of coastal trail to Camp Bay, but just before reaching it, the track splits with the right turn climbing to Kenepuru Saddle and the straight-ahead going to Camp Bay and the DOC campsite.

Further on is Punga Cove Resort, where great accommodation and food awaits.

Spectacular Sounds’ views from Eatwells Lookout. Photo: Dave Mitchell

Camp Bay to Torea Saddle, 24km
From Camp Bay, backtrack to the turn-off to Kenepuru Saddle and make the 180m climb. This is where the real ascent begins, as the track now heads for the ridge top, but the amazing panoramic views make up for the rollercoaster nature of the terrain. There is a worthwhile sidetrack to the spectacular Eatwells Lookout with its commanding 360-degree views. Rod Eatwell is considered to be the grandfather of the Kenepuru section of the trail, opening up and re-aligning much of an old bridle track with the help of his family and the other landowners whose properties the track now passes through.

There is a DOC camp and shelter on the ridge high above the Bay of Many Coves and another at Black Rock, but don’t count on either having tank water during the summer. After almost 900m of ascent, you eventually reach Torea Saddle. Portage accommodation and food is just 500m further on, as is a DOC campsite at Cowshed Bay. You may even consider going a bit further along the track to Lochmara Lodge on an excellent bench trail.

Torea Saddle to Anakiwa, 21km
From Torea Saddle, the track continues skyward to the 400m contour. A long and fast descent is then matched with another ascent onto the ridge above Lochmara Bay. A final short climb reveals another sidetrack that zigzags up to the 416m Te Mahia, with its picnic table and amazing views.

The superb switchback descent to Te Mahia Saddle is a fitting end to this section.

After exiting onto gravel, ride a short distance down Mistletoe Bay Road before heading onto the Anakiwa section of the trail. This excellent piece of single-track rolls gradually uphill through regenerating pockets of bush and open farmland to the forest edge above Puroa Point.

From there it wings its way mainly downhill beside Grove Arm into many bays and inlets, with short climbs and long descents all the way to the Outward Bound settlement of Anakiwa and the end of the trail.

You could grab a water taxi or road shuttle back to Picton or continue riding.

Anakiwa to Picton
For those who love the idea of closing the loop back to Picton, all of the Anakiwa to Picton section and much of the Havelock to Picton 28km ‘Link Pathway’ has now been built, allowing off-road travel around the many beautiful bays to Picton.

The final stages are due for completion in 2020 thanks to the Link Pathways Trust. There is plenty of accommodation and food along the way.

Pick n mix
The track offers a host of options allowing riders to do sections or the entire track. There is road access to Kenepuru Saddle, Torea Saddle, Te Mahia and Anakiwa and boat access to any of the bays, plus the option for gear to be transported to your overnight accommodation, allowing you to travel light.

Total Ascent
Moderate / Difficult
2-3 days. Ship Cove to Camp Bay, 4-6hr; To Torea Saddle, 4-5hr; To Anakiwa,4-5hr
By water taxi to Ship Cove or by vehicle/water taxi to Kenepuru
BQ28, BQ29, BP29

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