Spectacular vistas? Check. Māori culture? Check. Low-risk tramping? Check.
The Queen Charlotte Track is in with a chance – a Great chance.
Details are out for selecting two new Great Walks and the Marlborough track covers all mandatory criteria set out by the Department of Conservation (DOC).
Queen Charlotte Track Trust chairman Rob Burn said all-year weather, iconic history and pleasant conditions should make the 71-kilometre pathway a strong contender.
The Great Walks are a collection of nine premier tracks maintained by the Department of Conservation that pass through diverse scenery. They attracted 118,000 people last year.
The Government announced in May $78 million for DOC to upgrade and develop tourist facilities, including the addition of two new Great Walks.
It would be the first major expansion of the national circuit in 25 years.
Criteria for selecting the new tracks has been released, with initial proposals closing on November 30.
A working group had been formed between the Queen Charlotte Track Trust, the Marlborough District Council, Destination Marlborough, landowners and other stakeholders to make a Queen Charlotte submission, Burn said.
“Many of us think that being aligned with the Great Walks is a fabulous idea and could have some fairly beneficial effects on tourism,” he said.
“There is a willingness to make it work, but it is easy to get excited.”
The criteria stated the walk must represent the “best of the best” of the country’s natural landscape, while also catering to relatively inexperienced multi-day trampers.
The walk also needed to provide an experience to engage with Māori culture.
Burn said this was a major strength of the track, as the first significant long-term contact between Māori and Europeans took place at Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound in the 1770s.
Captain James Cook spent more than 100 days at Ship Cove on five separate occasions.
Ship Cove gave the Queen Charlotte Track an historical edge which was especially important with the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival in 2019, Burn said.
Any new Great Walk would also need to be easier for people to consider by being located close to population centres. In this regard, DOC said it preferred North Island proposals.
Burn said the Marlborough track was “North Island adjacent” and only a three-hour ferry trip from Wellington and a four-hour drive to Christchurch once State Highway 1 reopened.
“We have a good chance, we even have a great chance,” Burn said.
Twenty per cent of the Queen Charlotte Track crossed private land. Submissions needed to prove public access would be provided.
Destination Marlborough general manager Jacqui Lloyd said there was still a lot of work to do, but it was an enticing project for the region.
“It’s definitely on the radar and something that we’ll be working really hard on,” she said.
“It would be a great opportunity for the track and a great opportunity for Marlborough.”
According to DOC, visitors wanted a Great Walk to include a three to five-day journey through low-risk backcountry.
They desired an undisturbed wilderness experience with unique scenery and natural wonders.
The initial proposal submission needed to be robust and comprehensive, and Lloyd said the group would be working towards the submission date of November 30.
Full proposals were expected by May 2018, with two new Great Walks to be announced in June 2018.