MistyNites

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Archive for the category “New Zealand”

Mount Fyffe

Since moving to New Zealand 5.5yrs ago I’ve summited a good few mountains, often with peaks that are around the same height as or taller than, the tallest mountain of my homeland, Scotland. But the actual altitude gain of the hike varies quite a lot. An impressive summit height is not always reached by way of an equally impressive altitude gain, depending on how far into the mountains the starting point is. But standing on the Kaikoura Peninsula looking inland at the Seaward Kaikoura Ranges of the Southern Alps, my hike for the day looked daunting. For this time round I would be starting close to sea level, and there was a lot of mountain to climb.

 

In February whilst up in Kaikoura for a long weekend, it was the Monday when the conditions were right to head up, and I set off after breakfast down the back roads to reach the carpark. But these back roads were actually a bit of an adventure as repairs following the November 14th earthquake were under way and the road conditions were interesting to say the least. The latter section of the drive on Postmans Road is unsealed and where it went up a steep embankment, my car lost traction on the stony track. Thankfully no-one was coming in the other direction. Parked up and kitted out, I was then ready to set off.

The track itself is a well-defined 4×4 track, quite wide although in places the substrate can be slippy under foot. In the lower section, there was evidence of recent landslips, evidence of the earthquake and some of the rains that have fallen since. It is a steady and zig-zagging climb surrounded by trees with the initial views being of the river valley where the braided Kowhai river snakes through on route to the Pacific Ocean which is also just visible beyond the flatness of the Canterbury Plains to the east. There were portions of this lower section that were shaded, but once the zig-zagging stopped, the rest of the hike was almost completely exposed to the elements, so under a nearly-cloudless sky, I was slapping on the sunscreen like it was going out of fashion. I learnt early on that my Scottish skin burns in little time at all in the Southern Hemisphere summer so from November through to March, I’m permanently shiny with the oil effect of sun lotion.

 

I was enjoying this hike from very early on, and despite being overtaken by a few other hikers, I still felt I was maintaining a good pace. With increasing height, it was possible to appreciate the Kaikoura Peninsula starting to jut out into the Pacific Ocean as well as the peak of Mt Fyffe in the distance, and eventually a lookout was reached on a little flat outcrop of land from where the Kowhai River could be seen snaking across the plains. Continuing on from here, the track continued onwards until it reached an area overlooking Sandy Saddle where the mountains behind Mt Fyffe were the dominant view. The Kaikoura Ranges were a beautiful and staggering view with their steep sides and green vegetation, and sneaking in and out of sight in the valley below was the upper reaches of the Kowhai River. There were puffs of clouds above these inland mountains but otherwise it was exceptionally clear.

 

There was a short flat section before once again the gradient steepened and the track zig-zagged again. The view was staggering in every direction and already I was approaching the 1000m (3281ft) mark and beyond. Then further along the track, a junction appeared where the Spaniard Spur track offers a steep descent down to the Kowhai River. From here it is just a few minutes walk to the Mt Fyffe Hut at 1100m (3609ft) where there is a drop toilet and the ability to sleep, shelter and cook. There was a couple there that had come up the day before in the bad weather and camped the night, waking up to a beautiful sunrise. From here, the view out to the Kaikoura Peninsula was unobstructed and I can only imagine how amazing that dawn view would have been from there.

 

Leaving the hut and several other hikers behind, I continued on up the summit track which is narrower, cutting through a copse, before again starting its long snaking wind up the ridgeline. The stony ground was a slip hazard in places and I passed several people heading down from the summit. The further I walked I could now see some clouds whipping down into the valley between the two lines of mountains and I always find it fascinating watching the clouds form, swirl, then disperse. I imagined what it would have felt like to have been up Mt Fyffe the night of the earthquake as I saw large stones and boulders littered across the path. It’s one thing to feel a large earthquake when you are home in your own bed away from the epicentre, but I think it would have been very different to be in a hut 1100m (3609ft) up a mountain right over the source.

 

Higher still there were some sections of walking through tightly packed bushes, and eventually I reached a sign denoting 1500m (4921ft). It was incredible to look back down at the ridgeline already hiked and the Pacific Ocean was now a huge expanse spreading out to the east. The cloud was really starting to build up now over the valley at times obliterating the view of the neighbouring mountains. But still the track climbed higher until close to the summit it felt like I was walking into the cloud. I reached Mt Fyffe summit at 1602m (5256ft) just as the last people there were leaving, and so I had it to myself.

 

Looking west, the cloud bank was now thick and it swirled upwards to hover above my head where it was dissipating in a wisp that looked like a large wave about to break. Out east though, the coastline was mostly clear and Kaikoura lay sprawled out below me, stretching along the coastline of the peninsula. The Pacific Ocean shimmered by its side. A couple of picnic benches were handily placed to give a rest spot with a view. It was a little chilly now with the altitude and the clouds overhead, and unfortunately the view west was mostly obliterated, but I enjoyed my lunch in peace and quiet, only being joined by another hiker when I was getting ready to leave.

 

As I returned to the track to head down, the swirling clouds gave me sneaky peaks of the mountains hidden behind them and it really split the view in two. There was still plenty of people heading up as I was going down, by now in the early afternoon. The hut seemed deserted when I reached it again and now there were large shadows created by the clouds behind and to the side of me. The best of the weather is always in the mornings in the mountains, so it pays to set off early for the best views. But as the altitude started to drop away, and the track moved south, the clouds were left behind and the sunshine remained, treating me to a very pleasant walk back to my car. The view steadily dropped away again until I was back amongst the trees, snaking my way down the final decline towards my waiting car. I had a long drive back to Christchurch to get under way, and first I had to negotiate the track that I had lost traction on on the way in. Thankfully my car managed the incline in reverse without problems, and picking my way past the potholes, missing verge and diggers, I made my way back to Kaikoura, and set off on the long drive home.

Kaikoura – Open for Business

In February 2012 I left New Zealand’s North Island behind and set foot on the South Island for the first time in my life. I jumped straight on the train at Picton and travelled along the scenic Coastal Pacific route to reach Kaikoura, a small town spread along the Pacific coastline and within a few hours of arriving there I met a Kiwi bloke from Auckland, a man who to this day is still my partner. On our one year anniversary we returned to Kaikoura to partake in some wildlife spotting activities that I’d missed out on the first time around and since then we’ve stopped in on the place when passing north to Picton. And so I’d planned on doing again on my return from the Queen Charlotte Track in November 2016, having booked a night’s stay in Kaikoura as well as a trip out to see the local whales. But just 12 days before that night, the November 14th earthquake hit and the town, the coastline and the road north was closed down. I was keen to get up there as soon as road access was gained and finally a suitable weekend arose so that my partner and I (and some relatives in tow) could return to Kaikoura.

At the end of February when we travelled there, there were two points of access to the town: the Inland road, route 70, which cuts west to State Highway 7, or State Highway 1 (SH1) which heads south to Christchurch. The inland route is open 24/7 although there are many speed restrictions in place. SH1 was (and at the time of writing still is) only open during the day and is also subject to sudden closures in the event of bad weather or aftershocks. But Kaikoura is very much open for business and is still more than worthy of a visit.

The drive north from Christchurch is interesting to say the least. Prior to Cheviot (which has some clay cliffs nearby which are worthy of a detour) there is little to suggest that anything is amiss, but after stopping here for coffee on route, we drove the next section with fresh eyes. With a mixture of detours, speed limits and one-laned sections, SH1 snakes the familiar route north to the east coast and this is the most dramatic section of the drive where rubble still scatters the roadside and the train line disappears into rocks or blocked tunnels. I knew that the sea bed had lifted a metre or so along here, but the tide was out making it difficult to appreciate what was new. It had been a couple of years since I’d last passed through here so the coastal effects weren’t immediately obvious. Eventually arriving into Kaikoura we headed straight to the peninsula to walk the coastal walkway.

This is a beautiful and easily accessed walk from Kaikoura, following the cliffs round the peninsula’s coastline. We started at the south end which has a less steep though longer ascent, and it was a gloriously sunny day. There was definitely more rocks above sea level than I remembered but with the low tide I couldn’t quite decide how much of a difference there was. It took looking back at old photos once home to realise just what a difference there actually was. But nonetheless, this walk is stunning. With views out over the sparkling Pacific Ocean, and back towards Kaikoura town and the Kaikoura Ranges behind it, it was a popular walk. From up high, it is sometimes possible to spot dolphins and fur seals, although the wildlife spotting is best done out on a boat or down near the water. Kaikoura is famous for whale watching thanks to a deep ocean trench not far from shore, but it’s not common to see whales from the shore. There is also a pathway that follows the coast at sea level, and this allows a closer look at New Zealand’s fur seals. The Kaikoura coastline is a fantastic and fairly guaranteed viewing location for fur seals, but like any wildlife, they should be viewed from a safe distance and always given respect.

Kaikoura Peninsula coastline 2017

The same view in 2013

Walking the Kaikoura Peninsula walkway 2017

The same view in 2013

After reaching the car park on the northern aspect of the peninsula, we headed to a lookout which gives a cracking view towards the Kaikoura Ranges, part of the Southern Alps that spans the length of the South Island. My whole reason for wanting to go to Kaikoura last year was to hike Mount Fyffe, one of the distinctive peaks behind the town. The hiking track had remained closed for months following the earthquake but I had been excited to learn that it had reopened shortly before our trip. Whilst my partner and his relatives were on a sightseeing mission, I had a long weekend, and was planning on staying behind to hike after they headed back to Christchurch.

After checking in to our accommodation we took a walk to the main street to go to the pub for a drink in the sun. It was nice to see plenty of people about, but in relative terms, the town was very quiet considering this was normally their peak season. It was sad to see the place that I had met my partner was closed down, as was the place that we stayed on our anniversary. Even the pub we usually went for breakfast at was closed. One of the stores that I was keen to visit had also gone, and it was clear that there had been widespread effects from the earthquake. Thankfully the wildlife, which is one of the big draws for the town is still around, although the risen sea bed has influenced the way the whale watching tours run, and one of the area’s great spots for seeing fur seal pups, the Ohau Falls, is sealed off and unreachable. But the whale watching and dolphin swimming tours are still running and seem to be just as popular as ever. By all accounts, there is no reduction in sightings either, so thankfully, some businesses are able to function in a nearly normal manner.

After drinks on a rooftop at one of the pubs that was still open, we headed out for dinner at a pizza parlour. The owner’s home was unlivable and he had been moved around a few times over the past few months. Whilst I am painfully introverted, my partner loves making conversation with shop owners and staff wherever we go so we got chatting to a few locals over the weekend, enquiring how things had been for them. There was many concerns for the future for several of them, especially as some of the businesses rely heavily on the profits made through a busy summer season to get them through the quieter winter season. For many, there were big financial concerns.

