Weather is clearing over Endeavour Inlet!

Road trip to the Top of the South

Drizzling rain accompanied me on the first part of my drive to Wellington. However, I was on a road trip and nothing could dampen my spirit (excuse the pun!) to my much loved Top of the South. By the time I reached Hunterville and a coffee stop, there were bright periods with intermittent squally showers as the weatherman might say. I had one more break in Otaki for a brief foray into the Outlet shops and arrived in Wellington in plenty of time to check in for the 3pm Interislander. Nelson for Christmas was my ultimate destination, but on the way I was staying in Picton for two nights and walking the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough Sounds.

The crossing was calm and I have now traversed the Strait enough times to be blasé about the scenery. Instead of joining the tourists on the deck, I found a quiet corner of the ship and buried my head in my Kindle, only rousing myself to admire a pod of frolicking dolphins as we approached Picton Harbour. I love dolphins. They are such joyful creatures and always conjure a smile on my face.

Boat sheds at Waikawa Bay
Boat sheds at Waikawa Bay

My Airbnb was in Waikawa Bay. Having been sitting all day, I made the most of the balmy evening and went for a stroll along the foreshore. Unfortunately, the path only went a short way. The windy, narrow road was not as appealing to walk on, so I returned to my accommodation and admired the view of the bay from there.

The following morning was wet. I drove into town where a large cruise ship had disgorged its passengers, most of whom were invading the shops. The rest embarked on the steam train day trip to Blenheim. The weather worsened, and I returned ‘home’ and spent a blissful afternoon lying on the settee reading my book.

Steam train at Picton
Steam train at Picton
Boat sheds at Waikawa Bay
Boat sheds at Waikawa Bay

I was up early to catch the 8am water taxi to Ship Cove and the start of the Queen Charlotte Track. The weather did not bode well as we set off, but the forecast was for the rain to clear. At Ship Cove, I read all the information boards about Captain Cook’s stay. Here, he had spent several months repairing his boats and trading with local Maori. I wanted to let all the other trampers set off so I could walk alone. Once on the track, I met a Czech girl returning. Her GPS informed her she was not walking in the right direction. I assured her there was only one way, and this was it!

We walked together as far as a lookout. She was very chatty. It wasn’t the beginning I envisaged as I had hoped to walk quietly at my own pace and admire the pristine bush. It is one of the few areas in N.Z. where the trees have never been cleared for ship, house or furniture building, so is old primary forest. In most other places the bush has regenerated.

Schoolhouse Bay
Schoolhouse Bay

I had arranged to meet a tramping friend from Taupo at Tawa Saddle. Having meandered my way along, stopping at Schoolhouse Bay for morning tea, I belatedly realised I’d misjudged the time and distance to the Saddle. I overtook everyone, and all but ran up the hill. She had been waiting half an hour by the time I arrived but didn’t seem to mind. We chatted as we walked down to Endeavour Inlet and her daughter’s house where we had lunch together before I continued on to my accommodation for the night. This was at Miners Camp Farmstay, and I had booked 2 nights with dinner and breakfast.

The Queen Charlotte track is run by the Queen Charlotte Trust and the Department of Conservation and crosses some private land. Unlike other tracks, there are no D.O.C. huts and accommodation is limited if you do not want to camp. Most people stay in the Lodges (Furneaux, Punga Cove and Portage). I wanted to be different and spent many Google hours searching for alternatives. Apart from Miners, there is nothing available in the budget price range. My hosts there were very welcoming and five lively and amusing ladies from Nelson joined me at dinner for a convivial evening.

At one time there was an antimony mine and well-populated village close to the farm. The next day I walked up the hill, past the old mine site, marked by an abundance of colourful hydrangeas, to a viewpoint and beyond. After seeing the river crossing at the start of the track, the Nelson ladies declined to join me, so I walked alone. Up and up! I passed the viewpoint, but the track continued on, so I did too. I reached a road and realised I should have done my research. Nothing but trees were visible. There was no reward for my vertical climb! On my return, I stopped for a drink and snack and admired the distant view of Port Gore and Cape Jackson. Having kept my feet dry on the way over, I wasn’t so nimble on the return river crossing and water filled my boots. They stayed wet for the next 3 days.

Should have read the sign first!
Should have read the sign first!

In the afternoon, wearing dry sandals and socks like a true English person, I picked my way through the mud around the cove to the stately Furneaux Lodge where my inelegant self partook of a pot of Earl Grey and read my book. The lawn in front stretched expansively down to the water. At one time the lodge was the venue for enormous New Year’s Eve parties until a young couple mysteriously disappeared at one event. A man was jailed for their murder, but their bodies have never been found. The parties have since been more subdued.

Furneaux Lodge
Furneaux Lodge

Six families reside in the bay with the remaining houses being holiday homes. Chatting to my hosts, I gleaned an insight into living in an isolated place with only water access. Supplies are delivered by the Cougar Line, Beachcomber or the mailboat although Graham and Gillian, who were both yachtsmen, had their own substantial boat moored in the bay and visited town once a month to stock up. Communication between residents and boats is by radio which was permanently on, and theirs periodically crackled into life.

My companions for dinner that evening were more reticent than the ladies from Nelson, and dinner was not such a rowdy affair. However, the food, which was all home produced and cooked by Gillian, was excellent, just as it had been the previous night. The weather had changed again. From the kitchen window, my hosts kept an eye on the inlet in which water spouts erupted from time to time. There was concern for a family staying in the cabins. They intended to cross to Furneax in their boat for dinner, but the weather was such that once most of the party had disembarked there, two others took the boat to a less windswept cove some distance away and missed out on their meal. The dinner party had to walk back!

By the morning, the storm had cleared, and it was a beautiful day to continue my tramp.

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