Top of the South Island – Part II

After the Abel Tasman, there were still a few places I wanted to visit on the South Island before heading north. I therefore, had a day driving around ticking off various attractions I had earmarked. The first stop was Wharariki Beach (Wh sounds in Maori are equivalent to an English F). The beach is famous for being one of the stock images that windows use on their computers. It certainly didn’t disappoint. A short walk from the car park took you over farmland, followed by massive rolling sand dunes and then out onto the beach itself. The wind was whipping sand up around my ankles and it was certainly easy to see the harsh environment that exist here. Out amongst the waves were two huge cliff pillars, remanents from millions of years of erosion and which themselves will one day crumble into the sea. It’s these freestanding cliffs that draw so much attention. But the whole beach is worth exploring, with seal pups even playing in the numerous rockpool during summer (sadly none were around when I was there).

After an hour of being sandblasted on the beautiful beach, I departed towards Cape Farewell, the most northern point of the South Island. It felt pretty cool knowing Id stood on the most Southerly and Northerly points of the same island. From here I drove on to Te Waikoropupu Spring, which is an aquifer that bubbles up from deep underground. The water emerging at the spring is said to be 10 years old! It is also a sacred Maori spring, and there were lots of information placards for you to read and learn all about the Maori association with the spring. Next, it was Wainui Falls a picturesque waterfall up the valley from the town of Wainui which is also the other end of the Abel Tasman track and where I would have ended up if Id completed the whole hike. Finally to end the day it was onto Hawkes Lookout at the precipice of Takaka Hill providing panoramic views down back towards KT and the coastline below.

Hawkes Lookout Takaka Hill
Hawkes Lookout Takaka Hill

I had thoroughly enjoyed my time in the North-Western corner of the South Island. It’s a beautiful part of the country so different to the other parts Id seen. But it was time to move on. I drove to Picton which would be my final stop and base for my last week on the South Island. For the first few days, the weather had turned grey and overcast, but I was thankful for the time this afforded me to chill but also allowed me to do some life admin in preparation for coming home. When the weather finally improved a few days later I got the legs warmed up by walking the Snout track which was just a 2-hour return trip and offered decent views of Queen Charlotte Sound. There are also lots of various mountain biking trails here which looked very fun as well but sadly I had no bike.

Interislander Ferry as seen from the Snout Track
Interislander Ferry as seen from the Snout Track

The main event in Picton however would be the Queen Charlotte Track. A 70km hike from start to finish. It would take 3 days to complete and I couldn’t have asked for a better send off to my time on the South Island. The hike would be a bit more glamourous than many of the others I had completed due to the level of infrastructure along the route. Normally you’re off in the wild having to be completely self-sufficient with no contact with the outside world. While in places this would be the same most of the overnight stops were in bays populated by people, small resorts or settlements. Meaning you didn’t have to have every single detail planned out and you could even stay in luxury accommodation each night if you so wished. I’d call this the much more glamping hike compared to previous ones I’d completed. Another bonus is you didn’t have to lug your massive overnight pack everywhere, as a boat company would ferry your luggage, food and supplies from one-stop to the next. This meant you only had to carry a day pack during the hike making it much easier going and far less strenuous than your typical NZ tramp.  Day 1 of the hike started with being ferried from Picton out to Resolution Bay (technically a few km from the official start point of Ships Cove) from here the walk was gentle and flat to Endeavour Inlet before onwards to Punga Cove which would be my stop for the night. On route, there were numerous places to rest for a drink and enjoy the view. On arrival at one of the many sheltered bays, a pod of around 6 dolphins were cruising by going about their business just offshore. During that whole first day of walking, I only passed 1 other person. I loved being out there all by myself just surrounded by nature and your own mind for company. Once at Punga Cove though there was a bit more life as situated here was a restaurant, bar and fancy resort. Which you are welcome to stay in, however, I would be camping in a tent just 5 minutes down the road, much more backpacker budget-friendly. This was the real benefit of the boat luggage drop off as it meant I didn’t have to carry all my camping gear from point to point. The boat did all the hard work for me. When I arrived at Punga Cove, my pack and all my gear were waiting at the end of the jetty having been dropped off earlier in the day by the boat company. Once Id erected my tent for the night I got chatting to some fellow people on the route back at the nearby bar. There was an American couple who were actually cycling (you can mountain bike the track too) plus an English lad who worked behind the bar at Punga Cove. It was a luxury I wasn’t used to but certainly enjoyed after a days hiking. Sipping a cold Corona and passing time at the bar haha. 

After a pleasant night in my tent, day 2 was probably the most challenging in terms of distance and also elevation gain. Although in general across the whole track you probably only total 2km in elevation if that. I set off from Punga Cove with my destination for the night being Portage where I was staying in a little backpacker hostel/chalet. The day started with a decent slug up the hill to Eatwell’s Lockout at 420 m. This offered absolutely outrageous views back toward the path I had taken the day prior and also out towards my upcoming journey. You had amazing views of both the Queen Charlotte Sound on one side and Kenepuru sound on the other. The water colour of both sounds was completely different in tone but both stunning in their own right. Having stopped here for a while and flying my drone about it was on past the Bay of Many Coves and into Portage for the night where again my overnight bag was waiting for me, along with a hot shower. I also had the whole chalet to myself which was basically in this ladies back garden which she must run for secondary income.

