Friday, February 15, 2019

New Zealand: Queen Charlotte Track Day 2: Furneaux Lodge to Punga Cove

Today was a shorter walk day from Furneaux Lodge to Punga Cove (about 4 hours) and it was overcast and raining lightly when we woke up so we decided to wait to see if it would stop before we started our walk. We had our breakfast and went off to the dining room to collect our pre-arranged lunch which consisted of a sandwich, fruit, fruit juice, brownie and a bar. Lots of sugary things to eat for someone on a low sugar diet. But it was that or nothing.

The rain was reduced to a fine drizzle by 9:30am so we left and hoped it would stay relatively dry for the duration of the walk. The terrain was supposed to be relatively flat almost all the say but judging from yesterday's hike, the track could be slippery when wet and it could make walking a bit of a challenge.
Overcast morning

Fortunately, the track was not that rocky and the elevation was low for the entire walk but with walking at such a low elevation, unless there is some clearing in the bushes, it was mostly forest.

Yesterday we saw some wekas (flightless birds in New Zealand) but nothing today. We were cautioned yesterday not to leave things like food, sunglasses or any small items lying around when stopping for lunch because they are likely to stealthily approach, nab your things and make themselves like arrows and head straight into the bushes with your sunglasses, never to be seen again. We were relatively incident free; nothing stolen or nabbed.

Trail path

We crossed over a suspension bridge which was not too high and with ample railings since Robin doesn't like heights.

The trail passes through privately owned property which the owners have graciously allowed people to use so some of the paths were very flat, prairie type grasslands. I think we saw a couple of houses along the way and a few gates that we had to open and close (looked like they were more for property demarcation) but really not much else. Some of those areas were hot because they were wide open and not sheltered from the sun.

Then we came up to this little cutie in the grass - a fantail bird - named so because it looks like a tiny peacock when it spreads its tail like a fan. It was a bit of effort to capture it with the tail fanned out in the tall grass.
Fantail bird

Most of the walk was looking for different kinds of trees including white birch which is plentiful and this purple bush which is really wild blueberries. The berries are a brilliant purple. Then there were the giant tree ferns - easily 40 feet tall.

Tree fern

We could see Punga Cove Resort but it took about 45 minutes more of walking from the time we saw it. Because it was overcast for most of the day, the clouds were so low that they were sitting on top of the mountain ridge for the entire day - making for a very relaxing and slightly magical walk.

Our accommodation was quite lovely. We had a two-bedroom chalet all to ourselves, with a balcony taking the entire front of the chalet, overlooking the Queen Charlotte Sound. The kitchen didn't have a stove or cooktop but we had no food to cook anyway.


Living room

View from bedroom

Large bedroom 

Balcony view

Terrace seating


Snack bar/pub

The resort had a hot (warm) tub and pool and we took advantage of both; after two full days of walking, my feet and shoulders felt good.
Hot tubbing and swimming

Map of resort chalets

Wild blueberries

Hammocks for a siesta
I walked up to the restaurant at the very top of the hill which was probably another 100 or more feet in elevation but the scenery was worth it. The resort is well kept and some of the flora is very unusual.

View from the restaurant
Walking, hot tubbing and cool weather was a recipe for an early evening. Tomorrow we were supposed to have the longest and most challenging day ahead of us - 23 km (8+ hours of walking mostly at a high elevation with little shade) We knew there was an option of water taxi for those who didn't want to walk every day but we as a group had not discussed anything other than walking.

After yesterday's walk, I was getting the distinct feeling that my two walking partners were not keen to do the long walk. During today's walk when I had some time to think, I considered the options for walking or not, who would be walking and who would actually want to walk. I wanted to walk the distance but I knew that Sabena and Robin were not keen so if I went ahead, they'd either feel obliged to come with me or Robin would come with me if Sabena decided to take the water taxi. He'd do that mostly because he'd be worried about me walking alone on the track (especially given that we had not met many walkers for the first two days). I finally came up with a revised plan so I could walk and they could water taxi.

The revised plan that I proposed and we all agreed to was that the three of us would take the water taxi from Punga Cove to Portage Resort and then walk part of the track for about one and a half hours toward Punga Cove and back track to Portage Resort. That would satisfy everyone. We could spend 3 hours on the track instead of 8 and I would get to experience part of the Day 3 track.

