Queen Charlotte Track 2015 – walking the track

Day 0

Before we get into the walk, we need to get there. The journey started in Whitby, Porirua at 9:30pm on the 31st March, with a drive to Kelburn in Wellington, where we picked up our son Andrew, who was kindly dropping us at the ferry in return for having the Odyssey for a few days. Drop off at the Bluebridge Ferry terminal in downtown Wellington was at 10:30, just 4 hours before the ferry sailed! This may seem like a little early, but we had a cabin booked, and check-in had to be before 11:00. So we checked in, getting rid of our heavy packs, and walked across the road looking for some drinkable refreshment, but finding only a MacDonalds, settled for a paper cup of hot chocolate. Back at the ferry terminal, we sat and waited to be allowed to board.

Day 1 – April 1st

Midnight rolled past, and a few minutes after we were escorted on board, most people would not board until 2:00am, but cabin users are allowed on early. We got the key to our cabin, went straight to it, slipped into the comfortable cabin sized single beds, and started what could have been a 5-6 hour sleep to the South Island. Except that at 3:00am, the tannoy voice apologised for leaving 30 minutes late, and rambling on about blasts on whistles. Blast was not the word we were using. The rest of the crossing was smooth and uneventful. Despite the rude wake up, we do appreciate the safety requirements when traveling on a ship, and the rest of the service at Bluebridge was wonderful as usual! At 5:20, we got up, did a quick wash and brush up, and went down to the cafeteria to pick up our pre-ordered breakfast (freshly cooked bacon and fried egg on a soft bun, with a bottle of apple juice) and a coffee. We docked just 10 minutes or so late. The shuttle bus dropped us off by the water taxi area, and we walked into the Beachcomber‘s office at 6:45, a little early for our 8:00 am sailing, but we were made very welcome, presumably by Tony the owner, quietly doing his accounts in the back office.

View from Picton Harbour

View from Picton Harbour

When the rest of the staff arrived, we booked in, bought our QCTLC track pass, and wandered out into a very dark, empty Picton, looking for a coffee shop called Gusto, which was apparently open, and also quite good. If you are in Picton at this time, we recommend it heartily. The day dawned, cool and fresh, with a mass of clouds or mist over the hills of the Marlborough sounds, the forecast was for hot still weather for 3 days, with a bit of wind on the last day, which to avoid talking about the weather all the time, is exactly what happened! At 8:00 the skipper of Tracker welcomed us on board, and we started our 48km journey through the Marlborough sounds to our start point at Ship Cove, retracing a significant portion of the trip just made on the Bluebridge. The morning cloud made it cool and grey for a while, but burned off as we proceeded north. We did two drop offs at Torea Bay and Motuara Island, and arrived at Ship Cove at exactly 9:30am, 12 hours after we left home.

Offloading from the Tracker at Ship Cove

Offloading from the Tracker at Ship Cove

We had a quick look round Ship Cove, but did not bother with the Waterfall Track, and after sorting out our packs, at about 10:00am started off on our QCT 2015 walk. A backpacker last year described the start of the track as “a bit brutal”, and I have to agree with him. Just 10 metres from the wharf, the track starts uphill, and keeps going for a full 200 metres vertical climb, zig-zagging up out of Ship Cove to the saddle. Fresh off the boat, with a heavy pack, it really was straight into it!

Ship Cove

Ship Cove

Near the top of the climb, we met a DOC ranger who was baiting rat and stoat traps, and we had an interesting conversation about wekas and pest control. Good excuse for a stop and a rest, and some interesting information.

Motuara Island from QCT

Motuara Island from QCT, viewed from saddle above Ship Cove

From the top of the saddle, it was back down to sea level again into Resolution Bay, with a quick detour into Schoolhouse Bay for a sit down for lunch. Here’s a couple of photos of us still looking fresh and fit!

Lynn at Schoolhouse Bay campsite

Lynn at Schoolhouse Bay campsite

Dave at Schoolhouse Bay campsite

Dave at Schoolhouse Bay campsite

Schoolhouse Bay panorama

Schoolhouse Bay panorama

Out of Resolution it was a long, reasonably gentle climb to the next saddle (Tawa Saddle). This really did seem to go on forever! The heavy packs were starting to take their toll, and we arrived at the saddle tired and sore, not good given that we still had half a day to go!

View back from the approach to Tawa Saddle

View back from the approach to Tawa Saddle

At this point we started to notice the wasps. They are especially numerous in the beech forests, where they drink the sap off the trees, but strangely, they did not seems as much of a nuicance as they might have been. If we ignored them, they avoided us, and despite them being constant companions for most of the next 4 days, they were rarely any sort of problem.

