The Queen Charlotte Track is a 73km walking and mountain bike track in the Marlborough Sounds, at the top of the South Island of New Zealand.

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The track

New Zealand’s longest dual-purpose track, the 73km Queen Charlotte Track passes through stunning coastal and ridgetop landscapes from Ship Cove/Meretoto in the north to Anakiwa in the south. Along the way, it takes in tranquil Endeavour Inlet and follows the ridgetops straddling Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui and Kenepuru Sounds, with stunning views across both.

Although the track can be started and finished at either end, or at several points along the way, most people choose to walk or bike from north to south.

Queen Charlotte Track land access fee

A Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative ticket is required for the section of track between Kenepuru Saddle and Anakiwa.

This provides access to the sections of track that pass through private land and contributes to track maintenance, enhancement and fees.

Ticket fees:

  • $12 for a Single Day Pass
  • $25 for a Multi-day Pass (to be used over 5 consecutive days)
  • $35 for a Seasonal Pass 

School children are free

History

The Queen Charlotte Track starts in one of New Zealand’s most significant historic places, Ship Cove/Meretoto, the site of some of the first interactions between local Māori and the European crew of Captain James Cook’s ships.

Tangata whenua

Tangata whenua or people of the land in this area of the Marlborough Sounds include Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne o Wairau and Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō iwi. These are the three tribes in Te Tau Ihu (northern South Island) who trace their descent from the Kurahaupō canoe.

As long ago as 1,000 years, Marlborough iwi Rangitāne occupied Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui, and they shared some interest here with Ngāti Kuia, which was predominantly based in Pelorus Sound/Te Hoiere.

During the first half of the 19th century, five other iwi - Ngāti Toa, Ngāti Koata, Ngāti Rarua, Ngāti Tama and Te Atiawa - invaded and occupied areas of the northern South Island under Te Rauparaha, a Māori rangatira and warrior of the Ngāti Toa tribe.

Te Rauparaha’s allies raided and slaughtered Māori settlements in the Marlborough Sounds during the Musket Wars from the 1810s to 1830s. His violent legacy was felt for generations since.

Captain James Cook

Captain James Cook first arrived in Ship Cove/Meretoto in January 1770 on his South Pacific voyage and found secure anchorage, plentiful food, water and supplies to fix his ships and local Māori willing to trade goods.

The meeting between the two cultures was significant, marking the first sustained contact between Maori and Europeans.

He would visit five times during his subsequent voyages, the last time in 1770. During each visit, he and his crew recorded many observations of Māori culture and daily life during that time.

Cook’s anchorage at Ship Cove/Meretoto is now the start of the Queen Charlotte Track. A monument and interpretive signs inform visitors of what took place there.

History of the track

A section of what would one day become part of the 73km Queen Charlotte Track began as a series of unconnected bridle paths built by European pioneers settling in the area. While most were used for moving goods and animals, the tracks north of Kenepuru were also used for keeping an eye on the coast during WW2. A number of WW2 concrete gun emplacements remain dotted around the Sounds today.

The first part of the bridle track ran between Resolution Bay and Meretoto/ Ship Cove, and the second led to Kenepuru Saddle. The latter section was opened as a walking track in 1967, but the two ends did not meet to join on the Kenepuru Ridge.

The Queen Charlotte Walkway has been in development as a public walkway since the early 1980s, when it was initiated by the Lands and Survey Department in conjuction with landowners, the Department of Conservation and Marlborough’s tourist board. After initial work by local landowners to create a walkable track from 1981–1983, a rough walking track was opened for the public to use in early 1983.

By 1985, Government funding had ceased and maintenance of sections of track was left to local landowners, but when the Department of Conservation was formed in 1987, it became responsible for the track's maintenance. In November 1991, the Queen Charlotte Track as we now know it was connected and named the Queen Charlotte Walkway.

Several sections of the track still pass through private farmland today, thanks to the goodwill of the owners. In 2010, the Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative was formally established and a fee implemented for track users to cross private land between Punga Cove and Anakiwa.

Flora and fauna

The Queen Charlotte Track passes through a huge variety of native forests and lush coastal bush, and is home to many native birds.

From tall beech and podocarp forests to lush lowland bush with punga groves and wetlands, the landscapes change constantly along the track.

Some areas of native forest remains untouched, a rarity in developed areas of New Zealand, while in other places, land that was once cultivated now has regenerating forests of kānuka, mānuka and broadleaf species.

Local conservation groups such as the Marlborough Sounds Restoration Trust and Endeavour Inlet Conservation Trust have worked hard to restore, protect and enhance the native flora and fauna in areas which the track passes through. Their hard work can be heard through the increasingly varied calls of thriving birdlife.

These include the korimako/bellbird, tui, kererū/wood pigeon, ruru/morepork in the forest canopy, and the cheeky flightless weka which are commonly seen on the track.

Seabirds that may be spotted from the shore include the sooty shearwaters, takahikare-moana/white-faced storm petrel, kororā/little blue penguins, several species of shag and Australasian gannets.

Getting to the track

The Queen Charlotte Track is easily accessible by Cougar Line's scheduled track transfer service from Picton, and some sections are also accessible by road.

The track’s northern end, from Ship Cove/Meretoto to Punga Cove can only be accessed by boat from Picton.

Between Punga Cove and Mistletoe Bay, the track can be reached by boat or a number of points along Kenepuru Road. From Mistletoe Bay to Anakiwa, there is no road access until Anakiwa itself.

Cougar Line water taxis depart Picton several times daily and visit a number of entry points along the Queen Charlotte Track, including Furneaux Lodge and Punga Cove.

The Queen Charlotte Track is visited several times daily by water taxis at several points along its length. This means you can walk as much or a little of the track as you like, from a few hours to several days, making this the perfect outdoor experience for all ages and abilities.

Find out more about water transport to and from the Queen Charlotte Track.

Transferring your luggage

If you don't wish to carry your bags along the track, our Round Trip Track Pass includes transfers for your luggage each day while you're walking or biking. The pass also includes water transfer from Picton to your start point, and pick up at the end to transfer back to Picton.

See the map below for luggage transfer points and book here.

Queen Charlotte Track gradient map

Queen Charlotte Track map