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Searching for a weekend escape with a difference, we settled on the Queen Charlotte Track, and settled on attempting the top section of the track from Ship Cove to Endeavour inlet.
So on a Friday afternoon in spring we jumped aboard the ferry and sat back with a drink to relax and admire the views. We took more interest in the Marlborough Sounds than usual, poring over our track map with a mixture of excitement and apprehension.
Water Taxis and Dolphins
Arriving at Cougar Line the next morning, we hopped aboard our water taxi and started the journey to the track. These water taxis are the life-blood of the track, not only delivering walkers and mountain bikers to the track, but also essential supplies to the many accommodation stops. I was pleased to be sitting beside a beer keg headed for Furneaux Lodge – our stop that night.
The Cougar Line skipper was friendly and knowledgeable, even swinging around briefly to make the most of a dolphin photo opportunity en route.
Captain Cook’s Favourite
Arriving at Ship Cove, we waved goodbye to both our boat, and our bags! Rather than anything negative, luggage transfer is a feature of the track experience, where you can opt for heavy packs to be taken to you next stop, leaving you with the relative luxury of a day pack.
Ship Cove was named by Captain James Cook, and became one of his favourite New Zealand bases. It is worthwhile allowing some time to spend at this beautiful spot, soaking up the history which then follows you as your walk past bays, inlets and peaks named after Cook’s ships and crew.
The Queen Charlotte Track
After a short detour to check out a waterfall (which also let the majority of walkers and bikers move ahead), we left Ship Cove and headed up the track. And up it was, with a steady climb to start the day. The track undulated through varied fauna, including both ancient and regenerating native bush. The Department of Conservation has placed signs along the way that tell the story of the local species, and provide a good excuse to stop for breath.
The rewards for trekking uphill are spectacular views, especially from the ridgelines offering panoramas across both Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds. Lunch (treats from the great Bakerijj bakery in Picton) was enjoyed while admiring spectacular views across Endeavour Inlet.
Regular companions at the viewing platforms and picnic tables are the cheeky Wekas – native birds with a well-deserved reputation for curiosity, and just a little kleptomania.
After a long and gentle descent, we were ready for a rest, so the sign for Furneaux Lodge was another of the day’s welcome sights.
The Famous Furneaux Bar
The lodge sits under Furneaux Peak (named after one of Cook’s navigators) and proved to be a great combination of character and comfort. We’d splashed out for the aptly name Endeavour suite, which was only 30 metres from the water’s edge. (The cool salt water is bliss for well-worked feet.)
Popular with track users, fishermen and locals alike the bar is worth a visit alone, and indeed, each evening many boats moor for the night. You’re bound to meet some colourful local characters here before enjoying local delicacies from the adjoining restaurant.
Coming back for more?
Like the Cook Strait Ferries, the water taxis are more than just transport – they are part of the track experience. Stopping to transfer luggage, mail and supplies to the many lodges along the way, you start to feel a sense of community, and a longing to come back for more. The trip home by water was the perfect way to finish, apart from perhaps completing the track by foot. (They even delivered us directly to the Interislander terminal.)
Sitting in the premium lounge on Interislander’s Kaitaki ferry, we sat back to plan our next Marlborough Sounds experience – after a perfect weekend escape from Wellington.