Hiking the Queen Charlotte Track in full a few months ago was definitely one of the highlights of my year. During 5 days, I just soaked it all in. In this article, the second part of the QCT’s posts, I tell you all about this adventure including a full itinerary, how much money I spent, where I stayed and my personal ideas about the hike.
(Disclosure: Certain links to products and/or services are affiliate links, and I may earn a commission for any purchases that you make. This will not be at any cost to you.)
In this guide you’ll find:
How to get ready for the hike once in Picton
How to get the water taxi to the beginning of the hike and the Queen Charlotte Track Pass
The full itinerary I followed + all the campsites where I stayed
Full disclosure of the costs of hiking the Queen Charlotte Track
Last week, I tackled the most frequently asked questions about this multi-day hike in the north of the South Island in New Zealand. If there’s something that always confuses me when I’m planning an overnight hike is where to start, how to get there, where to sleep and so on. And that’s because there are different combinations to suit most travelers. In this case, you can make it a day hike, bring your mountain bike and do it in 2 days and much, much more.
If you are planning your trip to New Zealand, you definitely need to read the full travelers guide I posted on TGC a few months ago.
But today I’ll focus on my personal experience hiking with no more rush other than running away from the sand-flies –f** san-flies!
Truth being said, most hikers do it in 3 nights, but as this was my first holiday as a freelancer I really wanted to enjoy the nature and the landscapes.
Getting ready for the hike in Picton
I arrived in Picton 2 days before I was planning to start. I had some work to do and needed to book the water taxi and purchase the track’s pass as some sections of the hike go through private land.
After a 5 hours ride with awesome views –which I didn’t enjoy because I felt like puking all the time– I got to the hostel, which was only a few hundred meters away from the bus stop.
The hostel was so nice and cozy, and to me, a true cake lover, free apple crumble every night was a game changer.
Getting the water taxi and Queen Charlotte Track pass
The day after arriving I walked to the I-site, booked the water taxi and purchased the pass. Easy as.
The cost of the water taxi was $ 101 return -for $ 69 you can get the one way option. I paid $ 18 for the pass because the track traverses private land. After working my bottoms off all day, as usual, I got ready for the adventure and the following morning head to the shore and waited for the Beachcomber water taxi.
After a one-hour boat ride, we arrived at the starting point of the hike, Meretoto/Ship Cove.
I have to confess that it wouldn’t be fair to say that I hiked solo the whole time. In other words, I went alone but then I met Rachael. Oh, Rachael, what a woman. Later on, I crossed paths with Harvey, Rebecca, Charlotte, and a French chef that kindly didn’t charge this backpacker the fried-onion rings snack.
Day 1 – From Ship Cove to Miners Camp in Endeavour Inlet – 15 km / 5.5 hrs
The water taxi arrived at Ship Cove around 10 am. As this is a historic site, it’s worth to hang out for a few minutes learning all about it and getting ready for what’s to come: a quite steep climb that seems to be worse than what it actually is.
I’ve talked about the start of the hike with fellow trampers and some said that they were a bit wary because they didn’t know it was going to be like that. But, honestly, is not a big deal and it’s and a good warm-up. Just take your time and walk at your own pace.
After about half an hour the climb was done so me and Rachael kept going, had lunch and then had to split paths as she was staying at the first campsite, which is roughly two hours after the hike starts.
Just so you know, there are some other campsites you can choose from according to how long you’d like to walk each day. Again, I’m not touching on resorts in this post, just campsites!
Getting to Miners Camp
I kept going as I wanted to spend the night at Miners Camp, which is a privately owned campsite.
There are no DOC campsites at this stage of the Queen Charlotte Hike.
Miners camp is located at the end of the inlet. Thus, once you get to Endeavour Inlet and start seeing the cute batches by the water, keep going for about 30 more minutes and you’ll find it.
The site is run by a lovely and very hard-working couple who told me that the previous owner was an Italian who loved gardens –or something like that. He planted many different types of fruit trees which only add to the beauty of the place. It cost me $ 15 NZD (about $ 10 USD). I do think it may be a bit higher over summer. In any case, it was worth it and cheaper compared to the other options!
Day 2 – From Miners Camp to Camp Bay DOC Campsite – 11.5 km / 3 hrs
Did I say that I didn’t rush? I know sometimes “life demands” rushing, but this wasn’t the occasion for me.