The next morning we ate breakfast in a local cafe. I had planned to hike Mt Fyffe that day but the weather was dismal and the tops of the mountains weren’t even visible. My partner and his relatives were leaving soon and I pondered what to do with myself. By coincidence, I spotted a poster on the cafe wall for a free concert in Kaikoura that very day to raise the spirits of the locals and figured that would be fun. In the meantime, I headed past some murals to the Kaikoura museum, a new addition to the town which hadn’t existed the last time I was there. I didn’t expect much, but with the rain turned on and not much else to do, I paid the entrance fee and made a point of reading every single display sign that was there. A little jumbled and haphazard, it was actually interesting enough to while away a good amount of time. Other people came and went but I slowly meandered around. There was information about the fauna of the area, the whaling history of the area, immigration and it even contained the entire old jail which was effectively a two-roomed building: a normal cell and a padded cell for those deemed mentally disturbed. The staff at the museum seemed rather surprised at the amount of time I was in the museum for, but I emerged to a drier sky.

It remained cloudy but dry for the afternoon. I took my time wandering along the long shoreline to the Pier Hotel where the concert was taking place. I figured I’d hang out for an hour or so before continuing along to the fur seal colony on the peninsula, but with the likes of Sunshine Sound System, Tiki Taane and Peacekeepers playing I ended up staying till the end of the show. Entrance was free but the sale of food and alcohol was going towards a community rebuild and it was great to see such an event taking place. There was a good crowd, and I sat first on the shore taking in the view with the music as my background, then later I joined the crowd by the stage to dance the hours away. It was pitch black by the time I left, and I headed back to my hostel in the dark.

The next morning was the glorious day I was wanting for my hike. It was a little cold first thing as I headed out to the peninsula to enjoy breakfast whilst looking out for fur seals. The Kaikoura Range brooded behind the town and I contemplated the amount of altitude gain I had to make that day. I anticipated a tough hike. Again, I couldn’t quite decide if the amount of rocks was tidal-related or uplift related, but I managed to spot a heron and as is often the case here, a sleeping fur seal lay right next to the car park. But soon it was time to head off for the hike. I anticipated a full day’s walk and then I had to drive straight back to Christchurch afterwards. I always love visiting Kaikoura. It is such a stunning setting and a great place for both relaxation and activity. It is most definitely open for business, albeit in a slightly reduced capacity, but now more than ever, this place needs visitors. Although it is not as straightforward to get there as it used to be, it is still very much worth the detour.

Destructive Beauty

I don’t remember how or when I found out, but somewhere between getting to Melbourne‘s Tullamarine Airport and getting in the taxi to go home in Christchurch, I absorbed some brief information about a couple of fires on the Port Hills, the hills behind my home city. One of the people I shared the taxi shuttle with had been on the opposite side of the plane and she had seen the fires illuminating the dark night sky as the plane approached the runway. It was after 1am when I got to bed, and I gave it no thought, falling asleep ahead of work later that morning. As I head towards the Port Hills from home to work, I was aware of some smoke in the distance on the opposite side of the hills to the city and helicopters flying nearby, but there otherwise wasn’t much to see. Aside from the occasional murmur from people coming into work, and some road closures announced on the hills to keep gawkers at bay, little concern was suggested.

That evening after work, I could see there was going to be a beautiful evening and dusk so I decided to head through Lyttelton tunnel and drive round to Governor’s Bay in order to park up and watch the colours that I suspected might be made through the smoke as the sun lowered. From this side of the hills it was possible to see separate fires in the bush on the hillside, although there was little in the way of flames, just smoke billowing up from the tree line, and helicopters moved around with water buckets suspended below. I was far from the only one parked up watching the evening light fall over Lyttelton Harbour. Despite being a Tuesday, every pull-up on the road was full of cars. And whilst I knew that below that smoke, the bushland of the hills was being destroyed, I found the scene quite beautiful. I know how regenerating a bush fire can be, and whilst destructive, I thought nothing more of it, snapping photos as the light changed, then driving home as it grew dark.

 

But the next morning things were different. I hadn’t seen any news on the Tuesday, and now on the Wednesday, I discovered that one of the helicopters fighting the fires had crashed the previous afternoon, killing the pilot. Even to this day they are yet to announce the trigger of the fires, but with one of them starting at a car park on the hills, I am convinced it was caused by an idiot throwing a cigarette or dumping glass that has reflected the sunlight. And now somebody had died. Not only that, but the fires were anything but under control, and they continued to move nearer and nearer to the hill suburbs of Christchurch. The smoke was by now very obvious on my commute to work and from my home the smoke hung over the house.

 

By the Thursday, things were getting more serious. The two fires were now one large out of control fire, and people we knew were being evacuated. The recently opened Adventure Park, a fantastic addition to the post-earthquake city, was now at risk of being damaged, and homes were now being destroyed. That evening I could see flames from my driveway as the fire had moved to Victoria Park, a popular recreational spot. It burned for many days, with some people out of their houses for 1-2 weeks. The Adventure Park remains closed still with no known time of reopening. The buildings at the base remained untouched, but large sections of the trees in the park as well as the chairlift were in the fire zone.

I have been up at the summit several times since the fires were extinguished and the roads reopened. Over 2000 hectares of land burned, and the hills now look very different. The spot on the summit where one of my best friends got married a few years ago is now black. But whilst there’s a lot of ground to be cleared, areas at risk of slip to be fortified, and houses to be rebuilt, there was already a lot of fresh green grass budding through the blackened soil within a couple of weeks of the fire. Having gone back up the hill again a couple of weeks ago, the rate of grass regrowth was amazing. Out of the ashes comes growth. And if there’s anything Christchurch is good at, it is regenerating after a disaster.

Mount Herbert via Packhorse Hut

Once upon a time, two large volcanoes stood side by side on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. As they eroded, the craters formed two large harbours which today are known as Lyttelton harbour and Akaroa harbour. The volcanic remains have become the mountainous playground of Banks Peninsula, a stark contrast to the flatness of the Canterbury Plains which sit immediately to the west. Christchurch, the south island’s largest city, nestles just the other side of the Port Hills, making the peninsula a perfect spot for getaways from the city.

Standing proudly behind Diamond Harbour, Banks Peninsula’s tallest peak, Mount Herbert is a great choice for hiking. With a choice of four main routes up, I am slowly but surely working my way through the route options. I first summited Mt Herbert via Orton Bradley Park, a track that requires private transport to get to the starting point, and since then, I took the most popular route up from Diamond Harbour which can be reached by public transport from Christchurch. I later found out about another route up from Kaituna Valley and this again requires your own transport to reach the starting point. Unlike the other two routes which start from the northern aspect, this third route starts from the south.

From Christchurch city centre it is a 45min drive curving round the side of the Port Hills on the Akaroa road before cutting up the Kaituna Valley road past open farmland, eventually arriving at Parkinson’s Road. It was a hot sunny February day when I pulled up around 11am and there was barely any space left to park. I had planned on setting off earlier to beat the heat, but as often happens on a Sunday, I’d enjoyed a bit of a lie in before eventually getting out of bed. So as I stepped out my car, the dashboard thermometer was already reading 26oC. It was going to be a scorcher.

The track I was kicking off on was to take me to one of the Department of Conservation’s (DOC) huts called the Packhorse Hut. Even this hut itself has a few options to reach there, and being within easy reach of Christchurch, it is a popular destination for people to go for a night. As such, it requires to be booked. The DOC sign stated a 2hr walk to reach the hut, and the track starts off across private farming land. Stiles are provided to cross the fences meaning gates don’t need to be touched, and at the time I was hiking, stock was everywhere. It is important not to worry stock when passing over private land, but sheep being sheep, they often make it very hard to get past them without them getting spooked.

 

There is quite a long and relatively gentle meander across the farmland before finally the wide track zig-zags across a stream and starts climbing. And once the climb starts, it just keeps on going. The summer just passed did not offer much opportunity to get up into the mountains unlike the summer before, so despite hiking the Queen Charlotte Track just 2.5 months prior, I was out of shape once more. The gradient of this hike should have been well within my capabilities but instead I found myself huffing and puffing in the heat and needing to stop often. Once the trees parted though, the view opened up more and more and looking behind me the Pacific Ocean was glinting in the sunlight through a gap in the hillside, and in front of me lay the distinctive peak of Mt Bradley. Now I started to enjoy the hike.

 

There was plenty of other people on the track heading both up and down, although most people had been sensible enough to head off hours before me, so most of the people I saw were on their way back from the hut. When I reached the Packhorse Hut there were several people milling about inside and out, and others still could be seen on the track up from Gebbies Pass to the north. Directly in front was the Port Hills across the harbour, behind which lies Christchurch, and just peaking into view was the head of Lyttelton Harbour.

 

Built of local volcanic stone in 1914, the Packhorse Hut is one of four stone huts built as a resthouse for a proposed walking route between Christchurch and Akaroa. The brainchild of Harry Ell, a city councillor and member of parliament in the early 1900s, he was well known for his interests in recreation and conservation, and played a role in the creation of many of the reserves that now exist on the Port Hills. Whilst only three of his resthouses came to pass in his lifetime, a fourth followed after his death and all of them still stand to this day. The Sign of the Kiwi at the top of Dyers Pass road is a cafe, having recently reopened following the Canterbury earthquakes of 2010/2011. The Sign of the Takahe lower down Dyers Pass road is a restaurant, although it still remains closed for repairs following the earthquakes. The Sign of the Bellbird off Summit road started life as a tearoom but now is really just a shelter. It is a great picnic spot, although unfortunately after someone set fire to the roof in 2015, it is now completely open to the elements. And the Sign of the Packhorse is what is now the DOC run Packhorse Hut.

 

After taking a quick look inside before stopping for a snack, I still had some way to go to reach Mt Herbert. It was by now about 1pm, the sun was high and the DOC sign related a 3hr hike to Mt Herbert summit. This was longer than I’d anticipated but at least there were still many hours of daylight ahead. From the hut, the track follows the Summit Walkway which has recently been renamed with its Maori name to Te Ara Pataka. The track followed the curve of the land towards a small section within the bush which was some welcome respite from the sun, but before long it was back out in the elements and the zig-zags began. About 210m (689ft) altitude gain is achieved through a series of zig-zags up the slope of Mt Bradley. Here I met a group of people coming back from the summit who seemed surprised to see me and enquired about how well equipped I was and how much water I had. It put a hint of doubt in my mind that somehow this hike was more than I thought it would be.

 

Finally though, I was on the relative flat below the bluff of Mt Bradley’s summit. The view from the track up had been impressive enough, but from this higher altitude it was stunning. Although it undulated, it stayed roughly around 720-730m (2362-2395ft) with lots of bush on either side although nothing above to shade from the sun. I was now on the lookout for a nice lunch spot but there was nowhere to stop and sit. Both ahead and behind me the track was empty of people. Most of the people at the hut turned back there, so this section of the walk was devoid of people compared to the lower section. After some time of hugging the mountainside, the track dipped slightly and went into a copse. The shade was welcome so I found a large rock to sit on to have my lunch.

