Trip Report: Queen Charlotte Track, October 22-27 2022

Posted by Patrick Lam on Friday, November 11, 2022

Shayne (a NZ referee and on the Judo NZ coaching committee) and Tanya own Anakiwa 401 at the end of the Queen Charlotte Track. Having mentioned my hiking habit, Shayne had mentioned that I should come by and stay. So we did. Second private track for the month, and the first private track in NZ.

I was hoping to submit a paper to the ICST conference on October 21st. In the end, we didn’t make it, but I had still planned a trip for after the deadline, this time to the Queen Charlotte Track for 71km of hiking.

There were moments of scenicness on the track, and it was definitely well maintained and fixed up after the tons of rain, but I think Abel Tasman (to which QCT is often compared) was more scenic on the whole. Day 2 in particular was just kind of long and the scenic parts were separated by kind of flat and long walking. It was great to be out there walking, but hey, we can be picky, right? I think they both have good luxury accommodation options, but we stayed in huts on Abel Tasman and camped on this trip.

The Kaitaki; leaving Wellington Harbour; approaching Picton; Oxley's on London Quay.

Day 1: Ship Cove to Schoolhouse Bay camp

After I’d stayed up past midnight only to punt the ICST deadline, we got up (relatively) early to take the 8:45AM ferry to the South Island. This departure, at the start of the Labour Day long weekend, had lots of walk-on (rather than drive-on) passengers, and was pretty full. The ferry’s OK, but it is kind of slow. Flying to Blenheim can be cheaper if purchased in advance and is much faster. But Picton is more of a transit hub and you can get away without a car for this trip if you start from Picton.

Our trip didn’t have a lot of slack time for the most part. So, off the big boat, check in for the little boat to Ship Cove, grab a lamb curry and kumara pie (Subway for MP), and get to the trailhead. We went with Cougar Line. (MP wanted to know why Cougar Line. It’s not like there are cougars in NZ, and if they were they would probably eat the birds. Has to do with the manufacturer of the boats they used to use, they told us). There is actually quite a complex logistics operation with each of the boat companies, and there are at least three of them.

I (unsuccessfully) tried to take pictures on the little boat but left my lens cap on the boat. Basically you can’t take pictures of wildlife from a boat moving at speed. That’s a good reason to put a filter on the end of your lens, which the guy at Photo Warehouse had talked me out of. Now I have a filter, and after spending some quality time cleaning all my lenses, apparently no scratches on the new lens, fortunately.

Weka greeting party; Waterfall walk closed; Schoolhouse Bay camp.

At Ship Cove, I had thought about doing the short Waterfall Track before starting the main Queen Charlotte Track, but it was closed. Many tracks are closed due to winter slips. The NZ winter of 2022 was a bit of a doozy.

The walk to Schoolhouse Bay looked really short on the map, at 3km, but was more like 7km on the ground. Still short, but not really short. This time, we did bag delivery for our tent and sleeping gear. Resolution Cabins are another 10 minutes down the track and we picked up the big backpack there. Looks comfortable. But our tent was fine and reasonably flat. There’s a website on the internet which says Schoolhouse Bay is not that great (e.g. no cooking shelter), but sitting on the picnic table in the sun and talking to the South African-plus-Italian sisters group was good. They had ramen for dinner. But the winning play is to have ramen for breakfast with dehydrated egg and vegetables and a meat pouch. There was also a woman taking her time and doing an 8-day trip.

Day 2: Schoolhouse Bay to Endeavour Inlet, then Camp Bay

I didn’t think they would be that early, but the bag pickup is supposed to be at 9am. I usually read the text, but in this instance I had not. Oops. Fortunately, the woman at the cabins called Cougar and they came and got the bag and delivered it. I wouldn’t have liked to carry the bag 20km, though I could have done it.

