By Stu Waddel
Marlborough has for some time had its biking legacy tracked out with Queen Charlotte Track (QCT). The track was ride-able in the early 90’s and possibly even earlier. It is still a jewel in the crown of classic riding in New Zealand today.
The whole track is a 71km ride and the fittest rider can knock it off in a day, while those who choose to ride leisurely can make it a worthy two to four day adventure.
Dotted along the track are a fantastic collection of accommodation and hospitality outlets, with a number of water transport providers. The most popular way to ride it is from Ships Cove, on the outreaches of the Queen Charlotte Sound. Then riding south west back in to the Sound, dropping into secluded bays and along ridgelines with spectacular views. The track is very popular with walkers, with an increasing number of people walking Te Araroa, the length of Aotearoa, New Zealand. Parts of the QCT are closed for the busy summer season.
Marlborough Adventure Company offer an easy booking and trip planning service. They take the hassle out of your travels and sort each and every aspect from accommodation bookings, track passes, gear drops and bike hire, everything except keeping you on the bike. They are based in Picton, on the waterfront. This is the gateway to most of the riding in the Sounds.
Further inland around Blenheim there are some great rides in the Wither Hills Farm Park. If a wine tasting sounds appealing, the vineyards have a well paved out wine trail to cycle around.
Local rides around Picton are beginning to take shape. Victoria Domain overlooking Picton Harbour has always had a couple of good tracks to ride. Leaving from Picton you can ride on single track and fire breaks through to Waikaia Bay Marina. The track sits at the base of the bush clad hillside. However, you can pick a number of tracks to take you to the ridgeline. The easiest way to the top is to take the road up. When you get there the Marlborough MTB Club has been successful in gathering permission, funding and resources to start building tracks that drop off both sides of the ridge. This has made for some great riding and is really driving the local biking community.
Cycling inland through Picton Township you can head to the end of Garden Terrace, the start of the track up to the town’s water supply. It is accessible as a walking path and has recently opened up for biking. It is a short ride and a great way to spend time before getting on the ferry or maybe taking your new MTB out for a ride. Watch out for walkers and enjoy the return ride. Given the tracks in the Sounds are shared use single tracks and very popular with walkers in summer, a bike bell is a great idea here.
A larger ride, with a higher level of fitness required, is cycling through to Linkwater and Anakiwa then on to the Queen Charlotte Track. As the Ride Manual goes to print there is great enthusiasm and hard work going into a new ‘old’ track from just above Picton on the Inner Sounds Road toward Link Water. ‘Old’ meaning it was used as a track before the current road was built. Now known as the The Link Pathway, construction began in 2005 with the goal of creating a high standard pathway between Picton and Havelock and extending out to Anakiwa. The track is over halfway complete and has an estimated completion date of January 2020 to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook arriving in the Marlborough Sounds. The completed track length will be 42km and will be shared by cyclists and walkers.
Sticking to the road for now, from the turnoff to Anakiwa, the track sidles the road and drops away toward the coast as you get closer to the start of the QCT. Riding the QCT from Anakiwa is open all summer season. The track is well formed hugging the hillside and dropping into ravines with large podocarp forest and beech trees. As a recommendation, ride earlier in the day or later in the evening. A lot of walkers are on their last day and generally have a boat to catch back in Picton.
There is a sweet camping spot at Davies Bay if you are looking to make a multi-day adventure, or riding on will take you high and low dropping to the water's edge and climbing up again. From Mistletoe Bay there is a big climb up and a nice ride through to a number of lookouts and a choice to turn off at Lochmara.
Lochmara Lodge is based on Lochmara Bay and very popular with people in the sounds boating for lunch, coffee or an evening meal. They have accommodation and maintain a track that joins onto the QCT. When leaving the QCT it is a fast pace downhill all the way to the lodge. Awesome riding and you are greeted with Lochmara’s collection of art works nestled in the forest behind the Lodge, it’s pretty cool. Staying at the Lodge for the evening is a good idea and makes the most of the Sound’s hospitality. The next thing to do is either boat back to Picton and make a round trip, or pedal back up out of the Bay and join the QCT through to The Portage.
You can go on from here on the QCT. Or as a suggestion, you join up in the Pelorus Sounds and take a water taxi over to Nydia Track. Pelorus Sounds Water Taxis can pick up and drop you out to Nydia Bay where there is a campground and a little further on, Nydia Lodge. It’s a remote part of the Upper Sounds, fantastic accommodation and superb riding. Some parts are tricky, but on the whole if the ground is dry the riding is pretty sweet. It would be worthwhile having a night on the track. Riding out the next day you have a couple of options; either get picked up from Shag Point and dropped off to Havelock or take a short ride around the bay to Havelock and back through Linkwater toward Picton.
The new Link Pathway, when complete, will keep you off the road for the majority of the ride. The loop around QCT and onto Nydia is an attractive adventure, and coming back to Picton more so with the proposed trails that will keep the ride of the road on the Havelock side of Linkwater. Wouldn’t it be great if there was also a trail from Picton through to Blenheim one day, extending the ride adventure.