 

I was in a total reverie munching away when a loud and angry yell made me jump. Somebody unseen had yelled an obscenity so loudly that I had a momentary fear about who was approaching. As the unseen man grew nearer I heard more anger, albeit at a lower volume and then round a corner in the path came a man in his 20s. He asked how far the summit was and although I wasn’t sure exactly, I surmised that it was probably 60-90mins away based on the DOC sign and how long I’d been walking for. He swore again, complained about the track dropping altitude when it was supposed to be going up and stomped off, leaving me in peace once more. As he must have also come from the Packhorse Hut, regardless of which route he took to get there, he will have passed at least one sign with a distance marker to the summit, so I couldn’t understand why he was so annoyed, when it is clearly stated the length of the hike at each stage. At least he was wearing proper shoes and had a backpack. I’ve seen many tourists hiking up mountains in jandals (flip-flops) with either no water or just a small bottle in their hand.

Finally moving on myself, it wasn’t much further till the path came out at a fence line on a low ridge past the far side of Mt Bradley. Crossing the stile, I could now see Lyttelton Harbour again, and as the path meandered on, I found myself at the junction with the track down to Orton Bradley Park. Now I was on familiar territory. Some way on I came across Mt Herbert Shelter, a small hut just off the path. It has a nice view from the front deck, but I was keen to get to the summit so I pushed on without stopping. A little up the track I passed the angry man on his return trip who still looked thoroughly grumpy, and finally I was at the familiar turn-off for the summit. It was the last push up to a relatively deserted summit. This is a popular mountain to hike, so normally the summit is busy, but after 3pm as it was, it was quite late on in the day. With a predicted high of 29oC, everybody else had been much more sensible and set off earlier in the day.

 

At 919m (3015ft), there is a beautiful 360o view over Banks Peninsula and Lyttelton Harbour as well as out to the Pacific Ocean. As always, Christchurch was under a haze but the Southern Alps mountain range was still visible in the far distance. It is a broad summit, so there is plenty of space to walk around to see different aspects and I noted that the DOC signage had been updated since I’d last been there to include its Maori name of Te Ahu Patiki. From here it is possible to continue hiking along the Summit Walkway towards Port Levy, and this is the 4th route up to Mt Herbert, and the only one I am yet to walk.

After a while it was time to head home. It had taken over 4hrs to summit, but as always the downhill is easier, and although the section below the bluffs of Mt Bradley felt like it went on forever, I was back in my car in just 2.5hrs. As I passed the Packhorse Hut, there was a family setting up a tent outside, and I met some people hiking up when I reached the flat section across the farmland. They were heading to the hut and back but had waited to escape the heat of the day. It had been a scorcher for sure, and I had worried I would run out of water, but in the end all was well. Of the 3 routes I’ve done, this is the longest one to the summit, but it was good to explore somewhere new and I always enjoy discovering New Zealand’s myriad of mountain huts.

A Capital New Year

Whether it be self-inflicted or societal in origin, I always feel an inordinate pressure to do something exciting for New Year’s Eve (or Hogmanay as it is known in my native Scotland). In the northern Hemisphere, this means either shivering outside in the cold with a thousand layers on, or packing into someone’s house or a local venue to share in the festivities. In the southern Hemisphere where summer is in full swing, for me at least, it generally means escaping somewhere for a holiday or mini-break to enjoy some warmth and sunshine. Or so was the plan, anyway.

On a clear day, the flight from Christchurch in the South Island to the North Island of New Zealand is always worthy of a window seat. Hugging the east coast, we flew over the Southern Alps and stunning coastline. The flight to Auckland usually takes in the sweeping expanse of Golden Bay and Farewell Spit, but on this occasion, on route to New Zealand’s capital city of Wellington on a lower altitude flight path, and with cloud hugging the west coast, this landmark point was out of sight. On arrival, we wasted no time at all catching the bus to Courtenay Place in the city centre (or central business district [CBD] as it is called here). It had been some time since I’d last been in ‘Windy Welly’, a city that I’ve always enjoyed visiting. Following the November 14th earthquake, although the epicentre was in the south island, Wellington such as it is, suffered some damage also. Here, on Courtenay Place, a whole facade of businesses was fenced off and closed down. Suddenly, Wellington reminded us of Christchurch, a city that for years has been defined by cones, fences and cranes.

 

After checking in, my partner and I took a wander along the main streets of the CBD and were shocked at how deserted the place seemed. We’d been there in summer and winter in the past and this was the quietest we’d both ever seen the place. It was a sunny morning though, although the cloud was building, and we took the famous cable car up the side of the hill to the top of Wellington’s Botanic Gardens. Next to the top station is one of those postcard views of the city and harbour, especially when the cable car slides into the view. Sprawled across a steep hillside, the Botanical Gardens has plenty of colour-coded options for walking routes, and we picked a route we hadn’t done before to get us to the bottom. Once there, a marked route leads back into the streets of the city.

 

On a whim, my partner suggested we jump on a train and go out to one of the suburbs. Not knowing what was there, but always eager to do something different when I return to a previously visited city, we checked out the timetables and bought ourselves a ticket to Upper Hutt. For 45 minutes we followed first the Wellington shoreline and then the Hutt valley to reach our destination. The scenery wasn’t particularly exciting and as it turned out, neither was Upper Hutt. My partner had been convinced there was something to see there but couldn’t think what it was, but as it turned out there really is no reason to visit as anything other than a resident. We did a circuit round the main streets, the outer park and then back to the train station where we then waited for the return train to Wellington. Still, not every new experience is exciting, and we laughed at ourselves for the randomness of our failed spontaneity.

Back in Wellington we took my favourite walking route round the foreshore to Oriental Parade. The sun was shining gloriously but unfortunately the wind that the city is famous for was so strong that we were being whipped by sand from the small beach as we walked along. We got our customary ice cream which is always a must at the beach only to find it hard to enjoy with the added flavour of sand, and in my case my hair blowing onto it all the time. In the end, we decided to retreat for a bit to have a rest ahead of the night’s festivities. Like many big cities, there was a public firework display to mark the coming of the new year. We wondered if the wind would put a stop to it, but we never got word to say it was cancelled, so as the evening wore on, we set about heading out for dinner.

 

Like Melbourne in Australia, another city famous for its eating and drinking culture, Wellington has a great selection of places to eat and imbibe, and like its bigger Aussie brother, wandering down an alleyway can often yield a secret and intriguing find. Down one such alley we found Little Beer Quarter, a neat, slightly grungy bar that served us a delicious pizza. After a while we headed off to catch up with my partner’s cousin who was working in a pub on the edge of the CBD. Even though there was no change in time zone and no jet lag to contend with, we were both tired, so decided that instead of going to the midnight fireworks, we’d go for the 9 o’clock display then head back to the pub to hang out. But with a cider in hand and some dessert in my belly, I found myself struggling to stay awake. During the process of drinking and chatting we found ourselves too late to go to the fireworks and shortly after 9, we decided to have an early night. It didn’t take either of us long to drop off to sleep, although I awoke to the sound of fireworks and was delighted to discover on looking out my window, that my room was facing the ocean and I had a prime view of the display. My partner slept through it, but I watched the flashing lights until they finished and promptly returned to bed. This was the exciting action-packed Hogmanay of a 33-year old.

Well waking up on the first day of 2017 was rather different to what we’d closed our eyes to the night before. It was torrential rain and blowing a gale. There was little incentive to get moving, but mid-morning, we found ourselves in a nice cafe near the hotel where we had a lovely breakfast and caught up with my partner’s aunt who lives in the city. Unlike me, who was off work for 4 days, my partner had to go back to work that night, so after brunch, he made his way to the airport to catch his flight home. The airport in Wellington has a reputation for some rather dramatic flying conditions, and with the rate of rain and wind, I was in no way envious of his flight that day. I on the other hand, sought out one of the city’s main indoor attractions, the Te Papa museum. I’d been there before, and worthy as it is of a visit when in the city, it is far from my favourite museum. But at the time of visiting, there was a temporary exhibit called Gallipoli: the Scale of Our War which I was very keen to visit. With models constructed by the Weta workshop (of Lord of the Rings fame), it had rave reviews, and although the exhibit was free to enter, it was so popular there was a queuing system to get into it.

Also on at the time was another special exhibit with an entrance fee, known as Bug’s World. With giant bug sculptures again thanks to the Weta workshop, this was an awesome exhibit even if it was largely aimed at children. With bug-related science experiments, and giant moving bugs, psychedelic colours and loud noises, it was busy, stimulating and very popular. From there I headed straight downstairs and joined the very long queue for the Gallipoli exhibit. Coming from Scotland, where history lessons revolved around the British army’s involvement in the two World Wars, I knew nothing about Gallipoli when I moved to New Zealand. But since then, between both Australian and New Zealand museums, I have picked up a lot of information about this famous battleground. At times when scenes of modern warfare are so rife on the daily news that it is possible to feel numb about it all, it takes a well-designed exhibit to grasp the frustration, heartache, and dizzying waste of life that is the reality of war. Spread through inter-connecting rooms, the main draw of this particular exhibit are the larger-than-life but amazingly realistic figures that depict particular people from the annals of history. A lieutenant, a medic, a nurse and a collection of other soldiers are impeccably detailed right down to the hairs on the legs or arms.

 

I hadn’t planned on staying at Te Papa beyond that exhibit, having seen the other unchanging exhibits before, but the weather was still diabolical outside so I ended up jostling with the large crowd that was also hiding out in the museum. But even having seen it all before, I managed to kill a few hours here before eventually having to brave the bad weather again. I found a nearby place to eat dinner which was understandably packed, before retiring to my comfy bed with a bag of junk food for dessert and an evening of holiday movies to watch.

The next morning it was still raining, although thankfully not as hard as the day before. Prior to coming to Wellington, I’d planned on spending a day out on Matiu Sommes Island, a bird sanctuary out in the harbour, but the poor weather meant there was no point, and I’d reluctantly canned the idea. My other desire for this visit was to go to Zealandia, a wildlife ecosanctuary on the edge of the city. Another outdoor activity, I toyed with the idea of canning this too, but decided that the rain was of a level that could be tolerated, and so I headed down to the visitor information centre in the CBD from where a free shuttle bus takes you to the entrance of the sanctuary. In the end, despite the drizzle, this was the highlight of my whole trip.

A 250-hectare fully predator-fenced ecosanctuary designed to allow a small spot of New Zealand to return to its wild origins sits a mere 4km out of Wellington’s CBD and as obsessed as I am with native fauna, for me it was paradise. For a country famous for its landscapes and its controversial ‘100% Pure’ slogan, the New Zealand of today couldn’t be more different from the New Zealand of the past. Before man invaded, burned forests for pastureland, and introduced non-native mammals, historically, New Zealand was a land of dense jungle-like forests filled with a cacophany of birdsong, and prowled by large creatures such as the Giant Moa and their equally large hunter, the Haast’s eagle. Now, thanks to industrialisation, farming and the ever-present bane of hungry predators, there are many woodlands and forests that lie eerily quiet, many rivers that have changed their course, and many species that have fallen into the abyss of extinction. The videos and displays within the visitor centre are a real eye-opener to the negative impact of humans on an environment.

