Saturday, 10 February 2018

Tongariro Alpine Circuit - Stats & Maps

Nothing massively surprising came out of my maps for the Tongariro Circuit. I did a few less steps than I expected most days, but otherwise was quite happy with the walk.

Day ONE - Every km had some uphill, ranging from 17m in the 5th kilometer to 79m in the 2nd (which was also our slowest). Our fastest section was the last 600m to the hut, which is unsurprising, given this was the point where we came off the clay gully and onto the immaculately manicured Tongariro Alpine Crossing track. The going here was often slower than the terrain would suggest as the walking required careful consideration to avoid unkempt track.
Fitbit: 26,351 steps
MapMyWalk: 8.64km, 202m gain, 11,751 steps while walking, 10,895kJ 
DoC: 8.5km 

Day TWO - It honestly looks like we ran out of puff just before crossing into South Crater - it took us an HOUR to complete km 5. What it doesn't show is that we stopped to take some night photos, and didn't stop the tracker while we did. We were running out of puff a little by then though, having done over 2 hours all uphill with no breakfast and on about 3 hours sleep. Our next slowest km was the final climb to the top, where we did hit the wall. That was hard. The biggest climb was in the 4th km, at 213m. It is easy to pick where we got down off the lava flows and onto the better track, as our pace speeds up significantly.
Fitbit: 30,796 steps
MapMyWalk: 12.08km, 629m gain, 16,432 steps while walking, 20,707kJ
DoC: 12.8km (8km Mangatepopo to Emerald Lakes, 4.8km Emerald Lakes to Oturere)

Day THREE - Turns out, there's quite a climb between Waihohonu and Whakapapa. It actually didn't feel that bad, especially after the short, sharp, up and over we did to get to Waihohonu in the first place. It is completely unsurprising that that section was both our slowest, and our biggest single-km climb, with the climb being nearly perfectly 1km, and 143m. Distances are a little out on this day as I had to use my iPhone, which tends to add in unnecessary loops, creating extra distance, but also increasing speed.
Fitbit: 43,159 steps
MapMyWalk: 25.35km, 496m gain, steps not suggested, 21,569kJ
DoC: 21.8km (7.5km Oturere to Waihohonu huts, 14.3km Waihohonu to Whakapapa)

Exemplar iPhone loops at Waihohonu

Exhaustion level: Epic


Tongairo Northern Circuit, Great Walk. Whakapapa Village to Whakapapa Village.
Party: Marion, Me
03 – 05 February 2018

Halfway up the Devils Staircase, under the light of the ¾ moon, at about 4:30am on Sunday morning, Marion commented to me that I was probably the only friend she had crazy enough to not only do, but suggest, such a trip. I think she meant it as a compliment.

Track, Whakapapa - Mangatepopo
After dropping off our town clothes and after-tramping food at the club lodge at Iwikau, we nabbed a carpark in the village, threw on rain gear and headed off on the “least maintained track in the National Park” (DoC Visitor Centre Rangers own words). With reasonable weather, we made it across to Mangatepopo Hut in good time. The track was definitely average, with some bits that would be awful in bad weather.

It was cold on the deck of the hut, catching the wind, with little to no sunshine, but it was lovely and warm inside with the gas fire going. We nabbed bunks, had some dinner, and re-packed as much as we could in preparation for Sunday mornings scheduled 3am alarm. After a gorgeous sunset, most of the hut started heading for bed, although the DoC Ranger on duty sat up being rowdy and drinking with a small group of others who had turned up with a significant quantity of beer and vodka.

Needless to say, Marion and I felt no guilt at all when we woke Mickey, who was sleeping on the kitchen floor (having given his room to his mother for the night), as we were heading out at 3:15am.

Sunset, Mangatepopo
The weather was perfect for night walking – clear, cool but not bitingly cold, and with a reasonable moon. We had head torches in our pockets mostly for when we were in and out of our packs changing up layers, relying solely on the moonlight for walking. We could see head torches ahead of us on the staircase, but we never caught up with them.

Near the crest of South Crater we were overtaken for the first time by a daywalker (so, sometime around 5:45am), who soon went back down past us, looking for his girlfriend. We were shocked that he had left her behind in the dark.

The light was starting to rise on us, and with our night-adjusted eyes, South Crater looked bathed in sunlight well before the sun was up. We made it to the edge of the crater just in time for sunrise and settled in with all our warm layers for breakfast at last. It was bitterly cold at this point, probably the hardest time of our morning, and we still hadn’t made it to the top.

