So we, Jacob and Lorelei, were given the letter Q for the alphabet challenge. In order to fulfil this quest we a) did some adventuring around Queenstown (see…https://www.adventuregang.org/qqqueenstown-surrounds/) but we didn’t think that was ‘Q’ enough so we decided to do the Queen Charlotte Track. To be honest we were reluctant at first. Lorelei had done a few days of it previously and thought it was a bit boring especially with how much it interacted with civilisation: boats carry your gear and you can pay to stay in accommodation with beds and hot showers. But then again, “wait a second, that could be a perfect set up for tramping with baby Shirley.” Despite how small babies are: they seem to require a fair amount of gear, they don’t carry it themselves, and you have to carry them! This was sort of okay for shorter tracks when Shirley didn’t weight so much but you can really feel her 12ish kilograms on your back now. So we settled on the Queen Charlotte Track for Easter. It would be expensive with all of the ferries, water taxis and accommodation but hey it would get us tramping, with Shirley, and it would fulfil our Alphabet Challenge commitment!
The track is in the Marlborough Sounds so we had to catch the ferry from Wellington to Picton first. It was all a bit crazy preparing to leave because we got back from Queenstown on Sunday night, both worked full days on Monday and Tuesday and then Lorelei worked a few hours from home Wed morning before we got our ferry out in the afternoon. There wasn’t a lot of time for packing and catching up on general home chores etc. As if that wasn’t enough, Lorelei woke up with a nausea and a sore tummy on Weds. She was sick enough that she should’ve called in for her few hours of work she’d committed to but she thought it would seem ‘dodgy’, so she had a rough morning and was fairly unhelpful to poor Jacob who basically packed everything for all three of us. We rushed out of the door late to get the bus to the railway station where we would get the shuttle bus to the ferry. A frenzied phone call to the ferry people confirmed we were going to be okay and make the shuttle. Phew.
Things got a lot better once we checked in our inordinate amount of heavy luggage and were on the ferry. It was paradise for Shirley. She loves buses and particularly; the other passengers on buses. The ferry had hundreds of passengers for her to flirt with, plus she could run around, and there was even a playground, not to mention the outside decks to check out. She even made friends with a 2- year old Argentinean boy with an excellent toy selection. She was in heaven. Lorelei, on the other hand, was feeling pretty dodgy, she was lucky the seas weren’t rough, but she did have to take a time out to curl up in a ball and have a nap. The legendary Jacob chased Shirley around. Lucky for him Lorelei gave him a break to watch rugby highlights for a while too.
By the time we pulled into Picton Shirley was exhausted from her extreme playing. We picked up our inordinate amount of luggage and stumbled tiredly to our hostel. We were on a tight timeframe due to Shirley’s bedtime so we dropped our stuff and popped out to dinner. We found a cheap Chinese/Thai place where we got kind of boring, but tasty enough, food. Shirley loved it too!
We popped into the grocery store to get some fruit and lunch stuff then headed back to the hostel. We put Shirley down without too much drama and then Lorelei curled up in bed too. Super Jake ran to the shop for something we forgot then watched sports videos on the balcony while his girls slept, until he came to bed too.
We woke up lots during the night as we were a little stressed by the early water taxi we needed to catch and how long it takes to do things with Shirley. Sure enough it was a little crazy, super Jake was the extreme legend at taking the lead again with Lorelei still struggling with a tummy bug. We made it to the water taxi in time and headed out to the start of the walk.
The track starts in Ship Cove which is famed for Captain Cook’s early stops there. We had a breakfast of leftover Chinese/Thai food (delicious) and Shirley also had some bread. As Shirley wandered around with her bread she strayed too far from the protection of her parents. It was a little like one of those National Geographic documentaries – the small weak animal is separated from her mother and then hunted down by some kind of ferocious predator. However, we are in New Zealand so the most bad ass predator on hand was a flightless bird.
Weka are notoriously annoying scavengers and soon Shirley was attacked by a weka who was trying to steal her bread. It was a hilarious moment for us adults, but Shirley was very upset about the whole thing. Jacob took a sweet photo of the moment the weka struck, but sadly we’ve lost it so you’ll have to settle for a weird pre-action shot!
