I’ve called it. I’m finished with the trail. So many feels.

This morning the rain was pretty fierce and I just wasn’t feeling it. I delayed a couple of times and waited before making a decision, but ultimately decided to call it early and take the boat into Picton directly. I have a lot of mixed feelings about that decision, especially as now, at least here in Picton, it’s not raining, but honestly I feel like the end of the trail for me happened when I got to the gravel road at the end of the Richmonds, the last 15km or so into Pelorus Bridge. When I got to that road, I felt so much relief. So much accomplishment. Part of it was that I was fairly sure I was going to make my 5pm deadline into the campground, but in large part it was a recognition that the hard parts were behind me.

I’d been considering the Queen Charlotte track the “icing on the cake” of the trail, and that I was going to carry nothing and eat at places along the way and stay in fancy resorts and whatnot. Which I did do. But it just didn’t feel like the rest of the trail to me. Especially with the rain and then the shin splints. I let myself get lazy and that kinda hurt the experience, and I feel a little bad about that but I keep reminding myself that the QCT was never the challenge, getting there was. And I did.

So now I wait here in Picton waiting for my rental car to be ready to pick up, so I can go to my hostel for the night and do laundry and figure out what’s on for the rest of my time here in NZ. And also to figure out some things for my week in Sydney.

One thing I really want to do is try to reflect upon the trip. Write up some journal entries. Think about parts I liked, parts I didn’t like, look at photos, etc. I had some really great times on the trail, and some really trying times. I met some really amazing people and hopefully have made some good friends along the way. I’ve seen things so few will ever see, and done things few have even thought about doing. I mean honestly 2 years ago I had no idea this trail even existed, or that I might want to do it and today I’m writing about how it was to do. That’s pretty amazing, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to do it.

Anywho, I feel like I’m rambling now! I’ve got about 30 minutes to get my car and I forgot to pick up the postcard I mailed myself from Bluff, so I need to go do that and see what past me wrote to current me.

I got a few photos as we pulled into Picton. The setting for this place is really great, and the ships in the harbor here are huge. Very busy for such a small town.

Day 52: Punga Cove to Miner’s Camp

It rained today. A lot. I sat around at Punga Cove until just before 1pm when I left to head to Miner’s Camp a bit up the trail.

Ran into John and Christine one last time. They were headed back to the road to try to hitch out to Picton. Hugs and goodbyes all around. Gonna miss them. Will have to visit Asheville some time.

Rain so camera lens was wet which means I didn’t get any pictures. It’s ok, there was nothing to see. I walked for about 2.5 hours and was at Miner’s Camp. Really nice folks here. They have 2 pigs, a handful of sheep, ducks, chooks, and a cow. And lots of wekas of course. Apparently there are times when they feed the pigs that everyone comes over to take part, including some of the wekas. Funny little birds.

Tomorrow rainy again. Gonna be bleh into the finish line but looking forward to being done!p

Portage Bay to Punga Cove zero

It rained today. In fact, it’s still raining. And hasn’t stopped once all day. Between that and the shin splints I decided I was not walking today. There wouldn’t have been anything to see along the trail, I would have been miserable, it wouldn’t have been a fun day. And I’m beyond the point of needing to prove anything, so no walking.

Instead, I took a water taxi! The sound is big enough with enough locals and enough tourists and such that there are actually 3 different competing water taxi services, some with fixed route and fixed schedule and others with on demand bookings too. Nifty. The boats range from fairly small to surprisingly large. The one I was on probably had capacity for about 30 people. I was expecting something like 8, maybe.

Despite the weather, the sound was actually quite pretty. And there are a lot more holes along the water than I could have imagined. Makes me wonder how many of them are residents vs baches.

After some cruising around picking up and dropping others off, I was finally dropped off at Punga Cove Resort. This place is pretty nice with a little bar and cafe by the water and a kinda fancy restaurant up the hill with great views. Their backpackers accommodation is actually a bunch of small private rooms with shared facilities. Mine is at the very end, and actually has a pretty great view.

