Queen Charlotte Track
View from the hiking/biking track in Marlborough Sounds
At the beginning of our trip, we might have anticipated that by the beginning of Week 9 in one small country, we might be pretty weary and ready even for that interminable jet ride home. But, instead, we were eager to keep going and to soak up as much more of New Zealand’s South Island as we could in the last seven days.
The week began in Marlborough, a region on the northern coast edged by an elaborate chain of peninsulas and islands. A highlight of Marlborough was spending a day on the Queen Charlotte Track, one of dozens of long hiking paths in NZ by which travelers can explore remote scenic areas by walking, often for 3 - 7 days, and staying in shelters or huts along the way. Unlike many other tracks, the Queen Charlotte Track had two key advantages: that we could go only one day and then walk or catch a water taxi back, and (best of all) that Bill could protect his tender feet by using a mountain bike while Carol could protect her tender bum by walking. It worked wonderfully well! The bike went farther, of course, but we were on the same
White Heron in Pelorus Sound
A small population that breeds only in one river on the westcoast
path for the same number of hours, so we were able to compare notes later. We had even seen the same nests of pied shags feeding their young! For most of the way, the track followed the edge of the Queen Charlotte Sound, with the dazzling subtropical sun penetrating dense foliage and the aquamarine waters beyond. Except for birdcalls, the only sound was the quiet lapping from the occasional kayak in the Sound. It just doesn’t get more tranquil than that, folks!
On another day in the Marlborough area, we rode along on the Pelorus Sound mail boat as it made weekly deliveries of mail and even some groceries to folks who live in such remote peninsulas or islands that the only transport is several hours by water. It was clear that for some, this weekly contact is a kind of lifeline, and they would linger to chat with the mailboat captain and his wife before they would exchange the outgoing mailbag for the incoming one. Along the way, we enjoyed observing the elaborate apparatus that is used in mussel farming—a more lucrative alternative to conventional farming in that rocky area. And it was a thrill to see some
Queen Charlotte Sound
A view from the mountain bike along the Queen Charlotte Track
unusual wildlife: some little blue penguins were diving in the water, and a ridge of rocks were crowded with large white gannets, a New Zealand bird that commutes to Alaska every year. As has happened so often before, we found this to be a low key, casual trip. Taking visitors on the mail boat is just an effort by this husband and wife team to subsidize the rather pricey enterprise of delivering mail by boat. In New Zealand, it’s the real thing.
Even before we left Marlborough to head south down the Pacific (eastern) coastline, the clouds were gathering low and dark. By the time we got to Kaikoura, where we had hoped to go whalewatching, the visibility was very limited, and the swells were three meters high-with a seasickness warning for the whale boats. So we consoled ourselves with a wonderful lobster dinner and a trip to see the colony of fur seals that hang out around the rocks and exploding surf just outside Kaikoura. The seals were in boisterous good form, and a couple of lazy fellas posed for pictures in the grass.
Then it was off for our last day and night before beginning the
This is the noisy nester along Queen Charlotte Track
homeward journey. Reluctantly, we pointed the van southward through magnificent fall color made a bit mysterious by the light fog. Spying a pond and some impressive color in the distance, we stopped for a picnic lunch at a magnificent nature reserve, Anne’s Lagoon. The lagoon was filled with paradise ducks and black swans, swimming among the reflections of yellow and orange trees. Carol couldn’t stop taking pictures and ate her sandwich standing up!
We didn’t want to leave that lagoon, but we had hours to go to reach our last holiday destination. Some fellow travelers had raved about the French-influenced village of Akaroa on the Banks Peninsula just south of Christchurch, so we had chosen it as the locale for our last evening in the campervan. (We had to fly out of Christchurch about 30 hours later.) Lonely Planet described the drive along the steep central spine of the Banks Peninsula as “absurdly beautiful,” but from our drive to Akaroa, we wouldn’t know. The dense low clouds made it tough to see much more than the white line in the highway. We did know that road was very steep, narrow, and followed one hairpin turn after another. (Carol called
it treacherous.) But when we had crossed the steep spine and came down to the sea, the clouds parted to reveal the curve of a pretty harbor surrounded by little dwellings built up on steep hills. So we slept that night in a campground that overlooked the lights of Akaroa. The next morning in Le Bon E-Mail (did we mention that Akaroa has a French thing going?), a woman said to Carol, “This place renews my soul.” Yes, even in banks of clouds, we could feel that it was true.
Well, we are home in Seattle now. The washing machine has been churning the New Zealand sand out of our Buzz-off gear, and Bill’s fishing waders are hanging up to dry out the vestiges of many hard-fought battles with brown trout. The memories of all the quirky and remarkable people we met are still fresh. And we still feel grounded by that gentler pace. We know that all of that will fade, though, so we are really happy that we’ve kept this journal.
Whether you’ve read it all, or just looked at a few pictures, we thank you. It was fun to have you along!
Waiting for the Mail Boat
Residents in remote areas receive mail once a week and like to chat
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