Day 1 – Mountain Bike 20km (1500m elevation)
“Man, I can’t wait to go home and tell all my friends I hiked the Queen Charlotte Track with my mountain bike” – Angus
The morning started at the gear hire place where we caught a water taxi to Ship Cove. Hikers were dropped off and then we were taken to Punga Cove and dropped with our bikes. The water was super rough, it was raining and an overall gloomy day. Regardless of this, our spirits were still high….then we got off the boat.
The first hour and half of pushing bikes up hills broke me. It was raining on and off and the terrain was straight up as we climbed from the Cove to the top of ridge line. I lasted 35minutes before announcing to the boys I regret the trip and can’t believe we thought we could fly on in and think we could take on the trail. They laughed at me for giving in so quickly and kept pushing their bikes.
I quickly learnt the weakness in my derailleur and it’s dislike for second gear which slips continuously. I’m now riding all hills in either 1st or 3rd, which is less than ideal, but manageable.
This long shitty start to be stuck in my head but I tried hard to keep it to myself. Finally we reached Eatwell lookout, we took advice of leaving our bikes down the bottom and walked the last very steep 1.5km. The lookout made the whole last 2hrs of struggle worth it. The whole sound seemed visible and it was spectacular, despite a cloudy day.
Walking back down we stopped at a sheltered spot for lunch and it was here that the boys taught me how to shoot the all-important snot rocket. From the wind and rain and cold weather our noses were constantly running and it was time I learnt how to fix it. I still can’t do it while riding…or in front of the boys, but it certainly is a very handy trick to keep up my sleeve.
I must have put my bike down weird causing a clamp to come loose in the brake handle making it dangle down. The boys looked at it for a while, we ummed and ahhed and eventually I just used a hair tie to hold it in place.
Now we’ve finally made it to the ridge line the downhill reward starts. Right when the track is about to break your spirits it lifts them instead.
I can’t get my bike into the high gears because it’s too stiff and too far set to push for my girly thumbs. The boys can just manage it…but having someone else changing your gears really ruins momentum, so my whole 9 gears (minus 2nd, so 8) will have to do.
Down on the western side of the mountains is another Sound with muscle farms we could see in the distance. We watched these get closer and closer, and then further behind us as we finally picked up the pace covering distance. We reached our full strength that afternoon when we’d casually just climb 180m elevation over a peak, fly back down and then up another 200m up the other side. The views are incredibly distracting as you’re trying to focus on surviving downhill. The environment is so diverse ranging from rainforest, to grassy fields, to clay or rock or open dry terrain.
The bag transfer went smoothly with our gear waiting for us. We set up tents, cooked dinner and chatted for hours with two awesome ladies hiking the length of New Zealand. They were so well prepared and patiently answered our hundreds of questions about their trip.
While Angus and I hid from the rain in our tent Ross tinkered with my brakes and gears for ages but didn’t seem to get very far. Tomorrow we have 21km left of the track to Anakiwa then our final 20km road ride back into Picton finishing our bike leg.
After a long hard day, and a filling hot meal we’re finally lying in our tents taking shelter from the rain. Chatting and laughing and listening to Ross playing the ukulele in the tent next door. This is so worth it. This is peace.
Day 2 – Mountain bike 40km (1500m elevation)
Our morning started by packing up wet tents, eating sloppy plain oats and chatting more with our new friends from the US.
We clumsily doubled our packs and rode them back to the transfer location. A tricky job made harder by how much we were laughing at each other.
We pushed bikes up hills for 2hrs before we even started riding. The clay ground was muddy and slippery after raining all night. We’d been warned about this first section, but had chosen not to think about it until we had to. We kept telling ourselves “it’ll be worth it for the ride back down”.
The boys enjoyed the ride downhill, but as I coached myself down technical sections I then lost my nerve once we hit slippery clay. I’d slow down too much for hairpin turns then loose balance and put my foot down to have it then slip out from under me. Defeated I hopped off and walked my bike down. Nothing more soul crushing than being overtaken by hikers when you’re on a bike.
I felt so defeated and cranky and was trying so hard to shake the mood but it hung around for another hour of varied terrain. We hit the 12.5km mark till Anakiwa, the end of the track. We rode a very average 3km of flat/uphill, frustrated by my crappy derailleur, and then the last 8km of the best downhill ride of my life. It was rainforest and splashed mud everywhere and so pretty and just technical enough to keep it interesting and just long enough to make our legs ache from standing. What a way to finish the track!
Heather – “That last 8km made the whole ride worth it”
Angus – “Are you kidding? That made 2016 worth it!”
We stopped for lunch, boiled eggs, salami & plastic cheese wraps which we’ve decided we’ll never get sick of, and right as we started to eat it began raining. Unfazed we put on rain jackets and finished our food. It’s unbelievable how much we are eating, with all this work we are always hungry!
Onto our last 20kms road ride to Picton it rained on and off. The hill was as constant and relentless as warned and we got a quick visit from Wilderness Guides as they drove past with their kayak tour from the day.
These mountains are stunning, it makes you climb and then delivers you downhill and spits you out exactly where you’re meant to be, in Picton at Wilderness Guides HQ. We concluded the riding leg in my ramble! Ecstatic does not cover how impressed I am with our efforts, looking back over the track I still can’t believe we managed to ride it.