Our next stop was at Endeavour Inlet/Furneaux Lodge for lunch. The 1000 year old giant rimu nearby is mighty. Again, Furneaux Lodge looks pretty fancy. So fancy that for lunch they only had a $55 buffer. Which looked good, but too much for us for lunch. We ordered some fries (with sour cream?!) and had our sandwiches with that. There was a kind of complainy mountain biker at the next table.

Furneaux Lodge was the destination of the family that came with us from Picton. They could totally have gone further, but I guess they didn’t have so much experience with what the kids (not that small, but maybe their first multi-day hike?) could do. We talked about sailing.

Leaving Resolution Bay; 10km down, 61km to go; Look out below!; me and an ancient rimu; Furneaux Lodge.

Day 2 is kind of a slog, mostly flat, with not so many views. I’ve picked the good views in the pictures here! There’s a long walk around Endeavour Bay. Not that far, but there’s a body of water in the way. If you look at (selected) pictures, it can still look pretty nice, but there’s a lot of walking between the viewpoints.

Ex-tractor; head of Endeavour Inlet; Madsen's Camp; whitecaps and shadows; Camp Bay cooking shelter; Punga Cove pier; flags at Punga Cove.

Camp Bay wasn’t our favourite. Even if they have a cooking shelter. Which we didn’t use. Our site wasn’t flat. It was also pretty crowded. Not sure where everyone came from. Some mountain bikers for sure. Some walkers as well. They must’ve gotten started earlier than us on the previous day.

Punga Cove is another resort, where our bags appeared. We ate at their Punga Fern restaurant for supper. Good thing we were there at 6pm. They were full between 7pm and 8:30pm. The duck with duck croquette was a highlight. Small portions, but that suits me. And really, not more expensive than eating in town ($100 for two).

Punga Cove will also let you use their spa for $10 and the shower for $5. At this time of year no one was using the spa. It’s not hot.

Our stuff; tasty dinner at Punga Fern restaurant (later fully booked).

After supper, we brought the big backpack back to Camp Bay and slept on the not so flat ground.

Day 3: Camp Bay to Eatwells Lookout to Cowshed

I’d told my students that I’d be mostly off grid, which was largely true. I read the text in the book in the restaurant at Punga Cove and found the Wi-Fi password, so I was online and also charged my battery packs there. As of Day 3, we started to have some mobile network, as we got closer to Picton and Anakiwa.

Day 3 was much more interesting than day 2. There were more hills and also more views. Eatwell’s Lookout, in particular, had 360 degree views, as well as baby wekas, which were highly cute. There were three different “how far from X” signs, including Ottawa as some Canadian content. Too bad the South African guy didn’t see the Cape Town reference. They were rushing to make sure to get to their pickup in the Bay of Many Coves on time I think, and the lookout was an extra 30 minutes, or an hour if you had a lunch there and admired the baby wekas.

Bellbird at Cowshed; distances from Eatwells lookout; MP and a weka fren.

Day 3 also did not have any resorts along the way. It’s 20km from Camp Bay to Cowshed with views and no services. Almost like a real hike! The distance seemed quite long at the beginning and then went quickly at the end. No km’s and then all the km’s.

We got to Cowshed as the wind picked up. It was legit windy, with gusts well over 20 knots. There was a tourist from the Netherlands who was resting in the cooking shelter for a while. We had some negotiations about campsites. “No, you take it. No, you take it!” Finally we picked up our stuff and went to another great site. Both were flat. That counts a lot for tent sites.

We picked up our stuff at Portage, where they bring your bag from the jetty for $10. They also had a dinner buffet which we considered. But I decided to check the reviews on the Internet. They made it seem totally not worth it, so we had our freeze-dried food at the campsite and talked to the Dutch guy, as well as the soon-to-be-ex-flatmates in Wellington. The Australian girl had just finished her contract and was going to return to Sydney on Friday, and the guy was tagging along too. He was off to the UK next year. They were going to rent mountain bikes the next day. I’m not sure it was much faster, but it’s something different, for a not-so-modest fee they said.

