Linking up the Queen's Chain
Our Trail Story
Ican still remember when I clicked on a video link and discovered the Link Pathway of the Marlborough Sounds. What I saw was cyclists whipping along a forest path following the turquoise coastal arms that wrap around headland points and seemingly endless bays. The drone footage of hikers and bikers looked surreal. Their joy! Their journey!
Theirs was a role that I so wished to be cast in … and I was in luck. It just so happened that the Great Rides App annual cycling pilgrimage crossed this path; to pass up on this new ride would be unpalatable to me. So in autumn I entered the locality of Linkwater into my Garmin GPS unit and scouted out the trail.
In planning the trip, I decide to ride from Anakiwa to Picton; a journey all linked up now. Last time I rode the Queen Charlotte Track the options to return to Picton were either by road or water taxi. Today I start my journey at Anakiwa, being the end of the Queen Charlotte Track and will pedal all the way to Picton on purpose-built cycle trail. Before I head off I flick on the GPS units, enter a waypoint and start making tracks in both a digital and physical way.
As I look up it’s hard not to enjoy this section of the Link Pathway. This easy course seamlessly wraps around the points and bays of the upper reaches of the Queen Charlotte Sound. My senses alive, I enjoy the sound of the lapping water, the saline smells and the view of the changing landscape. Soon those turquoise waters ( just like the hues I remember from the video) over my left shoulder become brackish and brown as the reach of the Grove Arm ends and I meet up with Queen Charlotte Drive.
To the right and westward, the trail has yet to be linked to Havelock. So I turn left and head east to The Grove on the shore opposite Anakiwa. Once a mill town named after an extensive grove of kahikatea that once stood here, the hamlet today is an idyllic collection of coastal baches. As I ride through, I slow my pace to appreciate the arty animalised letterboxes along the route. As I enter the community a jersey cow box greets me, followed by a tuatara, a dog and a pigeon.
Then I spot my favourite, perched and seemingly floating above the road with googly eyes that watch me from the opposite bank … it’s a fat red staring snapper.
I wonder if the posties on their deliveries have their favoured ones too? Do they prefer to hook into a snapper than receive a nip from a poised terrier letterbox? In this electronic age, I consider whether the joy of comic characters will be lost, where aerial mail will return not as pigeon post but as parcel drones whirring down from the sky as we ride by? All questions that are posted in the depths of my mind; whimsical ponderings triggered by an unusual find.
On leaving the village I pass a collection of boatsheds, each one a different colour with rusty ramps that disappear into the shallows. At this point, I am riding through the coastal forest as the trail takes me right beside the tide line. So close in fact, that the shimmering light on the water dazzles me until the path rises and curves away and the water becomes just an occasional twinkle through the canopy. This gentle gravel track takes me on a journey that twists around headlands and each time it does it offers me a new bay to explore. This is coastal riding at its best. The last prominent point offers a glimpse of the half-circle shape of Momorangi Bay.
The first thing I discover is how this Department of Conservation camping spot goes right down to the water’s edge. While quiet today, I suspect it’s a popular traditional kiwi holiday site at other times of the year. Being a scenic and idyllic spot with services and I think next time I visit will be with our caravan in tow. How much better it would be to stay on the trail than in more urban confines? Had it been a summer’s day I would be in for a swim, but today I head inland to climb the hills behind the bay.
The brief ascent of the hill is worth the climb as I am rewarded by one of the most scenic views of the upper Queen Charlotte Sound. At a lookout, I stop for a moment and drink it all in. Far below me through the vegetation is Queen Charlotte Drive snaking along the coastline, there are homes tucked into the scrub, and the telltale criss-cross patterns of boat wakes highlight activities on the water. For my terrestrial pursuit, it’s time to return to the saddle and descend into Ngakuta Bay
If I thought Momorangi Bay was semi-circular then Ngakuta is almost a fully enclosed cove; a sheltered spot for a scattering of boats that are moored just offshore. Then … surprise! At the bay the trail just peters out onto the golden sands. Here the pathway for a hundred metres or so is just the beach, which is a delightful experience. I hug the shoreline by the incoming tide, my tread pattern wobbling left for the tide to consume. I love the raw sense of nature leaving a formed trail and mingling with the grit gives me. It’s even more invigorating when the sand gets too soft to ride and I remove my shoes to leave both foot and tyre prints behind.
