Readers' pick: Queen Charlotte Drive


Distance: 34km

Any time you disembark from a Cook Strait ferry in Picton, you'll notice the vast majority of the traffic immediately makes a beeline for Blenheim.

However, there is a better way to go if you're headed for the northwest corner of the South Island.

Just a few hundred metres after the ferry terminal is a roundabout, and a sharp right turn there will lead you onto one of our Great NZ Roads readers' picks: Queen Charlotte Drive, once promoted as the Treasured Pathway.

This "treasure" has definitely been discovered, particularly by tourist guides that recommend the route to international visitors in rented vehicles.

A survey by the Marlborough District Council over the 2010-2011 summer revealed that an average of 2000 vehicles a day were using the regally named drive.

What was once a traffic-free shortcut has definitely become a road more travelled.

However, the benefits of travelling to the Nelson region this way, or even doubling back from Havelock to Renwick to pick up the drive down the Wairau valley to the West Coast, cannot be understated.

For starters, you halve the travelling distance, as driving from Picton to Havelock via Blenheim is 69km.

Secondly, you gain a new perspective on the beautiful sunken valley that is Queen Charlotte Sound, and get to finish an entire journey along its length by road.

Driving along the Sound is definitely more demanding than sailing, as the hilly topography linking the various bays and beaches along the way has created a road that snakes and coils back on itself like a huge cobra.

The 6km-long straight at Linkwater comes as welcome relief. The settlement is aptly titled, as it's located on a stretch of flat land between Mahau and Queen Charlotte Sounds.

After the straight, the continuous corners return in a spectacular climb and descent that gives panoramic views of Mahau Sound and the pretty fishing/mussel farming village of Havelock.