- Cruise calm sheltered waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound
Save the planet –
Take an E-Ko Tour!
Take an E-Ko Tour!
A portion of each tour fee goes back into conservation
Tour info in brief
|Adult: $395 (16+ years)
Child: $295 (5 – 15 years)
Infant: $FREE (0 – 4 years)
|1 Wellington Street Picton
No Seasickness Guarantee
About the Tour
Ultimate Queen Charlotte Track – 1 Day Walk – Kupes Trail
After your visit to Motuara Island, New Zealand highest producing Predator FREE Sanctuary the tour takes you to gorgeous Schoolhouse Bay. Then you can Walk the BEST of Queen Charlotte Track, an easy 5km walk through Virgin bush back to Meretoto or Ship Cove. This trail is the only section of the original native bush up to 40m tall and has the only remaining stand of True Native Forest. Kupe arrived in Meretoto 1200 years ago and used to forage for food on this trail, stopping to pay his respects to the forest giants that still stand there today. One of the trees estimated to be over 1500 years old is a natural forest father; stand in its roots and feel the awe of its magnificence.
What to expect
The Experience Begins
The tour begins with a fully guided experience. You will witness many species of sea birds, dolphins, and seals on your way to Motuara Island, New Zealand’s Premier Predator-Free island. Here, you’ll have the opportunity to take a one-hour guided walk on this Department of Conservation breeding reserve, where rare and endangered species (Taonga) are bred and then translocated to other locations in New Zealand. This is also the location of Kupes decedents, the Ngtai Kuia Maori tribe, who met Captain James Cook 1000 years after their Pacific explorer ancestor Kupe arrived. New Zealand’s first Maori/ European relations thrived, with Cook spending 170 days locally with the friendly Ngtai Kua Tribe.
Welcome to Motuara Island
Motuara Island is 100% predator-free and is home to some rare species, such as the yellow-crowned Parakeet and Saddleback. Explore the island on your own or go with our knowledgeable World Cetacean Alliance Qualified Marine Guide, who will point out and describe the resident blue penguins, rare saddleback, melodic bellbirds, cheeky robins, native pigeons and yellow-crowned parakeets (kakariki). If it’s a clear day, you can also spot the North Island in the distance. The view from the Cook Strait lookout is spectacular!
The birds on this predator-free island are fearless, plentiful and very vocal, and many are still rare or Endangered Species. It’s not unusual for you to be able to get very close to these fantastic creatures – there’ll be plenty of photo opportunities. Our expert Queen Charlotte Track guides will be with you all the way – our team is passionate about the local environment and loves sharing its unique aspects with our small groups.
Motuara Island was significant for Maori. At the southern tip of Motuara Island is the smaller Hippa Island, which was the site of a pre-European Maori Pa. The adjacent Ship Cove, Meretoto, was where Maori first met pakeha sustainably – our guides will show you exactly where. Motuara Island was where, in 1770, Captain Cook proclaimed British sovereignty over the South Island.
Refreshments before Queen Charlotte Track
After returning to the boat, please sit back and relax with a hot drink and cookies before making our way back to School House Bay for the second part of your Adventure for your Soul 🙂
Ultimate Queen Charlotte Track Walk – 5kms – Kupes Trail
After you visit Motuara Island, the tour takes you to Schoolhouse Bay, where you can enjoy an easy 5km walk through Virgin bush back to Meretoto or Ship Cove. This trail is the only section of the original native bush up to 40m tall, serving on the Queen Charlotte Track. Kupe arrived in Meretoto 1200 years ago and used to forage for food on this trail, stopping to pay his respects to the forest giants that still exist today. One of the trees estimated to be over 1500 years old is a natural forest father; stand in its roots and feel the awe of its magnificence. He is our local Kaitaki or Forest Guardian, and being guided to his secret location is an honour.
Walking through the Best part of the Queen Charlotte Track, you’ll be guided by your audio/video book, which marks out many other unique items. See, touch, taste the Virgin bush, drink the water, touch the trees, gather forest herbs, and see our Predator FREE 250 trapping location.
Arrive at Meretoto/ Ships Cove
After this epic trail, you’ll arrive at Meretot, where you can enjoy the food and wine we have provided to savour this fantastic location’s essence. From the first Māori basing themselves here to Captain Cook establishing three voyages around the Pacific here, staying 170 days over nine years from 1770, this location is rich in history and culture.
