Wellington to School House Bay
Across Cook Strait on ferry,
3.2 k hiking
The morning comes quickly, and we have coffee and a great chat with Anna and then with her roommates. What a wonderful start to the day! Miche has agreed to give us a ride to the ferry, which allows us to linger even longer than if we were taking public transit. She drops us off at check-in time, and I feel strangely carsick after the fast paced morning traffic she expertly wove through.
I feel sharp twinges of anxiety as I relinquish my backpack to the check-in clerk, who assures me they are much more deliberate and careful than airline baggage handlers. I am plagued by nausea, and plagued by visions of my sandals or my trekking poles coming dislodged from the pack, or the frame being crushed when I claim it after the ride, as I wait in line to embark. I watch a jellyfish pulse in the water to distract myself. The ferry itself is gigantic.
When we are aboard, we find seats on the viewing deck. I talk to John on the phone for a few moments and he mentions the possibility of seeing dolphins in the wake of the boat. I hope! At first I can feel every pitch and sway of the ship in the water, the residue of the carsickness, but eventually the discomfort fades and I am able to enjoy the ocean, at least as far as I can see it. It’s foggy on the water, and I wonder if one can always see land on a clear day? No dolphins appear, but after a few hours tiny rocky islands and rocky shorelines materialize out of the mist.
We sail along this coast for awhile and dock in the small town of Picton.
We make our way to the main deck and to the building in which to reclaim our luggage. Bag after bag rolls by, and then I start to recognize bags going by for their second round, third round…where are ours? As the anxiety starts rising again, they appear, whole, unmarred, and with all gear still attached. 50 minutes to make it across town to the water taxi with one final stop at the Information Center. There’s a long line, a creeping line, a line that doesn’t have an exit, but instead requires the finished customer to push back through the entire waiting mass to get out and make room for the next customer. When we make it to the front, we pick up the camping tags for the Queen Charlotte Track, which is our first 84 k, from a disinterested clerk and push our way back out to our water taxi and freedom.
The Beachcomber water taxi people are awesome. Just awesome. Not only do they give TA walkers a discount, but they are laid back, helpful, and seem to genuinely like people. We are signed up to go on the mail run, which delivers mail twice a week to the houses in the bays and coves that are accessible only by water.
The boat is mostly full, and it’s a great size, much more intimate than the ferry, with windows all around. The captain, John, is full of history and current affairs of the area, and shares anecdotes and knowledge throughout the trip. The Queen Charlotte Sound is beautiful, the golden rocky coastline clasped between intense green fern jungle above and intense clear bright turquoise water below.
Each dock the boat pulls up at, people are waiting to receive their canvas mail bag and boxes of ordered groceries. I imagine that especially if you are a child growing up here, the mail boat arrival is pretty exciting. Passengers are welcome to roam the boat, and every time we approach land, people crowd to the front to get a glimpse of this simple and isolated life. The inhabitants wave good-naturedly back at the enthusiastically waving passengers.
I am so sleepy today, and this boat moves at the perfect speed with the perfect amount of stimulus. Too soon, we arrive at Ship Cove, which is notable for the time Captain Cook spent here. It is a beautiful cove, and easy to see why he would have been drawn back again and again. The memorial marker to Cook marks the start of the Te Araroa on the South Island, which is poetically known as Te Wai Pounamu, or The Greenstone Water.
The mail boat departs, and we heft our packs. They are heavier than they need to be due to fresh food, but we are only going 3 k tonight, then indulging in an on-trail layover tomorrow. The forests are beautiful, thick and lush and loud with cicadas. The trail is steep, steeper than expected, as per usual, but we are in no hurry. Even knowing that plenty of people live on this island, being dropped off from a boat gives the trail an air of expansive remoteness. We pass two girls in a four wheeler working on invasive
mammal traplines, and have views over Schoolhouse Bay from a high saddle.
The ocean at Schoolhouse Bay is that same gorgeous turquoise color, and we have the site to ourselves for the night, or rather we are sharing it with two curious Wekas, flightless ground birds that like to melodramatically fling dead leaves in the air as they rummage through the forest litter. We set up our home, cook a celebratory dinner of fresh kumara and blue cheese stuffed ravioli, and allow ourselves the luxury of falling asleep as early as we please.