There are a number of ways to get to Picton, which is located at the top of the South Island of New Zealand. Depending on your point of origin, you may be coming from either Auckland, Wellington or Christchurch International Airport. There are direct flights with Air New Zealand from all three centres to Blenheim Airport, about 20 minutes’ drive from Picton. Affordable shuttles are available or you can rent a car. If coming from Wellington, you can also catch either the Bluebridge or Interislander ferry service across Cook Strait which berths in Picton. Or you can catch the small commuter airline, Soundsair, which has a base at Wellington Airport. From Christchurch a popular option is to catch the train with Kiwi Rail Scenic Journeys to Picton; there are also public buses and options to rent a car. We can assist you with bookings or advice for the above.
The Marlborough Sounds is blessed with a great year round climate – however, New Zealand weather generally is said to have ‘four seasons in one day’ so it is important to come prepared. Layered clothing is best including a thermal undergarment, fleece top, shorts, long trousers, warm jacket and rain coat. Average daytime summertime temperatures (December/January/February) are usually in the early to late-20degC. A very hot day would be 30degC. Spring temperatures (September/October/November) range from 14degC through to 20degC. Autumn (March/April/May) tends to be cooler but very settled with little or no wind, ranging from around 16-18degC in March down to 10-12degC in May. In winter time (June/July August), the days can be very settled with not a ripple of the water but cold and crisp with overnight lows of less than 0degC and days up to 10degC. Rain is possible at any time of year but the driest months tend to be January/February/March.
The enjoyment of any walk is better if you have a reasonable degree of fitness – that does not, however, mean you need to be a marathon runner! If you are active 2 or 3 times a week (walking, golfing, running, gym) then this is an excellent base for doing a multi-day walk like the Queen Charlotte Track. In the lead up to the trip, try to do at least one long walk (up to 8 hours) and also some hill walking as the Queen Charlotte Track does have some steeper sections. Keep in mind the longest day also has an optional boat ride for those who want a day of rest. Remember you only need to carry a day pack with your lunch, raincoat, something warm and water bottle/camera – this definitely makes the going easier. Your overnight luggage is transported by boat each day. If you are on a guided walk, your guide will encourage you to walk at your own pace rather than walk always as a group – it is your holiday after all.
If biking, you should have a high degree of fitness as the Queen Charlotte Track is more challenging to bike than to walk – but it’s an exhilarating experience too. Most sections of the track are regarded as being of intermediate level with some sections suitable only for advanced riders and others able to be attempted by novices. We can advise you on the best section for you to attempt based on your abilities.
We recommend sturdy walking shoes or boots at all times of year – in the winter, boots are preferable particularly if there has been a lot of rain. In the height of summer, a strong walking shoe with a good tread is fine. Running shoes are not generally recommended although if this is all you have, at the height of summer, they would suffice. We would not recommend wearing new boots for a multi-day trip – boots or shoes should be well worn in for maximum comfort and minimum blisters! We also have famous New Zealand hikers’ wool available to purchase at our office just in case.
Walking poles are a useful accessory but not essential. Many walkers use them these days and find they do preserve your back and knees. This is definitely a personal preference. In most places the Queen Charlotte Track is well-formed, wide and with a good surface although at times of heavy rain, the clay base to the track can become slippery and poles are welcome. A good Manuka stick picked up along the trail and returned to the bush at the end works just as well! We do have walking poles available for hire if you don’t wish to bring one from home – pre-booking for these is essential.
Most visitors to New Zealand have encountered our plentiful and at times, rather hungry, little sand fly. This very small black fly is common throughout New Zealand but fortunately in far less numbers on the Queen Charlotte Track than on many other walks around the country. You do still need to bring insect repellent and wear it each day if they are troubling you.
There is a limit of one item of luggage per person when walking the Queen Charlotte Track and this should be no heavier than 15kg as it is transported by water taxi each day and lifted on and off boats. A suitcase with wheels or duffle bag is fine. We have room to store any excess luggage at our waterfront office or if you are staying somewhere before and after walk, many of the accommodation providers around Picton offer the same service. Be sure to pack just for the duration of your time on the track and leave any unnecessary items in storage. That’s really helpful with the volume of luggage that moves around the track.
