Posted by: scribe9 | March 29, 2010

The North End of the South Island

The highway north from the glaciers goes through Kumara Junction. Kumara is the Maori name for sweet potato, although I don’t recall any lying about. What I do remember is that the main road crosses a river on a long, old one-lane bridge that also serves as a railway bridge. At least it didn’t have a curve or a swingspan!

We met friends from the US at the Blenheim (Blen’m, not Blen-heim) airport, and lunched at a winery in the Marlborough wine country. We could easily have been at a very modern Napa spot. We tried a couple of sauvignon blancs (Savvy, as some call it, is very big here), from vineyards only a few miles apart, and they were quite different–one was somewhat grassy, the other like quaffing green pepper.

Marlborough wine country borders the Marlborough Sounds, at the northern edge of the south island. One of the sounds is named for Queen Charlotte, consort of George III, since he was on the throne when Captain Cook was tootling around New Zealand. The Queen Charlotte Track starts at Ship Cove, Cook’s favorite spot in New Zealand (he stopped there five times). We got there by water taxi. On the way, we passed an Outward Bound ship

and dolphins. We’d taken a couple of dolphin-spotting trips in other places without any luck (in fact, we have coupons for a trip because we went on one that promised dolphins, to no avail). Our taxi made no promises, but look who showed up:

That’s our Cougar Water Taxi, speeding off after leaving us at Ship Cove. It took all but our day packs on to our first stop. (I’m not sure why Cougar–no wild felines here–but they’re very good at what they do.) Okay, so we didn’t haul everything ourselves–thank goodness, since much of the track was ridgeline, and rather steep.  In the damper, shadier parts there were lots of tree ferns.

Here’s the view from the deck of the first place we stayed:

We were just booked for one night, but agreed we could have easily stayed longer. Here, and along much of the first half of the trail, we saw wekas, which are flightless birds about the size of kiwis. Since we’ve tried and failed to see kiwis, we may just settle for wekas, like this one at the lodge:

The second day was our longest tramp, about 15 miles. Since the sound is a lot of drowned river valleys, it’s quite convoluted, and the track passes through numerous little ecosystems as exposure and elevation change–it was like hiking eight different trails (through Georgia, Jurassic Park, the San Juans, Western Oregon, the eastern slope of the Sierras, and a few more) that day. Here’s a view from the ridgeline:

What we’re not showing is the clearcuts that were all too visible.

That night we stayed at Portage Bay, at deBrett’s Backpackers on de Hill. I didn’t make that up–that’s what their sign says. The  deBrett family lives in a daylight ranch, and the downstairs has two bedrooms, a bunkroom, a bathroom, a big living room/kitchen, and a deck. We had the bedrooms and a German father and son shared the bunkroom.

After we’d peeled off our boots and socks, tended our blisters, and cleaned up, we walked gingerly over to the nearby resort for bevvies and dinner. We could have played chess, but didn’t.

Our last day was a lot shorter, ending at Lochmara Lodge, a sort of eco-artists’ colony.

Here’s a Lochmara llama (behind a bit of artwork):

and a young cormorant that hung out on the dock

but my favorites were invertebrates, including jellyfish

Unfortunately, I don’t have pictures of the most spectacular: the glowworms (which occur at various places in New Zealand), and phosphorescent plankton, which lit up wherever anything disturbed the water at night.

The next morning, we caught the water taxi back to the ferry dock. We didn’t actually complete the entire track, because of time concerns. Lots of people just do pieces, such as the two groups of 70-80 year olds we saw doing day hikes.

Back at the dock, we boarded the big Interislander ferry for Wellington. The islands aren’t aligned; the ferry terminal on the north island is almost due east of that on the south island. The trip takes three hours on the ten-deck ferry, which thoughtfully provides two cinemas. Instead of watching movies, we read and played cards in a sunroom–but it rained.

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