If I had known how amazing the Queen Charlotte Walk was years ago, I would have enjoyed it and been on many others since. Isn’t it strange in life how we have infinite possibilities in our life, but if we don’t experience them, we never know what we have missed out on. I have enjoyed such depth of pleasure it has permeated to my soul and I feel so blessed.
The first day was blissful from start to finish.
Picton is a delightful seaside town, built around a cove where the InterIslander arrives and departs. Bush covered hills surround a township that is full of cafes and restaurants and accommodation and shops that tourists may choose. No wind, a blue sky and glistening blue ocean did help to complete an idyllic picture.
Our accommodation was bigger than my house – a plush apartment with the most comfortable lounge suite ever invented to lie in and watch chick flicks.
A lovely young man greeted us and we were transported by ferry to an island called …… a predator free bird sanctuary about 45 minutes out in the Sounds.
I thought to myself, ‘this is NZ’. When I hear ‘clean, green NZ’ bandied about, and live in a town, amidst people and listen to the news (mainly negative) I tend to scoff at this phrase. Here as we sped along Marlborough Sounds, only water, bush and sky I felt so blessed to be a Kiwi.
We disembarked at the island. I had thought it may be a bit boring to walk up a steep hill and look at birds, but kept my opinion to myself and set off. We hadn’t stepped on to the wharf when we heard the most beautiful chorus of birdsong. It is one of those moments – all my senses melted into each other and I felt bliss.
Along the well kept track were many traps for predators and little penguin houses – we saw two penguins enjoying some together time inside a penguin house. Right in front of us a saddleback bird pecked away at the trunk of a tree, looking for insects. Up in the trees we spotted bellbirds, fantails and robins. They seemed to know no fear of humans. As I sat on a bench seat, a dear little robin pecked bread off my shoe and revisited me many times for more food. And what a 360 degree view from the top – right to the North Island and around the Sounds.
A hard case boat man picked us up to drop us at the beginning of the Queen Charlotte Walk. He told us to beware of the wekas because they look okay but will come up close and go for our throats. Ha ha – didn’t fool us!
At the …. There were flush toilets in beautiful clean condition, grassed area for picnics, tables to sit at and a memorial for Captain Cook.
The walk was steep for the first part, although with no hurry, there was lots of time to stop, enjoy the views over the ocean, feel the beauty of the bush and just be. I noticed many predator traps for rats, stoats and weasels – all well kept and monitored.
How is it that here, I thought, that the track is so well kept, there are lots of predator traps, the toilets are so clean? I mentioned to my dear friends my question. It was suggested that where we live at Waihi Beach we have the most beautiful coastal walk around to another bay called Orakawa. It has stunning bush and ocean views, but the track is unkept and the compost toilet unpleasant. There are signs prohibiting dogs, camping, fires, cycling, but these rules are openly flouted. People turn a blind eye to the rules being broken and they are not monitored by anyone, hence there are hardly any birds, there is occasional litter and a beautiful opportunity is lost.
Do we need to look at ourselves more to bring about change? My suggestion is that every incoming traveller to NZ pays a tax of $20 each and this goes to maintaining tracks around NZ, including cycle ways, to the standard of the beautiful track we are currently walking.
What a day! The beauty just went on all day – lunch by Resolution Bay, meeting occasional walkers with their interesting stories, bush, bush and more bush – all so so beautiful, views over bays and the wider Sounds.
By the time we arrived at ‘No Road Inn’ we were ready to put our feet up. It was 4pm and my feet felt sore.
And then we saw it – a sign welcoming us. YES!!!!
We walked down the drive and there it was – a large dwelling right on the waters edge and a very hospitable man, Greg, offering us a cold drink. I opted for wine and it was the most delicious wine I have ever tasted.
We were eventually shown to our rooms – oh my goodness – if I had to rate it out of 10, when I saw the size of the room, how well it was appointed, and a beautiful old fashioned bath to soak in, along with divine bath salts provided, two hammocks on the deck, a self appointed kitchenette, full of goodies, the rating would be 10/10.
We met at 6pm and enjoyed a predinner drink with Carol, a French girl who was helping in the kitchen, Jill a lawyer from California who was on the walk and David who was the master chef.
I thought I had died and gone to heaven: whitebait fritter; salmon pate with crusty crostini; spicy rub lamb and jus with reduced balsamic baby beetroots, orange glazed carrots, hasselback potatoes; baby pavlovas with passionfruit centre, icecream, cream and fresh berries.
What a day!
