Queen Charlotte Track Day 3- Punga Cove Resort to Portage Resort Hotel

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The third day of the Queen Charlotte Track happened to be the longest, hardest slog of the track, AND it also happened to be Christmas Day. So this day was sort of a day of treats. The first treat was Mother Nature’s Christmas gift to us hikers. The day was bright, warm and sunny- a complete contrast from the day before. It’s amazing how much some sunshine can transform a natural setting from blah to astounding. The second treat was the “treat” I gave my body that day, though I’m sure it eventually thanked me later after it stopped aching and I got some deep sleep.

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Like I said earlier, today was the longest day of the track. It was 24.5 kilometers and it took me eight hours to get to my next destination of Portage Resort Hotel, though granted, that time included stops for rest, photo opportunities and lunch. I was particularly grateful today to only have to carry a day pack, and even though Cougar Line doesn’t operate on Christmas Day, they transferred my pack to my hotel the night prior. The sun was hot and bright for the duration of the walk (sometimes it felt too hot and bright). Part of the walk was under well-shaded forest trees, and other parts were on top of the exposed ridge line. The views of Endeavor Inlet, Kenepru Sound, Marlborough Sound and the like were astounding.

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This walk also had some of the steepest inclines, and my poor calves were screaming at me to stop at times. In particular, they nearly rebelled during the short, but VERY steep climb up to Eatwell’s Lookout that gave me a panoramic view of the sounds. Lunch was also on a bench in front of a particularly scenic view.

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The worst part was the last two hours. It wasn’t difficult. In fact, it was mainly a gentle ascent and descent of the trail. But by that point, I had been walking six hours and I was hot, tired, and fantasizing about a good shower and a massage. But I made it to my destination, which was my third treat of the day.

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I spent the night at the Portage Resort Hotel, and it was wonderful to indulge in a small bit of luxury amid all the huts and hostels I normally stay at. My hotel room had an excellent view of the sound, and I capped off the day with a cool swim in the unheated pool by the beach. My day ended with a very tasty (though rather pricy) Christmas Day buffet. Though it was kind of funny how the maitre’ d didn’t even have to ask my name when I showed up to be seated. After all, I was the only one who booked a seating for one. By the end of the evening, I pretty much crashed into my bed for a long summer’s nap (I was in the South Hemisphere after all).

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Queen Charlotte Track Day 2- Furneaux Lodge to Punga Cove Resort

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The second day of the Queen Charlotte Track was an easy day of walking, and I originally intended for it to be a relaxing day outside by the shores of the sound, maybe even do some kayaking. But a little thing called Mother Nature had different plans. The morning was gray and cloudy with a chance of rain.

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I set out early, wanting to arrive at my next destination, Punga Cove Resort by lunchtime. I also hoped it would stay dry for the entirety of the walk, but it was not to be.

There were intermittent sprinkles to mild showers for my entire walk. But amazingly enough, it wasn’t actually cold. It actually felt cooler the day prior with the wind and bright sunshine.

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The trail was actually very easy. Most of it was flat and near the shore, and the ascents and descents were very gentle. The trail was mainly coastal forests, but there were many glimpses and views of Endeavor Inlet. However, the colors of the foliage and of the water weren’t nearly as bright today, thanks to the gray pallor and clouds that hung over the Sound.

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This day’s hike was 12 kilometers and took me three and a half hours. The weather didn’t really unleash until I arrived at the Punga Cove Resort, thankfully. The rest of the afternoon consisted of increasing rain and harsh gusts of wind. I safely and dryly enjoyed the gorgeous view from my room balcony. Instead of partaking in outdoor activities, I curled up with a good book.

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the view from my hotel room at Punga Cove Resort

I capped off the day with a melt-in-your-mouth dinner of venison in blackberry sauce and some more local wine (I adore New Zealand wine). It was certainly a sedate Christmas Eve, unlike my typical ones where I booze up alone and watch Bad(der) Santa on DVD.

Punga Cove venison dinner

Queen Charlotte Track Day 1- Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge

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Picton Harbor

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).

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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. ┬áBut not the Queen Charlotte Track. This track has plenty of ┬ávery 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Queen Charlotte Day One-13I 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.