At Meretoto, there are even more incredible experiences waiting for you. You can wade into the beach where Cook pulled his ship ashore and enjoy the company of young stingrays. It’s a unique opportunity to interact with these fascinating creatures up close. If you’re feeling thirsty, you can drink water from the stream, which provided water to the Nagtai Kuia Tribe, who were Kupes’ descendants for over 1200 years. With Cook’s arrival, this creek nurtured the first vegetable patch in New Zealand, which he used to nurse his men back to health. It then made the first beer in New Zealand, adding to the history and culture of this location.
Legends and Facts on Display at Meretoto
The stories and history of Meretoto are displayed in Department of Conservation interpretation signs and toilets. There is a sheltered eating area, a long pier for swimming access and boats, and a short waterfall trail for your pleasure. Alternatively, you can use the custom-made seats to enjoy the local gourmet cuisine, a glass of wine, soak in the Mana, and replenish your Soul’s Mauri (life force). Read More
If you like to stretch your legs and have a few days to spare, or just have one day to see the highlights, you’ll definitely want to put the Queen Charlotte Track on your itinerary. Sometimes referred to as the Queen Charlotte Sound walk, this is a not-to-be-missed hiking experience that will let you take in the scenery as you go.
The whole track can be covered on a five-day hike with walking time between four and eight hours per day, depending on the section. Regarded as one of the classic New Zealand trekking routes, the beauty of the Queen Charlotte walk is that it’s a long-distance hike, rather than a steep climb. However, you should not consider walking the Queen Charlotte Track in Picton as a stroll in the park. The legs to be covered each day can be daunting, with distances from 8 km to 24.5 km, with most between 10 km and 20 km. Go with E-Ko and just see the BEST part in one day and walk just 5 km, which includes a Bird Sanctuary Island.
The best part of the track can be seen on our one-day walk, Kupes Footsteps Experience. This unique experience, which concentrates on touch, feel, hear, and taste, focuses on Meretoto/Ship Cove and includes one-hour fully guided tour of New Zealand’s premier wildlife sanctuary, Motuara Island.
Experience a one-hour Queen Charlotte sound cruise guided by a WCA-qualified, experienced guide after departing Picton at 0800. Stopping with rare species of dolphin and seabirds (King Shags) on the way to Motuara Island. During the one-hour visit to the Department of Conservation Island, which E-Ko has been guiding for 25 years, you can see many rare species and also see where Captain Cook planted the flag and claimed this part of New Zealand.
This is the top breeding island in New Zealand and has rare endangered Rowi Kiwi on it. Part of your fee goes back to support Project Nest egg, which has raised their numbers from 100-700 nationally, all breeds on this island. South Island Saddlebacks, Robins, Kakariki, Warblers, Bellbirds, Fantails, Gecko, skinks, and Falcons are some of the other species that abound on this island, which is the top bird translocation island in the country supporting the Predator Free 250 Government aspiration.
This area we call Kupe’s home ground encompasses around 5 km from Meretoto/Ship Cove and was occupied by this charismatic explorer originally 1000 years ago. His wife even named our country Ao Tearoa. He based himself here to hunt and kill the legendary octopus Wheke in Raukakkawa (Cook Strait). The father of Maori in New Zealand, a wise ocean navigator, and a fisherman who the local Ngati Kuia Tribe can directly trace back to their ancestors. This is the tribe that met Captain Cook in 1771 and formed a healthy beneficial relationship over a nine-year period.
Originally Totara was used by Kupe’s descendants to make Waka (canoe) for over 800 years, yet they did not take the forest giants from a 3 km radius from Meretoto or Ship Cove in respect of Kupe. We have located, after searching extensively, all the local bush, the oldest and wisest Totara Tree, which has an estimated age of over 1500 years. So it was there before Kupe arrived.
For Māori and our local community, the totara tree is very special. It was brought into being by Tane Mahuta, the Atua of the forest. Symbolically, this very important tree can be viewed as representing everything that roots us, anchors us, identifies us, and locates us in the Māori world and our local community environment. Hence, the name Totaranui.
The entire area of Queen Charlotte Sound was clear-felled, removing over 1 million cubic feet of timber in the 1800s. The wood was used for boats or houses and mostly exported. Just about all of the large podocarp trees like Totara, Rimu, and KaihiKatea were destroyed, and most of these forest giants grew up to 40 meters and created a true New Zealand bush, which had a whole canopy layer of life. This action of Europeans destroyed the environment, which is only now recovering. This area is the only true stand of native forest giants remaining and is our spiritual center, anchoring us to our past through its ecosystem.
