The Queen Charlotte Track (71 kilometers) runs through the Marlborough Sounds; a national park that most tourist who visited New Zealand miss out on. Too bad, because this nature reserve, in the most Northern Point of the Southern Island has everything a lover of the outdoors can wish for: beautiful views, azure, blue bays, steep climbs, flourishing vegetation and kilometers of hiking tracks.
Day 1: Ship Cove
Sweat is running over my back, when I walk up the steep hill by Ship Cove. My backpack with warm clothes, rain coat and food for the next couple of days hangs heavy around my shoulders. Gravel squeaks under my feet. If this hill is a sign what is in store of us the next couple of days this is going to be a serious hike. Now we understand why the brochure said that the first 4,5 kilometer would take us two hours.
As soon as we’re on top of the hill, we’ve forgotten our cold start. Between the hundreds of ferns we have a beautiful view over Ship Cove. The azure blue water forms a big contrast with the different shades of green of the ferns. Twee little sailing boats float peaceful in the bay. Without any doubt the owners will follow captain Cooks example. He anchored here five times when he discovered New Zealand. In 1770 – with his Endeavour – he even stayed here for three weeks; to get some fresh water and to give the ill people of his crew the time to heal. In May and November 1773, October 1774 and February 1777 Cook returned on the Resolution. No wonder there is a little monument of the legendary sailor on the beach of Ship Cove.
Queen Charlotte Sound
Just before we set out on this hike, we followed Cooks example as well, by sailing through the Queen Charlotte Sound, an arm of the sea Cook named after Queen Charlotte van Mecklenburg-Strelitz, the wife of King George III, in those days the ruler of England.
After 45 minutes we pass a ridge, which gives us an amazing view over Resolution Bay on one side and Motuara Island on the other side. It’s on that Island that Cook hoist the English flag and claimed the country in name of the English Queen.
When we finally pass Resolution bay we see a few holiday houses. It’s the first sign that we are not the only people around here. Up until so far we haven’t seen anybody since we left the ferry behind us. The decision not to start with the hike first thing in the morning – like most people do – but in the afternoon has given us a beautiful solitude. When we’re on the next ridge, with the wind blowing around our ears, we cross a new viewpoint after every corner with every time a bright blue bay with a private beach surrounded by ferns. In almost every bay floats a sailing yacht. They remind us of photos we’ve only seen in holiday magazines with extreme expensive and luxurious vacations.
After three hours and fort five minutes hiking our first day comes to an end at the Furneaux Lode, a luxurious country estate with a big porch. The fountain on the perfectly mowed lawn makes the villa look extra chic. When we sit down on the porch and look on our altitude meter we get the confirmation for what we already expected. We haven’t had a flat bit for more than ten meters. The hike just went up and down all the time.
Day 2: crap backpackers dorm
We wake up, because of the alarm. As luxurious as the villa is and the holiday houses are, so crap is the backpackers drom. The old, stone building – dating back from the year 1800 – may look romantic, putting six people in a room that is hardly big enough for four isn’t. And having two of the four German women snoring like hell doesn’t help as well. Especially when their high pitched snoring gets accompanied by a low bass tone snoring of the Australians in the room next door.
Back on the road we greet the nice silence again. Today no yellow clay, but a gravel road, full of fallen leaves. Slowly the road climbs up; away from sea level. After 2,5 hours we pass a small bridge, which gives access to a big paddock, where a donkey and lama are grazing side by side. Twenty meters further on stands a small, wooden hut with cornflakes, a basket with apples and a cooler with orange juice, milk and cola. We wants to buy something can put the money in a box. The owners of ‘the shop’ are around, but they are two hundred meters away busy building their house in the middle of nowhere.
Clear blue water
When we leave the field we walk on nothing more than a small track. When we turn the corner we see Punga Cove, by Camp Bay. The clear blue water looks so tempting that – without knowing it – we speed up. Half an hour later we dive in the salt see. The water is freezing and refreshing at the same time. Having to put on our hiking boots again afterwards feels like a big punishment. Luckily it’s only two more kilometers to Noeline’s home-stay, who is already waiting for us with tea with scones.
