With a couple of days in Marlborough before a Park Run and Dina wanting a rest from hiking, I decided to head back towards the infamous Mount Stokes by myself, to see if I might be able to see a bit more of the region from the Queen Charlotte Track.
I said goodbye to Dina just after 8am and set off to the jetty where the water taxi would depart from. I had clothing and supplies for an overnight trip, ‘Around The World in 80 Days’ on my Kindle to keep me entertained and a lot of sunscreen. The Queen Charlotte Track negotiates the area's intricate coastline from Ship Cove, where Captain Cook first docked, to Anakiwa at the southern end of the sound. I only had two days to spare so I would be missing the section from Ship Cove to Camp Bay which makes up the first day of hiking if you're tackling the track in three days.
Although the track is one of the region's main attractions, it doesn't get anywhere near as much traffic as the Great Walks or some of the really popular day hikes. Possibly for this reason, the water taxis have set things up really well for hikers. Included within your transportation fee is free carriage of an overnight pack, meaning that you can do the hike carrying just the food and water that you need for the day. This allows a gentleman hiker to arrive at his accommodation to find his dining suit, top hat, cigar box and brandy waiting for him, enabling him to spend the evening in the proper fashion. Sometimes I wish I was Phileas Fogg.
The route passes over conservation and private land, and it seems that some of the private landowners are really happy to share their piece of paradise with the hikers. Along the way there are signs welcoming visitors and encouraging them to go to the optional lookout points to enjoy the views. On my first day I would be walking from Camp Bay to Portage Bay, around 23km with the highest point being just over 400m above sea level. Compared to the heights we'd reached on some of our mountain hikes this sounded like a walk in the park.
As I set off the weather overhead was quite cloudy and although I was very conscious of the fact that I didn't want to wish the sun away, I was actually quite glad of a break from it. The walk was mostly under the cover of trees along the ridge line between Kennepuru and Queen Charlotte Sounds. Every so often a gap in the trees would appear and show a view out over multiple layers of blue mountains into the distance or sometimes out to the Cook Straight and the North Island. Eatwell's Lookout, named after landowner Rod Eatwell who helped get the track set up, gave the best views of the day. I also took it as an instruction, and tucked into my sandwiches, while being reminded of just how far away from home I was.
After lunch the clouds started to part, the sun started to show itself and I began to realise that I might've been a bit complacent about the ease of the walk. It turns out that although the walk never got above 450m, it got pretty close to there a few times and dropped down in-between them, meaning that I’d climbed 950m in total. I arrived at Treetops Backpackers, my home for the night, at around 5pm and was very happy to put the small backpack I’d carried down next to the bigger one that was waiting for me. Having booked the trip through a tourist information centre rather than doing the research myself, I wasn't sure what to expect from the accommodation. From what I could tell on arrival it was a two bedroom second house on a property, with two beds in each room and one in the living room.
‘You must be Adrian’ said one of the people sitting at the table in the living room drinking wine and playing cards when I poked my head around the door. The other four people staying that night turned out to be a family, leaving me with the bed in the living room. I was a little worried by this as it meant my bed and waking times were somewhat at their mercy. Thankfully they were really nice and invited me to join them playing cards. I lost pretty spectacularly but enjoyed the evening swapping stories and learning more about New Zealand.
I awoke the second morning, had breakfast, said goodbye to the family and set out on the track again. I had to get to Anakiwa by 3:30pm for my boat back to Picton and thankfully the second day held fewer kilometres and lower peaks. The sun was out in full force all day, making walking thirsty work, but also making the sounds look more beautiful. The detour to Onahau Lookout was the highlight of the day, providing 360 degree views of bright blue sea and intricate land winding its way through. I made it to Anakiwa with an hour and a half to spare and rewarded myself with a coffee and an ice cream.
Dina was waiting for me at Picton and it was great to see her again. We did Blenheim Park Run the next morning and my legs were still a little tired from the previous days on the track, but the thought of an afternoon of decadence helped me through. The thing that the Marlborough region is most famous for is wine and we spent the afternoon cycling around vineyards (and a gelato shop because we're still trying to fill the void that Patagonia left in our lives) on rented bikes, sampling the local produce. As our 80th day in the country ended we'd only gone halfway around the world, but had experienced some of life's finer things, which might have met the approval of a certain Victorian English gentleman.