Deep in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds, South Island, New Zealand, the spectacular Queen Charlotte Track stretches from the legendary Meretoto/Ship Cove to Anakiwa, home of Outward Bound New Zealand’s school.
The track passes through lush coastal forest, around historic bays, along skyline ridges and offers unsurpassed views of the Queen Charlotte/Tōtaranui and Kenepuru sounds. The 70 km track is wide and benched taking 5 days to complete walking .
Māori tradition offers several stories explaining the origin of the Marlborough Sounds, called ‘Te Tau Ihu o Te Waka a Māui’, or ‘The Prow of the Canoe of Māui’. One legend tells how Māui, the Polynesian hero and explorer, was paddling his waka with his brothers when, with a magical hook, he pulled up an enormous fish, that formed the North Island. Jealous, his brothers capsized the waka, which became the South Island, its intricately carved prow forming the Marlborough Sounds. The outer sounds are also associated with the renowned Polynesian explorer Kupe. The carved pou whenua (pole) at Meretoto/Ship Cove illustrates the legend of Kupe and the giant wheke (octopus). Many Māori place names in this area commemorate his exploits. The carved bollards at the bridge at Meretoto/Ship Cove signify the iwi of the area.
For at least 800 years Māori have occupied the Sounds, where abundant kai moana or seafood from the sheltered inlets, together with birds, has sustained their developing culture. Evidence of their seasonal camps, permanently occupied villages and fortified pā can still be seen throughout the area. Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound was an important trade route long before the inter-island ferries plied its waters. Taking advantage of low saddles occurring between sounds, Māori carried their canoes over land to avoid long sea journeys. Today, the saddle at Torea is still used to link Picton with Kenepuru Sound. The European name Portage, in the mid-section of the track, bears testament to this practice, meaning ‘hauling’, or ‘carrying’. All historic sites in the area are protected, both Māori and European.
Dutchman Abel Janszoon Tasman was the first European to sight the Sounds on his visit to New Zealand in 1642. He and his men spent Christmas of that year sheltering their ships – the Heemskerck and Zeehaen – from a storm near Rangitoto ki te Tonga/D’Urville Island but they never set foot ashore. That honour went to Captain James Cook. Cook took advantage of the shelter and food available in the Sounds and made Meretoto, which he renamed ‘Ship Cove’, his New Zealand base. Between 1770 and 1777, Cook and his crews spent 170 days sheltering there. It was at Ship Cove, that the first sustained contacts between Māori and Europeans took place. ‘Queen Charlotte’ was the name he gave the Sound. The Māori name is ‘Tōtaranui’, reflecting the tōtara trees growing there, a valued resource. While at Meretoto/ Ship Cove he discovered a plant now called ‘Cook’s scurvy grass’, which yielded valuable vitamin C to cure scurvy among his crew. On your boat trip to or from Meretoto/Ship Cove it is well worth taking time out to explore Motuara Island, rich in bird life (including tīeke/saddleback) and its association with Cook’s visits.
In Endeavour Inlet during the 1880s, a small town grew around a series of antimony mines. Narrow, horizontal tunnels or ‘adits’ were dug, from which vertical shafts descended deep into the hills. Early miners took the antimony ore on a tramway down the valley to a wharf, from where it was shipped to England to be processed and used for hardening lead and pewter (source: http://www.qctrack.co.nz/).