The last two days on the Te Araroa are bittersweet as we walk the road into Bluff.
The final video from the trail as we hike into Bluff.
DAY 89 – Colac Bay to Invercargill
It was nice to wake up in a warm bed in our shared room at the Colac Bay Tavern. Tom, John, and I packed up and set off for the beach. It was decent weather to start but the tide was in and the beach was full of pebbles so we opted to walk alongside on the road.
The beach was rocky in parts and we left the road and climbed around the bluffs. It was pretty but we were ready to finish the trail.
Eventually we left the beach to climb through some native bush. It was an easy, short climb and perhaps the last bush on the trail.
And then it was a road walk into the town of Riverton where we had breakfast at a cafe. American hiker, Ben, showed up. We’d met him when we picked him up as he hitchhiked out of Queenstown five days ago. At a nearby grocery store I bought some peanut butter and KitKats for the remainder of the day.
Back on the beach we walked for hours and hours. It was ironically just like our first days on the trail walking on Ninety Mile Beach.
It was desolate and windy but the wind was at our backs. I could see Stewart Island off the coast. We plodded along as my feet threatened to blister.
At long last we left the beach only to road walk the remainder of the day. It really was like the beginning of the North Island all over again! Beaches, roads, and blisters!
Tom, Ben, and I stopped at a cafe for some ciders before trudging down the road. The wind picked up and was gusting like crazy. It nearly blew us over as we walked the long road into Invercargill.
Once in town we arrived at a holiday park where we’d booked a room for two nights. Then it was off to Maccas (McDonalds) for dinner. It had been a long day and we were so close to the end! Our feet were sore and the shower and bed were most welcome.
It’s strange to think tomorrow is the last day. It doesn’t feel like I’ve walked the entire length of New Zealand. The magnitude of this accomplishment hasn’t sunk in yet. It still feels like a series of separate events, like how my blog is separated into sections. Just one more day!
Day’s Distance: 45km (28mi)
Total Distance: 2,973km (1,847.7mi)
Distance Remaining: 27km (16.8mi)
DAY 90 – Invercargill to Bluff
Tom, Ben, and I left our little room at the holiday park and headed to Maccas for breakfast. Afterwards it was time to hit the pavement. We walked along the outskirts of Invercargill alongside the sea. It was an easy gravel walking path except the wind was gusting like crazy.
Tom forgot the car keys (he’d planted the car at the end of the trail a week ago) and had to walk back to the holiday park to get them. Ben and I continued on.
The wind blew and blew, making it a struggle not to fall over. We were unceremoniously dumped onto the main highway for the next 20km into Bluff. What a way to end the trail.
At one point it started to sprinkle. I put my rain cover over my pack. A few minutes later it blew off and was gone with the wind.
We trudged on along the busy highway. Another hiker, Julia, caught up with us and was also finishing the trail. We stopped for snacks on the side of the road. I had some KitKats and peanut butter. Tom caught up to us at this point.
The wind continued relentlessly, blustering and pushing us over. The town of Bluff came into view. It was not a sight to see. Industry and abandonment sums it up.
As we walked into the town, most of the shops were closed. There goes my lunch plans. At this point I wanted to just finish the trail. Tom left me to go get the car and I headed up a hill toward the sea. Ben and Julia were behind me some ways.
After an easy ascent, I entered the bush for the last time. It was a pretty descent down to the coast. My feet were very sore from all the road walking by this point.
I followed the rocky coastline around, not really thinking about the magnitude of what I was about to accomplish. The waves crashed against the rocks.
It didn’t take long before I arrived at Stirling Point, the end of the trail. Just like the northern terminus in Cape Reinga, there was a large sign marking the southern terminus, the end of the trail. Tourists milled about. Tom was waiting there with Ben and Julia, who’d taken a shortcut trail around the hill by mistake.
It was nice to celebrate all together. We took our finishing photos and congratulated each other. It didn’t feel like the end. Just like my last day on the Appalachian Trail, I knew it would take some time to sink in. There was a cafe overlooking Stirling Point where we signed a log book marking our completion of the trail. The cafe sold medals for hikers but we opted to forgo the extra weight! At this point we all just wanted to get out of this touristy/bleak town!
Tom drove us back to another cafe where we had celebratory pitchers of beer. It was fun reminiscing about the trail, all four of us. From there we headed back to the holiday park in Invercargill.
We continued our celebration at Bombay Palace where we had a feast of Indian food. I wondered when the hiker hunger would end; I could still consume large amounts of food. Afterwards we went to Maccas for ice cream.
Day’s Distance: 27km (16.8mi)
Total Distance: 3,000km (1,864.5mi)
Daily Average: 35.3km (21.9mi)
Zero Days: 5
After completing this epic 3,000km journey, it didn’t really sink in what I had just accomplished. Originally Tom and I had planned on me finishing early so we could go off to Stewart Island and Fiordland to do some more hiking. We looked at the weather and rain was forecast for a week straight so Stewart Island didn’t sound very appealing. As we drove away from Bluff trying to decide what we should do, I realized what I wanted most was to simply sit around and do absolutely nothing. After binging on nature for three months I was now ready to binge watch Netflix!
And so we headed back to Christchurch to relax and laze around at my mate’s house. At first I thought I was missing out on Stewart Island. I had been pushing myself the entire hike to go farther and faster to have time for more exploring and now that I’d exceeded my goal I didn’t really feel like hiking anymore. I wondered if I would regret having hiked so fast.
As we relaxed all week in Christchurch, storms battered Southland. Rivers flooded and the Department of Conservation had to close 75 trails in the region and evacuate hikers. The road into Milford Sound was so badly damaged it did not reopen for weeks. TA hikers became stranded in Queenstown and Te Anau as the trails were flooded and the rivers overflowing. Suddenly it became clear that everything happens for a reason.
Perhaps I may not have enjoyed every moment on the TA to the fullest due to my relentless pace. But because I pushed myself, I avoided nearly all the bad weather. I pushed through the Tararuas and Waiau Pass to avoid inclement weather and I pushed on to Bluff and completed the trail before the tracks closed. If I had stayed true to our original schedule of finishing in 98 days, I would have gotten stuck in Queenstown or Te Anau. It felt like everything worked out the way it was supposed to. I told Tom when we began that 98 days was extremely aggressive but here I am having finished in 90 days!
At the time of this writing three weeks have passed since I finished the TA. I am proud of myself for having walked (or paddled) every kilometer and didn’t skip any sections. Would I recommend hiking the TA in this manner to future hikers? Not at all. The Te Araroa is a young trail still trying to figure out what kind of adventure it wishes to present to walkers. From my experience on the TA, I think it is best hiked in sections and not in its entirety. In hind sight I would have rather hitched the road sections but, hey, now I am one of the very few who can actually say I tramped 3,000km across New Zealand! No cheating. But as we hikers like to say, hike your own hike!
Having lived in New Zealand for 1.5 years, the TA was my swan song and it’s time to move on to the next adventure. But first I must make my way home to the USA to visit family and friends whom I’ve missed. I do hope Tom and I will team up again someday for more adventures. We had both talked about tackling the Pacific Crest Trail and I tease that he could earn his triple crown in failed thru-hikes (after he failed to finish the Appalachian Trail and the Te Araroa). Who knows what the future holds!
And if you enjoyed following me along on the TA, be sure to check out my first thru-hike on the Appalachian Trail. Also feel free to peruse some of my other favorite hikes from crossing the Grand Canyon to hiking around Santorini to the world’s second tallest waterfall. Stay tuned for more blogs in the future about my winter living in New Zealand’s Milford Sound and my travels to Samoa!
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