A couple of years ago, in search of some interesting off-road running events, I read about the Queen Charlotte Track – a 26km run from Ship Cove to Punga Cove/Camp Bay. It sounded magnificent and I’ve since been keen to take part in this event. But as we know, traveling between NZ’s two islands is almost as expensive as going to Australia! This truly is a country of two halves (as Paul Bennett pointed out in his book).
So when the opportunity arose for us to make a trip to the South Island – for business – we decided to add a few days and include the Queen Charlotte as part of our itinerary. It is a 71km trek that is typically walked in either direction over a four day period, and having your luggage transported to the overnight spots, makes this a fairly easy walk with only day packs – nudging it towards the glamping side of the backpacking spectrum.
We camped the night before in Picton, packed up in the early morning hours and drove to the Marlborough long-term parking at the wharf where the car would stay for four days. Checked in at Beachcombers Cruises and boarded the water taxi that was to take us to the start at Ship Cove. The very scenic and informative cruise of approximately one hour through the sound looking at the track from a different angle, is a very special part of the trip. It was a lovely sunny day with no wind.
Ship Cove to Madson’s Camp (18km) – 2 December
Apart from the water taxi trip, day one of the hike was pretty uneventful except for the Weka family that joined us for lunch. A nice stroll through the forest on a fairly hilly section right at the start of the hike, took us past Schoolhouse Camp at around the 4km mark. A couple of kms further we found a picnic table high up on a ridge with a view of the sound that looked like the perfect spot for lunch, and we unpacked the Ryvita, cheese and salami.
Not long before Daddy Weka appeared, hinting for food. I accidentally dropped a little piece of the Ryvita, which he immediately grabbed and started making a calling sound with the piece still in his beak. Off he went into the bushes, just to come back a few seconds later for a second helping. Again he took a piece of Ryvita into the bushes at which point I realised that he was probably feeding a family.
While contemplating this for a second, the next moment I heard the chirp-chirp and out came two fluffy little baby Wekas, very shy at first. Whenever the slightest morsel of Ryvita falls to the ground, the dad would pick it up and feed one of the babies. So cute. Finally the mother also appeared and the family unit spend a few minutes with us before we had to leave.
We spent the rest of the afternoon walking under a tree canopy, sheltered from the sun.
By 5:30pm we reached our overnight camp at Madson’s, which is a lovely serene spot with picnic benches, a hammock and solar showers for the first couple of people. Luckily we were the only campers and could bath in the open under a tree at leisure.
Tony was a lovely host, showing us around and making us feel welcome. He probably has the cleanest long-drop on the track, if not in NZ! Over the past eight or so years, Tony has put in a lot of effort to clear the area, leveling out patches for tents, making terrasses, steps, flower beds, etc, to create a lovely campsite on a very hilly terrain.
Down by the beach is a great swimming spot and if you’re into seafood, you can catch some fish or fossick for muscles. We had a lovely relaxing evening, cooked carbonara pasta with added dried veges and tuna, and were in bed by eleven.
Madson’s Camp to Camp Bay (9km) – 3 December
In the morning another sunny day greeted us as we made a relaxed start knowing we had a short day of only 9km ahead.
After dropping off our packs on the jetty, where we fetched it the night before (actually Tony helped to carry the one bag up the hill – bless his big heart), we were off on a stroll on another sunny hot day.
We encoutered more Weka families en route and spent more time taking photos. Along the way we were passed by an elderly German lady, walking by herself. It’s amazing how often we encounter people doing crazy things like cycle through Africa, or go on hikes as women all alone, only to find that it’s a German – I can’t help but think that the Germans must be tough and adventurous buggers.
We really took our time to cover the 9kms. But even with a very late start (10:00) we still arrived at the overnight spot at Camp Bay by lunch. A nice long afternoon to just chill and relax, spending some time at the little beach and laying around under the trees.
The cuteness of the Weka families quickly wears thin. As it turns out they are actually a menace – ferocious scavengers, trying to snatch anything they can grab hold of, from our toiletries bag to Gerry’s little toe! You have to be careful when leaving the tent and make sure everything is packed away and locked up tightly.
