Woolshed and jetty at Wilson Bay Farm

The Queen Charlotte Track and the Pelorus Mail boat

Farm on the track

After a hearty breakfast, I packed up and left about 9am. Today was a risk as the distance to my Airbnb was a guess I hoped was correct. In theory, it was halfway between Punga Cove and Portage.

The sun shone as I followed Endeavour Inlet the 11kms round to Punga Cove Resort. Across farmland and through bush, it was a varied walk. I stopped for coffee and watched the activity on their jetty. The mail boat arrived and delivered not only goods, but passengers too. I attempted, without success, to dry my socks and boots in the brief time I rested.

From Punga, the track climbed steeply uphill until I reached the ridge dividing Kenepuru Sound from Queen Charlotte. I had glimpses of the water on either side through the trees. There were a few other trampers and the occasional mountain biker, but otherwise I was alone.

Someone had recommended taking the side trip to Eatwell’s Lookout. By the time I reached the turnoff, I was weary. The sign said it was 1.5km. I regarded the track which looked vertical. Could I do it? Yes. As I climbed up, a hiker descending encouraged me. The agony on my face was obvious. But yes, the view was worth it! Whilst recovering, I chatted to a French Swiss couple I had met the previous day.

Is it true?
Is it true?

By 4pm I was exhausted and ready to stop. Where was this Airbnb? The weather changed, and still I hadn’t arrived. I almost missed the sign for Ngahere Hou when it appeared. Could this be right? I descended the hill, following the line of the telephone poles. I turned right into the bush and followed the yellow ribbons as instructed. And still I did not arrive. Did I mention it was steep?! To say I was grumpy when I reached the house is an understatement. I could barely bring myself to speak to the owner and only brightened at the sight of a complimentary bottle of wine in my Summerhouse. My host had lit the fire to heat the spa pool. The family staying in the yurt beat me to it. Could I get more grumpy? Yes, I could. I showered in the outdoor bathroom with furnishings reminiscent of Bali. The toilet was a composting one (which I had known when I booked) and I now joke that the most expensive accommodation I have ever stayed in didn’t even possess a flushing toilet! My host later delivered a homemade wood-fired pizza, and I spent the evening recuperating on my bed. By my phone’s calculation, I had walked 28km.

Eatwell's Lookout
Eatwell’s Lookout
Changing weather over Kenepuru Sound
Changing weather over Kenepuru Sound

It is amazing how a good night’s sleep can restore your equilibrium. It was another stunning day after the evening’s rain. The water was still warm in the spa pool, and I soaked in the morning air with the birds chirping overhead in the Australian frangipane tree. Life was rosy!

After packing my bags, I chatted to the ex-Pat English family staying in the yurt and to the owners. The entire property is off-grid, and I was interested to hear about their building experience which featured on Grand Designs N.Z. Consequently, it was well after 11am by the time I set forth to tackle the 30 minute ascent to re-join the track.

It was another long day, predominantly along the ridge. Today was reminiscent of my Camino when I walked alone but had various ‘family’ members I kept meeting and talking to along the way. I didn’t stop for lunch until after I had made the long climb out of Portage. My seat at the top provided a panoramic view of the Queen Charlotte Sound, and observation of the ferries.

Te Mahia Resort was my destination; a welcome sight at the end of another long day (24km). My enormous studio room had a view of the water, and an on-site cafe provided a delicious dinner with no effort required on my part.

View from my room at Te Mahia
View from my room at Te Mahia

On the last day an easy 12km took me to Anakiwa and the end of the track. My feet were aching. Being wet for two days had not helped. As I had plenty of time, I stopped at Torea Bay, where I removed my boots and relaxed, watching the people coming and going. The Nelson ladies arrived at the same time as me at Anakiwa. We had all booked the same water taxi back to Picton. The Swiss couple and an Australian couple also appeared, and it became a sociable end to the tramp. I’m pleased to say my car was still intact after leaving it in the car park in Picton for five days!

Mussels grow below on ropes
Mussels grow below on ropes

Driving along the windy scenic Queen Charlotte Drive to Havelock, I was trapped behind a slow campervan so had time to admire the views from the comfort of a seat rather than my feet. I had reserved a seat on the Pelorus mail boat the next day, a trip I had enjoyed 25 years ago. After doing my laundry, getting a coin stuck in the dryer and liberally distributing the remnants of a washed tissue round the floor in the process, I walked across the road to The Mussel Pot for dinner. Mussels dominated the menu. They were delicious!

The morning dawned dreary, and I dithered about suitable clothing. At this time of year, the weather is changeable. The boat left at 9am with a crew of two, Bindi and Mattie, who provided the passengers with entertaining stories of life in the Sounds.

Approaching a jetty
Approaching a jetty

We cruised out of the harbour. A mysterious screeching sound emanated from the boat’s engine. Nothing serious, they assured us as we proceeded to the first delivery. After fiddling with the knobs on the panels (not a nautical term!), the noise reduced but soon began again more vociferously. Whilst Bindi gave us an informative talk about mussel farming, Mattie, the driver, descended into the depths to check the engine. All fixed, we thought, as we carried on cruising. The noise resumed.

Retrieving the coriander
Retrieving the coriander

Our next stop was to drop off of a family at a bay. But which bay? The only clue was a picture of the bay with an arrow pointing to the spot. Whilst we waited at one jetty, a passenger ran to the nearest house to check. Not the right one. We proceeded further round the bay. Whilst looking for the correct place, we made an unscheduled stop to pick up a box of coriander and bananas (an interesting combination!) they had delivered by mistake on the previous run. When the correct owners queried the whereabouts of their supplies a few hours later, the unexpected recipients had already planted the coriander seedlings. “Dig them up”, our crew instructed, “and repack them in the box. We are coming to get them!” There being no jetty, our driver took aim at the rocky shoreline, reaching as far as he could, and they handed the box over the bow.

Offloading for a family Christmas
Offloading for a family Christmas
Wilson Bay Farm
Wilson Bay Farm

A group of people waiting at the next jetty was now visible. Christmas in the Sounds looked more promising for our passengers. A collection of dogs and family members greeted them and all assisted with the many bags and accoutrements that were the prerequisites for a family Christmas. It was a happy reunion.

The crew were regulars on the mail run, and there was an abundance of festive spirit at each stop. Residents had adorned their jetties with tinsel, and seasonal greetings were exchanged. As an observer, I loved being part of this microcosm of New Zealand life, if only for a short time.

On this route, we could bring a packed lunch and eat it at a sheep station in the outer sound. Whilst we were shown the woolshed, given a talk about the realities of farming in steep, isolated country and shown an example of Kiwi ingenuity in the form of a generator engineered from an old washing machine motor, the crew took the boat away to investigate The Noise. On their return, the news was not good. An engine had failed, and we had to return to Havelock so they could repair it in time for the mail run the next day. I had been enjoying the day immensely, so was disappointed. A refund appeared in my bank account two days later, but I would rather have continued the experience.

I motored on to Nelson where a stop at the supermarket to buy the necessities of life (wine and cheese), resulted in a scrape to my car when a pesky post leapt out at me as I was driving out of the space but that did not ruin my enjoyment of the day!

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