Like usual, the day started early (I say that a lot, but whatever, it’s true), because I was scheduled to start the four-day Queen Charlotte Track. This was the second of three multi-day tramps I was doing in New Zealand. I only had a one full day between the Abel Tasman and Queen Charlotte tracks, but I was ready. This track is set in the Marlborough Sounds, which is in the northeastern part of the South Island. This track takes you through lush, coastal forests, but these forests are different than the ones on the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. This track is also filled with steep uphills and downhills, wide open views of the Marlborough Sounds from exposed ridge lines, and the occasional mountain biker (though I only saw them on the last day).
This walk is more difficult than the Abel Tasman Coastal Track. This one is four days (though if you wanted to, you COULD shave some time by combining the first and second days’ worth of walking into one long day of walking, if you so desired). The track length is 71 kilometers, the changes in altitude are also greater, and the trail grades are sometimes steeper and less well-benched. However, in other ways, I almost consider the Queen Charlotte Track to be a luxury walk. Most of the other multi-day tramps require you to stay in campsites, or huts (which like I said before is basically camping indoors), and you have to carry your own pack (no Sherpas available for hire in New Zealand) with everything in it (e.g. food, bedding, stoves) to last you for the entire hike. But not the Queen Charlotte Track. This track has plenty of very nice, private hotels available to stay in. Accommodations with quality rooms, real beds, electricity, real bathrooms and showers, wireless Internet, and restaurants. Even better, there are water taxi services, like Cougar Line, that will transport your packs from accommodation to accommodation for a fee, so all you have to do is carry a day pack on the track with you.
The track starts at Ship Cove, which is about a one hour’s boat ride from Picton. The boat ride was very pleasant, because the weather was sunny and warm enough. On the way, we stopped to watch a pod of dolphins (including some baby dolphins) swimming toward Picton.
There is no road access for a decent chunk of this track, and the start is no different. At Ship Cove there was a monument to Captain Cook who stayed there four times over the years. It was also a nice place to enjoy some breakfast at picnic tables, while I let all the other walkers get ahead of me.
The track ascended very quickly and steeply for the first 45 minutes to the lookout over Motuara Island, Queen Charlotte Sound, and Resolution Bay. My poor calves woke up screaming during the initial ascent, and I was glad I had my walking sticks with me.
After that, the track dropped steeply to Schoolhouse Bay campsite and Resolution Bay cabins. While the track did ascend again, the trail grade was much gentler, so I found the trail rather easy to ascend. At the top of the saddle, I was rewarded with an astoundingly beautiful view over Endeavor Inlet. In fact, I could see the area where Punga Cove Resort was, which was my lodging for my second night on the track. This was a perfect spot for lunch to give me more time to drink in the view.
From here, it was only a 90 minute walk to my lodging at Furneaux Lodge. The trail descended just as gently and I was treated to occasional views of Endeavor Inlet on my way down.
Soon I found my way to Furneaux Lodge, which was a very nice establishment right on the shores of Endeavor Inlet. The lodge has a sort of British-style charm to it. I stayed in one of the backpackers cabins, which was a rather comfortable four-person room, though I had the room to myself, with a nice view of the water.
I capped off the day with an absolutely scrumptious dinner of gourmet chicken burger (w/ smoked bacon, brie cheese, avocado, and apricot relish) and a refreshing glass of local Gurwurtztraminer white wine (one of my favorites). The first day of the track was 15 kilometers of walking and took me around five hours, but that included an extended lunch break and numerous photo stops. The weather was perfect, and it was nice to sleep in a real bed.