So, having whinged a few weeks ago that I needed a new travel adventure, a small thread of future excitement to cling to, my wish has finally been granted. In a month I will be heading to northern Spain to walk part of the Camino de Santiago with my good buddy B (of Thailand/Cambodia and Midnight Sun Marathon fame). The intention is to fly into Bilbao and catch a bus to Pamplona, from where we will hike approximately 200km to Begus. Yikes, that sounds like a long way; but I’m relying on my running fitness to get me through. And I have also been promised that walking the Camino Francés with B will be an enjoyable activity, a chilled out affair with good scenery, good company and accompanying booze.
My impending adventure leads quite nicely into a post about my last hiking experience: The Queen Charlotte Track.
The track, presumably named after the wife of George III of England, is located at the top of the South Island of New Zealand in the Marlborough Sounds. It travels for 71 km from Ship Cove to Anakiwa, skirting lush coastal forests as it meanders around historic bays and climbs along skyline ridges giving breathtaking views of the Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds. It is by no means mountainous, but it is certainly undulating! And, like the Abel Tasman, it’s one of those places I could happily return to again and again.
To hike the whole track without having to rush you ideally need to set aside four or five days; however, I never had the leisure of that much time. My first visit was when my sister was over with her partner from the UK. We intended to spend a couple of days cycling the track, but were put off by an adviser in the Picton iSite who took one look at K and L and assumed they weren’t capable. When I met them I had to reassure my marathon-running sis and her fireman boyfriend that they weren’t suffering from body dismorphia and no they didn’t look like a couple of super-sized couch potatoes. In hindsight though, post Half Big Ben Nevis Triathlon, I think some of the track might have been a little much for my nonexistent mountain biking skills.
Alternatively, we camped in Picton and spent two days hopping onto bits of the track by boat and hopping back off again after a good walk. The first daytrip took us out to the far end of the track, where we explored Motuara Island (from where James Cook declared sovereignty), an eco-marine haven for NZ birds and native wildlife. The island is a sanctuary for the South Island robin and the South Island saddle back and we spent quite a while observing (or being observed by) a young robin who seemed far too friendly for his own good.
Ship Cove, the start of the Queen Charlotte Track, provided a safe harbour for Captain James Cook on several occasions during the 1770s. It is worth taking a moment to visit the monument to read about his epic journeys before setting off immediately uphill and onto the track. We had a gentle and scenic 15-km wander to Endeavour Inlet, from where, after a nice refreshing post-walk beer on the veranda of Furneaux Lodge, we caught the boat back to Picton.
Our second daytrip found us hiking from Mistletoe Bay over the Torea Saddle and down to Lochmara Lodge. The views from the Saddle were some of the most extraordinary I have ever laid eyes on, overlooking what felt like the entirety of the sounds. Standing gazing out over it all gave me such an overwhelming feeling of peace, not something I feel very regularly in the UK. The Lodge was also an astonishing place, fabulous accommodation, an arts centre, and a wildlife recovery centre, all beautifully situated. As we walked down through the back gate we passed a magnificent array of sculptures and, rather randomly, several llamas. The grounds were a maze of nooks and crannies with an endless assortment of hammocks, many strung from my favourite Nikau palms. It was a pleasure to lounge in the October sunshine whilst waiting for our return boat.
I was so enamoured with the track that I knew one day I would have to return to complete it. That time came in May of the following year when P came to stay. Again my time was limited, but the idea of hiking 71 km in a little over two days was like catnip to my German companion. This time it was the end of the season, the track was quiet and the weather extremely favourable for a pasty redhead. The first day saw us tread the recognisable route from Ship Cove to Endeavour Inlet and from there onwards for another 12 km to Camp Bay, where we stayed the night at Noeline’s Homestay.
For six months of every year since her husband died Noeline has opened up her home to wanderers from all over the world. Then for the remaining six months of each year she travels. I don’t want to insult her by guessing her age but 80 wouldn’t have surprised me. I asked her if she ever worried about being on her own in a foreign country and she said she didn’t need to, that no matter where she went people treated her like a grandma and were always kind to her. All I know is that she provided us with the hospitality that I hope she always receives from others.
Our second day was an epic 31 km journey to Mistletoe Bay. Noeline seemed a little taken aback when we said that’s how far we planned to go as the middle section of the track is probably the most undulating, she even phoned ahead to our next accommodation to warn them to keep an eye out for us. In the end we arrived just as the sun was going down and the forest was falling into shadow. A close shave. Leaving just 13km to cover at leisure on the morning of day three.
I don’t have the words to do justice to a description of the track so I close with some photos that I hope will do the job for me.