Memories of Hiking the Queen Charlotte Track in New Zealand

Today I was revisiting an old journal of mine that I had written out while I was on the adventure of a lifetime, backpacking across New Zealand and Australia. This entry was particularly fun because it involved me and a fellow backpacker taking a multi-day hike through the rolling hills of Queen Charlotte Sound. I was young, only about 22 at the time and neither Tommy or myself had any clue about what the hell we were doing really. It still ended up being a great experience.


Day 120Ā  –Ā  The Queen Charlotte TrackĀ  –Ā  15/06/2011

 

It’s been four days since my journey on the Queen Charlotte Track began with Tommy. Today we returned back to Picton by water taxi after Tommy declared that he could go no farther. He said that he had sprang his ankle as we hiked but I believe that he was just naturally exhausted.

We started our trip by first walking 4 km uphill out of Picton before hitchhiking with an elderly couple the rest of the way to the start of the track. We then walked another 46 km on the track and another 3+ km down a winding dirt road to Punga Cove, all while carrying 30+ kg bags on our backs.

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I was fortunate enough that I’m an active person already but I was pretty exhausted by the end of it all as well and Tommy had little experience with much physical work in his life. I had expected for us to take our time through the track but after weather reports of rain on Friday, we began to race to beat the storm. The experience was all and all, very valuable, however.

 

The first day, after only a few kilometers into the track my feet were caught in thick deep mud and I lost one shoe, stepping into the mud with my sock afterward. I continued to trod along with one bare foot for a few minutes to a dry spot before soaking the muddy sock, cleaning the shoe off and changing my socks.

The land was very wet because of the recent rain and cold temperatures. That night we wandered off track and up to a hill desecrated by rolling rocks and mudslides, then found a hidden camper’s paradise in the thick forest. The moonlight bathed us in the silhouettes of gently breathing trees. All night the sounds of animals, specifically wild pigs could be heard rummaging around our belongings outside of the tent.

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The next day started very slowly for us. Tommy wanted to cook some of the potatoes that he had brought for breakfast, he was a very typical Irishman. I shaped a cooking pot for us out of an old can of beans that we had eaten the night before. I poked three holes around the top of the can with my knife and tied each with a piece of string so that we could hand the can just above the flames. We would end up using this can over and over again for the duration of our trip for everything from rice to green tea and coffee.

 

On the second day, it was 11 AM before we set off on the track again. We were disorganized. The sun was hot and most of the path was uphill in this section of the track. Tommy was beginning to struggle and we were both becoming dehydrated. After one particularly challenging ascent and descent, we dropped into a grassy patch of land and I demanded something to eat in order to go on. Without any debate from my companion, we were cooking a full can of rice over the top of Tommy’s little gas stove. Then we proceeded to sip some Scotch and drank a cup of coffee using the leftover water from the rice.

 

By 6 PM we were exhausted with shaking legs and settled on pitching the tent directly on the trail. I fell asleep instantly and woke again at 11 PM. Tommy was still up and awake. We cooked potatoes again to lighten the load of his pack, he severely underestimated the burden of a heavy bag of potatoes! Afterwards, we walked down a nearby road to some sort of resort and a nearby campsite to tire ourselves out again. On return, we fell back to sleep.

The nights were bitter cold and became slowly cooler as they carried on. More often than not at the coolest point of the night, in my thermal underwear, jeans, shirt, sweater, fleece throw, and sleeping bag I would have to curl up in the fetal position to really stay warm enough to sleep. At 7 AM that morning we woke up, cooked rice to share and packed up. This time packing the tent before cooking breakfast. We were slowly becoming noticeably dehydrated because we were running out of distilled water and had to fill our jugs with rainwater and unpurified water at the DOC sites. It also didn’t help that we were drinking scotch and that I had bought a bag of salted peanuts by mistake for us to eat as a hiking snack.

 

The break that we took on top of a mountain that day was the most memorable moment of the entire trip. we sat atop the mountain on a picnic table cooking water for coffee while everything around the summit was engulfed by thick, white, soft-looking clouds. It gave me the impression that we were sitting in the likeness of what Heaven would be like. We made over 15 km’s on this day and I set up camp at a DOC camping area while Tommy lagged behind. This is where Tommy gave it up.

After talking with Tommy for a while about the possibility of continuing for another day I was convinced that if I were to, it would be on my own. So, instead, we ate a large meal of potatoes, cheese, rice, peanuts, soy sauce, and one orange. Then we lit a fire from dry wood next to a no fire sign and shared some more of the Scotch. Eventually, we walked back up the hill to an area of cell reception and called the water taxi for the next day.

 

We were to arrive at Punga Cove in the Endeavor Inlet by 11:15 AM which I figured by map to be a 3-hour journey without considering Tommy’s ankle injury. So we went to bed early (I was asleep by 7 PM) and prepared to wake for 6 AM. Yet, I woke just after midnight and spent the next few hours listening to music on a broken Mp3 Player for which I only had one working headphone. I was thirsty and tired but unable to settle and after an hour of stirring, I finally fell asleep just before my alarm went off.

This was going to be the hardest length of the trip for us. It began dreadfully slow uphill. As my body began to warm up, I started to peel layer after layer of clothing from off myself. Tommy split his last orange with me which possibly alone soothed both my physical and mental state. By hillside I watched the sunrise and by 9:30 AM we had arrived at Punga Cove Resort and draped our broken bodies in a heap over the picnic tables at the edge of the water.

 

When we finally made it back to Picton and into Atlantis backpacker’s I was happy and satisfied with having suffered through that hardship and enjoyed the comforts which we had denied ourselves on our journey. Everything tasted, felt and sounded better than it had before.”


Looking back on this entry, I can’t help but laugh at how foolish we were in some instances and how terrible the provisions were that we chose to take with us for those few days, but I think the fact that we were both absolute novices added to the experience of the whole thing.

Also, tips for anyone who is deciding to take a multi-day hike into the woods with a limited supply of water; try to stay away from salty foods like salted peanuts, soy sauce, cheese, etc. Perhaps try bringing some foods which don’t need to be boiled every time that you want to eat too like those potatoes and rice. Haha.

It was one of my more memorable experiences from my two years abroad, and I’m glad to still have all of those pictures to go with it.

Have you ever done a multi-day hike? What sort of food or equipment would you suggest for such a journey? I’d love to hear your opinions.

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