Monday, 29 February 2016

The Queen Charlotte Walkway I: Day 1-3: Ship Cove to Cowshed Bay

Trekking on the Queen Charlotte Track...

I had various plans for walking a number of Te Araroa (TA) sections over the summer, unfortunately the lousy weather this year has put paid to most of them. In particular I was forced to cancel my Harpers Pass trip as a big storm rolled in and I've had to put off two attempts on the Mingha-Deception Route for similar reasons.

The jetty at Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Sound day one of the QCT...

Not wanting the 2015-2016 TA summer season to be a total wash out I decided to do a cheeky tramp of the first section of the TA in the South Island, the Queen Charlotte Track.

Queen Charlotte Sound from high on the QCT

With that in mind I give you my Te Araroa section hike of the Queen Charlotte Track: in two parts, this post and Queen Charlotte Track part 2...

Jon on the QCT, March 2016

The QCT covers the first 71 kms of the Te Araroa Trail in the South Island and is a relatively easy introduction to the terrain you will experience south of Cook's Strait.

Queen Charlotte Track: on the way to Ship Cove

Go the Te Araroa Trail...!

Day One: Ship Cove to Madsen's Camp

   I walked the track from north to south, so the first day was the section from Ships Cove to Endeavour Inlet. The ferry was about half full of walkers and half full of mountain bikers this late in the season. Personally, I was carrying all my gear as I was camping every night but most other walkers were using the cheap and efficient pack transfer system and staying at lodges/resorts. You should do this, it only costs $5 per day for a transfer and saves carrying that weight every day.

The jetty at Ship Cove, Queen Charlotte Track

Not practical if you plan to camp every night as it does not transfer to every camp site.

Make sure you buy one of these QCTLC Track passes before leaving Picton as you are required to have a track pass on the QCT. The cost for a 3 day pass is $12, a five day pass is $18.

The QCTLC track pass

I traveled out to Ship Cove on the 8 am Cougar Line ferry, but there are several companies which transport trampers and MTB riders to the various access points along the track. I just found Cougar was the cheapest over all for a return ticket, Picton to Ship Cove and then Anakiwa to Picton at the end of the track. 

Overview of the Marlborough Sounds and the Queen Charlotte Track (QCT)

Queen Charlotte Track: Cougar Line water taxi at Ship Cove

There is a very nice memorial to Captain Cook at the start off the track with several interpretative panels about his voyages and the history of the cove. Well worth a look as you will probably never visit this site again, it is only accessible by boat. Apart from the immediate area around the memorial it has been maintained as it would have been when Cook first visited.

My first Weka of the trip, many more to follow, Queen Charlotte Track

Entry to the Cook monument at Ships Cove, Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track: Captain Cook monument at Ships Cove

Jon at the Ship Cove monument....Queen Charlotte Track

The start of the track is right at the end of the jetty and it is a rude introduction to the QCT. You walk about 10 paces and then start climbing for the next hour, the track is excellent underfoot but quite steep.

Queen Charlotte Track: DOC sign at start of the track

QCT: Ship Cove to Madsen's Camp

Start of the Queen Charlotte Track... a bloody big hill!!!!!

Eventually you climb high enough to gain a view of Resolution Bay, as the track nears the top of the ridge it starts to level out into a more friendly gradient. It was about 27 degrees on the day, and the dense bush, humidity and heat reminded me of being in the Pacific Islands.

Queen Charlotte Track: Resolution Bay from the QCT

Typical dense bush at start of the Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track: 3 more hours for me...

You pass through a combination of DOC land and private land holdings along this track, that is why you require a QCTLC track pass. Thick dense bush is inter spaced with regenerating bush as a lot of the land has been farmed in the recent past. 

Regenerating forest on an old farm site, Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track: Resolution Bay from the QCT

Eventually you reach a high point with views out to Resolution Bay and the outer Sounds, there are a couple of picnic table here with some resident Weka to keep you company. The Weka is a NZ native bird, it is the same colour as a kiwi but looks like some strange mixture of duck and chicken. I have honestly never seen so many Weka in my life, I must have spotted well over 100 over the 5 days. 

NB: Weka are the most larcenous native bird, do not leave your gear unattended when they are around as they will steal it in a heartbeat. They decorate their nests with colourful and shiny booty.

Warren the weka comes to visit...Queen Charlotte Track

View towards Endeavour Inlet, Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track.....Warren and Whilma the weka...

Your journey along the track will be punctuated by a number of interpretive signs and also distance markers. Generally they mark 10 km divisions but I have seen them as close as 1-4 km's apart as well.  

Woohoo...only 61 km's to go...Queen Charlotte Track

After 4-5 hours on track you will get to civilisation (or at least the local version) when you reach the bach's and Furneaux Lodge near the head of Endeavour Inlet. You know I absolutely stopped for a cleansing beverage and in fact was shouted a second by some American tourists I had been walking with for most of the day.

Thanks guys, I appreciated it.

