The Queen Charlotte Track: The Destruction of my Legs


The Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

My transport and accommodation for the Queen Charlotte Track were provided by the Marlborough Sounds Adventure Company, as part of Tourism New Zealand’s Explore Media program.

You can read the first part of my Queen Charlotte Track experience here: The Queen Charlotte Track: Building Confidence and Breaking Down

I rolled over in bed, tentatively stretching out my legs, groaning quietly as pain began to shoot through my calves.

I’d tried everything the night before. I’d spent hours massaging my legs, applying heat in our lodge’s hot tub, rubbing ice cubes all over them, and I’d tried to eat as much protein as humanly possible.

It hadn’t worked.

I checked the time. 6am.

I had exactly one hour to figure out what I was going to do.

I had walked 25 kilometres over the past few days and it had just about destroyed me. My legs were in agony, my muscles ripped to shreds, and my ankles covered in blisters. Today, I would have to walk a further 25 kilometres — a walk that was expected to take 8 hours.

And so, I had two options.

I could admit defeat, skip the hike and take the water taxi to the next stop. I could spend the day resting, relaxing and recovering. I could go for a swim and drink some beers. Given the state I was currently in, this would be the sensible thing to do.

Or I could persevere and force myself to walk the furthest distance I’ve ever walked on already damaged legs. There would be no turning back, no water taxis along the way. I’d be doing the full 25 kilometres.

I glanced over at Dave, weighing up the two options in my mind. I didn’t want to disappoint him, and I wanted him to think that I was capable of hiking and walking long distances. I knew how much he loved to hike and I wanted to prove that I would make an excellent hiking partner. I didn’t want to let him, or myself, down.

I just didn’t know if it would be physically possible.

I didn’t know if it was going to be a big mistake.

I didn’t know what to do.

The Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

We sat down for breakfast and I still hadn’t come to.a decision. I longingly gazed over at the water taxis, desperate to clamber aboard. And yet, I think I knew from the beginning that I was always going to do everything I could to finish that walk.

Yes, I was going to do the hike and I was fairly certain it was going to obliterate me.

And so I went back to our room, pulled on my hiking boots and got ready to undertake the biggest physical challenge of my life.

The Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

Right from the start I was struggling. My calves were tight and my muscles were aching. The clouds were low in the sky and the air was cool. While this wasn’t necessarily great for warming up my muscles, I was grateful for the breeze — it was going to be a long, hot day.

The first part of the hike is said to be the toughest. We had spent the night at water level and needed to make our way up to the ridge line to continue where we left off the previous day.

I was an hour in when my muscles finally started to ease up. I was feeling stronger now, having drifted into a trance as I marched rhythmically along the trail. We’d finally reached the ridge line, where for every wonderful downhill slope there was another uphill to take my breath away and put a stitch in my side.

However, I knew I couldn’t stop moving — to do so would cause the muscles in my leg to spasm up once more and I couldn’t face going through that again.

I just had to keep walking.

Two hours in and I was regretting my decision to do the hike.

My legs were aching, my feet were blistered and walking on the exposed ridge line was leaving me open to sunburn.

I just had to keep walking.

We stopped for lunch and I knew it was going to be painful. I knew that as soon as I stopped moving I would regret it. I knew I would have to start from square one again, but this time after having walked ten kilometres.

My body was starting to get very unhappy.

The Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

After lunch, Dave decided to take the trail up to a view point leaving me to continue on by myself. I chose not to interpret this as him wanting to escape from me, my grumbles and my stumbles.

And so I walked.

And I walked.

And I walked.

At one point, an elderly lady came jogging up to me with far too much energy than was natural.

“This is the half-way point,” she smiled encouragingly, “you’re half-way there!”

I cheered loudly, secretly disappointed because I genuinely had thought I was only a couple of kilometres from finishing.

A while later, the boys caught up with me and we were reunited once more. We continued together, me in a much better mood. After a successful hike on my own I was suddenly feeling a little more competent.

The Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

We were two thirds of the way through the hike when my body decided it had had enough.

I barely had the energy to lift my feet, to drink my water, to talk, to do anything at all. I was miserable and hating every single second.

My legs started to seize up without me even resting. I was constantly tripping and stumbling as my body repeatedly gave way, my feet rolling to the side, threatening to wander over the edge of the ridge line.