Emerald Lakes
More people were starting to come up and through to overtake us at this point, and a group was already on their way back as we paused just before the crest of Red Crater, while a drone illegally flew overhead, ruining the otherwise peaceful morning atmosphere.

We finally started warming up as we headed down Red Crater to Emerald Lakes, and by the time we had taken more stops here, and gotten around the bottom lake to the track to Oturere Hut, the top of Red Crater was covered like an ants nest with people – a sight we regularly looked back onto for the rest of the day. We were thrilled to have beaten the crowds.

Once back off the Alpine Crossing, the track condition deteriorated again, and was a huge climb down before meandering along towards Oturere. Our fatigue started showing here, as everything took longer than expected.

Oturere Hut
It was cold when we arrived at Oturere, not long after most of the previous nights occupants had left. The windows were all open to air it out after a night of a full hut of wet people, and while it was sunny, the cold breeze made it a generally unpleasant place to be.

The first of the people we had left behind at Mangatepopo at 3am started arriving within an hour of us, and soon the weather warmed and I got sunburnt feet from wearing jandals and long johns. The people at Oturere were absolutely lovely, and we had a great night, but the hut itself is WELL too small for the number of bunks it has, with one small laundry rack, a table that can seat 6 at a squeeze and only four cookers to deal with 27 beds and space for 15 more in tents. It also only had one working tap – that hut was ripe for a norovirus outbreak. Thankfully it had a generous deck with several picnic tables and we hit good weather, so most people hung about outside.

Monday morning I woke shortly before sunrise, then missed the best colour of sunrise by being in the bathroom. It was another beautiful one, this time with lots of cloud to colour unlike Sundays clear blue sky. We had a lot of ground to cover (about 24km), so we didn’t dither in bed, but instead started prepping to get up and away towards Waihohonu in good time.

The track between Emerald Lakes and Waihohonu was my least favourite of the entire circuit. I simply found it all hard going and uninspiring. We arrived at Waihohonu fatigued and damp after the days first rain shower came through, and met people who had left before us already departing again after their morning tea break. We stayed for lunch instead.

Stormy Conditions
Waihohonu to Whakapapa is actually pretty good condition track overall. A couple of bits are a bit boggy / old, as if they are still on the upgrade list, but much has been laid with gravel and stairs. In good weather (but not too hot), it would be a rollicking walk with incredible views of Ruapehu, Tama, and Ngauruhoe. Instead, we could barely see anything for the day, which did make it hard to gauge how we were going.

About 1/3 of the way across a sudden storm passed through. The forecast had been for “passing showers, becoming heavy in the late afternoon”, but with 0cm accumulation of rain every 6 hours. We did not expect hail, gale force winds, and torrential rain that had us soaked through on our legs within seconds. Heads down, we kept moving.

The rain didn’t hang around for too long thankfully, and the wind cooled us off. But every time we thought maybe we could put our jackets away, the rain came back. After the second to-the-skin soaking, when the wind turned bitterly cold, we stopped (in the rain) to take off our jackets and add an extra layer – this was hypothermia weather if ever we saw it.

We opted not to go to Tama Lakes, as we were cold and tired and just wanted to get to the end. We rested at the top of Taranaki Falls in some rare warming sunshine before putting our coats back on to keep warm for the last push home across the tops to the village. The moment when we could see the chateau was amazing.

Hot showers at the lodge, cheese and crackers before dinner, an early night and hot pools at Tokaanu the next morning rounded out our adventure.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Milford Track - Stats & Maps

Tracking for this trip is WAY off, as I discovered once home that my iPhone likes to take aimless wanders into the local area when tracking on Map My Walk (for example, my 3.5km walk from daycare to work is apparently 4.6km on iPhone MMW, joy).
But, here's what I have, because this is now what I do.