Not too bad for $63NZD a night. I spent more than that on dinner, which was delicious. I had the steak. And the fanciest sundae I’ve ever seen. Also the head waitress was extremely good. Always awesome to watch a master at work.

With nothing much to do here during the wet cold rainy day I used the WiFi to book some things for after I’m done with the trail and read a book. Pretty relaxing day, if a bit boring.

The resident weka population was showing off just how cheeky they are. One had ventured into the laundry room and made off with a plastic bag of toiletries, many of which had spilled out onto the ground. But it wasn’t going to give up the bag. Silly bird. I tried to get a photo of it but it’s just not really possible to see it sadly. Mischievous little weird chicken duck looking things.

Tomorrow it’s supposed to rain most of the day too, but the route is fairly flat and pretty short, and there’s supposed to be a window of not rain in the afternoon so I’ll probably sleep in a bit, hang out at the cafe some more, and leave the moment the rain stops. The place I’m heading tomorrow night has pet pigs. It should be awesome.

Day 51: Anakiwa to Portage Bay

Showering in the morning before going out has been pretty rare for me lately. I’ve been cleaning up a bit when I roll into huts in the afternoon, or showering when I arrive into town, but I haven’t been doing my usual morning shower routine. This morning, I had a shower. It was rather nice.

The weather was also rather nice. A bit warm, but a cool breeze. I was sweating a lot, but didn’t feel overly hot. Fairly decent overall.

The only real downside right now is that I’ve developed shin splints. Pretty sure it was due in part to the literal running I did a few days ago, along with the fast pace I was trying to keep up that day to get into town. Especially on descents. And now I’m paying the price.

Fortunately the trail is quite beautiful, and while I have longish days, I’m still beating the estimates by a lot, I’m just dealing with a fair amount of pain and discomfort. 4 more days and my legs can finally rest.

Anywho, the track goes up and down along the peninsula, crossing back and forth from one side to the other, meaning I get amazing views of both sides, and from time to time I get a peak thrown in with some really amazing views. But I’ll shut up and post pictures.

Also in the area there are lots of wekas. At the high point for the day there was one in particular which didn’t seem to care too much about my presence and was going about its day, so I got some good pictures of it.

They’re such weird little birds, and they are super cheeky. You don’t want to leave anything you care about near them as they are notorious thieves. But they’re just funny little things. I like them.

Along the trail there are numerous places to sit. I liked this one in particular because it felt like it was carved out of the trail, which I guess it kinda was.

Finally I got a view of my destination for the day.

After struggling down the hill with my shin splints I made it into my home for the night, took a shower, and chatted with the folks I’m sharing the place with. The nearby resort has a restaurant so I popped over there for dinner, the view was pretty good.

Sadly I am not sure if they have takeaway lunches anymore so I might just need to eat an extra big breakfast since there’s no lunch stop tomorrow. I have some snacks and such I can eat but was really counting on being able to take a packed lunch away. Oh well.

As far as my shin splints go, I’m not 100% sure I’ll be walking tomorrow. The road here goes directly to tomorrow’s destination, so there’s a possibility I could hitch it. Fortunately there seems to be a bail out from the trail to the road a few hours in, so if I need to I can do that. I should be ok though, I’ll just have to take it slow and take lots of breaks. Something I should probably do more anyways!

Oh, one thing which is pretty neat about this area. A lot of the things on the Queen Charlotte sound side of the peninsula are only accessible by boat or via the trail. So the trail itself is kind of a transportation corridor. Which means you get signs calling out accommodations and such off the trail in places. Pretty neat.

So far the “major” accommodation areas have had paved roads leading up from the north side, up and over let the trail to the other, but there are a few places tomorrow and almost all of the next day where the trail and by boat is what you’ve got. Super cool.

Day 50ish: Havelock to Anakiwa

Really happy I decided to hitch in last night rather than this morning. I was able to get laundry done, hang out with John and Christine, get a shower, and not have to pitch my tent and then tear it down in the morning! I also had plenty of time today to visit the i-Site and line up all of my accommodation and figure out where food was going to come from for the next few days! Yay!

