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!.


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