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The Queen Charlotte Track is a 3-5 day tramp which traverses the length of the northern peninsula to the sound. This section skirts tranquil bays and ascends lofty ridges. The track is the best way to get a full appreciation of the Marlborough Sounds. The forest can be as luxuriant as the tropics with great variety according to the microclimates. Historical interest is added by the visits of Captain Cook, an antimony mining legacy and the continued use of the land for farming.
One hazard to watch for is wasps, especially if you react to stings. They feed on the honey-like dew excreted from the sooty mould on many of the beech trees. In the height of summer this can be a nuisance, so be aware.
You will need to organise a water taxi to take you to Ship Cove and collect you from Endeavour Inlet.
Various tour operators run services around the track.
Picton I-site can help. https://marlboroughnz.com/about/isite
The Queen Charlotte Track was developed in 1979 with the cooperation of many local organisations. Much of the track crosses private land (11 places) with the remainder in Scenic Reserves is administered by DoC. It is only through the goodwill and generosity of these landowners that access it possible. In 2004 an Environment Protection Fund was established to ensure the sustainability of the track. A $2 fee applies to every walker and is usually paid at the point of departure. This fee is administered by the Queen Charlotte Track Committee who represent all the people who are involved in the operation of the track.
Seven DoC campsites and numerous private accommodation establishments are dotted along the track, so if members of your party don’t want to walk, but still want to meet you at the end of each stage, they can. Pop into the Picton i-site by the ferry terminal (03) 520 3113 www.destinationmarlborough.com, firstname.lastname@example.org and they can help you organise the trip.
The Queen Charlotte Track is a shared track with mountain bikers, although from the section from Ship Cove to Keneperu Saddle is closed to mountain bikers from December 1st to 28th February. You should expect to see mountain bikers and respect their right to be there. Don’t dawdle in the centre of the track or walk side-by-side across the entire width. Basically is you use commonsense then no close shaves or mishaps should occur.
On the 1 hour boat ride from Picton to Ship Cover you are treated to views of where you will be walking, as you glide past the innumerable bays. You can tick them off as you pass – Lochmara Bay, Dobule Cove, Torea Bay, Kumutoto Bay, Blackwood Bay, Ruakaka Bay, Bay of Many Coves, Endeavour Inlet, and finally Resolution Bay. You then round Bottle Rock on the way to Ship Cove.
Offshore island such as Long Island and Blumine Island have been eradicated of predators (rats, mice and stoats). They now form sanctuaries for kiwi, who use the islands as Kindys until they grow big enough to fend for themselves in the wilds of New Zealand.
Disembarking on the jetty at Ship Cove Cook’s monument dominates the bay. You should start here and read the information panels to allow yourself to slowly steep in the history.
Ship Cove to Resolution Bay
1 ½ hours 4.5 km
Ship Cove is all about Captain Cook. The memorial seems out of place in the original forest cover, a gleaming white obelisk to symbolise the meeting of European and Maori. A couple of cannons with an anchor on top are a little tacky and both unrelated to any of Cook’s vessels.
Good interpretation behind the monument details the entire timeline of human endeavours in Queen Charlotte Sound, from Kupe to present day. A wharenui style shelter for booting up is provided and elegant Maori carvings grace the bridge over the creek where Cook took water.
From Ship Cove it’s a steady 45 minute climb to the lookout platform at Resolution Saddle. The view north spies Motuara Island and Cape Koamaru at the tip of Arapawa Island. You can visibly see the more tempestuous waters of Cook Strait with the white caps gleaming the sun. South the views of the inner sound are more sedate.
The vegetation sequence on the way up changes markedly with the altering conditions. From the tropical-like coastal assemblage of nikaus, karaka, kohekohe, kawakawa and pigeonwood, the species change with the cooler conditions. Beech (mostly red and hard) but with mountain and silver also form the canopy with other hardier species such as rimu present. Understorey plants include hinau and toro, with epiphytes like rata and kiekie encrusting trunks.
