QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK, SOUTH ISLAND
Go ultralight on the country’s best coastal track.
Backpackers visiting New Zealand must thru-hike one of the great mountain tracks—the Routeburn, Caples-Greenstone, Milford, or our new fave, the Rees- Dart (next page). They deserve their reputation as bucket-list classics. But if you can spare another week, head to the north coast and fill your bucket to the brim. One of the South Island’s best-kept secrets is this lush, 44-mile ramble along the pristine, sparsely populated coast of Marlborough Sounds. You’ll wander through ancient beech forests bursting with exotic flowers and ferns, traipse sheep-worn paths across bucolic farms, awake to exquisite bird symphonies, and score ridgetop views of Keneperu and Queen Charlotte Sounds, the deep, sparkling fjords to either side. Roughly every six to eight miles, you’ll encounter a small settlement—in some places, just a simple lodge, in others, a cluster of quaint homes and hotels. Backcountry campsites dot the QCT , but the perfectly placed lodges are a better choice. Besides carrying a lighter load, you’ll get to dine on the region’s famous Greenstone mussels—likely harvested hours earlier by a local fisherman—or local lamb hot from the grill.
Do it Take three to four days and hike the QCT from north to south, which allows the scenery to build. Book a ride from Picton to the trailhead on the Magic Mail Boat (beachcombercruises.co.nz), one of the most—well, magical—experiences in all of New Zealand. Part tourist attraction and part pony express, the ride features fascinating narration about the area’s cultural and natural history, plus a taste of New Zealand-style wilderness living as you tie up at private docks in far-flung coves to deliver mail. The hike starts at Ship Cove, a boat-access-only trailhead where English explorer James Cook docked five times in the 1770s. From there, a two-hour hike leads to Furneaux Lodge, where you’ll bunk in a dormitorystyle farmhouse or a private cabin, then eat fresh fish-and-chips in a rustic pub. On subsequent nights, we recommend the Punga Cove and Portage Resort trekker hostels (bunkrooms save money, but more upscale rooms are also available). To get back to Picton, arrange a boat pickup from any cove (Cougar Line Water Taxi, cougarline.co.nz); we recommend Mistletoe Bay, which is several miles short of the southern terminus but far enough to cover the QCT’s prettiest miles. Info Get route info and all lodge contacts at qctrack.co.nz. Cost $$