Tuesday 15th March 2016 Nelson We are flying away again, for 2 weeks in NZ. I had wondered why; we've had so much going on; but now we're in the air I'm very happy to be going. It is very good for me – and for us.

It's less than 2 months since the carpenters finally finished work on the Sheehan St. house in Castlemaine. There is still some finishing-off painting needing doing, but the house is basically done now – two years after we bought it. It's been a big job, and I'm glad it's over.

We are halfway through moving stuff from our garage into the big shed, and stuff from the big shed into our garage, where we plan to sell it all and the garage as well. We would have been further through this if my body hadn't had a little melt-down two days ago with a touch of gastro, which sent me to bed for most of the day. (But only after eating a bowl of muesli for breakfast and then going on a 20km bike ride; why did I not realise I was unwell when I got up that morning?)

We have solved the problem, I hope, of coming home with masses of unlabelled photos by buying another little netbook computer. Previously Alison used the iPad mini that she'd won, but it was very limited; you had to transfer images to and from it by email. Not practicable. So we looked for another one like my old one, found they were no longer available (only a newer model – not so good) so we bought a used one on eBay. It should be much better. I really find Apple things annoying.

We are flying to Christchurch, where we clear customs and then get on a local flight to Nelson. Here we are staying in a room via airbnb – and our host, Ian, is going to pick us up from the airport! How nice is that!

Christchurch was overcast, rainy, and cold. We went through customs, as expected needing to hand over the tent for inspection; then dropped our bags in the domestic check-in and wandered around for an hour, having some soup for lunch, before getting on the little propeller plance to Nelson, 50 minutes north. Here, it was warm and sunny! We were met by Ian and driven to his house. A very easy uneventful trip from Melburne.

It's 2 hours later, here, but it doesn't really feel any different. We're both a bit tired. We went for a walk into and around town, along the river, and back along Hardy Street, which was full of restaurants. We ate dinner at a pub just off Hardy Street, at a table in the street. Warm and sunny. Then home, well after dark.

It is nice and quiet here despite bing close to town. And it's very nice (so far) hearing the NZ accent everywhere – it makes me aware that we're in a foreign country, even though it's such an easy one to be in.

Wednesday 16th March 2016 Nelson

We awoke to grey overcast skies. They stayed all day, with light rain in the morning as well.

I'd left Alison's (new) camera charging all night, as yesterday it hadn't turned on when she tried to take a photo. It did nothing. But, this morning, it did; the lens went right out and its motor kept on whirring, and it wouldn't do anything else. So we took the battery out. Then I put it in again; the lens went in, and the motor kept whirring. I took the battery out again. Then I put the battery in again – and since then, the camera has worked as normal!

We ate breakfast here of muesli, then went out. I began the day in shorts and a shirt, but it didn't last; I ended up zipping my legs on and putting on my puffer vest. We walked through town and up the hill to a lookout at the “Centre of New Zealand”. Then we walked down again and had a coffee in a nice cafe reading the Christchurch paper - “The Press.” And there, in the letters page, was one from Kate Dewes about how her grandfather had designed the Silver Fern logo!

We wandered around town and did some shopping before coming home for lunch. Back into other parts of town, ending up at the i-site where we found a DOC office with a very helpful lady. Now we know more about where we're going on the Queen Charlotte Track (good) and the temperature – maximum – up at Nelson Lakes where we were going to go is 4 degrees today. We may change our plans for that bit.

Back home for dinner. While Alison cooked it, I put the new SIM card in the phone and tried activating it, and succeeded in the end. So now we have a local NZ SIM card which should make life somewhat easier.

We went out for a little walk after dinner up the hill here. But then back home. And we're having a glass of wine.

We haven't seen Ian all day. There are some other girls living here – but they are very quiet. We mostly have the place to ourselves.

It's been a reasonable day to get into holiday mode but a bit of sun and warmth wouldn't hurt!

(Dana turned up late tast night – home early from Tauranga. It was nice to meet her.)

Thursday 17th March Picton

Today went well. The only problem is it is cold – everyone says it is cold – and the lack of sun.

We were ready to leave early, and walked down to the i-site. There were a lot of people waiting for the bus there. We wandered around, got on the bus, and 2¼ hours later got off in Picton, at the ferry terminal. This was not where we needed to be, but Picton is not a huge place. We walked to the i-site, got a map and spoke to the lady there, had a coffee and cake nearby, bought some nice bread, then walked up the main street and beyond to the Juggler's Rest Hostel, where we'd booked in.