We were all comfortable with that decision so we arranged for the water taxi to pick us up at 9:00 tomorrow morning when they made their stop at the resort.

Time to do some reading and go to bed under a nice warm blanket (as the night had cooled off considerably).

Thursday, February 14, 2019

New Zealand: Queen Charlotte Track Day 1: Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge

Today was the start of our long, 5-day, 71 km walk along the Queen Charlotte Track. I heard about the track in 2013 from a woman was a member of Prairie Pathfinders Walking Club in Winnipeg. I had studied the route map many times over the course of the last year. We decided to go with Marlborough Sound Adventure Company because they had a lot of good information on their website and a 5-day, self guided Freedom Walk that we liked, cost wise. This one cost us $995 each for triple share rooms with water views at each stop (that was a bit extra). The other option for a guided walk (which we did not choose) was $1,000 more per person. I felt that choosing the self guided option, we'd be able to spend time with each other, go at our own pace and stop as we felt necessary, not when the guide told us to.

I'm sure none of the three of us slept soundly last night - mostly from bit of anxiety mixed with excitement and anticipation. We had a good breakfast and stored our extra luggage with Morty because we'll be staying at the motel on our return from the hike.

We arrived at the Marlborough Sound Adventure Company office at the waterfront. We received our briefing and were told that it was quite possible that the track would be closed on Monday because of the fire risk. That would be our last day anyway so we just had to hope that it would stay open.

QCT route map
Suggested walk times
There was a packed lunch for each of us then we boarded the Cougar Line water taxi for what we thought would be a 30 minute boat ride but it turned out to be about 1 hour 10 minutes because the boat had to make several stops to pick up and drop off people. I anticipated that we would start our walk at 10:30am and used the suggested walk times for slow walkers so we'd get into Furneaux Lodge at 4:00pm.
Inside water taxi

Robin the walker

Picton from the water


Zooming along to Ship Cove

Queen Charlotte Sound

Free cup of coffee in the water taxi

Water taxi stop at Bird Island

Sandra the track walker
 I had planned that we would start our walk from Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge at 10:30am and used the suggested walk times of 5.5 hours for slow walkers, so we'd get into Furneaux Lodge at 4:00pm but by the time we arrived at Ship Cove and had a short bathroom break, we actually started our walk at 11:35am at kilometre 71. 

It was the end or the beginning of the trail, depending where you start. Most people start at Ship Cove and walk to Anakiwa. Ship Cove was named by Captain James Cooke when he traveled to New Zealand in 1770 and spent 101 days there where he interacted with the Maori (the Indigenous People). 

Trailhead at Ship Cove 

Start/end of QCT
The trail was well marked and wide enough that two people could be walking side by side if it wasn't so rocky and uneven. We walked one behind the other with me at the front trying to establish a comfortable walking pace, Sabena in the middle and Robin at the back. It started off with a steady but steep climb for over an hour to an elevation of about 650 feet. I saw this on the elevation map but wasn't quite expecting it to be that challenging. Fifteen minutes into our walk, we stopped to strip off our jackets because we were already hot, even in the shade. 

Every so often, we would see a glimpse of the Queen Charlotte Sound (the body of water) as we ascended. We were going higher and higher and ever farther away. Just when I was beginning to wonder what the heck I had gotten my family into, we arrived at the top of the mountain (some might say a very high hill; I will now refer to it as a mountain range because for a sometimes hiker like me, it felt like a mountain) and had a magnificent view of Resolution Bay with some cabins below on a separate trail (we did not stop). 

It was such a relief to be walking on the flat (no elevation) and soon we were descending to almost zero elevation. That's when I felt my second toe on both feet starting to rub. I knew what that meant. I should have followed my best advice to myself and if they weren't going to hurt some more, I'd kick myself in the shin for wearing a pair of thick, albeit, merino wool ones, socks rather than two pairs of thin socks. It's not like I've never hiked or walked half marathons before. 