Our next target for the day was Furneaux Lodge, another 6 or 7 km away, down the hill into Endeavour Inlet. On the way, we past through an area called The Pines. On the map, and if you look at it from across the inlet, this is a large community of many houses. When you walk through it on the QCT, you maybe see 5 or 6 of the properties, the rest are hidden away in the bushes. What  great place to live (or have a holiday home). After a good two hour trudge down and along the side of the inlet, and after negotiating the “roadworks” of the major path upgrades we arrived at the Lodge at about 3:15.

This visit has been planned into the trip, and was also much anticipated. We had a lovely rest there, and had an interesting afternoon tea, the bread and dips from the bar menu is absolutely perfect, quantity of toasted breads was perfect, and excellent plentiful dips to help it go down. At least 3 cups of tea each from the pot, a great refresher!

Normally, the first day of the QCT would end here, but we had another hour planned, so we set off at 4:00 around the head of Endeavour Inlet to do the 3 kilometres or so to Madsen’s campsite. By now this was starting to be really hard work, and by the time we arrived at Madsens we had about had it! We found Tony Madsen, who showed us around the facilities and left us to it.

Being the only residents, we camped for convenience, as close to the toilet, washing line, picnic table and anything else that was going to make life easier!  We set up the tent, cooked our evening meal, watched the moon rise over the inlet, and crawled into our sleeping bags for the night. A couple of toilet visits in the night justified camping so close to the toilet!

Day 2

Lynn was having an uncomfortable night, so at first light (7:10) it was apparently time to get up so that we could get an early start! Being up before the sun meant we could watch the sunrise over Endeavour Inlet, reflecting off the inlet just like the moon had the night before. Breakfast and breaking camp went smoothly, and at 9:15 we made our way up to the top of the camp ground and out onto the track again. Madsen’s is a great campsite if it suits your itinerary, I think the problem is that it makes for a very long day if Ship Cove is the other end of it.

Camping at Madsen's Campsite

Camping at Madsen’s Campsite

View from Madsen's

View from Madsen’s

The path rises up and around the headland between Endeavour Inlet and Big Bay, and while in bush for a lot of the way, opens out into stunning views quite often. The view point in the following photos is virtually at the end of the headland, with great panoramicviews.

Lynn at viewpoint

Lynn at viewpoint

Dave at viewpoint

Dave at viewpoint

Down into Big bay, and around the head at sea level again, then back up the hillside with more stunning views. A couple of hours after we set off, we get to the decision point – do we carry on up the hill straight to Kenepuru Saddle, saving ourselves a 1.2km walk and 100 metres of climb, or do we drop down to Camp Bay and the Punga Cove resort for lunch?

Lunch won, and we strolled into Punga Cove, more than ready for a cup of tea and something to eat after about 7km of walking. The Punga Special Pizza fitted the bill, and having used two of our coffee bags at breakfast, we decided tea would be better for us, and the cafe provided a bottle of ice cold water too.

I took the chance to change my socks at lunch time too. Lynn had bought me some socks with left and right feet which she quite liked, and I had worn one pair on day one, and the second pair today, but I was getting hot spots as they twisted, and had a small blister developing on my big toe. Time for some tried and tested socks.

So having stuffed ourselves on pizza, refreshed ourselves on tea and re hydrated ourselves, were we ready for the climb to Kenepuru Saddle, followed by the walk to Bay of Many Coves Campsite (BOMC)? We felt we were when we started off, but weren’t too sure by the time we reached the saddle! With another 7km to go, plus at least 400-500 metres of climb, we were starting to realise our limitations.

The walk from this point changes from coastal bush and beech forest, and  the track takes on a pretty permanent upward angle! It’s a great walk, great underfoot, and without the packs would be quite an easy gradient. The path rises up to a fair height, before dropping back down to the Eatwell Saddle and lookout, where toilets, picnic tables and a great view are provided by the local landowners.

View from Eatwell saddle

View from Eatwell saddle

This is followed by another climb up to about 400 metres, to a point where we could make a detour to the Eatwell Lookout, but wisely resisted it. Another massive drop down to about 200 metres is hard on the knees, but the slog from here up to the BOMC shelter at 340 metres is the killer of the day. Hill after hill, finishing with the most horrible bit of path on the walk (until tomorrow) up to the shelter. Boy did it look good! And there was plenty of water, which only had to be boiled for 3 mins to make it drinkable.

Bay of Many Coves Shelter

Bay of Many Coves Shelter

So sore, hot and thirsty we set to work making drinks, making meals (Salsa Verde Tuna on a base of rice and peas, followed by Semolina pudding with apricots and chocolate), and boiling up enough drinking water for the following big day. The tent was put up in the woods, and having the site to ourselves, we decided the best place was on the path between the shelter and the campsites. Flat with a nice springy loam and leaf base.

