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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

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