This is a very nice hostel, run by Bruce, who has a lovely garden around with lots of herbs which we are welcome to use. We ate some lunch, then returned into town; mainly to book a water taxi for tomorrow. We've done this; for part of the walk we're going to have our packs transported by the ferry. We bought some food to cook in the very good kitchen here, came home, re-packed our packs for tomorrow.

Before going to bed Alison had a juggling lesson from a very good juggler staying here; and she improved a lot.

We've arranged to stay here at Jugglers Rest again the night we return from the walk – and also tentatively arranged to stay back with Dana in Nelson the night before we fly home.

Friday 18th March 2016 Madsen's Camp

After a good sleep the alarm got us up at 7am. We were out of Juggler's Rest by 8.15am, and walked down via the bakery to the dock; and at 9am left on the boat to Ship Cove – a historic place where Captain Cook repaired his ship on a number of occasions. The trip took an hour, on a large fast boat with only 8 passengers.

We got off, leaving our backpacks on the boat. They're going to be delivered to our destination tonight, while we walk with just our little bags. There was more blue in the sky today, which was pleasing to see; and it wasn't as cold as it has been. After a little look around the monument at Ship Cove, we walked up to the waterfall. This was a 20 minute return walk; we'd been told it was worth doing, but.... not a stunning waterfall, really.

Then we set off on the Queen Charlotte Track. This began with a steepish uphill, but it was not too difficult; and it is a very wide track, able to walk side by side all the way, with good views over the sound.

Up over a headland and down past Resolution Bay, then up over another pass and down into Endeavour Inlet. There were plenty of spots to stop for a break, usually with benches and tables at the better lookouts. We found that, walking without packs, we usually covered the distance in 2/3 the time the signs said. We talked some of the way with some others walking along; mostly they were doing day walks, going to be picked up further along the way.

~ 2.45pm we got to Furneaux Lodge – a large resort on Endeavour Inlet. In we walked, and sat down at a table among nice clean people for a coffee. It was very nice and somewhat unusual to have the opportunity to do so. After some of the other walkers we'd chatted to arrived, we set off again.

Soon Alison tried to take a photo; this time, her camera didn't work again, with a message saying the function knob was incorrectly set. The result of a small fall from her belt when she went to the toilet? She has such bad luck with cameras!

It was about an hour further around the inlet to Madsen's Camp; a nice private campsite with lots of terraced camp sites. Our packs we found sitting here. We have it all to ourselves. It's all been made by Tony Madsen; he provides a rack of four solar showers (first come, first served) so after putting up the tent we had a shower. Not hot, but quite tolerable. We've had a little walk down to the jetty and the beach, and organised our stuff – always taking some time, the first time camping for a while.

There are some annoying “sandflies” (blackflies) here, but it's a still clear warmish evening.

Saturday 19th March Bay of Many Coves

There was a sprinkling of rain in the night – gloom! Packing up in the rain is no fun. But in the morning there was no rain, and everything was dry. So pack up was easy; we took the packs down to the jetty, and set off with our little bags for Camp Bay, two hours away. Two hours walking around the edge of the inlet, little ups and downs; when we got there we found our packs sitting in a little shelter on the pier, and went to the nearby cafe for a coffee.

Then it was time to put our packs on, and head off. It was uphill. There was a lot of uphill today, climbing up to the top of the ridge between two sounds. It was OK, but – quite a slog at times when the up incline became too steep. After a stop at a viewpoint at Gatenby Gulch, it was two hours up to the turnoff to Eatwells lookout. We dropped our packs and walked up there – a very steep but shortish walk – and arrived very sweaty. We stripped off; it was much cooler; and ate lunch there. The views were excellent, in every direction. We re-dressed in our (now dry) clothes, and walked on. There was a lot of downhill, not so easy to walk, and knowing that you'll need to walk up again anyway. But we soon got to uphill again, and eventually got to the Bay of Many Coves campsite.

This is nice; up on the ridge, great views, a cooking shelter so that if it does rain at least we have a dry spot to pack in. We were the first here, so we chose our spot across from the shelter with a good view. We knew there were more coming – a Brazilian couple and Alastair, an Englishman; all quite good company. The Brazilians had been told there may be no water here; luckily, there was – we arrived very thirsty and drank and drank.