Our tent at Bay of Many Coves Campsite

Our tent at Bay of Many Coves Campsite

Finally, while continuing to prepare drinking water for the next day, we made our hot chocolate for the night, and watched the moon rise through the after glow of the sunset over the Bay of Many Coves and Queen Charlotte Sound, and retired to a warm cosy sleeping bag, to sleep the sleep of the just, and recover before the next day. The wind literally howled through the trees for a good portion of the night, but even stuck right on top of the ridge, the surrounding woodland protected us from it completely – the tent didn’t flap once.

Sunset from BOMC shelter

Sunset from BOMC shelter

Day 3 – I was up and about first on day 3, because I wanted to see the sun rise from the shelter. So while making the porridge and coffee, and boiling up still more water for the walk, we watched a beautiful sunrise over the sounds.

Sunrise from BOMC shelter

Sunrise from BOMC shelter

Sunrise from BOMC shelter

Sunrise from BOMC shelter

Having slept well most of the night, and with a fairly comfortable night, we felt ready for almost anything, and while not quite “raring to go” we were confident of a good days walking. At this point we were still not sure of our next stop. Black Rock Campsite (BRC) was now ruled out, but whether we would stop at Cowshed bay or do the extra 8km to Mistletoe bay was still technically to be decided. I strapped up my big toe as the blister looked like it might develop a bit more.

We got the sleeping bags aired and the condensation off the tent, and after another look at the glorious views over the Bay of Many Coves, we started the first climb of the day. It’s difficult not to define the walk by the climbs, carrying the heavy packs and our age was making every hill a bit of a marathon for us. The first climb of the day was straight out of the campsite at 340 metres or so, up to the high point of the walk at nearly 500 metres, in about 1.5 kilometres.

Whilst writing this blog I read Becoming Odyssa, by Jennifer Pharr Davis, a story of a woman barely out of her teens walking the Appalachian Trail in the USA. On her second, record breaking walk of the AT, she was averaging 38 miles a day, about 61km! She rarely mentions the heights gained and lost, but does coin a wonderful expression – PUDs – Pointless Ups and Downs.

Lynn at viewpoint over Kenepuru Sound

Lynn at viewpoint over Kenepuru Sound

Dave at viewpoint over Kenepuru Sound

Dave at viewpoint over Kenepuru Sound

Kenepuru Sound panorama

Kenepuru Sound panorama

Anyway, day 3 breaks down into two or three sections. The first is a walk along the ridge between BOMC and Black Rock Campsite. Once the high point is reached, an unusual and interesting phase of the path starts. For a while the tendency is downhill, along Manuka Alley, the path then wanders around the hill sides, usually on the south side of the ridge. As it was still morning, this meant we had a fairly bright, pleasant walk. Last year, we walked this section after lunch, and by then the sun was over ridge, and the green tunnels were dank and dark. About half way through the ridge walk, the path ventures out into an open area, with panoramic views down into Blackwood Bay and across the sound to Waikawa Bay. The path seems to be heading to the saddle and over the ridge. Unfortunately at the saddle it turns west again, and traverses the ridge on the south side, just below the tops. This is the part of the path that just goes on and on, plenty of PUDs, as midday came and went so did the light and airey feeling, and the beech forest became quite oppressive again.

I love walking in NZ Beech Forests, and QCT has more than its fair share of them, but at this point, all you want is to get out onto the open ridge.

But when you do finally escape the dark, and stop just pass the power lines, at the beginning of Black Rock Station, you can see in front of you the rest of this part of the walk.

View showing ridge through Black Rock

View showing ridge through Black Rock

So, out into the sunshine, and proceed down to about 250 metres, before climbing back up the ridge to Black Rock Shelter at about 340 metres. The climb up to BRC was about as hard as the climbs up to BMOC.

As I crested the hill into the BRC area (at about 12:15), Lynn was talking to a bloke going the other other way, who looked my age, but apparently called me a “Fit Old Bugger”. At that stage I did not feel fit!

With part one in the bag, probably about 10 to 11 km walked, we stopped for lunch, boiling up some water out of the suply at the shelter, to make soup, tea and to supplement our walking water supply.

Time was starting to run out, so we set off for Torea Saddle, once again uphill, but only to about 400 metres this time, and started the horrible down hill stretch, about 2.5 km and 300 metres of drop. Being still reasonably fresh compared to last years walk, it went quite quickly, and we arrived at Torea Saddle at about 2:30.  Another decision point! Saunter down to Cowshed Bay Campsite, and have an easy day today, but a tougher day tomorrow, or continue west up out of the saddle to Shamrock ridge 300 metres above us, followed by another 6km down to Mistletoe Bay? This would be a really tough day, but leave us an easier walk to the end tomorrow.

It is difficult to understand why, but we went with the latter, and after a quick chat to a local who used to walk over the hill to Lochmara bay as a child, and convinced us it was quite easy really, we started up the hill just in front of 3 cyclists, who looked like they would be pushing their bikes most of the way up.

