The Queen Charlotte Track

Home The Queen Charlotte Track


The Queen Charlotte Sound has a rich history that began with Maori settlement, possibly up to 1000 years ago. Various local tribes (iwi) inhabited parts of the Marlborough Sounds and created their own pathways to source food in neighbouring bays.  These iwi were the sole inhabitants of the area until the arrival in 1770 of Captain James Cook at Ship Cove which is now the start of the Queen Charlotte Track. His encounters with the local Maori population (otherwise known as Tangata Whenua or “the people of the land”) are well-documented in his diaries.

Today Ship Cove is still one of the least developed and most pristine monuments to Cook in the world, and it is a fitting beginning to your journey.

European settlement began in the Marlborough Sounds in the late 1800s when farmers and miners began to establish themselves in the area. At one time over 300 people lived at the head of Endeavour Inlet whilst antimony was mined. Hardy settlers, intent on creating grazing land for sheep, cleared significant sections of the Sounds at one stage but the tough, steep hillsides and lack of easy access meant that much of the land was eventually allowed to return to native bush.

Fortuitously, numerous bridle paths were created by these early settlers in order to open up easy access between neighbouring bays and coves for both social and economic reasons. In the late 1980s the Department of Conservation, Destination Marlborough and the Marlborough District Council worked together to create one single track out of that network of bridle paths and stock routes.

Today the track travels over a variety of public and private land. It is due to the good will of the private landowners that the single track was created, and we encourage all users to respect the fact that at times they are walking on private land.  A QCTLC (land pass) is required for anyone walking the track between Punga Cove and Anakiwa.  Multi day users (i.e. walking/riding) more than one day between Kenepuru Head and Anakiwa will pay $25 per person for a pass, and $12 per person for a one day pass.  Passes can be purchased at our office and are usually included in our packages unless specified otherwise.

Terrain & Distance

The track surface is predominantly clay-based with tree roots and rocks traversing the surface at times. During wet weather, it can be treacherous and we recommend that people walk with walking poles if they have joint weaknesses. During dry weather it is quite possible to walk the track in runners, however, we do recommend that you wear (as a minimum) a good walking shoe. The track is benched and all streams have either permanent bridge structures or swing bridges.

The Queen Charlotte Track is 72km long. Often referred to as a long track, not a steep track, it is normally walked in four or five days starting at Ship Cove and finishing at Anakiwa. There are plenty of options to walk one section of the track in one day. Refer to our maps section for an illustration on each section.

Walking and Mountain Biking the Track

The track has been purpose built to cater to both walkers and mountain bikers.  One of the clever ways this is managed is that everyone is encouraged to walk and ride in the same direction, thereby limiting the amount of “interactions” that users need to have with each other with oncoming traffic.  While both walkers and bikers may get off a boat together, or leave a lodge at a similar time, the bikers naturally move on quickly and leave the walkers to peace and solitude for their day.

As e-bikes have become more popular, more questions are asked about the suitability of the track for riding with an e-bike.  The information below has been provided by New Zealand Cycle Trails.

E-bike use on Queen Charlotte Track – a guideline

As a Great Ride, Queen Charlotte Track (QCT) falls under the jurisdiction of the New Zealand Cycle Trail (NZCT).  NZCT is clear in its policy around e-bike use on the Great Rides. This is detailed for you here and provides greater clarity around e-bike use.

Queen Charlotte Track is graded as the following for mountain bikers:


  1. 62% intermediate/grade 3
  2. 28% advanced/grade 4
  3. 10% expert/grade 5

Grade 5 Sections of the QCT are from Kenepuru Saddle to Bay of Many Coves Shelter and the climb out of Torea Saddle.  This means that the rest of the track is regarded as grade 3 and grade 4.

NZTC Mountain Bike Trade Grades are as follows: 

Intermediate/Grade 3: Off-road trails can be narrow and may include hills, steep drop-offs, and small river crossings. Trail surfaces are mainly firm but may include muddy or loose sections, and obstacles such as rocks or tree roots.

Advanced/Grade 4: Off-road trails are narrow with steep climbs and unavoidable obstacles. The trail surface includes firm and loose sections, with lots of rocks and tree roots. There is likely to be mud and poor traction in places, and some walking required. E-bikes are not permitted on grade 4 off-road trails.

Expert/Grade 5: Off-road trails are likely to be challenging with long, steep climbs, precipitous descents, and dangerous drop-offs as well as rocks, roots, ruts, and potentially hazardous river crossings. E-bikes are not permitted on grade 5 off-road trails.

Boat Services

The frequent daily boat services out of Picton mean that track users never have to carry their luggage, and there is lots of flexibility each day for those walking or biking the track. The track can only be accessed by water from Ship Cove to Punga Cove and then by both road or water from Punga Cove to Anakiwa. Access points to the track are from jetties associated either with Department of Conservation reserves, private homes or commercial accommodation houses. The boat services also mean that if there are non-walkers in the party, they can boat each day to the different accommodation houses, whilst the rest of a party walks or bikes on.


A particularly unique aspect of  Queen Charlotte Track experience is the accommodation available to walkers and mountain bikers who use the track. It doesn’t matter if you are guided or unguided, you will always have the option to stay in comfort and style. The three main hotels located right on the track are,, and and about 15 minutes off the track to   Our packages utilise the comfortable hotel style accommodation at each property which means that your stay is always in rooms with en-suites.  This really is a walking and biking experience like no other.  Each night you dine in the restaurants at each property and enjoy some delicious food and wine at the end of a big day.