Ever wanted to complete a multi day walk and don’t have all the trekking gear, or perhaps don’t want to rough it and camp along the way? The Queen Charlotte Track on the South Island of New Zealand is the perfect walk for you! With comfortable lodge accommodation, hot showers, cooked meals, packed lunches and luggage transport on offer, there is no reason not to tackle this 71km Track over 4 or 5 days (5 day walk includes a rest day on day 4). We won’t call it Glamping, because it’s even a bit better than that!
As part of getting ready for a group trip in early 2016, I decided to do the Track in late October and I had good friend and first time walker, Jen Gransden, join me. Jen only had a short training program and was unable to train on hilly terrain – she completed this track in one piece and acknowledges that it did have its challenging bits – especially as a first time walker. I had convinced her to join me after tempting her with lodge accommodation, food, wine and of course, my company!
Getting to the start point at Ship Cove from Picton was a pleasant 1 hour water taxi journey in the relatively calm waters of the Sounds. Even more special if you are lucky enough to sight dolphins like we did. It felt like a good omen to see them in the water before we started our walk and we both felt uplifted – their visit signalled the official start to our journey.
Our water taxi dropped us off at the end of the little jetty at Ship Cove. We spent nearly an hour looking around here as this site has information boards with history and cultural information (Maori and Anglo) as well as wooden carved seats, a shelter area and flushing toilet block. Surprisingly the toilets all the way along the Track had toilet paper and between lodges there are “long drops” which were fairly clean and well-maintained however we lingered here, wandering, reading, taking in the history and getting our backpacks sorted and ready before one final loo flush. We needed our rain cover on as it had started to drizzle. After packing and repacking our day packs, we finally set off.
The climb out of Ship Cove was a bit tough straight off the boat so my advice is, take it slow and allow those calves to warm up!! After an hour or so we reached a lookout before descending through the most amazing rainforest to Resolution Bay. The path was a bit slippery and muddy in sections but also it gradually descended in the second hour. We climbed back up to the Tawa Saddle and lookout where picnic tables and toilets were conveniently located, making the perfect spot for our lunch. We were on alert for the weka birds that popped out to say hi. They are a little pesky and attempt to pinch things left unattended, edible or not! Funny how you think you are alone on the track and in the middle of nowhere and suddenly these birds appear – they know where the picnic spots are.
We survived the 14km walk for Day 1 with another uphill section in the 3rd hour before a welcome descent through The Pines (privately owned holiday homes) before coming to Furneaux Lodge where comfy lodgings, hot showers, meals and bar/restaurant awaited us. We found our luggage outside our chalet (thanks water taxi!), so we kicked off our boots, made a cup of tea and sat and chatted about the walk so far, enjoying the comforts of our room and open outdoor areas. The rolling lawns at Furneaux are easy to spot from afar – and the grounds can be explored at leisure. We enjoyed a restful night here with a hearty meal at dinner, full bar facilities (don’t mind if I do!) and tasty breakfast the next morning. We just had to remember to label our luggage with the next lodges name and leave our bags outside our room by 9am the next day. Wifi was available for purchase in the bar area only and phone coverage here was also limited.
Not far from Furneaux Lodge were some sidetracks worth considering on Day 2 as it was to be a fairly short walking day (12km approx 4 hours). The Waterfall Track is one that climbs along the stream which passes through Furneaux Lodge. It was narrow and slippery in parts because it is not maintained by the conservation department, but we enjoyed this little side track because it warmed up our calves and gave us the most amazing rainforest zen time before returning to the main track. As the rooms at Punga Cove Resort are not ready until 3pm we were so glad we enjoyed this most beautiful patch of rainforest – at times it reminded me of fairy tales as the colours were incredible, especially with the sunlight trying to come through the thick canopy. giving an ethereal feeling – I almost expected a unicorn to appear at one point or a fairy even.
Day 2 was definitely the easiest day on the track (other than the rest day of course!). It has gradual ascents and descents mostly, but we got to cross a swing bridge which was pretty cool and there were only a couple of steep patches in the 4 or so hours of walking (not including any side trips). After leaving Furneaux Lodge, the track took us to the top of Endeavour Inlet where there is an old Antimony mine (we skipped the sidetrack here) and then we climbed up slightly to leave the Inlet and hugged the coast line above the water, making our way to Big Bay and then Camp Bay. Punga Cove was a short walk from there. Even stopping for lunch on the track in the forest (sans weka birds!), we still made good time. As we had a bit of a cloudy day, the views on Day 2 were masked, but we did pass through what felt like someone’s farm (the Track passes through privately owned and government land) so to have woolly sheep munching on the rolling grassy hills with views of the Inlet in the background, did make for a very Kiwi moment!
Punga Cove is a steep property with a restaurant up top as well as a bar down on the water near the jetty, a perfect spot for a pre-dinner sunset drink. We loved our little A-frame Chalet with water views, and after a hot shower, we looked to have our afternoon cuppa on the little wooden deck balcony but the weather came in wet. With no phone coverage or wifi here we used a payphone and I have to say I don’t think I have used one since the 1990’s! It was a bit of a novelty, so I called home. With the restaurant up top, we were rewarded after our steep walk up there with amazing food for dinner where fresh seafood featured on the menu – green lipped mussels and of course, salmon. We dined on these with gorgeous views of the water and coast line after the afternoon rain cleared.
