GO NZ: Geoff Chapple walks Marlborough’s Queen Charlotte Track

In February, just before the Covid crisis changed the world, I walked the 75km Queen Charlotte Track with my wife, and a million singers sang, a million timpanists beat their tiny drums. The right royal racket stretched away miles deep around us. Summer cicadas, and a world of song, the only apparent danger, cicadas who detached from their trees and flew the long green corridor, colliding occasionally with our sun hats, or simply hitching a ride before flying on.

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We walked with day packs. The same launch that takes you to the start of the track at Ship Cove will also, for a small fee, jump your 5-day luggage forward to the jetties at each of the end-of-day stopovers. We walked through leafy forest to Furneaux Lodge. A bronze plaque recorded the thanks of Captain Harry Howden R.N. to his settler parents who’d founded Furneaux in the early 20th century and “gave great happiness and such fun to their early descendants”. Fun, then and fun now. We checked into our tramper’s accommodation, slung off our daypacks, and were still rummaging in our recently deposited luggage when 17 women leapt off the jetty and in one screaming chorus, bombed the still waters of Endeavour Inlet.

We came to label them “the hares”. We came to know they were women who’d left their children and all care back with their partners in Auckland. The mass tramp was an annual ritual, and they lit the wide lawns and verandas of Furneaux with talk, and caroused into the night. Then slept late, or so we thought, for we didn’t see them on the 10km leg through to Punga Cove, and then forgot them as the weather turned.

We passed the DOC campground — the cheaper option — and headed for the resort beyond, and pizzas at the Boatshed Cafe. The sounds magnify all weather. If it’s fine, it’s super-fine, but if the wind gets up … it was dropping down the flanks of the peninsulas and swirling across Endeavour Inlet, tearing the ocean. Rain blew sideways into our happy-hour nook on the jetty, and around the time it blew the leafy garnish off my Pizza Italiano, we grabbed cardboard pizza boxes from the bar and retreated up the hill to our unit. That night, we lay listening to the rain, and watched the dark silhouettes of the trees outside thrash sideways and upwards like those spooky air dancers in the car dealer yards, and Miriam said, “If it’s like this tomorrow, I’m not walking.”

We walked on beneath the trail’s oldest forest. Overhanging tree ferns darkened the way, then opened out on to old beech trees, their bases blackened and rumpled by symbiotic black fungus, their vast trunks and delicate foliage framing the blue sea beyond.
The Aesop fable suggested we’d beat the Hares to the Portage Hotel, and we did. We’d already served ourselves from the smorgasbord and ordered our beer and ginger ale before they blew in, grabbed plates and dispersed to fill their plates. One of them, momentarily nonplussed as Auckland Hares sometimes are, stood beside the jugs, and asked into the air, “Do you have any non-dairy milk?”

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