Today has been an excellent day of walking and wildlife-watching. I got up early (again) and took the first water taxi across the Marlborough Sound from Picton to the Queen Charlotte walking track, and entered an early morning world of greens and blues. I’m so glad I made the effort, as the early bird catches the dolphin in this particular case. There was only me left on board, when the boat driver spotted two pods of dolphins ahead and said, “Great, looks like they’re in a playful mood – let’s go and join in the fun.” So I had my own personal ten minutes or so with around twenty beautiful, joyous dolphins who followed our boat ‘shoulder-barging’ us, which I learnt is something they do to each other in play, chasing our wake and leaping high out of the water, and swimming alongside us, so close that I could have reached down and touched them. I think it must be impossible to watch dolphins playing like this without having a massive grin on your face – especially as they always look like they’re smiling, too. We also saw a couple of seals swimming, lots of gannets performing their whirling, twirling plunge into the water from up high, and shearwaters, well, shearing the water. I felt so lucky, and it put me in a really good frame of mind to tackle the next six hours of walking.
The track was beautiful – it mostly passed through sub-tropical rainforest, with occasional stands of pine, where scarlet fly agaric fungi edged the path, and sometimes it climbed up and followed the ridge, with flower-rich grassland. It covered a huge diversity of habitats, and I won’t bore you with details, but suffice to say there was plenty to keep me nose to ground for much of the walk. I also had two close encounters with the weka – a bird endemic to NZ that looks a bit like a smaller version of the kiwi, with a shorter beak, although it is actually a member of the rail family. On both occasions the bird just wandered out into the path in front of me, emitting soft grunts in its throat, as if politely notifying me of its presence. It then took its time to have a bit of a potter around, grubbing for insects, before meandering off into the bush again, still grunting – brilliantly laid-back, classic kiwi.
It was certainly a noisy walk, but for all the right reasons. In all wooded areas in NZ, the sound of insects is deafening. But I’ve noticed that it’s actually a dual-level sound. The cicadas scream at you at face-level, but there is a secondary, more subtle noise that seems to come from the canopies above. If you listen carefully you can hear that each insect (as I figure it must be insects making the noise) has its own rhythm, like a train on a track. But when you put all the individual rhythms together they make a lovely sound, like pattering raindrops on leaves or the crackle of fire. The birds serenaded me all day too – the constant whoop of the tui, and also the liquid warbles of what I today called the R2D2 bird (due to an uncanny resemblance in sound) but have since found out is called the bellbird – absolutely beautiful.
One of my sisters (you know who you are!) would have hated this walk though, as it turns out that cicadas are really clumsy flyers, and I spent much of the day being bombarded by their buzzing blunderbuss bodies – often square on the nose. It just made me chuckle though – I find it quite endearing…
I am nursing my blisters tonight at a hotel en-route, and have the same distance to walk again tomorrow (around 24 km), before heading back to Picton by water and then on to Nelson by bus to embark on my kayaking adventure at Abel Tasman National Park (I will be ripped by the end of this week!). It’s actually quite a swanky hotel (although I’m in the ‘bunkhouse’, which is tucked away shamefully at the back of the other buildings). I had a swim in the pool and I may even have a room to myself tonight, providing they don’t sell the other bed at the last minute. Fingers crossed… I love that about budget travelling – simple things come to mean so much. It really helps you put things back into perspective and realise the difference between ‘wants’ and ‘needs’ in life…
Anyway, I am very tired, and realise I am blathering on somewhat, and could probably continue to do so until my forehead hits the keyboard, so I shall sign off and leave you with some photos of my beautiful day.
I was too busy watching to take any decent photos of the dolphins leaping right out of the water, but this one shows how close they were to me (I didn’t need to use my zoom). Amazing…
This was the view that greeted me when I stepped off the boat and began the walk.
A typical view across the Sound from the top of the ridge.
And another one (you’re getting off lightly – I have many of these…).
And finally yogacam#2, taken from the hotel this evening (although I confess I only managed a few sun salutations because a) my feet and legs hurt a lot and b) I was being eaten alive by sand flies).