Day ONE - Overall a good pace, we paused a lot to admire birds and the river near Glade Lodge, which slowed us down in that km, but given we only had a few km to walk and full packs, we mostly just kept moving.
Fitbit: 20,417 steps
MapMyWalk: 5.53km, 63m gain, 8,924 steps while walking, 4,322kJ
DoC: 5km (plus wetland walk)

Day TWO - the 4th km was our biggest gain (160m), but the last 2.5km included nearly 300m gain between them, and between that and the heat, we slowed down a chunk - our only slower km was the one where we put our packs down to whip into Pomplona Lodge to check if the wallet we found belonged there, and the tracker was left on in my pack. A constant, steady uphill with little to no respite. Interesting that MMW suggested more steps than I actually took - I've never had that happen before.
Fitbit: 32,496 steps
MapMyWalk: 20.55km, 763m gain, 37,531 steps while walking, 19,430kJ
DoC: 16.5km (plus two short side trails to waterfalls, probably 1km return each max)

Day THREE - I am enormously sad at just how much I can't trust the tracking on this day. According to MMW, we climbed nearly 1100m, including several stints of 200+m vertical in a km, when I know we were mostly downhill or along a ridge. The tracking looks like my 4yo tried to follow the line.
Fitbit: 37,628 steps
MapMyWalk: 24.32km, 1,083m gain, 47,312 steps while walking, 25,221kJ
DoC: 14km (plus Southerland Falls - about 1.5km each way)

Day FOUR - A steady day. A few slow kms, and a couple of spots where the iPhone just really could not get the tracking right, but it wasn't as far our as the day across the tops. At least the general gist of the tracks are right.
Fitbit: 37,377 steps
MapMyWalk: 20.68km, 329m gain, 35,333 steps while walking, 17,682kJ
DoC: 18km (no side tracks)
Example of one of the loops on the tracker

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Hidden Scenery

Milford Track, Great Walk. Lake Te Anau to Milford Sound
Party: Mark, Me
19 – 22 December 2017

Getting to the Milford Track is a feat of organisational skill, even doing so as a domestic visitor. We had to know what dates we wanted so that when bookings opened, we were only trying for specific dates – and then we had to get through the overloaded bookings system, which we barely managed. Add in sorting getting physically TO and from the track, and well, it took a bit of planning!

After leaving Spike in Christchurch with his grandparents and cousins, we jumped on our quick flight to Queenstown, where it was gloriously sunny. Our bus to Te Anau (TrackNet) picked us up at the commuter bus stop immediately outside arrivals about 2 minutes later than scheduled, and dropped us to our accommodation in Te Anau.

The next morning, after checking out and leaving a bag at reception for our return, we hefted our packs and wandered along the lakefront to the DoC visitor centre to pick up our passes for the track. With a couple of hours free time, we then left our packs behind and walked back into town for a last café break before grabbing our bus.

The wind at Te Anau downs was fierce and freezing, so everyone bundled up into their jackets while waiting for the launch to arrive for our pickup. The sun came back out as we cruised up the lake, enjoying the views of the mountains and the Southern Rata, but jackets stayed on as it didn’t really warm up as we hit the start of the track.

The wander in to Clinton hut was largely smooth sailing. We stopped outside Glade Lodge to remove our jackets, and were the last independent walkers from our boat across the famous swing bridge over the Clinton river. It wasn’t long before we started spotting the robins that became synonymous with our trip. The bush was lush and thick, and we got snippets of view as we walked. Arriving at the hut, we found it only 2/3 full, both of us nabbing bottom bunks in one of the two bunkrooms. We settled in to chill out for the afternoon, reading or doing the jigsaw puzzle laid out in the dining room. It was a bit of a late night, given it didn’t get dark till after lights out and we hadn’t walked far – everyone had loads of energy.
The Praire

Day 2 dawned fine and clear. We ambled off about mid group, stopping regularly (at first) to admire the robins we were seeing along the track. It seemed not long before we reached the lunch shelter used by the guided walkers, where we later discovered we should have topped up our water. It was already getting pretty warm, so we enjoyed a break in the shade before heading off, planning to lunch ourselves at Prairie Shelter.

Prairie Shelter was a roof with no sides. It reflected the heat back in, did nothing to deter the sandflies, and would have been a miserable place to stop in bad weather. While it had a toilet, it had no water supply. It also had a local population of weka, which made the break here a bit more entertaining.

Along the way, at one of the side tracks, we had picked up a wallet accidentally dropped out of a pack. We made an effort to stop at the guided walkers lodge at Pomplona to ensure it wasn’t one of theirs from a previous day (we were confident the current days walkers were all somewhere behind us), before discovering just shy of Mintaro hut that the wallet belonged to a member of a party on our own walking day – good thing too, since it had drivers licences and car keys in it!

