Thursday, November 01, 2007

Twice Bitten ...

For our next tramping mission we decided on the rather more ambitious Queen Charlotte Track, one of New Zealand's Great Walks.

The unique lure of the QCT is the availability of water-taxi bag transfers, quality lodgings and gourmet food along the route; all factors which were crucial in my ability to sell the idea to Mel. Even so, the prospect of walking 71km over the coming days left us more than a little apprehensive.

The initial 71km commitment had seemed within the bounds of our capabilities, however once we'd chosen our accommodation and factored in detours the distance had soared to a whopping 85km. A couple of kilometers off the trail didn't sound so far when we were making the bookings, but you can just imagine how it felt after having already put in 20km that day ...

As we set off from Picton by water taxi to Ship Cove the rain was pouring down, and I'll confess we were a little daunted by the prospect of what the next five days might have in store for us. The beginning of the trail was a steep 2 hour climb, and as we finished the first (and shortest) day of just 10km in a state of exhaustion our doubts started to build.

Fortunately the weather improved considerably after the first day, and the continual presence of stunning views over the turquoise blue inlets did much to keep us going. Our morale was of course assisted greatly by the opportunities to soak away our aches and pains each evening - firstly in the hot-tub, then afterwards in the bar.

Once we had conquered the killer third day (24km of gradient over 8 hours) we had the smell of victory in our nostrils, and despite increasingly painful limbs we eventually made it to the finish line on day five thoroughly exhausted, but still smiling (just).

One of my enduring memories from the trail will be the ever present Weka's - a close relative of the rather more endangered and nocturnal Kiwi. These inquisitive birds could often be seen wandering along the side of the track, usually making an appearance near the benches used by walkers for rest-stops, no doubt lured by the possibility of food scraps.

As I crouched to take a photo of one on the first day, the little blighter shot forward and bit me on my shutter finger. If you look closely at the resulting photo I think you'll agree that you can see the look of intent in it's eyes. Remarkably on that very same morning I'd also been attacked by a duck at our campsite in Picton, taking a vicious pecking to the back of my legs as I unloaded our backpacks from the rear door of the van.

Over a few chilled beverages on the second evening chatting with the owners of our guest house I recounted the story of my Weka bite to their knowing smiles, apparently just two weeks previously at the same spot another tourist had their mobile phone stolen by one.

Suddenly it all clicked into place as I came to the realisation that this could only be the work of one man, my arch-nemesis Pigeon.

Clearly he's directing systematic poultry attacks against me using his favoured method of communication, the mobile phone. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of our feathered friend ...

Mel is now sporting a rather fetching compression bandage on her right knee and is walking in the style of Herr Flick from 'Allo 'Allo. It could be a few days until our next trek ...

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