The descent is as steep as the ascent, but with markedly different vegetation. Here, land has been disturbed from previous pastoral activities and is now regenerating. Tea-tree nurtures a developing understorey, while in the moist gullies are hundreds of tree ferns. After 30 minutes there’s a 10-minute return detour to the Schoolhouse Bay campground (and toilets). This is a sheltered bay for sailing boats in stormy conditions. Wind here is a favour or a folly. Continue 10 minutes further through private land to Resolution Bay cabins and the enticing sign offering coffee and muffins. Bellbirds duet in the trees.
Resolution Bay to Endeavour Inlet
2 ¾ hours 10.5 km
The old bridle track climbs through manuka to the saddle between Resolution Bay and Endeavour Inlet. Periodic breaks in the canopy open up quintessential view past Resolution Bay. After 1 hour two well-placed benches look over Endeavour Inlet. You can see Mount McMahon, idyllic homes in their own bays and sailing boats moored to buoys. Toilets are nearby. On the opposite hillside vegetation has been disturbed and is now recolonising. A sprinkling of pines protrudes above the canopy.
The track then winds its way around the hillside, retaining height. There are occasional glimpses out but most interest is in the forest. Look for the large elegant hard beech covered in mould and the particularly fine corridors of five-finger and tea tree. Tree ferns are in abundance. The track looses altitude after 1 hour, finally arriving at the shores of Endeavour Inlet.
There are tracks to private houses and a quaint boatshed with an L-shaped jetty. The small settlement at Endeavour Inlet has some old-style baches and newer homes with modern building material. All have boats, dinghies, jetties and the occasional tractor or 4WD motorbike. Recycled rusting winches find use a signposts or ornaments.
30 minutes on is the sidetrack to Furneaux Lodge, the expensive one. Nearby is the signpost to a 1 hour return detour to a waterfall. 10 minutes on is Endeavour Resort with a sign saying ‘Trampers Welcome.’ Continue another 10 minutes to the head of the inlet over the swingbridge.
From here a 2 hour return walk takes you the Antimony Mine with Titirangi Road 1 hour further on. The stibnite, a metallic element useful for making tin alloys, was mined by various companies from 1874 to 1907. A self-acting incline delivered trucks of ore to the processing plant near the inlet. The complex machinery was powered by Pelton wheels, driven by extensive water races. Up to 75 men, many with families, lived in the community.
Today, a few farms and accommodation houses are dotted around the grassy flats of this isolated settlement. Oystercatchers hear your arrival and kick up a vociferous racket and this can set off the peacock somewhere in the valley. The peacock turns out to be an albino. Have a look in the Miners Camp.
Geologically the Marlborough Sounds are a continuation of the Richmond Range, but this north-eastern end is actually subsiding into the sea. The innumerable indentations are drowned river valleys, which would resemble their overland counterparts were it not for their submergence. The complex lines are confusing to both the casual map observer and passing visitor. Only those with many years experience in boats can get to know the nooks and crannies intimately.
The genesis of most Marlborough Sounds rocks took place 280 million years ago during Permian times, when large quantities of sediment were transported to the sea at the edge of Gondwanaland. The beds of silt, mud and sand accumulated to form the greywackes composed of sand, argillite made up of silt and the metamorphosed schists, a product of heating and folding deep within the earth. Into this matrix several undersea volcanoes vented magma, which intruded into the overlying rocks.
This volcanic belt was responsible for the formation of an unusual rock sequence known as the Dun Mountain Ophiolite Belt. These ultramafic rocks exhibit a concentration of magnesium and iron, rendering poor soils and a distinct flora. The curious feature of this ‘mineral belt’ is it’s ‘twin’ in the Red Hills of Otago, 480 km to the south. How such distinct rocks could occur in such geographical isolation confounded geologists until the development of the plate tectonics and continental drift theories. The explanation now holds the Alpine Fault responsible for bisecting the once-homogenous outcrop and slowly nudging the two pieces apart over the last 25 million years.
Between 140 and 110 million years ago those original rocks, metamorphic schists and sedimentary rocks, underwent a severe torturing, being buckled, folded and uplifted in a phase of mountain building known as the Rangitata Orogeny. Subsequent erosion reduced the peaks to stumps and the low-lying peneplain was overlain with other rock sequences.
