Coastal Pacific Train Journey- Picton to Christchurch

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This particular day was the first, and one of the only, vacation days I didn’t feel compelled to get up early. I didn’t have any place to be until 1300, so I walked around Picton, browsed in the shops, and had a leisurely lunch.

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After lunch it was time to catch my train from Picton to Christchurch. One train a day takes that route, and the journey typically takes over five hours,  whereas a plane ride takes about an hour. So why choose the train? In truth, at the time I seriously looked at transport options, the train was cheaper than a plane. Plus I factored in the two hour bus ride to the Nelson airport. I wasn’t in a hurry to get to Christchurch, and didn’t have a jam-packed itinerary in Christchurch.

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I read many good things about the Coastal Pacific train ride, so I decided to slow my vacation pace down and enjoy the opportunity  to see beautiful New Zealand scenery I wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity to see. The train set a very leisurely pace (seriously the bus or car would have been faster), but rolled through a wide variety of landscapes. I had a perfect window seat on the east side of the train to see the coastline and the inland plains.

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The hills south of Picton were lush vineyards, rolling fields and hills of gold that transitioned to lush, green native forest and hills. A good portion of the ride skirted the east coast and I was treated to views of lots of sheep and cows.

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We passed Lake Grassmere, where the majority of New Zealand’s salt is produced. Many of the salt ponds were pink due to the large numbers of green algae that turns to pink in the presence of a high salt concentration.

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As we moved further south, the gentle rolling waves of the ocean changed to fierce crashing breakers set among dark beaches, hills and rain clouds.

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Many parts of the coastline reminded me of Iceland, which isn’t surprising since a good chunk of New Zealand reminded me of Iceland.

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The farther south we traveled through Canterbury, the plains started to remind me of the ones I’ve seen in the Scottish Highlands. The sky and clouds became grayer and mistier, with spots of rain as well. It practically was full on storming by the time we got close to Christchurch.

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Sometimes I was able to capture the beauty with my camera, and other times I just let it float by and took it all in for the memories.

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If you like beautiful scenery, and don’t mind a very scenic journey, by all means take the time for the Coastal Pacific train ride if you are heading between Picton and Christchurch.

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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.  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.

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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.