(Had there been no water – it would have been a long walk down to the cove, a longer walk back up, and then?)

The water here is rainwater in a tank; the level is low, but there's enough – for us all tonight, at least. We've set up the tent, had a coffee, chatted with the others, and had a wash – though being frugal with the water. It is very pleasant.

Sunday 20th March 2016 Cowshed Bay

Alastair was a good talker; so much so that it encouraged us to leave the cooking shelter, after dinner, and go to bed. At 8.30pm! When it was quite dark. Everyone else went to bed as well.

Second night in the tent, we both slept better. There was no hurry to get up, but we were nearly first; had breakfast, packed up, and set off – fully laden with water, as we'd heard there was no water at the next shelter / campsite, Black Rock – three hours away.

There was indeed no water there, and it did take nearly three hours. The track was mostly flattish and easy, but with some good ups and downs thrown in. We were walking along a ridge, between two sounds – but the views were quite sparse. Even when walking atop the ridge often it was down a green corridor with dense vegetation on both sides.

But Black Rock was a very nice spot, with views across to Picton. So I turned on the phone and used it as a wi-fi hotspot for the computer as well, while making a big lot of coffee.

Staying here would have been good, had there been water; but there wasn't, so we walked on. Two more hours to Cowshed Bay at Portage, so after an hour we started looking for a spot to bush camp. We didn't find one, and ended up walking into the little settlement of Portage. A resort, a couple of backpackers, the DOC campsite, and little else.

The campsite here has road access and a lot of car campers; it's not a wonderful spot but it's the best option we have. It does have a (cold) shower, which we both used; and it has plenty of water. So we're clean and the washing's done.

A little walk down to the hotel and a look around it; back home to cook dinner in the cooking shelter; a read, and then to bed in the tent at 9pm.

Alison and I usually get on well; and one thing we think alike on is the Queen Charlotte Track, which we both find a bit disappointing. There is much less view than we'd expected, many houses and jetties scattered along the waterline (making it feel not very remote), and not a huge variety in the walking. Most people we've met along the way have a much more positive view of it than either of us.

Monday 21st March 2016 Lochmara Lodge

We both slept poorly. I had the alarm on, but we woke first; while Alison packed up the tent insides, I moved everything down to the cooking shelter to pack. It had sprinkled again in the night, but was mostly dry again.

We were on time; we walked back up to Torea Saddle, and then down to other side to the jetty. We found the jetty shelter with one other bag in it, and left our packs there – to be picked up and taken to Lochmara. Then it was a walk back up the road – again - back to Torea Saddle, and off on the Queen Charlotte Track again.

There was a steep uphill and then we walked along the ridge again; as before, mostly with no view but with occasional views of the sounds, changing a bit each time. There was a steep descent to a low point – unnamed, but nearly as low as Torea Saddle – where we came across a local who manages a section of track, sitting on his ATV, who offered us fruit. Local fruit, recently picked; we each had an apple. Very nice.

Shortly after this was the turnoff to Lochmara Lodge, where we are booked in for two nights. It was a 45 minute walk; a quite nice 45 minute walk, staying high around the sound till it dropped down to the lodge. We arrived at a gate and fence festooned with old walking boots, then walked down through their sculpture park, past the glow worm grotto and then the eel pool and the aviary, to reception.

We'd booked a double room the first night, twin the next – as the double was booked out. We were shown them both, then offered a good deal on an upgrade room; larger, and not needing a move. We took it. (I am a sucker for a discount!)

Coffee and cake reading the paper, then a visit to the eel feeding and then the Kakariki parakeet feeding; and our room was ready. Shower, clean clothes, unpack; we've even done a load of washing. It's so nice to feel clean again after a walk. But we both feel tired a after last night's poor sleep, which is a pity.

But it appears and feels to be a very nice place to be; and various people along the track have said it is a good place. We've booked in for dinner here tonight as well – luxury!

Dinner was really nice.

Tuesday 22nd March 2016 Lochmara Lodge

It has been a very pleasant rest day. After a sort of sleep in and some breakfast, we took out the kayaks and kayaked around Lochmara Bay; seeing fish, a stingray, lots of houses and lots of jetties, and ending up at a shag colony before returning across the bay to Lochmara Lodge. It was late morning,we went and had a coffee and scone in the cafe, reading the paper.

