Iwas red-faced and puffing but it was the view that took my breath away. We were just a few kilometres into the biggest trek of our lives - a 71km journey along the Queen Charlotte Track. We had just reached the top of the ridge and had emerged from the lush temperate rainforest to spectacular views of Resolution Bay. This was Mother Nature at her best and we knew then and there that this was going to be an amazing four days of hiking.
We had done a couple of day hikes (or "tramps" as the locals like to call it) on a previous trip to New Zealand and found the countryside and climate to be perfectly suited to this outdoor pursuit. The only reason we hadn't tackled a multi-day hike before was that we weren't terribly excited by the prospect of camping or carrying heavy backpacks. The Queen Charlotte Track has that all covered. Water taxis transfer your suitcase to your next destination while you walk, and lodges along the track ensure that you can enjoy all the creature comforts, including dining, hot showers and a warm bed every night.
Our adventure started with a water taxi ride from the charming little port town of Picton to Ship Cove, the starting point of the track. We left our suitcases on the boat to be transferred directly to our accommodation, and walked down the jetty to the historic Ship Cove, founded by Captain Cook and arguably one of his favourite places.
He landed here no less than five times during his first and second voyages of the Pacific.
We looked around the monuments of Ship Cove before starting our 15km hike to Furneaux Lodge. This part of the Queen Charlotte Track is completely isolated, with no road access whatsoever, so the only way to reach these beautiful spots is to either hike there or catch a water taxi. This seclusion means that the environment is in pristine condition.
The start of the hike is a long climb through virgin rainforest but you are rewarded for your efforts when you reach the top of the ridgeline and receive your first spectacular views of the sound. We continued along the track, which meanders up and down and around the sound until we reached a cute little cove to enjoy our packed picnic lunch. As we continued on, we passed the aptly named No Road Inn, a boutique luxury lodge at the head of the Endeavour Inlet and next door to our first night's destination, the historic Furneaux Lodge. This lodge, named after Captain Tobias Furneaux, who was part of Captain Cook's second voyage, was built in 1902 as a private homestead and converted to a holiday resort in the 1970s.
Our suitcases had already been delivered to our waterfront suite overlooking the clear, calm waters of the bay. The suite consisted of a living room with glass doors leading to a veranda, separate double bedroom and a good-sized bathroom. We enjoyed a hot shower and change of clothes before exploring the resort and its facilities.
We had a hot drink at the bar as we watched the other hikers arrive and then hired a double kayak to explore the bay from the water. We relaxed on our private veranda for a while before realising we were famished. We got ready for dinner and made our way to Furneaux's fine dining restaurant and enjoyed a three-course dinner and bottle of local sauvignon blanc, knowing that we had earned every calorie during the day's long hike.
We woke up after a long and comfortable sleep to surprisingly ache-free muscles and joints. After a cooked breakfast, we collected our packed lunch and continued on our way. We left our suitcases by our front door to be transferred to our next stopover.
The second day was a leisurely 12km stroll, mostly at sea level, as we followed the Queen Charlotte Track around countless turquoise bays. We arrived at the magnificent Punga Cove, home to the Mahana Lodge, just after lunch and were greeted by our hosts, John and Ann Martin, who straight away offered us some delicious homemade chocolate brownies and organised our dinner menu.
The homestead of Mahana Lodge is more than 100 years old and has been lovingly restored by John and Ann and is their residence on the property. Guests stay in a simple four-bedroom lodge behind the homestead, each king double room with its own ensuite bathroom. There is a common kitchen and living room with views of the bay and deliciously warm log fire. A one-bedroom chalet is available for those wanting more privacy.
Ann and John provide kayaks for the guests' enjoyment along with deck chairs on the lawn overlooking the calm turquoise waters of the bay. This is a TV and internet/mobile reception-free zone, so you have no option but to relax with nature.
For dinner, we joined the eight other guests for a communal dinner in the conservatory. Ann was in the kitchen cooking and John acted as waiter and entertainer. It can get a little chilly but heaters are provided, along with blankets to keep yourself nice and warm. The food was delightful; freshly caught fish for entree, followed by chicken and mushroom pie and salad for main and a lemon tart for dessert. Many of the ingredients are sourced from Mahana's organic veggie patch. This was all washed down with a lovely bottle of NZ pinot noir. Delicious comfort food, cooked from the heart.
After dinner, we grabbed our torches and joined the other guests on a late-night expedition in search of some the wildlife we were assured lived on the property. We followed a dirt track behind the lodge and into the forest until we came upon a stream. We turned off the torches and as our eyes adjusted to the darkness, there in front of us was the resident colony of glow-worms, a mass of pretty little fairly lights decorating the stream banks - very cool.
We retired to our bedroom and again enjoyed a lovely sleep in a warm comfortable bed, before waking in the morning to our housemates making breakfast. Ann had left us a hamper of their free-range eggs, home-cooked bread and jams and muesli for us to prepare to our liking.
We once again collected our packed lunch, before farewelling our hosts and the other guests to recommence our journey along the track. This was a big day, 24km in total and we would also walk our way up to the highest point on the track at 450m above sea level.
Most of the other guests had decided to skip this leg of the track and were instead opting to catch the water taxi with their luggage to their next destination - a nice option to have available but we were feeling great and were keen to tackle the whole trail.
We made our way once again from sea level up to the ridgeline and on this day the track pretty much kept to the ridgeline - offering stunning views the whole way. Fairly early on we came across a large group of mountain bikers - they would fly past us on the downhill sections, only for us to overtake them on the inclines as they had to push their bikes. We enjoyed some light-hearted banter with them each time until they finally they got away from us when we stopped to enjoy Ann's delicious lunch from the Bay of Many Coves lookout.
After about five hours of steady walking we finally came across a very welcome sign directing us to our accommodation, the Portage Resort. This was the furthest we had ever walked in a day, and we were feeling somewhat weary with some little niggles appearing in our hips and knees. We followed a bitumen road (yes, we had returned to civilisation) down to the resort, this time situated on the spectacular Portage Bay.
We checked into our comfortable bungalow, which admittedly had seen better days and could do with a refurbishment. Still, the shower was hot and the bed comfy, and the view was fantastic. After freshening up, we made our way straight to the bar where we both enjoyed a couple of well-deserved cocktails on the veranda. We then made our way down to the lawn where we relaxed and read our books, our eyes drifting regularly towards the mesmerising water. If only it was warm enough for a dip.
Dinner was once again an extravagant affair, with a delightful three-course meal consisting of fresh seafood and NZ lamb, washed down this time with an excellent local riesling.
Our final day involved a 20km hike to Anakiwa, which was quite a challenge considering the previous day's effort. However, we woke up again feeling fresh and ready to tackle our final day on the QCT. After another hearty breakfast to fuel us, we started the day with a long, steep climb to the second-highest point on the track at 400m. It was a cruel way to start the day but we made it and were very glad to know that most of the rest of the day would be downhill sailing. When we reached Davies Bay Campsite, we knew that we only had a few kilometres to go, so we stopped for a lengthy lunch so that we wouldn't arrive in Anakiwa too early for our water taxi.
However, after the rest, my legs and joints had gotten cold and I was starting to feel the pain of 70-odd kilometres in four days. I hobbled the final 3km with an aching left leg, which gained me the nickname "Lame Duck". Still, as we walked the final metres into Anakiwa, all my ailments disappeared and we fully enjoyed the sense of achievement in completing our first serious tramp - and all in royal style.