After all of that I remembered I needed to get cash as I seemed to recall that some of the places on the QCT don’t take cards as they have no cell or internet service. The local four square’s ATM was broken so I used the one at the gas station. Except it apparently, despite saying “accepts all cards”, doesn’t work with foreign cards. And those are the only 2 ATMs in town. Hmm. I called my banks and Chase said I could use my credit card to get cash probably but I’d need a PIN and they’d mail it to me, 7-10 days. Not helpful. Schwab didn’t have anything for me other than “have you tried a different ATM”, after I’d already explained the 2 atm thing twice. Oops. So back to the I-site I went to see if they had any ideas. Honestly I was half hoping the lady working there would say “just take my car and pop over to Picton and use one there”. No luck on that part, but she did call the places I had planned to get food and ask if they took cards for me, and they all said yes. Hooray!

So off I went after a quick stop at the four square to pick up some snacks for the trail, dinner and breakfast for Anakiwa, and a replacement for my ill-fated travel power adapter.

There’s a quite lovely trail east of Havelock called the Link trail. It takes you along the road for a bit then sidles along a hillside with amazing views of the Pelorus Sound and Havelock.

The cup by the waterfall was rather cute. I would have sampled some but I’ve been drinking (mostly untreated) river water and rain tank water for the past 2 months so the novelty is lost on me. Takes me back to the similar cup I saw on the Banks Peninsula Track a year ago. Memories…

Anyways, eventually the track ended and brought me back to the road. Not wanting to spend the rest of my afternoon walking along a road I stuck out my thumb and after a short while got a ride from a lovely Aussie couple who took the extra time to divert off of the main road to take me in to Anakiwa, which was super nice of them!

In Anakiwa I came across John and Christine again and we walked the rest of the way into town. They were heading up the trail for some cheap camping and I was staying at the YHA for the night. We stopped at the only shop in town, ate some ice cream and said our see you laters. They’re doing the track a day faster than I am but they’re doubling back to get a ride back into town after they’re finished, so I’ll see them one last time before I head home.

The YHA is suuuuuuper nice. Comfy beds, a nice kitchen, ensuite with soap AND towels, and the place is basically empty. I am supposed to have a roommate but I don’t think they’re showing up. There’s also a tv room complete with surround sound! Books, puzzles, etc. They even have some food for sale, which I was sad to learn about after getting here because I’d brought food, but that’s fine.

Anakiwa is at the inside end of the Queen Charlotte Sound, and it’s just an amazing setting. Lots of boaters come here and lots of folks have baches (vacation homes) here, and I can see why.

After getting settled in I grabbed Mr and Mrs Smith and watched it. I’d seen it before but it’s a fun movie and it caught my eye immediately when looking at the movie list so I went with my gut. Totally worth it.

While getting ready for bed I heard a lot of commotion outside from some birds. I’ve heard there are lots of wekas here. And wekas are little thieves. So despite the smell, my pack and shoes are safely inside my room for the night, lest one of the wekas decides to go shopping. I went outside to see if I could see one but it scampered off into the bushes when the lights came on. Sadly I think I heard one tangling with a cat nearby, though given that wekas are considered a threatened species and cats are an introduced predator, I’m much more sad for the weka than the cat.

Fun fact: when barely heard, a sheep baaing in the distance sounds something like a cat meowing quietly. So I’ll be lulled to sleep tonight by sheep and wekas tonight! Should be fun.

Really looking forward to the next few days. The icing on the cake that has been this walk. The Richmonds were stunning and amazing and awesome and challenging and all of that. The QCT is similarly stunning but way less challenging, and I don’t need to carry very much food!

Day 49: Rocks Hut to Havelock

2 hours. 2 hours. 7-9 hours. That’s the time estimates I was looking at for today.

Set my alarm for 6:30am, got out of bed around 6:40. Put the kettle on and went to use the glorious flush toilet outside. Heavenly. Cold as hell, but whatever. Came back in, drank some tea, packed some stuff and ate a bar for breakfast. Finished packing and hit the road. Out of the hut by 7:30am.

