Distance traveled today: 34 km, plus 2km from hotel
Total TA distance covered: 3008 km.
The finish line.
Sleep did not come easily last night. It was one of those restless nights you have where the mind continually wanders, thoughts popping in and out. Remembering the trail for all its good bits and bad; the people I’ve met; moments of bliss and pain; and the realisation that this journey is coming to an end shortly. Looking ahead to what is next and thinking through the transition from life as a nomad back to my life in Oz. I got to sleep at some point because my alarm woke me early, signalling to get up and moving. Te Araroa wasn’t over just yet. There was another 34km to complete.
I left a sleeping Jacinta and the hotel before day break, making my way into town to find some breakfast and a coffee. I had an extra couple of kilometers to reach the trail head than the rest of the crew who were more centrally located. I didn’t know if I’d be leaving before or after them and was super keen to meet up along the route. Finishing at Bluff together was always on the cards but it depended on regrouping along the way. By leaving early, my thoughts were I would be able to see anyone in front along the wetland walks or highway; and if not, it would be easy to sit put and wait for them to catch me.
Reaching the trail head, I started along the estuary wetlands walk for the first 10.5 kilometres of the day. No-one was around. The walking was flat, easy and fast but a little boring. Only a kilometer in I reached a trail junction with masses of flagging tape and council signs stating that this section of the trail was closed. Surely not. We’ve come all this way and the last section of trail is closed. This can’t be. Ignoring the signs I continued on. If the trail was in fact damaged beyond repair the only option would be to cut inland and walk all the way to Bluff on roads. But it turned out OK. There had been some storms and high tides that had washed debris onto the path but nothing to prevent walking through. Along the way more tape and closure signs were encountered but nothing to prevent further progress along the track.
Long stretches of the estuary walk were on levy banks, standing tall above the surrounding area and offering good views ahead and back. I still couldn’t see any other trampers and continued on. Nearing the end of the estuary walk I spied a solo tramper back about a kilometer. So on reaching the end of this section to where TA exits onto roads I stopped, refueled and waited.
It was Celsitino. He had spent the night at a home stay and had the same thoughts as me in leaving early to ensure we could regroup for the final push to Bluff. While enjoying a snack and a drink, the rest of the crew started to appear and join us on the railway track, Tom, Bella, Mat & Rune. Not far behind Solenne and Anotine and a few minutes later POD and Disco. It was definitely going to be a mass finish at Bluff today. I was thrilled and looking forward to finishing with others who had been on the same journey and who could truly understand the significance of reaching the sign at Bluff. Although walking solo for much of Te Araroa and happy in my own company, finishing by myself would have been bit hollow. Jacinta will be meeting me at the end in Bluff and has a great appreciation of this trip but ending with other trampers, particularly those who I met early in the piece and those I’ve connected to over the last few weeks will be extra special.
The atmosphere at the railway line was palpable. Excited smiles all around. We had one last 16km road section to complete to reach Bluff and a final 8 kilometres of trail to reach the end at Stirling Point. No-one was looking forward to walking on the road but everyone was keen to get this done and reach the end. And so we ventured out onto the road, a motley crew of 10 from across the globe.
Walking on the road was fast. Made faster by the eagerness of everyone to finish. Being a Sunday, the traffic wasn’t too bad. A few trucks but mostly cars. Many local cars, acknowledging our monumental trip and signalling they knew where we were headed and why, hooting their horns as they passed. We got split up along the road at several points with different walking speeds but intermittently stopped for breaks and to regroup along the way.
For me the road section couldn’t be completed quick enough. It was long, boring and hard on the feet. Not the most exciting way to complete Te Araroa but the trail is what it is at the moment. I know the local council has been looking at ways to get this section off the roads and provide a more appropriate trail finish for TA trampers. I guess it’s a matter of watch this space for the future.
A welcome sight indeed was the town sign for Bluff. A few of the crew had reached it already and I just about ran on seeing it. This also marked the 3000km mark on Te Araroa. 3000km! Starting the trail 4 months ago, 3000km seemed so far away and was put to the back on the mind, only ever focusing on a few days to a week at a time. To have reached this marker was awesome.
Talk about timing. Just as everyone had regrouped at the Bluff sign, Jacinta drove past, turned around and joined us, to finally met these trampers I’ve been writing about for months and to take group photos. Only 8 more kilometers to go. Jacinta would drive to the end, start walking up the track, meet us along the way and share the big finish with me. It has worked out so well that she could get the time off work and travel across the ditch to be there for the big finale. Virgile, another TA tramper who the other guys knew, and who finished the trail yesterday also happened to be walking by and greeted everyone, staying for our groupie photo.
We hit the trail towards the end. The final kilometers were quick. You could feel the excitement pervading the air around us. The focus most definitely on the end point now. Walking along the coast for a few kilometers the trail crossed one last stile to join onto a graveled walking track to Stirling Point. From here, the trail was wheel chair accessible and we knew the end was neigh. We got within 1 km of the end and stopped one last time to wait for everyone to regroup and end this as a group. Jacinta came up the track to met us bringing much needed provisions – a nice cold beer.
With everyone together we hit the trail almost running. Around a corner or two, there it was. The sign post marking the end now in sight. There were a stack of tourists around as we arrived but as we counted down 3, 2, 1 to sprint to the end, we soon muscled them out the way in our celebrations. We had done it.
4 months. 124 days. 3008 km walked, paddled and ridden from Cape Reinga at the tip of the north island to Bluff at the bottom of the south island. Te Araroa complete!!!
For a final few paragraphs I’ve borrowed heavily from Colin Arisman. We hug each other and kiss the sign. Champagne is sprayed and a round of beers clash to the shouts of cheers. Initial hollering petering out, we fall silent. The journey is done and we don’t really know what to say, what to think or what to do. There is no great realisation, no epiphany, no feeling of bliss. These moments rested in the life of the journey itself, not in its ending.
Throughout this journey I met some of the most unique, determined, intelligent, kindly people I have ever known and made some of the most unlikely friends. I tramped, paddled and rode with Germans, Americans, French, Brits, Danes, Swiss and Kiwi’s. We laughed, we danced, swore, sweated, shared huts and hitches, muddy, wet and cold, but mostly we just walked. Complete strangers offered countless random acts of kindness, rides, meals, beers and places to stay. I wore my shoes until they fell apart. And then wore through 2 more pairs. I felt exhausted and crazy at times but never once did I wake up and think I don’t want to do this anymore. I dropped out of society during one of the longest summers of my life. I performed a feat without any concrete value that most people can’t seem to grasp. Somehow each day I fell more in love with the wild, with the journey, with humanity. And people must have seen this in me. For if they couldn’t understand what drove me, they saw the grin on my face, that neither pain, nor rain, or mud could seem to wipe away.
Thanks for following this crazy adventure with me. I have a few more posts to wrap up Te Araroa and am hoping to get some video up on YouTube over the coming weeks.