The hot showers at the holiday park we camped in were amazing, we ate huge amounts of gnocchi and bacon for dinner and then hid in our tents from the rain and crashed for an early night before 9pm after an 8hr day of riding.
Day 3 – Kayak 20km
I woke up to find my everything hurts from the last 2 days riding. More specifically my calves, quads, gluts, shoulders, back and wrists. Once I warmed up and stretched it all improved, but the burn was certainly there.
We got cinnamon to add to the porridge and I’ve perfected the oats to water ratio making today’s breakfast the best so far.
We walked back down to Wilderness Guides and went through our trip plan, started packing our kayaks and the briefing on kayak use and gear. Angus quickly got us pre-workout pies, which we scoffed while being shown how to put life jackets on.
Service at Wilderness Guides has been fantastic, Courtney even braided my hair after seeing my sad attempt.
After warnings of an oncoming southerly (bad) we smashed out the 20km paddle in just 4hrs, reaching Ruataka Bay at around 2pm. The sun was shining, our arms were aching but the views were stunning so we just kept paddling. I took the single kayak for the first day, with the boys in the double. With two obviously paddling faster than one we quickly learnt to always keep the single in front, meaning the boys got regular breaks waiting for me to catch up/keep ahead.
For lunch, we couldn’t get enough food into us quick enough, we were starving! Salami and cheese wraps, muesli bars, trail mix and protein bars. Finally, we were stuffed. Wekas are a New Zealand pest, equivalent to a seagull. They’ll take anything left unattended like tent bags, food, toys, cameras etc. We made a conscious effort to pack everything up as paranoia set in but regardless Angus lost his muesli bars….good thing we packed spares.
Having all this spare time on Christmas Eve worked out great, Christmas hats went on and Ross put up a tree (branch) outside our tents decorated with shells from the beach and I made daisy chain tinsel as we sang carols with the Ukulele. Such a memorable Christmas Eve.
Dinner was couscous with peri peri tuna and lime. Sounds bland but this was seriously one of the best meals yet. Another early night tired from a big day.
Day 4 – Kayak 14km
Angus: “MERRY CHRISTMAS FUCKERS!”
Heather & Ross: *wakes up*
Hungry again we started on our breakfast oats with an all new ingredient: peanut butter! I was a little heavy handed…the boys politely ate the “overpowered” oats but I loved them.
Paranoid the wekas would ruin Christmas we didn’t put presents under the tree until we were ready to open them. Gifts were only small but it really made it feel like Christmas. Ross got a buff and anaconda voucher, Angus got socks and scotch & coke, and I got a voucher & 2017 diary.
Because of the shorter day ahead, and being Christmas Day we took our time and didn’t depart until 10am. Our 14km paddle took us past a salmon farm and we saw heaps of seals on the shoreline. Being Christmas Day there were hardly any boats on the water. Crossing the Sound took 45mins to get to Blumine Island so I’m glad there were no ferries or cruise ships to contend with. After giving it our best we reached the island at 12:30, stopping for lunch of tuna and pizza shape wraps (Thankyou Ross) and then went for an 8km walk exploring the old army barracks.
Once back we set up tents and settled in for fivsies with cheese, dip and beer, to celebrate Christmas. Dinner was coconut rice with butter chicken sauce (minus the chicken), then we tucked into bed to avoid the sandflies, listened to the ukulele again and fell asleep by 8pm. All this paddling is tiring stuff.
Day 5 – Kayak 12km
Now bored by all this spare time we decided to depart at 7am and catch the morning water taxi. Once out on the water with reception we called the taxi company and changed our booking to 9:30am, giving us just 2hrs to smash out 12km. Angus was in the single while Ross and I took the double, we all pushed hard with the finish in sight, crossing the Sound in 40mins and reaching Ship Cove by 9am.
For the leg that was most at risk of being cancelled due to wind, we got extremely lucky with sunny, calm conditions. Even the trip back on the water taxi was smooth.
We landed on the beach and had to carry kayaks about 400m down the jetty. The double was so heavy it had to be unpacked, with the 3 of us struggling just to get it up on land each night.
The Beachcomber express arrived and Phil our awesome driver from the trip over was working again, this time we were the only ones on the boat. He gave us tea and coffee, and blared the music for us while appreciating just how far we’d come from the top deck. Being taken back through the Sound was such an awesome way to finish the trip, we were on top of the world!
Once we got to Wilderness Guides HQ they were surprised to see us back so early. They congratulated us and chatted about the trip while we unpacked kayaks. Angus opened a small porthole we hadn’t used and found his muesli bars…but still insists the wekas are responsible.
No major stacks, no capsizes, we didn’t get lost and no injuries…just hundreds of sandfly bites. 60km Ridden, 50km Kayaked – I call that a successful trip.
It’s the best feeling realising you’ve achieved such a challenge, especially when you’ve been planning and training for so long. Ross and Angus have been so patient, and encouraging through the tough sections, appreciative of my cooking, and nervous with me in anticipation at the start of the trip. Such a strong team for the journey, I’ve never laughed so much, or wanted to throw my bike so badly. Thank you to everyone who made this possible xx