Adventure holidays are exciting for kids, so we set off for the Queen Charlotte Track as part of our quest to experience New Zealand’s most beautiful walks. Each day’s trekking took us to a new lodge to relax, plan, laugh and enjoy good food ... with happy memories made!
Set in the Marlborough Sounds, and just a short boat ride out of Picton, The Queen Charlotte track is set along the ridge line of the Sounds and is a lovely walk incorporating plenty of native green canopy and coastal views. It piqued our interest above all others because of all the great lodges en-route. The idea is to walk and picnic by day, then enjoy the comfort of a new lodge each night (bags and any food all transported to the next destination for you).
KIDS ON THE TRACK
As a general rule, I would say a resilient child, from age 7 upwards, should be fine to walk the track. Parts of it are challenging, so tailor your days to the ability of your kids (check out our plan further on). I was surprised at how many families we met up with along the way.
A fit and strong parent could take very littlies on the track in either a pack or a fit-for-purpose buggy. But you will encounter some slippery mud after bad weather and some rocky terrain, particularly on the uphill parts.
HOW FIT DO YOU NEED TO BE?
Apart from a couple of uphill sections (the only way to get up to the ridge line I’m afraid), the walking is not too difficult, and we walked 20% faster than the recommended times without any specific training (we’re all generally fit from regular sport). Most kids on the track seemed to be fine, often sprinting along in bursts.
WHEN TO GO
The walk is open all year, although some Lodges close during the mid-winter months dependant on bookings. The weather in the Sounds is at its most settled in February and March, and it would be lovely to be able to have a swim when you pass by the little beaches on the track. The cooler weather either side makes for comfortable tramping, and if there is a little rain, you’re under a canopy so it doesn’t really bother you too much.
The walk goes from Ship Cover to Anakiwa. You get to choose where you stay along the way, and how long you want your walking days to be. We chose to miss the difficult parts (even more challenging in wet weather) and the 9 hour day which can’t easily be broken up into sections. As a gauge, I think under-12s are better doing just part of the track.
- Furneaux Lodge to Punga Lodge – 4-5 hours.
- Beachcomber water taxi from Punga Lodge to Peppers/Portage Lodge where we enjoyed a free day to relax, missing the 9-hour walk to Mistletoe.
- Beachcomber water taxi to Mistletoe, then walked to Anakiwa (the end of the track) – 5 hours. Enjoy an icecream or espresso coffee from the little caravan at the end.
Time on the track to talk and hang with the family is gold.
The Lodges are a big part of the holiday and it’s so much fun to arrive at a new Lodge each afternoon.
Lochmara Lodge Wildlife Recovery and Arts Centre
We spent an afternoon at the Eco-Lodge Lochmara before the walk (although you can make it part of your walk). It’s a great spot to have lunch then wander around their wildlife park and sculpture trail. They have a (strap in) flying fox across the tree tops that the kids loved, and if you’re partway through your Queen Charlotte Trek, I’m told the massage rooms and bath house are a welcome relief. www.lochmaralodge.co.nz
The Kunekune pigs at Lochmara Lodge love being petted and thoroughly entertained our kids with their snorting.
At Furneaux, the park-like grounds set right on the Endeavour Inlet offer a wonderful playground for the kids. The rooms are warm and comfortable, with nice bathrooms and cosy beds. It’s such a great feeling after your first day’s walking to arrive at the Lodge. The Lodge has a nice restaurant and a bar with a pool table. Not that we spent too much time in there, we could barely stay awake past 8.30pm! www.furneaux.co.nz
Punga Cove Resort
When you arrive at Punga, they have a cute little bar and restaurant on the wharf at the bottom. All the walkers gather to chat about the day and enjoy a well-earned drink. Kids run around and explore. The kids are well entertained between the pool and spa, the canoes and the rope swing. Our chalet had a little kitchen and outdoor area, which would make self-catering easy. They have a laundry facility here, which was very handy by day two. www.pungacove.co.nz
The wharf at Punga Cove Resort (and the bar) is a welcome sight after a long day's trekking.