Furneaux Lodge provide superior accommodation but also do drop in for bar and restaurant meals if that is of interest to you. 

on the Queen Charlotte Track: Holiday homes near Furneaux Lodge

Furneaux Lodge, Endeavour Inlet...Queen Charlotte Track

Refreshed (but also slightly wobbly...two ciders, hot day, you get the picture...) I set off for my accommodation for the night at Madsen's Camp about an hour distant. Madsen's is one of two campsites in Endeavour Inlet and it was well appointed with shady campsites, clean fresh water, a good toilet, access to the ocean and solar showers on offer. Tony the owner is very welcoming without being intrusive.

For $10 per night you couldn't ask for more.

Queen Charlotte Track: turn off to Madsens an hour down the track

My campsite at Madsens, nice hammock

I had a shower (awesome, the water was just about too hot to be under...) and fed and re hydrated myself before taking a quiet stroll down to the jetty (lots of edible mussels for the seafood lovers...) at the bottom of the property. They must have been having a party at Furneaux Lodge as I could hear them whooping it up from a couple of kilometer's away.

View from the tent at Madsens, Furneaux Lodge in distance

Artistic shot from inside the tent...on the QCT

I was the only person at Madsens Camp until about 8 pm at night when a European couple arrived and set up camp near me. They had planned to stop at Camp Bay but ran out of steam as dusk drew on and decided to stop and have a slightly longer day on the morrow...we chatted for about 30 minutes before I hit the hay as I was knackered after my long day. 

Dusk at Madsen's Camp, Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track: Still looking fresh...sort of!

  So ended day one of my Queen Charlotte Track tramp. .

Day Two: Madsens Camp to Bay of Many Coves Campsite

 Day Two of the trip was the longest, 23 km's to cover over 6-7 hours would take me from Madsen Camp to the campsite at Bay of Many Coves. After a good breakfast (porridge with fruit, tea and plenty of water) I was on the trail before 8 am.

The day was much cooler than the previous one with cloud and a cold wind blowing up Queen Charlotte Sound.

Sunrise day two enroute to Camp Bay, Queen Charlotte Track
QCT from Madsen's Camp to Bay of Many Coves

Queen Charlotte Track: Woo hoo... only 51 km's left

Bit of chop out on Big Bay view from the QCT

Very nice track between Madsens Camp and Camp Bay

My first destination for the day was the DOC campsite at Camp Bay about 3 hours along the track. I eventually reached the site around 11 am and stopped for some lunch and water resupply.

Coming into Camp Bay...Queen Charlotte Track
The Camp Bay site looks really nice, there is space for about 20 tents on two terraces as well as a new shelter and easy access to the sea. I meet up with a mixed group of French and Swiss hikers here, we walked together for most of the rest of the day.

Queen Charlotte Track: ablution block at Camp Bay...

Cooking Shelter at Camp Bay camp site, Queen Charlotte Track

After leaving the campsite there is a 25 minute walk up a gravel road to get to Kenepuru Saddle. From here you follow the track up and across a series of ridges all the way to Torea Saddle and Portage some 24 km's distant. You need to take plenty of water with you as there is no re supply point until you get to the shelter at Bay of Many Covers over 13 km's away. 

Climbing to Kenepuru Saddle, view of Queen Charlotte Sound

You can see the group of French/Swiss trampers I was walking with for most of the day. As is common you stop and talk at similar places, so even though you don't know them well you get to meet and find out a lot about many groups of people as you walk along. These guys were off to the Abel Tasman Great Walk when they finished the QCT.

A gaggle of trekkers at Kenepuru Saddle, Queen Charlotte Track

From Kenepuru Saddle there is a long up hill slog for about 2 hours, eventually you reach point 411, this is the high point for all of the QCT. Then it is a series of ups and downs as you follow the ridge line towards Torea Saddle.

On the Queen Charlotte Track....Ah....yep!

Looking South East to Queen Charlotte Sound

View down to Kenepuru Sound from Kenepuru Saddle

There are some awesome views of the Sounds from high on this ridge, make sure you take the opportunity to stop and enjoy them as you walk along...

View looking to head of Kenepuru Sound, Queen Charlotte Track

View west of Pelorus Sound from the QCT track

Mt Stoke to left in the far distance, Queen Charlotte Track

The QCT crosses all of those ridge lines....

The half way point 1 km before the Bay of Many Coves camp site

I arrived at the Bay of Many Coves Campsite about 3 pm, the mixed Swiss/French group I had been walking with continued on to the Black Rock Campsite. The shelter and campsite were nice, although a bit exposed to the cold wind blowing up the sound. I pitched my tent on one of the more protected tent site's in the bush behind the shelter.

I shared the campsite with a NZ/German couple overnight, we were the only occupants.

Queen Charlotte Track: view from the shelter at Bay of Many Coves campsite
The shelter is a three sided affair with rainwater tanks for water, surprisingly they were almost all full as a supposed lack of water here had been concerning me for most of the day. Watch out for the resident weka, he is a thieving beast who kept coming and looking under my tent fly for something to eat/steal.

