It’s nearly Christmas as I motor my way around the tight bends of Queen Charlotte Drive to the pretty port of Picton where my next adventure begins. The road straightens. I get a glimpse of Queen Charlotte Sound glistening in the sun, its long channel named by explorer Captain James Cook after the wife of British ruler King George III. Over the next couple of days I intend to travel from the start of Queen Charlotte Track (out near Cook Strait) to the inner reaches of the sound, a popular journey for a generation of trampers and now for a new breed of cycle explorers.
It’s the last month of the year, and the first section of track is closed to summer riders giving hikers a reprieve from wheeled traffic during the peak season. I actually welcome this restriction, as it forces me into a multi-faceted journey of water taxi, walking and wheeling. So after purchasing a track pass I board a boat that cruises these sheltered waters, stopping briefly to drop off my bike partway along the track.
The boat docks at Ship Cove, the start of the track and also Captain Cook’s regular refuge. History here runs deep and is measured in fathoms. Once off the jetty I spend some time at the monument to understand this place in history. As I stand on the pebbles of the cove, on the same ground as Cook’s men, the view I see is little changed from what Cook’s eyes must have seen nearly two-and-a-half centuries ago. The waters no longer moor tall ships, but it’s an incredible outpost and one that the famed explorer visited on five occasions, spending 100 days here to resupply during his global voyages. He described the place as a “very snug cove”, and I feel warm at the thought that this early navigator was once here. There are grand plans to celebrate the anniversary of his first landing 250 years ago in January 2020 – there is some track work taking place near the trailhead to get the site ship-shape in time for guests.
My mind snaps to the present – I have to make my own mark on history. Time to lift anchor and to plot my course through an ocean of forest; my navigation guided not by compass or stars but by circling satellites above helping me to make the Great Rides App. My first steps out of Cook’s Cove are upward and I delighted in gaining a better outlook over the snug cove. I continue through the coastal forest to the first saddle; it’s now mid-morning and sweat drips off me in the building summer heat. This section of track is being rerouted to reduce the steep grades, and next time I come back after the celebrations this steep hill should be no sweat.