A longstanding attraction in itself, the Queen Charlotte Drive is a spectacular, winding road route linking the Marlborough Sounds’ two main towns.
This road climbs three gentle hills on its way between Picton and Havelock. The highpoints provide grand views of two sounds – Queen Charlotte and Pelorus – separated by the aptly named Linkwater flats. From Linkwater (around halfway), a road leads off to the Anakiwa end of the Queen Charlotte Track, just 4km away.
Note that this road route is now one of two options for riding between Picton and Havelock. The newly developed Link Pathway (Te Ara Tuhono) is a dedicated, off-road walking and cycling route connecting Picton, Anakiwa and Havelock, which shadows the Queen Charlotte Drive for much of its route. Most of the off-road sections are now open.
Being a major tourist road, the Queen Charlotte Drive is clearly signposted from both Picton and Havelock’s main roads.
From Picton, the road climbs to a fine viewpoint over Picton harbour before sidling around sleepy Shakespeare Bay. As it rounds the far end of the bay and heads west, views over the Grove Arm of Queen Charlotte Sound really open up.
Ngakuta Bay, and then Momorangi Bay, both offer a chance to rest and perhaps have a swim; the latter is home to a large campground with a café and shop.
Beyond The Grove settlement (and wharf – a great place for a leap), the Queen Charlotte Track and Anakiwa are signposted off to the right, 20km total riding from Picton. It's another 4km to the trailhead.
Otherwise, continue along the Linkwater straight to begin the climb around the Mahakipawa Arm of Pelorus Sound. It’s well worth parking the bike for the short walk up to Cullen Point Lookout before the fun descent to Havelock town.
A pleasant alternative is the Link Pathway – a splendid, almost entirely off-road trail between Havelock and Picton that parallels the Queen Charlotte Drive for much of its length (but with more interesting views and less traffic). The best sources of information for this trail are the Great Rides App and the trail's Facebook page.
It's an off-road experience, however, with the odd short but steep climb, but doable by most riders of reasonable fitness and biking skills. The surface isn't suitable for road bikes.
Need to Know
FITNESS & SKILLS
The Queen Charlotte Drive is a sealed road with an undulating profile as it winds its way along the edge of Queen Charlotte Sound. It’s a grade 3 (intermediate) route best suited to riders with average fitness and some cycle touring experience.
Traffic through Picton fluctuates with arriving and departing ferries, and can be quite busy during peak season. For a quieter bike ride, wait at least ten minutes for the ferry traffic to disperse before setting off.
TYPE OF BIKE
Road bikes or touring bikes are most suitable for the terrain. E-bikes are also suitable. Riders should ideally have basic mechanical skills and carry a tool kit and spares.
MAPS & NAVIGATION
It’s virtually impossible to get lost along the Queen Charlotte Drive (keep the sea to your right if you’re travelling from Picton!). However, a map will prevent wrong turns, help you time your ride, and identify points of interest along the way.
It is possible to ride this route all year round. However, the Sounds can experience heavy rain at any time of year so good wet-weather gear is recommended. Marlborough summers are normally hot and sunny; sunscreen and plenty of water are essential.
There is a variety of accommodation in Picton and Havelock, plus B&Bs and holiday homes for rent along the Drive.
There are also Department of Conservation campgrounds at Momorangi Bay, Aussie Bay and Moetapu Bay. Smiths Farm Holiday Park is a bike-friendly option around the halfway mark and a stone’s throw from Anakiwa via the Link Pathway.
FOOD & WATER
Picton has plenty of cafes and restaurants, and shops (including a supermarket) for stocking up on supplies. Havelock also has a few restaurants/cafes, and a general store selling food and supplies. There’s also a camp shop and café at Momorangi Bay.
Drinking water is available en route at the Department of Conservation campgrounds, but may require boiling or treating (look for signs).
Picton is the South Island port for the interisland ferries. It is also serviced by Intercity buses, and the Coastal Pacific train service that runs between Picton and Christchurch in summer.
The route also links up with the Anakiwa end of the Queen Charlotte Track via the Link Pathway.
Cellphone coverage is patchy outside of Picton and Havelock.
Public toilets can be found in Picton, Havelock, the Department of Conservation campgrounds, and at Governors Bay and Ngakuta Bay.