When we’re finishing our tea, Rachael storms in. She’s the only other guest this night at Noeline’s. With her short hair, white legs and a few pounds of extra weight she reminds me of the main character of Bridget Jones Diary. When she falls down on a chair and moans in the same English accent as Bridget Jones: ‘This walk will kill me’, I burst out in a big laughter. She looks at me, smiles and tries to put a whole scone in one go into her mouth.
Day 3: Bridget Jones
We’re only staying at Noeline’s for one night, yet when we leave the next morning she gives us a big hug and matching kiss. We will need all the love we can get today, because the biggest stage of the track is awaiting us: 24,5 kilometer: just going up and down the hills. According to the information signs it’s going to take us 9 hours. Within a few minutes we know what we are in for. A dirt road with big rocks, only here and there hidden underneath a roof of tree leafs. But most of the track is open and the sun shines merciless on us. Even on this early hour of the day.
After half an hour we make a short stop. Not because we’re already tired, but because we are surrounded by mushrooms: the ones with a red hat and white dots on them. When we’re laying down on our belly to take some pictures ‘Bridget Jones’ shows up. Especially for this trip she has wrapped a nice sarong around her head. As soon as she sees us, she moans: ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this. I need chocolate.’ She stops for a quick photo of the mushrooms and continuous her way: ‘I’m going to walk again. What else is there to do?’
From here on the track climbs away from the Queen Charlotte Sound to the Kenepuru Sound, who are on the other side of the hill. When we reach the peak of the hill – a few hundred meters above the water – we take a hold and lunch on muesli bars, nuts and water.
A few hours later we crisscross through a forest. When we turn one corner we have a beautiful view over the Sound, when we turn the next we can’t see the Sound at all. The next corner opens up the forest and we can look all the way over the water to the mainland.
From here on we walk next to a steep cliff. The road goes down every now and then, but most of it is still steep up hill. Seven and a half hours after we started, we reach Portage Lodge, where we can undo ourselves from our hiking boots. We order a cold lime beer and let our foot sink into the swimming pool. Bridget Jones look jealous at us. ‘I would love to have a dive, but I don’t have a bikini with me. I have a matching pair of pink underwear. Maybe… No, better not.’
Day 4: Walk alone
Bridget Jones decides to accompany us today once more. After she met us up with us yesterday on the track ‘her life got a lot better’. But that is not the only reason: ‘If I don’t have you I will never be in time for the ferry back to Picton and I will be stuck in this forest forever. If I have to walk alone, I’ll have a break every five minutes. My legs are killing me and I ate all my chocolate. Only you guys keep me going.’
Just like us, she decided – before she started this hike – to combine the last two stages of 7,5 and 12,5 kilometers. According to our brochure it will cost us eight hours again to reach the ferry. To be sure not to miss it, we decide to leave early and keep the pace high.
Well, that is the plan, but the hill we have to climb as soon as we start is so steep we feel our legs straight away. From sea level, within a few kilometers, we climb up to an altitude of 417 meters. A bit spicy for our stiff limbs. The reward is worth is, because from the top we have a beautiful view over the Kenepuru Sound. From this view point the road takes us down. Shaded by trees we walk over a soft path of grass towards Te Mahia Saddle. Hiking up belongs to the past. We’re only moving down, which is pretty good for our average speed.
End of the Queen Charlotte Track
The last hour of the 4,5 we are needing this day is flat. Finally we are – as Dutchies – back on familiar terrain. The amount of people that are coming from the opposite side points out that the end is coming closer. And that end comes unexpected, because as soon as the forest we’re walking in ends, we’re in the outskirts of a tiny village. Even before the houses we see a small beach and a jetty where the ferry will pick us up.
Tired of four days walking over the Queen Charlotte Track we sink down in the sand, have a little swim and wait for the ferry to bring us back to ‘civilization’.
I wrote this story in 2008; now I'm finally taking the time to translate it into English.
You’ll find the rest of my New Zealand stories on my travel / countries page.