Peppers Portage, Marlborough Sounds
We enjoyed our rest day at Peppers. The restaurant is lovely so we treated ourselves to lunch, then basically lazed around all afternoon between our room and the fireside in the main lobby where they have games for the kids. The boatshed-inspired rooms are very comfortable, and will be even better as The Resort is undergoing a complete re-fit during the winter months this year. Take small fishing lines with you, because our kids wasted a couple of hours catching sprats (only just missing that cod!). www.peppers.co.nz /portage
We used Beachcomber to transport us to Ship Cove and all of our luggage from lodge to lodge. The trip out on the Magic Mail Boat (still in operation for mail) was very exciting and comfortable, as we teamed up with a pod of dolphins and were given a terrific commentary on the history of the Sounds and the environment by our knowledgeable Skipper. www.beachcombercruises.co.nz
As always, food comes in as a major cost for family holidays. We ate in the Lodges, which was a real treat, and very nice after a day’s walking. Some places have self-catering facilities, and this would certainly be easy for breakfast. And with Beachcomber transporting your luggage around for you, you could easily pack a chilli bin with some simple breakfast food. Take lunches and a hot thermos on the track with you, which you can prep yourself or ask the Lodge to make for you.
SAIL ON THE INTERISLANDER
We decided to incorporate a trip on the Interislander as part of the adventure, and it’s cheaper to fly into Wellington. It really
does make it feel like you’re heading off to faraway lands when you arrive by water. It takes 3 hours which goes by very quickly. I personally enjoyed the views, particularly when we started weaving our way through the Sounds, but our kids were scattered between the movie theatre, the cafe and they even hooked up with some other kids to play cards. interislander.co.nz
In Wellington, we stayed a night at the Quest Saint Paul’s Apartments and showed the kids a little of the Capital. This is
a great spot in the middle of the city, with plenty of space and cooking facilities, and only a 5 minute taxi ride down to the Interislander. queststpauls.co.nz
We were so impressed with Picton as a destination for families. It’s well worth basing yourself here for the start of the Track (or if you are exploring Blenheim). To entertain the kids, head to the EcoWorld Aquarium, home to many sea life species of the Sounds, and of course the ‘monster of the deep’, a 5 metre long giant squid. ecoworldnz.co.nz
The Edwin Fox museum is fascinating, as the kids get to walk aboard the actual ship and imagine the journey of those first convicts and immigrants.edwinfoxsociety.co.nz
In summer, there are little pools and fountains on the waterfront for littlies to splash about and play in, a nautically-inspired playground, minigolf, cycling tours, walking tracks, galleries and plenty of family-friendly cafes.
Where to stay
We stayed at the Harbour View Motel, right in the heart of Picton both on our way out and back from the Track. There are several family-friendly studios, and ours had a good-sized kitchen and the biggest TV you’ve ever seen (not that we were really there to watch TV but the kids were seriously impressed). Owners Ian and Kim are a lovely couple, who went out of their way to help us out, including getting our gear to the wharf. You can easily make your way around from here, as it is only a few minutes down to the water. They have a laundry facility too, which is a high priority on my list (particularly when tramping). harbourviewpicton.co.nz
Climbing on the actual Edwin Fox ship in Picton, where they have set up the kitchen, sleeping quarters and bow of the boat as an opportunity for discovery. The kids loved it.
WHAT GEAR DO YOU NEED?
Fit-for-purpose always makes life easier, but there were plenty of families just using normal running shoes and clothes. You don’t get too wet under the canopy, but it can get muddy and slippery under foot and the track is a little rocky in parts. Here’s what I’d recommend:
- Trekking shoes that are waterproof, flexible and provide ankle support.
- Lightweight raincoats and pants which are easy and light to carry in packs.
- Camelbak packs are particularly good for the kids. Plenty of water is required and they can also carry their own jackets and snacks.
- Lightweight thermos for hot chocolates.
- Medium microfibre towel (for swimming and rain).
- Spare socks.
- Hat to ward off sun and rain.
- Gloves and thermals for cooler months.
- Insect repellent.
- Second skin, sports tape and a support bandage.
- Luggage bags or suitcases with wheels which means kids can help with the lugging of their own gear. Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge – 4 hours.
When the track gets wet, you'll be grateful for shoes that are fit for purpose. Comfortable, tough and waterproof is the order of the day!
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