We first heard of the Queen Charlotte Track at an REI event featuring Peter Potterfield, a photographer who was sharing about his time tramping in New Zealand. We both remember seeing this hike and thinking it would be out of our price range. A bit funny to think of a hike being out of your price range, but the Queen Charlotte is no ordinary hike. One woman we spoke with referred to it as the Princess Track, implying that it was for those who perhaps needed a bit more comfort on the trail; and comfort it offers. There are at least 14 resort-ish places to stay along the track, complete with fine dining options, heated pools, kayak rentals, and beautiful views of the Queen Charlotte Sound. To add to the luxury of the track, hikers can hire a water shuttle to pick up luggage each day and transport it to their next resort. Incredible!
But, Peter Potterfield’s pictures were breathtakingly convincing and we wanted to figure out a way to do this hike, if at all possible. Thankfully, the DOC (Department of Conservation–equivalent to our National Park Service) services about eight campgrounds on the track and only charges $6 per person. That price fit nicely into in our budget! And as it turns out, it’s actually cheaper to do the luggage transfer with your water taxi than to just do the water taxi (which you have to do because it’s the best way to get to the start of the track). Only in New Zealand would you feel okay about your bags being dropped at an unattended dock in the morning and sitting there all day.
The first day of the walk was sensational. On our cruise out to the trailhead we got to swim with dolphins–well, not exactly, but they came very close to the boat and we got video footage (and of course, we couldn’t help but think of our dear friend Molly). The trail itself was relatively easy and we took a nice leisurely pace as we walked with a new acquaintance, Andrew from Australia. There were beautiful lookout points, displaying clear blue sky, winding waters of the sound, islands scattered throughout, and yachties out cruising, We enjoyed Andrew’s company and conversation all the way to the Furneaux Lodge where we shared a meal at the pub, sitting out on a patio overlooking the water (thanks again, Andrew!). This being our first resort run-in, we could easily see why the trek was described as a “princess” trail. We chose to have our own “princess” day and hop the boat between the Furneaux Lodge and the Punga Cove Resort, which was near our campground for the evening. This cut out 10 km of the trail and provided an opportunity for an afternoon nap before the other campers arrived. We didn’t feel the normal satisfaction after a long day’s hike, partly due to the shortcut and partly due to the fact that our heavy packs were waiting for us when we arrived at the Camp Bay Campground. The evening was spent hanging out with another new acquaintance, Mike from Germany. We chatted and had fun taking crazy pictures.
On day two we ditched the princess mentality and walked nearly 25 km (15 miles). Of course, we weren’t carrying our backpacking packs which helped, but we were good and tired by the end of the trail. This portion of the track was the most scenic, offering ridgeline views of both the Queen Charlotte Sound to the south and the Kenepuru Sound to the north. We climbed to one of the highest points along the track to look out at a gorgeous scene. The trail was easy most of the day, but by the last mile we were ready to be off our feet. Once again, we were glad to see our packs, considering our home was inside them. We found a campsite at Cowshed Bay, set up camp, and promptly took a nap (noticing a theme here?).
At approximately 10pm the rains began…
At midnight the monsoon hit. We awoke to wild winds and buckets of rain pouring from the heavens. It was as if an irrigation sprinkler was on outside our tent.
At 6am we woke up from a noisy night of restless sleep to, you guessed it, more rain. Any of you who have ever been in a tent in the rain understand what it’s like. If you haven’t, it probably wouldn’t be your first choice of enjoyable evening activities, especially if it appears there is no end in sight. We peeked out the tent door and it looked as if… there was no end in sight. The winds were still blustery and the tent was beginning to take on water. Not to mention both of our packs were pretty well soaked (Erin’s actually fell over and landed outside the tent during the night). It could have been much worse. We decided to call off the rest of our hike and head to shore to dry out. The water taxi company was nice enough to allow this change–what other hike would you be on where you can use the telephone at a hotel to call in help?! We were thinking about those who went on Walkabout with George Fox this year in the Sisters and how they endured much more (lightening, snow, rain, freezing tempratures) and had to hike out. Yup, we were on a princess hike.
Of course, as soon as we hit shore, the sun broke out. We didn’t regret our decision one second and were able to get completely dried out by the end of the day. Now we are waiting to find out what the weather will be like for the rest of the week so we can get going on our next hike, the Abel Tasman Coastal Walkway, one of the most visited areas of New Zealand.