After a good rest in Wellington we went on a mission. We had to figure out where to send food parcels to and get all the food to put into them. We loaded two carts almost to the brink with food that will fuel us for 31 days. We sent out food parcels to Havelock, St. Arnaud and Arthur’s Pass. From Boyle Village and Lake Coleridge we will hitch to Hamner Springs and Methven respectively to get our supplies.
At the cash register I could see the cashier having an internal giggle about the endless stash of noodles, ready-made pasta’s and chocolate bars he was scanning. The woman behind me in the queue got entertained too and commented that I must be a terrific cook.
We then proceeded to three hours of repackaging and trying to get the right food into the right box. This was much to the entertainment of everyone else at the YHA, watching us wrestle through a whole table (one that fits about 14 people) filled with food. It wasn’t an errorless operation as we already discovered a meal of noodles destined for St. Arnaud in our bags now. Ah well… A quick sprint to the post office and a missed check-in deadline later we finally sat on the ferry heading for the South Island. Amazing!
The next day we continued with a water taxi through Marlborough Sounds to Ship Cove, the start of the Queen Charlotte track. Ship Cove was Captain Cook’s favourite place in New Zealand: he spent about a third of his time in the country here. In this place some of the last lowland native bush of the South Island stands and it is beautiful. Strikingly different from the north too.
In Cook’s days you could hear the birdsong coming out of these forests from as far as 3km offshore. We heard beautiful concerts and dusk and dawn, but the rest of the day the birds disappear into the background. The bush stands unmodified but the intruding rats, possums and other mammals have made its native inhabitants vanish.
I was really happy though to hear a Morepork owl calling through the night and see the fantails hopping on the trees around us. The birds in this country are amazing. It’s a real drama what has been happening to them. Lots of effort is put into restoring New Zealand’s native bird life now, but many of its beautiful inhabitants have vanished forever.
But back to the trail. The coastal landscape it follows is spectacular. Turquoise and deep blue coloured water fills the bays and coves and straits of the Sounds as far as the eye can see. Where native bush still covered the coastline it was sometimes hard to remember that we are still in New Zealand and not on a small island somewhere far out in the Pacific. This place is paradise.
Summer definitely arrived now and the days are baking hot. We gradually changed our starting time earlier and earlier, from between 7.00 and 7.30 to before dawn. We’d wake up to a sky lit by those same magnificent stars and the Milky Way we saw before on Tongariro. The night sky here is truly jaw-dropping. Then, as we walked in the total night silence through the bush, turned our headlights off and let our eyes adjust to the dark we could see lots of glow worms lighting up between the branches.
The late night temperatures drop as the pitch black gives way to the first shimmering light. The cool morning air is amazing to walk in. I’ve never been much of a morning person but I really enjoyed these dawn wanderings. The sunrises over the bays around us were spectacular.
As soon as the sun stood over the horizon the air is pressing and warm. Because we started so early there was plenty of time for breathing and cooling breaks. We also finished very early so in the heat of the afternoon we could relax in the shade, have a swim in that beautiful sea or enjoy a beer in one of the cafés along the track. This was the only trail where we’d be able to do that, it was great to make good use of the opportunity.
The Queen Charlotte track was a marvellous start into the South Island. It was an easy warm-up after the break in Wellington and before venturing into the mountains. Things will get much tougher now for the considerable future. There is a rough 300km of passes and ridge lines ahead of us and our bounce box is 1000km away.
Better not made a mistake sending those long sleeve thermals and rain pants away.