This was one of the hardest to plan tramps I have ever organised. Mostly because all the information was so fragmented. Planning tramps that are 100% on the DoC estate is simple – huts are marked, prices are standard, bookings (if required) are all done in one place. For the Queen Charlotte Track, the maps weren’t clear, the accommodation options were varied (and not all listed on the tracks website, we discovered), and bookings had to go out to various websites and email addresses. Nothing could be confirmed without confirming everything at once.
We decided on the date for this tramp because it meant finishing at Anakiwa 10 years to the day since I finished Outward Bound – handily mostly over a weekend too.
Our route plan included a couple of really hard days. Our second day had to be a bare minimum of 24km, and depending where we spent night one, could have been up to 35km. The third day was meant to be a shorter, easy day at only 8km.
The actual tramping was harder than expected, largely due to the weather, although the fact that the track was far more up-and-down than we really anticipated clearly didn’t help. Our longest day was 13 hours of movement, 35km of distance, and 1200m vertical up AND down. My bung knee played up again (which it didn’t on the Routeburn, so that’s frustrating, and I wonder if its related to not having my ankles strapped this time?), and my boots disintegrated. Days 3 and 4 were a haze of pain in my feet as my boots continued to fall apart. Despite having our bags transferred each day, the only non-boot footwear I had was jandals, which aren’t great for tramping.
Our accommodation was, on average, not flash. At Furneaux, the backpacker rooms are awkward, there is no access to a kitchen, and the bathrooms are an old cinder block. Sadly, the Endeavour Resort (5 minutes further along the track) wasn’t mentioned on the website information at the time, and it looks to be the MUCH better backpacker option at the head of the inlet. At Portage, our backpacker (Treetops) was fully booked, meaning we were in the main house, with no access to a kitchen except by going down poorly lit, slippery stairs in the dark and interrupting the people who were staying in the actual backpacker house. Thankfully Mistletoe Bay was awesome, even if the smoke alarm battery died at 2am, waking us all up.
The weather we hit was really changeable. It poured with rain on our first day, and our accommodation at Furneaux didn’t really offer anywhere for us to dry things. The super long second day was cool and overcast, and dry until about 7:45 pm, when the heavens suddenly opened. Our short 3rd day was so hot I ran out of water, and the 8km walk took us 6 hours. We stopped in every patch of shade we could find. Day 4 was perfect. Warm, sunny, cool breeze, and a mostly shady track.
The best part of this trip was the company. Marion and Ange are a great pair of ladies to tramp with. We all walk at a similar natural pace, and have both enough in common, and enough not, to keep conversation going comfortably for several days. Plus, they put up with my whinging on day 3 when it just got too hot and too hard on my sore feet, without being soft on me. Astoundingly, they are still keen to come on future adventures with me.
To get on and off the track, we used Cougar Line. They did a return-trip package that included bag transfers. They were lovely, easy to deal with, had no issues with our high number of transfer bags, and were happy to wait while we had a swim at Anakiwa wharf before heading back to Picton.
Would I go back and walk this track again? Probably not. In fact, definitely not as a track-in-its-entirety. However, what WOULD be awesome, and I would totally want to do one day, is walking in from Torea Saddle to Black Rock Campground and staying there for a night. It’s a stunning wee spot, seems to be very quiet, and is a not-difficult walk from the saddle. Plus, pure darkness and stunning stars (I would bet, given how incredible the stars were at Mistletoe Bay). It might be somewhere we look to take Mr3 when he is a bit older.
My personal spend for this trip was about $500. That includes the ferry to and from Wellington, the round-trip water taxi, 3 nights accommodation and my food. If we had camped where we planned to on night one, we would have saved nearly $100 (between the extra accommodation costs, and the evening spent sitting in the bar eating snacks and drinking cider). Camping all the way along is an option, but almost none of the campsites offer water taxi drop off / pickup options, so you’d have to carry your whole kit a lot more.