Punga Cove pool; Outer Totaranui viewpoint; Eatwells lookout; a weka; with two baby weka; Bay of Many Coves; MP coming up.

I tried to take more bellbird pictures at Cowshed. Maybe there are some OK ones. Bellbirds aren’t super hard to find but they’re not super common to see either. Bellbirds are, however, common to hear. (Grey warblers are super easy to hear and super hard to see.)

Day 4: Cowshed to Anakiwa

This day was a few km’s shorter than days 2 and 3. Again there was a highly scenic lookout, this time Onahau. There was a sign advertising Lochmara Lodge, which looks quite interesting (kakariki feeding?!). There was a bit of rain and it was cloudy in the morning. It was supposed to clear in the afternoon but it didn’t really.

We’d had a good number of birds along the way, with no visible predator traps (apparently they’re out of sight on property owners’ land). Near Anakiwa there were more seabirds, like shags and oystercatchers. Surprisingly we didn’t encounter any mountain bikers on the trail until day 4.

We got in to Anakiwa at 4:20. Could have been earlier, but we were taking it pretty easy and stopping for pretty long breaks.

Robust bracket; cracks; more slips; yet more slips; 1km left.

Then it was off to Blenheim to visit the judo club. Small regional club. Good spirit. My old coach Rejean was from the far hinterlands of Quebec and said that he felt it was easier to activate the community in such places, but this club doesn’t have the size of Rejean’s old clubs, and in particular, doesn’t have the competitor base. Times have also changed and many kids are not so into competing. I wonder whether Blenheim is smaller than e.g. Port-Cartier.

Portage; more bays; two benches; Onakau lookout; plam and trig; Anakiwa end of QCT; Blenheim judo.

Day 5: Anakiwa

I said that this trip was pretty aggressively scheduled. Well, that was true except for this one rest day after getting off the track. We just stayed around Anakiwa and chilled. What a concept.

Shayne and his waterskiing buddy Robert took me out waterskiing. First time for me. Shayne said it was just like snow skiing except for the start. Managed to get out on the long line and also beyond the wake. Pretty good, I’m told. It really helped to figure out that, when sitting in the water, I could paddle around to get in the right position. And, I really made an effort to not have bent arms (which is the same thing I do when climbing that I shouldn’t do). I probably have my butt out too often.

The other thing we did was to watch birds, checking out some mountain bikes, and getting back to the flats near the Davies Bay campsite, which had a decent collection of birds the previous day. Birds seen: Quail, spoonbill, oystercatcher, heron, pied shags (comorants). Used the 100-400 lens to good advantage.

Shags; herons; California quail; duck; oystercatcher; spoonbill; Caesar salad.

I made Caesar salad from scratch, including the dressing and croutons. That was a bit of a production, but it was delicious.

Day 6: Packed day with Motutapu Island, then ferry delay

Packed everything back into the bags, with no food and better-thought-out organization. Then waited, sitting outside in the sun on the deck, until our pickup, which was 15 minutes early. It was just us and the boat operator, a young woman.

King shag; terns; shearwaters; fur seal; king shag again.

Then another pie (hey, it’s quick) and off to Motutapu Island, with a well-attended tour. The bird guy Shane was from London and was working in all the countries, including Canada during the pandemic. We saw all the birds, including the king shag (700 remaining, only found in these sounds) and the yellow crowned kakariki. Motutapu Island is a good example of how much vegetation can grow in 100 years, after it was cleared for sheep farming and then abandoned (not enough water for sheep, but definitely enough for plants).

We initially had a short connection to the ferry, but they were having operational issues that day and had cancelled the 2:30 sailing, so our initially scheduled 6:30 sailing was packed (sigh) and also ran late to 8pm, getting us home at midnight.

Gannet and dolphin; flying gannet; bellbird; blurry yellow-crowned kakariki; South Island robin; kereru; little blue penguin.

However, it turns out that we had ample time to eat at Cortado, which had excellent greenlip mussels (not always a given in NZ) and, for me, fish and chips.