That was purely a dumb thing to do. And to add even more dumbness, today was the first time I wore them, even though I bought them a few years ago to take on my Kilimanjaro climb (I didn't ear them then). The socks were too thick for the warm weather and for my hiking boots. They did not give my toes much room in the toe box so I was certain that by the time I arrived at Furneaux Lodge, I'd have two very sore toes. Well, the scenery was a great distraction. 
Queen Charlotte Sound

We stopped about an hour later for lunch (packed for us) which consisted of a sandwich each and a drink. We had water so that was quite quenching. Sabena had brought a picnic blanket, thinking that we'd stop for a leisurely lunch before taking off again, but because we started late and we were walking slower than I wanted to, I didn't want to linger over lunch. Besides, my sandwich consisted of two slices of bread with a bit of cream cheese and one thin (and dare I say, paltry) slice of meat. I ate it, drank some water from my water bladder, repacked my backpack and heaved it on my back. Sabena, who had just finished her sandwich and was tucking into her snack, looked at me in shock and said" "We have to leave already? But I'm not finished eating!" I said: "Yes we are leaving. Eat on the way going." 

Resolution Bay

We had another slightly more gradual ascent to another 650 foot elevation to Tawa Saddle and the track continued to be rough and windy in most parts, interspersed with some smoother sections, but at least it was sheltered from the blistering sun.  

Then it was another open vista of pristine aqua coloured water. This is the time I wish I had brought my digital camera rather than taking pictures with my phone camera (which is decent but not as good as my camera). I decided against bringing it because I did not want to be fetching any extra weight on my back and while a camera is probably less than 8 ounces, every bit of unnecessary weight on my back is a decision to make. Walking with 15 pounds on your back for several hours is hard enough, doing it uphill, is exponentially harder. And doing it for 5 straight days is bordering on madness (for me). 

We encountered our first other walker on the trail - a young woman from Germany who was doing the walk solo. She was trying to take a selfie so I offered to take a picture of her and in turn, she offered to take one of the three of us. That was a nice group picture and might be the only one if we don't see other walkers. 

From Tawa Saddle, the trail did a gradual descend and smoothed out a bit. We passed through an area called The Pines, which had, guess what kind of vegetation? Surprise! Pine trees. Many, many of them. We had passed through virgin, subtropical rain forest, beech forest and a pine forest. It was nearly 4:45 and we had been walking for 5 hours with another short stop for a bathroom (first one we saw along the way). I'd think for a well travelled trail, there would be more of those, but maybe that's asking too much. I guess if the trail is to stay pristine, toilets along the way might prevent people from going into the bushes to do their business. Just saying...

That last half hour walk seemed like it was 3 hours. I knew we were close but every time I turned another corner and saw that there was another corner ahead, I felt more fatigued. By this time, I could feel a blister forming at the side of my right big toe, my two second toes, and the bottom of my left foot. I've never had that before and I walk a LOT! In an average week, I walk about 50-60 km and that's when I am not training for anything. This was not boding well for me.  

Finally, I rounded a corner and there was a sign saying Furneaux Lodge was 5 minutes away. And it was! Yes! We arrived at 5:15pm - about the time I expected we would, based on the time we left Ship Cove. We checked in and got a large, two bedroom chalet with a queen bed on one bedroom and four beds in the other. It even had a kitchen (not expected but pleased). 

Our chalet

I could not wait to take off my boots. Yeah. My feet thanked me. I removed my socks and touched my two sore toes and was pretty sure that I would lose the nail on both of them. We were tired because we had a restless night last night, and were up early today. 

Robin ordered dinner for us from the pub (not great selection and expensive -  $11 for french fries); otherwise it would be a 7:45pm seating in the restaurant, which was a bit too late for us and much more expensive ($70 for dinner). We each had a shower while waiting for dinner and did a bit of laundry (socks, undies, and t-shirts). It had cooled down quite significantly, so we ate dinner in the chalet rather than on the deck, but the view from the living room overlooking Endeavour Inlet was still quite beautiful. 

Main building with restaurant and pub
By the time we were done today, we walked 17.6 km. The information sheet said 14k. Whichever one is correct, we walked a lot! I got out my duct tape to tape up my toes and sore spots tomorrow. I learned many years ago that duct tape is excellent for preventing those friction points from forming full blown blisters. I had some today on the trail but I didn't use it because I felt that it would be another (although) thin layer in my boots that might not help. Tomorrow is a short walk day but I'll be prepared with my duct taped toes and foot and two thin pairs of socks. 

Time for bed. It was a hard but good day.