When we started this whole Te Araroa South thing we spent quite a bit of time deciding which end of the island to start at. Eventually we settled on the Nobo path - Bluff to Ship Cove.
There were a few reasons for this:
A: Going against the flow is a good thing.
B: We wanted to meet lots of other TeA walkers - the vast majority of whom travel southward (Sobo).
C: We would end our walk close to home - Palmerston North.
D: We like a challenge and figured it would be harder to walk uphill to the North Island.
E: We (especially me) thought the Marlborough Sounds would be a nicer place to end than boring old Bluff.
We think we got this formula pretty well right...except for the last bit.
"What?", I hear you say. "Windy Bluff nicer than the sunny bays of The Sounds? No way!"
There are a whole lot of reasons why you shouldn't take this suggestion seriously. The main one being that our time in Bluff was exciting and novel because we were just starting out and our time in The Sounds was a bit less-so because we were slightly jaded - therefore our comparison of the two places is unfair. We'd also walked the Queen Charlotte Track before, so there was no novelty there for us.
But there was something unexpected about the Queen Charlotte Track that made our TeA time there a bit of an anticlimax. The thing that got in the way of our enjoyment was the very reason the path exists - the bush and the pathway through it.
BY THE TIME DAYLIGHT CAME the rain had long gone. We dried our soggy tents in the sun that hit the bay a few hundred metres from our campsite. After sharing a coffee with Graeme, we said our goodbyes and made our way up into the hills. The track is wide and well formed, although it does get steep in places. The Queen Charlotte may be a bit of a tourist treadmill, but it's not easy.
Unfortunately, it's also not really that interesting either. The track makes its way from bay to bay over rugged hills and through regenerating bush - bush that's too young to be beautiful yet too mature to let the views through. The track may be in the spectacular Marlborough Sounds, but most of the time those sounds and its bays are hidden far below it.
The Queen Charlotte Track is the only part of TeA (in the South Island anyway) that costs money to use. The night before Graeme had told us about an agitated landowner who'd been roaring up and down the track on a quad bike demanding walkers show him their tickets...tickets that we didn't have. We'd already paid Te Araroa a whole bunch of dosh before we'd left so weren't going out of our way to pay again, but guilt and fear eventually got the better of us.
When I say us, I mean Whiona and I. Tom was brought up with scrupulous morals and outstanding organisational skills, so had got his track ticket in Picton.
Before we got to meet Mr Angry the Track Conductor, we walked out of the hills and into a lodge that offered lunch and the tickets our cowardice told us we needed for the rest of the trip.
The only problem with this plan was that the lodge didn't have any actual tickets left to give us. The girl who took our money said we'd be alright without them, but when I suggested the scary guy with the quad bike might see things a bit differently, she got her boss to write us a note on a scrap of paper.
As we sat on the lodge's deck eating our lunch, and wondering whether the money would actually find its way to the Queen Charlotte Land Cooperative Trust, we entertained ourselves with an electric tennis racket and thousands of the wasps it was designed to kill.
Feeling full, and having given our money over to some random person with a biro we walked on. Back up into the bush and a tough slog to the campsite at Portage Bay.
By the time we got there we were tired, hungry and Tom's feet were in bad shape, but the weather was good enough for a comfortable night in our tents. As we stumbled down the steep track to the water's edge we heard the excited squeals of girls. Lots of girls. So many girls in fact, there wasn't a flat spot for us and our tents anywhere.
As it slowly dawned on us that we had no-where to stay, one of their teachers asked us where we'd come from. When we stupidly said Bluff, all 763 of the Excitable Young Things (EYTs) gathered around us and proceeded to cheer and clap our outstanding achievement. Fortunately they didn't have any ticker tape. What would once have been some kind of stereotypical dream-come-true for Tom and me was a particularly weird moment for Whiona. The girls all came from her old high school...a school that she'd felt totally alienated from when she'd been there some time last century.
"Welcome back to the fold!"
We may have felt like we'd just won the Americas Cup, but Tom's feet were shredded. Taking pity on the poor bugger, we left him in the camp's five star kitchen while we went looking for a backpackers for the night.
Debretts Backpackers had the requisite room as well as a great lounge and kitchen setup. It also had a very welcoming host who happily took us back to the campground to pick up our packs and debilitated son.
We spent the evening drinking cheap beer (a rarity in the Marlborough Sounds) and watching a documentary that put our long trip into perspective.
Deep Water is a movie about Donald Crowhurst, an English yachty who pretended to sail around the world solo in a 1968 race organised by the Sunday Times. As the other racers left him in their wakes he realised that he could just hang around off the coast of South America waiting for them to return. As they drew close he would come out of hiding and sprint back to the crowds and ticker tape in Olde Blighty. Of course it all went horribly wrong.
We had toyed with doing something similar early on in our trip. The thought of holing up in the Nightcaps pub for three months was a temptation on our hardest days. We could've just copied other walkers' blogs and stolen their photos off the net. A bit of photoshop here and there, and no-one would've noticed.
The only hard thing to explain away would've been our beer bellies.