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The Queen Charlotte Track: Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge

The day of my departure for the Queen Charlotte Track brought with it anticipation and a touch of nerves. I was excited to start the first walk on a very tramping-heavy itinerary around the South Island, but at the same time, a little voice at the back of my head was wondering if I was in good enough shape to walk 71km. After all, I’d just emerged from a very stressful final year at uni where I’d spent the majority of my time in computer labs rather than doing anything even remotely active.

On Queen Charlotte Sound

Picton shrinks away in the distance as we head out into the sounds.

Those nerves were quickly forgotten when I stepped aboard the 10am Cougar Line ferry bound for Ship Cove. At check-in, I had been given yellow tags marking my destination for each day of the track; each morning, I would change this tag so my overnight pack would be delivered directly to my next port of call. With the “Endeavour Lodge” tag firmly attached to my backpack, I literally had taken a weight off my shoulders when I handed it off to be added to an already heaping pile of bags.

I chose a seat at the back of the boat so I could lean back, relax, and take in the view. What a stunning view that was. It was great to be able to start with a sea-level view of the sounds, with the saddles of the track towering on our port side; it meant I got to look at the sounds from a completely different angle than I would have for the next four days.

Queen Charlotte Sound

One of my first views across the sounds. Not bad, huh?

We made a few stops to drop off people along the way, but eventually we pulled up at the wooden dock that marked Ship Cove. I chose to wander around the site for a while and after about thirty minutes exploring there, I set off on the track, which runs steeply uphill out of the cove.

The first thirty minutes left me completely puffed; while it wasn’t very technical, it was a constant climb that left me wondering how I would make it through the entire track. The track was surrounded by thick foliage, meaning I often didn’t even need sunglasses, but there were occasional breaks that let through peeks of sparkling bays beyond.

On the Queen Charlotte Track

A good day for walking.

Before an hour had passed, I had made it to the viewpoint at one of the highest points for the day. The views in both directions were amazing — in one direction I could see across Kenepuru Sound all the way south to the Inland Kaikoura Range, and in the other I could see across Queen Charlotte Sound all the way to the North Island. A faint smudge in the distance marked far-away Kapiti Island, which shows how truly outstanding the visibility was.

Peeking through the ferns.

Peeking through the ferns.

From there, it was a steep descent down to Resolution Bay that would have been good fun on a mountain bike (which you can do during off-peak times of the year). The gradients became a little shallower after that, and I really started to feel like I was getting into the tramping groove. It was around then that I met up with two Kiwis and had my first introduction to tramping camaraderie.

Even though I was often walking along with just my thoughts to keep me company — it really is a good time to get things sorted mentally — it was a welcome change to have someone to chat to that shared my interests. These Kiwis, Di and Gordon, walked at about my speed so we had a great three days together on the track before we went our separate ways.

Nearly at a lookout!

Climbing uphill...nearly there!

My other constant companions on the track were the kilometer markers. Most of the tracks I walked in NZ had these, marking how many kilometers you have left to go. For the distance-challenged like me, this was useful for gauging position on the track. Plus, each one was a source of pride — another kilometer tackled.

The next saddle offered more panoramic views, a couple benches, and the promise of the track only being downhill for the rest of the day. I enjoyed all of these things, but the thing I remember most about this mini-break was the weka. I’d never seen a (wild) weka — a small flightless bird that’s taken to scavenging in many places — before and was thoroughly entertained by his antics. One of them nearly crawled up my leg at the sight of a few crackers, but alas, they were not for him.

Hungry hungry weka

Hungry hungry weka.

As we walked downhill from there, the track became more and more populated. Little walkways led off to small bays, and stands selling local specialties like paua and honey occasionally popped up alongside the main walkway. My feet were really starting to question my sanity by that point, having already walked 15km, so I didn’t take any of the side tracks (including an hour-long round-trip to a waterfall). Instead, I continued for a kilometer past Furneaux Lodge, many people’s stop for the first night, until I came upon the Endeavour Resort, where my pack was waiting for me.

Endeavour Inlet

Back at sea level on the Endeavour Inlet.

Soon, I was happily laid out in a hammock overlooking the sound, taking in my surroundings. I’d made it through my first day on the track; there were a few struggles, but I’d proved to myself that I was fit enough to enjoy it. Plus, the view seemed that much sweeter because of the effort I’d put in to get there!

What is something you’ve done in your travels that seemed so much sweeter because it required so much effort?

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