After a rain that seemingly lasted all night -–thumbs up to my tent-setting skills as I didn’t get wet one bit!—I cooked a hearty breakfast, made a cuppa of fresh coffee and started walking.
Day 2, apart from some gentle climbs, was easy. After 3 very cruisy hours I arrived in Camp Bay, set the tent again and then went for a stroll by the shore.
This DOC campsite is located just 5 minutes from Punga Cove, a lodge-type resort with a really nice coffee/restaurant. After hanging out there for a while and eating fried onion rings, I went back to the campsite. I did some yoga, reading and pretty much just sit by the beach staring at the water in awe.
Is this how freedom was supposed to feel like?
I’d say yes.
Later that night 3 other trampers arrived.
Are you planning to walk Queen Charlotte Track in 2 or 3 nights?
Take note of this if you want to do the hike in 2 or 3 nights: these trampers walked from Ship Cove all the way down to Camp Bay, which is roughly 26 km, in about 8 hours.
Day 3 – From Camp Bay to Torea Saddle staying at Cowshed Bay Campsite – 23 km / 8 hrs
This is the day you reach the highest altitude of the track, which is 400 metres.
We woke up early and it was raining. Nothing too bad though, it stopped right on time for drying the tents a bit and then pack our stuff and get going.
This is the day that’s supposed to be terrible as it’s long and steep. On the other hand, you’ll get to see some pretty rad views.
I agree that this is the best part of the Queen Charlotte Track. Even though I loved everything about it, it’s true that the landscapes are kind of the same along the trail. To me though, it’s about loving the act of hiking and just being surrounded by nature and no technology. So I really didn’t care about it!
All along the hike, you may notice the hiking times don’t make a lot of sense at times. Understand that these are just for your own reference.
Getting to Cowshed Bay
We arrived in Cowshed Bay around 6 pm and guess who was there? Yeap, my friend Rachael! It was such an awesome night. Just like the ones you experience when you are out in the nature. Long conversations, a golden sunset by the beach, a capella singing and even a shooting star.
The following day was the last full day of the trail, so Rachael and I decided to hike together.
Harvey, Rebecca and Charlotte were leaving early the following morning as they were hiking the last section in full in just one day. Thus they needed to be in Anakiwa by 3 pm. In the end, they did the trail in 3 days – 2 nights.
Rachael’s idea was to hike all the way down to pretty much the end of the Queen Charlotte track, but I had other plans in mind…
Day 4 – From Cowshed Bay to Mistletoe Bay Campsite – 8 km / 4 hrs
This is one of the last sections of the hike, many people keep walking till the end of it but I was enjoying way too much and wasn’t going to let go that easily.
On this day, you’d go up again to almost 400 metres. If you look at the map, it looks like quite a steep climb but in reality, it’s not that bad. After a 3.5 hours hike, we arrived in Mistletoe Bay. This is a private campsite, but I really wanted to stay here because the bay looked stunning.
Rachael decided to stay with me and the second we got into the campsite, we met this really cool biology teacher hosting a Marine Biology camp with about 40 kids or so.
We set our tents in the grassy area and were invited to join the kids for dinner and breaky the following day. I’ve never seen such a motivated group of 12-year olds! I guess all these unexpected encounters are what make travel so great. Mr Brady, the teacher, has such an inspiring and innovative creative mind that Rachael and I were just blown away by it.
The reason why they asked us to join them for dinner was to share inspiring hiking quotes and travel stories -and how we got to where we are. It was a great opportunity to talk with these kids about travel and how cool it is to explore the world! Also, connecting with them and learning their stories.
Do you remember that at the beginning of the post I told you that we discovered something awesome?
Well, it turns out that the campsite sits next to this very old beech forest which is quite different to the Queen Charlotte Trail itself.
By chance, we discovered that there are glow worms just 2 minutes from the starting point of the forest. They are all lying on the walls of this narrow river stream.
Honesty, I had never ever seen glow worms before –these are worms that glow dah! and can only be found in New Zealand–. I didn’t expect to find them in the Queen Charlotte’s Track.
It was like staring at the night sky upside down!
