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Mike Yardley: A delightful dip with Queen Charlotte Sound

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 18 Jan 2023, 12:34pm
A view from Tawa Saddle on the Queen Charlotte Track. Photo / Mike Yardley
A view from Tawa Saddle on the Queen Charlotte Track. Photo / Mike Yardley

Mike Yardley: A delightful dip with Queen Charlotte Sound

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Wed, 18 Jan 2023, 12:34pm

Picton had dawned bright and brilliant. The marina’s satiny blue waters gleamed like a nautical jewel. Prior to boarding my scenic cruise on Queen Charlotte Sound, I headed to the hip waterfront venue, Toastie Picton, which is fawned over for its gourmet sourdough toasted sandwiches, all made with their in-house four cheese blend. I ordered up an Ivan, consisting of pastrami, sauerkraut and pickle. Delish! Another hot-seller is their Pete toastie, which combines salmon with cream cheese, capers and pickles. Suitably nourished, I headed out for a “Day in the Sounds’ with Beachcomber Cruises.

Keen to combine cruising with a spot of walking, my magical excursion would whisk me to Ship Cove, before re-boarding the vessel for the home-run from Furneaux Lodge. Brimming with predator-free islands and marine reserves, ogling precious wildlife is an undisputed magnet, luring the world to their crystal-clear waters. My skipper remarked that alongside the Hector’s, Dusky and Bottlenose Dolphins, whales are a constant sight in the Sounds. As are seals, stingrays and orcas. We rendezvoused with some salmon farms, heavily fortified in perimeter fencing to stop the fur seals doing a drive-by feed.

During Cook’s second visit to New Zealand in 1773, his crew caught one of these beautiful birds and took it home to England. As you do. The sheer size of the Sounds is astonishing, comprising 20% of New Zealand’s coastline, brimming with countless coves and secluded sandy bays. Thick native bush surrounds these ancient sunken valleys, where the calm, translucent water spans azure blue, vivid turquoise and shimmering emerald hues.

Throughout the 1770s, sheltered Ship Cove provided safe anchorage, food, water and timber for Captain Cook and his crew on five separate occasions, marking some of the earliest sustained contact between Māori and Europeans. I dabbled in the creek where Cook made home brew for his crew and admired one of the original cannons from Endeavour, that adorns the Cook monument. The cannon was salvaged from North Queensland, after the Endeavour ran aground on a reef and the crew had to throw numerous equipment overboard, to free the ship. A gorgeous carved pou whenua (pole) illustrates the legend of Kupe and the giant octopus he chased in these waters.

With my walking boots firmly laced up, I struck out for a taster of the Queen Charlotte Track, from Ship Cove to Furneaux Lodge. The 15km section starts with a steep, thigh-burning haul, climbing away from the beach, through regenerating native forest. But after that initial gut-buster, the rest of the four hour long trail was a breeze, with gentle undulations up and down panoramic ridgelines. Gregariously chirping fantails, fluting tui calls and the limpid notes dropped by bellbirds were a constant avian soundtrack, as I threaded my way through forests of manuka, kanuka, tawa, tree ferns and beech. Curious weka shuffled by, wood pigeons whooshed, but I didn’t see any wild pigs – first released in these parts by Cook.

The lookout point at Tawa Saddle serves up seraphic views across Queen Charlotte Sound, while more pixel-burning vantage points loom large as you descend into Resolution Bay. Feeling jelly-legged, I toddled across the finish line with a flourish at Furneaux Lodge. Built by the Howden family over 110 years ago, the original homestead was thronging with thirsty patrons, chilling out and swapping tales, before boarding the boat at 5pm for the return run to Picton, as another pod of frisky dolphins shepherded us home.

A strikingly unique experience in Picton is to explore the Edwin Fox Museum, which juts out from the foreshore on Dunbar Wharf. This is home to the world's second oldest surviving merchant sailing ship, and the only surviving ship that transported convicts to Australia. Built in 1853, she also carried settlers to New Zealand and carried troops in the Crimean War. But unlike the Vasa in Sweden or the Mary Rose in the UK, what I love about the Edwin Fox is you can walk down into its hull and up on its deck, to the bunk beds previously slept in by Australia-bound convicts. It’s a magnificent nugget of maritime history.

Where to stay? In the heart of Picton I stayed at the well-appointed, generously-equipped Aldan Lodge Motel. If you’re travelling with your furry friends, they’re very welcome too. I locked in the Aldan through Booking.com who offer a diverse array of options from hotels and apartments to holiday homes and campsites, no matter what your budget is. Whether you’re on the website or via the app, Booking.com is super easy to use with incredible deals and complete flexibility, whether you need to amend or cancel your plans. www.booking.com

Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.

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