This climb is much easier in the dry, last year it was muddy which made it twice as hard, and the first 200 metre up to the ridge line were hard, but we did manage to stay ahread of the cyclsts. The next kilometre was along the ridge line up to Sharmrock ridge, and some of it was rideable, so the cyclists whizzed past us, and that was the last we saw of them until Mistletoe Bay. The final drag to the top felt like it took forever, but we arrived at Shamrock Ridge (406m) just 75 minutes after leaving Torea Saddle, and it felt good.

The next part is the annoying part, having gained 300m of height, we promptly lost 220m in the next 1.5km. At this stage we were tired and sore, I had very sore shoulders, my neck was starting to get stiff, my knee was starting to hurt, and I was doubting our sanity!

The final 3 km was brightened up by meeting a nice chap who had just finished installing a seat along side the track, which he not only invited us to sit on, possibly the first use by an actual track walker, but he also provided freshly picked apples from his apple trees, and kept us in interesting conversation about the seats and signs being put along the QCT by the QCT Land Co-operative. So with words of encouragement about how little climb there was to go, we walked over the hill and down into Mistletoe Bay Campsite.

In contrast to the last two sites, there were over 100 campers at the site, and a family re-union taking over all the Whares, which was already getting noisy at 6:00 pm. The temporary manager suggested we go up the hill a little, and we found a dead flat pitch 50 metres or so away from the facilities, and at least 100 metres from most of the noise. Bliss.

As we pitched the tent, everything was getting wet from the huge amounts of dew forming, and by the time the tent was up, it was covered inside and out with the heaviest dew I have ever seen in NZ. We had had a tiring day, walking over 21km, so after struggling to eat a simple meal of Cous Cous, and enjoying a nice cup of chocolate, we said good night to the cyclists, and went off to bed.

Day 4

When we woke the next morning, the heavy dew was still there, and our sleeping bags and mats were wet where they had touched the tent. The promised breeze was starting to get up, so we attempted to dry the sleeping bags and the tent before we broke camp.

Our final breakfast of porridge was enjoyed, we scrounged two teabags off the campsite manager, filled our water bottles, and finally packed away our gear, a little wet  for the first time on the trip.

Tent at Mistletoe Bay Ecovillage

Tent at Mistletoe Bay Ecovillage

The walk up the road from the campsite to the Te Mahia saddle was as horrible as always, and at the top we started on the last section of the path. A long winding, gently climbing track took us up to the point above the Grove Arm, where we could sit and look down on the Queen Charlotte Drive across the water. The track is very busy at this point, day walkers and cyclists from both ends tend to get this far, and the next batch of through walkers and cyclists are also starting from Anakiwa.

Looking North up Marlborough Sound

Looking North up Marlborough Sound

So two and a bit hours in, we started the downhill stretch to Anakiwa. A short stop at Davies bay Campsite turned out to be a bad move, the sand flies were vicious, and I got my first bites of the trip.

Tired Dave on final approach to Anakiwa

Tired Dave on final approach to Anakiwa

Tall black beech trees

Tall black beech trees

The final “hour” to Anakiwa took us just 40 minutes, and we finished the QCT at about 2:30 on the 4th April 2015, just 4 days after leaving Ship Cove. We celebrated with a hot chocolate from the coffee cart, and caught the water taxi back to Picton.

Anakiwa Signboard

Anakiwa Signboard

In Picton, we found some food before heading off to the Bluebridge, and as I was picking up my rucksack in the burger place, I felt something go in my shoulder and neck. My neck had been stiff for the last 24 hours or so, and because of the dew problem the night before we had left the tent door open a little, possibly allowing a cold draught across my neck. I was still in my wet shirt, and my shoulders were really sore from carrying the pack. I was really lucky we got as far as  Picton before it happened.

I managed to walk as far as the Bluebridge terminal, and from that point on for the next 12 hours or so, every movement of my head caused a muscle in my neck to spasm, which was absolute agony. Think cramp in your thigh, only much worse and in your neck! Fortunately, we had a cabin booked for the trip home, and I spent at least 3 hours flat on my back trying not to move, with Lynn waiting on me hand and foot (literally). Lynn drove me home, and we fell into bed (carefully) for a less than satisfying end to a great trip.


The gear was sorted and put away quite promptly the next day. Serious doses of anti inflammatory drugs reduced the spasms, but the pain has continued for a week so far. Legs and feet are fine on both parties, and we are slowly recovering from the excessive walking on day 3 and 4 combined. Update – 2 weeks later – neck still hurts, but less so. Tiredness getting less!

Acknowledgements and thanks

Firstly the landowners who allowed us across their land, represented by the QCTLC, and DOC who maintain the track and the campsites and shelters we used on days 2 and 3.

Tony Madsen provides wonderful facilities at Madsen’s Campsite, we were just sorry we were too knackered to appreciate them all.

