The Queen Charlotte Track is a 3-5 day tramp which traverses the length of the northern peninsula to the sound. This section undulates over the ridge tops, eventually dropping to Camp Bay. The track is a good way to get a full appreciation of the Marlborough Sounds. The forest can be as luxuriant as the tropics with great variety according to the microclimates. Some spectacular view points.
One hazard to watch for is wasps, especially if you react to stings. They feed on the honey-like dew excreted from the sooty mould on many of the beech trees. In the height of summer this can be a nuisance, so be aware.
Various tour operators run services around the track.
Picton I-site can help. https://marlboroughnz.com/about/isite
The Queen Charlotte Track was developed in 1979 with the cooperation of many local organisations. Much of the track crosses private land (11 places) with the remainder in Scenic Reserves is administered by DoC. It is only through the goodwill and generosity of these landowners that access it possible. In 2004 an Environment Protection Fund was established to ensure the sustainability of the track. A $2 fee applies to every walker and is usually paid at the point of departure. This fee is administered by the Queen Charlotte Track Committee who represent all the people who are involved in the operation of the track.
Seven DoC campsites and numerous private accommodation establishments are dotted along the track, so if members of your party don’t want to walk, but still want to meet you at the end of each stage, they can. Pop into the Picton i-site by the ferry terminal (03) 520 3113 www.destinationmarlborough.com, email@example.com and they can help you organise the trip.
The Queen Charlotte Track is a shared track with mountain bikers, although from the section from Ship Cove to Keneperu Saddle is closed to mountain bikers from December 1st to 28th February. You should expect to see mountain bikers and respect their right to be there. Don’t dawdle in the centre of the track or walk side-by-side across the entire width. Basically if you use commonsense then no close shaves or mishaps should occur.
On the 1 hour boat ride from Picton to Camp Bay you are treated to views of where you will be walking, as you glide past the innumerable bays. You can tick them off as you pass – Lochmara Bay, Dobule Cove, Torea Bay, Kumutoto Bay, Blackwood Bay, Ruakaka Bay, and Bay of Many Coves.
Offshore island such as Long Island and Blumine Island have been eradicated of predators (rats, mice and stoats). They now form sanctuaries for kiwi, who use the islands as Kindys until they grow big enough to fend for themselves in the wilds of New Zealand.
Camp Bay to Bay of Many Coves Shelter
2 ¾ hours 8.5 km
It’s a steep slog for the first 15 minutes climbing out of Camp Bay, until the track merges with metalled Titirangi Road. 15 minutes on Queen Charlotte Track is signposted at Keneperu Saddle. Views to Queen Charlotte Sound and Mount Stokes behind are soon exchanged for Keneperu Sound, as the track switches sides of the ridge. These change incrementally as the track keeps its height and traverses the old bridle track. Rogue pines mix with the hebes, putaputaweta and Blechnum ferns, with occasional breaks spying valley floor farmland and the head of the sound.
After 1 hour a sign asks for a donation to use the facilities at Eatwells Lookout (picnic table and toilet). This should be a smoko stop, as the views out are as good as they get. The North Island even sneaks in an appearance behind Arapawa Island. Private endeavours probably felled the trees to enable this lookout, so a gift of loose change would be good karma.
It’s 1 ¼ hours to the Bay of Many Coves Shelter. The track initially ascends then looks over the Keneperu Sound side. These are the best views , as they look straight down the axis of the sound to the Richmond Range. Keneperu Sound and Queen Charlotte Sound then exchange views as the track follows the ridge, undulating past Bay of Many Coves Saddle, 30 minutes before the toilets, campground and shelter. Drinking water is also available.
The best view of Bay of Many Coves are reserved from before the campground. The naming becomes obvious.
Bay of Many Coves Shelter to Black Rock Shelter
2 ¾ hours 9 km
The last views for a while on the Queen Charlotte side capture Kapiti Island to the west. The following 1 hour is mostly on the Keneperu side with mussel farms, pastoral land and a sprinkling of houses dotted throughout regenerating forest. It’s uppy-and-donwy for most of the way with few views out. The vegetation is quite scrappy and weedy.
Back on the Queen Charlotte side there’s a look up the Tory Channel with the distinctive hum of the Cook Strait ferries as they make the turn. 1 ½ hours from the Bay of Many Coves campground there’s a fine section of mixed beech and podocarp forest with tall rimu and hard beech having survived the many fires and attempts at land clearance. It’s short-lived, but around the next spur is another change in perspective, this time towards Picton. The Inland Kaikouras just peek over the skyline behind with Tapuae-O-Uenuku visible, as she is from so many places as far away as the Tararuas. This track section is cut into the hillside with no vegetation obstructing the views out.