There is something primaeval about this simple act and I celebrate it – it is now part of my rich journey. If the promotional video film crew was present I think I would have been captured at this moment, just for a split second. No lush flowing haired handsome model just middle-aged biker but so alive in the moment. As I move off the beach, I enjoy the green space of the bay’s coastal reserves and boardwalks before I head inland to encounter a steep and grunty climb. Fortunately, the grade eases quickly when I reach the benched face of a 150-year-old bridle track. The Link Pathway uses the pack track on much of its course. During the construction of the pathway, many trail building relics and dry stone walls were discovered which all add value to the ride. The bridle trail that gently traverses the hillside now forms the backbone of this new linking path.
A long yet gentle climb lifts me to the trail’s high point which gives me some relief as it’s mostly downhill to Picton. A few miles beyond the top I reach a small side trail on a hairpin corner, I am intrigued enough that I follow this rough track, whatever it might hold. A short walk leads me to some ruins covered in scrub. I later learn that this was the Wedge Point WWII signal station which was recently rediscovered by trail designers. There were once several blocks of offices, barracks and telecommunication buildings – most of them were removed after the war and what remains of the complex was reclaimed by forest.
I soon come across the concrete foundation of the signal station, like an Inca temple hidden for ages. Maybe I have watched too many Indiana Jones movies… these Inca temples seem to be all through the New Zealand I inhabit. The station was once a wartime outpost ready to identify and report ships as they navigated these sheltered waters; today the station has lost its views to the trees and appears lost in time. From an elevated spot on a now overcast day my mind fails to picture how the station looked back in its heyday as it’s no longer a barren ridgeline lookout. The trees are on the march. I return to the main trail with more unanswered questions, but I feel at ease with a touch of enlightenment.
The pathway plunges downhill lined with punga’s umbrella like fronds offering shelter from the pre-frontal drizzle. I keep my eyes on the freshly laid yet slick trail and eventually I look up to the orderly timber stacks awaiting export at the Shakespeare Bay port terminal. Picton is just around the corner. I can see a Cook Strait ferry coming into port.
My bike is picking up the pace and it’s hard to pick who will dock first.
I fly down the last metres of the pathway and hit the asphalt, taking care to avoid those waiting to float to Wellington. I reach the promenade and glance across to see the ship already shifting cargo – it seems there is no mucking around for these moving bridges of the strait.
After my adventure, I take the opportunity to meet up with the trail manager back in Havelock at the opposite end of the pathway. Seated outside at a waterfront café I look to the horizon to see another stretch of the pathway’s bridle track descending to the fishing village. Linking cycle trails between communities is the Link Pathway Trust’s vision and they are quickly achieving that goal.
From our discussions, it seems they have ambitious dreams. In the future, they hope to link Blenheim, Perlous Bridge and Nelson. With most of the trail between Picton/Havelock/Anakiwa built, they are on track to reach their target completion date to coincide with the 250th anniversary of Captain Cook arriving in the Marlborough Sounds.
With the high quality of trail they are building, the scenic beauty of the landscape it passes through and the rich history of the pathway, hitting their target date it will be an outstanding achievement. Once the word gets out to both hikers and bikers I can see many visitors extending their trip on the Queen Charlotte Track. Imagine leaving Picton by boat to reach Ship Cove at the start of the Queen Charlotte Track, right at the extremity of the Sound, only to return entirely by walking or wheeling, some days later on a grand circuit.
Even better; finish the track and ride to Nelson on a cycle trail before cycling Tasman’s Great Taste Trail without ever being on the main road! I can’t wait to ride the remaining (still incomplete) path and to join the Trust on the joint celebrations of the anniversary of Cook’s arrival and the completion of the Link Pathway in 2020. This is a clear vision that I think will set off a cycling chain reaction of visitors flocking to a linking pathway that connects the top of the South. Take action! Be part of the pathway, cast yourself in the role … I know I did!