Romping Round the Marlborough Sounds

by Dave Mitchell

The Marlborough region at the top of NZ's South Island is a mecca for mountain biking - you could lose yourself there for a fortnight and still find new trails to explore. In this second hit of our exposé of the area we'll delve into some of Marlborough's legendary singletrack.

The Queen Charlotte Walkway provides more ego-flattering track than is healthy for a single man. I must have ridden it a zillion times but still enjoy fronting up to the trough of indulgence and pigging out. So last year when we rounded up the usual suspects for another sortie, we opted for a few variations on the standard fare. Hailing a water taxi at Picton, we overloaded it with mountain bike paraphernalia and chugged out to Ship Cove. From there we hiked over to Anakakata Bay via a rough track optimistically named the "Gold Trail". Alas 100% non-rideable - it would have been a torrid carry and bush-bash. A few hours later we were reunited with our bikes and gear which, courtesy of the water taxi, were patiently waiting for us on the wharf.

Accommodation was a treat in the Bay's delightful old homestead. After fighting over the preferred bunks, we set out to explore the environs on our treadlies. Imbibing the yellow and gold sunset while overlooking Port Grove and Cape Lambert made for a jolly fine pre-dinner aperitif.

Off to Cape Jackson the next day. A cruisy ride on undulating farm track -interrupted by snack stops, scenic attractions and mushroom picking. The harvest was so bountiful we had to leave behind a cracker, which was almost the size of Kathy's helmet. The lighthouse hangs out at the end of a fingernail masquerading as Cape Jackson. Plenty of opportunities for high school science experiments with vertigo inducing cliffs on either side. It was a clear day and you could almost see over to the working classes in the North Island. The return track took us past an old goldmine and the rusting remains of a stamping battery. Hey - it does it for me! Then down to Waimatete Bay to entice some paua back for tea. Combined with the mushrooms and some fresh fish provided by our hosts, we created quite the epicurean climax to a brilliant day.

You can (and should) take two to three days to savour the delights of the Queen Charlotte Walkway but we figured it would be a giggle to do it as a day ride. Our hosts dropped us off early at Ship Cove and we zipped along the track to arrive eight hours later at Anakiwa. Hyped with singletrack adrenalin we crashed at Outward Bound with our friends Kate and Kim.

Apart from the Queen Charlotte, there's also the Nydia Bay ride; and the Onamalutu to Whakamarina trip. Both are classics, although at the harder end of the scale.

Nitty Gritty

  • Maps: NZMS 260 Q26 
  • Track: Farm 4WD and some walking tracks - can be windy and exposed. Not very long, steep or technical - just great fun and very different. 
  • Transport: Cougar Line (03) 573 7925; Endeavour Express (03) 573 5456; Dolphin Watch Nature Tours  (03) 573 8040; Arrow Water Taxis (03) 573 8229. 
  • Accommodation: Cape Jackson Homestead. Phone Ron and Christine Marriot (03) 579 9125. 
  • For other enquiries, try the Picton Information Centre, (03) 520 3113 or DOC Picton (03) 520 3002. 
  • The guide book, Classic NZ Mountain Bike Rides - South Island  has a comprehensive section covering Nelson and Marlborough. Costs $29 from Ground Effect. 
  • Follow the Mountain Bikers' Code. Respect Others; Respect the Track; and Respect the Rules.