But outside was what I really enjoyed. There are a choice of walking paths to take, with most people following the main, low-level circuit to the upper dam and back. But in reality this is a mere fraction of the sanctuary’s size, and there are rougher hiking tracks heading further into the bush from here. I had arranged to meet up with my partner’s aunt again that afternoon, so I restricted myself to the main track and a few side tracks to places of interest. Firstly the track followed the lower lake to a lookout near where some shags were nesting, and some juveniles were evident amongst the adults, neither perturbed by the constant flow of people passing nearby. Near here, I was excited to see a sign saying takahe were nearby. A relative of the comical-looking pukeko, these stocky flightless birds are severely endangered, having already been thought to have become extinct before later being rediscovered. I’d never seen one, and struggled to contain my excitement when one came wandering down the path ahead of me.

 

Past wetlands and into the woods, I was acutely aware of the impressive volume of birdsong. Nowhere else in New Zealand had I heard this much life in the forest and it was incredible. More so than this was the sightings of bird species I’d never seen before including some Kaka, a species of parrot. I adore Kea, the smaller alpine parrot that lives in the south island, and it was a total joy to see the larger Kaka, another vulnerable species. They were loud and rambunctious and a total pleasure to watch. Skirting the upper dam where the surrounding vegetation was thick, I took a side track which was deserted in comparison to the main track, and there I came across the noisy antics of the North Island saddleback, another bird I’d never seen before. Reportedly recovering in numbers, I’d never even heard of them before, but one in particular, which given its behaviour I assumed it was a fledgling, was so unbelievably loud for such a little bird.

 

On my way back to the visitor’s centre, I spotted a tuatara, a native reptile that outlived the dinosaurs. Technically wild, all the tuatara in the ecosanctuary are tagged, and are known to reside in specific locations making them semi-easy to spot. Past them, a side track took me up the hill to a cave which is open for a distance to enter. In the darkness, you would have no idea what was in there with you, but the torchlight on my phone illuminated an expansive population of cave weta. Weta are a group of insects endemic to New Zealand which includes the Giant Weta, one of the heaviest and larger insects in the world. On my first sweep with the torch, the weta within the cave looked quite small, but as I turned round to face the opposite wall, I was suddenly presented with some rather large specimens that had been hair-raisingly close to the back of my head just moments before. Insects don’t normally bother me, but these large creatures with their swaying antennae were big enough and close enough to my face to make my skin crawl. Still, I was fascinated enough to suppress this sensation in order to look at them for a while.

 

Following lunch at the visitor’s centre, I was picked up and whisked away to the hillside suburbs to the south, first visiting the giant Meridian wind turbine overlooking the city, and then heading to the southern suburbs on the coast where the waves pounded angrily on the shore. It was cold and grey overhead as we drove round the coast briefly before I was taken to the renovated Roxy Cinema in Miramar, a beautifully restored building outside of which stood a statue of Ian McKellan as Gandalf the Grey from the Lord of the Rings franchise. Miramar is the realm of Peter Jackson, the film director, and round from here is the Weta workshop which I visited on a previous occasion and is well worth a tour around. But now it was time to retire, and my partner’s aunt cooked me a lovely dinner before I headed back to my hotel for the night.

 

The next morning it was torrential rain again. It had been such a frustrating trip this time round, and I really wasn’t feeling the love for Wellington on this occasion. Being a public holiday, it felt like large portions of the city were closed down, and zones of the city were like a ghost town. I was struggling to find things to fill my time with. I’m not a fan of art galleries, and with all the usual things I like to do outdoors, I found myself back at Te Papa where I once again waited out the rain. In between breaks in the showers, I took a brief wander around the marina, before eventually finding a movie to watch at the Embassy Theatre. This was the location for the grand premier of the Lord of the Rings trilogy movies, but unlike the Roxy Theatre which had been lovingly restored, the Embassy Theatre looked drab, old and greatly in need of some TLC. It was still raining when I left the movie a couple of hours later, and with nothing else to do, I simply retrieved my stuff from the hotel and headed to the airport. Taking off in the rain, the plane arrived back in Christchurch to relatively clear skies. With an approach heading right over the city, it was a welcome sight to be back home after a washout of a weekend in the capital.

Lake Brunner

Sometimes the best-laid plans go awry. When it comes to domestic holidays, they tend to be either a roadie or city break with my partner, or an independent hiking trip in the mountains. With my partner having to work through the Christmas weekend, I on the other hand had a few days off and figured I’d make the most of the solitude bagging some summits. I was looking for somewhere that wasn’t a crazy drive away, but yet wasn’t overly familiar either, and after a bit of zooming in and out of Google Maps, I spotted what looked like the ideal location: Lake Brunner in the West Coast region. I’d passed here on the TranzAlpine train ride from Christchurch to Greymouth a few years ago, but otherwise hadn’t given it any attention, but looking at the landscape on Topomap, I noticed there were some mountains around the lake that would serve as good day hikes. Finding a cheap and cheerful place to stay for a few nights, I was sorted for my summer break.

But despite some cracking weather in November to hike the Queen Charlotte Track, spring and now summer weren’t showing much promise weather-wise, and as Christmas came round, the forecast was underwhelming to say the least. After finishing work on Christmas Eve, I set off from Christchurch to head west and hit a wall of grey skies as I reached the Southern Alps. Still, the road through Porters Pass then Arthur’s Pass is a scenic and enjoyable trip with plenty of choice to stop at on the way. I stopped first on the shores of Lake Lyndon which sat below Trig M, a hike I’d done earlier in the year, and then ignored the popular stops of Castle Hill and Cave Stream having done them many times before, opting instead to pull in at the lookout above the Otira Viaduct to the north of Arthur’s Pass. Aside from the view down the valley, this place is almost guaranteed for Kea sightings, and I wasn’t disappointed.

 

Before moving to New Zealand, I had no idea such a creature existed, but the world’s only alpine parrot has become my favourite bird here. Full of cheek, curiosity and highly intelligent, they are extraordinary to watch and interact with. It is important not to feed them, and also important to be aware of your belongings around them at all times, as they will do their best to relieve you of anything you leave lying around and are notorious for pulling and chewing anything that is within reach, be it tyres, aerials or cameras. They are far from shy, and sitting in the driver’s seat with my door open, I sat and watched as one cocky individual casually gnawed on the metal of my car door before striding off proud as punch.

 

Arriving at Moana on the shore of Lake Brunner the sky was still moody but there were some glints of sunshine trying to burst through in places. After checking in to my cabin in the woods just outside of the village, I parked up near the lake shore and set off on one of the local walks, the Raikatane walk. This is an easy walk that crosses a suspension bridge over the Arnold river and circles in the woods to the north, as well as offering the opportunity to explore the far shore of Lake Brunner. Apart from a few birds for company, I was effectively on my own. With tourism being a major part of the New Zealand economy, it is getting harder and harder to get away from the crowds here, meaning peace and tranquility can be a pipe dream during the summer months. Thankfully Lake Brunner flies under the radar of the vast majority of foreign tourists, and it is more the realm of domestic tourists with a high percentage of Kiwi accents being heard compared to elsewhere. In my solitude I looked across the large lake to the mountains on the far side cloaked in low clouds, their summits hidden from me. The water lapped gently on the shore as I trudged across the pebbles enjoying a brief splurge of sunshine. Back in the cabin, I had the use of a shared kitchen, and over the next 3 nights, I got to know my fellow guests as we chatted over wine and food. I’d recently discovered the most heavenly sparkling wine made at a Canterbury winery to the west of Christchurch and before I knew it I was warm and merry.

 

I awoke on Christmas Day to more grey skies. My plan was to head round to Te Kinga, a small settlement on the eastern shore in order to hike Mount Te Kinga. As I drove there I was dismayed to see the cloud was even lower than the day before and the bulk of the mountain was hidden from view. It seemed a popular place to camp for the night at the car park at Te Kinga, and as several people were stirring, I was lacing up my hiking boots and preparing to hike. As there are a couple of viewpoints overlooking the lake on the way to the summit, several people were on the trail that morning. From early on, I just wasn’t feeling it that day. I’ve hiked a lot of mountains in New Zealand, mainly in Canterbury, and although I’ve enjoyed them to varying degrees, I’d never disliked a hike as much as this one. It may in part have been because I knew I’d get no view at the top, or maybe because I felt a little lonely on Christmas Day, but as much as I trudged up the hillside on autopilot, there was just no love for me that day.

 

The track was not that great either. It was reasonable quality up to the first viewpoint but then a permanent sign noted an expectation of mud, and boy was it muddy. Between the wetness of the spring and the thick foliage preventing drying, there was plenty of mud underfoot and a lot of tree roots to negotiate. To top it off, my hiking trousers ripped in dramatic fashion as I stepped up over a tree root, revealing most of my thigh and part of my crotch (albeit still thankfully covered by my underpants). Thankfully I had my waterproof trousers with me which quickly were donned to save my dignity. At the top lookout everybody else on the trail was turning back but I passed the sign warning the track was for experienced hikers only and pressed on up the increasingly rough and vague track. The vegetation was dense and after a bit of rock and root scrambling I suddenly found the route blocked by a large fallen tree. It was too high to climb over it, there was no gap to climb through or under it, and the tree was big enough and the surrounding vegetation thick enough that I couldn’t see a way around it. There was no evidence of anyone else creating a route either, so I surmised that it was a relatively recent obstruction, but try as might I saw no way to continue. It was both a frustration and a godsend as I really had had no love for this hike, and took it as an omen to turn round and head back.

 

So now I found myself with a lot of time to kill. Thankfully my lodgings had provided me with a handy area map detailing local walks, so I headed south and round the long-winded road system that had to circumnavigate Mt Te Kinga and another lake to cut back up to the south shore of Lake Brunner to head towards the settlement of Mitchells. The road degraded from a sealed road to a metalled road but it was heavily rutted in places and having replaced my banged up motor with a newer model during the winter, I was rather cautious, especially in those sections where a skid off the road would have had me in the lake. Just outside Mitchells, a pull-in denoted the start of the Carew Falls walk. The Department of Conservation (DOC) sign stated 30mins each way but it was more like 15mins for me and I found myself at the base of the falls in time to see a group of people abseiling down the face. It was a beautiful cascade and I watched with intrigue as the group picked their way down, briefly chatting with them at the bottom before they left me alone with the flies. I sat for a while listening to the thundering water before the swarms of flies forced me to leave.

