Hiking New Zealand’s Queen Charlotte Track

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New Zealand is known for a lot of things — its beautiful scenery, its adrenaline-inducing adventure sports, and, of course, its wide variety of superb hiking options.

In fact, New Zealand is home to some of the best and most well-known treks in the world. The Milford Track, the Tongariro Crossing, the Heaphy Track, the Routeburn Track… the list goes on and on.

And then there's also the Queen Charlotte Track.

Queen Charlotte Sound

While not officially considered one of the country's “Great Walks,” the 71-kilometer (45-mile) Queen Charlotte Track is nonetheless a popular hiking option in New Zealand. The Track passes through secluded bays, historic sites and coastal forests and bush at the very tip of the country's South Island in an area known as the Marlborough Sounds.

The Marlborough Sounds is made up of a variety of Sounds — including the impressive and beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound.

Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

It's along this Sound that the Queen Charlotte Track winds, offering up glimpses out over the deep blue water and lush green hills of an area that is bound to leave you wanting more.

Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

My hike on the Queen Charlotte Track

I don't really consider myself a hiker by any means, but I still signed up for a half-day trek on the Queen Charlotte Track while I was in New Zealand.

The full 71-kilometer trek, from Anakiwa to Ship Cove, can take anywhere between 3 and 5 days, depending on your pace.

Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

The hike I signed up for, however, would only take a leisurely 3-5 hours, as we were only walking from Anakiwa to Mistletoe Bay.

Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

Since I was living in Wellington at the time, the group of us who had signed up for the trek had to catch the Interislander Ferry to Picton, a small city that lies about 3 hours by boat across the Cook Strait, which separates the North and South islands of New Zealand.

Our passage — on a brilliantly sunny morning in September — was idyllic, if a bit chilly.

Picton, New Zealand
Picton

We arrived in Picton in the mid-morning, and immediately were transferred onto a smaller boat where we deposited our bags and met our hiking guides for the day. We took off for Anakiwa under blue skies, and very soon after started our trek.

Anakiwa, Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
Anakiwa

Anakiwa marks either the beginning or end of the Queen Charlotte Track, depending on where you're beginning. If you begin your trek here, the trail starts out wide and easy as it winds through beech forests littered with New Zealand's signature silver ferns.

Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

Eventually we happened upon Davies Bay, which is a popular picnic spot for both locals and hikers. The beach was deserted while we were there, since we were tackling the trek in the off-season. But it was still pretty.

Davies Bay, Queen Charlotte Sound, New Zealand

The Queen Charlotte Track thankfully isn't especially steep or difficult — it's just long. The terrain is regarded as “undulating,” with the highest hills only reaching about 400 meters.

Halfway through our portion of the Track, we reached the highest point that we would visit. While not the highest point on the Queen Charlotte Track, the lookout still afforded a fantastic view out over the Sound.

It helped that the weather was so nice, too.

Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

The last section of the hike to Mistletoe Bay followed an old bridle path above Onahau Bay, skirting some farm paddocks and again allowing a spectacular view out over the Queen Charlotte Sound.

Queen Charlotte Sound, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

We made it to Mistletoe Bay in roughly 4 hours, and were allowed some time to settle into our whare (or cabins) in the Mistletoe Bay Eco Village. Not only are these cabins new and modern and really cute, but they're also solar-powered. Very cool.

Mistletoe Bay, Queen Charlotte Track, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand

The evening brought with it a lot of relaxation, a dinner of tacos, and a few rousing games of Trivial Pursuit and Scrabble. We even got up close and personal with some natives — weka birds.

Weka

The next day we would venture further out into the Queen Charlotte Sound to watch some dolphins and visit Ship Cove, which is a spot Captain Cook visited multiple times as he was exploring and discovering New Zealand centuries ago.

Dusky Dolphins, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
Dusky Dolphins

The area was absolutely stunning.

Ship Cove, Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand
Ship Cove

I would definitely recommend this area to any visitors, whether you want to tackle a 4-day or 4-hour trek. The Queen Charlotte Track is also popular with mountain bikers, and you can package hike/bike adventures with kayaking in the Sounds.

Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

Have you hiked any portion of the Queen Charlotte Track before, or any other popular track in New Zealand? Tell me about it!

"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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32 Comments on “Hiking New Zealand’s Queen Charlotte Track

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  1. Absolutely beautiful!! This is my kind of place – hiking, mountains, and lakes/bays. I can tell from the photos that I would love this area.

      Yes, if you like hiking, mountains and bays (and forests and wildlife), then you would most definitely love this place! I’m not even a huge fan of hiking, but this short trip was beautiful. And to think, it’s not even one of New Zealand’s “Great Walks”!

    Stunning photographs! I have walked it twice and adore the Marlborough Sounds! There is something so magical about it.