Perfect start to day – leisurely breakfast, chats, and all ready to go. We had a phone call which was surprising. Greg, the organiser had made a mistake and we were not going to Mahana Homestay, but the Ponga Cove Resort.
The walk was around the inlet – was not so far as yesterday – a bit cloudy so views not so awe inspiring. 13 kms today. We followed the inlet and the track had been graded so it was rather scruffy. Parts were lovely, but not breath taking. We stopped for a few short breaks but ate lunch when we arrived at Ponga Cove. It is fun to see what has been packed, but none of us are so keen on sandwiches. As an ex teacher sandwiches and school bells go together.
At Ponga Cove chalets are dotted around the very steep hillside, a café by the wharf, reception and swimming pool and spa half way up hill. It was off putting to see the outside spa crammed with bodies and decided no thank you to being squeezed in with strangers. Our chalets were right up the top of the steep hill. My tv was not working so man eventually fixed it. My chalet has stunning view right over bay.
It rained from 5pm through the night and stopped before sunrise. The day was quite cold, still and cloudy as we left Ponga Cove. After my favourite Eggs Benedict and a cheery chat from the lovely waitresses, we set off – up a never ending hill. I found an abandoned Manuka walking stick lying at the side of the path. I fell in love with that stick – what a help to take weight off joints and for balance as I struggled through the day.
One step in front of the other, focusing on breathing and not looking too far ahead, was the way I found best to go up such steep inclines. I am thinking, today is the longest walk of the whole hike and it’s going to be like this?? Just when we thought that the track must flatten out, there were more rises. It was like ‘wait but there’s more’. Around the corner was another hill. Plod, plod, we went. It was tough! In fact we wondered what the mist was and realised we were up in the clouds.
Today we seemed to go across ridges. By now the sun came out, no wind and the ocean a tropical, clear blue as still as a lake. We stopped to admire views and take photos of each other and to eat and drink. All the time we were feeling the challenge; appreciating incredible beauty; enjoying our friendship and feeling proud of what we were achieving.
At the top of the mountain were beautiful views of a valley with farmland, right out to the open sea and coves silhouetted against the ocean’s horizon. Stunning coastal views all day. I loved parts where the track was quite dark from a thick native bush canopy, being immersed in nature with its vibrant, healthy yet harmonising shades of green. Lots of schist rock on the track. Beech trees, ferns, native bushes we had no idea what they were, but all home to chorusing bell birds and birdlife.
The last part of the walk down to the jetty to be picked up by water taxi was really easy going – a wide track softened with leaves all downhill. We lay, both exhilarated and exhausted on a concrete World War 1 Memorial and put our feet up as we remembered all those young men with their lives cut short.
Just to finish the day was a surprise – well not quite the end of the day, because to come was relaxing in a luxurious room overlooking a tranquil bay with some wines and pringle chips, followed by a fine dining 3 course meal and cosy bed.
The water taxi driver slowed down and alerted us to some Hector Dolphins playing by the boat. We watched in awe as they danced and glided. We felt overcome with bliss – being with good friends, the incredible beauty of the Sounds, the clarity of the ocean against a cloudless sky and then sleek, shiny dolphins playing for us.
I woke to a chorus of birdsong and looked out on a bay with boats moored and the water so still I could see fish jumping. The restaurant was as lovely as all the others – choice of food on the menu, lunch bag waiting for us to collect, the ritual of leaving our bag outside our chalet door to be collected and delivered to the next destination.
The walk was a gentle climb through tussocky plants, ponga, pine and beech up to a ridge which we walked along, looking down on bays which were now more habituated with delightful dwellings close to the water’s edge surrounded by bush. It became comical as we followed a path that was obviously a horse trail and the horses had left so much manure it was tricky dodging the piles of poop.
After 15 kms we came across a bay and I waded in the cool water to refresh my feet. 3 kms to go before Anakiwi Bay where we were to be picked up by the water taxi. With lots of time to spare we enjoyed the sunshine. I can’t really believe it is all over and we had walked 71km.
Looking back – my highlights were No Road Inn – the most incredible homestay for comfort and food; bush with its lush ponga, beech, nikau, ferns, kawakawa; birdsong chorusing through the bush’s stillness (especially Motoua Island); never ending views over bush clad inlets and exquisite blue ocean; the feeling of relief after reaching the top of a never ending hill climb; and of course the most important – being with friends and enjoying each other’s company.
If you are young the unguided tramp may be ok where you carry your tent and everything, but if you are looking for a nature adventure with comfort I recommend the upgraded, unguided tour. There is no need for a guide as the walk is well sign posted and it is ideal to go at your own pace.
For more info: www.natural-encounters.com/