05 Apr 23

Tranquil tramping on New Zealand’s South Island

Elize Heger Australia & NZ

Come on a journey to explore beautiful New Zealand – stunning national parks, diverse landscapes, Kiwi hospitality, and scrumptious food. If that is not reason enough to visit, you can also hike some of the most scenic multi-day trails around.

Picturesque Picton in the heart of the Marlborough Sounds

Arriving in Picton early afternoon allowed us time to explore this charming seaside town, the gateway to the iconic Queen Charlotte Sound. Situated in the Marlborough Region of the South Island, Picton can easily be reached from Blenheim airport and the ferry service from Wellington. The Māori name for Picton is Waitohi, meaning waters of the tohi ritual. This ritual was a baptism for warriors before a battle.

Walking down to the harbour we couldn’t help but notice all the restaurants, cafes and art galleries; choosing a restaurant for dinner was a tough decision! Observing the fresh produce being unloaded at the docks gave us an understanding of what it means to eat like a local. The many choices include classic fish & chips, the local pie at the waterfront and fine dining – succulent lamb, the freshest seafood, oysters, and artisan breads.

As well as its reputation for gourmet foods, Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region and famous for its iconic Sauvignon Blanc.

Queen Charlotte Track

The Marlborough Sounds is made up of three main sounds – Queen Charlotte Sound / Tōtaranui, Kenepuru Sound and Pelorus Sound / Te Hoiere, as well as many other minor sounds inlets and bays. Some legends speak of the Marlborough Sounds as being the giant octopus that the great Māori navigator Kupe killed while in Cook Strait/Raukawa Moana. Some say the octopus grasped the land with its tentacles and this formed the typically intricate shapes of water and land we know today.

Stretching between the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds from Ship Cove to Anakiwa is the magical 73km Queen Charlotte Track, offering an enchanting adventure over 5 days.

An early water taxi departure from Picton offered stunning views all around us as we cruised up the Sound, spotting a few dolphins on our way to Ship Cove. It was here that Captain James Cook visited many times between 1770 and 1777 on his three voyages in the South Pacific.

Each day on the Queen Charlotte Track offers stunning walking with views of the Queen Charlotte Sound. We hiked through rich native beech forest and areas of huge punga ferns with bird song all around. The scenery changed as we followed the well-constructed paths along ridge lines high above the water. You must experience this hike yourself to truly appreciate the spectacular views of the many coves and inlets and of the Sound itself.

We overnighted at the beautiful lodges that are mostly only accessible by boat or foot. You can relax in the lounges, immerse yourself in the amazing Māori history of the area or go for an evening stroll in this stunning location before dinner.

Too soon the trip ends in Anakiwa and we transfer by water taxi back to Picton.

Onward to Nelson

Once we completed the Queen Charlotte Track, it was on to Nelson (Whakatū) and the Abel Tasman Track. In a country as beautiful as New Zealand, getting between the two walks was as much an adventure as walking the trails themselves. There are vineyards and galleries to visit, splendid restaurants in historic Havelock, and refreshing swim spots on the Te Hoiere/Pelorus River. Nelson itself is a popular and vibrant city on the eastern shores of Tasman Bay, and the base for Abel Tasman National Park. It’s a massive hub for arts, culture and festivals. It has a great selection of fine restaurants serving locally grown produce and freshly caught seafood, and is known for its art décor old cinema, large cathedral and numerous outdoor stores.

Abel Tasman Coastal Track

The Abel Tasman National Park wilderness reserve is at the north end of New Zealand’s South Island. One of the major attractions is the Tonga Island Marine Reserve and the little blue penguins, bottlenose dolphins and seals that inhabit the area. The park is also known for the Abel Tasman Coast Track, a stunning trail winding over beaches and across ridges between Marahau in the south and Wainui Bay in the north.

Our 4-day hike began with an early morning bus ride from Nelson to Motueka where we stored extra luggage and had a trip briefing. We boarded our cruise in Kaiteriteri where the comfortable enclosed catamaran nosed into the beach and travelled north to Tōtaranui to begin the walk. From here we observed Farewell Spit, the most northerly part of the South Island.

From Tōtaranui, the walk through mature native forest and along secluded beaches to the expansive Awaroa Inlet is very picturesque. After a boat crossing due to high tide, we arrive at Meadowbank Homestead, a faithful recreation of the Wilson family’s original home on the ‘finest site in the bay’.

Over the next 2 days we walk along pristine sandy beaches and coastal paths, sometimes slightly uphill and veering a little inland. These paths are maintained to a high standard, offering views of native forest and the sparkling waters of the ocean on our left. Often there is a bridge to cross over a river or small inlet with the temptation to dip our toes in the cool water.

Our packed lunch was usually eaten on the beach, followed by a short rest before hitting the trail once more. Arriving at the beachfront lodges at day’s end were a highlight. At Meadowbank Homestead and Torrent Bay Lodge we enjoyed soothing hot showers, learning the history of the region, and appetising dinners with fellow walkers.

All too soon we arrived back at Marahau and enjoyed a relaxing bus ride back to Nelson. We walked self-guided at our own pace. Expert guides and boat back-up are there if you need it.


RAW Travel offers guided and fully supported self-guided options for the Queen Charlotte Track and Abel Tasman Tracks. The walks can be completed independently of each other or combined into two consecutive walks – a popular option and highly recommended. You will be rewarded with two very different but equally enjoyable coastal hikes.


Why New Zealand’s South Island is one of my favourite destinations

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