I was out of food and I hadn’t packed enough water. I’d been too nervous of the rain-water barrels to top up my water bottle and this foolish decision had left me dehydrated — and that’s on top of the sunburn and physical exhaustion.

I couldn’t help but feel that my body was starting to shut down.

By this point I needed to rest, and often. Every 30 minutes I’d sit by the side of the trail and anxiously rub my throbbing legs, hoping for a miraculous recovery.

I’d arise once more, full of confidence, ready to finish the hike, only to stagger a couple of metres along the path and feel like falling back down once more.

Around every bend I expected to see our lodge, as we reached the top of every hill I hoped to see the final walk down towards the water.

I had no idea how much further we had to go but I knew I needed to finish this walk soon.

The Queen Charlotte Track, New Zealand

And then, after many, many hours of agony, we turned a corner and finally saw our accommodation for the night. I felt like crying. I felt like dying. I felt like hiking was the worst thing in the entire world.

I staggered towards the lodge, opting to wait outside while Dave checked in. I stood breathlessly, wobbling, staring in disbelief at the smiling faces of the hardcore hikers.

As their laughs echoed around me, I felt pins and needles slowly creeping into my eyeballs. As I searched for something to hold on to the scene started swimming before my eyes. Their laughter drifted further and further away as bile rose in my throat and my legs collapsed beneath me. Please don’t let me pass out.

I laid on the ground with my legs waving around in the air, desperately trying to move the blood from my throbbing legs to my equally throbbing head.

“Um… what on earth are you doing?”

The boys had returned with the room key and found me sprawled out on the floor.

I forced myself to stand for the final time that day.

And upon opening the door to our room, I crawled into bed, where I remained blissfully still for the next 12 hours.

Maybe I need to rethink this whole I-love-hiking thing.

And for a completely different perspective on the Queen Charlotte Track from somebody who didn’t almost die because they actually have some level of fitness, you can read about Dave’s experience here.

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40 Comments

  1. Nicole | The Wondernuts
    October 23, 2013
    Reply

    I was reading this thinking: “aww, I feel your pain.” Then at the bottom, I see that you slept for 12 hours.

    I’m jealous.

    Great story. Hope you feel better. =)

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Hahaha! It was the best sleep of my life :-)

  2. Rebecca
    October 23, 2013
    Reply

    haha great articles! loved reading about the hike and a mega well done to you for doing it! im impressed and im sure your proud of yourself for doing it (though maybe your right, if you didn’t enjoy it, then its not your thing) let that be Dave’s own hobby. Amazing views though! again big well done!

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Thank you so much, Rebecca! I loved hiking when it was a one-day hike. I think I just need to work my way up to the hardcore multi-day hikes rather than throwing myself in at the deep end! :-)

  3. Laura
    October 23, 2013
    Reply

    That sounds really tough – good for you for pushing through it! Glad you got to sleep for 12 hours at the end of it :)

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks, Laura! :-)

  4. Pamela
    October 23, 2013
    Reply

    Congrats for completing the tough journey despite the aching calves! The photos look so amazing, I hope the beautiful scenery took away the pain temporarily.

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      It was definitely the prettiest place I’ve ever hiked in — and made the hike a lot more enjoyable :-)

  5. Sky
    October 23, 2013
    Reply

    Damn. Glad you made it to the top. The photos are so beautiful. I definitely wouldn’t have been able to finish in that much pain so good for you!

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Thank you so much, Sky! :-)

  6. Rika | Cubicle Throwdown
    October 24, 2013
    Reply

    Wow, I was feeling terrible for you through the whole story! I’m glad you made it and that you got to sleep for 12 hours at the end :)

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks, Rika! It was a fantastic sleep :-)

  7. Beth
    October 24, 2013
    Reply

    Glad you made it through! Also pretty jealous you got to sleep 12 hours, what I would give for that kind of sleep! ;)

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Hahaha, it was probably the deepest sleep I’ve ever had!

  8. Amanda
    October 24, 2013
    Reply

    So you walked 25 kilometers in one go on messed-up legs??? Girl, you are so much more hardcore than you give yourself credit for! I think I would have definitely given in and taken the water taxi…

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Hahaha, thanks Amanda! I wished I’d taken the water taxi about 5km into the walk ;-)

  9. TammyOnTheMove
    October 24, 2013
    Reply

    Loved reading both of your accounts of the hike. Stopping when you are hiking is the worst ting ever. Your muscles seize up immediately and it is really painful to walk further. I always hate the fact that to keep walking is the best way to avoid pain too. But once I have reached your destination I always feel a great sense of achievement.

