The Marlborough Sounds, according to Maori legend, were formed by a giant octopus fighting Maori warrior Kupe, its tentacles gouging the land and leaving behind intricate bays and coves. From Cougar Line’s water-taxi out of Picton, I could almost imagine it as I gazed at the swirling, pristine coastline, only jetties, sparse dwellings or a resort dotting a few inlets.
Around 70km long, the Queen Charlotte Track stretches from Ship Cove at one end of Queen Charlotte Sound to Anakiwa, at the other. A Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative Pass is required as the track goes over private land as well as DOC land. Walking it is a great way to get away from it all, experiencing the remoteness of the Sounds while, if wished, taking the opportunity to enjoy a meal or drink at the occasional resort.
Ship Cove to Madsens Camp
An hour’s cruising from Picton brought me to Ship Cove and the start of a 5-day adventure. With a 21km day ahead, we had arranged for backpacks to be shuttled by boat to the first night’s accommodation at Madsens Camp.
The white monument, a short distance from the wharf, catches the eye. It commemorates James Cook’s arrivals there in 1770, 1773, 1774 and 1777. Information panels detail the visits, encounters with Maori, and Maori occupation of the area. I looked out on the sheltered bay picturing the Endeavour lying on its side as it was cleaned and repaired.
The climb out of Ship Cove, on a one-car wide, dirt track, brought us to Ship Cove Saddle which looks out to Motuara Island, a wildlife sanctuary, and across to the distant rolling, shadowy hills of the Sounds. Stunning glimpses of a turquoise sea on the descent into Schoolhouse Bay had me taking many photos.
Six sites are available at the waterfront DOC camping site at the bay. The track climbed again to Tawa Saddle, giving peeks of bays through punga, Manuka and other natives which brought ‘wow’ exclamations; a green coastline twisting back and forth in a sea that was a medley of blues. At picnic tables along the way, I met weka. Not at all timid, the bronzy-coloured birds wandered around our legs looking for an easy meal.
From Tawa Saddle it’s downhill on a shaded path to Endeavour Inlet, with short bridges crossing streams, and verdant, fern dotted banks of what looked like schist rock. Reaching coastline, I diverted off the track to find a beach covered with honey-coloured stones where a king shag, apparently only found in the Marlborough Sounds, sat peering out to sea. Slightly further along holiday homes, some offering accommodation, overlooked the seafront where jetties sprouted into the water and boatsheds were closed up.
Furneaux Lodge surprised, in the middle of nowhere, 17km from Ship Cove. An idyllic spot a few metres off the main trail, one-level wooden buildings dotted a flat area on the waterfront, hemmed by bush. The bar was tempting, but unsure how much further I had left to walk I continued on.
A fairly flat trail followed the coastline and passed by where a township, occupied by workers and families from the Marlborough Antimony Company, stood in the late 1800s. Ore was mined here, used in coloured glazes and glassware. Only an information board marks the site now, but Miners Camp is situated nearby offering accommodation and tent sites.
Around half an hour later, the entire walk taking 5 ¾ hours, I arrived at Madsens. Situated on a steepish hillside, three verandahed, one-room cabins and tent sites are available. Hot showers were bliss before we cooked pre-ordered food in the BBQ area, which also contained a sink, fridge, and cooking equipment.
Madsens Camp to Bay of Many Coves Campsite
We chose to carry all our gear on this leg and it was a pleasant walk to Punga Cove, seen long before reaching it around 2 hours after leaving Madsens Camp. Nearby Punga Cove Resort, Camp Bay Campsite offers a shelter as well as tent sites. It felt rather luxurious sitting at the resort’s jetty bar, built over the water, sipping an alcoholic beverage and listening to a guitarist when on a multi-day hike.
Leaving the coast behind, an hour’s relentless climb gave views of farmland, pine forest and a peek of glittering, blue sea. It’s onwards and upwards to Totaranui Viewpoint where Deep Bay and Endeavour Inlet lay far below, bordered by bush-covered, rolling land. Picturesque Kenepuru Sound came into view on the northern side of the peninsula as we walked the ridge. A viewpoint, Eatwells Lookout, can be reached via a half-hour return, uphill walk off the main track.
We arrived at DOC’s Bay of Many Coves Campsite, where a shelter perches on a ridge overlooking the cove, 6 ½ hours after starting out, around 15km walked. Tents were erected in bush beyond the shelter where it was quite protected, except from inquisitive weka who made off with whatever they could find.
On the cold, shadowed ridge I watched the sun go down behind rolling, sunlit hills that resembled choppy, green sea on the opposite side of Queen Charlotte Sound.
Bay of Many Coves Campsite to Cowshed Bay Campsite
The steep, rocky incline from the campsite had cyclists pushing their bikes as we carried all our gear – there’s no option for a water-taxi shuttle on top of a ridge. A short distance along, a 1.5 hour trail led down to the Bay of Many Coves and its resort. The main track eventually undulated through shaded bush with the occasional rocky bank covered in moss, and gave views of coastline and a deep-blue sea while later, Kenepuru Sound to the right was aquamarine.
Emerging onto tar-seal, we found a roadside memorial to World War II soldiers. Opposite, a track took us down to finish our five-hour walk at DOC’s Cowshed Bay campsite. With flushing toilets and a cold shower, it’s upmarket!
The Portage, a waterfront resort, is 500m away along a tar-sealed road. We treated ourselves and dined at its restaurant, a lovely change from dehydrated food.
Cowshed Bay Campsite to Davies Clearing Campsite
Given the steepness encountered to start day four’s walk, I was glad we had our packs transported from The Portage to Mistletoe Bay Eco Village. The trail became more undulating, and again we had magnificent views; swirling, forested coastline and sea shades that reminded me of tropical islands.
Mistletoe Bay Eco Village, nestled on the shores of a narrow bay, was reached after three hours walking, a distance of 7.5km. There are kayaks for hire, the jetty to fish off, a store stocking basic supplies and a large flat camping area along with units, and a kitchen. Our packs arrived around 2pm, and rethinking our plans to stay due to our 11.30am pick-up from Anakiwa for the airport the next day, we continued on for another 2 ¾ hours to DOC’s camp at Davies Clearing.
The trail was easy walking, with Maori and settlement history to read on information boards at Grove Arm Lookout where clusters of buildings could be seen on the opposite coastline. Davies Clearing, a large flat site with a shelter surrounded by bush, is about 100m back from the coastline. The beach there is swimmable at high tide.
It was a 50-minute walk out the next morning to Anakiwa, at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound. Despite a wet day, the views were still enchanting; the sea a milky, greenish-grey dotted with yachts moored in the motionless bay. At the end of five days walking I was still entranced by the beauty of Marlborough Sounds.
Don’t forget to use Campermate’s maps to filter and find campsites and road trip essentials while exploring Marlborough Sounds.