  • Eatwells Lockout on the Queen Charlotte Track NZ
  • Drone shot from the Queen Charlotte Track
  • Kenepuru Sound, New Zealand

After my shower, I headed down to the nearby resort for a big pizza and another cold beer. It was nice not having to worry so much about what food I had to bring with me on the trip knowing I had options en route. After dinner, I then spontaneously walked to a little viewpoint in Portage called The Gap for sunset. As the name suggests is just a 3-meter wide gap in the bank of the cliff which exposes one side of the sound to the other while you are situated on some little strip of beach in the middle. It was a cool little spot for sunset though. Again I took some photos and flew my drone about getting some shots for my NZ video edit. I then had a lovely nights sleep in a comfortable bed as opposed to my tent or hut camp beds.

Sunset at The Gap in Portage, New Zealand
Sunset at the Gap

The final day took me 20km from Portage to Anakiwa via Te Mahia Saddle where I would then be collected by the boat company and transported back to Picton having completed the hike.  By this point, some familiar faces had started to emerge on the track with a few different groups all completing the walk and we had gotten to know one another. Either through brief comments while passing one another during the walk itself or while resetting up overnight. There was the American couple on bikes, a kiwi girl walking solo like myself, another kiwi couple and finally what looked like a family of 3. These were the only people doing the whole track and it’s funny how by the end you form a small friendship with these people simply from completing the same feat and the remarks you make when passing each other. The Queen Charlotte was spectacular though I hardly saw a cloud the whole time I was walking and some of the vantage points and views you get from the track were ridiculous. I was very jealous of some of the houses you see situated in amongst the bays and also some of the yacht sailing boats. For anyone wanting to experience tramping in New Zealand but likes a bit more luxury this is the track for you. You’re able to walk a stunning route then relax at 5-star lodging in the evening if you so wish. Equally, it’s accessible for those on a budget too. It will probably be my last big multi-day hike in New Zealand. I certainly have a few day hikes planned for the north but no tramps at this stage, however that could change. Hiking is something I’ve never really done until coming to NZ but I’ve certainly found a love for it here. Partly due to the stunning beauty of the place. But also due to the escape, I get while doing it. I really find it therapeutic getting out into the fresh air for a few days often on my own and letting my mind wander, exploring various things and ideas about myself. Plus being off-grid and out of range of social media for a few days is a welcome break we should all take now and again. In my mind hiking is by far the best way to see New Zealand, at least the scenic parts.  

The final jewel in the crown of these spectacular last few weeks was a dolphin tour and swim courtesy of E-Ko tours. The Marlborough Sounds are home to numerous dolphin species and E-Ko Tours offer an amazing but environmentally sustainable way to see these beautiful creatures. The trip lasted a few hours cruising about the various bays of the sounds in search of the dolphins. I was pretty eagle-eyed and spotted numerous pods first, even before the tour company. We would then carefully approach the group, where the pod would be assessed to determine the species, as certain species we were forbidden to swim with. Plus also if there were any juveniles in the group, which would again prevent us from entering the water. The welfare of the dolphins was the companies top priority and that was clear to see in how that operated the tour. Once the relevant criteria had been met we were then able to enter the water and hope the dolphins would interact with us. The wetsuits we were wearing meant we were able to easily float on the surface of the water, face down breathing through a snorkel. We were encouraged to hum and sing different tunes through the mouthpiece of the snorkel itself to encourage the dolphins to interact with us. We entered the water on 4 separate occasions and were treated to dolphins on all but one swim. During the first interaction, it gave me a bit of a fright as the dolphin just appeared out of the blue right there in front of my eyes before darting off again into the abyss. The 3rd entry to the water was by far the most magical. Several dolphins at a time were surrounding me and passing me at arm’s length. They would dart straight towards me before at the final second changing path and giving me the most amazing view of these wonderful animals. I have no idea why I decided to hum the Harry Potter theme tune to attract them but evidently, it works. If you’re ever lucky enough to swim with dolphins give it a go for yourself and let me know how you go haha. After the dolphins had given us a show we swam back to the boat where we then stayed with the Pod a little longer just observing them from the water. By the end of the trip, you’re just grinning from ear to ear after experiencing a moment that you know will live within you forever.  

I finish this blog on the ferry heading from Picton to Wellington the starting point for 33 days worth of travel on New Zealand’s North Island! It’s been an incredible last 6 months on the South Island though, I’ve been blown away by its beauty and also the diversity of this beauty. It’s a place I shall forever hold in very high regard and a place which I’ve been lucky enough to experience at a time unlike any other in recent history! Thank you to everyone that made my time there so wonderful and all the new amazing friends I’ve made as a result. Now it’s time to Complete this adventure of New Zealand before returning home on the 15th of December.   

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