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Absolutely! I felt great about the hike once I’d recovered the following morning. On that final day though? Oh, I hated it so much!

  10. Kerry
    October 24, 2013
    Reply

    Wow, good on you for finishing – I would have been in tears calling for an airlift, I think.

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      I was close to doing that, Kerry! It was a little traumatizing :-)

  11. jennifer
    October 24, 2013
    Reply

    Aw Lauren. I would have ended up laying down and refusing to get up ever again. The whole not knowing how far you have left thing would have killed me. I am glad you made it.

    I am also so interested in reading your next post as looking at the link you shared for Dave’s post has this written about your next day “we would be hiking 25km. That’s a long way on flat pavement. On a hiking trail that rises and falls several hundred metres over that distance? Well, let’s just say that it wasn’t going to be easy…….”

    In the end, you did get some really beautiful pictures.

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      I may have been very close to doing just that… :-)

      I linked to Dave’s first day report, so the 25 km walk he talks about is this post :-)

  12. Lindsey
    October 24, 2013
    Reply

    Massive props to you for going through with it! That’s a really tremendous effort.

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks, Lindsey! :-)

  13. Amy
    October 27, 2013
    Reply

    Wow, and I thought the Tongariro Crossing was tough! This does look like an absolutely beautiful trek though, I wish we’d had the time to give it a go when we were in New Zealand. Your pics are stunning and make me nostalgic for the month I spent there – if it wasn’t so expensive I’d fly back to New Zealand in an instant!

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Yeah, it’s a shame it’s so hard (and expensive) to get to New Zealand. I’m keen to return there too :-)

  14. Stephanie @ Pearlsandpassports
    October 28, 2013
    Reply

    Well done for finishing the walk! I love hiking but people have no idea about how hard it can be sometimes!
    Have you kept up the hiking in Mexico?

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      No hiking in Mexico, but I’m living in a tiny beach town and there isn’t really all that much to do aside from eat tacos. I’m keen to start hiking again once I head somewhere more mountainous!

  15. J from Travel on Inspiration
    October 28, 2013
    Reply

    Wow, 25 Km is an impressive distance. Those views are pretty incredible though. So at least you got to enjoy them for longer.

    • Lauren
      October 30, 2013
      Reply

      Ha! That’s a good way of looking at it :-)

  16. Benjamin@asap
    November 4, 2013
    Reply

    25 kilometers with sprained muscles and blistered ankles !!!!! kudos girl..and about that 12 hours sleep..you surely deserved it!

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Thanks, Benjamin! I was barely able to move by the end of it :-)

  17. Shaun
    November 4, 2013
    Reply

    I know how you feel from run some 1/2 marathons it can be rough, really rough, but you still did it and now you can look back on it with a feeling of accomplishment. Though it may take some time for it to do so :)

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Absolutely! I now feel proud of my achievement… and a little pathetic at how much I struggled ;-)

  18. Julie K.
    November 14, 2013
    Reply

    Wow, stunning pictures! So vibrant! It´s real fun to go through your posts, you definitely know how to draw the reader in:) I remember my last eight hour hike. The last two hours I was deaf and blind to everything around me just focusing on putting one leg in front of the other. If a bear attacked me I would hardly noticed, I swear! Now I try to keep it up to five hours maximum if I go on a hike so that I can really enjoy my time in nature.

    • Lauren
      November 21, 2013
      Reply

      Thank you so much, Julie! :-) I definitely know that feeling of dropping into a trance and being unable to focus on anything but walking.

  19. Louise
    September 1, 2014
    Reply

    I just stumbled across your blog – you captured the feeling perfectly! I’m glad to know it’s not just me, as my friends all seem to run up mountains and have no problems with multi-day treks that leave me regretting saying I’d join them. It’s taken me a lot of painful treks to realise that it’s just not for me. I’ll leave it to the experts!

    • Lauren
      September 1, 2014
      Reply

      Let’s just say that I’ve yet to do another multi-day hike since this one! :-)

  20. Priyanka
    March 28, 2017
    Reply

    How did you manage to go for multi day hikes?Anyways you managed yourself to push through . Glad for you.. and the 12 hour sleep.. hehe

    • Lauren
      March 31, 2017
      Reply

      How did I manage? Not very well :-)

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