Flew down the trail. The first section was lots of descent and kinda rooted so it wasn’t the easiest going. Felt like I took forever. Second section was also fairly up and down, but there were lots of bridges!

At the second hut, Captain’s Creek, I had just walked outside and my ride showed up.

Sadly, they didn’t actually give me a ride. It sounded kinda like they would have but they were picking up 2 other people or something. I told the guy I had to try, the worst he could say was no! It was a DOC employee dropping some stuff off at the hut. Not every day you have timing that good!

Onward! More up and down. And then a very lovely swimming hole.

If I hadn’t been in a race against the clock to get some food I would have gone for a swim. It looked glorious. I heard from some other folks that it was indeed glorious.

Then on to the road walk. 15km or so on a very lightly used gravel road. I saw one truck, and one tractor heading opposite the direction I wanted to go. I saw some sort of inspector or something off to the side, and at one point I saw an suv enter the road ahead of me going my direction. That’s it. Almost no chance I was going to get a ride. It didn’t matter, I was still flying. And despite the crappy road walk, the views were rather nice.

Just before the bridge to the campground I had a welcoming party. They must have heard I was anxious to get a burger in my face.

And then I finished at the campground at about 4:15! I thought the cafe there was supposed to close at 5 but apparently it was 4! Though they seemed to still be serving people, so I got a coke, a couple of pies, and a huge bag of chips.

Campground was $18 per person, and it was still fairly early, so I decided to try my luck at hitching to town. There’s a holiday park in town so I wasn’t worried about no vacancy. There’s always room for another tent camper at holiday parks in my experience. I managed to get a ride from a couple from Buenos Aires, a place high on my list to visit, and got a room at the local BBH.

I met back up with John and Christine and we shared stories about our day, they had gotten picked up by some folks and John rode in the trunk. It sounded pretty awesome. They’re heading out to the Queen Charlotte tomorrow, and I think I am, too. I need to stop into the I-site and make all of my arrangements and then I’ll hitch my way over to Anakiwa and hit the trail. Honestly though at this point I could take it or leave it. The Richmonds were absolutely amazing, and if I were to finish right here, right now, I’d feel like I had completed my mission. But we’ll see tomorrow when I talk to The I-Site folks!

Looking forward to coffee and some form of breakfast tomorrow! Hopefully I can find an accommodation on the trail with some good food for tomorrow night!

Day 48: Starveall Hut to Rocks Hut

Last night was very cold. The hut was full so I’d originally set up my tent outside, with the only available spot being on the helipad, but later, I realized there was actually room on the floor inside so I tore down my tent and moved inside. Glad I did. Even inside on the floor I was very cold. Not really me specifically, but my mattress apparently doesn’t insulate as well as I thought it did, so while the top of me was nice and cozy because of my down quilt, any part of me that was touching the mattress was cold. I woke up at one point and looked at my phone to see how much longer I would have to deal with the cold and it was 2am. Eek. I did some things and seemed to get a bit warmer, and survived the night, so it’s all good.

The day started off with a pretty steep descent down into a river valley, a river we crossed a bunch and walked in for a while. It wasn’t too special. We stopped at the huts along the way and kept rolling.

Then we had quite a large climb back up to a ridge we’d spend most of the rest of the day on. Some really great views were to be had, and some decent trail surface in places too.

Later on we got to a part of the trail where there had been significant storm damage. It’s amazing how much work went into making the trail walkable again. Miles of fallen trees with large chunks sawn out of them.

Finally we arrived at Rocks Hut, our primary destination for the day. On the way we’d talked about what tomorrow would look like, which is 2 2 hour sections followed by a 7-9 according to the notes. Long day. It finishes with about 14km of gravel road walk with little chance of hitching, but I figure if it comes to it I can just zombie walk that whole thing. The end is the Pelorus Bridge campground where there’s a small shop and cafe, but they close at 5 I hear so I may be eating cold cous cous tomorrow night, but I’ll have a hot breakfast the next day. Understandably, John and Christine said they didn’t want that long of a day tomorrow so they left me at Rocks Hut and headed further down the trail, promising to grab some food for me to eat when I arrive if they get there in time.

