Day 146 to 148 – Spoiler alert… We made it to Bluff!
Monday 11 March – Wednesday 13 March
Colac Bay to Bluff
Day: 146 – 148
Cumulative km’s: 2,996km / 2,996km
It doesn’t feel real that we are only 3 days away from the end of this amazing adventure.
Less than 5 months ago we arrived at Cape Reinga at the top of New Zealand’s North Island, fresh-faced and hopeful, but with no idea what lay ahead or whether we would even make it all the way to Bluff. Back then, it was hard to comprehend that it was even possible to travel the length of a country by foot – yet here we are, only a stone’s throw away from the bottom of New Zealand. Go us!
Before we get too far ahead of ourselves though, we still have a couple of tough days ahead to actually reach the official end of the trail at Stirling Point, Bluff. In particular, we had heard from other hikers that the stretch of road walking from Invercargill to Bluff would be especially demoralising, with the space between hiker and semi trailers travelling at 100km/hr being next to nothing.
Day 146 – Monday 11 March, 12km
Colac Bay to Riverton
Today was supposed to be a short, easy day. So, in typical TA style, it ended up being neither of those things.
With only 12km of mostly beach walking between Colac Bay and Riverton, we had planned to arrive into Riverton by lunchtime and enjoy the afternoon off. The plan was that this would help our feet and legs get ready for the next two days as we would need to walk 30km+ each day.
The day started in spectacular fashion – getting away from Colac Bay just as the sun started to rise, we were greeted by an empty beach and stunning colours as far as the eye could see.
The sand was firm underfoot to begin with and we made good progress (apart from stopping every few steps to take another photo), but it wasn’t long before the sand changed into small pebbles and our frustration rose as our feet sunk into the loose pebbles with every step.
With my shoes now sporting a large hole on the sides of both feet, I pre-emptively ditched my shoes in favour of walking barefoot, hoping to protect my shoes from further punishment as they still had to last another two days to get me to Bluff. It wasn’t long before it became clear that barefoot walking wasn’t a good idea either, with the friction on the bottoms of my feet rising to the point where I had to resort to wearing my crocs.
Despite best efforts, my crocs quickly filled with pebbles as I walked, making for an uncomfortable and unexpected massage on the soles of my feet. This made for slow going as I stopped to empty the pebbles out every few metres. By this stage, Leigh had also given up on her shoes, opting to walk in a stylish combo of socks and zeros instead, as the slope of the beach often had us walking in the water.
It wasn’t until we eventually reached the end of the beach, when Leigh went to put her shoes on that she realised one of her shoes had fallen off her pack somewhere back on the beach. Retracing her steps for 500m or so, the rogue shoe was luckily located and we were able to continue.
We were now only a handful of km’s from Riverton and we thought that it would be a cruisy walk to our accommodation for the night. As we left the beach, the trail climbed over the headland, through private property which appeared to be some kind of deer farm.
Pretty soon it became clear that this section of the trail was not going to be the cakewalk we had anticipated. Markers were few and far between and the myriad of foot tracks leading through the property would lead to a frustrating afternoon. Luckily the beachside scenery was nice!
Some highlights of our struggle on this section included taking a wrong turn and having to climb a locked 6ft high deer fence to get back on the trail, as well as following one part of the track through dense coastal shrub only for the trail to lead directly into a muddy mess when we could have just as easily continued to walk along the nearby sand. Leigh was particularly pleased with this unnecessary mud encounter.
The last part of day was nice though, climbing a well graded rainforest track up to a lookout where we took in the views back to Colac Bay and Longwood Forest as well as towards Riverton.
We finally arrived at Riverton Holiday Park about half an hour later and took the opportunity to dry out our soggy tent fly on account of the early morning start. Tonight we decided to splash out on a retro caravan rather than slumming it in the tent again.
Day 147 – Tuesday 12 March, 33km
Riverton to Invercargill
With a big day ahead of us, we were up before sunrise in an effort to get away as early as possible. Unfortunately, we soon discovered that the holiday park kitchen was closed until 7am, which meant we wouldn’t be going anywhere in the short term as we’d left our breakfast in the camp fridge.
Once the kitchen opened and with our bellies now full, we finally hit the trail and headed for the thriving metropolis of Invercargill. With the morning off to a slower start than expected, we made the most of the later start, taking in the amazing reflections on the water of Riverton harbour.
Peeling ourselves away from the harbour, we crossed a bridge and followed the trail towards the beach. A bit of bush bashing later, we reached Oreti Beach proper and started on the 20km+ section of beach walking that would take us most of the way to Invercargill.
Thankfully, the sand on this section of beach turned out to be a tad firmer than yesterday, which made better for walking. Other than the birds and the odd TA hiker, we had the beach to ourselves.
After starting on 100 Mile Beach in Northland back in October, it was a nice touch to be able to return to the beach for one final stretch on our way to Bluff. It was a gentle reminder of how far we have come on this crazy journey.
It was surprisingly easy to get back into the zone for beach walking. The beach came and went without any real fuss or issue. Leaving the beach, we stopped at a bench in a nearby carpark for some lunch, and were joined by Nick and Abby shortly after, followed by a bunch of other TA hikers.
While the morning’s beach walking was fairly uneventful, the last 9km of trail/road wasn’t overly fun. I would have happily traded it for more beach walking.