The track then passes another fine pocket of beech and podocarp forest with rewarewa, kohekohe, kawakawa and tawa conspicuous in the understorey. Keneperu and Queen Charlotte Sounds exchange views as the track passes from one side of the ridge to the other. The finest view point is over Kumutoto Bay past Picton to the Inland Kaikouras again, just before Black Rock Campground (toilets, shelter and water).
Black Rock Campground to Torea Saddle
2 ¼ hours 7km
Look for the large rimu to the left of the track around 15 minutes after the campground. Curtains of supplejack entwine the forest which continually alternates between regenerating and pockets of original cover. After 30 minutes the track begins its descent, mostly gently. In places that track is cut into the hillside and some serious excavations have been undertaken. There’s some large bluffs here and you should watch for rockfalls. More airy beech forest sections continue to remain on the ridgeline, but end as you loose altitude. The descent to the saddle takes round 1 hour to the war memorial by the roadside. Portage is 10 minutes down the road to the right and the boat pick up jetty is 10 minutes to the left.
Geologically the Marlborough Sounds are a continuation of the Richmond Range, but this north-eastern end is actually subsiding into the sea. The innumerable indentations are drowned river valleys, which would resemble their overland counterparts were it not for their submergence. The complex lines are confusing to both the casual map observer and passing visitor. Only those with many years experience in boats can get to know the nooks and crannies intimately.
The genesis of most Marlborough Sounds rocks took place 280 million years ago during Permian times, when large quantities of sediment were transported to the sea at the edge of Gondwanaland. The beds of silt, mud and sand accumulated to form the greywackes composed of sand, argillite made up of silt and the metamorphosed schists, a product of heating and folding deep within the earth. Into this matrix several undersea volcanoes vented magma, which intruded into the overlying rocks.
This volcanic belt was responsible for the formation of an unusual rock sequence known as the Dun Mountain Ophiolite Belt. These ultramafic rocks exhibit a concentration of magnesium and iron, rendering poor soils and a distinct flora. The curious feature of this ‘mineral belt’ is it’s ‘twin’ in the Red Hills of Otago, 480 km to the south. How such distinct rocks could occur in such geographical isolation confounded geologists until the development of the plate tectonics and continental drift theories. The explanation now holds the Alpine Fault responsible for bisecting the once-homogenous outcrop and slowly nudging the two pieces apart over the last 25 million years.
Between 140 and 110 million years ago those original rocks, metamorphic schists and sedimentary rocks, underwent a severe torturing, being buckled, folded and uplifted in a phase of mountain building known as the Rangitata Orogeny. Subsequent erosion reduced the peaks to stumps and the low-lying peneplain was overlain with other rock sequences.
During the last 5 million years the Kaikoura Orogeny has renewed the thrust skyward however the uplift has been checked by the general north-east tilt of the land to the west of the Alpine Fault, which runs along the Wairau Valley and through Cook Strait. A transverse fault associated with this movement is currently uplifting the Wellington side, conversely down-thrusting the Marlborough Sounds side.
During periods of global glaciation over the last 2 million years, vast quantities of water became locked up in the ice sheets. At the height of the last ice age around 18,000 years ago, sea levels were 120 metres lower than today. Farwell Spit was joined to Taranaki and Cook Strait didn’t exist. During relatively warm periods (inter-glacials), this pent up water is released back into fluid form and causes sea levels to rise. Those north-easternmost valleys of the Richmond Range became inundated, causing the drowned river valley system to evolve.
The land that has kept it’s head above water is still clothed in a jungle-like forest. The variety of vegetation types from luxuriant mosses, entwining lattices of liana, dense understoreys and towering podocarp canopies are reminiscent of more tropical forest types. In the heat of a Marlborough summer, the shade is pleasant and necessary.
Coastal forests are dominated by the podocarps such as totara, rimu, kahikatea, matai and miro. These forest giants pierce the canopy, which is generally formed by large leaved species like kohekohe, pukatea and karaka. Tawa, mahoe, titoki, putaputaweta and kamahi are also common. The sub canopy tends to be full of seedlings and pioneer species such as fuchsia, wineberry and kawakawa. Shady gullies are often lines with a plethora of tree ferns including the ‘Big Mamas’, mamaku. The tree fern’s penchant for moist gullies is especially evident from outside the forest when breaks in the vegetation allow examination of the forest composition. This verdant assemblage is furthermore woven with liana such as supplejack, kiekie and rata. Mosses, liverworts and lichens colonise bare surfaces to complete the picture of green.