For a good while I had the hut to myself. This hut is 16 beds and has 2 flush toilets! I’ve only seen flush toilets at one other hut on the trail, and that was a serviced hut near a Great Walk, so to see one here is rather odd, but given that I’ve been doing my business into smelly holes in the ground full of wasps for the last week, a welcome sight indeed.

Nearby there’s a little track that heads up to an overlook. The sign says 10 minutes but it was more like 20. But worth it.

Seriously, the top of this hill also felt like I was on another planet. Would be a really great place to camp if I had a groundsheet. The ground was tiny sharp rocks though.

Now I’m off to bed. On my walk up to the overlook I ran into another person who would be joining me at the hut, so I’m not alone here. Bummer. But also cool because I got to meet someone new!

Tomorrow is going to be a very long day. I’d guess about 6 hours before I get to the road, and another 4-5 hours from there. But then I’m off to town for a rest day and then to the Queen Charlotte Track to finish off the walk! So excited and still kind of in awe that I’ve made it this far. Only a few more days left of walking! And on a super super super easy track! With someone hauling my pack! And probably cooking me food! And probably a hot shower and a warm bed every night! That’s what I’m hoping for anyways!

Day 47: Rintoul Hut to Starveall Hut

Cloudy. It was cloudy this morning. But we had to move, there was no choice. I could have stayed for another day, but I wasn’t very interested in that.

So we left. Immediately past the hut the climb began. And climb we did. And climb. And finally popped out above the tree line onto the scree slope we’d be climbing for a bit more. Eventually we got past the cloud the hut was in and got our first taste of the view.

Sadly, the top of the mountain was also shrouded in cloud. But in a way that was almost better. It felt like we were on another planet. The rocky ground, sparse plant life, bright, diffuse sunlight, and zero visibility. Was quite nice.

At last we reached the very top. It was pretty awesome. The cloud made it feel like we were above the entire planet. They started down the hill, I stuck around a bit to have a moment.

I don’t remember all I thought about but I was both incredibly happy and incredibly sad I was up there, on top of the last major peak before the finish. Especially after now 6 days on this section I’m rather looking forward to getting back to civilization, but at the same time I wanted to hold onto that happy feeling of achievement for so much longer.

I was also thinking how awesome it was that I was here with the first 2 northbounders I met, after all this time. The last several days with them has been amazing and fun and sharing that summit with them was a highlight of the trip.

I also thought more about what’s next. I still don’t entirely know that. I feel like I want to find a job and go back to work, but I also want to make certain there’s ample room for adventures like this one. No way am I going to be content with sitting behind a keyboard for 40 hours a week for the rest of my life.

I did cry, for the record. Not like I cried when I reached the summit of Bear Camp on Cycle Oregon last year, but I still cried. It was a beautiful moment, and despite not having a view, I feel like it couldn’t have been more perfect.

Afterward, we started what must have been the most technically difficult section of the trail yet. Mount Rintoul has a sister summit, Little Rintoul, and the path between them is incredibly challenging. A while back I’d told my friend Faith, someone who has done her fair share of long hikes and travel, that I didn’t know if I wanted to keep going. She said “it’s just walking”. That was the running joke for the day.

Today was a beast. And then we finally got past the Rintouls and back into merely moderately difficult terrain.

Originally my plan had been to just go from Rintoul hut to Old Man Hut, only one hut down the trail. This was before when I thought I’d spend more time at the summit, when I assumed it would take far longer to cross than it did, and before I’d spent the entire previous day lying in my bed in a hut doing bugger all. So today we pushed on to Slaty Hut. But we got there around 3:15, and the next hut was supposed to only be 3 hours away. So we ate, and moved on. The idea being that if we did this bit faster and had a long day on the tail, we could do the rest of this in 3 days instead of 4. Not only meaning their food supplies would be less stretched, but that we’d get to burgers that much faster. Seriously, all we can think about is burgers. That’s it. Burgers. Give me a burger and a pile of chips.

