Great Walks spent a week on NZ's famed Queen Charlotte Track.
The four-day walk started with a steep ascent from Shio cove into a thick forest of broad-leafed flora like rimu, kahikatea and kohekohe. My guie Glen's knowledge of the local trees and plants was excellent.
Forty-five minutes into the hike we reached our first lookout with a great view of Motuara Island, a bird sanctuary we visited before the walk. This predator-free island is home to many rare birds like the Okarito brown kiwi.
From the lookout the track headed up a saddle offering more great views, this time down to Resolution Bay (named after one of Captain Cooks' two ships he sailed the Pacific in). From the saddle there was a pleasant walk down to the bay before heading up to another saddle between Resolution Bay and our final destination, Endeavour Inlet (named after Cook's other ship).
The wide winding trail passed a cluster of holiday homes (or 'baches' in Kiwi) and you could see families have been coming to Marlborough Sounds for a long time. But it's not like there were huge resorts here. Just small pleasant baches and the odd quiet retreat like Furneaux Lodge, our first night's accommodation.
Walk and talk
The next day's walk was a fairly easy 12km trail, so there was no need to rush. I like days like this as there's time to get to know your fellow walkers and particularly your guide.
Glen used to work as an instructor for Outward Bound NZ, an organisation teaching people outdoor skills so they can realise their potential. It's been good at empowering troubled youth. After 12 years Glen wanted a change so he became a kayak guide in the Marlborough Sounds.
We wandered through open forest, pretty inlets and grassy corridors on private land. Like the first day the air was bursting with the whistles, chirps and clicks from crickets, cicadas and a host of birds. At times it was almost overwhelming but then it just became part of the experience.
Our day's walk ended at the pretty Camp Bay where our accommodation Punga Cove awaited. The rooms were excellent as was the food. Lamb rack anyone?
There's always one day in a walk that is the long hauler, where you put your head down, dig in your toes and get on with it. That was today. The walk from Camp Bay to Torea Bay – where we would catch the boat to our lodge – was a good 22km.
From Camp Bay the track climbed steeply until we reached Kenepura Saddle. From then on the track followed the undulating ridgeline and we were constantly climbing and ascending. The day was hot and dry. And although we were loving the weather the locals were praying for rain as there hadn't been much lately.
One great view was from a side trip to Eatwells Lookout. A very steep track lead to a top viewing spot where you could see Queen Charlotte Sound on one side of the ridge and Kenepuru Sound on the other.
So what exactly is a sound? A sound is a sea or ocean inlet larger than a bay, deeper than a bight, and wider than a fiord. By the way Milford Sound is a glacial fiord not a sound.
Six hours into the walk we had a break at Black Rock campsite, one of the DOC camping areas. Like all the public campsites this one was basic but well kept and featured a rainwater tank and dining hut.
The trail continued to ascend and descend until we found ourselves on a public road once a track used by Maori to haul their waka (canoes) from one sound to another, saving themselves a considerable sea journey. We ended the day with a boat ride to Lochmara Bay where we spent our last night at the colourful Lochmara Lodge. After dumping my pack I took a swim in the cool bay to wash off eight hour's worth of dust. Then dinner was served. Craft beers and steak medium-rare anyone?
Our final day was another long walk that started with a hike up a private track from Lochmara Lodge back onto the Queen Charlotte. Our destination was Anikawa where a water taxi would take us back to Picton. It was another hot day but much of the trail was under forest canopy making the walk more comfortable than yesterday. Everyone was in high spirits and the morning flew as we happily chatted and stopped for photo opportunities.
Glenn continued to point out interesting flora including native lancewood, a long skinny tree with narrow spiky leaves. As the tree grows higher, the leaves' spikes are replaced with flowers. One theory about this curious change is the young plant had to protect itself against hungry moa in prehistoric times. Once above moa height it turned into a regular blossoming tree.
Lunch was next to a flowing creek in cool rainforest and after the break the trail flattened out making the last few kays a breeze. Reaching Anikawa we all congratulated each other on a stellar effort. Everyone had a different highlight on the Queen Charlotte Track, some loved the views, some loved the food and wine, while others loved just getting away from it all.
“I remember a very wealthy client told me the highlight from his walk on the Queen Charlotte Track was simply feeling the morning rain on his face,” Glen told me as we waited for the boat. “This was a man who had more money than you could poke a stick at, he had holiday houses all over New Zealand but he found pleasure in such a simple act of nature.”
For more info on the Queen Charlotte Track guided walk click here.
Words and photos_Brent McKean