The Sound of Marlborough

I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand and the Abel Tasman has been on my list of walks to do since Stroll started offering it – the sunshine, the seals, the golden sand! It was a clear winner in my mind. However, I pivoted and booked the Queen Charlotte Track instead. It was apparent from the photos that the Queen Charlotte is very beautiful – a track that makes its way through the Marlborough Sounds. I’d never seen a sound in real life before, mountains jutting out from the ocean, nothing short of majestic. Having booked The Queen Charlotte for years for our walkers I knew the accommodations along the way are wonderful with restaurant dinners included after each walking day. Although the real reason I chose the Queen Charlotte, was because I needed something uncomplicated. I needed a break from thinking and planning, I needed to just…walk.

The Queen Charlotte is a linear track where you walk out from one accommodation and straight into the next. Other than the ferry to Ship Cove to start the walk and the ferry back to Picton at the end – the 71km of track in between is purely just you and your own two feet. There are no vehicle transfers needed which means you can start and finish each day as you please (daylight hours permitting) which for someone who runs perpetually late is a blessing.

There’s also something different about completing a linear walk compared to other multi day walks. There’s a sense of progression and accomplishment at the end of it. Your journey has a literal start and end and there’s something healing in that.

Travelling to Picton 
Driving to Picton was an experience in of itself. The road hugs the coastline running parallel to the train tracks for the Coastal Pacific Train – touted as one of the most beautiful train journeys in New Zealand. The landscape is characterised by rolling golden hills, rows of vineyards whirring by and rocky shores with light turquoise waters marked by a stark dark blue line showing where the water deepens into the Pacific Ocean. Picton is delightful with tree covered hills on all sides and glittering turquoise water. The main street is lined with bustling restaurants, friendly bars and cute little gift shops. After a little exploring and dinner, we settled into our accommodation in Picton which was clean and comfortable with lovely staff and a lovely view from our room. We had everything we needed for a good rest before starting our walk the next day.


The road into Picton

Memorial archway framing the Marlborough Sounds in Picton 


Picton to Ship Cove to Furneaux
For anyone wanting to travel on top of the ferry – layer up. It’s cold! The first views of the Sounds were exciting. Arriving at Ship Cove was such a magical experience, walking along the jetty to what felt like a secluded island. The waters were clear and blue, lapping at a pebbly beach. It was easy to imagine how awestruck Captain Cook must have felt arriving at such a uniquely beautiful and remote place.

The first day of walking felt reminiscent of the Gold Coast Hinterland in Australia – cool ferny forest with a rocky track underfoot. The steady inclines were enough to get my heart rate up. I was grateful my walking boots were extremely comfortable (I recommend going up a size for hiking boots as I painfully learned on the Great Ocean Walk). At 16km the first day is long enough to wake up your legs and get you into walking mode. Over the years I’ve learned walking is the best kind of therapy. Just you with your thoughts, your emotions, your problems, no distractions. For me, walking is like a washing machine for the mind. It churns, things bubble up, you see things inside out, upside down. The lack of internet connection makes room for inner connection. On day 1 my anxieties arise. Is my dog okay without me? What’s my five year plan? How am I going to handle this situation? By the end of the day solutions slowly make their way to the surface and I quite literally walk all the junk out of my system.

Arriving at Furneaux Lodge is such a welcome sight! The grounds are gorgeous! The original colonial-style family homestead is the centrepiece functioning as the restaurant and bar area where you can select a well-earned glass of local wine (which goes down way too easily) and enjoy a delicious a la carte dinner. There’s a hot tub which we made full blissful use of. And do not even start me about our suite, spacious, luxuriously decorated, water views with a cloud for a bed – if that were my home, I’d be one very happy lady.


Forest walking from Ship Cove

Furneaux to Punga 

Waking up at Furneaux lodge is a real treat, the water views from the deliciously comfortable bed, surrounded by beautiful trees, flowers and birdlife – it really is paradise. The a la carte breakfast is just as satisfying as last night’s dinner. Did I mention the staff are also so lovely? Nothing is too much trouble. The hardest part of my day is packing up my luggage to have it transferred to the next accommodation by water taxi! (This is only hard because I’ve over packed… I blame the oodie – the bags are left in the room and will be at the next accommodation by the time we arrive).
This day is probably my favourite day of all. It’s so easy to get back on the track – no incline, just a gentle walk back into the forest. By the second day of walking, worrying and problem-solving gives way to creative inspiration. Passion projects and creative projects at work get shuffled around for fresh ideas. The five-year plan makes itself known – yes, a cottage on the peninsula would be ideal. My legs and joints adjust to walking longer distances and today the track is a lot smoother and shorter at 12km. The views are spectacular. Turquoise water sparkles through the ferns. The track itself is more exposed so the sun comes through to warm us.


Views of the Sounds through the fern trees


Punga is so beautiful, just as beautiful as Furneaux. I’m out on the deck watching the water sparkle between the trees. The sun is shining, I pull my hat over my face and soak up the sunshine. It’s late March but it feels like summer and the breeze is warm. The sound of birds and waves lapping the rocky shore lull me into a state of deep peacefulness. This is holidaying at its finest.


