MOMORANGI BAY, NEW ZEALAND — Some days, everything just falls into place. We didn’t have plans for today, but ended up with a full day of activity in beautiful Queen Charlotte Sound.
The night before, we saw a brochure for an outfitter just down the road from our campground and decided we wanted to try and go kayaking today, or do a half-kayak/half-hiking day. Without reservations, we drove from our campground to the outfitter and arrived there at 8:30, just in time for a safety briefing for a group taking a guided trip and a couple of girls from Germany who did a half-day unguided kayak trip.
We went through the safety briefing with the other groups, and then booked a half-day unguided kayak trip to Mistletoe Bay, which is a large bay off the sound. There, we would drop our two-person kayak and hike 12.5 kilometers back to our car. The whole process was rushed and a bit out of order, but it allowed us to join the existing groups and not wait another hour.
So we all drove our cars to the end of the Queen Charlotte Track, where we launched our kayaks — at least we tried to, since our kayak’s rudder cable was snapped. So the outfitter drove back, picked up a new kayak and also brought the next group. Since the scenery at the beach was stunning, we didn’t mind too much. Once the new kayak arrived, we moved our stuff and were off. The other group had a set of really nice fiberglass kayaks, which we hoped we would get as a consolation price for having to wait 30 minutes, but our consolation was an extended rental, meaning we didn’t have to adhere to the 12:30 drop-off for the kayak. This suited us well, since we wanted to explore a little more and not feel pressured.
We kayaked along the north shore of the sound, where we periodically heard voices which we assumed were from hikers on the track, but we never saw them. We started out at low tide, so we saw a number of smaller beaches that normally are submerged. We also saw a lot of pale brown cormorants, including a group of six hanging out on a cliff, as well as other sea birds we couldn’t identify. Down the sound, we also saw the car ferry from Wellington, which was right on time, and we wished we had been able to leave earlier to be closer to it.
The outfitter told us that most people take about 2 hours to kayak to the take-out, and we felt that we had some time — in particular since the outfitter waived our 12:30 deadline. So we kayaked further down the sound, hung out in a sheltered bay where birds were dive-bombing to catch fish, and eventually made our way to Mistletoe Bay. The bay itself is part of a larger bay, Onehau Bay, which from the water looked nothing like the map we were given, so we were a little confused and asked a nice Kiwi at a dock whether we were on the right track. She told us to keep going and take the middle bay, which to us didn’t make sense, but she reassured us.
We eventually found our bay, which had beautiful green water and was dotted with anchored sail boats, in particular the two-masted New Zealand Maid. The beach was idyllic: clean, green water, a stream with ice-cold water flowing into the bay, ducks swimming around and the tall mountains of the sound as the backdrop.
We plopped ourselves on one of the benches to eat lunch, and immediately a duck looked at us quizzically and made its way to us. It would not leave our side until there was no more food in our hands, and we hadn’t shared any of it.
There is a concession stand at Mistletoe Bay selling ice cream and coffee, so Beth checked them out and came back with ice cream, and then we headed out again to take pictures.
The bay was so beautiful that we didn’t want to leave, so we didn’t. Instead, we both (yes, both) went for a swim in the chilly water, floating and watching the scenery from sea level. By now, there was a little crowd on the grassy beach, in particular a group a six French people who were swimming and sun bathing, and some others who arrived there by water taxi.
Eventually, we had to do the inevitable, change into our hiking shoes and tackle the track back to our car. Our outfitter told us to keep walking on the dirt road out of the bay, but we were surprised by how far we had to follow the road — all the way to the top of the saddle.
The hike out on the track was beautiful, and we finally saw that there really are three bays, the middle one of which was Mistletoe Bay. As we hiked along, we saw a pair of wild goats (bad) and three sheep on a farm (cute). Hiking out of our bay made us realize just how long of a bay it is. In addition the the length of the bay, we had to hike around a number of side canyons, which increased the distance considerably. Good thing that we already knew it was going to be 12.5 kilometers.
Once we finally had hiked out of the bay, the views changed from the narrow bay with multiple sub-bays to the main sound. Given the time of day, the track was now almost completely in shade, and some sections felt like we were hiking at sunset, even though that was still a good three hours off.
Along the track, about 3 kilometers from the terminus, we came across a DOC campsite that was located pretty much straight across from our campground. It is part of the track system, and was beautifully located: a grassy spot about sea level with tress, a flowing stream and almost complete silence — with the exception of the ever-present cicadas, which make quite the racket.
By now, out outfitter got a bit nervous and called and texted Torsten to make sure everything was fine. Luckily, we had reception on that part of the track, so we were able to answer. We finished our hike at 19:00 and headed back to our campground to buy some chips and chocolate cake.
After a simple dinner of tortellini and cake, it was time for bed. We were happy and tired after our triathlon of kayaking, relaxing and hiking.