Top of the sounds

I’d read about it. I’d heard about it. I didn’t know much about it, other than that I wanted to do it. The Queen Charlotte track is a multiple day walk through the beautiful Marlborough sounds in the top of the South Island. I had the ambitious plan of walking it in three days, which is the minimum amount of time it takes. My housemates had warned me that there are some steep parts and the visitor center wasn’t quite sure and advised me to do part of the track by boat on the first day. Afraid of not making it at all, I took there advise and booked my boats and accommodation.

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I had an early boat out the first day and was so excited I got up at six in the morning. The boat left at 7.30 and had only seven other passengers on board. The forecast for this weekend was a bit miserable, so that might explain why. It rained occasionally, but never enough to really bother me. What bothered me were the dark clouds on the horizon, constantly threatening to drench you with rain. It didn’t happen, but they did take away some of the amazing views.

After an hour the boat dropped us all off at Ship Cove, a place where, once upon a time, captain Cook landed. There is a big monument for him, but that’s about all. The rest is wilderness. The boat leaves and there is no way of getting back, other than walking. Everything’s silent, apart from the tunes of the birds and the sound of the Weka coming through the bush. The walk started off climbing. Just before the big viewpoint, a gigantic tree had fallen onto the track. The 72 year-old Geraldine from the UK was waiting for someone to walk with. She wasn’t sure how to get to the other side, but together we decided crawling through the mud underneath the tree was the only option. We were rewarded with an incredible view, the first of many.

Together we walked to the Furneaux lodge, where our boat would depart at 3PM. At 1.15PM I’d finished my lunch and I was getting sad about not walking the whole track. What’s the point of taking the boat if I believe I can walk the rest of the day? Luckily the reception had a landline and that was that, I would walk to my first homestay. Today was a total of about 27km, so definitely doable, but when I arrived at Noeline’s I was happy to be there. Just as I got onto the bush track leading to her house, I saw the boat that was meant to take me arriving in the bay. I beat the boat! My backpack was already waiting at the jetty.

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Noeline turns out to be a 84 year-old who rents a few beds to walkers so she can save up for holidays all over the world. Her house is quite remote and to get to her car takes more than just walking down the driveway. It’s parked about a half hour walk away near a dirt road. As soon as I’d arrived Noeline offered me some scones with tea. I was the only one staying tonight and although it was fairly quiet, I heard all about Noeline’s week and what was happening in the sounds. Unfortunately there was a water shortage, so I just had a quick shower to freshen up. Then I just stared out over the sounds. The views from the veranda are amazing!

Day two looked a bit dreary as well. I said goodbye to Noeline and got two big kisses. I dropped my bag at the jetty and took off with a daypack. The weather was so sad that I decided to put on some music to cheer me up. Today was a day of ascending, so I needed it. 24km to go. First I walked along a gravel road, but soon I saw the track again. It went up, up and further up. Every time I thought I was there, there was another hill around the corner. I even went up an extra hill for a lookout. You’re meant to see the north Island, but today I stared into a big cloud.

It was autumn on the track, with leaves everywhere and whole villages of fungus for the gnomes. Every time you could see through the trees, you got some fantastic views. After a few hours walking, the sun even decided to show up. I was just looking out over Picton and it instantly turned more beautiful in the sunlight. I had lunch on top of the hill on a campsite. That cooking shelter had an incredible view of Picton, which must also be stunning at night. After that I started descending. It seemed like it never stopped. My calves were grateful.

After a long descent I saw a sealed road. How odd. Left went to Torea Bay on the Queen Charlotte sound. Right went to Portage, on the Kenepuru sound. This is where I’d booked a hostel. I was eager to stay in a hostel and meet some other people, thinking of the great time I’d had on the Coast track. Turns out I’m again the only guest that night. I had a whole holiday cottage to myself. After a cup of tea I decided to have a look in the bay. The weather was stunning now, so I ventured into the water of Cowshed Bay. Slowly! It was chilly, but kind of awesome.

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The next day all I can see in the clouds. Low clouds. Again! I was up early, so decided to leave. I had to make it to Anakiwa in time to catch the boat back to Picton. Today was so much easier than the previous. The bits going up were shorter, so my aching calves could manage. There were lots of flatter bits to recover as well. I also walked much faster than expected. I didn’t bother going to an extra viewpoint, since I’d been so disappointed the day before. I still had plenty of good views though, even if it was a view of clouds hanging in between the sounds.

The last part was descending to Anakiwa through the forest. Slowly I started to see more people. I finally saw some mountainbikers and I saw some daytrippers. As I got closer it started to rain and got a lot colder. I arrived in Anakiwa at 1.15PM. Good thing I brought a book! The weather may not have been that great, but I’m glad I came out here and I’m glad I can say I walked the whole thing! At times the track got lonely, but my favorite bands pulled me through. Maybe next time, I should use the campsites.

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