Distance traveled today: 32 km, plus 2 to hotel
Total TA distance covered: 2974 km
Hi my name is Mick. I like long walks on the beach….
The vast majority of walking today was along the beach from Riverton towards the road access onto the beach near Invercargill. I departed early this morning to match the outgoing tide. With 22 kilometers of sand walking I wanted to make it as easy as possible by improving the chances of finding firm sand in low tide conditions. In addition, half way along the beach was the final river crossing of Te Araroa. This can be hip deep on high tide, so getting as many k’s in as possible, in the cool of the morning and getting across the river was priority number one.
It was a short walk from town to the estuary. The first rays of sun glistening off the wet shells and rocks freshly exposed with the outgoing tide. The estuary waters were flat, reflecting brilliant reds and oranges and throwing light onto the bows of moored boats. As I walked on the firm sand along the estuary towards the ocean I saw that the tide was matching my walking pace as the waters sped out to sea.
On reaching the beach, the sun was over the horizon and continued the light display. Groups of birds hung about in the shallows, feeding happily as the receding waters exposed food. It was another cool morning. Mist rose off the calm waves, filling the air with eerie swirls. The shallow curve of the beach spilled out in front pointing the way for the next 22 kilometers. It was great to find the sand firm underfoot. This would make the walking much easier today.
I rambled along the beach for around 2.5 hours, moving through the mornings flotsam washed in on the high tide. Numerous small shells, lots of mussels and rocks with seaweed attached, big sheets of kelp, driftwood and pink weed littered the beach. I found half a crayfish as well. Whole, it would have been massive.
Half way along the beach I reached the final river crossing. It was well low tide and it was great to find a shallow crossing. My feet were dry and I planned to keep them that way so took off shoes and socks. Regardless, wet feet and sand don’t mix in shoes and they would have come off anyway. The crossing was just over ankle depth. I spied a nice drift wood log up ahead and stopped to have a nice long break, to dry my feet, have a snack and take on some water.
After a good 20 minute break I noticed 4 more figures heading up the beach and towards the river crossing. I knew it would be some of the guys I’ve been walking with over the last couple of days and hung about for them to get over the river and join me. Sure enough, it was Celistino, Mat, Bella and Rune. They came over to where I was and had a break as well.
We all continued up the beach towards Invercargill, another 10 kilometers to go to the road exit point. Vehicles can access and drive down the beach from the road to the creek I’d just crossed. Quite a few young blokes were out on their motorbikes trying, but failing, to replicate Burt Munro’s fastest indian speed record. Burt was from Invercargill and a local legend, and used this very beach. Motorbikes raced up and down the hard packed beach.
Further along I could pick that the end of the beach was approaching when a stack of vehicles could been seen shimmering in the suns heat way ahead. Getting closer the vehicles came into sharper focus and I found the road exit. The other guys were in front but turning off the road I lost them. They had exited to the Surf Club for lunch but I couldn’t see them and continued on, finding a shady spot under a tree on a side road.
With lunch in I continued towards Invercargill, another 7 kilometers on. I thought this might be a road walking section the whole way but was pleasantly surprised. Initially it was walking on the road, sharing a lane with bikes, but it turned into a dedicated off road cycle/walking trail separated from the road. Walking for 45mins I started to pass shops. On finding a cafe I stopped for a coffee. While in the shop or while looking at my ipad I must have missed the other guys walking past. I started towards town again but only got 10 meters past the cafe before a chorus of wolf whistling began and I saw the crew sitting out front of the dairy next door enjoying a drink break. Obviously I joined them and we all made our way into town.
On roads now, no more forest, no more beach; and heading towards the end at Bluff the realisation that this amazing journey would be over tomorrow began to sink in for everyone. The main conversation themes were recalling our favorite sections of Te Araroa, trials, tribulations and funny moments. Talk also continued to turn towards what was next for everyone. Returning home, impending work engagements; shorter walking trips and extended biking tours; our immediate futures all different. Work related emails and phone calls have started to come in for a few of us, confirming return to work dates and immediate priorities already. A few people I’m traveling with have quit their jobs and sold up everything but it seems way too early to pick up the pieces and reestablish themselves in the 9 to 5 just yet. Others will continue to travel and work in New Zealand. Changing pace and integrating back into a ‘normal life’ will be challenging and I’m not looking forward to it, no-one is. I would like to put down the anvil and get off the bandwagon but not sure how. There must be a way to make the way we have been living for these past 4 months into that normal life. Rune, the crazy Dane, will immediately start cycling from Bluff back to Cape Reinga on a bike he has purchased and will have delivered to Bluff tomorrow.
It was walking towards town and chatting the whole way with others that it dawned on me, that I’ve missed the company of others on my solo journey through New Zealand. Don’t get me wrong. I have loved walking solo and have no regrets tackling everything on the trail one up and I love the uncompromising nature of walking alone; taking breaks when I want, walking at what ever speed I wanted to etc… But it has been great catching up with others at campsites or huts; with the last week or so being a real highlight in being able to share the company of other like minded souls. Reflecting on this, one aspect of this tramp I would have liked to have done more of is share in walking and talking with others. Next time perhaps.
Walking and talking the last 7km into town flew by. The walk itself was boring with typical outer suburb views along the road. It was great to make it into town. One more day to go. Bluff here we come!!