Fern trees and Queen Charlotte Sound at every bend
We are back in busy little Picton at the head of Queen Charlotte Sound, after a 5 day jaunt along the Queen Charlotte Track. Like the Abel Tasman, it's a popular track and one we have avoided before because of its popularity and the expense of getting to the start of it. Queen Charlotte Sound is the main entry point to the South Island from Wellington by ferry and like so many others we have traversed this route and across the Cook Strait many times before, but never bothered to walk its length.
The track follows the northern coastline of the sound from Ship's Cove through to Anakiwa, about 75km in length. In the middle part, it traverses the ridge between Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sound to the North. Boats take walkers to different access points along the track, so you can more or less do as little or as much as you want, staying in anything from simple DOC campsites to 5 star resorts. As usual, we chose the cheapest option, loading our packs with camping gear and 5 days worth of food and got a ride through to the far end of the track, Ship's Cove*, where Captain Cook dropped in several times on his various exploratory jaunts to and around Aotearoa.
The track is also the first section of the South Island half of the Te Araroa trail, the 'long pathway'
that runs from Cape Reinga in the North to Bluff in the South. The TA has become more popular since we walked a part of it back in 2016 and we met quite a few TA walkers on the track, a nice soft starter before the rigours of the Richmond Range.
The weather wasn't so generous this time, with strong to gale force north westerlies for the full 5 to 6 days of walking. The first night we spent in a picture perfect grassy clearing at Schoolhouse Bay with a feast of mussels on the shoreline, but the wind raged all night, threatening to topple the tent and break its slender aluminium poles. Despite the weather, the scenery throughout was surprisingly unspoiled and we met far few hikers than the Abel Tasman.
Schoolhouse Bay before the gale
Camp Sundaoni above the Bay of Many Coves
Above Roitama Bay looking South
The Sounds are a patchwork of DOC managed conservation land and private property. The first colonists, eager to turn NZ into their version of Merrie England, chopped most of the original forest down, including the huge tōtara trees that Maori had sought out for their canoes and had given rise to the Māori name for the sound - Tōtaranui (big tōtara). They then tried raising sheep, which became uneconomical once the world's appetite for wool and sheep meat waned. Now, much of the land is slowly regenerating, or has been put into pine plantation. It's a hard slog trying to revert this convoluted and steep land back to what it might have been, but there are signs of progress everywhere and the walk itself was rewarding despite the weather attempting to blow us off the track or the campsites at times. As in Abel Tasman, there seemed to be weka around everywhere. Even in places where we just stopped for a breather, one would pop out of the bush looking to see what mischief they could make.
Large rimu tree that escaped the settlers' axe
Hoi - Come Back With That!
We are back to tapping away to make some money for a short while before we venture out again in to the wilds, probably a 5 to 6 day walk in the high country East of the Lewis Pass. We are keeping an eye on the ongoing fire drama in NSW and SE Queensland. We can't understand just what more Aussie politicians need to get in to their thick heads before they junk King Coal and Uncle Rupert (Murdoch) and get serious about climate change. The fires have been catastrophic for the people and habitats concerned, but haven't threatened our two boats, except perhaps showering them with black ash!
* Just missed the arrival
of 2 Polynesian ocean going sailing waka
and the replica of Cook's bark, the "Endeavour" and the Spirit of NZ in Ship's Cove. It's all part of the 'commemorations' surrounding Cook's 1770s visits down under, and have been a very controversial and thought provoking series of events, with the Endeavour banned by local Māori in several North Island ports.