 

It was just a few minutes drive down to the lakeside at Mitchells to reach the Bain Bay walk. On a mixture of boardwalks and sandy tracks it curved round Carew Bay and started with such promise. I passed a sign warning of occasional flooding on the track but thought nothing of it until just 5 mins later I discovered the track disappeared into the lake. There was no way to get round it without getting very wet, and for the second time that day I found myself immensely frustrated at having my hike thwarted by the elements. It appeared the lake level was higher than normal and there was nothing I could do about it. There was at least a beautiful mirrored vista across the lake, so despite the grey skies and occasional drizzle, it was still a pretty sight to behold. Pausing briefly at the lakeside on the way back, I made my way back to Moana and passed it by in order to do yet another walk in the area. But despite the description stating the turnoff was signposted, I drove the length of the road twice and couldn’t work out where I was supposed to go. Frustrated once more and feeling deflated, I returned to my cabin in the woods, heated up my ‘gourmet’ hikers instant dinner, filled my glass with wine and parked up in front of the tv to watch Christmas Day movies.

 

To the south-west of Lake Brunner lies Mount French, my chosen summit for Boxing Day. But waking up to grey sky once more, a quick drive to the lake shore confirmed my suspicion: most of the mountain was hidden in clouds. After a disasterous attempt at Mt Te Kinga the day before, I opted to cut my losses and acknowledge that the hiking gods were not smiling down on me that weekend. Anticipating this the night before, I had done some quick reading on what my local options were, and headed north-west to the west coast a short drive north from Greymouth. Here lies the Point Elizabeth walkway, a coastal walk that can be undertaken in either direction. I chose to start at the northern end and head south, meaning I parked up just outside of Rapahoe. It was a nice walk through some tropical vegetation. The sun broke through in patches and for the most part I was on my own. The odd jogger appeared from time to time, and at the halfway mark there is a lookout at Point Elizabeth. Some information posts in a few places described the flora and the possible fauna that could be spotted but despite the relatively calm sea, I spotted no marine life that day.

 

The west coast gets the brunt of the weather as it crosses the open expanse of the Tasman Sea which separates Australia from New Zealand. As such, the west coast is a wild and battered coastline, and the beaches here are littered with washed up flotsam and are of a stony nature rather than sand. Still, from above on the track, the long stretch of beach reaching south towards Greymouth looked inviting on approach and when I reached it, I found a handy log to park my butt on for a while, and I sat there for some time contemplating life and the universe whilst listening to the waves crashing on the shore. Eventually I set off in the return direction, stopping once more at the lookout before pushing on to return to my awaiting car.

 

A short drive along the road in nearby Runanga is the Coal Creek walking track. Cutting through a pleasant forest, the track gradually descends down to meet the Coal Creek, eventually coming out above and then dropping down to face onto, the Coal Creek falls. Having passed a lot of people on the track heading back to their cars, I timed my arrival with perfection, getting the falls to myself for long enough to feel satisfied before other people started to arrive. Picking your way across the rocks at the river side allows slightly differing views of this beautiful waterfall and even though the water appeared dark under the grey sky, I really liked this waterfall. As more and more people arrived, I left them to it, and headed back up to the top of the hill to sit on the bench there and watch the falls from above for a while before heading back to my car.

 

Greymouth itself was pretty much closed down for the day as it was a public holiday. The place resembled a ghost town, so after finding somewhere that I could grab a coffee (which turned out to be a highly disappointing coffee), I crossed the Grey river to Cobden hill from where a lot of people were surfing the breaks off the beach. Nearby a small wetlands provided a nice little walk accompanied by some waterfowl and a shag drying itself on a branch.

 

Sticking to the north side of the Grey river, I headed back to Lake Brunner, stopping at the site of the Brunner mine, a coal mine which suffered an explosion in 1896 killing 65 miners. To this day, even with the tragic and relatively recent events at the infamous Pike River mine, the Brunner explosion resulted in the highest death rate in the history of New Zealand mining disasters. Thanks to the gallantry of many people, all the bodies were recovered despite horrendous conditions in the mine following the event, and it is this retrieval process that has been the object of immense contention in the more recent Pike River mine disaster where sadly the bodies of those who perished still remain out of reach in the depths of the collapsed mine. The Brunner site is worthy of a look around. The entrance to the various mine shafts are fenced off, and the few remaining buildings are in a poor state of repair, but in places a smell hangs in the air, a reminder of the dangerous gases that linger below the surface. Crossing the bridge over the Grey river, an old chimney stands tall near the roadside.

 

Thanks to a bit of guesswork on the road back to Lake Brunner, I finally found the walk I’d looked for and failed to find the day before. The Arnold Dam walk follows the Arnold river to a dam and then heads up the hillside before returning to the power station where the walk starts from. The place felt eerie and after the track quickly became unappealing, I decided that I’d walked enough that day and turned round and headed back to my cabin. Having got chatting with some fellow guests, they had attempted Mt Te Kinga themselves that day despite me telling them of the fallen tree. They reported that they had made it past the fallen tree, but yet they too had had to turn back shortly after as the track became a ghost track and impossible to follow. Waking up to heavy rain the next morning, there seemed no point in hanging around. With the rain following me almost the whole way back to Christchurch, there seemed to be no point in stopping anywhere, so I found myself back home in time for lunch. The weekend had been a perfect example of plans in the outdoors failing to come to fruition. I’d failed to summit my target mountains, although I’d certainly managed to get some walking in anyway. But at least there were only a few days of work to get through before heading to the capital for New Years. Surely the weather wouldn’t fail me for two weekends in a row…

Queen Charlotte Track: Portage to Anakiwa

I couldn’t believe my luck to awake on my final day hiking the Queen Charlotte Track, to sunshine again. After the previous week’s stormy weather, I had been immensely lucky to get dry and calm weather for the duration of the 4 day hike. The picnic lunch provided by the Punga Cove Resort the morning before had been so good I still had leftovers for breakfast that morning, then I was soon booted up and back on the road again. Cutting back down to the Portage Resort, the sea sparkled in the sunshine, visible over the rooftops as I retraced my steps back up Torea Road to the Torea Saddle where the track cut off. The people I had played a constant catch up with the day before, had been given a lift up here and they were just setting off too as I arrived. For a second day we would repeatedly pass each other until they stopped early to cut the last day into two. The sign here reminds of the need for a Queen Charlotte Track Pass to hike this section, as it is crossing private land rather than Department of Conservation (DOC) land.

 

My destination for the day was Anakiwa, 21km (13 miles) away, where the Queen Charlotte Track ends. The DOC sign stated an 8hr hike, so like day 3, it was another big day of hiking to end the track. There was a quick ascent from Torea Saddle onto the ridgeline, and across the taller bush lining the path, the view was back over Portage Bay which grew smaller down below. With all the vegetation there was plenty of insect life for company as well as the couple that set off around the same time as me. As the view switched from the Kenepuru Sound to the Queen Charlotte Sound, the changing and expanding vista remained beautiful at every angle with the cloudless sky reflecting on the calm sea below.

 

A sign denoted Shamrock Ridge at 407m (1335 ft) which was just short of half way between Portage and the Te Mahia Saddle. Just past here, a couple of turns in the path overlooked Pukatea Bay in the Kenepuru Sound where some kayakers glided across the water below me. This was one of the most beautiful lookout spots on the track that day and with a well placed picnic bench elevated above the track, it was a perfect place to stop for a snack. It also gave a good vantage point of the route ahead, and I was happy to sit there for a while just soaking up the view.

 

From the lookout, the path dropped a little altitude, passing yet another landslide which involved actually climbing up over the back of it to get past. Aside from these slight hiccups, the path continued to be easy going, and the views were constant on both sides of the peninsula as it levelled out on a lower ridge line. Passing the 16km (10 mile) post, the turn-off to Lochmara Lodge was beyond that, hidden amongst the shade of some bushes. Keeping me company as I passed by was a fantail, a little bird that likes to sing a pretty song as it flits between the branches, occasionally displaying its tail fan that gives it its name.

 

The path took a slight climb once more before circling the back of a peak, eventually reaching a track junction which led up to the Onahau Lookout. The track zig-zagged up the hillside to a summit of 416m (1365 ft) which was proving a popular place to be. Within walking distance of several accommodations in the bays below as well as to one of the boat ramps, there were several groups that had walked here from nearby Te Mahia. As people came and went, I moved around the broad summit where the view was fractionally different depending on where you stood. This was the highest point of the day’s hike and marked a change in the hiking terrain as it descended from the peninsula ridge line.

 

Coming down from the summit after a while spent sunning myself, I rejoined the Queen Charlotte Track as it started to lose altitude on approach to the Te Mahia saddle. A couple of zig-zags in the path afforded a stunning overview of Te Mahia Bay before a junction marker pointed down to Mistletoe Bay on the Queen Charlotte Sound. Soon after, a much needed toilet was reached right before finding myself at Te Mahia saddle and the sound of cars driving by. The DOC sign denotes this as the halfway mark of the hike, and it is necessary to walk down Onahau Road a little bit to reach the next stage of the Queen Charlotte Track.

 

I could hear them before I could see them, and I was rather gutted to turn the couple of corners on the road to find a large group of teenagers on a school outing spread out around the side of the road next to the track junction. As someone who loves the solitude of hiking away from civilisation, I certainly don’t mind coming across other hikers from time to time, but a large group of noisy people is not my favourite track companion, and a large group of bored and whiny teenagers was the last thing I wanted to share the track with. Their teacher had to get them to make a space for me to pass by, and although I set off ahead of them, I didn’t get far before their loud voices and then them themselves, caught up with me.

I slowed down my speed in an effort to let them pass me by and leave me behind. It took a while as they became quite spread out with the stragglers a good 10 minutes behind the leaders. There were few members of staff despite the large group and I cringed listening to their ridiculous conversations as they passed by. There’s nothing like listening to teenage conversation to make me feel old.

But the vegetation and terrain were changing. I was suddenly among bush again with just sporadic views out over Onahau Bay. Among the tall trees were some streams which meant waterfalls by the track as well as shade which was much appreciated by this stage. The track undulated as it followed the contours of the hillside, curling round the side of the bay before suddenly opening up at pastureland where a horse grazed in a large paddock. After this open stretch, it headed back into bush as it neared its turning point from Onahau Bay into the Grove Arm of the Queen Charlotte Sound. I took a breather at a picnic table near the turn before ploughing on.

 

Now the view was all about the Grove Arm, the far side hosting a myriad of settlements. The track continued to follow the contour of the land until coming to a lookout giving a beautiful view up to the head of the Grove Arm. Anakiwa was just tucked out of sight but was getting ever closer. A few corners later the path finally started to descend, passing the 6km (4 mile) mark as it did so. It was a long drawn out descent to Davies Bay campsite at Umungata Bay. There were a few campers as well as a couple of ducks sharing the bay with me, and I had plenty of time to sit on the sand and watch some people go swimming in the sea. I had made the decision to spend the night in Anakiwa, rather than rush to catch the afternoon boat back to Picton, so I had all the time in the world to rest my feet up and sunbathe.

