Queen Charlotte Sound | A Divine Diversion
Why follow the masses when alighting the Cook Strait Ferry? Be an adventurer - an explorer! Take the scenic route and fall in love with Queen Charlotte Drive.
Being a keen amateur botanist, Queen Charlotte herself may have been impressed with the diverse natural heritage and striking views of Queen Charlotte Drive. While international visitors flock to walk the Queen Charlotte Track, the not so energetic or 'time poor' prefer to drive.
This incredible scenic route traverses the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound from Picton to Havleock, gateway to Pelorus Sound. The trip is 40 kilometres long but don’t be lured into thinking you’ll arrive at Havelock in quick time. Boasting some of the world’s most alluring scenery, you’ll need at least half a day to truly enjoy the beauty of this glorious thoroughfare.
Queen Charlotte Drive is narrow and very winding requiring good concentration and sound driving experience. Always keep as far left as possible and drive to the conditions. Driving a small hatchback, I found the average safe speed for this road is around 60 kph, less in the really winding bits.
The scenery is utterly astounding. Luckily, most of the beautiful bays along the route have excellent parking areas where you can get out and wander, take photos and enjoy the sublime coastal vistas.
Departing Picton Ferry Terminal, turn right into Queen Charlotte Drive at the Kent & Dublin Street intersection. Picton Harbour Lookout is just 1 kilometre from the Ferry Terminal, the first spot to stop and snap a great photo of Picton Harbour. There is good parking for all sized vehicles at the lookout.
From the lookout the road snakes uphill along the edge of Shakespeare Bay. Now you'll begin to feel like you're visiting a sub tropical island nation. Native tree ferns mottle the sunlight forming stencils of our famous Silver Fern along the bitumen. Lively birds chortle in the treetops, their song perfectly audible with your car windows down. Spindly nīkau palm trees stretch for the sky as their spiky fronds resist the warm coastal breeze. Views are mind blowing. Thankfully, there are safe places to stop on the roadside and marvel at the jaw dropping scenery.
Whenuanui Picnic spot offers excellent photo op's of Queen Charlotte Sound and distant bays. A large bench seat is perched atop a grassy knoll providing an opportunity to appreciate Mother Nature's marvellous work.
A little further along the road is another small parking area where you can stop and walk down a well-formed track to Governors Bay Beach. It’s perfectly secluded, surrounded by beautiful bush and birdsong. Governors Bay also provides a safe, shallow beach for swimming if you need to cool off during the summer months.
Ngakuta Bay is a sleepy hollow made up of enviable holiday homes. It's one of those dreamy places you wish you could live all year round. Tranquil, incredibly beautiful and secluded, stay a while and enjoy the waterfront esplanade. There’s good parking, rest room facilities, a long jetty which is great for fishing and interpretation boards so you can learn about local wildlife. If you have a kayak on board you may like to spend some time paddling around the quiet coves. This bay is also a feeding ground for Gannets. Observing them in flight as they stalk fish and dive into the water is a sure way to lose track of time. They are incredible sea birds, proficient hunters and completely beautiful. Watch them in action as they morph from gentle gliding aviators to fish seeking missiles in an instant, reaching speeds of up to 145 kph in full dive mode.
From Ngakuta Bay you’ll continue your leisurely winding journey to Momorangi Bay, an absolute jewel in our Conservation Department's cache of campsites.
Momorangi Bay is located within a conservation area. If you choose to stay a while you’ll be serenaded by native birds during the day and fall asleep to the gentle lullaby of lapping waves at night. During the Christmas Holiday period Momorangi campsite is filled to the brim with holidaymakers and it’s easy to understand why. This camp comes complete with holiday cabins, a public telephone (card only), cafe/store (seasonal only), powered and non-powered campsites, hot showers ($1 coin operated), a fully equipped communal kitchen, a family playground and wheelchair accessible amenities. Bookings are essential during the summer months and a minimum 5-night stay applies from 26 December – 5 January. Momoramgi offers the best of beach and bush, located on prime waterfront property with Momorangi Forest Experience Walk at the rear of the campsite.
DOC also offer a smaller campsite a little further toward Havelock at Aussie Bay. Staying at Aussie Bay is a ‘first come, first served’ system so you don’t need to book. The Link Pathway traverses the campsite so there’s usually an avid mountain biker or hiker passing through. On site rest rooms and fresh water is also available.
Before you arrive at the flat, grassy plains of Linkwater, stop off for photo op's at Groves Arm Jetty. There are some cute little boat sheds there painted in bright colours. Watercraft bob on their moorings and the views across Okiwa Bay are delightful. A seaside bench seat will remind you to ‘Treasure the Memories’ and there are many to be made during your visit to Marlbrough.
At Linkwater you can turn off to discover Kenepuru & Pelorus Sounds, beautiful destinations in their own right offering a continuance of magical scenery & quaint coastal havens.
From Linkwater the road continues to Havelock. Don't forget to stop at Cullen Point. Stretch your legs on the track and enjoy the brilliant views over Havelock Marina and Pelorus Sound.
Havelock is a welcoming seaside town with its own claim to fame - being the Greenshell Mussel™ Capital of the World. A selection of great eateries offer menus including the famous mussel, fresh seafood and local produce making Havelock a fabulous spot to taste New Zealand. Welcoming hosts invite you to stay in varied accommodation options suiting any budget and activity options are plenty. Bespoke arts and crafts adorn gallery windows calling you to step in and peruse the works of local artisans. Eclectic, historic and varied, Havelock is a real gem.
If you plan to go to Christchurch via Kaikoura, Havelock is the junction that will return you to SH 1 at Blenheim, the main centre of Marlborough. Otherwise, you can continue through Havelock and Canvastown to Nelson, gateway to Abel Tasman and the main route to discover our beautiful West Coast.
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