Te Araroa Part 12: Cicada sounds
The “one to go” part of “One island down, one to go!” began to sink in on our last day on the North Island. We said goodbye to Sonia and Isobel in the morning, and Richard gave us a lift to the ferry terminal. Despite our extreme resupply, the packs were fairly light because the majority of the snacks were being shipped across to the south in boxes, while we were only carrying food for the first few days, enough for the Queen Charlotte track. Our packs had to be checked in, which made me a bit nervous because my Aarn pack is turning out to be a lot more fragile than I had hoped (it was fine though, I think the ferry people are a bit more careful with luggage than the average airport staff). With only daypacks, we had a leisurely trip across Cook Strait and through Marlborough Sounds. Weather can get very iffy here, but it seemed the North Island wanted to make up for the wind we had endured in Wellington and we had a very smooth sailing. We met Brianne on the boat, and Vincent, an older French guy we had last seen somewhere in Northland. Courtney had crossed to the South Island a few days earlier, as had Sarah and her group. But with more than 1300 km to go to Bluff, we knew we would probably bump into them again.
We arrived in Picton in the early afternoon. Brianne was going straight to the watertaxi because she wanted to start hiking. We glanced at the Picton waterfront - sun, beach, palm trees, ice cream - and decided to take the afternoon off. Picton has a good bakery and I really wanted a pie but they were out of vegetarian ones. Sigh. Despite the lack of pies, we had a nice afternoon filled with swimming, ice cream and relaxing.
We got up early the next morning to catch the 8 am watertaxi to Ship Cove, the start of the Queen Charlotte track and the South Island TA. Some of this track goes through private land so you need to pay a small fee to walk it. When we got our passes at the Picton iSite, the woman asked Jasper for his name and then started writing “J-u-s-...”. “It’s spelled with an a,” Jasper said quickly. The result: our Queen Charlotte passes were for someone named Juspa. I’ve completely given up trying to get people outside the Netherlands or Norway to spell or pronounce my name correctly, but you’d think most people could still deal with Jasper.
We were not the only TA hikers on the watertaxi. Vincent was there, plus a girl called Yerin from Auckland. She had just finished high school and after doing bits of the North Island she had decided to hike the entire South Island. We didn’t see a lot of her on the Queen Charlotte, but she will feature heavily in some later blogposts. The watertaxi dropped some day hikers with tiny packs on an island and then let the rest of us off at Ship Cove. It looked like it was going to be cold and rainy so we walked in baselayers for all of five minutes before it got too hot. The Marlborough region had been extremely dry with hardly any rain for about a month and our first days on the South Island would be no different. After an hour, it was unbearably hot.
Because the Queen Charlotte track is so popular, there are plenty of campsites and picnic tables along the trail. Many have great views over the Sounds. We were sitting at one of these, enjoying the view, when we spotted an old friend. Well, not really a friend. Friends don’t generally try to eat your toes. What we saw was a weka. Weka are flightless birds, endemic to NZ. They look a bit like chickens and will steal anything that’s lying around. They will also peck your toes, as Jasper found out when we were in NZ five years ago. There are plenty of weka on the Queen Charlotte track. This particular weka was obviously on the hunt for snacks to steal so I kept a close eye on my pack. The same can not be said for the woman on the other bench. She threw it bits of her sandwich! When I told her she shouldn’t feed them, she just scoffed and said it was fine and that she did it all the time at home and they came into her house. Well, I hope they tear her house apart. You should never feed wildlife. Period. The Department of Conservation has even put up signs all over the Queen Charlotte track about the dangers of feeding weka. I suppose some people are just idiots.
The trail was broad and well-graded and rock-hard. As a result, my feet quickly began to hurt. It probably didn’t help that we did long days in the heat. It took us a bit more than two days to finish the track, while most take three or four. We camped at the DoC campsite at Camp Bay the first night. Valeria and Rock Steady were there too, as they had decided to take a zero day there. “Watch out for the bloody chicken things” they told us. We watched out all right! As the name of the campsite implied, it was right down by the water. Some rays or skates were swimming around, waving at us with their fins just above water.
The second day on the Queen Charlotte track was even hotter than the first. Because of the lack of rain, the next two campsites were out of water. There was a notice on the DoC website, and signs at Camp Bay warning us. We were planning to go to the third campsite anyway, so this wouldn’t affect us so much. However, we did not want to run out of water on such a hot day (like on our second to last day of the GR5 in 2016), so we set of with 8 litres of water, as much as we could fit in our bottles. As we climbed up to the ridge, the cicada woke up. There were so many of them and they were so loud that Jasper was seriously considering hiking with earplugs.