 

It was such a wide bay that I would move along and pick a different spot to sit after a while, moving from sunshine to shade to get a little respite from the rays. Eventually though it was time to press on to Anakiwa, my hunger driving one foot in front of the other as my legs grew weary. Back amongst the trees once more, the sea was just a fleeting glimpse, but being so close to civilisation again, there were a few people out jogging here. I passed the 1km post deep within the trees, but as I approached Anakiwa, the foliage opened a little and I could see some shags nesting on the branches. Then suddenly some houses appeared, and before long I found myself at the sign denoting the end of the hike, and there I was in Anakiwa, about 7 hrs after leaving Portage behind, passing the Outward Bound school where the teenagers that had passed me had been headed. I made my way through the throng once more in search of my hostel for the night, thankful to discover they sold food and beverages after discovering that Anakiwa lacked anywhere to eat out.

 

My plan had been to go kayaking the next day ahead of the afternoon boat back to Picton, but I awoke to overcast skies and rain showers. Having to check out of the hostel, I wandered along the shoreline in both directions before eventually heading to the Anakiwa pier where the shelter had a selection of books to read and shortly after a food cart opened to serve hot drinks and snacks. As time went on, more and more people arrived to sit on the grass waiting for the boats to arrive. Just like on day 1 from Picton, there are choices of boat operators to get back to Picton, and I had booked a transfer with the same company that I had headed to Ship’s Cove with. They arrived early and with all the booked passengers on board early, we set off ahead of schedule to sail back up the Grove Arm and round the bay to Picton. I returned to the relative bustle of Picton, exceedingly satisfied to have completed the hike that I had yearned to do for some time.

Queen Charlotte Track: Punga Cove to Portage

I’d eased myself in nicely to the Queen Charlotte Track, but waking up on day 3, I had a lot of ground to cover before the day was out. Despite being built on a steep hill, I loved Punga Cove, the resort in Camp Bay where I’d spent the night. I could picture coming back here on holiday, catching the boat from Picton and then lounging in the hammocks. It’s a rare occurrence for me to want to relax on holiday, but here was somewhere I could see myself doing so. It is a stunning part of the world.

I had awoken to yet another cracker of a day with a predicted high of 30oC, and from the balcony of the common room, there was a beautiful vista back down to the pier below. From the restaurant where I filled up with breakfast, I could see across Endeavour Inlet and watched as fingers of cloud wrapped over the summit peaks across the bay. Today’s hike was expected to be 8 hrs, and with nowhere to get food on route, I paid to get a packed lunch made up at the resort and it was totally worth it. Unlike the Furneaux Lodge the night before which had been expensive and a little lacking in portion size, Punga Cove was much more reasonable and the lunch looked appetising. Pulling my hiking boots back onto my feet, and throwing my backpack on, I followed the signs out of the resort to the dirt track that led up the hill.

Punga Cove pier at Camp Bay

Endeavour Inlet from Punga Cove's restaurant

This way to the Queen Charlotte Track

 

With a full belly, this long and windy track up to the Kenepuru Saddle was a little tiring, and the rough stony surface was uncomfortable under foot. Near the top, a man coming downhill seemed lost and he joined me as we made our way to rejoin the Queen Charlotte Track. For those that weren’t staying at Camp Bay, the track had climbed up to the Saddle on a separate route, and here at this junction, the track switched from Department of Conservation (DOC) land to private land managed by a trust. From Kenepuru Sound onwards, users of the trail need to possess a pass which can be purchased in advance or through some of the resorts on route. The fee is to aid in the upkeep of the land, and spot-checks can occur to ensure compliance. My companion hadn’t realised that he needed one, and didn’t know what to do. The Punga Cove resort sold them but that meant going all the way back down the hill again, and I could see him torn about whether to turn back or risk going onwards. In the end I left him dithering.

DOC Signage at Kenepuru Saddle

 

The track immediately climbed to a low ridgeline offering a stunning view along the valley. For the first time, the Queen Charlotte Sound was out of view, and now I was looking out towards the Kenepuru Sound on the opposite side of the peninsula in the distance. The valley view kept me company for some time, the water creeping ever closer as I looked down over farmland. The 41km (25.5 mile) marker came and went and yet another landslide was passed. The track changed to a woodland walk, giving some brief respite from the sun which was already warming up well. There were lots of hand-painted signs along the track, many giving distance markers to local places or further afield. As the Kenepuru Sound reached a head-on view, the track shifted slightly and I found myself looking back over the Queen Charlotte Sound again. It was a little hazy but with blue skies and blue sea, there was much to look at.

Looking across to Mt McMahon

Kenepuru Sound peaks into view

The first of many landslides on day 3

Walking through the woods

Woodland track

Looking out towards a hazy Queen Charlotte Sound

 

Beyond here, the tall trees framed the view over Kenepuru and a short while later a side track led up to Eatwells Lookout at 474m (1555ft). A weka wandered around, and I left it stumbling around the undergrowth and slogged up the rough track to the lookout. At the top was a trio of hikers who I ended up repeatedly bumping into for the next two days. We shared some conversation as we all absorbed the view and then they left me to it. There was some cloud hovering over the Queen Charlotte Sound meaning the North Island was hidden from view. Another hand-painted distance marker showed that I was a long way from a lot of places and that suited me just fine. One of my favourite things about hiking is the feeling of isolation and being a long way from the world and its troubles. I was hot, but I was completely at ease.

Kenepuru Sound

Kenepuru Sound and valley panorama

Eatwells Lookout signage

Eatwells Lookout panorama

A long way from anywhere

Distance marker at Eatwells Lookout

Looking towards the North Island shrouded in cloud

Kenepuru Sound from Eatwells Lookout

 

I’d made the mistaken decision to wear my gym capris for that day’s hike instead of my usual hiking trousers, and already I was regretting it. Unlike my trousers which are looser and help the air flow to keep me cool, my capris were encouraging me to sweat, and they felt tight and clingy. But after some other people appeared at the lookout, I headed off to continue on the long day’s hike. Back at the track junction, a DOC sign listed just 30mins to reach the Bay of Many Coves Shelter. The track disappeared into a tunnel of trees where I was taunted by South Island Robins, a small and quick little bird that always eludes my camera. When at last there was a view again, it was over the beautiful Bay of Many Coves, who’s name is descriptively accurate. The changing viewpoint of this gorgeous bay was to be my companion for some time.

Woodland tunnel

Tree tunnel

Bay of Many Coves panorama

Directional Markers above Bay of Many Coves

Bay of Many Coves

 

Near the 36km (22 mile) marker a juvenile weka wandered out the bushes and eyeballed me for a while, it’s sprouting feathers a dishevelled mess. It proceeded to plonk itself down next to the path and preen itself whilst I watched. After the shelter, the track started to climb again until it reached a side track leading down to a resort on the waterfront. From here onwards, the track was quick to switch back to views of the Kenepuru Sound and I was regularly coming across a spread out group of mountain bikers using the trail that day. The track quality here was probably the poorest of the whole hike: obvious to follow but very uneven and stony under foot.

Weka juvenile

Kenepuru Sound

Head of Kenepuru Sound

Looking back up the valley towards Kenepuru Saddle

Rocky path

 

After a long section overlooking the Kenepuru side of the peninsula, the track curved round a peak towards the Queen Charlotte Sound again, and for the first time since I’d left it 2 days prior, I could see Picton, the town where the interisland ferry departs from, and where I’d caught the boat to Ship’s Cove to start the hike. It seemed both far away and so close at the same time, an illusion created by the continued snaking of the track and the peninsula that it followed. The busyness of the track that day meant I regularly found the viewpoints and benches were taken up when I got to them, and I was eager to find somewhere with a view to stop and have lunch. I’d already had a few snacks but I was eager for a break to rest my feet. Finally I found a perfectly shaped stone seat overlooking Blackwood Bay to enjoy a late lunch.

Kenepuru Sound

Picton

Queen Charlotte Sound

Blackwood Bay panorama

Blackwood Bay

 

The sky continued to remain cloudless, keeping the mercury high that day, but the haze had reduced since the morning, making the distant viewing much clearer. There simply wasn’t a bad view in sight, and as I wandered along with Picton in the visible distance, I watched the two interisland ferries plough through the Queen Charlotte Sound seeming small like a toy. By the time I reached Black Rock Station, I was once more looking over the Kenepuru Sound and there was the occasional hint of civilisation with a road curving round the shore below and the occasional house or building. Passing the 26km (16 mile) marker, I was afforded a view all the way back up to the Kenepuru Sound Head which I’d passed many hours prior.

Interislander ferry

Blackrock Station viewpoint

26km to go!

Looking back up Kenepuru Sound

 

When at last I reached Black Rock Campsite, I met the same group of hikers I’d met at Eatwell Lookout earlier that morning. My energy was starting to flag a little, and 6hrs into the hike, I needed to start conserving my water. The trees meant the view was limited here, so once I’d refuelled, I moved on. After a while, the trees grew taller and denser and the track began its long descent towards Portage. It is possible to leave the Queen Charlotte Track behind and hike up another peak for an alternative, less marked route to Portage, but I opted to stick to the proper track meaning a long forest walk that swung out on a long ridge before almost doubling back on itself. Within this forest section I played tortoise and hare with the same 3 hikers from before, and here, the landslides were the worst of the entire hike. The bikers that had passed me earlier would have had quite a bit of effort getting their bikes over these ones with a good bit of climbing up over tree branches required.

View from Black Rock Campsite

Back in the forest

Rockface amongst the bush

 

The occasional break in the trees provided some distraction from the feeling that the path would never end. I knew it was to double back at a point, but it felt like forever before this happened, and then with glee I realised that Portage and the food and cold cider that that would bring were getting more and more within reach. When finally I reached the 21km (13 mile) marker, it was almost just a stumble to come out of the trees and reach a tarmac road where a war memorial sat at the saddle of the hill. This road crossed the peninsula from one side to the other and I followed it north to head down the hill to Portage. Even it had not escaped damage from the recent storm and there were landslides on both sides of it, including one large one halfway down where the side of the road and the bank that had supported it had collapsed and slid down the hillside.

View through the forest foliage

Tui singing in the trees

War Memorial on Torea Rd

Washed out road

 

Portage sparkled in the sunshine and I followed the signs to my accommodation for the night. It had taken me 3 attempts to find somewhere to stay here, finally bagging a bed at the Treetops Backpackers. Only once I reached the shoreline at Portage did I realise with dismay that my backpackers was up a hill. My feet were moving purely on autopilot by this stage after well over 7hrs, and the thighs started screaming at me as I began the hike up the driveway to reach the house at the top. I was delighted to discover that I had the backpackers to myself, there having been some cancellations following the earthquake the week before, and I kicked my shoes off and peeled my clothes off to have a much needed shower at just the right temperature.

After resting my feet briefly, I headed down the hill once more to the Portage Resort where I nabbed myself a nice cold cider, and found myself a table with a sea view to enjoy it. All the bikers that had passed me that day were at a nearby table, and the place was popular and bustling. After a while I ordered dinner and tucked in to a much deserved meal whilst the sun began to dip low behind the nearby hill. Only when the air grew colder and my eyes began to feel heavy did I leave to make my way back up the hill to my private cabin in the woods. There was no view other than trees, but this place was just what I needed, and once again it took little effort to drift off for another restful sleep.

