The Queen Charlotte Track and the Marlborough Sounds are steeped in Maori and European history. Local Maori speak of two different legends about the formation of the Marlborough Sounds and New Zealand.

One tells how Kupe, the Maori navigator, fought with a giant octopus in the Pacific Ocean. As the battle raged, the octopus reached out with its tentacles and grasped at nearby land, gouging out all the intricate bays and coves of the Marlborough Sounds.

The other legend is of Maori gods who came down from the heavens in a great canoe and then found themselves unable to return. The canoe capsized and its keel rose to form the Southern Alps while its prow shattered into many pieces and sank, its ridges becoming the network of waterways known today as the Marlborough Sounds.

Geologists tell us the Marlborough Sounds are a network of sunken river valleys, where the land has slowly sunk and the water level has risen, flooding a vast area over millions of years. This intricate land mass is not only spectacular but unique in New Zealand as it is the only large land area that is still sinking into the sea. It is not a national park but many areas are protected as reserves.

Maori have inhabited New Zealand for more than 1000 years and it is believed that they have had a presence in the Marlborough Sounds since around that time. Mobility was crucial during this early existence as settlement followed food source. There were many small settlements throughout the Marlborough Sounds and a number of different iwi (tribes) have affiliations to this place.

The first known European to visit Queen Charlotte Sounds was the famous English explorer, Captain James Cook, on the HMS Endeavour. He sailed into Ship Cove, today the start of the Queen Charlotte Track, on January 17, 1770 and made this small cove his South Pacific base for the next seven years.

Captain James Cook spent a total of 328 days exploring the New Zealand coastline during his three voyages. The initial purpose of Cook's voyages was to observe the Transit of Venus in Tahiti and then to search for a great southern continent which was believed to exist - Terra Australis. 

Cook was to return to Ship Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound, on five separate occasions. He spent more than 100 days there, as it provided safe anchorage, food and fresh water and timber for repairs to his ship.

The original bridal paths which form parts of the Queen Charlotte Track date back to the mid-1800s when the first European settlers arrived. Hardy folk who came to forge a new existence in this rugged land and such early trails provided links between the original farm homesteads in the area.

Other parts of the track pass over private farmland, adding to the diversity of this walk. The track does rely on the good will of these landowners so be sure to respect their land as you cross it.

The track itself has been easily walkable from the start at Ship Cove in outer Queen Charlotte Sound to the end at Anakiwa in the Grove Arm since the late 1980s. A joint project between the Marlborough District Council, Department of Conservation, private landowners and the local tourist board saw the track established as a single track.

Since 2010 visitors to the Queen Charlotte Track have been asked to pay a small fee for crossing the private land sections of the track. This acknowledges the long-standing and ongoing commitment of these landowners. Private land access passes are included in all our advertised walking packages.