Tuesday, 28 August 2012

The Queen Charlotte Track

Having spent the best part of yesterday trying to second guess the weather, deciding whether or not to walk the Queen Charlotte Track, we woke up at 8am and it wasn't looking good as it had been raining the night before and looked really overcast. I was a bit gutted initially as I felt the cost of the water taxi was quite steep for a self-guided walk, so good weather was a definite requirement as the Queen Charlotte Track is reputed to be one of the top ten and finest coastal walking tracks in New Zealand.

The plan for the day was to be dropped off at Ship Cove and walk along a section of the Queen Charlotte Track to Endeavour Inlet where we would be picked up again by the water taxi. The stretch of the track we're walking is approximately 15km long, although the entire track is 71km in length which can be done in 3-5 days of tramping (staying in overnight accommodation along the way).

The Queen Charlotte Sound is the best known of the three Sounds (Pelorus Sound and Kenepuru Sound are the other two) and is a labyrinth of drowned valleys enclosed by moody picturesque bays, deserted sandy coves and islands. The journey up Queen Charlotte Sound (Totaranui) from Picton to Ship Cove (Meretoto) took roughly an hour, although the last 20 minutes of the trip were a little choppier as we were going through the swell.

Looking from Picton Habour towards the Queen Charlotte Sound

The bush clad shoreline of the Queen Charlotte Sound

The numerous bays, coves and islands of the Sound

On 16th January 1770, the Endeavour, under the command of the then Lieutenant James Cook, dropped anchor in the bay which he would name Ship Cove. This would be the first of several visits by ships under Cook's command on his three voyages. He spent more time here than anywhere else in New Zealand and it was the first place that sustained contact between the Māori and the British took place. The Māori were keen to trade for European goods while Cook's crew observed and engaged in the Māori culture and way of life.

Captain Cook had explored more of the earth's surface than anyone else before him in history and became the first European to land in New Zealand and the east coast of Australia. However, it was Cook's travels that spurred on the colonisation of the Pacific, which brought with it missionaries, whalers, traders, settlers and even death, and ultimately impacted on Pacific Island cultures. As a result, many indigenous cultures detest Cook for his achievements as they view him as the villain who introduced disease, dispossession and other ills to the Pacific.

Whatever view you hold, Captain James Cook remains one of the most significant figures in the shaping of the modern Pacific.

View of Motuara Island from Ship Cove

A large concrete monument commemorates Captain Cook's visits. 

It's easy to see why Ship Cove was one of Cook's favourite places

Crossing the stream at Ship Cove

Māori carvings welcome visitors to the cove

From here the reserve is the starting point for everyone walking the Queen Charlotte Track, which is actually part of Te Araroa (the long pathway) - a walking trail from Cape Rēinga all the way down to Bluff, which opened on 3rd December 2011. Heading south from the Cook monument, the first couple of kilometers of the track were undulating with quite a steep initial climb. It must have rained a lot overnight as the track was quite boggy and damp underfoot, and the clay slopes were really slippery. At one point a fallen tree had completely blocked the path - it must have fallen quite recently as the branches looked freshly broken.

A deep canopy shades the profusion of tree ferns and other vegetation

One of the many streams crossing the track

After about 45 minutes of walking we reached a lookout that offered pleasant respite and good views of Motuara Island and the outer Queen Charlotte Sound. It was from Motuara Island that James Cook declared sovereignty over the South Island. Cook also renamed Totaranui the Queen Charlotte Sound in honour of King George III's consort. Today, Motuara Island is a bird sanctuary for the South Island robin and the South Island saddle back. It was also round by the lookout that we got our first view of an inquisitive Weka (Gallirallus australis) in the bushes!

Motuara Island on the left and Hippo Island on the right

View over Resolution Bay with Tawa Bay Saddle on the far right

You can just about make out the snowcapped Kaikōura Mountains 

From here we climbed the Ship Cove/ Resolution Bay Saddle and descended towards Resolution Bay. However, it was a bit disappointing that we couldn't get down close to Resolution Bay itself as we unsure of where the trail would take us if we went off the beaten track, due to a lack of signage.

From Resolution Bay the track followed an old bridle path ascending over a ridge, which would eventually lead down into Endeavour Inlet. The inclining track passed through stands of kamahi and then beech forest as we passed over another saddle.

Some more of the native vegetation of the track

Every now and again you get glimpse of the sea through the tree line

Climbing up the ridge overlooking Resolution Bay

We were literally the only people on the section of track we walked - in the middle of nowhere with no mobile phone coverage! We were surprised when we eventually saw someone walking their dogs. At times it was very tranquil and silent when you paused to take in the solitude of the surroundings, apart from the occasional chirp of a bird or when the trees swayed in the wind. This was shattered as at one point when Lizzie comically fell into a small stream we had to cross and got quite cold and wet in the process!

A sad Lizzie after she stumbled on a loose rock in the stream!

A crystal clear stream that eventually feeds into the Sound

Resolution Bay looking back towards Ship Cove

As mentioned previously, we saw quite a few Wekas (or woodhens) along the walk - they look like a cross between a moorhen and a duck. This flightless bird is a little like a kiwi but slimmer and far less shy. The one we saw was especially tame as it was foraging very close to us in the bush.

This bold Weka didn't have any problems with getting close to us

Wekas are famous for their feisty and curious personalities

As nice a walk as the Queen Charlotte Track was to do, it was difficult to judge the progress we were making along the track as there were no markers and very few useful signs. Our final destination was Furneaux Lodge at the head of Endeavour Inlet on the eastern side of the bay. The last section of the walk involved us walking through a lots of regenerating native bush, with a predominance of manuka, kanuka and five finger vegetation.

Endeavour Inlet was one of Captain Cook's favourite anchorages

This is first time we'd been able to get to the shore since Ship Cove

On the whole I'm glad to have done the walk as it offered stunning views of the Marlborough Sounds but I wouldn't say it was an essential thing to go out of your way to do unless you happen to be in Picton or are passing through the Marlborough Region. In total, it took us 4 hours 50 minutes to do the walk from Ship Cove to Endeavour Inlet, including stops for lunch, climbing over a mini obstacle course and taking plenty of photos!

One of several storm damaged trees blocking out path

There's no turning back now...

Lizzie having a well earned beer in Furneaux Lodge

We were a little disappointed that we didn't see any dolphins in the Sounds on our journey via the water taxi, but at least we were able to walk the track in the first place, so I guess you can't have it all!

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