Portage panorama

A well-deserved cider with a view

Queen Charlotte Track: Furneaux Lodge to Punga Cove

I awoke following a restful sleep to a beautiful sunny morning. Stepping out of my cabin, there was not a cloud in the sky and the sea was calm and still. It was going to be another stunning day in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. After another expensive meal for breakfast at the idyllic Furneaux Lodge, I took my time milling around the grounds in no hurry to leave. This was to be the shortest day’s hike of the Queen Charlotte track and I had time on my side. My destination for the night was visible on the far side of the glistening waters of Endeavour Inlet and I had a couple of side trips that I wanted to make on route.

Morning sunshine at Furneaux Lodge

Endeavour Inlet from Furneaux Lodge

 

The moon was still visible in the sky as I left the lodge behind and headed back onto the Queen Charlotte track. It was a little vague in places with multiple side routes heading off into bushes and down to a nearby stream. Not too far along the track was a Department of Conservation (DOC) sign marking a 1 hour return track to a waterfall. With plenty of daylight hours ahead of me, this was the first of two detours to make that day. Nobody else seemed to be on this track and it was with good reason: shortly after leaving the main track behind, the quality deteriorated dramatically and I found myself pushing through the overgrowth and climbing over tree roots blindly following the orange arrows that pointed the way. A giant tree and the occasional glimpse of the nearby stream broke up the view of thick bush, and after what felt like forever, I was a little underwhelmed with what I found at the end of the bush track. A large boulder had created a high rock wall next to what I assume used to be a waterfall. There was only a small trickle, but the moss on the rock surface suggested this has had a lot of water over it in the past. There was a waterfall not far from here but I had to climb through tree branches to view it properly so I’m not convinced this was the original waterfall that the track was created for.

Half moon in the daylight

Waterfall track turnoff

Rimu tree

Rimu trunk with creepers

Path crossing a stream

Waterfall near the end of the track

 

Back on the Queen Charlotte track, the detour had taken a little under an hour, and the main route remained amongst the trees for a little longer. Only at the next resort did the sea come back into view, and just past here I passed the 56 km (35 mile) mark, before reaching a suspension bridge over a river. Here was the head of the Endeavour Inlet and over the bridge there was some pasture land with grazing cattle to the right and signs relaying information about the mining works of the area. Up the valley is the remains of an antimony mine, and down where I stood used to stand the village where the miners and their families lived. There wasn’t much evidence left of their presence. The DOC sign detailed the mines as being an hour away, and this was to be my second detour of the day, stretching what would otherwise be a 5hr hike into a 7hr hike. Passing the rusted remains of old farm machinery, and some properties hidden amongst the bush, the track followed a 4×4 track to a river and crossed the other side via a ford. I walked up and down the river bank looking for another way across but with no gaiters to help keep the water out of my boots there was no way that I was crossing this deep a river without the right gear. I was a little annoyed and a little frustrated as I had assumed it would be a straightforward track to follow. I wandered back and forth a couple of times in case I’d missed an obvious turn in the track, but eventually had to admit defeat and turn back.

Endeavour Inlet

56km to go...

Suspension bridge

Pastureland

DOC sign at Head of Endeavour Inlet

Antimony Mine turn-off

Head of Endeavour Inlet

Rusty tractor

 

I wasn’t disheartened for long though with such fabulous scenery to grab my attention. I wandered down to the mudflat at the head of Endeavour Inlet and breathed in the fresh sea air for a while before rejoining the track. A little down the track there was a well placed stone bench that I made use of for a snack stop, looking out at the sea. After a brief respite, I started meandering along the track again, taking the fork away from the shoreline where it started to pick its way up the hillside again. I could see back over to Furneaux Lodge on the far side, and the track varied between being amongst thick bush, and being more open. Small streams trickled past the track, and a couple of bridges spanned a couple of them.

Panorama at Head of Endeavour Inlet

Reflections on Endeavour Inlet

View from the seat

Fork in the road

Looking across to Furneaux Lodge

 

After a while, the bush opened up, and a gate marked a transition into a more cultivated landscape where the grass was short and a couple of baches (holiday homes) sat on the hillside above the track. A lone weka rummaged around in the undergrowth near a picnic table, and these birds were a constant companion on this hike. In wild bushland in New Zealand roams wild boar, introduced historically for hunting purposes. I have once come across some whilst out hiking in the bush in the North Island and they gave me such a fright when they burst out of nowhere in front of me on the trail. I had read that boar could occasionally be spotted on this track, and on a frequent basis the sound of rustling in the undergrowth would get my curiosity up only to find it was a weka, either on its own, or with a chick. These chicken-sized birds are one of many flightless bird species in the country and many tourists confuse them for kiwis.

Panorama from the gate

Panorama in front of the baches

 

After returning to the bush once more, the track showed lots of evidence of the earthquake and flash flooding that had occurred just a week prior. In one section the ground had cracked and dropped, creating stepping and past this a landslide littered the path with debris. I passed the 51 km (31.5 miles) mark surrounded by bush before a break in the vegetation allowed me to get a view across the Endeavour Inlet to where it branches off the Queen Charlotte Sound. Just as the path took a near 90 degree turn, I was once more distracted by a rummaging in the bush. Out fell a one-legged weka who contemplated me briefly before hopping and falling over to my feet. They are quite bold birds and eager to grab any tasty morsel they can claim from you given half a chance. They are even known to peck at cameras and steal lens caps. I watched it for a while, crouching down to its level and eyeballing it whilst it stood there. After some time though, something spooked it and it went racing back to the bushes as fast as its one leg could carry it.

Cracks in the path

Landslide across the path

Blue waters of Endeavour Inlet

Curled fern

51km to go...

Endeavour Inlet opens into the Queen Charlotte Sound

Weka

Weka mimicking a Kiwi

Eye-balling a one legged weka

 

The track changed from a clay-like soil to tree roots and fallen leaves as it once again returned to the bush. In the blistering heat, the regular shade was a welcome relief, and then I turned a corner to come across a fallen tree that spanned the path. As a hiker, these obstacles were easy enough to manoeuvre around but the Queen Charlotte track is a shared biking track, and there were plenty of people biking the track whilst I was hiking it. The regular landslips and leaning trees were merely a side-step or easy clamber over or under for me, but they would have meant a dismount or a lifting over of a bike for the many riders on the track.

Looking across to Camp Bay

Walking through the forest

Stream by the QCT

Tree fallen across the path

 

It was a long section in the bush rounding the headland into Big Bay. Once more there were plenty of streams and waterfalls to look at and the beautiful canopy above and around me was ever changing. I was serenaded by bellbirds and robins that flitted through the trees as I passed below them. Where the track skirted the shoreline again I passed through the tree line onto the rocky shore and found a handy log to sit on. It was a beautiful snack stop listening to the gentle lapping of the waves near my feet under a still cloudless sky. I was less than an hour away from my destination and it was only early afternoon. I toyed with the idea of taking a swim then thought better of it, and chose to sunbathe for a while instead.

Big Bay sign

Beautiful canopy above

Waterfall next to the QCT

Bellbird in the canopy

Rest stop at Big Bay

 

Back on the track, there was a nearly uninterrupted sea view for the rest of the hike. Beyond here the track divided: the lower track heading to a variety of accommodation options in Camp Bay, and the upper track cutting up the hillside to reach the Kenepuru Saddle. I had booked a cabin at Punga Cove in Camp Bay so stuck to the lower path which almost immediately demonstrated a high level of erosion. It is possible that either the earthquake or the flash flooding of November 14th did the damage, but I suspect a lot of the cracks and holes in the ground were more likely due to the wash-out effect of the rain. A large crack split the track lengthways down the middle and past this, a large hole had swallowed up half the width of the path. Undeterred I could see Punga Cove through the trees and kept going.

Big Bay panorama

Approaching Camp Bay

Big Bay

Large crack in the path

Large hole in the path

Looking across to Punga Cove

 

The amble into Camp Bay’s campsite is beautiful with boats anchored in the water, and houses peaking through the trees. I could see people swimming in the sea in the distance and could hear the sound of people enjoying themselves. A DOC sign at the campsite showed I’d walked 27 of the 71 km track and I was just 15 minutes away from my night’s stop. Passing a jetty I followed the signs to Punga Cove as they separated from the main track and as it curved round a bend I came across a large hole in the track. There was just a ledge left, big enough to fit a foot and little more and I hastily crossed it, aware of the drop if the ground decided to give way below me. But waiting at the other side of me was the most fantastic spot to spend the night.

House in the bushes

Camp Bay Campsite

Punga Cove turn-off

Track washed out

 

Punga Cove is spread out across the hillside overlooking Camp Bay. At the pier at sea level is a bar and cafe, next to which is a grass lawn littered with deck chairs and hammocks hanging amongst the trees. Just behind this is a hot tub and swimming pool, and the accommodation is littered at various levels up the hill. I checked in at reception to discover my hiker’s cabin was right at the top of the hill and I sweated my way up in the heat to find my little room waiting for me. Upstairs, the shared kitchen/lounge had a balcony which overlooked the bay. After removing my shoes and gingerly heading downhill in my bare feet, I stopped by the pool to soak my legs for a while then picked my way to the bar, ordered a pizza and a cider and parked up on the pier to relax. It would have been a good place to go swimming but I had packed light and had nothing to swim in, so I took the lazy and leisurely approach of sunbathing whilst watching everyone else play in the water.

Punga Cove panorama

View from the kitchen/dining room

Pier panorama

 

The mail boat came and went and I strolled along the pier to watch the fishes before finding a large hammock suspended amongst the lower trees next to the lawn. I swayed and dozed here until the sun had dropped low enough to leave me cool in the shade. Following a snack, I returned to the pier bar for some ice cream and hot chocolate and waited for the sun to get low behind the hill. Then I just had to retreat up the hillside once more and find my bed to give my legs a rest. The shared lounge had a book share so I took a book to read which I struggled to get into, but it wasn’t hard to fall asleep after all the fresh air and walking. I woke in the night to the sensation of an earthquake and thought to myself that I wouldn’t have wanted to be perched on that hillside if a big quake ripped through there. But after a 5 hr hike that day, I was quick to get back to sleep, ready for the big day’s hike ahead of me.

Punga Cove pier bar

Punga Cove nestled among the trees

Hammock time

View from the hammock

Giant bug at Punga Cove

Queen Charlotte Track: Ship’s Cove to Furneaux Lodge

I woke a little after midnight unaware of the time, only noting that it was still dark outside. I silently cursed that I had awoken, was about to turn over and resettle when the familiar sensation of the room rocking signalled an earthquake was rolling through. New Zealand is situated on the Pacific Ring of Fire and spans two tectonic plates. With 15,000 earthquakes on average per year, the country’s nickname is the Shaky Isles. Having lived in the South Island of New Zealand for 5 years I’ve felt many quakes of varying intensities rattle through and several nights’ sleep have been disturbed by the sensation of the room moving. So as my brain acknowledged the quake through a fog of tiredness I woke up more fully to release it was still going. Normally they are so short that they’re over as soon as you’ve acknowledged that they’ve begun. And yet on it went. And on, and on. For about two long minutes, the house rocked back and forth accompanied by the banging of the Venetian blinds against the wall, and the realisation hit that this was something big.