Furneaux Lodge and Punga Cove provided wonderful refreshment stops.

Mistletoe Ecovillage provided their usual high standard of service, mixed with a little noise and some boisterous campers.

Beachcomber Cruises provided excellent friendly service at the start and finish of our trip, much appreciated, and Bluebridge provided excellent ferry crossings of the Cook Strait, including sleeper cabins with comfy beds and hot showers.

Gusto for being there, being open, and having a damn good cup of coffee at 7:30am in Picton!

Andrew Glover for dropping us off at the ferry and picking us up.


Lynn and I both use Mountain Design Tellus alpine style rucksacks, mine a 70 litre, hers a 60 litre.

We also both use Pacific Outdoor sleeping mats, mine a classic self inflating 1.8m 3cm mat which is comfortable but heavy, Lynn’s an interesting composite mat, most of it being a combination of two closed cell foams, but with a self inflating pad, in a sort of egg timer shape, under the hips and shoulders sandwiched between the two foams. Light, warm and still works even if it deflates.

We both use Katmandu sleeping bags, mine a Globe extra large polyester in nylon, again heavy, but comfortable and versatile. We are not sure what Lynn’s is, it came home with one of the kids from a ferry crossing, attached to their rucksack. It’s similar to mine, but not an extra large, but still comfortable.

The tent is a “Go Camping” Explorer Lite, a single hoop tent with entry at one end. It’s a bit cramped for the two of us, and we should really get something better. It weighs 2.4kg but is warm and easy to put up.

Boots, I use Vasque, Lynn uses Merrel. We both wear Ice Breaker socks, underwear, t-shirts, vests, long sleeve tops, hats etc. Polyprop long johns and gloves were carried but not used.

I have a tiny camping stove that disassembles into its own wind guard and fits onto a standard gas cartridge. Pans are some aluminium nesting pans with lids I have had for decades, and we bought a new pan grip for the trip. The stove and a cartridge fit into the smallest pan, a scrubbing pad and cloth stop the rattles getting too bad. We use plastic Sporks to stir and eat with, and have some simple plastic plates and cups to keep things civilised

I have a Peak 15 waterproof jacket from Dwights, Lynn has a Macpac jacket, probably from Dwights many years ago, neither was used as  rain coat, but Lynn wore hers instead of a top coat for some of the trip. The waterproof pants were not used at all.

We have waterproof cases for our phones, and we use a Canon Powershot A1000IS  pocket camera. We both carry first aid kits, and both have a personal selection of emergency supplies, lighters, sunscreen, insect repellent, batteries, repair patches, hand cleansers, crepe bandages, binding tapes, creams and lotions, pens etc.

What next?

Having attempted a walk last year that almost worked, and having successfully backpacked the whole trail this year, carrying full packs of all our camping gear and food, we might take a bit of a rest for a while. But inspired by the book I have just read, I think our next walk along the track will be ultra light weight, slack-packing from Anakiwa to Ship Cove. Slack-packing is where your main gear is transported each day to the next camp site (by boat in the case of QCT), and you walk with just a light day pack. We considered wearing kilts for this trip, but decided the cost was too high, but next time expect to see me in a hiking kilt, possibly wearing sports sandles instead of boots and socks. Watch this space!

Queen Charlotte Track 2015 – introduction and preparation

Early next month, April 2015, my wife Lynn, and myself (Dave), are intending to walk the Queen Charlotte Track (QCT) in Marlborough, New Zealand. It will be our 3rd trip to the track, and being just a few hours travel from our home in Whitby New Zealand it is a trip which is easy and affordable for us.

Later on I will report on our trip, but until then I will fill in some of the back story on why we are doing the track again.

Our first experience – 2011

It all started back in 2011. Until then, the QCT was just a name, a short track which started and finished with a boat ride, and didn’t look that exciting. In 2011, the CEO of the small organisation I worked for organised the annual retreat for staff and partners, basing it at Mistletoe Bay. Being a bit of a control freak, he decided we were to arrive from Picton on one of the local water taxis, and spend the weekend without cars, just sitting around and boozing. I wasn’t keen on the whole idea of the weekend anyway, but this did not sound like a lot of fun to me. So we modified the plans a little to suit ourselves.

Rather than take the mid morning ferry from Wellington to Picton, and then a water taxi across the sound, we took our car on the 2:30 a.m. crossing, and drove to Mount Stokes about an hour or so north of Mistletoe Bay. We walked up Mount Stokes  (1200 metres) and on completion, drove back to Mistletoe bay, arriving an hour or so after the rest of the party, who had all arrived by car anyway! Mt Stokes photos are to be found here.