During the last 5 million years the Kaikoura Orogeny has renewed the thrust skyward however the uplift has been checked by the general north-east tilt of the land to the west of the Alpine Fault, which runs along the Wairau Valley and through Cook Strait. A transverse fault associated with this movement is currently uplifting the Wellington side, conversely down-thrusting the Marlborough Sounds side.
During periods of global glaciation over the last 2 million years, vast quantities of water became locked up in the ice sheets. At the height of the last ice age around 18,000 years ago, sea levels were 120 metres lower than today. Farwell Spit was joined to Taranaki and Cook Strait didn’t exist. During relatively warm periods (inter-glacials), this pent up water is released back into fluid form and causes sea levels to rise. Those north-easternmost valleys of the Richmond Range became inundated, causing the drowned river valley system to evolve.
The land that has kept it’s head above water is still clothed in a jungle-like forest. The variety of vegetation types from luxuriant mosses, entwining lattices of liana, dense understoreys and towering podocarp canopies are reminiscent of more tropical forest types. In the heat of a Marlborough summer, the shade is pleasant and necessary.
Coastal forests are dominated by the podocarps such as totara, rimu, kahikatea, matai and miro. These forest giants pierce the canopy, which is generally formed by large leaved species like kohekohe, pukatea and karaka. Tawa, mahoe, titoki, putaputaweta and kamahi are also common. The sub canopy tends to be full of seedlings and pioneer species such as fuchsia, wineberry and kawakawa. Shady gullies are often lines with a plethora of tree ferns including the ‘Big Mamas’, mamaku. The tree fern’s penchant for moist gullies is especially evident from outside the forest when breaks in the vegetation allow examination of the forest composition. This verdant assemblage is furthermore woven with liana such as supplejack, kiekie and rata. Mosses, liverworts and lichens colonise bare surfaces to complete the picture of green.
On the ridges and hilltops, pockets of beech forest still survive. Spared the burning and felling suffered by their more accessible counterparts, these original forest remnants impart an altogether different feel. Hard beech, with it’s toothed leaves, dominates below 500 metres, where red beech takes over until the treeline and the domain of silver beech. The Spartan understoreys are mainly composed of five-finger, kamahi and small-leaved coprosmas.
Several Maori legends relate to the Marlborough Sounds. All show a close connection with the waterways based on mental maps and generational knowledge, passed on in the absence of written words and maps.
One of the earliest creation stories tells of a time of darkness. Out came Maku (moisture), who married Mahoranuiatea. Their love bore a son called Raki, who in turn married Pokoharua-te-po. Their sons were Aoraki, Rakiroa, Raaraki and Rarkiroa and they all lived in the heavens. One day Raki fell in love with another woman, Papatuanuku (Earth Mother) and descended to earth to marry his new-found lover. Angry at their father’s infidelity, Aoraki and his three brothers decided to visit Papatuanuku and jumped aboard their mighty canoe Te Waka o Aoraki. After meeting Papatuanuku they realised their father’s complete love for her and decided to return home to support their mother.
Aoraki commenced a sacred chant to enable the heavenward journey but made errors in his recital. They were earth bound and sea condition grew stormy. The waka was thrust onto its side and the brothers climbed atop the hull. Their calls for help were in vain and over time their bodies became stone and their hair white. The brothers now form the snowcapped peaks of the Southern Alps, with Aoraki (Mount Cook), the tallest. Their canoe became Te Waka o Aoraki (South Island), later named Te Waipounamu (The Greenstone Waters). The prow, which had been a finely crafted maze of carvings, disintegrated and became partially submerged to form the Marlborough Sounds.
Another notable legend recalls the legendary explorer Kupe, who tussled with a giant octopus. During the struggle the many tentacles gouged the land into the labyrinthine curves of today. Kupe eventually won over the monster of the deep and scooped out his eyes, tossing them into the ocean where they metamorphosed to Ngawhatu, the Brothers Islands off the head of Cape Koamaru.
To Maori, Queen Charlotte Sound was known as Totaranui on account of the large totara found here, useful for manufacturing waka. This was obviously a place where canoe building was prominent, being a natural point where land based travel gave way to sea faring. The sound was used initially by North Island Maori of Kurahaupo descent but large numbers of Rangitane later lived at Anakiwa. This was also the burial ground of Chief Kiwa.