We started hiking up out of Ship Cove and it was steep and muddy. The boat captain had said it was the hardest part of the whole hike and Lorelei secretly hoped so, struggling up with little energy, though Jake was doing the hard work of carrying Shirley. That said, we were unorganized enough that morning that the day pack she carried had some extra baggage that we could have put on the boat. Oh well.
After not much time Shirley dozed off but woke up just as we reached a nice lookout with good views out in each direction.
Then we descended down to the coast again and then gradually back up to a saddle. The forest was beautiful. Lorelei had overlooked that in her recollections. The trail was touristy and busy because of Easter but it is good that there are tramps set up to attract the less keen. This one was pretty cruisy and well-graded for most of the rest of the hike.
At the saddle we stopped for some views, lunch, to give Shirley a break from the backpack and of course a nappy change. She decided the picnic table and bench at the saddle were perfect for climbing so Jake was kept busy chasing her around trying to avert any type of catastrophe.
From the saddle we skirted down and began hiking around Endeavour Inlet. We made a slight side trip to go see a big old Rimu tree and then we carried on past some accommodation, private properties, across a swing bridge and then we made it to our home for the night, the Woodshed.
We checked in and the lovely host gave us some lemon muffins she made us. We soon discovered that, in typical New Zealand fashion, she knew some of Jacob’s family members. As we got ourselves situated Shirley wandered to the edge of the low deck to investigate a small bush, except for some reason she walked right off the deck seemingly oblivious to the edge. She immediately fell face first into some long grass. It was quite hilarious, especially once we knew she was unharmed.
Next we popped down to the bay for a swim. It was actually kind of cool out by this stage and the wind soon came up. Shirley didn’t seem too keen for a dip but Jacob and Schmittsky each took turns going in. Then it was dinner, which involved copious amounts of Annie’s Mac n Cheese, and then bed.
Schmittsky was still having tummy problems and fell asleep soon after Shirley at around 8pm. Luckily the tramping had been pretty cruisy. At bedtime our little woodshed was still fairly warm, but it was a clear, still, cold night and the temperature inside dropped fairly quickly. As had been the case in Picton, Shirley started coughing in the middle of the night. Jacob immediately got up and found she had cold hands and ears so brought her into bed with him for a snuggle.
It took quite a while for Jake to get Shirley back to sleep in the big bed, which meant it took us even longer to get back to sleep. Usually she moves around a lot at night so she sleeps in a sleep sack in a temperature-controlled room. Despite looking and feeling like a cosy little cabin when the afternoon sun was on it, this was actually a drafty woodshed with no heater.
We woke up cold in the morning and forced ourselves to get out of the bed and get things moving. We had to have our bags out on the jetty before 9, and we were moving real slow. With team work we managed to get everything sorted from what we needed for the day vs what could go by boat and got most of it packed up. Jacob hurriedly grabbed a wheelbarrow from behind our wool shed and put Shirley’s suitcase in it. He then donned the big heavy pack full of gear and headed for the jetty.
After a bit more packing up and getting organised we set off for another day of hiking. Jake was carrying Shirley again for what was going to be the easiest day, at only around 10km. The track took us around the other side of Endeavour Inlet. Not long after leaving the Woolshed Shirley was already starting to nod off in the backpack. This inevitably meant she would go all floppy and lean her weight heavily on the left side. It turns out walking with a 20+ kg pack that is leaning heavily to one side is not a particularly comfortable experience.
After a short while we passed a couple of noisy families and desperately hoped Shirley would stay asleep – we knew after two interrupted nights’ sleep she would need a good nap. Lorelei tried to shoosh them but one of the male parents shouted a comment about Shirley, probably something like “OH LOOK THE BABY’S ASLEEP!”. “Well actually thanks to you she’s now awake you idiot!”. So we may not have actually said it, but we both agreed that we hated the man, because sure enough Shirley woke up.
Jacob wondered whether he would one day be the stupid man shouting and waking up other people’s babies. Maybe it was the sort of thing men started doing as they got older. As had been the case for most of the track so far, we passed numerous little creeks and waterfalls, which Shirley was getting increasingly excited about. We were both surprised by how much water was around, particularly seeing as we were in Marlborough, which is supposed to be one of the drier parts of New Zealand.