The rest of the weekend was starting to look like a bunch or morose people hanging around with a beer bottle or glass of wine stuck in their hands, looking after their bored kids, and that was just a bit depressing. So on day 2, we explored the Mistletoe bay area, and then walked a few kilometres north up the QCT, and  headed up to the viewpoint above the bay, with panoramic views around the sounds. We met fellow worker Matt and his young lady walking up as we walked down, so we were not the only ones not keen on the way the weekend was going!

Day 3, and we got up early, and walked south along the QCT to the end of the peninsula, and enjoyed terrific views most of the way, and a nice packed lunch. Once again we crossed paths with Matt, this time on a mountain bike, traveling with Mark, who mountain biked the same path we had just walked.

Lynn and I had an hour or so in a double kayak sometime during the weekend.

Day 4 was supposed to be pack up and catch the midday ferry back to Wellington, but Lynn and I decided that the late ferry was a much better idea, and visited Omaka, to see the air craft museum there, and also went for a drive around the coast road up the east coast to Picton – what a drive!

So what could have been a pretty awful weekend turned out to be quite an adventure for Lynn and I. We caught the QCT bug, and decided that it was the perfect walk for us, given our combined age of 108 years at the time.

We took a few photos while on this trip, which are on Flikr here.

Our first attempt at the whole track 

It took a few years to get round to planning a walk of the whole track, but at Easter 2014, we had the whole thing planned out and set off to walk the QCT from end to end.

We spent a few weeks planning our trip, we had no idea what the rest of the track was like, so we decided to plan on the side of caution. The trip also evolved into a slightly softer trip than we had planned. The water taxi companies, as well as transferring you to the start and from the end of track, will also transfer a bag for you each day, effectively from one days accommodation to the next. This means rather than carrying everything on our backs we could take a little bit more and enjoy a better choice of food and some dry clothes occasionally.

We also started out planning to camp every night, but we decided to enjoy the occasional night in a bed, with some nice restaurant food. The walk is possible in 3 days, 4 is a good number, 5 is the usual number apparently, we decided on 6 days, including a rest day! So our planned itinerary was as follows.

  1.  Ferry from Wellington to Picton at 2:30 a.m., water taxi to Ship’s Cove, walk to Furneaux Lodge (14km) where we would stay in a cabin and eat dinner and breakfast at the Lodge.
  2. Walk to Camp Bay, near Punga lodge (12km), and sleep in the tent and eat camp food.
  3. Walk from Camp bay to The Portage (26km), and stay at deBretts, have dinner at the portage, cook our own breakfast.
  4. Have a rest day in the area of The Portage, maybe have lunch there, and camp at Cowshed Bay, enjoying dinner at the camp site.
  5. Walk to Mistletoe bay (11km), stay in a cottage, cook for ourselves dinner and breakfast.
  6. Walk to Anakiwa (12km), catch the water taxi back to Picton, and the 7:30 crossing from Picton to Wellington.

We had the assistance of our son Andrew, who dropped us off at the ferry at midnight, and picked us up at the ferry at 11:00 pm when we returned. The ferry left on time, and we found ourselves some comfortable seats away from the TV sets.  There was quite a crowd on the ferry, probably as it was Easter. As we left Wellington harbour, the weather started! It wasn’t a bad blow by Cook Strait standards, but bad enough to slow us down by an hour or so, and make quite a few people very ill. Lynn and I sat quietly and managed to doze and stay reasonable unaffected by the swells and the rocking.

We arrived in the vicinity of Picton quite early, maybe only an  hour late, and we thought we would be able to make it to our water taxi by 8:30 with no problem. However, for some reason the person in command of the ship could not back the ship into its dock at Picton. It was very windy, and he or she did try many times, but most of the time we spent sailing round in circles in the middle of Queen Charlotte Sound. Eventually, around midday, just 6 hours late, the ferry docked in Picton. The wind did not seem any less, I suspect that the commander’s shift ended, and another commander who had been off duty but aboard the ship had taken over and with more experience had docked the ship.

Anyway, the result was we had missed the 8:30 water taxi, the 10:00 water taxi, but after some phone calls, we managed to get ourselves on to the afternoon water taxi. Unfortunately, this would not get us to Ship’s Cove until 4:00pm or so, and as we were booked into Furneaux Lodge that night, we decided to skip the first days walking and take the taxi straight to Endeavour Inlet and Furneaux lodge. It was still a horribly windy day, pouring with rain, so it seemed like a much better idea!

The cabin was tiny, but the bed was comfortable and clean. The restaurant meal was really good, tasty, good quantities, quiet unobtrusive service. Breakfast was also very pleasant. The day started a bit damp, and the walk was a bit muddy in places, but the walk to camp bay was easy and pleasant, with some great viewpoints on the headlands.

