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.

Aftermath

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.

Gear

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!

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