A half moments personal reflection was had as we crossed the creek bed immediately past the Guided Walkers Pomplona Lodge – likely the place where the young couple got into trouble a couple of winters ago – to contemplate the crossing of that water course in high flows without a bridge. Crossing it when there was no flow was challenging enough.

Eventually, after being slightly broken by the heat of the day and having run out of water, we made it to Mintaro Hut, where we grabbed a couple of mattresses effectively on the floor and chilled out awaiting a time suitable for cooking dinner, opting not to join several other parties in a mission to the top of the hill to see the views before the weather closed in.

The forecast rain arrived at about 4am, and was soon a steady drizzle. Such an incredible change from the heat of the day before. Suddenly there were thousands of waterfalls visible from the deck of the hut, and we were going up into the clouds and through to the other side in it.

The climb up to Mackinnon Pass was actually almost my favourite part of the trip, despite the weather. The track was well graded, the zig zags enabled good altitude gains while not being too steep, and despite the clouds we got glimpses of amazing views. Cresting out at the top we found the memorial and some tarns, with a bitingly cold wind that had us briefly confer about whether we should stop and put on additional clothing (we opted not to). Mt Balloon and the 12 second drop both kept teasingly peeking out of the cloud before vanishing again, and we spotted a very cold looking weka just as we arrived at the shelter.

Walking into the shelter was like walking into a steam room. Everyone was wet through and sweaty, plus people were (sensibly) taking advantage of the provided gas and water to have hot drinks before heading off again. The toilet with a view had no view to speak of, and one of the girls in another party was struggling with hypothermia (which her party had well under control, utilising group members spare gear and refilling a water bladder with warm water).

Down the hill was a long, slow, cumbersome slog. The track was clear, but not well-formed. There were a lot of unbalanced rocks and huge steps. It had some positives though – Roaring Burn Creek was amazing in the rain, and Andersons Cascade is a massively under-advertised part of the day, especially if it’s been raining.

We finally stopped for lunch at Andersons Cascade shelter, most of the way down the hill. We were eaten alive by sandflies while there, so didn’t stay for long, opting to push on towards Quintin Lodge, where there was another shelter (with a flush toilet and a water boiler). We had decided on our way down that we wouldn’t go out the side track to Sutherland Falls as we were both so tired, but after 20 minutes rest at Quintin, were persuaded by others that we should. We made it to the second swing bridge before deciding we were rather done-in and needed to be aiming for our own hut again.

Not our pack, thank goodness!
Dumpling Hut was a sight for sore feet when we finally got there, although we were far from the last in for the evening. The bunkrooms stank from people hanging their sweaty damp clothes on the bunk ends (to avoid kea predation), despite there being drying racks in the living room. Most people retired early for the night, disbelieving the wardens suggestion on walking times, after all taking significantly longer to get down from the pass than suggested by the previous warden.

Mark and I were the last ones out the next morning, departing as the first guided walkers appeared on the deck in search of toilets. I had massive tendonitis lumps on my Achilles, and so was unable to walk in my boots, instead needing to strap my feet and borrow Mark’s Teva sandals.

Giants Gate Falls
The walk out was odd – I was actively trying to keep my feet dry for starters, and had to be concerned about rocks because kicking one accidentally would have been painful. We ran into Akiko again (a guide for the private walkers, who we had jump-frogged with the day before) a couple of times and she was full of good advice for dealing with the walk out in sandals.

The various waterfalls on the last day of the Milford are lovely, and the track was largely under cover of trees, so not too hot. We made reasonable time, but the last mile seemed interminable. Arriving at Sandfly Point shelter about 5 minutes before the recommended 15-minutes-before-departure of our boat was a relief.

The boat trip back over was incredibly bumpy, as the rivers were up and the tide was moving in, along with the afternoon sea breeze. When we loaded, we had all considered that perhaps opening the blinds would be good to let the breeze in. By the time we were half way back, we were super glad we hadn’t as the spray was huge.

Grabbing a seat in the air conditioned wharf building while we waited for our bus home, Mark whipped up to the café to get ice creams, which were absolute bliss. Thankfully there were only about 6 of us on the bus, so we could put our feet up in preparation for limping off at our accommodation in Te Anau.

Sunday, 19 November 2017

Mind: Blown

Somes Island overnight camp
Party: Just me!
04-05 November 2017

After trying (not very hard) and failing (with no great disappointment) to get a couple of families together for an overnight camp on Somes Island, I instead wound up booking just for myself for the night of the city Fireworks display.

