Saturday, March 11, 2017

hiking with queen charlotte

"You would love New Zealand; it is just like Oregon."

So have said several of my Oregonian friends upon returning from this part of the world. The sentiment confused me. Why would I want to travel to the other side of the world to experience Oregon?

Well, after this trip, I can agree with them. Partly. New Zealand is like Oregon -- but on steroids.

My former home state is well known for its outdoor lifestyle. Mountains. Rivers. Seashore. Plenty of space to hike or bike -- sometimes, simultaneously. And, as far as population and size are concerned, New Zealand is slightly larger than Oregon in both categories.

Oregon was once dependent on a natural resource extractive economy. New Zealand still is. When we moored at Picton, the dock with its native timber destined for India, China, and Malaya looked as familiar as the Douglas fir that once lined the docks in Coos Bay on its way to Japan.

But I was not in Picton to lead a seminar in comparative geography. I had come to hike.

This morning we were back in one of the south island's sounds -- a complex known as Marlborough Sounds. Unlike the sounds further souith, these are not glacial. They are the result of earthquakes lowering and lifting mountains from under the sea -- with subsequent rising sea levels. Comparisons to the San Juans in Puget Sound are inevitable.

The view was not the only familiar sight. So, was the weather. We have managed to avoid rain on this trip. But this morning was a perfect Steve Cotton day. Drizzle. Gray skies. 55 degrees. Ok, it was a balmy 58, but I was satisfied with short sleeve hiking weather.

Picton is a prime holiday destination for people from around the world. Some come to relax and to enjoy the scenery. Others come to hike their hearts out on the numerous tracks on the southern island.

We did both. To get to our trail head, we boarded one of the harbor tour boats to orient ourselves to the various bays.

Early European settlers cut back the bush to farm or raise sheep without realizing that the clay soil underneath is only a thin cover over sheets of rock. When the rains came, the soil sloughed off into the sound, and the farms failed.

Most were abandoned. In the ensuing 75 years, a young bush has reclaimed the hills. In 200 to 300 years, it will return to its natural state.

Our tour was entitled "A Taste of the Queen Charlotte Track." A tantalizing name filled with possibilities. The full Queen Charlotte Track is a four-day hike along the ridge of Queen Charlotte Sound.

Because we were in port for only five hours, the full track was not a possibility. Instead, we took a Whitman's sampler of what that hike must be.

Our hike was along Mistletoe peninsula, a small finger jutting out into the sound. Instead of four days, we ventured forth, many of us appropriately dressed as hobbits, for just over an hour covering a loop that took us along the waterfront, up across the ridge of the peninsula, and back to the harbor cruise boat.

The New Zealand bush is not quite what the name would imply. Most of us would call it a rain forest filled with silver and mamaku ferns (gigantic tree ferns), beech, flax, kauri, and manuka. Plus a lot of other plants whose names I cannot now recall.

The flora and the views were nice add-ons, but I was there for the walk. It was an easy gain of altitude. But the rain made the clay a welcome challenge to overcome.

Unfortunately, not everyone on the hike was physically prepared for the stroll nature of our walk. That is inevitable with a cruise where the average age drifts well past Medicare eligibility. As a result, we did a lot of waiting.

What it did for me is to whet my appetite for a return trip. Roy and I talked about some of the things we would like to do on when we come back.

Me? I would really like to try the four-day Queen Charlotte Track.

While I still can.  

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