It was November 14th and as the city awoke in the darkness, social media went rife and amongst the drama unfolding about what was going on to the north of Christchurch, hour after hour we waited and wondered what would come next. Then the tsunami siren went off and all in all it was a sleepless night. But in the morning the destruction unfolded and as an unseasonal storm broke sending a deluge of rain down to the north of us, my plans to drive north through Kaikoura to Picton in just 5 days time were suddenly unlikely as the main routes north were shut.

Nestled in the stunning Marlborough region in the north of the South Island is one of the country’s best known multi-day hikes, the Queen Charlotte Track. Co-managed by the Department of Conservation (DOC) and a private trust, a well-maintained 71km (44mile) track winds its way from Ship’s Cove to Anakiwa along a peninsula sandwiched between the Kenepuru Sound and the Queen Charlotte Sound. I had been looking forward to the hike for a while as well as the weekend relaxing in Kaikoura afterwards.

 

As the days passed, and phone calls and enquiries were made, it was made clear that as long as I could get to Picton, where the boat to Ship’s Cove leaves from, the hiking trail was open and waiting to welcome me. So with the inland road reopening without restrictions a few days after the earthquake, I set off on the longer-than-normal drive north with trepidation. I had a hitchhiker for company and I stopped a couple of times on the way up to show her some scenic sights then after a night catching up with a friend on route, I arrived in Picton less than a week after the earthquake and storm had hit. And it looked just how I remembered it: pretty and twinkling in the sunshine.

Maruia Falls

Lake Rotoiti

 

Picton is a common place for locals and tourists to pass through as the inter-island ferries berth here but out amongst the bays and coves of the majestic Marlborough Sounds are a collection of homes and baches  (holiday homes) dotted amongst the bush. With some only accessible by boat, there is more than just the inter-island ferries ploughing these waters. I’d bought a ticket for the mail boat, one of a few boat companies that offer transport to the start of the Queen Charlotte track. It is possible to have your pack moved each day between accommodation if you buy the appropriate package but as my pack was reasonably sized, I opted to carry mine the full 71 km.

Picton harbour

 

I’ve been through these sounds a few times but it is always a beautiful place to be and Ship’s Cove was no exception. So named because the explorer Captain James Cook anchored his ship the Endeavour here in 1770, a monument has been erected there and the white behemoth stands out against the green of the surrounding bush. We berthed at the end of the long pier right next to a landslip from the recent storm, and the boat unloaded. A few of us were heading off on the track, but most of the people on the boat were just out for a day trip and they were given some time ashore before reboarding to start the return journey to Picton.

Queen Charlotte Sound

Sailing through the Queen Charlotte Sound

 

There was a Maori totem pole and some Maori carvings next to a picnic spot on the green grass. Across a little bridge was the monument to Captain Cook and some information boards about the history of the place as well as the early explorers. The view out to sea was staggering and with a blue sky up above, the sea glistened. A weka wandered along the shore and despite the other people milling about, it felt peaceful and serene.

Maori totem pole

Tiki carving

Maori carving

Cook monument at Ship's Cove

Ship's Cove panorama

 

At the far end of the cove, a sign pointed into the bushes marking a route to a waterfall. It was a little muddy underfoot, but I followed it through the thick vegetation round the curve of the coastline before cutting inland to follow a river upstream to the waterfall. I had the place to myself, and the double waterfall was pretty as the sun sparkled through gaps in the foliage. As always, DOC signs are over-generous and I was back in Ship’s Cove in no time.

Waterfall track leaving Ship's Cove

Double waterfall

Waterfall tier

 

I then didn’t want to leave. It was just too beautiful, and even though I knew I had several hours of hiking ahead of me, it was really hard to say goodbye to the place. Especially after the boat crowd left and I found myself on my own. I took my time slowly wandering around, watching the weka, staring out to sea and wandering along the pier to look at the landslide. But eventually it was time to get going, and I readied myself to start the Queen Charlotte track.

Captain Cook's visits to the area

Pier at Ship's Cove

Walking the pier at Ship's Cove

 

A distance board and 71km marker mark the start of the track and immediately it goes into the bush and starts climbing. Near the start some warning signs detailed the use of poisons in the area. As New Zealand struggles to rid itself of a tyranny of introduced pest species that threaten the native wildlife, these controversial methods are a common spotting when out bush at certain times of the year. But the noticeable lack of birdsong in the thick bush was enough of a sign to know that something needs to be done.

DOC sign at the start of the QCT

71km to go...

Poison, poison everywhere

 

The track itself was beautiful to walk through and snippets through the vegetation gave hints of the views to come. After a steady climb, the first viewpoint on the hike was reached and it was crammed full of people who refused to budge to make room for me. After waiting for them all to leave, I got some alone time, soaking up the view on the first ridge before shortly after starting the winding descent towards Resolution Bay. Having crossed from one side of a headland to another, the vista was already starting to change.

The path climbing out of Ship's Cove

A common sight: humane pest trap

A sneaky peak of the view to come

Hiking through the New Zealand bush

Resolution Bay from the lookout

Motuara Island with Kapiti Island and the North Island on the horizon

Bellbird/Korimako

Winding down the hillside to Resolution Bay

 

I passed a few mountain bikers tackling the uphill as I came down, several of them having to get off their bike to push it up the slope. The Queen Charlotte track is a shared use track, although the section from Ship’s Cove to Kenepuru Saddle is closed to bikes in the height of summer. When the track had lost most of its altitude, a side track headed off to Schoolhouse Bay campsite. Here I saw what turned out to be the first of many landslips on the track. It was still passable though and I was glad as this was a stunning spot. There were some cyclists having a break and I waved hello then headed along the shoreline for some solitude.

Resolution Bay

DOC signage at Schoolhouse Bay junction

Resolution Bay

 

There are plenty of accommodation options along the Queen Charlotte track. It is possible to camp if you carry in all your gear as there are plenty of campsites and shelters, or there are a variety of lodgings on route. You can walk as much or as little of the track a day due to the number of options, and you can even do sections as individual day walks, by getting the boat to one of the various piers along the way. Following a back injury in 2013 and a shoulder injury in 2016, I made the decision to stay in lodgings along the route, meaning I could just carry a day pack without a lot of excessive weight on joints that can no longer withstand the strain.

There wasn’t a lot of space to set up camp here but the view was worth the detour alone, and although it wasn’t a long walk from Ship’s Cove, I could easily see why people would want to stay here. This cove was another of what was a recurring theme with this hike: not wanting to move on because it was such a beautiful spot. I had a snack whilst contemplating the clouds, but eventually I bid the cyclists goodbye and left them behind.

Schoolhouse Bay panorama

Panorama from Schoolhouse Bay campsite

Beach at Schoolhouse Bay campsite

 

Back on the Queen Charlotte track there was a section on private land behind some lodges before the track began climbing up towards another ridge. There were a few streams to break up the monotony of the trees whilst there was no view, but as the track climbed up the hillside, the trees opened up once more to show off the lie of the land and demonstrate the expanse of the forest. The last views over Resolution Bay were as stunning as the first had been and then the track disappeared into the bushes once more. I used to find forest walks in Scotland a bit boring as the trees were usually either pine or birch with little variety, and with a rather cultivated feel to them. On this side of the world, the forests feel wild and untamed and the variety in plant life is exciting. From low ferns and bushes to tall palms, vines and tree ferns, there is constantly something interesting to look at as you walk along.

Red fern leaves

QCT crossing onto private land

Fork in the track

Waterfall next to the track

Waterfall next to the QCT

Looking back towards the previous ridge behind Resolution Bay

Further round Resolution Bay

Cabbage tree

Leaving Resolution Bay behind

 

Shortly after another landslip,  Endeavour Inlet comes into view for the first time and a recently erected picnic bench provides a seat. A drop toilet in the bushes is one of the few toilets on the track that is outwith accommodation spots. I stopped for a break and a top up of sunscreen. The New Zealand sun is harsh and with such constant exposure, sunscreen is a must on this trek. I was convinced I was near the end of the day’s hike, but in reality, I still had most of the length of the arm of Endeavour Inlet to hike.

Landslip blocking most of the path

Looking out over Endeavour Inlet from the viewpoint

 

From the benches though it was downhill. Passing some more landslips, I reached the 61km (38mile) mark and onwards the track made its way down to the shoreline. With regular breaks in the trees it was an ever-evolving vista. The blue water sparkled in the sunshine and I felt a million miles away from anywhere and anyone. A few stony beaches scattered the shoreline, and even when I came across a pier there was nobody around.

Descending down into Endeavour Inlet

Hiking through the trees

Endeavour Inlet panorama

Beautiful blue water

Curled up fern frond

Panorama of Endeavour Inlet

 

I came across a sign that detailed my accommodation for the night was just another 25mins away. After a little longer among the vegetation, the track came out at a collection of baches known as The Pines. Suddenly I was walking through well maintained grass and looking out at boats moored off the myriad of piers. Yet still there was not a soul about.

Nearly at my night's accommodation

Walking through The Pines

Looking towards the head of Endeavour Inlet

 

After passing house after house after house, the track wound back into the bushes and a sign pointed to a spur track leading to a Rimu viewing platform. I assumed this meant a viewing platform overlooking the sea, but in fact it was an area to admire a rather large rimu tree, a tree endemic to New Zealand. It was certainly a decent size – I couldn’t fit the whole tree in one photograph – but it was a brief distraction from the main track which shortly after brought me to the much-awaited sign for Furneaux Lodge, my accommodation for the night. It had by now been about 5 hrs since I left Ship’s Cove behind.

Rimu viewing platform

Sun sparkling through the branches of a rimu tree

Furneaux Lodge sign on the QCT

 

Furneaux Lodge couldn’t have been more idyllically set if it tried. A central homestead containing a restaurant and bar with a scattering of cabins amongst the trees, all just metres away from the sparkling ocean lapping the shore of Endeavour Inlet. I had booked myself a hikers cabin: a bunk room with shared bathroom. I was quick to dump my stuff, take off my hiking boots and explore the grounds in my bare feet, the soft grass easing my sores. This was Heaven on Earth. I ate at the restaurant which was rather expensive for its less-than-filling portion sizes, and after making myself a hot chocolate with the provided equipment in my cabin, I took my mug down to the bench on the shore to watch the sun set, silently swatting away flies as the sky changed colour. Then it was just a short distance to retreat for a good night’s sleep.

Endeavour Inlet from Furneaux Lodge

Furneaux Lodge

Furneaux Lodge panorama

Sunset at Furneaux Lodge

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