Ship Cove- Queen Charlotte Drive
Resupply at Picton
Day 1: Ship Cove to Endeavour Inlet (14 km/4hours)
I’m excited: today we will start our first section of what is going to be a few months hiking from the top to the bottom of New Zealand’s south island. Last night we spent the night in a really nice backpackers in Picton, a last bit of luxury before it’s back to basic in the tent; although our tent is quite luxurious.
Because on some section of the Te Araroa trail it’s hard to get food we are arranging a food drop from here. With our shopping bags filled with noodles, tuna, Muesli bars and chocolate of course, we head out to the post office. Unfortunately it’s Saturday so they are closed. Oops. Good start. Luckily the people at the hostel are super and they offer to store our stuff until we come back from the first section. This just means we have to hitchhike back from the trail instead of going on. But that’s fine.
So now we are on the boat that will bring us from Picton to Ship Cove where we will start our journey. The Marlborough sounds are incredibly beautiful and the weather is perfect. On the way we make a few stops with the boat to drop off mail. It’s amazing to see how isolated some people live around here. Then some fins pop up and we have discover a small pot of dolphins. It’s a nursery with females and their babies. This day cannot get any better!
Around 4pm we arrive at ship cove. Captain James Cook, the first European to set foot on New Zealand soil, named the Queen Charlotte Sound and ship cove. This is where he and his crew in 1770 spent many weeks resupplying and fixing up the boat. A memorial to him stand in the cove and marks the official start of the south island part of the Te Araroa.
It’s not that early but we still have about 4 hours of light left. There is also a big group of school kids heading out so we decide to walk a bit further to avoid an over crowded campsite. We walk for about 14 km to Endeavor Inlet. The views on the way are beautiful. In some ways it reminds me of the Norwegian Fjords. But these are not Fjords but Sounds. The difference is that Fjords are flooded glacial valleys while the sounds are river valleys, or so the sign says.
Around twilight we start looking for a suitable campsite and find a nice flat spot close to the water. We prepare our Mac and Cheese and enjoy the sunset. Two plovers are combing the coast looking for some shell fish to snack on. Then we hear a loud hissing sound. What is that?! We soon find out as a huge pod of dolphins leaps by. Who needs television for entertainment, we have discovery channel live.
Unfortunately the water also attracts some less welcome wildlife.Sand flies! Argg, the itch. Time to retreat to the tent. It’s been a good first day. 14 km down only 1294 to go.
Day 2: Head of Endeavour Inlet to Bay of Many Coves Campsite (19km / 6hours)
I wake to the sound of the rain drops pattering on the roof of the tent. It’s 6am. This calls for breakfast in bed, just so I can spent a few more minutes snuggled up in my warm sleeping bag.
Over the sound of the rain I also hear something rustle through the leaves around the tent. Then two curious red eyes are peaking at me, or my breakfast, through the little ventilation window of the tent. What is this prehistoric looking creature? As it turns out, this is a weka. It’s a flightless bird which is apparently famous for it’s feisty and curious personality. This also got it near extinction once because these traits made it an easy food source for Maori and early European settlers. Now however the roles seem reversed and you have to be careful not to leave any stuff, food,socks sunglasses,flip-flops, unattended for more than a second or the weka will snatch it.
After breakfast it sounds like the rain is subsiding a bit so we pack up the wet tent and head out. The morning is mostly an on and off drizzle and some muddy sections have become quite slippery. After a few hours we take a lunch break. Something is climbing the tree nearby. “Hey look it’s a squirrel”, I say to Jack. So cute! But why are all the birds in the tree so upset? Turns out the squirrel is actually a stoat who is also having lunch, consisting of baby chicks. Around six adult birds all swoop in, but they fail at saving the nest. We watch in horror as the stoat climbs the tree four times to retrieve all the babies. It seems quite disturbing but I just try to imagine that maybe this stoat also has some cute babies tugged away somewhere that need some lunch. Anyway I’m done eating and it starts to rain again. So we keep walking for a couple of hours in the pouring rain. Most of the route goes through forests and the fresh smell of wet pine needles is strong in the air. After a steady climb we reach the the Bay of Many Coves, which is pretty self explanatory. Here there is a shelter and we find two soaked bikers who are on a long biking trip through New Zealand. It’s only 3 pm but raining so hard that we are very tempted to stay at the shelter. Plus we already covered about 24km, which I think is decent. One of the guys is making some fresh filter coffee. It smell so good. Would you like some? He asks. Sold, staying here today!
Day 3: Bay of Many Coves Campsite to Cowshed Bay Campsite (15km / 5hours)
The next morning it’s a beautiful sunny day so we get to dry out the soaked tent and gear. When I head over to the stove to make some tea I make a nasty discovery. Some animal, possibly a possum, has tried to gnaw it’s way through our water bladder. Failing to do so, it seems to have decided that taking a dump on it was the most logical course of action. Maybe it was out of frustration or perhaps it was trying to mark this valuable source for later usage, whatever the reason our water bladder now reeks of possibly possum poo. Some water and hand sanitizer make it at least tolerable for now. After this somewhat shitty start, the rest of the day is looking really good. The sun is out and all our stuff is dry. Because we walked further the other day our timing is a bit off and we hit the campsite around noon. We only walked about 16km and the next campsite is about 8km further. It’s still early and the other campsite has a beach so we decide to continue to Cowshed Bay. It’s a really beautiful spot with a pebble beach and crystal blue water surrounded by the hills. But there is also a distinct smell in the air. Its not possum. No, this something worse. It’s the smell of twenty something sweaty teenagers approaching. Argg, there goes our utopia. Well at least we got to relax at the beach for a while.
Day 4: Cowshed Bay to Queen Charlotte Drive (23km/8hours)
Today we have to walk about 18km to Anakiwa, where the Queen Charlotte track ends. Its a nice and sunny day again and we have lots of good views over the bay. There are a couple of long uphill sections and Jack already spurted so far ahead that I’m not even biting the dust because it has already settled. We meet up a the top for a peanut butter and Nutella wrap. After many hours of walking I finally hit the 1km mark. Almost there! That’s to say to the end of the Queen Charlotte track. We still have 5km to walk to Queen Charlotte Drive from where we can hitch into Picton. There is not so much traffic and I fear it might take a while before we get picked up. A couple of cars pass. Then we see something at the horizon. It looks like a military truck from here. No wait, it’s a bus. There is no point trying so we lower our thumbs. But then the bus stops. It’s an empty school bus on it’s way back from dropping of some smelly teens. The driver offers us a lift. Nice, this is the first time in my life I get to ride the school bus. The driver is super friendly. He has lived in Picton his entire life and talks very passionate about his hometown. He discusses what there is to do around here, but mostly he likes to talk about what what you can hunt. There is pigs, goats, deer.. Ow, and if you have a boat you can go spearfishing. Everything can be killed and grilled its seems.