Marlborough Sounds view from Queen Charlotte Track. © Dmitry Naumov

The Queen Charlotte Track

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The Queen Charlotte differs from others in the network of New Zealand’s Great Walks in that the accommodation is in a different class to other bush-bashing experiences.

There are no huts, and you’re obliged to spend the three or four nights you’re on the walk camping. If you don’t have a tent, you’ll just have to make do with hotels, hostels and luxury lodges. Bummer.

The most popular direction in which to do the track is inbound – that is, from Ship Cove (reached by sightseeing launch or water taxi) out at the entrance to Queen Charlotte Sound back to Anakiwa. The total distance is 71 kilometres, but since most of the track is accessible by water taxi, you can do as much or as little of it as you wish.

The Queen Charlotte Track is very well graded. The walking is comparatively easy, although the section from Punga Cove to Portage is dry, which not only means there’s no one to sell you a beer, but you’ll also have to weigh yourself down with water.

The views of the Sounds – both the picturesque, bush-fringed bays and inlets of Queen Charlotte Sound itself and neighbouring Kenepuru Sound from the ridges – are magic. There’s plenty of historical interest along the way. Ship Cove, where the track begins, was one of Captain James Cook’s favourite anchorages: he visited no fewer than five times, and there is a monument to the great Yorkshireman in the reserve near the jetty. Resolution Bay and Endeavour Inlet, which are among the first stops on your way along the track, are named for his ships. Portage, at about the three-quarters mark, is so-named because it is the spot at which Māori travellers would bodily haul their waka up and over the ridge to save themselves days of paddling from Kenepuru Sound to Tōrea Bay in Queen Charlotte.

The best view to be had on the walk is from a vantage you reach on a short side trip from the main track after the steep climb from Portage. It gives a spectacular view of Queen Charlotte, Kenepuru and Mahau Sounds and – always gratifying, this – the long ridge you’ve traversed from Punga Cove.

It’s a solid four days’ walk, but you can do it in style. Few tracks, even in New Zealand, offer the opportunity to finish a day’s tramping with a sundowner, a soak in a spa bath and a dreamless sleep in crisp linen.

It’s roughing it, Jim, but not as we know it.

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