As part of my 2009 South Island of New Zealand trip I mountain biked the Queen Charlotte Track. I arrived in the small seaside town of Nelson on the 4th April 2009 and spent the night before my Queen Charlotte track ride in a motel that overlooked the pretty harbour. Nelson was not only the departure point for my ride but also the ferry port for the inter-islander ferry between the north and south island of New Zealand
The Queen Charlotte track is a hiking/mountain biking track at the top of the South Island in the Marlborough Sounds that winds its way from the historic anchorage point of Captain Cook at Ship Cove through to the seaside village of Anakiwa in Grove Arm. Along the way the views are to Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds with there bush-clad shorelines and deep bays and coves. The track is 71km’s in length and the most northern point is Ship Cove which is only accessible by boat. I did the ride over two days starting from Resolution Bay 4.5km’s south of Ships Cove, then over-nighting at Portage Bay which is roughly 45km’s from Resolution Bay and 21km’s from the end of the track at Anakiwa.
Day 1 (05/04/09) Resolution Bay to Portage Resort
I was up early this morning as I had to get over to the bike rental place to get a bike sorted and then loaded onto the water taxi. I ended up with a Specialized Hardrock hardtail that looked okay at first glance but a closer inspection showed the drive-train had seen better days. The water taxi pulled up beside the wharf and the bikes and luggage were loaded onto the roof of the water taxi unsecured. I was a bit worried about my luggage as it was loaded on the edge of the water taxis racks and looked as though it would go over the side in the slightest bit of swell. Only two other people on the boat were riding the track, the rest were walking or workers heading out to the various resort/accommodation places.
By this time I had made up my mind to skip the first 4.5kms of the track from Ships Cove to Resolution Bay as I had read and heard that it was a 2 or more hour uphill slog that involved quite a bit of hike a bike. So my start point was to be Resolution Bay and the trip out there took about an hour or so. The weather was perfect with bright sunshine and clear skies. The many bays and coves of Marlborough Sound with there dense green forested shorelines were contrasted against the beep blue waters of the sound as we headed out into a mild swell. The conditions were so perfect I wished I was exploring the Sound by kayak not by bike but that will have to wait for another day. We stopped of at Portage Bay my accommodation point for that night to unload hikers and luggage, before continuing onto Resolution Bay.
Resolution Bay was a beautiful cove with a timber jetty extending out into the deeper waters of the cove. The water was crystal clear and fish could be seen swimming below the jetty. The only sigh of habitation was a few cabins behind the jetty set into the hillside that rose ominously above them. The water taxi pilot precariously unloaded my bike down to me on the jetty while I grabbed by backpack/hydration bladder that I was carrying with me. The captain then asked me where on the roof of the water taxi my overnight luggage was. I couldn't’t see it so I climbed up on it’s roof and started to panic when it became obvious it wasn’t there. I was just about to start letting him know what I thought of his ability to pack luggage as I thought my over-night luggage was fish food at the bottom of Marlborough Sound. In the end I realised he is was just asking me where my luggage had been stored as he wanted to be sure that he had unloaded my over-night bag at Portage Bay when we had stopped there on the journey out and not someone else’s luggage.. Phew, crisis averted!
The climb out of Resolution Bay was an unridable hike a bike section. After following the skyline it was then onto some fast flowing single track that carved its way along the spine of Queen Charlotte Sound before descending past Furneaux Lodge and crossing the suspension bridge shortly after it and into Endeavour Inlet.The descent into Endeavour Cove and Punga Resort was a rooty slippery roller coaster of a ride which really tested at times my ability to stay on the bike. The track then climbs steeply out of Punga Cove via the Keneperu Saddle towards the highest elevation of the track. On the climb out I cramped up and my right leg locked straight and took some time (and pain) to gently straighten out. I pushed my bike to the top of the climb towards a four way junction.
