Wild NZ: Cavorting With Queen Charlotte

Wild NZ: Cavorting With Queen Charlotte

The final 12-or-so kilometres from Waterfall Bay to Anakiwa was a real joy to ride - and the undulating track with its nice long descent through the coastal forest had us all fizzing.

Cavorting With Queen Charlotte

We came flying down a lovely piece of single-track, enjoying the wind in our faces and bugs in our teeth. Now THIS was mountain-biking – and it sure beat the long, mongrel climb we’d just completed! However, tearing around a corner, I arrived just in time to see my mate Nigel hurtling over the edge of a cliff and out of sight …

A few months earlier, I’d been talking with a couple about their three-day trip mountain-biking the Queen Charlotte track. He’d organised it for her birthday, and they’d had a blast. The idea of riding some of the best single track in the country, through some of the most scenic landscapes in the world, certainly got my attention – and I knew the accommodation, restaurants and spas dotted along the way would be just the ticket to get my wife keen, too.

There was one small problem though. Donna didn’t mountain bike. In fact, she didn’t do any bike! So rather than spring it on her, I decided I’d give her a few months warning – with time to get her a bike and get her riding confidently enough to tackle this multi-day romantic adventure.

However, ‘romantic’ was not to be. A few of our mates soon got wind of the idea – and instead of just the two of us, cycling hand-in-hand around the pristine coastline of the Marlborough Sounds, there were now going to be 10. And little cuddles in the bushes were off the menu …

I made a phonecall to the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, and these guys agreed to set it up. With 10 of us now going, there were meals and accommodation to sort, ferries to catch, baggage transfers to coordinate and bikes to hire – all in a day’s work for them!

I just had to arrange getting to Picton!

The Queen Charlotte track stretches almost the entire length of Queen Charlotte Sound – starting in Ship Cove, where Captain Cook hung out during the 1770’s … traversing 71km through lush coastal forest, secluded bays and historic sites … and finishing in Anakiwa, home of Outward Bound.

This once-upon-a-time bridle track (used by local farmers and miners) is now a world class attraction hosting thousands of visitors each year. One unique aspect is the variety of accommodation available en-route: from simple back-packers to luxurious beach-front hotels. You can also have your luggage transferred via water-taxi each day – which sure beats having to carry it!

We made it to Picton, after a ferry-crossing in conditions that tore off roofs in Wellington. And the following morning saw us at the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Co, where we picked up a couple of bikes and received some last minute instructions before boarding another ferry – for the start of our adventure.

The weather was perfect as we motored up Queen Charlotte Sound. And everyone was pretty excited – especially the ladies, who were giggling like schoolgirls. Thankfully, this only lasted until the first hill …

71kms: We off-loaded onto the jetty in Resolution Bay (just around the corner from Ship Cove, which had a nasty uphill start we chose to avoid). And, after a quick check of our gear, we headed off.

About 10 metres into our ride, we had to stop to fix Will’s bike. Only 70.990km to go …!

After a steady climb to Tawa Saddle, we were all suitably warmed up – and wishing we’d trained more! The views were amazing, so we took time to grab a quick drink. As if on cue, a weka materialised out of the bush, and did its best to work the crowd for a free feed.

From there, we began a slow descent into Endeavour Inlet – a beautiful bay tucked in near the entrance to the Sound. Dolphins were leaping about in the water as we rode along the bush-clad coastline – spectacular stuff!

It wasn’t long before we came across a sign pointing to the renowned Furneaux Lodge, where we decided to have lunch. It was pretty cool, emerging from the bush and seeing these beautifully landscaped surroundings. And when we discovered the lovely old bar with cold beer … well, welcome to paradise!

Dragging ourselves out of Furneaux Lodge wasn’t easy, but we were soon back on our trusty steeds. And the ride around Endeavour Head (and the site of a stibnite mining operation in the early 1900s) was pretty straightforward. It wasn’t long before we hit Big Bay and then Punga Cove – our destination for the day.

Punga Cove Resort was a sight for sore eyes, and the friendly staff soon had us sorted into our hillside accommodations: from cosy romantic chalets, to fancy honeymoon suites – all with amazing views!

We finished our day with a swim in the bay, drinks at the Boatshed Café & Bar, and an outstanding BBQ dinner on the jetty – before settling in for a good night’s sleep.

If it sounds good … the reality was even better!

44.5km: It was Donna’s birthday the next morning – and we celebrated in style with breakfast at the Punga Fern Restaurant. Will’s wife Debbie had organised party hats and hooters (the things you blow!), and the staff brought out a lovely birthday cake. It was an awesome start to what later become known as ‘Gooms Day’.

What’s a goom you ask? Well, our little guidebook mentioned that day two had a total climb of 900m. But someone in our group (who shall remain nameless) thought it said ‘Total climb goom’ – and spent much time wondering what on earth ‘goom’ meant! In the end, she figured it can’t be good – and she was right! 900m of vertical climbing wasn’t good! And right from when we left Punga Cove, we started climbing – up to the Kenepuru Saddle, with its magnificent views and up again, onto the main ridgeline.

The views however, were outstanding. And the ride along the ridgeline was a little different to our first day, with wider tracks, exotic forest and lots of scrub – and did I mention the views? Anyway, as they say, “What goes up, must come down …” and the ride down into Portage Bay on the Kenepuru Sound was a blast.

Once again, our accommodation – this time at the Portage Resort Hotel – was fantastic. And we spent the afternoon wine-tasting, cat-napping, relaxing and swimming before sharing a second birthday celebration with Donna, at the Portage’s Te Weka Restaurant.

A stunning sunset over the bay helped finish yet another amazing day.

24.5km: Someone had told us that this third and final day is “the best day’s riding of the lot!” But, with a total climb of 600m, it was still an effort – requiring a little more skill than the previous days, with plenty of technical switch-backs while descending.

And they hadn’t told us how much pushing we’d be doing …

It was pretty much 400m straight up from the moment we left, lots of it too steep to ride, and some of our crew were beginning to struggle. However, a ‘local German’ man (well into his 60s) was out for a stroll that same morning – and, taking pity on a couple of our girls, he took their bikes and pushed them up the hill himself! Right to the top!

He was a super-nice guy – but he made the rest of us look bad!

The steep climb soon ended, and before long we were enjoying some more excellent single track, punctuated with fun downhill sections. So much so that I’d forgotten all about the aches and pains from the morning’s climb … that was, until I saw Nigel fly off the edge of a cliff!

Fearing the worst, I gingerly peered over the edge and saw him and his bike caught up in a gorse bush. But his big, cheesy, and slightly embarrassed smile signalled his okness. (Look it up!) Thankfully, he’d only fallen about 4m – and, aside from having to dig out a fair bit of gorse, both he and his bike were fine.

The final 12-or-so kilometres from Waterfall Bay to Anakiwa was a real joy to ride – and the undulating track with its nice long descent through the coastal forest had us all fizzing.

0km: The end of the Queen Charlotte track is marked by a little store selling ice-creams and cappuccinos, and it’s hard to think of a nicer way to finish.

The ferry back to Picton had 10 knackered riders on board – but we were all still mates, and all keen to do it again!

It doesn’t get much better than that …


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Issue 2 2010 Wild NZ Issue 2 2010 Wild NZ (1082 KB)