Mark and Spike dropped me off at the ferry wharf with a few minutes to spare, and a family of 4 who were staying at one of the houses and I were soon disgorged on the wharf at Somes with our bags full of food, gear, and potential pests for inspection in the Rat House.

The walk up the hill soon had me plenty warm, despite the overcast and somewhat cool weather, and arriving at the camping area I discovered 5 other tents already set up – obviously those I was sharing the site with had already arrived. Picking a spot a little away from the others that was reasonably flat, I soon had my tent up, despite the seam sealing tape disintegrating, and the inner making at least one attempt at flying away.

It turned out that everyone else staying on the island for the night was part of a large group – the other 11 spots in the campground were taken up with a family++ group, and a social group had the 18 spaces in the two houses. I was the only person who had gone to the island alone. But I was far from lonely – in fact, both groups adopted me at different times, welcoming me into their groups in different ways!

By this time it was pretty much dinner time. I went for a short walk down to the lookout I was planning to shoot from to ensure it would work, then past the lighthouse, the mini DoC Hut, and back up over the gun emplacements first, then joined the family and friends group in the kitchen for dinner. Turns out I could have gotten away with not taking any food except snacks with the amount they had spare. 

After hanging out there for a while, reading and chatting, it was time to get changed into warm clothes and head to the various lookouts we were all watching the fireworks from. The family group split, with some going to the smaller south-end lookout, and others watching from the top of the hill at the gun emplacements. I was joined at the larger lookout by the group from the houses, who were amazed that I was camping on the island on my own.

After the fireworks display had ended, a couple of the adults invited me to join them in a meander around the track on the west side of the island to see if we could spot any tuatara. With nothing else happening, and my hoped-for long exposure photography written off by the increasingly ferocious wind, I opted to join them, and am so intensely glad I did! While on our wander around the edge of the island, we found a single tuatara, and 5 Little Blue penguins – the first time I have seen them on the island (despite 3 previous overnight visits), and even better, they actively walked straight past us on the track – because they happened to be going somewhere behind us.

What an amazing experience. I have a handful of grainy photos, and one where I accidentally used the flash on my cellphone (new work phone, didn’t realise it had flash, the other doesn’t!). We were all buzzing.
After a quick cup of tea back in the campground kitchen, it was time to get changed for bed. I was very glad to have bought my thermal sleeping bag liner with me, as it was not very warm in the tent. In fact, it was the first time I have slept in a thermal in my sleeping bag for a very long time! 

That said, “sleep” would not be a good description of the following 7 hours. Sometime around midnight there was a short burst of rain, not that you could tell in the morning, and not enough to test the now non-existent seam-sealing of my little tent. All night there was wind. And masses of it. You could hear it coming, as it set off the trees further north on the island before hitting the tent, rattling everything and on occasion, fluttering the floor to boot.

A restful night was not had, I think I finally had a sleep of more than 30 minutes at a time from about 4am! Then suddenly the sun was up and shining in my tent. I had wanted to be up for sunrise, but obviously that didn’t happen.

A wander around the island to plan some future photography trips, a cruisy breakfast where I could have had cold steaks with bacon if I had wanted, packed up my tent and it was time to head down to the wharf to wait for the first boat home.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Castle Rock solo (first time in 15-odd years)

25 April 2015
Just Me
5.97km, 2hr05min, Guthrie Cres to Guthrie Cres

Things at uni were proving to be hard work and stressful, and a long weekend at the beach with Mark, Spike and my parents where most of my spare time was spent doing homework was not helping. So mid afternoon after the local ANZAC service at Tinui, I headed off for a walk. I wasn’t sure exactly where I was planning to go, or how far when I left, and I was incredibly annoyed that the GPS on my phone wouldn’t connect.

As I was rounding the lagoon on the upper track, I made the decision that (since I had a time and weather window) if my fitbit hadn’t told me I had completed 10,000 steps by the turnoff back down to the water, I would continue up the rock to the summit.

I’m still not sure how far off I was, but it didn’t. So off I trundled up the hill, still waiting on my phone to connect to GPS (it appears it finally did around the top of the hill).

The climb wasn’t as bad as I remembered. The wind at the top was breezy rather than blustery, which was nice, and there were only a couple of other people up there with me. I called Mark while I was up there and watched the little ant-sized people come out onto the back deck of the beach house to wave at me.

