30 March 2008
All I can say is “Thank God we did not go tramping this weekend”. The weather is terrible. Rainy and chilly. It is very cozy on a mellow Sunday like today, but I guess we can count ourselves lucky because our tramp (that’s what they call hiking and backpacking here in NZ) was spectacular. Just perfect.
Over the four-day weekend (Good Friday and Easter Monday), we went on a 4-day tramp along the Queen Charlotte Track, a 68 km trail through bush and ridgeline along an arm of the Marlborough Sound on the northern tip of the South Island. The trail weaved up and down and around bays and across ridges through some amazing native bush (indigenous plants to New Zealand). The sights were constantly beautiful and constantly changing. Views from hilltops and peaks through the bush were of blue water between green hills, sailors in the sounds and calm destination anchorages. During a portion of the trek we walked through some dense native bush, especially at the beginning and end of the trail, like towering tree ferns and grand rimu trees covered in a natural “black velvet fungus”. Here we were an audience to a cacophony of melodic bird calls. Often, with my head down, eyes on the rugged trail of roots and rocks, I pushed my legs to climb up steep hills with the birds encouraging me on with their chirps, whistles, and squawks. At least in my imagination they were.
I know in a previous email from our sailing trip I pondered the color of the ocean, all the beautiful different hues of blue, how the sea changes when the color changes. During this hike I noticed all the many shades of green that compose the collage we call “forest green”, the general color my eyes see when I look at the bush from a far. Very few plants or trees are actually ‘forest green’, or are the same shade of green. Each plant seems to be able to absorb and reflect different wavelengths of light, using their chloroplasts to energize their growth with slight variations. But all I see is a pleasing mosaic of lime, dark, sage, bright, yellow, light, olive, pine, spring, emerald, kelly, fern, army GREEN!
The details: We left Wellington Friday morning on the 8:35 ferry across the Cook Straight, through a small pass into the Marlborough Sound, and on to Picton. The ferry ride was fine, pretty uneventful until we made it inside the Sound when the vistas became striking. Once in Picton, we hopped on another little ferry ride out to the head of the trail, at Ship Cove, the same anchorage Captain James Cook used many times while traveling and exploring the world. At about 3pm we began our tramp. From here the trail went up – no warm up – just up. We had no choice but to follow the trail up and up and around the bays: Ship Cove, Resolution Bay, Tawa Bay and finally the long Endeavour Inlet. Eventually the trail leveled off and we caught our breath. Fortunately we were a bit spoiled during this backpacking trip because was actually did not have to carry our backpacks! The same ferry that brought us out to Ship Cove, and would pick us up at the end of our journey in Mistletoe Bay, also took our packs for us from campsite to campsite (for free!). What a luxury! All we actually hiked with were our day packs full of yummy bites to eat, water, my camera and of course a small first aid kit. So, the tramp up and down the hills could have been a lot more arduous. We hiked fast on Friday and made it to our first campsite, at Miners Cove in Endeavour Inlet, just before dark at about 7:30. It was Easter weekend, and a beautiful one at that, so many hikers and mountain bikers were out on the trail too. We shared a small campsite that night with other tired souls and also shared our left over Mexican beans with some hungry young men who returned the gesture with some “lolly-cake”. This turned out to be a yummy, dense cake with bits of taffy-like stuff in it. More ‘kiwi-isms’. Speaking of Kiwis: I actually saw my first kiwi fruits growing in New Zealand at this campsite. A great site!
Day 2 was our ‘easy day’. We dropped off our packs at the dock (yeah!) and tramped along the western side of Endeavour Inlet for about 3.5 hours until we arrive at Camp Bay, near the resort at Punga Cove. After setting up camp in one of the few flat areas we sauntered over to the resort where we found a rustic bar on the water. We whiled away the afternoon with a few beers, a few games of gin rummy, watching the other tourists and watching a very cute, but very obsessed, chocolate lab wade in the water chasing fish for hours and hours. One hitch of the day: Due to the current drought in New Zealand, the creek beds were dry leaving the water flow to the campsite non-existent. So, my cleaver Todd, who I sometime like to call ‘my Macgiver’, found the source-stream with just a trickle left in it which we scooped out, boiled and drank. Yum!
Day 3 was our ‘tough day’. We hiked 23 km in about 7 hrs. The trek took us up to a ridgeline that we followed west, with Kenepuru sound to the north and the Queen Charlotte sound to the south. The track went up and down as we dipped into dark, lush valleys and summated peaks with great views of the bays. Except for our 20 minute lunch break overlooking the sound, we did not stop. My feet were throbbing by the time we reached Portage Campsite and my feet blessed me when I finally sat down. Our aching feet, toes, and legs were reminding us of our increasing age, and the fact that our bodies were not accustomed to such an excursion. But our minds pushed our bodies onward to our campsite. Where, after some rum to dull the pain, we wandered down to the beach, Todd took a brief swim to cool off and clean up, and laid on the warm rocks watching the sun sink lower.
Day 4 was our last day on the trail. And, although the distance we had to travel from Portage to Mistletoe was not great, we had a firm deadline – high noon – to meet our ferry back to Picton and ultimately our 2:30 ferry back to Wellington. So, up early and on the trail. What people had told us about this section of the trail was true: “First you go up, then you go down, then you go up again, and then you come down.” So, that’s what we did. Not to mention the great sunrise we witnessed and views of the calm sounds shimmering in the sunlight. We made it with about 45 minutes to spare. We rested our legs, soaked up the sun, and ate a snack on the dock while we waited for the boat. The ferry rides back home were mostly uneventful as our tired bodies did not move too much and we re-hydrated and re-fueled our systems. But, I sure was happy to get home and into my warm shower! Then, we celebrated the completion of our first journey outside of the Wellington area by drinking some wine, sitting on our couch, and falling sound asleep. Good times. The end.
To see all the photos from the tramp click here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/23078002@N04/sets/72157604242301307/