There is a large carpark area near our office and you can pay $5NZ per day for as many days as you require to leave your car or camper there. It is unsecure so don’t leave any valuables in your vehicle. At peak times this carpark does get very full but there is also non-metered street parking nearby. Alternatively you can opt to put your vehicle into safe storage for a higher daily fee and we can advise on the local companies that offer this. Your accommodation provider may also be able to provide parking while you are on the track if you are returning there.
Absolutely! This is one of the wonderful appeals about the Queen Charlotte Track that on the long day, or any day for that matter, you can opt to travel by boat and take in the sights of the Marlborough Sounds from the water. These water taxi rides are always an additional cost to package prices but we can assist with advice and booking before or during your trip. Payment is required either on board with case or with credit card over the phone or by arrangement with us. If your spouse or travelling companion does not wish to walk or bike and you do, water transport can even be arranged throughout.
On the final day of the track you will be collected at 3.30pm from Anakiwa by water taxi. Depending on other stops this boat may need to make, you should be back between 4/4.30pm. If you are flying out of Blenheim Airport, be sure not to book anything before 6pm. It is normally possible to catch a late ferry or Soundsair flight as long as this is not before 5.30pm.
Yes, you will need to stay the night prior to the walk as normally incoming transport connections do not arrive in time to catch the morning water taxis for Ship Cove. However if time is short, private water taxis to the track can be arranged but at an additional cost or you can forego the first day of the track and journey straight to the first lodge. After walking or biking the track, most visitors find it more comfortable to stay another night and have a shower, relax and enjoy a meal in our pretty seaside town. However, it is possible to connect with outgoing flights or ferries after 6pm. You can also collect a rental car for onward travel by road.
Mobile reception is sporadic along the track – it is available on the first day on the boat journey out to the start of Queen Charlotte Track but from Ship Cove as far as Camp Bay (the first two days) there is no reliable coverage. The sections of the track which traverse the ridgelines – normally Day Three and Four – do offer good mobile coverage. All the lodges along the track have phone lines and some have limited internet access available for guests, either provided free or with a small charge. It is best to plan for limited or no internet coverage and some mobile coverage. If you have important messages or would like to give a contact number in case of emergency to family and friends, you are welcome to use Wilderness Guides.
Sea kayaking is a great way to get a taste of the Marlborough Sounds for another perspective, exploring the many bays and coves and spotting the local wildlife including dolphins, seals and little blue penguins. Guided trips and independent rentals work best towards the inner Sounds due to weather conditions so a guided or freedom kayak works well if you are staying two nights at Portage Hotel or Lochmara Lodge. We can tailor trips in other parts of the Sounds as well though so just contact us for further information about how best to include kayaking with your adventure.
The Motuara Island Bird Sanctuary is a very special reserve in the outer Queen Charlotte Sound. Here you can see the endangered South Island Saddleback (Tieke), friendly South Island Robins, Kereru (New Zealand native wood pigeon) and if you are lucky, little blue penguins who nest on the island. It is only accessible by boat and works best by taking an early water taxi from Picton (8am) which delivers you to the island. You then have around 1-1 ½ hours to explore via the track to a lookout (affording spectacular views) before being collected by the next scheduled water taxi at 10.30/10.45am. You will then be delivered to Ship Cove, just across the bay, to begin your walk.
Most of the larger lodges along the Queen Charlotte Track either offer access to washing/drying facilities which are coin-operated or they offer a laundry service for a fee. One or two have drying rooms but you should plan to take a change of clothes for each day on the track in your overnight luggage.
All the lodges along the Queen Charlotte Track have credit card facilities and Eftpos. If you are camping you will need to pre-purchase camping passes from our office prior to leaving Picton. Cash is helpful if there is a possibility you may catch an additional water taxi during the trip as this needs to be paid either on board or with credit card on booking.