History of the Queen Charlotte Track

~1000 to 1400 AD

Maori arrive in New Zealand and inhabit Marlborough Sounds area

Maori inhabit the area for centuries.

By John Webber 1777, Royal Maritime Museum


Captain James Cook arrives at Ship Cove.

The first known European to visit the Marlborough Sounds was the famous English explorer, Captain James Cook, on the HMS Endeavour.

Cook sailed into Ship Cove, which is now the start of the Queen Charlotte Track, on January 17, 1770. During his 3 world voyages, he made this small cove his South Pacific base for the next seven years. It was here the first social interaction between South Island Maori and Europeans took place.

"Queen Charlotte” was the name he gave the Sound, after the Queen Consort of King George III of England. The Maori name is “Totaranui”, reflecting the Totara trees growing there.

Before 1980

No unified track exists.

Undeveloped natural bush land and a series of unconnected coastal tracks existed in the region for carrying goods and driving stock. Tracks north of Kenepuru were used for coast watch during World War II.


The Kenepuru Walkway is built.

Ian Mitchell, working for the Marlborough Sounds Maritime Park Board, proposed the idea of a track along the Kenepuru Ridge to landowners of the district, including Rod Eatwell, Trevor Lawrence, and Colin and Marie Norris. This was originally called the Kenepuru Walkway. Together, they played a major role in the formation of the Track. In the northern section of the track, gelignite was used in some places, and with a small bulldozer the track through to Anakiwa was upgraded. A rough walking track opened in 1983.


Partial track closure due to funding loss.

Track maintenance continued, until government restructuring meant funding disappeared. As a result, the Portage to Punga Cove section closed. Together with friends and family, landowner Rod Eatwell continued to mow Kenepuru Ridge and keep possum and pig numbers down. Cattle grazed on the track from Kenepuru Saddle to Black Rock Station.


Department of Conservation is formed and NZ Air Force sponsors track cleanup.

The Department of Conservation (DOC) was formed. Roy Grose and Willie Abel began to administer and maintain the Kenepuru Walkway, as it was then called. DOC asked the New Zealand Air Force to sponsor a clean-up project to realign and restore closed sections of the track. The Air Force provided 150 men under the command of Wing Commander Williamson. They camped on Rod Eatwell's land at the Kenepuru Head and worked from Punga to Portage, taking three weeks to complete the job.

Photo courtesy of nztramper.com

November 1991

Queen Charlotte Walkway officially named and opens.

The newly named Queen Charlotte Walkway, linking up the DOC land with the Kenepuru Walkway, was opened at Torea Saddle by Hon. Denis Marshall, Minister of Conservation. Rod Eatwell cut the cake and the 71km Queen Charlotte Walkway was officially opened. 


The Queen Charlotte Track Land Cooperative (QCTLC) is formed.

To formally recognize the lifelong contributions of the 10 private landowners and Maori Land Trust, the QCTLC was formed. Together with Department of Conservation, Marlborough District Council, and representatives of QCT Inc (representing the commercial operators), they formed a Stakeholders Forum. The Forum operates under a cooperative agreement, which provides the guiding principles for ongoing decision-making. This is to ensure that a quality natural QCT experience is preserved for future generations.

2010 to Today

Track gains worldwide popularity and renown.

Thousands of hikers and bikers from around the world enjoy the Queen Charlotte Track. The track has grown in popularity over the years and now has a worldwide reputation as a great New Zealand hiking and biking trail. Purchase your track pass here.

Queen Charlotte Track App

Information about the history, wildlife and plants at your finger tips

In 2023 QCTLC launched the Queen Charlotte Track App. The app contains pictures and information about the plants and wildlife you will see on the track and some of the historical points of interest. 

Download it now