On the ridges and hilltops, pockets of beech forest still survive. Spared the burning and felling suffered by their more accessible counterparts, these original forest remnants impart an altogether different feel. Hard beech, with it’s toothed leaves, dominates below 500 metres, where red beech takes over until the treeline and the domain of silver beech. The Spartan understoreys are mainly composed of five-finger, kamahi and small-leaved coprosmas.
To Maori, Queen Charlotte Sound was known as Totaranui on account of the large totara found here, useful for manufacturing waka. This was obviously a place where canoe building was prominent, being a natural point where land based travel gave way to sea faring. The sound was used initially by North Island Maori of Kurahaupo descent but large numbers of Rangitane later lived at Anakiwa. This was also the burial ground of Chief Kiwa.
Captain Cook first arrived at Queen Charlotte Sound on 15th January 1770 aboard Endeavour. This was the first of five visits which spanned 100 days between 1770 and 1777. The five sojourns were from 15th January to 6th February 1770 in Endeavour. In Resolution from 18th May to 7th June 1773, 3rd to 25th November 1773, 18th October to 10th November 1774 and 12th to 25th February 1777.
Aboard Endeavour on his first voyage, Ship Cover provided the timber, water, grasses and fish needed to repair man and vessel. Endeavour was careened, scrubbed and caulked. A forge was set up to repair the tiller braces. Meanwhile around 100 ‘Natives’ paddled into the bay to inspect the goings on. Cook’s Tahitian interpreter Tupaia was able to facilitate trading of fish.
Another exploratory row yielded one of the more notable discoveries of the voyage. After climbing a high hill just below Kaitapeha on Arapawa Island Cook was able to look both north and south and ascertain that Cook Strait was indeed a strait. This question had vexed explorers since Abel Tasman’s incomplete records of 125 years earlier. Banks insisted it be named after its discoverer, appropriately leaving Cook’s name as an indelible label on one of New Zealand’s most prominent features.
In 1773 aboard Resolution, Cook liberated pigs, goats and sheep. A ram and ewe had been brought all the way from the Cape of Good Hope and promptly died after eating poisonous leaves, probably of tutu. He also planted a vege patch with potatoes, corn, beans, kidney beans and peas, in case of his return. Maori apparently took great interest in the crops and Cook freely showed them the fineries of European gardening. The boulders at the far end of the beach were removed by the crew so the new copper fittings would not be scratched when the vessel was careened.
Cook also left a legacy of names. Endeavour Inlet was named West Bay by Cook then later renamed. Shag Bay is now Resolution Bay. Names with Furneaux are named after Captain Tobias Furneaux, master of Adventure, Cook’s consort ship.
Cook’s enthusiasm for his new anchorage was disseminated throughout the European world and other explorers followed in his wake. The Russian Admiralty organised an expedition headed by Thaddeus von Bellingshausen in 1820, which did much to increase knowledge of Maori culture.
Seven years later a French mission captained by Jules Sebastian Cesar Dumont d’Urville set out to fill in the gaps of Cook’s charts. On January 23rd 1827 the vessel L’Astrolabe sailed through a channel between the mainland and D’Urville Island. Although the passage involved a skirmishes with reefs, battles with currents and broken anchors, the corvette made the crossing from Croisilles to Admiraly Bay through what is now known as French Pass.
Various improvements in the charts were finalised between 1848 and 1855 during Captain John Lort Stoke’s systematic charting of the entire New Zealand coastline on HMS Acheron.
Whaling stations were established from the 1820s and shady characters from Australia like ‘Scotch Jack’ and Arthur Elmslie set up shore based stations in the Tory Channel. Although the industry underwent a lull from the 1850 an Italian immigrant family, the Peranos, became synonymous with whaling from 1911 to 1964.
Other spurs for settlement included the organised boats by the New Zealand Company. The Tory arrived at Ship Cove in 1839 with others the following year. This was the start of the land clearance, as eager settlers made the first attempts at farming the hills. Much of the land proved too steep and the isolation led to many farms being unsustainable. The land was left to revert back to native forest, a regeneration process still continuing today.
As European contact increased settlers took up runs on the peninsula. From the 1880s bridle paths were established to connect the various landholdings and decreased the reliance on boat transport. All were constructed using picks, shovels and barrows.
South Island ▷ Marlborough ▷ Picton / Marlborough Sounds
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