Te Araroa, Days 67-70: The Queen Charlotte Track

Well, those of you who have been following may have noticed that it’s been a couple of weeks since I’ve written any posts. I’m going to attribute the hiatus to the charmingly distracting influence of the wonderful Scott, who flew over from the US to walk the final South Island section of the TA with me and then do some road-tripping on the west coast. It was two weeks of fun, luxury (read: beds instead of tents), and so SO much food. A perfect way to round out my South Island adventure and get ready to transition over to the north.

Went on a lil day hike to a waterfall! Got to feed a goat and some pigs after this – we didn’t even know the day could get better after the waterfall!

It’s funny – when I started this hike back in Bluff on January 1, I didn’t feel nervous at all – I had no idea what to expect so there wasn’t anything tangible for my anxieties to latch onto. Now that I’ve walked the whole South Island I actually feel a little freaked out about getting started on the north – like, “I have to do that much hiking, AGAIN?!” I know too much about the pain that awaits me, and I fear it, friends.

But let’s not ruminate on my trail anxiety anymore. Instead, I’ll tell you about the Queen Charlotte Track, the northeasternmost section of the Te Araroa on the South Island, which meanders through the Marlborough Sounds region between the towns of Anakiwa and Picton. The trail is reachable by boat and there are a bunch of campsites and lodges along the way; under the guise of altruistic concern for Scott’s comfort I arranged for our bags to be carried by water taxi to our stopping point for each night so we could slack pack. Let the luxury begin!

So, first a few words about the amazing and strange Marlborough Sounds. This section of the coast is full of nooks, crannies, harbors, inlets, and coves – totally different from the windy, exposed shores of the Tasman Sea further west. And rather than sandy beaches, the Marlborough Sounds have forested mountains that come right down to the water’s edge. You’d look at them and think, “If I didn’t know any better, I’d bet those mountains keep going down underwater.” And actually, you’d be right! The Sounds region is right at the boundary of the Pacific and Australian plates, and it’s getting dragged down as the Pacific plate subducts under the Australian. Added to which, the rise in sea level at the end of the last Ice Age caused massive flooding, drowning all the valleys and leaving just the tops of the mountains exposed. Drowned mountains, people! Geologically, it’s a crazy place.

Tree ferns (Cyathea spp.) with Queen Charlotte Sound in the background

Ok, so the trail. On our first morning, we took the water taxi from Picton to the end of the trail at Ship Cove. (Because the boat only schleps baggage from east to west, we started from Picton instead of Anakiwa; northbound TA walkers typically do it the other way so it’s contiguous with the northeastern end of the Richmond Ranges. I know that doesn’t mean anything to people who aren’t actively looking at a map while reading this, and truly, it’s maybe not a very important detail anyway. Sorry for the long parenthetical tangent here!) We met some of my trail pals at Ship Cove and I got to introduce Scott to them. First Brad and Ink, then Harold – all finishing their last day of walking on the South Island! I knew we’d be seeing Harold so I brought us a picnic of L&P (NZ soda Harold is exceedingly fond of) and savory pies, the latter of which were only partially smashed by their boat ride.

As we walked, I was fascinated to see how much the climate and plants in this region differed from the other parts of the South Island I’d seen along the trail. Finally, here were the tree ferns, palms, and podocarps, the giant rimu with their colonies of epiphytes and vines. And here was the humidity! What a different world from the mountain peaks of the interior.

Scott and a pretty amazing rimu tree (Dacrydium cupressinum)

The berries of Dianella nigra – so indigo!

The trail itself is wide – Scott and I could actually walk next to each other! – and mercifully graded (gentle switchbacks instead of hillside scrambles), and with nothing but feather-light daypacks to carry, the whole experience felt pretty darn relaxed. We had so much energy to spare after the first day that we went kayaking that night AND the next morning (kayak courtesy of the owners of the cabin where we stayed). We saw seals on the rocks, manta rays in the water, cormorants in the air.

I think a person who needed to make time could walk the Queen Charlotte in two and a half days; for my part, I’m glad Scott and I took our leisurely four days. In the end, the extra time was what made the experience so great – time to look at the plants, watch the seals, sit in the occasional hot tub. Time to reflect on the past 800 miles and get ready for the next 1000!

Wait, so where are we going?

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 6

  • SAW : Apr 2nd

    Happy faces and going places. Just the best.

    Re: the North Island . . . pain or not, north is where my heart is. You still have Tongariro, you lucky plucky duck.

  • Judy Sinn : Apr 2nd

    What a wonderful respite from the tough road behind you and a great boost for the road ahead. Can’t wait to hear about what’s next- go Shari!!

  • Sj : Apr 3rd

    So indigo!
    So glad you got some rest and luxury in!
    So fun to see scott’s mug in NZ!

    Daffodils underway & the spicebush is just starting to yellow up.

    Love you!

  • Donnan Stoicovy : Apr 4th

    Love the smiles! Feels good to be there with the Wonderful Scott! Love your continued updates! Thanks for taking the time.

  • Derek : Apr 5th

    What a different world that is compared to the highlands. Great to see you two together and enjoying yourselves. The plants there are magical. I didn’t see Aaronsburg on that sign post?!
    And you totally got the North Island! No worries!

  • Kim : Apr 9th

    Hi, Shari: Glad to see that Scott was able to find you! What an adventure . . . and you’re nearly half-way ALREADY (easy for me to say). I’m sure you will conquer the North Island with equal felicity (again easy for me to say, but I have reason to be confident). Kim


What Do You Think?