Athletes train at high altitudes to gain an edge. When they come down to compete with the rest of the world, all those extra blood cells in circulation give their muscles an unaccustomed boost in oxygen, making their exertion seem easier. That’s how my friend Laura and I felt last weekend walking the Queen Charlotte Track in the Marlborough sounds carrying only one kid a piece. It was easy compared to the usual drill–two kids plus camping gear!
The Marlborough Sounds are up at the north end of NZ’s south island, and as our boat driver told us, they’re not glacier-carved “sounds” as much as sea-flooded river valleys. The Queen Charlotte Track is a well formed 3-5 day track through green-and-blue scenery with the luxury of boat taxi transport for your packs and hostels or resorts instead of DOC huts for accommodation. Posh!
Our boat taxi took us out to the far end of the sounds and we hiked back south over three days. We abbreviated the trail on the first and last day in consideration of the kiddos, and had one long day in the middle. Water taxis ply these waters on a reliable daily schedule and the places of accommodation pick up the bags at the taxi wharf–it all runs like a well oiled machine. The boat was a highlight for Noah!
Here’s Laura and Noah, her two-year-old. “Mum and bub” as they say here, except as a fellow American, Laura hates the term “Mum.” “I can be Mom, Mama, Mommy…but MUM?! No!” Laura’s older daughter, Audrey (4) stayed home with Papa, just as Milo stayed home with Daddy. After backtracking for Noah’s dropped hat the first day, Laura sewed it to his collar and it worked like a charm.
Here’s my little “bub,” just big enough to ride in the backpack. I brought the front carrier too and when she got grizzly about bobbing around in the back, I shifted her to the front to tuck in and sleep.
The cicadas have an impressive population this year. Some spots along the trail were so raucous with rasps and clicks that we had to shout over them to converse. The trail was pocked with holes where the mature nymphs had emerged to crawl out of their last skin and finish their lives as adults.
We spent our first night at Punga Cove Resort, which fortunately also has some port-a-builds for cheaper backpacker types like us. The hot tub was a disappointment though. Naomi is eying the murky water with distaste…or more probably just looking at her toes.
Our second day hiking was the long day, 24 kilometers, so we got up early and put a couple hours behind us in the cool of the morning before we stopped for breakfast. Ok, I’ll own up, it was a second breakfast for me. I’m admittedly hobbit-like in my need for morning sustenance.
Here’s our breakfast view–now that feels like home to me. Those narrow sounds are sea water, but they remind me of Adirondack lakes ringed by tree-clad mountains. Even the “wilding pine” on the right that DOC is trying to control feels like a giant white pine from home.
One of the best parts about the trip was being two Moms together. Laura is delighted with Naomi, and I never have to apologize for normal baby behavior like one does when hiking with child-less families. Need to nurse? Let’s take a break. Whiny? Ah well, kids can be like that. Smiley? We love those giggles!
Noah trucked along for bits of the track, giving his Mom’s back a break. He was a surprisingly good walker and enjoyed one of Milo’s favorite track games, hide and seek.
Marshmallow motivation! We alternated between hide-and-seek on the trail and dispensing colored marshmallows liberally. Here they are, holstered for ready action!
Naomi spent our lunch breaks kicking around on a cloth, gurgling and blowing spit bubbles, a recently acquired skill.
Cling-ons! One advantage of walking the track with kids is that we’re moving slowly enough to notice more details around us. These grass seeds reached out at the track edge and grabbed tenaciously onto anything they touched. Laura noticed that when they clung to our arms, the tight V-shaped hook on the end held so tightly to the hair that it pulled out from the root. I thought by the end of the trip I might have lost enough leg hair that I wouldn’t need to shave…..but alas, they were not quite that thorough.
Our second night was at a cozy little backpacker called Debretts, in Portage Bay. It was miles above Punga Cove’s port-a-builds.
Here they are, Pat and Sue. They met at playcenter with their babies more than 40 years ago and are still friends….maybe this will be Laura and me in a few decades. I asked Pat if they do this kind of trip often, and she informed me that it was their first. “How’s it going? Would you do it again?” I asked. “Well,” Pat hesitated, lowering her voice. “I’m not sure. Sue talks so much….I like my quiet time….” and she continued to chat on for half an hour about this and that. Personally, I think they’re quite compatible.
This may look like a plain old tea towel, but look again–it’s a diaper-folding demonstration, courtesy of Sue. “Do you want to learn the best nappy fold for a boy?” she asked us while we were sipping our wine and nibbling our chocolate. And she proceeded with an origami trick on the tea towel, complete with pulling out a triangle and rolling up an edge. Quite handy, I hope I remember it next time I’m without the modern pre-folds!
Sunset at Kenepuru sound, Portage Bay. Noah dropped his Alaska quarter in the water here, saving it to puzzle some archeologist a thousand years from now. Noah never went anywhere without something clutched in his fist, but that also meant that we left a steady stream of kid brick-a-brack along the trail, lost when his grip softened in sleep. The red matchbox car, the expired pass to the Discovery Center, the Diego toothbrush….we dropped them all!
The one dropped item we did manage to recover was Shark, Noah’s fluffy pillow pet. On Friday night Laura picked me up from the airport in Nelson and we drove to Picton, stopping on a side road near Blenheim to feed Naomi. When we got to our backpacker Noah’s shark was no where to be found, and we guessed that it must have dropped out of the car when we took a break. We eyed the side roads on the way back, located the right one, and were thrilled to see a gray furry bundle still sitting on the grassy verge. A happy ending to the trip.
A view out over Queen Charlotte Sound from a ridge section of the track. We have a Kiwi friend that gazes over the “golden tussock lands” (they’re really brown, not golden), and pronounces his contentment with the scene. But I love the green and blue of regions that get adequate rain. These are the views that bring to mind that section of song Mommom and Poppop used to sing…. “God has created a new day, Silver and Green and Gold…..”