It was our easiest day of hiking on the Queen Charlotte Track (QCT), by far. What was supposed to take four hours took just over two. Lorelei had memories of the Sounds being covered with invasive pines but she did her section of the track probably nearly 12-15 years ago (she has no clue) and there has been a big pine eradication program and lots of time for native bush to grow. There were pongas (tree ferns) and Manuka everywhere and the Sounds were real pretty. She isn’t known for her strong memory, to say the least. The trail on this day was also super well-graded and easy.
We arrived at our next accommodation, Punga Cove Resort. Jake went and checked us in while Lorelei gave Shirley her “moolk”. Because it was fully booked, Lorelei and Shirley would be sharing a single backpacker room, while Jake would be camping at the nearby Department of Conservation campsite. Punga Cove Resort was super sweet. Even though we had booked the cheapest possible room, they had a Porta cot all set up for Shirley and even gave us a small bottle of fresh milk.
While Lorelei and Shirley got settled Jake hurried back up the track to claim a spot and set up his camp. When he went to pay for his site he discovered he only had $7.10 and needed $8 for the campsite, and was almost resigned to a return trip to get a dollar off Lorelei, involving climbing a steep hill to the cheap rooms furthest from the beach. However, he was lucky enough to borrow a few coins from fellow campers and thus avoid such frustration.
The rest of the afternoon was spent eating lunch, having a father and daughter nap time, doing laundry and swimming at the beach. Then we had a family pizza party at the resort bar. Shirley danced to some live music, and we even tried to have a game of ping pong. Ponga Cove Resort was making all our wildest dreams come true.
Once the girls were in bed for the night, Jake set off to his campsite by head torch. Unsurprisingly the tent he had set up on its own was now closely surrounded by four other tents. As Jake settled into bed it seemed like one of his neighbours decided it was a good time to repeatedly open and close a 5m long zip for about half an hour.
The next day was going to be our longest, at 24km. The time estimate was 8 hours, which seemed a long time for our young lady to be in the backpack. To make the day feel more intimidating it was also really windy, there would be some rain, and we would be walking on a ridge. The last time we walked on a windy day on a ridge with Shirley she screamed and screamed until we abandoned the ridge and dropped back into the shelter of the trees – effectively abandoning our plans. There would be no such option – once we started hiking we were committed.
As we set off Shirley was wearing her extreme tramping suit over the top of her warm clothes – comprised of lined PVC overalls and a PVC jacket. We at least knew she would stay warm and dry. Shirley had had another disrupted night’s sleep so when we put her in the backpack and started hiking she fell asleep fairly quickly. This time Lorelei started the day carrying Shirley – having finally recovered from her gastro and regained her strength.
One happy Schmittsky, one less so.
The day started with a fairly steep climb out of Punga Cove to reach the ridge. On the ridge we were soon passed by a group of high speed hikers, one of whom was in the middle of telling a story. We heard them coming and were prepared this time. Jake quickly dropped back and politely asked them to be quiet as they passed Lorelei. This would be an ongoing trend.
Despite our efforts Shirley ended up having another short nap, and was soon showing signs of being sick of the backpack. We had only been walking for about an hour and we were already desperately singing Shirley’s favourite hiking song ‘Old MacDonald had a farm’. We both agreed that we were doomed. To make matters worse it started to rain on and off and the track was actually pretty hard in places. Steep climbs followed by steep and often slippery descents.
After a couple of hours we were looking for a sheltered place to stop for food and get out of the rain. We saw a sign that suggested a camp site and shelter were a couple of kilometres up the trail so we pinned our hopes on there being some space for the three of us there. We were constantly trying to interact with Shirley to reduce the risk of another catnap and ward off further crying/whining.
We arrived at the shelter having done around 9km. It was busy, but some people who were about to leave made room for us at the picnic table. We gave Shirley some milk, which we made from powder, made and ate lunch, and fed Shirley her lunch. Between milk and her lunch Jacob tried to get Shirley active to help her burn off some energy – they went to get a closer look at some goats and ran back and forth across the shelter.
