Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Queen Charlotte Sound and Captain Cook

The very north east of the south island has a very rugged coastline, high forested, sparsely populated mountains dropping straight to a calm turquoise  sea, with lots of inlets (called sounds), numerous coves and hundreds of tiny islands, in short, very picturesque!

Picton, our base, is actually the ferry terminal for travelling between north and south islands, so we’ll be here again when we go north, but on this occasion it’s to see a bit of the Queen Charlotte Track.  Picton is a really nice small town, with lots of shops, bars and caf├ęs and lots of tour companies offering diving, fishing, boating and walking trips, so we spent a good few hours on Monday afternoon checking out various companies to decide on a trip for Tuesday. 

The Queen Charlotte track is a 4 or 5 day 71km tramp over the spine of this long peninsular, separating Queen Charlotte Sound from Pelorus Sound. I was quite keen to do the whole walk, but it’s necessary to get a boat out to the start and, as we haven’t got camping gear, stay in lodges and the whole things works out to a lot of money (probably the best part of $1000 each!), so instead we opted to go with Beachcomber Cruises on a day trip. 

I absolutely wanted to go right out to the head of the peninsular to a place called ‘Ship Cove’, so named as this was the place Captain Cook anchored for a total of 168 days over his three voyages of discovery in The Endeavour (1768-1771), The Resolution and The Discovery, before being killed in Hawaii in 1779. Right opposite Ship Cove is the island of Motuara, on which Cook raised the Union Flag on 31st January 1770 to claim the entire New Zealand territory for King George III (he who went ‘mad’!), naming the Sound ‘Queen Charlotte’ after the King’s consort.
On the 8:00am boat ride to Motuara Island
 We booked Beachcomber Cruises to take us to Ship Cove on their 8:00am departure and pick us up at the Furneaux Inn at Endeavour Inlet at 4:30pm (about 15km and quite a bit of ascent and descent), but on the way, we were accompanied by a very knowledgeable (but also quite opinionated) NZ guide and two Aussie clients (from Melbourne), plus another older bird watching lady. They were all going to Motuara Island first, so we asked if we could go there as well, before being picked up later to go across to Ship Cove. The skipper of the boat was a hell of a nice guy and readily agreed, arriving there just after 9:00am. 

Motuara island is rare in that all mammals (rats, possums, stoats and weasels) have been eradicated, allowing the now very rare ground dwelling birdlife and trees to flourish. New Zealand is unique in that it has no natural mammals (except for 2 species of bat) so over millennia the birds have evolved to become flightless and nest on the ground. The accidental introduction of rats, possums, stoats and weasels by Europeans (and Polynesian rats by the Maori) has devastated the natural species, including the Kiwi, which is few in number. They are also responsible for the destruction of trees (along with clearances by Europeans for logging and conversion of land for sheep and cattle grazing). Several islands have been selected for this treatment and are proving to be a real success as natural trees have re-seeded and rare bird species reintroduced with great success. Apparently the Maori are thought to be responsible for the extinction of 35 species, the Europeans for a further 55!
Motuara Island from Ship Cove
 Our 1½ hours on Motuara was a nice free guided tour, the NZ guide and the Aussie couple were quite happy for us to tag along so we saw lots of wildlife, as well as the monument showing the place Cook planted the Union Flag on 31st January 1770 (apparently with the agreement of the Maori chief – but he didn’t understand the significance until it was too late) and a raised platform at the summit, above the trees giving superb views all around, including a good view of Ship Cove. Here’s a picture of a South Island Robin and a baby blue penguin in a nest box (lots on the island). We saw a few other rare species, but didn’t get photos. We didn’t see any Kiwi, although there are some there we believe (but they are nocturnal!) or a saddleback, but it was fabulous! We also saw the very ugly and huge weta, an insect that grows up to 6 or 7 cm in length
The South Island Robin

Little baby blue penguin in his nest box

At 10:30am the boat picked us up and took us the 5 minute ride across to Ship Cove where we had time to look at the Cook monument. 
The Cook Monument at Ship Cove
This is the place he anchored the Endeavour , resting his crew, carrying out essential repairs and planted the Union Flag on the mainland. Apparently he turned the Endeavour onto its side in this bay to repair rotting timbers, cleaning  and replacing the caulking.

After some minutes of reflection we left the others and headed off uphill into the regenerating jungle. It is recovering remarkable well and, higher up, some of the original large beech trees remain as they were too inaccessible for Europeans to plunder.

The walk took us 3½ hours (against an advised time of 6 hours), plus a half hour detour to School Bay for lunch by the sea and it was fabulous. Fantastic views all the way with isolated bay after isolated bay! We arrived at the Furneaux Lodge a little after 3:00pm, with 1½hours to wait for our return boat. Ah well, we’ll just have to go into the bar at the lodge and have a beer!

Jackie beneath a giant fern (photo for my sister Denise who has a small one of these in her back garden!

School Bay

Another isolated bay!

A baby Weka and his mum block our way....

And demand food. Mum gave all hers to her baby (but gave my finger a sharp peck at the end!)

I felt I had to take this shot
 The boat picked us up and on the way back we did their mail boat run, stopping off at various bays to pick people up, drop people off and deliver mail and shopping to various isolated communities (a vital service for these people). All very laid back and a friendly, chatty, very experienced skipper who knows the area like the back of his hand and happy to show us anything we want. 

We got back around 6:00pm, had a quick shower and change and headed for the ‘Flying Haggis’ Scottish bar we had spied for sausage and mash for me, ham egg and chips for Jackie and a pint of local Tui beer. What a great day!

Today (Tuesday) has been wet and windy, so we’ve chilled out and caught up with the blog. I’m now so glad we didn’t try to do the full 4 or 5 day trek – today we would have got soaked! That’s all for now, is 5:30pm and the wine has just been opened by Jackie who thinks I have been typing for far too long! She is now sitting with Thomas the big black camp cat (not camp, but camp resident!) on her lap, feeling very chilled!

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