We arrived at Camp Bay quite early, so when our bags were dropped off by the water taxi, we set up camp and rested and explored. We noticed the wekas, but didn’t give them a lot of thought. That was a big mistake. When we came back from a trip to Punga bay for a coffee, we found the wekas had been inside our rucksacks, and distributed the contents over quite a large area. Mostly this was OK, except that a couple of bags of food, with several days breakfasts and snacks were missing. Eventually we found them, dozens of metres away, with some of the premixed porridge packs sampled by the wekas! A bit of a mess, but we had enough to last the weekend so all was not lost!

Camp Bay is a noisy campsite, the birds call all night, locals seem to like moving garbage bins around at midnight, using quad bikes, and the local NZRAF squadron has a very noisy transport aircraft which it sends on night flights from Blenheim just across the sounds!  I think this same flight keeps us awake in Whitby occasionally too!

Day 3 was also a bit damp at first but fined up quite quickly. Today was the big day, 26km over a ridge which rises to 400 to 500 metres a few times over its length. So we dropped our bag off at the wharf, dragged our rucksacks onto our backs, and set off for The Portage. The first few hours of this route are so idyllic, beautiful, easy walking, climbing gradually up to views over the Bay of Many Coves on one side and Kenepuru sound to the other. Being the start of the day, many other walkers and cyclists were passed and passed us with much friendly banter.

The middle section is a bit of a drudge, mainly on the south side of the ridge, in fairly dense woodlands, quite damp and airless. Some of it was excellent, some of it was just hard work! As you cross the ridge mid afternoon, the vistas and the walking opens up again, and if you weren’t so tired it would be pretty special.

After the Black Rock Campsite where we stopped for afternoon tea, the track eventually starts the long drop down to the Torea Saddle. By this stage, the long walk was beginning to take its toll on my aging legs and back, and the last three kilometres down to the saddle and then down to deBretts took every ounce of my determination and persistence to keep going. The final 100 metre walk up the hill to deBretts was nearly too much! I think I enjoyed it, but it was the sense of achievement that made it worthwhile.

Debretts is well worth the stop, and despite its rather grand sounding name it’s just a nice house with some rooms and a kitchen in the basement. Very comfortable, and the hosts are lovely people. The shower was especially welcome, and a meal at the Portage was a bit ordinary, but very welcome.

We arrived at Cowshed bay the following morning, moving our 3 bags from the Portage area was quite a task. The campsite is not very nice, mainly aimed at motor homes. Most of the sites are hard standings, and the rest were water logged from the several days rain previously. We found a reasonable spot, set up our sleeping tent and our gear tent, and settled down to a day of rest. We walked back to the Portage for a nice lunch, but for the rest of the day explored the campsite area, and sat around talking to other campers and walkers. Very pleasant.

Day 5 was a very short walk to Mistletoe bay, I think we actually arrived before lunch! We had accommodation booked in the cottage half way up the hill, and we had it to ourselves. This was very peaceful, away from the campers and cabins down by the water’s edge (where we had stayed the on the last visit). Being well rested and with only a short walk, we enjoyed the camp site and had a very pleasant stay.

Day 6 was a straightforward tramp down the remaining 12km of the QCT to Anakiwa, where again we arrived very early, and had a two hour wait for the water taxi. Towards the end of the day, the food cart near the wharf opened up, and we had a delicious cup of hot chocolate, possibly the highlight of the day. The journey home via the water taxi and the ferry was much easier than the trip over the other way, and despite being tired we basked in the sense of achievement,  and were a little sad at missing the first day of the walk.

We took some photos, which are here on Flikr

Our plans for 2015

I turned 60 this year, and the decision to walk the track again was made on my suggestion. Lynn is really keen to do it again, I see it as more of a challenge to get out of the way! I also want to cut out the complications of the accommodation and baggage transfers, so this time we are backpacking the whole track, carrying all our gear and food, and camping every night. This will be, without a doubt, a real challenge for us, and for me in particular!

So the plan goes roughly as follows.

Day 1. 2:30 am ferry from Wellington to Picton, 8:30 water taxi to Ship’s Cove, walk to Madsen’s Campsite in the Endeavour Inlet (a few kilometres after Furneaux Lodge). Possibly stop for coffee or lunch at Furneaux Lodge. If the ferry crossing is a disaster again, we may just put the whole timetable back a day – I want to do the first day properly this time!

Day 2. Walk to Bay of Many Coves Campsite on the top of the ridge between Kenepuru saddle and Torea saddle. Possible lunch and snack attack at Punga Cove! Camp at BOMC.

Day 3. A very easy day walking 10km along the ridge to Black Rock Campsite, at the other end of the ridge. Based on how we feel (or the wasp situation at BRC) we may continue to Cowshed Bay, but I personally would prefer to stay high rather than suffer Cowshed Bay again.

Day 4. A long tough day, down to the Torea Saddle, up the very steep hill and over the top to Mistletoe bay and then the slog down to Anakiwa, probably about 23 kilometres. A bit shorter if we start from Cowshed bay. Water taxi back to Picton, ferry back to Wellington.