Shirley was loving the social environment of the shelter and soon made friends with a young woman. We suggested she might like to accompany us for the remainder of the hike – any help entertaining Shirley would be strongly welcomed. We had one more task before setting off again – a bush nappy change in the rain on wet ground. Luckily we had a change mat and two sets of hands to work together to get her changed fast and prevent Shirley from indulging her strong impulse to harvest dirt and put it in her nappy/clothes.
It was now Jacob’s turn to carry Shirley. She was once again snuggled up in her full rain suit over several layers and we put the sun shade and rain barrier on for extra protection from the elements. We still had another 15km to go and had no idea how we would manage it given how Shirley had been all morning. But there wasn’t much we could do about it except walk. After not too long Shirley started to nod off again. The rest of the afternoon was a blur of non-stop high speed hiking – at least as high speed as was possible while carrying a very uncomfortable 20kg pack.
Lorelei was on constant alert shhhhing people we crossed paths with and Jacob was doing his best to keep the pack steady, even on steep slippery descents. Meanwhile, Shirley was getting her left side lean going big time, crushing Jacob’s left shoulder and creating a very unbalanced load. It is too scary to try adjust her in such instances, not worth potentially waking!
The first hour since lunch passed, Shirley was still asleep. We had walked in silence. A second hour passed and Shirley was remarkably still asleep. We were still walking in silence. After more than 2.5 hours of hiking since lunch Jacob finally gestured for water – which Lorelei provided. Jacob had to get the wide topped bottle and drink from it without stopping or even breaking stride. Needless to say a fair amount was spilled down his shirt, but it was clear we needed to keep Shirley asleep at all costs.
After almost 3 hours of sleep Shirley finally started to stir. We still had a few km left, so we got back into ‘entertain Shirley’ mode. We taught her the word ‘tree’ and the names of a few species and of course we sang Old MacDonald with her. We finally reached the road that would take us to our wicked luxurious accommodation at Portage Hotel.
We only had about 1km down the road to go, which still seemed to take forever since Shirley was well and truly ready to be out of the backpack. We arrived at the hotel and checked in and made ourselves at home the way only hiker trash can. Muddy shoes/boots, poles, dirty socks, and muddy gaters all adorning the entrance to our kind of fancy room.
Shirley made herself at home by immediately climbing on the bed and politely requesting that we build a fort. When the fort game was not high paced enough she decided to do a front flip straight off the side of the bed. She landed heavily on her back and we waited for the inevitable hysteria, which remarkably never came. She lay there surprised for a second or two then got up and continued running around busily.
We made a family trip down to the beach for a swim and then returned to our room for hiker trash dinner. Jake suggested we cook and eat dinner on the balcony, which was plenty spacious. Once the double dose of Annie’s mac n cheese and freeze dried meal were cooked we convened with Lorelei and Jake sitting on opposite sides of the balcony. It turned out to be an inspired choice as Shirley ran back and forth between us getting mouthfuls of food and frantically burning off a day worth of energy in a very short time. Once we had eaten enough and Shirley had burned off enough energy we all got ready for bed and had an early night.
It’s not often we feel relieved when Daylight Saving ends. However, as fate would have it the last day of our hike required us to cover 21km by 4pm in time for a water taxi back to Picton. This was probably the most daunting aspect of the Queen Charlotte Track. Missing the water taxi would mean being stranded and most likely missing our ferry from Picton to Wellington the next day. Luckily it coincided with the ‘gift’ of an extra hour in the morning – we didn’t even have to get Shirley up earlier than normal.
After the usual struggles of packing up, feeding Shirley and feeding ourselves we were back on the trail on a beautiful still day. The day started with a big climb, with some quite steep sections of track. The first half of the day had lots of up and down, more beautiful views of the Sounds, and Shirley had another nap.
After the first 10 or 12 km we were on track to meet our ferry and Shirley was awake so we decided to stop for lunch. As usual the lunch spot had to fulfill a lot of criteria to be acceptable – sun, views, flat, dry grass, and ideally somewhat safe for Shirley to roam. During our fairly extensive lunch break Shirley went to investigate a small waterfall. She was very excited about it and wanted to play in the pool. Unfortunately we weren’t all that keen for her to get wet and cold so we persuaded her that it wasn’t such a good idea.
