Always keen to get off the beaten track, travel writer Lisa Jansen sets out for remote Kenepuru Sound.
Anyone who has ever taken the Cook Strait ferry on a nice day has probably stood in awe of the beautiful scenery as the boat makes its way through the Marlborough Sounds. Unsurprisingly, there is even more beauty to discover if you leave this well-travelled route to explore more isolated parts of these sunken valleys, such as Kenepuru Sound.
SCENIC QUEEN CHARLOTTE DRIVE
From Picton, head west via Queen Charlotte Drive and you will quickly see what I mean. Just a few hundred metres out of town, you will find the first of many lookouts worth a stop to enjoy stunning views over Picton and Queen Charlotte Sound.
Continue on Queen Charlotte Drive, but be prepared to take it slow. The road is fully sealed but winding and narrow in parts – however the views more than make up for it. After about 15km, you’ll reach the first of two DOC campsites: Momorangi Bay, and beautiful Aussie Bay shortly after.
If you have time, spend a night or two here. Shortly after passing Aussie Bay, the road straightens out and you will want to keep an eye out for the turn-off onto Kenepuru Road, about 22km out of Picton.
NORTH TOWARDS REMOTENESS
Kenepuru Road is winding, with some tight turns, so take your time – but it’s sealed all the way to Kenepuru Head, 42km after the turn-off. Although the road follows the water’s edge, the views are mostly blocked by trees, and opportunities to pull over are rare – so take advantage when they do appear.
You will find several DOC campsites along Kenepuru Road. All are idyllic and offer sensational vistas, but they only have basic facilities – long-drop toilets only in most places. Most sites are small with limited turning space, so it might be worth walking in for a look first. For those with large vehicles and caravans, the DOC site at Kenepuru Head is probably the best option. It’s a large grass area right on the sounds, with lots of space – and it has the most modern facilities (flushing toilet and a cold shower).
Wherever you park up, watch out for the cheeky weka birds who like to sneak in and make themselves at home. They might be cute and very friendly, but they are not house-trained, so think twice about whether you want them in your mobile home.
Be aware that the two freedom camping spots along Kenepuru Road, which you might remember from past trips or see references to, have recently been closed by the council – so the DOC sites are now your only option. It’s also important to know that there are no dump stations in the area, and nowhere to fill up water. There are cafes/ restaurants at Portage (on Kenepuru Road), Punga Cove (north of Kenepuru Head) and Furneaux Lodge (walking/ boat access only). Otherwise, you will have to make do with what you have.
QUEEN CHARLOTTE TRACK
Kenepuru Sound is probably most famous for the Queen Charlotte track, and it’s well worth spending a day or two exploring the track either on foot or bike. There are access points at Anakiwa, Te Mahia Saddle, Mistletoe Bay, Torea Saddle and Bay, and Kenepuru Saddle. However, there is limited and unsecured parking at all access points, and parking larger vehicles could be a challenge.
Read up on the section of the trail you’re planning to do – in particular if you’re biking. Some sections are challenging, and advanced skills are recommended. It’s best to check online or with the iSite in Picton before you leave, but the locals at the above-mentioned restaurants and cafes are also generally happy to give advice.
Although Kenepuru Road is suitable for most vehicles, the side roads and those north of Kenepuru Head are narrow, winding and gravel, with limited passing space.
However, if you have a smaller camper or a car, it’s absolutely worth heading down some of them. Mistletoe Bay is beautiful, and so is Punga Cove, where you can enjoy food and drinks at the waterfront cafe.
Punga Cove is also a great place to explore the Queen Charlotte track from. A recommended day trip is to walk to Furneaux Lodge (about 12km on an easy to moderate track), enjoy lunch or afternoon tea there and then take the water taxi back to Punga Cove.
Another day trip for those who like a bit more of a challenge is to walk or bike south from Punga Cove to Eatswell Lookout. The track is steep in parts and requires a moderate level of fitness, but the views from the lookout are breathtaking. For a shortcut, park at the intersection of Titirangi Road and Akerbloms Road and join the track there, saving yourself one big uphill section.
Once you’re ready to leave the beauty and peacefulness of Kenepuru Sound – which will most likely only be when you run out of fresh water or food – make your way back south on Kenepuru Road. When you get to the intersection with Queen Charlotte Drive, turn right towards Havelock.
CULLEN POINT LOOKOUT
Make sure you stop at Cullen Point Lookout, about 9km after you turn onto Queen Charlotte Drive. There is space to pull over safely, even for larger rigs. A short walk up the hill will take you to panoramic views over the sounds.
From Cullen Point, it’s only a short drive into Havelock. Here you can stock up at the Four Square, and empty/fill tanks at the dump station before continuing your journey. You might even decide to stick around Havelock for a few days and join a cruise on the sounds, or just relax in this idyllic little town.