What to do when you love outdoor adventure but the prospect of pitching a tent “has lost its luster?” asked Amanda Jones in the Los Angeles Times. I’ve discovered a happy compromise: Find a place that offers ample opportunity for strenuous exercise during the day and “the reward of a bed and a glass of chilled wine” at night. If that formula works for you, head to the coast of New Zealand’s South Island, where the Queen Charlotte Track promises a 51-mile hike over four days through the pastoral Marlborough region.
The Queen Charlotte Track, which opened in 1992, “cuts across a pristine coastal ridgeline” and through ancient forest. It also includes two long, thin bodies of water, or sounds, formed ages ago when valleys were flooded by the sea. Picton is “the only town in the sounds,” so a friend and I checked in there the night before our hike. The next morning we met our guide for a briefing and boarded a small ferry. After a stop for a climb in the nature preserve of Motuara Island, the ferry dropped us at Ship Cove—the spot at which Capt. James Cook anchored in 1770 to claim New Zealand for Britain—where we took off again on foot. On reaching the first ridge, we gazed down on “a peacock blue sea.” Behind us was bush “untouched since Cook’s time,” as well as towering, 2,000-year-old trees.
That night we relaxed at Furneaux Lodge, formerly a holiday home for affluent pioneers. “Day Two was a piece of cake.” We hiked only seven miles past waterfalls and glens, and slept in simple A-frame cottages. Then came our longest day—“15 undulating miles to the 1,300-foot ridge above Kenepuru Sound.” Our reward that night was the ritzy but minimalist Portage Resort Hotel, featuring modern art, gourmet food, and wine in “one of the country’s most sublime locations.” We treated our weary limbs to a swim in the pool, and our palates to the elegant repast. After another day of rest and a leisurely tour of the bay by kayak, we took a ferry back to Picton.