For the first time since we had arrived the sky was clear blue, perfect for getting into an inzy-weeny sized plane (5 seater) to fly from Wellington to Picton where we would start the walk! For most of the 25 min flight I was desperately trying to concentrate on the awe inspiring scenery unfolding below us as we passed over the Cook Strait and then the Malborough sounds. Blue, calm water snaked around steep hills and islands covered in thick green forest.
As Picton came into view we were only just above the tops of the hills. The plane twisted with every gust of wind. I was convinced the plane was about to do a full 180 degrees flip! The other passengers had obviously sneakily done a few practice flights as the hysteria only seemed to be coming from my seat… We landed at Picton ‘airport’ (a small shed) and I tried to get my stomach out of my mouth and back to where is should be. I have done a couple of light aircraft flights before, but clearly I am now a fully developed nervous flyer, I have no idea how this condition started, it must be age!!! We met up with Claire and Mike, 2 old friends of Jason whom would be our ‘tramping companions'( tramping is the Kiwi word for walking/hiking rather than the practice of spotting tramps..) for the next 5 days.
Loaded down with enough food for a small village we set off on the boat to the start of the walkway. Tramping is incredibly organised here – our bags were collected each morning and taken by boat to our next destination. Thank God for that! With another blue sky above us (blimey that’s 2!) we set off along the track, winding up, down and around the hills through lush coastal forest. The first part involved a very steep climb but the tantilising flashes of blue visible through the Fern trees and the views at the top made it worthwhile. 5 hours later we arrived at the ‘resort’ – a few cabins by the water which were really peaceful. Still with some energy to burn we amused ourselves with table tennis and swing ball competitions.
Day 2 began with a chat to a local Llama whilst sipping my flask of green tea. We passed through farmland and into an area of pristine coastal forest. It reminded me of rainforest, with exotic looking hanging vegetation, huge ferns and palms creating a canopy for most of the way. Occasionally we would pop out and be greeted by a stunning view of majestic hills rising out of the sounds. It felt like we had entirely left civilization behind, we saw barely anyone on the track. You might wonder what we talked about for all those hours of walking everyday. Well we developed into some kind of ‘mobile debating team’ discussing every issue you could think of.
Day 3 began just as it ended: wet. Spirits were ok as we left in the pouring rain, but as we got more and more soaked and the rain refused to stop we just wanted to arrive! From what we could make out amongst the mists we were walking on top of a ridge which would have had great views of the countryside either side. We even climbed to a lookout (stupidly but there’s always hope!) and saw nothing but mist (see photo). A couple of hours later we turned off the track onto a ‘steep side track’ which we knew led to our accommodation for the next 2 nights. The sign on the main track read ‘ only experienced trampers should attempt this’. No kidding! It was no more than a thin hardly discernable path down an almost vertical forest. The ground was covered in mud, leaves and tree roots making it a complete slip-fest. As Claire and I contemplated how on earth we were would make it down we realised we had totally lost Mike and Jason. Simultaneously we also realised we had already lost the ‘track’ markers and were now scrambling randomly down the hill. We refused to belive the boys would have left us and not waited… After 2 hours of downhill slides and uphill scrambles up and over several valleys, we, and the 2.5 tones of mud which had attached itself to our clothes, arrived at a sign saying ‘Welcome to the Bay of Many Coves Resort’. The resort is brand new and in an amazing position – cabins built right into the steep hillside on stilts. Even our ‘cheap seats’ at the top were so luxurious inside we couldn’t believe it, complete with mink blankets!
NZ weather is more changeable even than English and on the last day we hiked under a clear blue sky again as the sun made a 24 hour guest appearance. We climbed up yet another steep hill and then walked along a peninsula with spectacular views over the sounds from either side. The deep green of the Kenepuru sounds was so still it looked like glass, and the broccoli covered hills formed penninsulas and islands in every direction. At 3.30pm we reached the end of the track and by this time my body was not best pleased with the unexpected over exertion.