Cheeky bugger!

Bay of Many Coves Shelter, Queen Charlotte Track

The windward tent sites at Bay of Many Coves camp site

The campsites are rustic in the extreme but perfectly least they were flat and relatively soft and with a bit of good tent placement you can get right out of the wind. I was using my Luxe two person tent and it worked well on this trip...light, stable, roomy and easy to erect. 

Queen Charlotte Track: My tent site on the lee of the ridge Bay of Many Coves

Jon in the tent early evening, Queen Charlotte Track

I was still feeling quite chipper at the end of the day despite the 23 km's I had walked.


Day Three: Bay of Many Coves to Cowshed Bay

  Day three was a shortish day, only 13 km's and 5 hours of tramping to get to Torea Saddle and from there to Cowshed Bay Campsite. It was a bit windy but the track is surrounded on both sides by thick bush for most of the day so the wind did not have the effect it might have in a more open area. 

Beautiful sunrise at Bay of Many Coves, Queen Charlotte Track
QCT from Bay of Many Coves to Cowshed Bay

Queen Charlotte Track: nice sheltered track on a cold windy morning

View of Queen Charlotte Sound from the QCT
I was heading for Torea Saddle which is above the headland jutting out into Pelorous Sound from the left in the photo below.

Day three on the Queen Charlotte Track....the ridges I will be covering over the day!!!

Interislander ferry on way to Wellington from the Queen Charlotte Track

Some nice areas of bush alongside the track, QCT

Jon en route to Black Rock Shelter, Queen Charlotte Track

Atmospheric conditions over Queen Charlotte Sound
Queen Charlotte Track: Picton in the extreme distance....
You get your first view of both Picton and Anakiwa about two hours after leaving the camp site at Bay of Many Coves. It is also possible to see the course of the track as it sidles up and down the ridges. 

Closer view of distant Picton from the QCT

Jon on the Queen Charlotte Track near Black Rocks camp site

Queen Charlotte Track: take heed MTB'ers, they mean it....

The Blueridge ferry coming up Pelorous Sound from the QCT

3/4 er's of the way there....Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track: first view of Anakiwa in the far distance
I stopped at Black Rock Shelter for lunch and it was an excellent looking site with a newish shelter and well concealed tent sites. Plenty of good water in the rain tanks as well...

Black Rock Shelter, Queen Charlotte Track

View from inside Black Rock Shelter, Queen Charlotte Track

Queen Charlotte Track: Lunch and brew in the Black Rock Shelter

I tried one of the new Back Country Cuisine soups for lunch and was most impressed, it was delicious.This one was chicken, corn and noodles it had a full flavour and big meaty chunks of chicken it it. Yum!

I will definitely be buying more of these in the future.

My tasty soup lunch at Black Rocks Shelter, Queen Charlotte Track

On the Queen Charlotte Track....slowly counting down the distance...

When you get to Torea Saddle there is a track which leads directly to the DOC camp ground at sea level. It takes about 20 minutes and starts just to the right of the DOC map board in the photo below.

Torea Saddle with view to tomorrow's track, QCT

The war memorial at Torea Saddle, Queen Charlotte Track

I stayed the night at the DOC Cowshed Bay campsite, it was busy as it had two school groups already in residence. It is in a nice spot right on the shoreline with fine views of Pelorous Bay and good amenities right next to the camp sites.

Queen Charlotte Track: Shelter at Cowshed Bay camp site
Queen Charlotte Track: Toilet and cooking shelter, Cowshed Bay

My beach side tent site,  Cowshed Bay, Queen Charlotte Track

We are climbing over that tomorrow...Queen Charlotte Track

Pelorous Sound from Cowshed Bay camp site

Queen Charlotte Track: Portage in the distance
I was entertained for most of the afternoon by a goodly number of native birds singing and generally carrying on in the stand of fruit bearing trees along the shoreline. I've taken a short video, hopefully you can hear them...

Video of birdsong as dusk approached

I spent a lot of time either on the beach or sitting in the shelter, as there is a lack of actual grass to sit on near the tent sites. The campsite was totally full by the end of the day with numerous camper vans as well as seven different groups of trampers and two large school groups.

Jon sitting in the Cowshed Bay Shelter, Queen Charlotte Track
If you are staying at the camp ground and fancy a meal you can head 200 meters along the shoreline or road and eat at one of the restaurants at Portage Resort.

I hear the food is excellent if slightly pricey (as is to be expected so far from a major town...). 

Fancy a tasty cooked meal?...go to Portage

Bellbird in tree, Cowshed Bay camp site...Queen Charlotte Track
  I slept well that night despite the strong winds which blew in after dark, the sound of the nearby ocean was quite calming. I was quite dusty though as the grass on the tent sites had been killed off by the mass of people staying here over the last 3-4 months. If you have a choice go for the upper campsites as they were still green and shady, and only another 30 meters away from the shoreline.

Days 4 and 5 would see me walking the remainder of the track covering the area between Torea Saddle and Anakiwa...