As we got closer to Invercargill and the roads got busier, we were grateful for the assortment of gravel footpaths and road shoulders that we were able to use to put some space between us and the cars.
It had been a while since we had a solid chunk of road walking, and I’d forgotten how much it doesn’t agree with my feet. Not long after we hit the concrete footpaths, my feet began to ache and I started to have flashbacks to the North Island.
I hadn’t had a blister in months but bizarrely I could now feel a blister forming under my left foot. I thought back to my decision to walk barefoot on Colac Bay beach, and started to regret it. The scenery of earlier in the morning was nowhere to be seen, as we trudged through suburbia. By the time we finally reached the turnoff of the trail into Invercargill, my feet were wrecked and there were still another 2km to walk through the city to get to our accommodation for the night.
Leigh headed off in search of a supermarket and a healthy dinner, while I hobbled directly to the highly recommended Southern Comfort Backpackers on the other side of town, opting for a Macca’s run later in the evening once my feet had recovered a bit from the punishing re-introduction to roadwalking.
Tommorow, we will reach Bluff – we’re not ready for this adventure to end!
Day 148 – Wednesday 13 March, 33km
Invercargill to Bluff
We awoke to a weather forecast of rain later in the day. Experience tells us that rain + road walking = frustration, but today is our last day on the trail so we’ll just have to suck it up. As much as I would have loved to end the trail on a beautiful sunny day, it wouldn’t be the TA if everything went exactly to plan. Finishing the trail in the rain feels pretty apt in that respect.
We managed to get a few hours of passable weather to start the day off – which allowed us to retrace our steps through Invercargill back to the official trail. Once back on the trail, we followed a cyclepath around the edge of a nearby estuary, stopping from time to time to chat with friendly locals and other TA hikers. One local in particular was a strong advocate for trying some of the famous Bluff oysters once we finished the trail. Apparently they were much better than “those rubbish oysters you get in Sydney”. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that neither of us eat seafood.
The clouds started to gather and it became pretty clear that the weatherman was right – we were definitely going to get a wet tail. We donned our rain gear just as we reached the end of the footpath, the heavens started to open and we ate our lunch in the rain.
This would be our last respite from the road – about 15km of highway walking stood between us and Bluff. We reluctantly headed to the road, and were met with relentless rain and wind, topped off by an endless parade of cars and trucks whizzing by within a metre or two of us.
Before long my foot pain was back and my walking pace started to slow. I couldn’t keep up with Leigh but I knew I would get there eventually and my feet wouldn’t let me go any faster even if I wanted to.
As we got closer to Bluff it was a pleasant surprise to get the odd wave or horn toot from passing motorists, congratulating us on being so close to our goal of reaching Bluff. It gave us the boost that we needed to make the final push.
I was grateful to finally reach the iconic Bluff sign, where we stopped for a few photos and to rest our aching feet. Only 5km to go now until we would reach Stirling Point. By this time, the rain had thankfully stopped for a moment and we were out of the wind. We continued on the footpath through the quirky town of Bluff, towards Stirling Point.
Climbing the last small hill before Stirling Point, we spotted fellow TA hikers Nick and Abby who gave us a cheer as we completed our final few steps.
After sharing our congratulations with Nick and Abby, we headed over to the famous Bluff monument to take a few photos.
It was a strange feeling reaching the Bluff monument. You think it’s going to be this overwhelming moment that is the culmination of everything that you’ve been through since leaving Cape Reinga in Northland, but it was more a feeling of relief for me than anything else. That we had been able to achieve what we had set out to achieve and that we could now take it easy. Still, it will be a weird feeling getting up in the morning tomorrow and not having to walk 20-30km, as this routine has become so normal to us now.
Once we were finished taking photos at the monument, we stopped off at the restaurant opposite the monument to sign the TA guestbook. Upon entering the restaurant we were greeted by more applause by some fellow hikers who had finished earlier in the day. After chatting briefly, we signed the guestbook and stayed for a celebratory drink, delaying the inevitable 2km walk back to our hostel for the night, Bluff Lodge.
Luckily we had the foresight to pre-book our accommodation over a week ago, so we were able to reserve the only king bedroom in the entire place. We spent the evening sitting around the hostel sharing stories and laughs with a bunch of fellow TA hikers. I couldn’t think of a better way to end this amazing adventure.
With our Te Araroa journey now over, we will take some time to travel around other parts of New Zealand as normal tourists before flying home to Australia.
We have been talking a bit between ourselves in the lead up to reaching Bluff about what come next for us. Doing this trail has opened our eyes to a different way of living – really prioritising adventure and new experiences as much as possible. There’s just so many options out there though and not enough time to see it all.
One thing is for sure… we will keep you posted on whatever adventures we decide to chase, whether they be big or small.
Finally, we are planning on pulling together a more comprehensive TA debrief blog at some point that other hikers can use as a resource. The goal will be to share some more detailed thoughts about the TA experience from the perspective of first time long distance hikers, to run through some basic reviews of our TA gear choices and talk about some of the key lessons we took away from the trail.
If you are planning on hiking the TA in the future and you have any questions, feel free to hit us up either here or on Instagram.
That’s all for now – thank you to everyone who has followed our TA journey! It has been a blast and we hope you all were at least midly entertained by our written ramblings. Until next time…