If our son had been a 10 year old, our sixty-ninth day would've ended with a visit from the police and a child protection officer. But Tom is a consenting adult, so his "crazy idea" to walk the last part of TeA with us was his fault.
But jeez we felt guilty.
AS WE ATE BREAKFAST at Debrett's Lodge that morning, a plan was hatched. We decided to abandon the Queen Charlotte Track and its dull path for the road...yes the road...to Punga Cove. This was a big call for us as we've always thought that off-road walking should be the gold standard for trail hiking.
Our schoolgirl fanclub (see yesterday's blog) cheered from the Portage Jetty as we left the shady bay for a long day of sun and ashphalt. The road to Punga Cove and beyond would be a stunning car or bike trip. It proved itself to be a pretty good walking track too.
What cars there were, drove slowly. The relaxed attitude of everyone who passed us more than made up for the lack of walking space on or beside the road. A blind corner is a whole lot safer for us plodders when vehicles take their time.
But it was the scenery and the chance to stop and enjoy the many bays on the roadside that made the Kenepuru stretch of the walk so pleasant. Every inlet and bay we came to seemed to have a beautiful beach and another campground. If you're planning on walking Queen Charlotte, leaving the track for this section is well worth thinking about - it's not the best walking track but it's one of the best road walks along the South Island leg of TeA. Unlike the official track above, there are also heaps of places to pitch a tent, cook a meal, swim and...ahem...crap. Yes, longdrops are abundant.
The knowledge that the QCT muscled its way over the steep terrain above, made us almost forget Tom's feet. If you've got plenty of time and its not you that's suffering, injuries aren't too much of a problem. But as the day progressed Tom's discomfort grew. Once upon a time he would've got a piggyback, but he was on his own for this trip. We took plenty of stops to cool his blisters, but as we left the tarseal of the Kenepuru Sound road, for the gravel of the road to Punga Cove, it became apparent that it was time for some surgery.
As Whiona got out the scissors and blister needles, Tom got out his swollen red feet. The best blisters glowed pink like bubblegum. The worst ones oozed and dangled off his mauled feet like shredded ham. Yes, these descriptions are a little over the top, but they are also testament to the reason I'm not a medical professional. Gore freaks me out.
Whiona was in her element though as she punctured, measured, cut and wrapped. I looked away and tried to think of...something a little less biological.
Drugs were dispensed, swollen and bandaged feet were forced back into boots, and we walked on.
Tom wasn't the only one suffering - it was a hot afternoon and our water supplies were getting low. When we reached the base of the only real hill we had to "climb" that day all three of us were ready to call an end to it all. The walk to the top seemed to take forever, but if you put two and two together, you'll realise we made it. We didn't die of exhaustion and our bodies aren't rotting under a well fertilised gorse bush.
At the top we were met by a couple of smiling (as they all do) Germans. To their delight we informed them that we were heading down the hill for hot chips and beer. The resort's peek-a-boo marketing strategy meant they hadn't realised one of the county's most idyllically located cafe/bars sat a few hundred metres below them.
"Can we drive you down the hill?" were the words Tom wanted to hear and the words his ears received. If he could've managed it he would've jumped right in. Instead he gingerly lifted himself onboard and began the process of explaining to the day's Trail Nice Guys why we had refused their kind offer.
When we got there we were still planning on moving around the bay - after our ale and wedges - to the DoC campsite. But as the alcohol, fat and carbs worked their evil on our already weak wills, we all decided to book a night in the resort's backpacking accommodation.
Pricey...but this was to be our last night...so why the hell not.
Tom made plans to catch the water taxi* to Picton, with our packs, the next morning, while we figured out whether we could make the trail-end by 1.00pm that afternoon. We were originally going to spend a night camping just before Ship Cove - but Tom's feet and the fact that we could sniff the end in the breeze meant we were going to make a storming finale.
27 kilometres in not much more than a morning.
* Although short, our TeA trip with Tom has proved to be a bit of a taster for him. He's in training at the moment for the biking version of Te Araroa, Tour Aotearoa. Its inaugural season kicks off next summer. Check it out.