Coming down slowly, I turned left at the junction and wandered down to the lagoon itself, where I hit an incredible time of day that made me wish I had my tripod with me – the light and shadow on the wet sand of the outgoing tide in the lagoon was stunning.

About half the walk. Once my tracker finally picked me up. Thankfully I could edit out the 35 mintues I walked before it started tracking me.

Wednesday, 8 March 2017

Queen Charlotte Track - Stats and Maps

Again, like many other walks in the last 2 years, I tracked all our distances on Map My Walk. The tracker was only stopped for "packs off" breaks. Any short breathers or similar are counted in the tracking.
Interestingly, the distance results of this tracking are different to those suggested on the various websites and brochures.

Day ONE - An unsurprising graph, really. Every km had some elevation gain, with the biggest gain being in the first km at 217m. Our 10th kilometer of the day, which was also a mostly-downhill one almost at the Pines, was our fastest of any day on the track, at 13:18.The sign post at Ship Cove suggested 15.5km to Endeavour Inlet, we didn't make it quite that far in our 13.12km to Furneaux.
Fitbit: 29,741 steps
MapMyWalk: 13.12km, 461m gain, 17,848 steps while walking, 16,092kJ

Day TWO - Stopping at Furneaux accidentally added the better part of 5km to this day. Shame about the rain the day before - spending the night at Madsens would have been fantastic in that regard. According to the sign at the head of Endeavour Inlet, it was 15km back to Ship Cove - 0.5km shorter than Ship Cove's sign suggested to get there. This was our first introduction to "Maybe the signs lie" - a theme that became quite common over the course of the walk.
This again was another day where every km had some form of elevation gain. Our fastest km took 13:43, but we also had a series of km's that took over 20 minutes. Our biggest single km climb was 173m at the 17km mark - almost bang on halfway.
Fitbit: 58,700 steps 
MapMyWalk: 35.53km, 1,234m gain, 48,331 steps while walking, 39,037kJ

Day THREE - a long, slow day. Fast was the last 40m, technically. At which point we were already crossing the grass at the campground. Our average pace was 30mins / km. Add in all the stops we took and it was much longer. Another day where the signs lied - at Torea Saddle it suggested this would be a 12.5km day. We opted to take the side track for "Advanced" walkers down to the campground. I think it cost us some time, as it wasn't clearly cut in places. Again, every km had some climb, with the biggest (226m) being in the first km - not a pleasant start to the day!
Fitbit: 17,787 steps
MapMyWalk: 8.04km, 479m gain, 10,934 steps, 14,012kJ

Day FOUR - Yay! On the way home! Another day where EVERY km had some uphill - a number in the 100m range, with the biggest (again) being the first at 115m. Our fastest pace was the 11th km, at 16:11. Our overall pace was good at least!
Fitbit: 31,005 steps
MapMyWalk: 13.34km, 374m gain, 18,142 steps, 13,795kJ

Overall, we did 70.04km over 4 days, which included about 3km off the track to get to and from accommodation at Portage and Mistletoe Bay.
The total gain over the course of the track was 2,548m.

 According to this map (which is the most widely published one around, used by tour operators and on the walls at several accommodation providers), it is 71km from end to end on the track, plus any detours to accommodation off the track (say, in Portage or Mistletoe Bay), including taking the route along to Camp Bay and then up.
According to signs along the way, the track varies in length from 67.6km to 76.6km. The most egregious differences are at Torea Saddle. A short distance (about 1km) before the saddle, coming from the north, is a 21km to go track marker. At the start of the south bound track is a 24km to go marker. The sign here also indicates that the section to Te Mahia Saddle is 12.5km, while every other record shows it as 7.5 or 8.5km.

Also annoying is that the track junction below Kenepuru Saddle says it is 8km to Bay of Many Coves Campsite. Once you reach Kenepuru Saddle (1.5km later), THAT sign suggests 10km to Bay of Many Coves Campsite. Every piece of information southbound says the distance between Bay of Many Coves and Black Rock Campsites is 8km. Its 10km, and the signs heading northbound accurately reflect this.

Mostly, we found the variations hilarious. The only really annoying one was reaching a saddle where we expected Black Rock Campsite to be at about 7pm, and finding a sign indicating it was still 30 minutes away. The sign at Torea suggesting it was going to be a 12km day on excruciating feet and in serious heat was also not so easily laughed off. Thankfully that sign was well and truly wrong.