We were alone in the campsite all afternoon, but after spotting the millions of backpacks on the jetty, we should have known that something was up and that we would not have a whole campsite to ourselves again. During the course of the late afternoon, girls from Christchurch Girls High started arriving in drips and drabs. And as is typical with large groups of teenage girls, the infectious laughing and cajoling never stops. Oh, how I remember those years when you are still young and full of zip. With not a care in the world – where a camp spot can host a maximum of two tents, but they would happily line up five, just about on top of each other, all along chattering away and screaming with laughter, oblivious to the world around them.
We cooked rice, with fresh onion and garlic, soaked dried Shiitake mushrooms, dried peas and corn with a pinch of cayenne pepper. Over-catered and ended up flopping with full bellies in the sleeping bags just as the sun was setting.
Camps Bay to Cowshed Bay Campsite (Portage Bay) (28km) – 4 December 2013
If we do this again, we would plan it differently. At least now we know how things stick together with the accommodation etc. The way we scheduled our overnight spots (to accommodate the bag-drops), we had a very long day three. And a busy one to boot. Aside from the 30+ girls that you can hear for miles all day long, we saw the three Aussies (whom we met on the water taxi), two elderly ladies we thought to be British, a couple we dubbed the ‘mericans, the German woman, a solo guy, three kiwi girls, a gentleman with two woman who seems a bit angry about something, a lonely cyclist that came screaming past on a downhill, and the list goes on.
By the time we stopped for lunch, we’d covered a good 20km. A big part of the day’s walk is on the ridge with the occasional view over the bays and little islands. At one of the “windows” in the trees, we quickly gulped down some Ryvita, triangle cheese and salami. And then it started to drizzle. Luckily only a drizzle making it a pleasant walk.
We pitched the tent before parking in the shelter/kitchen area to cook pasta with tuna and soaked dried veges. Had a tipple and a few chats with some of the teachers before heading off to bed, tired after a long days walk.
All through the night we were accompanied by the sound of raindrops on the tent, at times harder and other times just a drizzle.
Cowshed Bay Campsite (Portage Bay) to Anakiwa (20km) – 5 December 2013
In the morning it was still drizzling and whiffs of mist were resting in the tree tops. We propped the super wet tent in a survival bag (to keep it from wetting everything else) and all our other belongings in dry bags, rubbish bags and whatever else we could find to keep valuables dry.
Another long day ahead and as we had to catch the ferry back to Picton by 3:30, we tried to make an early start. Although the drizzle was actually more of a mist spray, it was still enough to get you wet. Not long before our shoes were soaked by the little streams in the very muddy path, as well as the tall wet grass.
A few uphills and downhills, but all in all a very pleasant walk on the last day. Unfortunately we had no views at the viewpoints due to the clouds. We reached Anakiwa at around 2:30 where we called the water taxi to fetch us earlier, as all five booked passengers were done and waiting.
Having had lots of time to think, as is often the case on hikes, I was contemplating the whole tramping, hiking, backpacking, glamping thing. And one thing is certain – when you go glamping (glamorous tramping), it makes sense to go all the way. Don’t try to turn it into a semi-self-sufficient hike. Make the extra expense and pay for the overnight motels, lodges or hotels, have your luggage delivered to your room and not some 300 metres up a road (where you have to fetch and carry an uncomfortable heavy bag to and from your campsite, in the rain, having completed 28km already), pay for food that someone else made and just enjoy a relaxing walk in nature.
The alternative would be to roughing it altogether. Carry your own pack with all your stuff and stay at the “off-the-beaten-track” campsites. The ones that are less frequented. If we do the Queen Charlotte Track again, that would be the way we would go. It’s most certainly a personal matter, but we prefer to try, to a certain extent, to get away from it all. If we choose to step out of everyday life and comforts for a bit, the last thing I want to see is lots of houses, hotels, cars, boats, sharing campsites with campervans, and sealed roads.
Nevertheless, the Queen Charlotte is a delightful track and we’re happy to have had the opportunity to spent the 4 days in the lush New Zealand outdoors.
Expenses as in December 2013
- Water taxi from Picton to Ship Cove and from Anakiwa back to Picton (including luggage portage) = $99pp
- QCTLC Pass = $18pp (for 5 days)
- Madson’s Camp = $10pppn
- Camp Bay DOC = $6pppn
- Cowshed Bay DOC = $6pppn
- Long-term parking in Picton = $2 per day
- Luggage transport at Cowshed Bay by Portage Resort Hotel to and from jetty to the resort = $10pp per item (both ways)