We finally got out of the clouds to some nice views again.

And then we arrived at Starveall Hut. To find it overflowing with people. And not really any good options around for camping. John and Christine found a spot in the woods, and I pitched up on the helipad, figuring I’d hear a helicopter coming in for a landing in enough time to get out of the way. But one of the people inside ended up sleeping outside, and I thought there would already be people on the floor, but nope, nobody, so I packed up my tent and moved inside. I’m glad I did. It’s windy and cold outside. Inside we have a fire going. Much better.

Tomorrow we head for Rocks Hut, which I’ve heard good things about. If nothing else, there are flush toilets. After several huts with wasp nests in the loo it’ll be a nice change of pace. According to notes it’ll be 8.5 hours tomorrow, but the next 2 huts are only 2 and 2 past that, so we may push on to shorten our last day on this section a bit. The last day is about 70% walking down a gravel road, with little chance of a hitch, but it’s zombie walkable so it’s fine if it’s a long day. Plus: burgers.

Rintoul Hut zero

Woke up this morning to cloudy weather so we slept in.

I’d been wanting to zero in a hut. Let me tell you, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.

This is a long section, so I had a lot of food. But I still have a decent amount of time left, so I can’t just do the thing I wanted to do all day, which was to eat. And despite having cell reception, I have only about half of my battery left, so I can’t just do stuff on my phone all day.

So, yea. I drank like 8 cups of tea, we played some cards, but the deck we had had some missing cards. We had a fire going but kept having to go cut up more firewood to keep it going. Then, finally, I laid down for a bit of reading and a nap and 3 more northbounders show up, so suddenly there’s a ton of activity and people talking and I just can’t get any reading done.

The worst part is that around noon we’d decided that 2pm was our cutoff to leave. We’d started packing up since there was some clearing, but by 2pm it was raining again. Then, about the time the nobos showed up, it started clearing more, and ended up being a lovely afternoon.

Suddenly I got a craving for a burger and then all we could do was talk about food for the next several hours.

John at one point had been pretty hangry and Christine started sorting through their food to make up rations so she could give him some food to try to take the hanger away. Eventually we all had dinner and then John apologized for his behavior earlier, and one of the other guys said he’d been so hungry he blacked out. And suddenly the term “black out hungry” was coined.

I’ve also spent the last several hours figuring out how to make this next section which originally was meant to be 4 days into 3 days, which is possible with either long days or beating estimates, both of which I’m starting to feel more like I want to do.

This section has been beautiful, but I wouldn’t mind being done with it a day earlier than originally planned. At any rate, I’m going to be happy to be back on the trail again tomorrow. Zero day in a hut isn’t the most exciting or wonderful thing ever, though I will admit that it would have been less bad if it hadn’t cleared up, and if we’d had a better deck of cards.

Day 46: Mid Wairoa Hut to Rintoul Hut

The day started with a climb. Big climb. Through forest, so pretty boring, no pictures. Halfway in we stopped at Tarn Hut, which is conveniently by a tarn.

Then up we went some more. Much more. Lots and lots of wasps. They were so thick they’d just run into you. No stings, but it was pretty sketchy for a while.

Then the views started coming.

Up some more we went. More views.

Finally we reached our high point for the day, saw our hut and what lay before us for tomorrow.

You might be able to see it there. It about 5 pixels of white. That’s the hut. That big mountain next to it? That’s what we’re climbing tomorrow. It’s about 450m above us, but the horizontal distance is only about 1, 1.5km. So basically a wall. Should be fun.

It’s supposed to rain tomorrow morning so we’re probably going to stick around here most of the day. Not only is it not a good idea to attempt this in bad weather, we really want to be able to see from the top. It’s the last big peak going northbound, so kind of a final rite of passage. I imagine I’ll cry a little. Or maybe a lot. Hopefully a lot.

Bonus, we saw an owl in the forest.

Tomorrow, or whenever we manage to be able to get up the mountain, should be quite the day. I can’t wait.