Day 3 was by far the toughest day on the Track – 25km and some steep sections made this a strenuous and long day of walking but we were rewarded continually with view after view of both Queen Charlotte and Keneperu Sounds – if I was carrying an injury or without enough hill training/fitness, I would consider taking a water taxi with the luggage to Portage Resort (this costs approx $40-$50 NZD) on Day 3 but both Jen and I felt up to the task.
The extra half an hour up the steep climb to Eatwell’s lookout approx 2 hours into the day was WELL WORTH IT with inspiring 360 degree views – it was so clear, sunny and pretty here, we almost got teary. Day 3 took 8 or so hours for us to complete and we had lovely spots to choose from to stop for lunch, again with incredible views, as well as sheltered sites and toilets at Bay of Many Coves and Black Rock Camp site. There were only 2 stops with water supplies after leaving Punga so we made sure we had enough for the day in case the tanks were empty at the shelters – parts of NZ have experienced drought recently making usually reliable water supplies, unreliable. The walk was quite exposed on the ridges so if it was really warm and sunny, or wet and windy, we were prepared. For us, it was a gorgeous sunny day and a long one, but honestly we stopped continually to take photos and videos – the colours of the blue and turquoise waters against the lush green coast line made this a photographer’s paradise!!
The final 700m downhill along the road to Portage from Torea Saddle finished off our day (and our quads!) nicely. We were both relieved to reach the Portage Hotel and have a hot shower, dinner (yep more yummy food!), comfy bed and even better, a rest day – the perfect way to recharge after a full day’s hike!
Some of the keen walkers we met along the way walked out on day 4 and finished the Track, others told us they would take the water taxi back to Picton, as it was too much to back up a full day of hiking with another one, so I would highly recommend a day to chill out at Portage and either go sea kayaking (your legs still rest) or enjoy a few relaxing drinks and a lazy lunch at the restaurant or get your downtime in anticipation of the final days walk to Anakiwa the following day.
We slept in way past 10am so we missed the breakfast menu but ordered Greek salads instead and in the glorious late morning sunshine, we sat outside overlooking the bay and for a brief moment, we imagined ourselves sunning in the Greek Islands. We spent our rest day lazing around, reading, chatting and giggling and basically enjoying the comforts of the hotel. Wifi can be purchased here and if it was any warmer, I would have swam in the ocean off the little jetty.
For our final night on the Track we had our dinner and dessert in preparation of our final day of walking on the Queen Charlotte Track. Day 4 is about 7 hours (20km) and we had to be at Anakiwa by 4pm for our pre-booked water taxi. This unfortunately created a sense a urgency to get to the finish without missing the boat home, but we managed to finish the track much earlier than anticipated, in just over 5 hours.
The Portage Hotel were kind enough to drive us back up the 700m to Torea Saddle on the Track. From here it was a bit of a steep climb for the first hour or so with an optional side-trip to Lochmara lookout (which we skipped in fear of missing the 4pm water taxi). Then gradually the track descended over the next few hours to Te Mahia Saddle and then the walk was a fairly easy downhill, undulating trail to Davies Bay and then within an hour we started seeing holiday homes and bang, we had arrived at the sleepy village of Anakiwa.
We were in luck as the green caravan kiosk was open!! One can enjoy hot or cold drinks, ice creams, chocolate bars and snacks here so we had a hot cuppa, then icecream (well, why not?) and waited in the sunshine, taking our boots off and wiggling our toes, marvelling at our accomplishment! We had finished the Queen Charlotte Track – and on time! For Jen, it hadn’t sunk in but for a first time walker, she had done remarkably well and actually enjoyed the experience!!
The water taxis started arriving from 3pm to take walkers and mountain bike riders on the 20 min water journey back to Picton. So we hopped on-board at 4pm and returned to Picton, to celebrate our achievement with, yep you guessed it, even more food and drink!
Tips and Observations:
- Don’t plan on losing weight on this Walk, you may be disappointed! Food and wine is plentiful at the lodges – the packed lunches are a full days worth of food – our snacks that we purchased to take with us were left untouched!
- The terrain on the track is changeable and in parts completely breathtaking. The views are just incredible over the Sounds with blues and greens colouring the water line and rainforests that enchant and delight – you may find the urge to take photos repeatedly as we did!
- The Queen Charlotte Track is the perfect kind of walk with a group of friends and for us girls, it gave us plenty of laughs, great photos and the chance to bond over casual drinks and evening dinners, room sharing, as well as the challenge of the hilly climbs and amazing views.
- We met so many lovely people from both NZ and abroad with a love of the outdoors but also a love of the comforts that lodge accommodation offers. We did meet a few adventurers along the way with slight hangovers and sore butts from mountain biking, and a few locals who didn’t know about the luggage transport service on offer and carried full packs the full 71km, which gave us a bit of a laugh and plenty of ribbing on the water taxi journey back to Picton.
- You will need a good level of fitness and a bit of hills training behind you – you should be able to walk up to 8 hours on hilly trails to cover the 2 tougher days on this Track with a day pack sized backpack (35L – 40L). If needed, there is also a water taxi service you can book in case of injury or to avoid the tougher days on the Track.