In order to make the first day and last day easier, we have a cabin booked on the Blue bridge Ferry. Even if we don’t sleep it gets us away from the vomiting masses if it is rough, and getting the boots off and lying down will probably be pure bliss on the way home, without the worry of killing other passengers with the odours from 4 days walking!

Gear is being sorted. Being a bit creaky I am taking a really good camping mat, and a warm sleeping bag. Out tent is a cheap two-man tent from Dwights, stove is either going to be my Biolite wood burning stove, or a simple gas burner and a couple of gas cartridges. Food will consist of 3 breakfasts (porridge mixed with dried milk, brown sugar and some dried fruit), 3 dinners (couscous, pasta or  rice with herbs, spices, choritzo sausage, salami or whatever other proteins and tasty stuff we want to add into the pot. Lunches and snacks are still being debated. I am keen to use Furneaux Lodge and Punga Cove facilities to lunch and stock up, and for the last day to be  a quick dash with just snacks as we walk, meaning we only really need one lunch on a very easy day. Snacks and emergency rations are quite important, but if things go wrong we are never far from transport out, and there are shops and food at Furneaux, Punga, The Portage, Mistletoe bay, so eating the next days lunch or evening meal will not be the end of the world!

Weight is going to be critical, and we will be traveling lighter than we ever have before. If something doesn’t have at least two uses, what can we take instead? Clothes will be light, usually woolen, and worn in multiple layers. Wet clothes will be donned at the start of each day if required, dry clothes will be kept for the evenings and sleeping! Waterproofs will double as wind proofs, long johns will be pajamas and long trousers under our shorts for colder days. Long sleeve merino vests will be the most common wear on top, and fleeces will add warmth where needed. Boots will be our only footwear other than good woolen socks.

15th March 2015 – today we did what was supposed to be one of many training trips we were going to do, unfortunately it is the first big trip, and time is running out to do any more! We donned some of the new gear we want to wear on the walk, packed a few kilos of water, food and other gear into our rucksacks, and took the bus to Johnsonville. Johnsonville Station is just under 2 km from the Te Araroa track. 30 minutes or so up the hill through suburbs brings you to the “Old Coach Road”, which is a fairly substantial vehicle track and part of the long distance trail. From here we headed downhill and North, intending to walk to Porirua. After a few km, we joined Rifle Range Rd, which is a surfaced road, for a couple of km to Ohariu. At the riding centre at Ohariu, we popped into the Saddleback Cafe for a coffee and a slice of caramel and walnut brownie. Lovely! Back out onto the Ohariu Valley Rd to head north for about  5km to Spicer Forest, all on hot, hard tarmacced roads, which for the last km or so had been widened and flattened somewhat to allow the turbines for the Mill Creek turbine farm to be delivered. At Spicer Forest, we inspected the end of the access road which had been driven through the woodlands from Spicer Valley in Porirua (for the turbines again). A mountain bike access gate next to the main gate is a good sign that we are going to get some access back into the forest, even if it is on the widest, smoothest bicycle path ever!

Because of the access road, the Te Araroa path had been temporarily relocated through a different part of the forest. Last time we came this way it really was just a rough, temporary track, very steep and unformed. This time it was obvious that it is not so temporary! It is now well formed with a gravel surface and many bridges over the streams, and it has been benched into the hill-side to make a really well graded easy to walk footpath, and also an excellent mountain back track. This is now a seriously good path to walk or ride, and as the path dramatically improves some of the non diverted path, it makes the whole Spicer Forest experience much better. Well done to whoever did the work, thank you to the landowners letting us through at the south end.

From the top of the forest, we walked up to the top of Colonial Knob, and then down through the bush track to Elsdon camp. The bush track has 707 steps on it, and by the end, they were becoming very hard on the ankles, knees and feet.

Back at the car, and we had completed about 20km, and probably about 600 metres of climb. This is very similar to our planned second day, except that we plan to camp at 300 metres at Bay of many Coves campsite, so we will have a bit less down hill at the end.

Ready to go!

We spent the weekend preparing food and packing rucksacks. We managed to keep the weight down to about 16kg for me, and about 10kg for Lynn, but of course she keeps adding things! So I might get a bit more of the food and both packs may go up by another 500g or so. The only extra on top of that is the water for each day. Fortunately all campsites have a water supply, so it is only our daily supply to be added. The final two days are being rethought and rejigged constantly, the current thinking is that on day 3 we may walk from Bay of Many Coves campsite straight through to Mistletoe bay. This is a fairly big walk, 20+km, with a major downhill to Torea Saddle followed by a major uphill to Shamrock Ridge, roughly in the middle of the walk, so it really depends on how we feel. It does have the major advantage of reducing the last day to a relatively easy 11km walk, and Mistletoe Bay is a nice site with a bit of a shop for goodies and treats!.