66.9km (42 miles)
Riverton 2929.7km to Bluff (end of the trail) 2996.6km (1862 miles)
It was cold when my 3am alarm sounded. The Milky way galaxy was a bright streak in the otherwise dark sky. Some familiar constellations like Scorpio were my guiding lights as I hiked out of the town of Riverton onto the long dark beach walk. I needed to start early for two reasons. The beach walk was affected by the tide, if I hiked at high tide I would be walking on the soft dry sand rather than the hard compacted sand. And, I needed enough time to ensure I could hike 67km (42 miles) in a day. I’ve never hiked that far before so I needed as much time as possible.
The darkness bought all the other senses alive. The sounds made the crash of the ocean waves seem dangerously loud. Despite being far enough away from the water I constantly felt like a huge wave was about to wash over me at any time. My headlight was not very bright, only lighting the way directly ahead of me.
I had several wonderful hours of hiking on the beach in darkness till the morning arrived. It took over an hour for the darkness to give way to the morning sun and in the distance I could see my goal of the Bluff, the end of the trail. After 24km (15miles) of beach walking I left the beach to hike on a bike path to the small village of Otatara. It was just before 10am when I walked into the grocery store. I bought a fresh warm bread roll, ham, cheese, humus and 1.5 litres of chocolate milk across the road to enjoy my lunch. Hopefully this would be enough calories to carry my body to the end of the trail.
10am photo below
The trail continued on a bike path past the Invercargill Airport, past the outskirts of Invercargill City and eventually off the trail and onto the busy road that led to Bluff. After 50km of hiking I was facing an problem. Since leaving the town of Otatara there was nowhere to fill up my water bottle and I had almost no water left. The trail was no longer in existence I was forced to follow the busy main road. Trucks, tourists and locals sped down the road that had no safe shoulder to walk on. There were few places to rest. I stopped on a side road to drink the last of my water. With 20km to go and no water source anywhere I would be forced to start knocking on farmers doors for water very soon. The local school bus pulled up and asked if I wanted a lift. Rather than a lift to the end of the trail I was able to fill my 1 lire water. I was so thirsty I drank almost a litre before commencing my hike. As I drank I could feel the energy fill my legs.
Below was a good section of roadwalking
With 10km to the end of the trail a strong wind built up. The gusts would blow me into the oncoming traffic. To compensate for the strong winds I would hike as far as possible onto the grassy verge on the side of the road. It was not comfortable hiking but it was the best I could do. Then the rain came and the temperatures dropped. With the finish line so close I sucked it up and kept on hiking in the terrible conditions. With each passing truck came a blast of cold wet spray. With each gust of wind I was mindful not to get pushed onto oncoming traffic. The harsh reality of long distance hiking is that not everyday or every footstep is filled with amazing scenery or amazing experiences. Sometimes I need to just keep on moving.
I reached the outskirts of the town of Bluff around 5 pm. With 60km (37 miles) of hiking completed the rain stopped and the shoulder was wide enough to make me feel safe. The town of Bluff has been referred to as a drinking town with a fishing problem. Industrial fishing warehouses filled the outskirts as I made my way into town. With 2km till the end of the trail I walked into the hostel to book a bed for the night. I was met by five other TA hikers, four of which I’d met before. I dropped my backpack in my room and set off towards the end of the trail. My energy levels were surprisingly high. It was still cool, despite the rain passing. Wearing my rain jacket and carrying only my phone I set off. I decided to be all ‘Forrest Gump’ and run the last 2km. I haven’t done any running for over 5 years. But my body was fit, strong and eager to get to the end of the trail.
The end of the Te Araroa trail is at the end of a road, a place called Sterling Point. A small yellow signpost points to distant places around New Zealand and the Globe with their distance written on it. I was alone at the end of the trail. I started to cry as I touched the sign that marks the end of the trail. All the physical and emotional energy I gave to this trail started to release itself. I was done physically, mentally and emotionally. My mind and body were still strong but I was ready for a break. For 10 minutes I sat alone at the end of the trail. Contemplating what I had just achieved. The end of a trail bought me a huge sense of achievement. More people have climbed Mt Everest than have hiked all of this trail. I felt very grateful to be able to have the physical and mental strength to take on a trail like this. I was grateful for all the support I achieved. And I remembered all the people I met along the way, both the hikers, friends and random strangers.
This is now the fourth long distance thru hike that I have completed. All the previous trails have taught me lessons, both life lesson and lessons about the outdoors and hiking. The sometimes tough weather and mountain conditions of New Zealand taught me that I am stronger than I ever could have imagined and it taught me that I am good at decision making. It taught me that my body can be pushed further and harder than I could have ever imagined. And most of all it taught me that the world really is a good place filled with good people. I am blessed to live this life.
I sat alone when a car pulled up. The two occupants got out and took the obligatory photo. Despite my rugged look they gave me a lift back to the my hostel. In celebration of our hike we ate at the local Chinese Takeaway and drank beer until the early hours of the morning.
Life is simple on a thru hike. Wake, eat, hike, sleep, repeat. It gave me time to contemplate what is next. Where will this journey of life take me next. I feel a calling to finish that book I started, finish the project I started to assist other hikers gain the knowledge and confidence to take on a trail like this. It is time to take a short break and return home to visit friends and family.
But I cannot rest. I have dreamed up even bigger plans for the future. The plans seem so big, so impossible that I feel I will be pushed way beyond my comfort zone. Stay tuned.