Riverton(1822.5)-Invercargill Estuary Walkway(1845.5)
Campsite Elevation: 10ft/3m
It was an awesome night of sleep and we slept in a bit to start around 7:45am. We knew we had a pretty relaxed day ahead with about 4.5hrs of beach walking to a restaurant for lunch. Walking the Oreti Beach Track is fittingly similar to how this trail began back on Ninety Mile Beach 118 days ago. It was wonderfully overcast (I love overcast skies) with no wind and a perfect temperature. The sand was compact as the tide was heading out, so it was a complete cruise and allowed time to really reflect and relax. Just as we started out, we saw two hikers pop out onto the beach ahead of us. It was Josephine and a man named Min who was also completing the TA tomorrow. They both had stayed at the hostel in town last night. It was really fun to have the company to start off the day.
I was happy to get this time with Josephine. Although we’ve overlapped the last three days, the difficult terrain hasn’t allowed for us to converse as much as we would have liked, and we are different paces on the harder terrain. On the beach, it was great to get to talk in depth and reflect on this experience with one another while walking side by side. I learned that Josephine is also dealing with the same heat rash fun on the top of her feet that I have, so there’s the whole misery loves company thing happening there. I do have to say that one of the more unique things about the TA is how often you get to walk next to people you hike with rather than in front or behind them. It’s a subtle, but substantial difference that I’ve really enjoyed on the TA.
It was also fun to get time to talk to Min. He’s section hiked the TA over the past three summers, and did the whole South Island this summer in one stretch. He’s a total workhorse that seems to always keep busy. Originally from South Korea, he’s been a city bus driver in Auckland for the past eight years. We will finish the trail on a Friday tomorrow, he will be home Saturday for a big celebratory party with friends and family, he will play golf on Sunday, and then Min will be up and back at work at 5am on Monday. He works often 6 days a week driving the bus, and is now saving up to hike the full PCT in a few years for his 60th birthday. Awesome!The second half of the morning, we all spread out a bit along the beach and got time to reflect on our own. Especially since this is a first full hike for Min and Josephine, it was great for them to get that time. I will be writing more about my thoughts the few days after the hike when I’m with my laptop and can write more than just on my iPhone. I feel like I’ve been quite transparent about my experiences on this hike, so most know how I feel.
Every thru-hike is special in its own way, and this one is definitely another significant chapter in my life. Many have questioned why I stuck with this one or what the value is of hiking the TA when it’s not as developed or maintained as many of the others I’ve hiked. I need to remind everyone that thru-hikes aren’t solely about the physical trail and scenery. A long trail is basically a setting for a much more personal journey for each individual out here. Some are more open to that aspect of the hike than others, but there’s no denying that a thru-hike is an impactful life changing experience for everyone that is fortunate enough to do one.
Anyone that is a long time follower of this blog knows that I value that personal journey aspect of thru-hiking just as much, if not more than the physical trail itself. This particular hike was far less about the physical trail for me, and was more about the shared personal journeys that make thru-hiking so unique. I’ve done my best to weave these small interactions into the daily journals to give a real feel to the community and bonds along every long trail. Those of you that have followed my hiking for years don’t need me to tell you that this one was special in its own way. You all have been there, have seen the evolution of all this, and have gone through it all with me. There’s still one day left, and I know tomorrow will be more hectic, so I’m putting some of these thoughts down now. More will come in the days following the hike, but I’m saying what all of you already know. Yeah, this hike doesn’t rank high for me in some of the more obvious categories on paper, but it’s still a thru-hike that will forever be special to me in much more abstract ways.
So with that, I’ll continue with this day. We all completed the beach walk and walked a bit on a road to get to lunch at the AWESOME Cabbage Tree Restaurant just down the road from Oreti Beach. It was a bit pricey, but well worth it, and we were all in a celebratory mood. Just this morning I was talking to Josephine about how in NZ there isn’t salad with a meal. If you want salad, you have to order it, and it’s quite pricey. Magically, for the first time in four months, the salad was included WITH the meal! It was heavenly! Also, it’s darn near impossible to find turkey in NZ. There was an open faced turkey meal on a big ol thick piece of bread drenched in gravy with cranberry sauce. Both Griggs and I jumped at the chance to have that! Plus, REAL milkshakes with actual ice cream. Again, something that’s near impossible to find outside a fast food chain out here. It was AMAZING! We were so full when we left. It was so worth it.
The next couple hours were a highway road walk. There was plenty of space to walk along the side at times on a sidewalk, so it wasn’t bad. I even got two episodes of Stranger Things watched. One of them I had started at the end of the beach walk. I know that sounds terrible, but I need something to pass the time after four months. I almost gave up on Stranger Things, but that third episode ended pretty well and has me interested in the fourth. I totally blanked and forgot to get a photo of the road walk, but I am guessing you can use your imagination on that one.
Both Josephine and Min went into Invercargill for the night to stay at a hostel. The way things are spaced these last two nights, many hikers stay in Riverton last night and then Invercargill the night before finishing. It makes for around a 21mi/34km day to Bluff. We chose to hike on another 4mi/6km for two reasons. One is that it feels weird to not be in my tent in some kind of wilderness the last night of a thru-hike. We will be back in Invercargill tomorrow night after we finish, so it would have really felt odd to stay there, pack up everything, and then walk with it all for a day just to return back to the same place tomorrow night. The other reason is that rain is expected tomorrow afternoon. We hiked as far as we could get on the Invercargill Estuary Walkway/Bikeway before camping options disappeared.
We found a great spot that wasn’t marshy in a small clump of trees that we were able to squeeze into. The wind has picked up, and I love that I can hear it, but we are totally protected in our little tree cave. We ended at 5pm, and had plenty of time to relax on this final night, so that’s why I reflected a bit early. I know tomorrow and the next day will be more hectic with less time to reflect. Let’s hope for a dry finish tomorrow!