After eating through much of our remaining food, and Shirley requesting “mo cracka” approximately 100 times, we set off for our final effort. The remainder of the hike was gradual downhill or flat. Jake had made adjustments to the pack so Shirley was sitting lower, and was no longer flopping out of the pack sideways when she fell asleep. We were passed by a lot of mountain bikers going in both directions – it seemed the section we were on was really popular for day trips. Despite frequently needing to pull over to let bikes pass we still made good time and arrived in Anakiwa with a couple of hours to spare.
We set about entertaining Shirley, to hopefully help her burn off some energy before our boat ride. Unfortunately we got so focused on exercising Shirley, eating our remaining snacks, and changing and cleaning Shirley’s pooey cloth nappy, we almost missed our boat. Aside from our focus on Shirley, we were also confused about what time our water taxi was. We really didn’t want to go wait on the wharf prematurely because it would be too scary having Shirley loose on there and we really wanted her to run around. Our ticket also said the water taxi was at 4:30pm, but apparently the water taxi operator likes to run more than half an hour early – which is a dubious tactic when catering for hikers. As far as we could tell they liked to run early to make themselves look good. Interestingly early running is typically highly frowned upon for public transport services. We had been watching a boat that had been around the wharf a long time named “Sounds Adventure”, which we assumed was part of the Sounds Adventure Company that operated in the area. There was certainly nothing to suggest it was from Cougar Lines. However, it was now around 4:10pm so we were starting to think it might be our boat – but were still reluctant to take Shirley to the wharf until we absolutely had to. Then a young man with a Cougar Lines shirt on approached us and asked if we were Jacob and Lorelei, and then told us we better hurry because the boat was leaving. As we boarded a grumpy man, probably the boat Captain, said they had all been waiting for us for a long time. We apologised saying we couldn’t tell it was a Cougar Lines boat, to which he responded that everyone else had managed to figure it out.
Oh well, so because of us lots of people had to sit on a boat in a stunning location for a bit longer than necessary. The boat still left 15 minutes early and Shirley got enough exercise that she wasn’t too upset to be back in the backpack for our journey to Picton. Once our boat arrived, we collected our other bags and set off for our backpackers. We regretted booking something so far from the wharves, because we were burdened with a big backpack, a big roller bag, the heavy but charming Shirley, and the relatively heavy shared day pack for the three of us as we trudged to our accommodation. However, being the Sunday night of Easter weekend we had very little choice.
The 1.2km walk to the backpackers seemed to take forever. Upon arrival Lorelei had a quick shower and we headed to the local pub for a roast dinner. We soon wished we had ordered three mains, such is Shirley’s appetite. Luckily back at the hostel we were treated to a communal desert of ice cream and steamed pudding after getting Shirley to bed. Jacob felt ill enough after that he lost his appetite, while Lorelei somehow ate two servings! While eating dessert we met a Chilean woman who lived near us in Wellington and worked at our local, Moon Bar. Such a small world in NZ!
The next morning we got the ferry back to Wellington. Shirley had another early morning wake up, much to our neighbours’ disappointment. No doubt it meant many people at the backpackers also had an early morning wake up. We managed to get a van ride from the hostel to the ferry terminal, which was a big relief. Onboard the ferry we immediately got Shirley down for a nap in one of the super sweet nursery rooms. Jake stayed in there with her, realising just how exhausted he was after ‘being the strong one’ for the last week, he lay on the floor next to Shirley and tried to have a nap himself.
Turns out there were now more people who were mad at us. When Jake and Shirley emerged from one of the two onboard nurseries there were numerous parents with small children in various states of insanity – both the parents and children. Some of them definitely gave Jake the evils – the parents, not the children. One woman appeared to be walking circuits of the boat with her baby in a stroller – and looked particularly angry at us for hogging the nursery. We ate a delicious lunch of butter chicken and rice, and a lasagne shortly before arriving in Wellington. Yet again we wished we ordered more food as Shirley ate about half of it. All that was left to do now was make our way back to Newtown and set about unpacking and taking care of a serious back log of dirty laundry.