So, if you decide to hang out by Mistletoe Bay before reaching the end of the track, check out the glow worms, Wait till it’s pitch dark so you get to see them at their best!
Day 5 – From Mistletoe Bay to Anakiwa – 12.5 km – 4 hrs
We didn’t reach the Queen Charlotte Track from the main road. We walked through the forest for about 40 minutes. It was well worth it as the change of scenery was refreshing.
Rachael and I walked as slowly as possible as we didn’t want it to end! Jajaja
But anyway, we finished the track around noon. Once you get to the DOC sign –in the photo I look like I just escaped a psych ward, I know—and you walk past it, you can claim your price as a multi-day hiker yay!
From Anakiwa to Picton
Once in Anakiwa, Rachael and I split paths –buuuuuu– as she was continuing her hiking trip, heading to Havelock.
I waited for the water taxi to pick me up and, funny enough, it actually went all the way back to Mistletoe Bay and then to Picton. I think it took about 45 minutes overall. Once in Picton, I got back to the hostel and took a well-deserved shower.
The following day, I took the bus to Christchurch feeling all proud of myself and empowered to get into doing longer hikes.
How much does it cost to walk the Queen Charlotte Track?
This is what I spent on the trail, of course, you can spend a lot more or a bit less, but this should give you a good idea!
$ 78 –3 nights.
It was $ 26 the night. I recommend the hostel as it’s quite cute, it has a fully equipped kitchen and the beds are comfy. The price is supposed to include breakfast but there’s no way you can call an empty jar of orange marmalade and a dry piece of bread breakfast. So, I wouldn’t trust them with that!
On the other hand, they do serve apple crumble with ice-cream every night, which I think gives the hostel a really cozy vibe.
Transport Christchurch to Picton
Bus Christchurch – Picton, return: $ 56.
Food for 5 full days of hiking: roughly $ 60/ $ 70. I was so proud because my food estimates worked out perfectly! For some great camping cooking ideas, check out this article packed with easy vegan camping meals! I’m not a vegetarian but veggies are my jam, and I love eating healthy, enjoy!
Queen Charlotte Pass
$ 18. Purchased it at the I-site.
Transport to Meretoto/Ship Cove, the beginning of Queen Charlotte Track
Beachcomber water taxi –return: $ 101.
Yeap, that hurt.
Actually, when I got to Picton I was kind of hoping to find a cheaper option. But I couldn’t! If you are reading this guide and have the solution to this very expensive boat ride please share your Intel (Intel?).
You can pay around $ 69 to make it one way. I guess it’s an option if you are keen to hitchhike or walk from Anakiwa to Picton.
Campsites in Queen Charlotte Track
Campsites: $ 15 (Miners Camp) $ 8 (Camp Bay) $ 12 (Cowshed Bay) $ 18 (Mistletoe Bay).
Total for the whole trip: $ 366
Whaaat? That was a small fortune. Was it worth it? Absolutely. For those of you who haven’t been to New Zealand yet, you should know that hiking these type of trails in NZ can actually get quite costly.
But, don’t be intimidated as there are a gazillion hikes you can do for pretty much zero cost.
On the other hand, that’s all I spent in a whole week including transport and accommodation. I guess if you stay in luxury accommodations you’d spend way more, but you’d also miss the fun of camping!
The best part of the Queen Charlotte Track
I’d just say the longest day, which is the one where you get to the highest point. But I’d also recommend hanging out for an afternoon at least at Mistletoe bay reserve and campground. It’s beautiful and really peaceful.
Other than that, as I said before, there’s not a whole lot of change in the scenery throughout the trail.
As staring at the water is my favourite thing ever, I was stoked to be able to enjoy bay views for 5 days in a row.
Honestly, I think the hike is stunning and would 100 % recommend you to do it. But I would take it slowly to actually enjoy the different bays. There were a group of New Zealanders who were not that pleased with the trail, but they did just one section and were pretty much running. So, whenever someone gives you an opinion, ask them how long they actually spent exploring.
Some really rad spots can be accessed by car. For example, Cowshed Bay and Mistletoe Bay.
This is all at my end! Do you have any other info you’d like to share? If you have more questions leave me a comment!
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Hey u! I’m Martina, from Argentina. I’ve been combining travel and life overseas since 2013 in a quest for living alongside with creativity, joy and personal growth.
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