From up on the ridge, at Eatwell lookout, we had a marvellous view over the Sounds. This was on one of the private land sections, and the Eatwell family have apparently always been very enthusiastic about the track. They certainly did a fantastic job with this lookout and signs along the way. The first campsite on the ridge was Bay of Many Coves. Far from being out of water, DoC had flown in 1500 litres just a few days earlier. Lovely of them, but it would’ve been great if they had communicated this to the volunteer camp ranger at Camp Bay... With plenty of water still in our packs, we kept going, leaving the water in the tank for others. The cicadas seemed to get louder and louder as the day wore on, and it got hotter too. With the dry landscape all around us, it was almost like hiking in the south of France. We had lunch at Black Rock campsite, where two DoC workers were busy putting in a second rainwater tank. Who knows, next year water shortage may not be an issue here! We went on further, and my feet were hurting quite a lot when we reached the junction to Mistletoe Bay, our campsite. The trail grade changed from “Easy tramping track” to “Tramping track”, with signs warning that DoC was not maintaining this trail. It was heaven for my feet to have something other to do than the repetitive trudging along the main track. Mistletoe Bay is a privately run campsite with facilities and a small shop. A “Tip Top” ice cream sign greeted us but sadly that sign had just been forgotten outside because the shop was firmly closed. We had dinner with Valeria and Rock Steady, plus to other hikers called Arvid and John. As we hunted through our food bag for dinner, we realised we had a pack of olives that we had been carrying since Kaitaia - more than 1500 km ago! We didn’t really like those olives so we had always left them in the bag, thinking they might make a good emergency meal. As the TA wore on, we realised we would probably never eat them so we offered them to the others and they were gone within five minutes! Hurray!
We got up early the next day because we knew there would be a long roadwalk into Havelock, and I am rubbish at roadwalking especially when my feet already hurt. The shop was still not open, nor was the campsite reception, so we left some money with Valeria so she could pay for us. She’s fast on roads so she wasn’t worried about the long day. The final part of the Queen Charlotte track was beautiful, with old totara trees that provided some welcome shade. The other hikers caught up with us just before Anikawa at the end of the trail. We had some snacks, but what we really wanted was ice cream, which was nowhere to be had. We would have to go on to Linkwater. I was dreading the roadwalk, but luckily we spotted the Link track just in time. This runs along the road, mostly in the shade, and saved our feet from the asphalt for a good part of the afternoon. The last part into Linkwater was still along the road but at least there was ice cream at the end of it. We even managed to keep up with Valeria and the others for quite a while. After ice cream and lunch, we continued to Havelock. Bits were on the road, but mostly we followed a track along a hill. We were slightly shocked when we checked the time and realised we had less than two hours to get to Havelock before the shop closed, so we raced down the hill and through the streets of the tiny town just in time to buy more ice cream. Havelock is where New Zealand’s most famous person went to school. I am of course talking about Ernest Rutherford. We were expecting a statue of him, or at least plaque in a square named after him. Nothing of that sort. There were cheesy statues of mussels (Havelock’s most famous export) and one of the two hostels is named after the famous scientist (this hostel is situated in the old building of said school). Rutherford hostel was unfortunately full so we ended up in the other one.
After our last shower and real bed for a while, we set off in the morning towards Pelorus Bridge. There was more roadwalking, first along the state highway with trucks roaring past. Then luckily we continued on a gravel road. It was like being back in the Waikato. In the afternoon we walked through fields (cows on the other side of the fence, luckily) with about ten million stiles to cross. The last few km were really nice, through forest along the Pelorus River (famous from that ghastly barrel scene in the Hobbit movie). The DoC campsite at Pelorus Bridge has a small field set aside for TA walkers. First, we picked up our massive box containing 10-11 days of food for the Richmond Ranges. The DoC guy could barely lift it: “Jeez, you must have had the munchies when you packed this!” Dude, we always have the munchies these days! I also got my new shoes, hurray! We pitched our tent with some other TA people including Brianne, and tried to get the contents of the box into our packs. We managed, somehow, after eating the Queen Charlotte leftovers. We had a good swim in the river, while Brianne laughed at us scrubbing the dust of the road off our legs with an exfoliating glove (if it’s stupid and it works, it’s not stupid). Yerin showed up a little while after us, with her resupply box. It was smaller than the box containing my new shoes. We eyed each other’s boxes with some concern, each clearly thinking the other was mad. Either Yerin would go hungry, or we would have a ton of leftovers. What we would definitely have: sprouts! We had bought some mung beans for sprouting at a shop in Wellington and made a new sprouting jar from a small juice bottle with holes in the lid. After soaking for about 12 hours (until they are just starting to sprout), I had carried the bottle upside down on the outside of my pack for several days, rinsing twice a day with water and making sure they could drain properly. Now, after a few days, we had sprouts! And they were delicious! Thank you again, random woman in Mangawhai for the idea!