Saturday, March 1, 2014

A Ferry to Picton: The Queen Charlotte Track

Welcome to Picton

I took the early morning ferry to the south island. An exciting bitter-sweet goodbye to the north island as I watched it slowly float away, a place of struggles and memories.  I was anxious to see what lied ahead. All anyone ever says here is "wait 'til you get to the south island..." What could that possibly mean, when the north had held so much beauty and wonder already?

  As the ferry engines pushed closer to shore it was becoming more apparent what all the fuss was about.  From what I had been told, it gets more beautiful the further you move south, so if this was how things would begin, well lets just say, if ever there were a land to remind adults to once again believe in unicorns and fearies, this would be that place.  To set the record straight, I have never put either of those beautiful creatures out of my mind.
  I stayed in Picton one night and took a water taxi to the start of the Queen Charlotte track which runs through the small fjordic islands at the northern stretch of the island.  The Queen Charlotte Track is the 2nd of the two Great Walks included in the Te Araroa, the other being the Whanganui River (which is technically a kayak rather than walk), and along with being a walk, is a popular mountain bike trail during the summer season.  It is probably the easiest of the Great Walks with a wide well established trail offering multiple accommodation options en route ranging from camp sites to 5 star hotels.  I would say it's the perfect setting to introduce children to the idea of tramping without throwing them into it too hard and potentially scarring them for life, and actually I saw several families doing just that.

"To this cove Captain Cook made five visits while navigating the globe.  On this reach he erected tents for his invalid sailors and from this stream he watered his vessels."
Welcome to the start of the Queen Charlotte Track!  Beautiful beaches, a well groomed trail, cloudy lurking weather systems, historical references, and the sweet sound of incessantly chirping cicadas. This sound will take over your brain!!!
One, in an audio army of millions
    It took a good twelve hours of me fighting the screaming presence of these exoskeletal orchestras to finally relax them into the pores of my grey matter and begin to enjoy them.  Even then, there were sections of the forests so encapsulated with their songs that the sheer volume of their audio union made me consider stopping to put earplugs in, at least to muffle their high pitched frequencies in an attempt to keep my brain from being permanently scrambled.  Auditory brain mashers!!!  I grew to love them so much, when I found silence, I also found myself missing their serenades.

I named her "Majesty"... may she shed forever.

  The first day's walk was an easy 13 kilometers. I had pushed past the DOC campsite to stay at a site just slightly further down the trail, in an effort to avoid the masses.  After being in the bush for so long, you become very sensitive to the presence of others, and I found myself searching for solitude more and more.
  Not half a kilometer past the DOC campsite the clouds changed from a beautiful presence to a practical one, and they did what they do best. They let go the rain, and they did it with serious intent! By the time I had finished the debate with myself to put my rainpants on it was too late, they were already soaked, so I carried on with my upper half and my bag protected from the elements in their rain gear, but from the waste down, I may as well have walked through a lake.  It would take three days for the insoles of my boots to dry. Three days of pure sunshine and setting them out each day, for hours to dry. True story.
  I got to camp and set my tent up as quickly as possible, but in the 3 minutes it takes to set up, before the rainfly goes on, the awesomeness of Big Agnes' waterproof capabilities had turned her from a haven away from the elements into a swimming pool. She retained every drop of water collected. I spent the next 20 minutes drying her out with my washcloth, one ringing at a time.  Which would have been great, but as I was drying her out a small stream was forming beneath. So after all that, I had to move locations.  Round two  of emptying the swimming pool and I was finally set to situate the rest of my gear.
  Ding Ding Ding!!! The winner of Round 1: The elements!
  It was late afternoon, and what better to do than to take a small nap while forced to stay indoors.  Oh sweet slumber how I love you.  Nature's wake up call today is brought to you by gale force winds! Ripping out two tent stakes, bending the main pole of the tent down to the ground, encapsulating me in a forced cocoon of fear, and what's that!? Literally lifting my legs off the ground!!!
  My imagination kicks into overdrive once again and I begin the immediate search for my knife.  Preparing for the moment I am sure to be lofted off the edge of this hillside, out over the trees which live on the slope beneath, and into the sea, where I will have to cut myself free and dramatically escape a near drowning.  Once the knife is found I jump out, re-stake the corners that had been dislodged, and jump back into my tent, this time taking the backpack inside the actual housing unit, not just within the vestibule, so I can use it's extra weight to hold the foot of the tent down. Fingers crossed it works.  In the mountain ranges before Wellington my friend Ami was telling me she started a days hike at 5AM after having been literally lifted off the ground and moved around the mountainside by the wind, and finding herself, not surprising, having a hard time convincing herself to go back to sleep.  It's not often that I find myself trying to will more weight into my body, but I was willing as desperately as I could.
  By the next morning the sun was shining, and laughing at me. "Good morning sunshine, how glad I am to see you!"
  I had started the track on my own, having left Wellington a day before a few of my friends, but I was taking my time knowing it wouldn't be long before they would catch me. I had made a joke with Ami that I would try to leave her a sign along the trail so we could find each other and hike together a bit.  So I literally left her a note with her name on it, at the camp's sign, in hopes she would see it. Which she did!!!  And once again we were off!
See tiny note in top corner of sign.
  We camped at Endeavor Inlet, which actually had a bar on the beach not far from where we were. So...I mean, how could you not oblige a beverage!?

A weka is a flightless bird I hadn't encountered until I got to the South Island.  They look like kiwis, but their beaks are different. They wail in the night like banshees.  A warning, don't be fooled by their cuteness, they are thieving bastards and from personal experience I can say, they are not shy about it.  One literally stole part of my lunch right out of my hand. 

  Now calm down...I did not actually eat the mushroom. It's just for photo fun.

  The next day we hiked 24 kilometers to Cowshed Bay where I spent a couple days focused on art projects and letting my eyes bask in the glory of the scenery at hand.
Nature's goblet!

Just taking it in.

Finding your bearing

Snail chain reaction?


 Another day of hiking 27 kilometers, while the sun sang songs of warmth on my skin, the cicadas sang songs of the trees, and the scenery sang songs of eye candy.
And so went the Queen Charlotte Track.


  1. Love seeing you continue your adventures.

    When I was in NZ I remember at first being stunned by the sound of the cicadas but I soon grew to find their sound soothing and enjoyed going to sleep to their chorus. I audio recorded their sound so I could take them home with me back to Idaho. It's been comforting to replay it once in awhile.

    I like your koru earrings! I daily wear a koru necklace that i got in NZ. I particularly connected with that spiral artwork. I even got a tattoo of it!

  2. Hi Sara, reading you was like hiking next to you again! So much fun and poetry!