Intermediate - Advanced
One of New Zealand’s classic mountain bike rides, the track of this cycle trail traces its way around the bays, hills and ridges of the Marlborough Sounds.
This landmark trail offers cyclists (and walkers) a chance to delve deep into the Marlborough Sounds, one of the country’s most beautiful waterways. Starting at historic Ship Cove in the outer sounds, the trail skirts around bay after bay, linked by saddles and ridges offering stupendous views. The whole trail can be completed over 2–3 days by fit cyclists, or broken into easier sections and combined with kayaking and hiking. Excellent support services make for easy logistics.
Overall, this track is best suited to reasonably fit, experienced mountain bikers, but it is possible to tailor trips for riders of lesser ability. The track mixes up flat sections, well-graded inclines and sweeping downhills, but there are also some grunty climbs, technical descents and other tricky bits. Advice on rides is readily available from Picton’s cycle tour and boat companies.
For seasoned riders, the full 70km trail is the ultimate adventure, with a wide variety of accommodation for overnight stops, and occasional cafes and restaurants offering relief from cheese rolls and muesli bars. Luggage transfers allow riders to cycle light.
The trail begins with a scenic boat cruise from Picton to Ship Cove in the outer sounds, then wends all the way back in, ending at Anakiwa from where it’s just a short boat hop or shuttle ride back to Picton.
Regular boat transport makes shorter rides easy to organise, with bike/hike and bike/kayak options deservedly popular, as well as trips that involve lingering over a resort lunch. A one-day option that comes highly recommended is the guided kayak trip to pretty Mistletoe Bay followed by a memorable stretch of Queen Charlotte Track through sweet-smelling beech forest to Anakiwa. Swimming is a distinct possibility, as it is all along the trail.
View trail map here.
Much of the Queen Charlotte Track is grade 3 (intermediate), although some technical sections bump it up to grade 4 (advanced) in places.
The trail is well signposted but remote in parts, so riders should carry a map, plenty of water and food, basic tool kit, and cellphone (although coverage will be patchy).
Most of the trail can be ridden at any time of year, although the section from Ship Cove to Camp Bay is closed between December and March when water taxis will take riders to Punga Cove instead. The track can get muddy during rainy periods, so riders should check the conditions as well as the weather forecast in advance, and pack clothing for all eventualities.
Wilderness Guides, Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company and Sea Kayak Adventures offer self-guided and guided tours including bike hire, transfers and accommodation, as well as additional activities such as kayaking.
The interislander ferry port and tourist town of Picton makes a great base for day trips. For overnight trips there is a wide range of cycle-friendly accommodation right on the track, including basic campsites, hostels, homestays and luxury lodges.