Thursday, 2 March 2017

These boots were made for walking, but they’ll no longer do…

Queen Charlotte Track, Ship Cove to Anakiwa
Party: Angela, Marion, Myself
16-20 February 2017

As a special treat, this trip comes with a playlist... Click the day titles for youtube clips of the music!

Day One: ‘Ain’t no sunshine

After spending the night with the parents of a friend (yay for being fed dinner and breakfast!), we woke to the sound of rain on the roof. This was not entirely unexpected, although finding a forecast that actually indicated the amount of rain we should expect where we were going had been difficult.

The rain spat at us while we collected our track passes and checked in for our water taxi. By the time we got off the water taxi at Ship Cove it was definitely raining. We quickly headed to the shelter for an early lunch and weka spotting. Yet again, it was too wet for me to want to wander up to the waterfall near the memorial – what is it with me and rain at Ship Cove?

Unlike last time I did this day of the track, however, it didn’t stop raining on us on the way up to the lookout. If anything, it kept getting heavier. And heavier. This weather was not conducive to stopping with any sort of regularity, so no afternoon tea was had. Thankfully the rain eased slightly when we reached Tawa Saddle for a toilet and food break.

By the time we reached Furneaux, we were soaked to the skin. It was 5pm, and we still had an hours walk planned to get around to Madsens Camp, where our bags had been dropped. Joy of Joys – Furneaux had a spare bunk room available, and for an extra $20 would go and collect our bags from Madsens. While we were aware that this would mean an extra 2-3km / hour-ish of walking to do on Saturday, it also meant we had real shelter rather than a tent.

We were glad for real beds, and the chance to warm up in front of the fire, but Furneaux is a surprisingly run-down place. $56 per person for a backpacker bed gets you no cooking facilities, a concrete-block toilet akin to a back-blocks DoC campground and no real sheltered spot for getting stuff actually dry (unless you can nab a spot by the fire, which were scarce the evening we were there!).

Day Two: ‘Long Day’ (aka ‘The day that doesn’t end’)

Putting sopping wet socks and boots back on in the morning is no-ones idea of a good time. Doing it in the knowledge that we were looking down the barrel of probably 35km walk with some big hills was dreadful.

The walk around the edge of Endeavour Inlet was dull, muddy and generally not fantastically pleasant. I begrudge nobody who takes up the offer of getting a ride across the inlet in conjunction with transporting their bags. Views are minimal, and the only excitement we had the whole 3-odd hours it took us to Kenepuru Saddle was a fleeting glimpse of a stoat and seeing a pair of Pukeko.

Thankfully, the weather was great for tramping – cool and overcast. If the rain of the day before (or the heat of the day after) had still been with us at Kenepuru Saddle, we would have abandoned the trip across the top and instead opted for either a water taxi or a hitch to Portage / Torea Bay. Instead, lunch was had at Kenepuru Saddle, and at 1pm we hitched our packs again in contemplation of either 23 or 24.5km ahead of us to the next road junction at Torea Saddle (depending which signage / information sheet you were reading), including crossing the highest point on the track, at 481m.

Onwards and upwards and upwards and upwards. We opted not to visit Eatwells Lookout when we discovered it was a 30-minute return walk. This was a stupid long day as it was and we already knew we would be pushed for daylight.

Pausing at Bay of Many Coves Campground at 5:30 for painkillers, refilling water bottles (thank goodness the tanks had filled a bit, having been empty in early January) and food, we ran into a German couple, through-walking Te Araroa Southbound, who were continuing on to Black Rock Campsite. Leaving a campsite at 5:45pm with 15km still to go seemed entirely wrong.

We found the German couple again at a saddle 8km later – right where Black Rock campsite should have been according to the distances suggested on all the signage. It was still another 2km / 30 minutes away. Boo. Another break here for the toilet and on we pushed, only to be stopped about 1km later, first by my blisters, then by a sudden torrential downpour.

Our final 4km for the day was in in increasing darkness and rain, thankfully it was mostly nicely graded downhill that my sore knee could cope with ok as the track was also in good condition. Eventually, we popped out on the road at Torea Saddle, desperately wishing we had the phone number for our accommodation at Treetops to call and ask for a pickup. 9pm and we finally knocked on the door of the backpackers, tired, sore, damp, and beyond the point of being able to deal with a walk down the dark path to the main backpacker building to use the kitchen. Thankfully the owner gave us a jug of hot water for tea, and we all had sandwiches for dinner around having showers before heading straight to bed.

