Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been sharing some of the experiences I had on a recent trip to the South Island of New Zealand. I had never realised how much was on offer there and I’m kicking myself for not going sooner. It’s not just the beauty – it’s the variety that you can experience, all within a fairly small area.
If you would like to see my earlier stories you can check out:
- Rocky Mountain Hike near Wanaka
- Fox Glacier and Franz Josef Glacier
- Pancakes Rocks at Punakaiki
- Monro Beach Track
Today, to finish the series, I would like to tell you about a discovery that I hope will actually be just the beginning of something.
It was on my final day, driving to Picton, that I stopped at Anakiwa . It’s a small community on the water near the top of the South Island. It’s quiet and doesn’t really have many shops or restaurants – just a collection of houses. It’s peaceful.
It’s off the main road and there would really be no reason to stop here… except this is the starting point (or end point) of the Queen Charlotte Track.
I have never heard of it before but, while doing some research on what to see in the area, I came across it. The Queen Charlotte Track is 70 kilometres long and takes about four days to walk on average. Along the way, there are different types of accommodation – private hotels or campsites, generally. You can get a boat to the start of the track and then a boat back to Picton from the end of it.
Now, I didn’t do the walk. Well, at least, not much of it. I wanted to see what it was like, though. So with the limited time I had, I walked for about 45 minutes before turning around and coming back again.
It was enough to whet my appetite and excite the hiking urges within me. Even just on this short stretch of the Queen Charlotte Track, the views were incredible. While you’re walking through a lush green forest filled with ferns and covered by a thick canopy, you can see the water out to the side of you. With the sun out, it’s such a vibrant blue colour. The occasional boat goes past but, other than that, it’s serenely quiet.
The path is well maintained and is easy to walk along – no major inclines and no need to watch underfoot all the time. You can look around and appreciate the surroundings. And all along the way are wonderful places to stop.
I make it as far as Umungata Bay, which is deserted when I arrive. Well, there are no people at least. There are plenty of birds around and they pay me little attention, except for a group of ducks that are probably used to hikers sharing a bit of their food.
It’s a large sandy beach, covered in shells, with a low forest on the edges. You can see land on the other side, not too far away, more green hills covered in forest. If the water wasn’t so cold I might have stripped off and jumped in for a swim.
I felt a sense of disappointment when I had to turn around and go back to the car. I would love to have kept on going, for another hour. For another two hours. For another four days.
And this realisation that I wanted to continue walking has led me to do a bit more research into the Great Walks of New Zealand.
What are the Great Walks of New Zealand, I hear you ask? A good question. The first thing I should say is that the Queen Charlotte Track is not one of them, but it is similar enough to have piqued my interest and sent me down this rabbit hole of research and wanderlust.
The Great Walks of New Zealand are eight walking tracks that have been chosen to represent the best hikes the country has to offer. They are all multi day journeys that take you through different landscapes and terrains. From a coastal track, to an alpine track, through forests, over mountains, around lakes and amongst the famous sounds. (There is also a ninth ‘Great Walk’ on the official list which is actually a kayaking route!)
- Lake Waikaremoana Great Walk
- Tongariro Northern Circuit
- Whanganui Journey (this is the kayaking one)
- Abel Tasman Coast Track
- Heaphy Track
- Routeburn Track
- Milford Track
- Kepler Track
Stewart Island / Rakiura
- Rakiura Track
Because the New Zealand authorities have put a lot of effort into marketing these walks, they have become quite popular. The upside of this is that they are well maintained and there’s a decent amount of accommodation along the way for the overnight stops – although you might need to book in advance during peak periods.
Why am I mentioning all of this? Well, because my little jaunt down the Queen Charlotte Track and all the reading I’ve down about these other special tracks has made me decide to go back to New Zealand and hike all of the Great Walks. I don’t know when I’ll do it and I don’t know whether I’ll do them all at once or over the course of several trips. Those details don’t really matter because it’s not going to happen until later in the year at the earliest. But it has been decided!
I love leaving a country I never had thought much about with a plan to go back and do so much more. It doesn’t happen all that often (at least, not to this extreme) and that’s rather exciting for me.