Queen Charlotte Quest
12/8 Despite concerns about being kicked out of our Picton park campsite (which we later found out could result in $250 fines! Eek!) we packed camp before even the garbage men began their rounds. We stopped for coffee at a father and son run cafe and "Da" made is some strong long blacks (an americano, basically, and the closest thing to a cup' o Jo' you can find in New Zealand). Then we headed down to catch our boat to the start of the Queen Charlotte track. Our captain, Paul, was very knowledgable about the preservation of islands throughout the Marlborough Sound and told us all about the birds and DOLPHINS! We saw on our way to the track. The weather was beautiful and we were psyched to start the South Island. The QCT is an "easy" tramping trail, starting in Ship Cove, and we were able to zip around it's winding, well trod upon path throughout crystal, clear coves and private inlets. The water is a stunning turquoise and the sun lit the ripples of a lite breeze in soft white tips. We passed a school group of 23 students out on their year-end field trip. Respect and envy for the teachers on that trip! During one of our breaks we encountered a "Weka", a very precocious bird that all but climbed into our laps out of curiosity. I had thought it was a "Kea" which is a more aggressive bird that rips the rubber from windshield wipers throughout the south, and we were worried about the handles of our trekking poles. Alas, not a Kea, crisis averted! We put in some good km's and camped under some power lines with beautiful views of the Sounds below. 12/9 We woke to the pitter-patter of rain on our tent and both lie silent in our sleeping bags, praying it would stop. Much to our delight, the rains passed during our breakfast and we broke camp to grey, but dry skies. We breezed through the rest of the QCT, passing a few other walkers and numerous mountain bikers. The day cleared and we arrived in Anakiwa, a small beach community, with good time. We lie in the sun about to dry out the tent and then continued on some roads towards Havelock. The Linkwater track (just road walking) reminded me of Vermont as we passed newly planted fields of corn set agains steep pine covered hills in the distance. Towards the end of the day we climbed steeply once again beneath some power lines and decided to camp up on a hill just outside of town, looking down upon the miles we'd completed. 12/10 When we woke today, it finally felt like summer! Neither of us needed that extra morning layer and our moods reflected the warm weather. It was an easy 3 km into town and we arrived just as cafe doors turned around their open signs. We had to do a big resupply here (6 days) as we were heading up into the Richmond Mountain Range and would be leaving civilization for a bit. We got our groceries and broke everything down while sipping long blacks in another cafe playing county music and Christmas songs. I kept tearing up with little pangs of nostalgia as I thought about missing this festive season back home. Our bags heavy with food, we left town and headed out for some road walking that took us to Dalton's track. This lead through many stiles that crossed flat farmland along the Pelorus river. Eventually, we crossed the river ourselves and stopped for a sunny lunch before another 15 km road walk up into the mountains. The road also led along the river and it's deep, brilliantly colored pools just screamed, "swim in me!" So, we cut off the track and walked to the water's edge to take a plunge! What might have been an exciting, romantic moment, quickly turned sour as we also immediately covered in hundreds of tiny black sand flies! The horror! One merely had to clap her hands in any direction and you'd kill 10 of them. We ran from the water and put our clothes on soaking wet to keep them from biting every inch of us. Thankfully, the sun was still hot and we dried quickly as we headed deeper into the woods. We made it all the way to Captains Creek Hut at about 7:30, making it quite the long day. Here, we ran into a familiar face! Silent Knight, who had left the trail and his hiking partner (Lighthouse) due to an injury. But he was feeling good again and has skipped down to the South Island to hike this range. We caught up while cooking dinner with the sand flies and retired to our tent, seeing as the hut was full with stinky men.