Day Three: ‘I dare you to move

Saturday night I went to bed in tears. My boots were falling apart and causing the most incredible foot pain (the wet boots for 35km issue hadn’t helped either, obviously). I didn’t want to carry on. In retrospect, I possibly shouldn’t have.

Our lovely host gave us a ride to Torea Saddle to start the track, and we started inching our way up the hill. Unlike the previous two days, we actually saw a moderately significant number of people on the track over the course of the day, going both ways. Oddly, given we had taken a photo with a 21km marker before exiting the track the day before, at the bottom of the southbound track here was a 24km to go marker. Yet more proof that the track lies.

By this stage, lookouts often had views to Picton itself, which was tantalisingly close, yet also so far away, since we were heading further south and west yet. At one of these stops, we again saw our German friends, powering on through the heat. Guess being 3 months into Te Araroa will do that for you!

Progress was agonisingly slow. The heat compounded the pain I was already experiencing. We struggled to maintain a pace any faster than 2km/hr and I admit to collapsing in tears on our way down one of the hills when looking at the next climb back up. We took a number of long breaks to deal with the heat, and finally stumbled into Mistletoe Bay at 4pm – 6 hours after we started our 8km day.

Mistletoe Bay was incredible. While it was a bit frustrating having to collect our bags from the wharf and walk them nearly 1km through the camp to the house we were staying at, this was offset by the fact that the water at the wharf was incredible for swimming in, there was a shop selling ice cream, powerade and fresh eggs, and the house had not only a full kitchen, but air conditioning (even if the unit leaked, it at least got the house cool quickly!).

After dinner (chorizo fried rice), we showered, had wine and read our books for a while before taking a short wander to exclaim at the sheer volume of visible stars and the glow worms in the immediate area by our house. The darkness here was incredible. Plans were made for a 5am alarm to see the milky way and watch the sunrise and we all headed to bed.

For some unknown reason, I decided to have my first coke in 2 weeks at 7pm. I was wired still at bedtime. Whoops.

Day Four: ‘Eyes on the prize

2am, the smoke alarm in our house goes off. Thankfully its not connected to a main system, so we could just turn it off by taking out the battery, but after investigating to ensure there actually wasn’t a fire anywhere, it still took 2 more hours to get back to sleep, through many imaginings of headlines “alarm on bench with battery taken out, 3 dead”…

5am, the phone alarm goes off. If the weather had been clear, even having been awake in the middle of the night would not have kept me in bed. We would have been in the perfect location for an awesome milky way shoot and sunrise. It was not to be. Overnight it had completely clouded in. So back to sleep we went.

Finally up properly about 7:30am, we cooked breakfast (bacon, eggs and fried rice. Divine.), packed up, delivered our bags back down to the wharf and I finally strapped on my disintegrating boots at 10am. We had about 12km ahead of us, and 6 hours to do it in. If we could get back to the pace we had managed on days 1 and 2 (about 3km/hr), we would be fine and have time to spare.

The climb back up to the saddle wasn’t too bad, and we made really good time all the way along, managing a few good breaks and allowing several shorter ones. We made some track friends through this section, bunny hopping each other frequently when we each stopped.

Nursing my dead boots and painful feet into Anakiwa was almost anti-climactic. I had built it up into this massive achievement potential, but it just… happened. And was done. And I was too sore to just keep walking to the end of the pier and walk straight off. I suspect that had my feet not been in agony, I might have been more excited rather than simply relieved of what had become a mental burden, this NEED to finish the track. The tide being in a long way also put a dampener on my plans to throw my boots off the wharf (because I wasn’t going to leave them in the water, so needed someone there to grab them before they sank).

An ice-cream, a break in the shade, and a very quick swim – shortened by the realisation that the Cougar Lines boat waiting at the wharf WAS for us, rather than a half-hour earlier trip and would leave as soon as everyone was on board – and it was time to head back to Picton, boots still in hand.

Probably the highlight of the whole trip was the dolphin pod we encountered on our trip back to Picton. Throwing away my boots was bittersweet, and I’m so glad we nabbed a cabin for our trip back to Wellington – hot showers and a dim, quiet room to round out the trip.