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!

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.