“Has anyone told you about the weka?” the ranger greeted us as we walked into camp.
No, what do I need to know about the weka? “Be careful with your belongings. They have been known to steal things from your tent, even from under the flysheet.”
Suitably informed we wandered down to a small patch of forest right on the beachfront to put up our tents. I open a zip on my pack and pull out the last of a chocolate block to munch on whilst I assemble the tent poles. Suddenly there is a flash of movement and out of the corner of my eye I see the pink and gold wrapper of my chocolate bar disappearing off into the bush carried by two furiously running little brown legs. “Noooooooo!” The weka had struck already.
From the moment I begin my three day Queen Charlotte Track section it is evident that this region is rich with wildlife. The boat trip through the Marlborough Sounds to reach our starting point is shadowed by a pod of dolphins. Stepping foot onto the jetty at Ship Cove we are greeted with the buzz and hum of bird and cicada calls, and the lush green ferns and blue skies instantly make us feel as though we have landed in the tropics.
The trail itself too is ‘friendly’ with well graded paths that are a real treat after some of the more ‘indistinct’ and steeper routes we have done so far. Weka, flightless birds the size of a small chicken, loiter around every picnic table en route hoping to scrounge a bit of food. Ridge top paths give amazing views into hidden blue coves where the odd white yacht is moored.
At the end of our first day we reach a cove with a bar right on the jetty and whilst enjoying a sundowner glass of Sauvignon Blanc we spy the unmistakable huge dorsal fins of a pod of killer whales cruise past in the bay. The barman rushes down and cranks up the engine on a rubber inflatable and looks at me. “Want to come?” he asks quickly. I look at the hot chips that have tantalisingly just arrived at our table. “Can I take the chips?” I fire back. “No”. I jump in the boat anyway and bid the seagulls a happy snack. As we cruise closer we see the shiny black backs of these amazing creatures, and the puff of air bursting through the water as they come up to breathe. Magic.
Could this place get any better I wonder? Yes. As we stumble the few hundred metres back to our tents in the dark we see glow worms lining the path. A perfect end to a perfect day.
The Queen Charlotte Track is an easy and beautiful trail with abundant options for treating yourself to a proper bed or meal if you so desire, and made an easy introduction to the South Island for us. From here on I suspect the going will get tougher!