The Totara Tree holds a very special significance locally, and Maori made Waka from them for 800+ years by hand until Captain Cook arrived, and they traded metal tools to allow them to cut down and carve out by hand these impressive and sturdy sailing canoes. Originally, the local Waka builders observed Captain Cook fell a tree, make boards, and drag his ship ashore for repairs, all in a matter of weeks using metal tools, whereas the local Maori used rock chisels and shear hard back-breaking work to fell the trees. Cook traded axes, saws, and chisels and gifted nails to the local community of the Ngati Kuia. This location is where Cook spent 170 days, had a great relationship with the local Maori, and they nurtured each other and grew together by inter-marriage in the 1800s to form the local community. Some of the local legends and Kupes’ secrets we will show you on our exclusive half-day exploration of this area.
You will touch, see, hear and feel in this experience. We will transport you back in time to an ancient forest that you will walk through and be guided by our signs and your own map for a voyage of discovery and a walk in Kupes’ footsteps.
To top off this experience, you can choose for your afternoon lunch local cuisine – meat, fish, or vegetarian options. This inclusive package also includes local high-quality wine. This kai (food) you do not have to carry as we will hand-deliver it to Meretoto, where you can relax, walk to a waterfall, go snorkeling, walk on the beach, play with local stingrays, read the information panels, go for a swim, or just drink wine, eat beautiful food, and take in the mana and mauri (life force) of this amazing location. Be careful of the cheeky gang of Weka – they will try and take your kai (food).
The day finishes with a cruise back down the Sound to arrive back in Picton fulfilled, empowered, and spiritually richer for walking in Kupes’ footsteps.
The whole track stretches from Ship Cove to Anakiwa, and the start point at Ship Cove is only accessible by boat. As the natural starting point for the Queen Charlotte Track, Picton is where visitors would pick up a transfer service by boat. E-Ko Tours offer quite possibly the best and cheapest transfer from Picton to Ship Cove, as it includes an impromptu wildlife cruise on the way there and back. See more details below.
Ship Cove is also known as Meretoto, and it is a historically important site of the contact between the Europeans and Māoris. Made into a historic reserve in 1896, it was the first of its kind and marks the start of the joint heritage culture of New Zealand. It’s illegal to camp at this spot, but toilets are provided.
For those who love walking, our Queen Charlotte track tours offers incredible views through DoC land, but some areas of the track pass through privately owned land. If you intend to hike the whole track, you must purchase a QCTLC (Queen Charlotte Track Land Co-operative) pass online before commencing your trek. The fee for this pass contributes towards the maintenance of the track to ensure the route stays accessible in the future.
Accommodation on the Queen Charlotte Walk
There is a range of accommodation available for multi-day hikers from budget-friendly DoC campsites to homestays and even lodges. For a Queen Charlotte Track luxury walk, some people like to stay in high-end accommodation to enjoy something a little more civilised. Some also like to book a luggage transfer service (by boat!) so they can have the convenience of being able to walk without having to carry everything between sites. Wild camping is not permitted on the trail, as this can contribute to degradation of the natural environment and also pose the risk of fire. At DoC campsites, there are toilet facilities and water, but no cooking facilities. Visitors are asked not to dispose of waste food around the site, and to take all rubbish with them. There are also privately owned camp sites on the track which may have better facilities.
Luxury Package of The Queen Charlotte Track in NZ
For those who would prefer to do the Queen Charlotte tours in one day rather than the whole trail, that’s entirely possible. Many providers drop off and pick up at the start and end points of a particular section. This allows the greatest flexibility for those who are short on time, but you do not want to miss the best bits our Queen Charlotte track packages has to offer. E-Ko Tours currently only offers drop off/pick up at Ship Cove.
Many people want to book Queen Charlotte Track packages, with a guide. E-Ko Tours currently offers a Queen Charlotte Track guided walk, but we are also happy to help you plan your trek if you’d like to do it on your own, and of course transfer you over to the start point. The route is well-marked and with a map, you will not require a guide.
It is possible however to do Queen Charlotte track day walks on different parts of the track, but most tours are fully-guided. Boat operators will drop you off and pick you up at your chosen start and end points, and we are happy to offer you advice and information on this.
Adventures on the Queen Charlotte Sound Walk
Although it’s perfectly possible to cycle the track instead of hiking it, E-Ko Tours does not offer a transfer service for bikes at the present time. We are happy to suggest other boat operators who offer this service.
Why Book Queen Charlotte Track in Picton with E-Ko Tours?