It wasn't obvious which way the track went and I was desperate by this time not to take the wrong route and add any more distance for the day. I had the option of a dirt road that looked like it descended towards the way I wanted to go, another dirt track that ascended away from the direction I wanted to go, and a rough walking track that ascended very steeply up a ridge. I had lost my map by this time and while standing there debating with myself which way to go a four wheel drive came up from the dirt track that ascended to my left. After speaking to them they indicated they had come from Portage Bay which was my accommodation for that night, but they didn't know where the Queen Charlotte Track was. That was good enough for me so I rode off down the dirt track as the look of the climbs on either alternative options did not appeal.
It turned out I took the wrong route! I was at the junction of the Kenepuru Saddle after climbing up from Camp Bay. From this point the Queen Charlotte Track assends the ridge line that separates Queen Charlotte Sound and Kenepuru Sound. However, I had taken the unsealed road that led down into the Kenepuru Valley and the head of the sound. Initially it was a beautiful ride as I travelled through the lush green valley along deserted country roads surrounded by scenery that was dramatically different to the blue ocean and soft sands of Queen Charlotte Sound just a ridge line away.
Eventually the valley floor road met the head waters of Kenepuru Sound and the gravel beneath my wheels turned to bitumen and followed the waters of the sound towards what I hoped was Portage Bay. I didn't enjoy this part of the ride as I was still without a map and very unsure if I was enroute to my accommodation for the night. While the views of Kenepuru Sound were spectacular the road along it was exhausting as it sidled above the sound in a seemingly never ending series of roller coaster ups and downs. Just as I has nearly given up hope that I was heading in the right direction I started to make out the signs of civilisation in the distance. After passing through a few tiny villages I finally arrived exhausted at my accommodation for the night at Portage Bay Resort just as the sun was beginning to set.
A hot shower never felt so good and after a hot meal and unsuccessfully trying to find a TV channel that screened the F1, I gave up defeated and went to bed. However, sleep was hard to come by as a persistent mouse found the contents of my backpack unresistable and spent most of the night scratching through its contents. Despite my best efforts its capture alluded me and I think I must have passed out exhausted sometime after 2am. And for the pleasure of it Portage Bay Resort charges an exorbitant price for there accommodation as other options in that area a very limited. Thanks for nothing Portage Bay Resort!!
Day 2 (06/04/09)Portage Bay Resort to Anakiwa then water taxi back to Nelson
Day 2 started with a long arduous climb out of Portage Bay up to the ridge line that separates Queen Charlotte Sound from Kenepuru Sound. For me this section was more 'hike a bike' than riding however, it was worth it for the spectacular views in both directions out over the water, hills and mountains with misty clouds hovering over there peaks. The track continued to follow an old bridle path high above the water before rounding an obvious point and beginning the descent to Davies Bay.
The hard climbing was rewarded by a long, steep switchback descent cut into the mountain before reaching a bitumen road than can be followed on to Anakiwa. However, I crossed the road and continued on the Queen Charlotte Track climbing a bit more before continuing the descent into Anakiwa. This section contained around a half hour of barreling down benched single track with rocky creek crossings, small bridges with mini drops at the end, corners, slippery sections, mud and technical sections, pretty much everything that makes mountain biking fun at around 25 - 30 km/hr all the way. After all the hard climbing this section of the track leaves you with a brilliant impression of the end of the ride and helps to forget the not so fun bits.
The final section was on an easy path through mature beech forest to Anakiwa. With about a kilometre to go Nick rang me from home to see how I was getting along. It gave me the chance to stop and look out through the beech forest onto the beautiful blue waters of Grove Arm that extends out from Queen Charlotte Sound. The finish of the track was a little anti climatic as you exit abruptly from the forest onto a small clearing with a car park, shelter, toilets and phone near the track end. 800 metres along the road there was a public jetty where I would catch the boat back to Nelson and close to the tracks end a small shop where I bought some food and a drink. Beyond and above the sand flats perched above the arm of the sound the tiny village of Anakiwa nestled into the hillside. A longish wait for the water taxi ensued with none to few bites from the persistent midges before the pleasant trip back to Nelson for the night