After nearly 4 months of perfecting our barista skills behind the counter at the Seabreeze Cafe and countless trips in the Bluebird between Picton and our teeny apartment in the country, it was time to move on. We cheers-ed our coworkers and said our goodbyes at a staff party held before we left.
We spent our last week bunking at our boss' place (Thanks Jules!) as our lease ran out a week before we planned to leave. Jules' home is set in the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds - we felt like our vacation had already begun! But by late April, my sister, Sarah, had arrived and our travels began anew.
Sarah met us in Picton on a Thursday and by Friday morning she had shaken any trace of jetlag and was ready to begin the Queen Charlotte Track. This 3-night-4-day track through the Marlborough Sounds is similar to the Kepler Track Cody and I completed in December. Both are ranked among New Zealand's "Nine Great Walks." The Queen Charlotte Track, however, is not a loop and requires transportation to the beginning of the track and, of course, at the end. And while the Queen Charlotte Track is longer (71 kms) than the Kepler (60 kms) it does not climb to nearly as high of altitude and is ranked as moderate (with the Kepler at advanced-moderate). That being said, it was still an exhausting, hilly, sweaty and blister-filled hike. And this time, instead of staying in the cabins provided by the DOC, we slept on the ground (in a tent, of course).
We began the track by taking a water taxi out to the end of the Marlborough Sounds. The sun was shining and morale was high as we began the first leg of the hike. Sarah and I couldn't stop talking - we couldn't believe it had been almost a year since we'd last seen each other - we had so much to catch up on! I'm sure Cody felt a bit left out but he didn't show it and seemed entertained by Sarah's stories. A mere 7 hours later we arrived at our first campsite. Fortunately, the water taxi ticket included luggage pick-up/drop-off at all of our campsites - no more aching collarbones! We found our bags at the nearby dock and set up camp.
Cody and I had managed to borrow a tent from a coworker (thanks Danielle!) and together, Cody and Sarah tackled setting it up for the first time while I "prepared" dinner. By nightfall we were enjoying hot bowls of Campbell's soup in the patio of what turned out to be a circus tent. And, since we didn't have to lug around our huge packs, we stuffed a few luxuries in, including a 40 oz. bottle of beer which Cody promptly buried in the sand on the beach so the ocean water would cool it down. Exhausted and dehydrated, we passed out around 8 pm.
The morning of the second day was as bright and sunny as the first. We dumped our bags back on the dock and headed off into the sunlight. The trail climbed through forest, crossed through private farm land, and brushed passed small beaches. Each clearing brought new breathtaking views of the Sounds. Crystal blue water and deep, green vegetation as far as the eye could see. This hike was unique to the others we've done across New Zealand.
We stopped for breaks when we needed to - scarfing down nuts, granola bars, and fruit as necessary - but at some point in the second day we ran out of water. On our lunch break we stopped at an area marked on the map as a water source. The signs next to the tap, however, warned that the water should be boiled before consumption. Parched and without our camping grill/equipment, we decided to take our chances. Some other hikers also on their lunch break tried to talk us out of drinking the possibly contaminated water and even offered one of their water bottles. But we were only a couple of hours into the 8 hour hike and we knew that one water bottle just wouldn't cut it. To lighten the mood, we made jokes about our possibly impending doom the rest of the afternoon. Luckily, none of us came down with diarrhea or nausea and were able to continue laughing about our situation and refilling our water bottles when necessary.
By the third morning the clouds had found us. We awoke sore and blistered but looked forward to a much shorter hike - only 4 hours! We arrived at our campsite by midday only to find out that our bags wouldn't be dropped off until late in the afternoon. Without anything to do, we decided to carry on to a nearby hotel resort (there are many along this track, catering to those who like a little luxury with their nature) to see if they had a bar or pool to entertain us for the next 4 hours until our bags arrived. It was raining by this time and the hotel we stumbled upon did not, in fact, have a bar or pool, but a small gift shop stuffed with tacky souvenirs and overpriced groceries.
Determined to find the silver lining, Cody spotted a handful of bottles of beer for sale in the cooler. We removed our dripping raincoats and plopped down in the lawn furniture situated in the middle of the shop, awkwardly indicating to the hotel manager that we planned on hanging around for awhile. She left us to our beers while our eyes scanned row up on row bric-a-brac crap. Buried somewhere on a bottom shelf, Sarah discovered our source of entertainment for the next few hours, an ancient Jenga set and Pictionary board game. Jackpot!
We rose the final day tired, achy, and anxious to not only finish the track (and the inevitable rush of feeling accomplished) but also to get home and shower. We finished the final 3-4 hours in drizzle and found ourselves in a similar predicament as the day before. We reached the end of the track/ meeting point for the water taxi
to pick us up with hours to spare. We were simply to exhausted to walk to the nearby town to look for a cafe or somewhere to pass the time. Instead, we spotted an advertisement for a hostel just a few blocks down with patio seating and cafe! We couldn't believe our luck!
When we arrived at the hostel, however, we learned pretty quickly that they had been a little deceptive in their advertising. By "cafe" they meant that you could sit in their "lobby" (which was really more like sitting in a stranger's living room) and buy expensive beers from the front desk. Needless to say, we made ourselves right at home. I think the hostel owner was just thankful to have some business. As we sipped our beers, I noticed on their vacancy board that they had a hot tub for guests to use. We enquired with the hostel owner and for just $5 a piece, we were able to soak our aching bodies for the next hour before our boat ride home. It was blissful. And it was exactly what we needed.