Picton is the gateway to the South Island and the main town of Queen Charlotte Sound. Today it is sunny and cool, so I have decided to explore some short walks from Queen Charlotte Drive. The thirty-four-kilometre drive starts behind Bluebridge Ferry Terminal in Picton and finishes at Havelock. From Picton i-SITE, I follow the signs to Queen Charlotte Drive and continue uphill until I arrive at Queen Charlotte Lookout. From here, you can view Picton township and ten kilometres into the sounds.
The Marlborough Sounds are made up of bays, coves, headlands and islands dotting the waterways. Today, I remind myself I am looking at drowned river valleys formed by earth subsidence and rising sea levels during the last ice age. Part of this process is still happening now. The land is slowly sinking.
Continuing on Queen Charlotte Drive, the narrow road winds itself pass Shakespeare Bay towards Wedge Point, then cuts overland into Grove Arm. The wind picks up and it is bitterly cold. It is time for my beanie. Although the road is narrow and windy, the driving is enjoyable. To my right, I have glimpses of bays and distant views. Native bush hug the hillsides and gullies. In the past, Grove Arm was subjected to land clearance now patches of pine trees, broom and gorse intermingle with the native forest. Fortunately, kanuka and manuka have made a comeback providing a cosy habitat for ferns and native tree seedlings to grow.
Eventually, the road comes to Governors Bay Scenic Reserve. From the road, there is a ten-minute walk downhill to the beach. Once inside the forest, I am sheltered from the wind, and I take my time. Overhead, tree fern fronds, kamahi and kanuka form a canopy. Rangiora, five-finger and kawakawa fringe the edges of the track. It does not take long before I am at the beach. The bay is between two headlands, and the narrow beach is made of coarse golden sand with bush fringing the edges. It is almost a gale on the beach, and even the black back gulls are crouching low. It is too refreshing for my liking so I make a hasty retreat into the forest.
After leaving Governors Bay, it is a short drive to Ngakuta Bay. This small holiday settlement is tucked away in a valley. You can access the beach at the far end of the main road. After parking my car, I follow an easy walking track near the marsh where two screeching pukekos are having a bolshie stand-off. Further out on the tidal flats, a white-faced heron and black oystercatchers probe the mud looking for food. Continuing, I climb some wooden steps to the road and follow the footpath pass modern holiday homes and older baches. Fifteen minutes later I am back at the shelter of my car. At the western end of the bay, there is a good interpretation panel with pictures of bird species.
The road continues to skirt above the bays until you arrive at Momorangi Bay. At the bay, there is a Department Of Conservation camping ground and store. Behind the camping ground is a twenty-minute walk called the Momorangi Forest Experience. This forest is part of a continuing restoration project by the Department of Conservation and volunteers. Community Ranger, Wendy Sullivan, said, “Between 2013 and 2016 they had over one hundred and fifty volunteers undertake three hundred and thirty-six or forty-two equivalent work days”.
Away from the wind, the forest becomes a quiet sanctuary. As I dawdle along, a tuis melody fills the space around me. Mature silver and black tree ferns intermingle with other forest trees as well as forming tall, silent groves. There are signs and panels with pictures and descriptions of trees, birds and pest species. At the bird species panel an audio box allows you to play eight different bird songs. Eventually, the track meanders back to a lawn area behind the camping ground.
From Momorangi Bay, the road gently winds its way towards Linkwater. Linkwater settlement is spread out with lush pastureland on either side of the road. It separates Queen Charlotte Sound from Pelorus Sound. You can turn off here to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track at Anakiwa. As the road continues on it hugs the bay winding around marshes and the tidal flats of Mahakipawa Arm until it climbs uphill and eventually to Cullen Point. From the carpark, I can see Havelock, and why it is freezing. In the distant south-west, the mountains are covered in huge amounts of fresh snowfall.
At Cullen Point, there are two walks called Cullen Point Coastal Walk and Cullen Point Lookout Walk. The Coastal Walk descends to the shoreline and follows the base of the headland around. It is a one-hour loop track. The wind has gone, but it is late afternoon, and there is a coldness invading the air. After ten minutes of walking, I am warm again and begin to enjoy the forest. Whiteywood, fivefinger and groves of tree ferns inhabit the gullies and hillside.
At clearings, I stop and watch seabirds searching the tidal mudflats for a feed. My first spotting, with binoculars, is a royal spoonbill. I am thrilled and watch it sweeping its bill side to side. The royal spoonbill was considered a vagrant to New Zealand waters, but after a hundred years of visits and breeding it has become colonised.
Other birds I can see are oystercatchers, gulls, terns, gannets and pied shags. The track is narrow and muddy in places, but it is not too demanding. After an hour and a gradual uphill climb, I arrive at the carpark. The lookout is a twenty-minute return walk. Now the sun is almost behind the last ridgeline. The track starts out flat and wide and then becomes a narrow dirt trail to the top. From here, there is a short ridge to meander along and a seat with views of Mahau Sound. Although the light is fading, I enjoy the pinkish tinge of twilight and then quickly hurry back. The track loops around through native forest and rejoins the flat section.
Back at the carpark, I jump into my car and travel the remaining five kilometres to Havelock. To end my day, I stop at the Captains Daughter restaurant, sit by the open fire and enjoy a shandy and bowl of tasty hot chips.