Captain Cook first arrived at Queen Charlotte Sound on 15th January 1770 aboard Endeavour. This was the first of five visits which spanned 100 days between 1770 and 1777. The five sojourns were from 15th January to 6th February 1770 in Endeavour. In Resolution from 18th May to 7th June 1773, 3rd to 25th November 1773, 18th October to 10th November 1774 and 12th to 25th February 1777.
Aboard Endeavour on his first voyage, Ship Cover provided the timber, water, grasses and fish needed to repair man and vessel. Endeavour was careened, scrubbed and caulked. A forge was set up to repair the tiller braces. Meanwhile around 100 ‘Natives’ paddled into the bay to inspect the goings on. Cook’s Tahitian interpreter Tupaia was able to facilitate trading of fish.
Later Cook, Banks and Tupaia explored a nearby bay and found the remains of human bones close to the cooking pots. Although they were aware it was customary to eat enemies slain in battle, this first witnessing of the gruesome evidence prompted the grizzly naming of Cannibal Bay.
Other forays in the pinnace included a visit to the ‘Hippa’ on a nearby island. Here they were shown a traditional Maori village, fortified with a palisade. They were even offered the bones of recently killed attackers.
Another exploratory row yielded one of the more notable discoveries of the voyage. After climbing a high hill just below Kaitapeha on Arapawa Island Cook was able to look both north and south and ascertain that Cook Strait was indeed a strait. This question had vexed explorers since Abel Tasman’s incomplete records of 125 years earlier. Banks insisted it be named after its discoverer, appropriately leaving Cook’s name as an indelible label on one of New Zealand’s most prominent features.
In 1773 aboard Resolution, Cook liberated pigs, goats and sheep. A ram and ewe had been brought all the way from the Cape of Good Hope and promptly died after eating poisonous leaves, probably of tutu. He also planted a vege patch with potatoes, corn, beans, kidney beans and peas, in case of his return. Maori apparently took great interest in the crops and Cook freely showed them the fineries of European gardening. The boulders at the far end of the beach were removed by the crew so the new copper fittings would not be scratched when the vessel was careened.
Cook also left a legacy of names. Endeavour Inlet was named West Bay by Cook then later renamed. Shag Bay is now Resolution Bay. Names with Furneaux are named after Captain Tobias Furneaux, master of Adventure, Cook’s consort ship.
Cook’s enthusiasm for his new anchorage was disseminated throughout the European world and other explorers followed in his wake. The Russian Admiralty organised an expedition headed by Thaddeus von Bellingshausen in 1820, which did much to increase knowledge of Maori culture.
Seven years later a French mission captained by Jules Sebastian Cesar Dumont d’Urville set out to fill in the gaps of Cook’s charts. On January 23rd 1827 the vessel L’Astrolabe sailed through a channel between the mainland and D’Urville Island. Although the passage involved a skirmishes with reefs, battles with currents and broken anchors, the corvette made the crossing from Croisilles to Admiraly Bay through what is now known as French Pass.
Various improvements in the charts were finalised between 1848 and 1855 during Captain John Lort Stoke’s systematic charting of the entire New Zealand coastline on HMS Acheron.
Whaling stations were established from the 1820s and shady characters from Australia like ‘Scotch Jack’ and Arthur Elmslie set up shore based stations in the Tory Channel. Although the industry underwent a lull from the 1850 an Italian immigrant family, the Peranos, became synonymous with whaling from 1911 to 1964.
Other spurs for settlement included the organised boats by the New Zealand Company. The Tory arrived at Ship Cove in 1839 with others the following year. This was the start of the land clearance, as eager settlers made the first attempts at farming the hills. Much of the land proved too steep and the isolation led to many farms being unsustainable. The land was left to revert back to native forest, a regeneration process still continuing today.
As European contact increased settlers took up runs on the peninsula. From the 1880s bridle paths were established to connect the various landholdings and decreased the reliance on boat transport. All were constructed using picks, shovels and barrows.
South Island ▷ Marlborough ▷ Picton / Marlborough Sounds
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