Water views from our chalet at Punga Cove


After a quick nap it’s time to explore Punga – there is so much to do here, hot tubs, fishing, kayaking, paddle boarding, swimming in the Sounds, swimming in the pool or just relaxing on the deck with a glass of your new favourite wine. Cue horror comedy on the kayak (yes this is overly dramatic). I haven’t kayaked since school camp so forgive me; we thought it would be a lovely idea to kayak around the Sounds (did you know people have kayaked from Australia to New Zealand?) How hard could it be? We started kayaking trying to go around the jetty to the beach. I cannot work out which way I need to paddle to go in the direction I want; mind you, this is a two-person kayak each of us paddling in different directions – so we zig zag out to sea all the while slowly sinking. Cue giant swarm of jellyfish (completely harmless) which in my mind are terrible stingers, there’s probably sharks in the water too (definitely not). We continue to sink to our death (we are wearing life jackets 20m from shore). I probably make embarrassing squeals of fear (I 100% do). We capsize and it’s all commotion until I realise I’m floating and so are my crocs. Watching my partner try to re-enter the kayak was like watching a baby seal try to mount a surfboard – it was hilarious. I was in stitches for about 15 minutes. Defeatedly, we walked the kayak back to shore as it had become completely waterlogged. The walk of shame is given a whole new meaning, all the while watching more skilled people effortlessly paddle around. Kayaking was a fail. Laughing and bobbing around the Sounds in the salty water was a priceless moment I will cherish forever. The cherry on top of a wonderful day. The staff here are equally as wonderful advising us of the bioluminescent plankton which are still present in the water – a truly magical experience.


Punga to The Portage – the Big Day
There’s something about having a big day of walking ahead of you. At 23.5km you know it’s a (half) marathon not a race. Some thoughts slowly churned one last time before being released. We relished the slow unravelling of each hour. I say we, but I can probably only talk for me. By the way, if you do not stretch after a big walk, I highly recommend that you do. While my partner announced he could not feel anything and stopped stretching, something must have worked as the next day I felt nothing, but he felt sore. We had all kinds of weather today – which only adds to the adventure. The wind was strong but warm and the rain was more of a light misting. The long stretches of forest felt enchanted – different to what we had experienced in previous days. The canopy above protected us from the rain and the trees occasionally gave way to beautiful views over the Sounds complete with rainbows! The forest floor was dotted with red toadstools and other interesting mushrooms, the whole scene felt like a fairy tale. Today was a true immersion with so many different things to see. The forest gave way to a balcony path literally cut into the side of the hills.


Rainbow through the forest

Red mushroom on the forest floor

Directional signpost on the Queen Charlotte Track

Something else profound arose: the strong connection and appreciation I felt for my hiking partner. It’s a truly wonderful thing to find someone who you enjoy walking 8 hours nonstop with. Quirky conversations, laughter, motivating each other and comfortable silence. How glorious it is to find someone with whom you can enjoy silence. Each with space to just be. Away from the demands of everyday life. Away from cooking, cleaning, working, the distractions of the internet and tv.

The end of today probably felt the most difficult – a steep descent to The Portage. But boy oh boy was the Portage a sight to see – with the sun hovering low in the sky, the waterfront accommodation is friendly and welcoming. The common areas are lovely, and I wish we had spent more time enjoying them. If it’s cold you can cosy up next to the fire while enjoying your drink of choice! I also highly recommend watching the sunset over the Sounds at dinner time. The back of the restaurant is glass to allow you to enjoy the spectacular display of the surrounding hills and water illuminated in every shade of orange, pink, purple and gold.


Sunset from the deck at the Portage Resort

The Portage to Anakiwa – the last day
After another delicious breakfast we were relieved to be able to take the free shuttle back up to meet the track. This saved our tired legs from about 700m of very steep uphill walking. This last day is another big day at 20km, there’s some steep sections along the way and the track can be rocky underfoot demanding focus. We shared our lunch with a very beautiful horse – she had jumped the fence of a nearby paddock and was grazing near a picnic table. She happily trotted over and accepted our unwanted fruit.


The lovely horse that we met on the Queen Charlotte Track


Today thoughts have stopped completely. There’s no churning, no problem solving. No creative inspiration. It’s something else entirely. There is only presence. Presence in the body and in the present moment. It sounds so cliche, but you can actually feel yourself reconnect with nature, you become part of the landscape. It’s not so crazy when you think about it. We are nature, we’ve just built up this wonderful technological world around us so it’s easy to forget. The very last section of the walk gently undulates downhill through vibrant jade green forest, it’s refreshing, peaceful and so beautiful. We reach the end, and it’s a shared victory with the other walkers to have arrived at the end with time to spare, before our ferry back to Picton. 4 days of walking is the perfect amount of time. Long enough to really unwind but short enough to easily fit into a longer holiday. The Queen Charlotte Track is for anyone who would like a simply beautiful, moderately challenging walk to reset the mind and body all while enjoying a little bit of luxury each night.

To go back to the title, what is the Sound of Marlborough? It’s birdsong in the forest, water lapping gently at the shore, your favourite wine pouring into a glass and silence, that beautiful comfortable silence you share with someone you love.

For anyone who has already booked the Queen Charlotte Track – I wish you a wonderful walk. For anyone who is interested in more information you can find our itineraries here.

Written and photographed by Sanyana Pethes


Hiking boots with a view 

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