WORD UP: The Queen Charlotte Track
Words and images by Ash Burgess
WORD is a cool club any keen young rider would love to be part of! It is a non profit organisation all about encouraging kids to ride mountain bikes. In summer they rode the Queen Charlotte Track, read up on their adventures.
WORD runs after school programmes, events and holiday programmes for 7-17 year olds. And each school holidays we give them a chance to explore a new area.
With parents’ permission, myself and eight teen girls from WORD embarked on a multi-day mountain biking and camping trip. Thanks also to the help of Bluebridge Ferry, we were able to head down to ride the Queen Charlotte Track!
This 70km track is one of 23 ‘Great Rides’ in the New Zealand Cycle Trail network. It’s right in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds, and is most certainly one of the best multi-day mountain bike trips in the country.
As with any good adventure, we needed a plan. Before the trip, we had a team meeting (with ice creams) to discuss the gear we should take, the distances to cover each day, and of course, the food! One of the best things about biking the Queen Charlotte Track is that you don’t have to carry all your gear. The water taxi (we used Cougar Line) transfers your overnight gear to the end point of each day! So we were able to live it up with roomy tents, comfy sleeping bags and heaps of food.
There are lots of accommodation options along the trail, so if you are a little less hardy then us, you can opt for the lodges. The track is a Grade 3, with a couple of ‘spicy bits’ where one might want to walk. But for the majority, if you ride on single track once a week, you’ll adore this track.
As for the safety side of it, there’s good cell phone coverage along parts of the trail (mostly the ridge tops), but not all. Be prepared with a first aid kit, bike repair bits, and lots of layers. Drinking water is also scarce - carrying three litres is a good idea.
We decided to do the ride in three days. You can do it in one or two, but taking three days gave us plenty of time to take photos, and do wheelies!
Below is an outline of our amazing adventure, including ‘WORD Up Tips’ to make your trip even better.
WORD Up Tip: Pack ONE large bag - the water taxi in Picton charges for each separate bag.
Day One - Ships Cove to Camp Bay
Approx time: 5hrs.
Total climb: 370m
We all arrived at the Wellington Bluebridge Ferry terminal at 7am. It was hard to tell who was more excited, the WORD girls or their parents. We said our goodbyes, boarded the ship, popped our bikes in the nifty onboard bike racks, and set our sails (well, engines) towards the South Island! A few hours later we arrived in Picton, ready for a bite to eat. There are heaps of cafes to choose from and even a grocery store for last minute supplies.
WORD Up Tip: Fill your water bottles up - this is your last chance for the rest of the day!
The water taxi departs every day at 1.30pm. It definitely pays to book ahead. Each rider needs to purchase a Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative (QCTLC) Pass at the Picton Marina. $18 for adults, free for school children.
The old saying ‘The journey is just as good as the destination’ couldn’t be more true. After an hour of gliding through the Sounds, we arrived at Ship Cove - the start of the Queen Charlotte Track.
WORD Up Tip: You can only start from Ship Cove between 1 March - 30 November. Between 1 December - 28 February, water taxi operators will take you to Punga Cove to start your ride.
If you have been doing some math, you will have noticed that it’s 2.30pm by the time we arrived at Ships Cove. By our calculations, we’d be cruising into camp by 7pm, under the assumption that we’d ride fast, wouldn’t stop to take photos, and wouldn’t eat snacks.
I really don’t know what we were thinking, as by the time we arrived at Endeavour Inlet it was already 7pm. We got a boogie-on and flew into camp just as it was getting dark. After setting up camp and making dinner, we crashed out at 10pm.
Accommodation options: DOC campground or stay at Punga Cove.
Day Two - Camp Bay to Portage
Approx. time: 4hrs.
Total climb 900m.
After a late night, we decided a wee sleep in would be just fine. This day had some decent climbs and amazing downhills. We took pictures, we had snack breaks, we did sweet jumps, and arrived mid afternoon at Portage. We enjoyed swimming in the bay, and practicing our synchronised bike gymnastics - as funny as it sounds. We giggled as we drank Milo and watched the stars come out. Sitting under the stars, it felt as if we were the only people in the whole world.
Accommodation options: Camp by the beach at the DOC campsite, or stay at one of the many accommodations in the bay (Treetops offers a self catering option). We stuck to the camping theme. For a bit of luxury, the Portage Hotel has great food and drinks… It was a real treat to watch the sun go down, while enjoying chips and a soda.
Day Three - Portage to Anakiwa
Approx. time: 4hrs.
Total climb 600m.
An early morning wake up, pack up, eat up and we were ready; ready for a big climb, a really big climb, a pushing bikes kind of big! We were rewarded with amazing views of the Marlborough Sounds and an epic downhill.
With the climb came a fun descent - all the way to Te Mahia Saddle, where we had lunch on the track and set off for the final 12km of undulating terrain, to Anakiwa. We bought all the ice creams they had and sat in the sun waiting in good time for our 3pm water taxi back to Picton. Back in Picton with plenty of time, we replenished ourselves with fish and chips before getting on the 6pm ferry back to Wellington.
WORD Up Tip: Treat yourself to a cabin. For only $40, you can have a two person cabin, complete with your own shower, fresh towels and sheets. You’ll arrive back in Wellington smelling like roses (or at least not covered in mud).
And so at the end of the three days, we arrived back to Wellington happily exhausted. It’s amazing how this long weekend trip can feel like a month, when you’re on the trail with a great group of friends.
WORD - Youth MTB Adventures: word.org.nz
Track Info: nzcycletrail.com/find-your-ride/22-great-rides/queen-charlotte-track/
Ferry Bookings: bluebridge.co.nz