If you want to find an operator which offers Queen Charlotte track packages in NZ, look no further than E-Ko Tours. We offer a very reasonably priced transfer over to the start of the trail at ship cove but include a couple of extra stops which mainstream ferry providers do not offer. On board our expertly skippered catamaran, we have a knowledgeable wildlife team who will point out seabirds and mammals of interest.
We believe the best part of the track is between Meretoto / Ship Cove and Schoolhouse Bay. It’s certainly one of the best Queen Charlotte Track short walks. The track takes just over 90 minutes one way or as we reccomend stoping to see the oldest Totara tree and the beautiful Matai, stop and drink form Kupes Water source through untouched native forests before reaching a lookout point where you can get the best views of the inner and outer sound. E-Ko Tours can arrange a day trip, Walking In Kupes Footsteps Experience leaving at 8am and picking visitors up at 4.15pm back at Ship Cove.
Your Guide to Our Queen Charlotte Tour
With two departures a day at 8am and 1.30pm (safety briefings 15 mins before departure) and pick up back at Ship Cove at 4.15pm, visitors can enjoy the flexibility of a full day or a half day trek, giving them options on the length of Queen Charlotte tour they want to take. The transfer over to Ship Cove takes between one hour and 90 minutes, with stops to view wildlife and dolphins, if they choose to make an appearance. There’s plenty of room for your packs, whether you are planning Queen Charlotte track day walks or you want to do the whole trek. We would remind you to bring food, water, sunscreen and a hat as required, and to bring all your rubbish back from the reserve. E-Ko Tours offers the best Queen Charlotte Track Walking Tours, with included nature sea safari. Book now for the experience of a lifetime! Read less
Tour Times ⏰
- Briefing: 7.45 AM, 1:15 PM
- Departure: 8.00 AM
- Duration: 9.5 hours
What to bring
- Good walking shoes
- Phone for Audio Book to Download
Where are we?
We are located conveniently on Picton’s main waterfront with car parking close by and only a 1-minute walk from the main street.
Just look for the Dusky Dolphin outside our shop.
Before your tour starts feel free to take a seat inside the shop or outside on our sun drenched deck and enjoy the stunning views.
Customers can also get online with our free WiFi, and purchase a tea or coffee to enjoy on the deck.
You will Never Miss your Ferry
Our tour schedules are integrated with the Interislander – so there is no chance that you’ll miss your ferry.
What people are saying about us
“Quality Wildlife Tour”
Trip Advisor – 5 STAR ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ – 23 May 2017 We were lucky enough to head out with e-Ko Tours recently on a perfect late autumn day with not a cloud in the sky. We’d considered carefully which cruise company to go with and were not disappointed… The boat was well appointed and comfortable with space for everyone to move around easily. Paul, the skipper, was friendly and fun to chat to and Tristram, our guide, was superbly knowledgeable about everything we saw during our 4 hour trip to Motuara Island and back. Also much appreciated were the thoughtful hands up and down from boat to jetty, myself being not the agilest. Little things that make a big difference. We saw a wealth of wildlife whilst on our trip – 2 species of dolphin, the Hector’s were absolutely delightful as they played right around the boat, rolling to look up at us! And fur seals, rare shags, petrels, gannets, moon jellyfish, and on the island – Saddlebacks, Black Robins, Bellbirds, Wax-eyes, Fantails, and Kakariki. I advise sitting quietly by the “bird bath” – water source where the birdlife comes to bathe and drink – for best viewing of birds. It was incredible to listen to the birdsong in the bush, something that is sadly a thing of the past in so many places. Thank goodness for predator-free sanctuaries such as this. It was a most memorable day and I thoroughly recommend E-Ko Tours.
“Great team of people”
FACEBOOK – 5 Star ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Sam Fox reviewed E-Ko Tours – May 22 · Great team of people – who all worked hard to make sure we enjoyed a fab day out. The boat is really comfortable and well set up, the commentary by Tristram was really well delivered and interesting, further enhancing our experience. We were lucky enough to see many rare bird species both at sea and on Motuara Island, plus NZ Fur Seals and both Hectors and Dusky Dolphins which was just amazing. Paul, the captain, went out of his way to find the Hectors Dolphins – which capped our day off beautifully! If you are looking for a quality wildlife experience these are your guys!
FACEBOOK – 5 Star ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ Laura Keereweer reviewed E-Ko Tours – December 11, Awesome tour! Nice boat, great skipper, and guide. Both know a lot about the area and about the wildlife. Enthusiastic and fun! Spotted dolphins within the first 20 minutes and was a great experience! ? Thanks so much, guys, would definitely recommend you to all people visiting NZ!