      Thanks, Sarah! It really is such a gorgeous place. I feel like a lot of people skip it, and just head further down the South Island. Which, of course, is a big mistake!

    I never hiked the Queen Charlotte Track, but it looks like I should do it next time 🙂 Really love the dolphin photo, so many people that I know that went to NZ saw dolphins, I went there twice but still havent seen them.

      You should definitely give it a go! It’s in such a great location.

      And I actually saw dolphins quite a few times on different cruises around NZ. Those little dusky dolphins are quite common, and really playful!

    Wow so breathtakingly beautiful! I gotta say that we are pretty darn lucky to live on planet earth and have all these wonderful places to explore!… hopefully we can keep it that way!

      Thanks, Laur. And I agree — I hope we can keep it this way! NZ is really dedicated to keeping its natural places natural, though, which is one of the things I love about the country. They have more national parks and scenic reserves than you could shake a stick at!

    I’ve done the Queen Charlotte a couple of times – well, once doing the whole thing (3 days – I was young and fit then), and again as a day hike out of Picton.

    It’s not a great wilderness adventure, but has the advantage of being very accessible, with lots of options for food and accommodation (and baggage transport too). And the scenery is spectacular – as your photos show. Thanks for reminding me!

      It’s the perfect hike for someone like me, who isn’t really the outdoorsy type. Like you said, it’s very accessible, yet still has that great scenery!

      Thanks for reading, Richard!

    Being avid hikers, this place looks about right for us. Great photos and descriptions. The views look pretty amazing. Can’t wait to get here, one day…. one day.

      New Zealand is like a shiny present for avid hikers – so many options! I hope you guys get there someday soon. The views further on in the hike are probably even better!

    Great pics, I cant believe its so green! I really have to get myself over to NZ soon!

      So much of New Zealand is green! Greener than any other country I’ve been to — including Ireland. You should most definitely get yourself there ASAP!

    I want to go to new Zealand soo bad.. and now after seeing those dolphin pictures !! Wow!!
    THANNKS

      If you ever have the chance to visit NZ, take it!! I don’t know of anyone who has visited and hated it there.

    I love hiking and this looks absolutely beautiful! I’ve never heard anyone say a single bad thing about NZ either, everyone seems to love it and I think I can see why. 😉

      You know, I’ve never heard of someone visiting NZ and hating it, either! Sure says something about the country, doesn’t it? This is indeed a gorgeous hike — and NZ is full of them!

    Beautiful images! Makes the bluffs I regularly hike through seem no so impressive anymore lol.

      Thanks, Nathan! New Zealand puts a lot of places to shame… don’t feel bad. 🙂

    Do you need to book hiking permit for this track like for Milford Track?

      Nope, I don’t think you need a permit of any sort for the Queen Charlotte Track. Though, I will say that I only did a half-day hike. I can’t say much about the multi-day hikes… But I know we did not need permits.

    This was the first part of the south island we visited on our trip, and it really just blew us away. Although we didn’t do the hike, we just drove the parallel road 🙂 A beautiful part of the world..

      Definitely a beautiful part of the world. Though, isn’t all of NZ? 😉

      I’m not much of a hiker/trekker at all, but the Queen Charlotte Track was a nice compromise — not too difficult, but surrounded by amazing scenery just the same.

    Who did you do your tour through? I’m planning a trip to New Zealand for September and think this looks cool.

      Sorry, I really don’t remember the company! I went with a group of international students from Wellington, and our host university booked the whole excursion for us.

    What months did you travel to NZ? I want to study abroad there this coming semester which for them is November-February. I know that’s their winter to spring and wondered what you thought about it.

      Actually, Nov.-Feb. is spring/summer in NZ (opposite seasons to the northern hemisphere)! It’s a great time to be there weather-wise, though it’s also high season for tourism, so if you plan to do a lot of traveling you may have to plan some things ahead, and it may be slightly more expensive.

      I studied there from July-November, which was winter/spring in NZ. I was in Wellington, though, so the “winter” wasn’t anything compared to what I’m used to in Ohio!

      To be honest, any time of year is great o be in NZ. 🙂

    […] like a snow-capped spine that runs down the center of the island. Highlights here include the Marlborough Sounds, the rain-drenched West Coast, the Canterbury Plains, amazingly accessible glaciers like Fox and […]

    […] you want to just do a half-day hike or tackle the entire 43.5-mile track, hitting the Queen Charlotte Track through the Marlborough Sounds is well worth the effort. You’ll hike through coastal forest […]

    This is the area my husband is from! We often do the 40 minutes from Anakiwa to Davies Bay which is a lovely walk. Although we are actually thinking of taking our 3 kids and doing the whole trek. Yikes! Should be a fun adventure though

      That would definitely be an adventure! I love this part of NZ, though – it’s highly underrated I think!

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