Back in our room – lunch. Using up the last of our food; our food supplies are getting very low now. We relaxed. We read. I looked up accommodation post-Picton, but didn't book any; we're still undecided on where to go.

At 4pm we went on a ride on their flying fox. Looked at the geckos, the pigs; wandered around the resort, which has an amazing number of nooks and crannies. It's a very nice place.

I rang Kate Dewes, in Christchurch, to say hullo and tell her I'd seen her letter in the paper; then dinner. We had some couscous to eat still, but not much else. So we bought some bread and dips to start with; Alison made very good couscous aided by some cherry tomatoes, etc., that she'd picked on her walk around the place. And for dessert we went down to the cafe and shared a crème brulee.

Then a walk around the glow worm grotto before coming back to our room for our last night here.

Wednesday 23rd March 2016 Picton

We both slept well, but woke early. This meant that, after packing up, paying the bill, leaving our bags to be ferried back to Picton, and then having a coffee as well – we walked out from Lochmara Lodge, up the hill, and along the access track for 45 minutes till we were back on the Queen Charlotte Track.

It took us nearly five hours to reach the end, at Anakiwa. After 20 minutes we got to the turnoff to the Hilltop Lookout – a steep climb for 12 minutes to the top of the hill. Another good view over the sounds. Then back down, a descent to the next saddle, and then an easy three hour walk around the edge of the hills thorough Davey Bay to Anakiwa, and the end of the track – where there is a shelter, and a lot of people waiting to be picked up.

We were over an hour early; we hadn't procrastinated because the weather forecast was for rain, and this started just before we got to the end. Our pickup boat was early as well, so we were back in Picton just after 3.30pm. I rang the car hire people and they came and picked us up, took us to their office, and gave us our car. It seems fine; quite large, with >100,000km on the speedo – but fine. We drove up the main street and walked down to a cafe for a coffee (cheaper here than out on the track, not surprisingly); went to the supermarket for some food for dinner, and came home to Juggler's Rest.

It is very full here tonight, with performers; but we are outside, in a cabin. The rain was very heavy but has lightened now; but our timing with weather on this walk has been very fortunate.

We watched a sort of concert in the living room before going to bed; a very impressive Czech violinist, a reasonable drummer / african harpist, and two rather full of themselves American guitarists. Such a different evening to when we were here last!

Then we went outside to our cabin and went to sleep, listening to the wind and the rain outside and feeling very fortunate.

Thursday 24th March 2016 Blenheim

We slept very well; breakfasted on fresh bread and jams, and coffee; and said goodbye, and drove off in our car. Down to the bakery in Picton, where we bought a loaf of bread and an Easter loaf. The lady serving us took ages trying to enter this into their computer screen; had to call her superior over twice; and then blamed us for our “attitude”; why? All I'd done was said it was $5, not $7!

This left us with a bad feeling. The bread is nice but I don't think I'd go back there again.

We drove off, down the road to Blenheim – all of ½ hour away. We'd booked a cabin in a motor camp there, but it was too early; so we drove down to the i-site. A very helpful lady answered a lot of questions. We are booked in here for 2 days, till Easter Saturday; after that we expect to have to use the tent again, because everything will be booked out. But with a car it's much easier.

After the i-site, Alison directed me to Save-Mart; then we stopped at a supermarket, had a nice coffee across the road, and bought some supplies, before coming back, checking into our room, and having lunch. We left the car here and walked into town; we walked to an op shop to buy a saucepan (there's a camp kitchen here, but no cookware) to find it had just closed, at 3.30pm; I accosted a worker coming out and she led me inside to the saucepan section, where I bought one. A nice one, too.

Then we walked around town for a while – a bigger town than Nelson, or at least the centre seems so – and came home at 6pm or so. We went for a walk around the park and found a huge walnut tree, with a sign saying take as many walnuts as you like; we did.

We had a good dinner in the camp kitchen and now it's nearly bedtime. We are right next to the highway but I hope the noise doesn't worry us too much. Tomorrow is Good Friday; all the shops will be shut; the road will be quieter, I hope.

It dried out today, and it's been warm; but tomorrow it's expected to be much colder.