The Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds is arguably one of the greatest multi-day single track rides in New Zealand (if not the world). It can be done comfortably as a two-day ride by riding through to Camp Bay on the first day where you will find a DOC campground, a backpackers/lodge and a resort, or as a leisurely three-day ride which gives you much more time to explore the area. The total ride distance is 72 kilometers and it is suitable for most intermediate riders. There are plenty of accommodation options and even great cafes and restaurants en route, making this a really pleasurable trip.
Note: A Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative (Q.C.T.L.C.) Pass is required for access through some sections of private land between Kenepuru Saddle, Torea Saddle, Te Mahia Saddle and Anakiwa. The Pass fee contributes to track maintenance, particularly on the private landholdings. As of 2018, a single-day pass (for private land sections) is $10, a 5-day pass is $18 or an annual pass is $25. School children are exempt. The pass can be purchased from regional i-Sites and some local operators.
It is also possible to arrange with one of the many tour companies or the water taxis to move your gear between sections, allowing you to carry less and enjoy the ride more.
Meretoto/Ship Cove to Camp Bay (27 km)
The Queen Charlotte Track starts at Ship Cove which is accessed via a 50 minute (approximately) water taxi from Picton. This is the site where Captain Cook sailed the HMS Endeavour into on January 17th, 1770 and was to return many times over the next seven years while he explored New Zealand and the South Pacific. You cannot camp at Ship Cove but there are toilets there.
After extensive upgrades to this section of track, it is now possible to cycle this section all year round (previously restricted over summer).
The ride out of Ship Cove is the first and hardest of two long climbs for the day (both 230 metre ascents) and some people choose to miss this first section, instead starting the ride at Resolution Bay. We think this is cheating, and besides you will miss the stunning views from the Ship Cove Platform which on a clear day will be all the way from Kapiti Island to the Seaward Kaikoura mountains. The glorious single track cuts through native bush, in and out of coves and inlets through to Endeavour Inlet. There is a good range of accommodation and eating options at Endeavour Inlet, should you choose to start with a shorter day, including a camp ground at Miners Camp at the head of Endeavour Inlet.
The ride around the rest of Endeavour Inlet is flat and easy for the most part, with a further 12 km to take you around to Camp Bay. There is a camp site here, or a short track will take you around to the luxurious Punga Cove Resort, which also has a small bar and restaurant on the wharf.
Camp Bay to Torea Saddle (23 km)
Day two takes riders along the ridgeline between Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. It is a wide track, however there are lots of very short steep climbs, and it is also quite exposed. An easier option if needed is to take the Kenepuru Road at Kenepuru Saddle or Camp Bay, which keeps you closer to sea level.
After a climb out from Camp Bay riders will find themselves with several more short climbs ahead before reaching a campsite above Bay of Many Coves. Not much further along the highest point of the track is passed, but there are still plenty more climbs to come so don't celebrate just yet. The track is enjoyable but also quite steep in places, and some riders may need to walk some sections.
If ending the day here, leave the track at Torea Saddle and take the road down into Portage. There are lots of accommodation options in and around Portage including the Cowshed Bay Campsite.
Torea Saddle to Anakiwa (20 km)
The final day takes you to Anakiwa and back to Picton. From Portage it starts with one hell of a climb - 400m to be precise. Needless to say, there are some great views and enjoyable but challenging track down to Te Mahia saddle. The trail gets easier from here, becoming progressively wider and easier as you approach Anakiwa. It is possible to avoid the main climb by staying on the Kenepuru Road between Portage and Te Mahia.
There are accommodation options in Anakiwa, or you can take a pre-arranged boat or bus back to Picton. However, we recommend extending the trip on the Link Pathway, a 23 km ride to Picton (or Havelock) that is becoming increasingly off-road, and one day may well become an official part of the track.