or … the end…
Saturday 11th of April 2015.
I am awake before my alarm clock goes off at 6.30am. I have breakfast with a slightly knotted stomach. This is it, the last day.
I take everything out of Arno (you know, my pack), and just carry rain gear, warm clothes, camera, food and water for the day. Eef, P-J, Patrick, Johannes and I all meet up in the lobby of the hotel, it’s raining heavily outside. But by the time we step out and walk the streets of Invercargill to get back to the Trail, the sun shyly peaks through and a massive rainbow against a dark sky greets us. The first 11Km of the Trail follow the Estuary walkway, a nice pathway along the New River Estuary. It’s cold. Back in the distance, the Takitimus are covered of snow.
We walk as a group, taking a snack break sitting on the pathway a short distance from where the track meets the road. From there, the Trail takes us on State Highway 1 for almost 16Km. We spread out a bit, not being able to talk to each other as we have to walk in line and watch for traffic. We listen to our music, walking at a good pace, enjoying the views between the numerous showers. As I walk, I go through different emotions, and I must say I have a hard time realizing I am actually walking to Bluff. But the hill getting closer and closer is the undeniable proof that this is really happening.
We stop a couple of times along the road, all of us physically shattered by the pounding of our feet on the asphalt and enduring the strong cold wind. But despite the physical tiredness, our faces a lit with big smiles and our spirits are good.
Finally, the Trail leaves the road and veers right onto the last track. We are now on the final 7.5Km of the Te Araroa. The Foveaux Walkway is a well defined track going around the Bluff Peninsula. It winds its way up paddocks scattered with some beautiful rock outcrops. The wind is very strong down here, the ocean dark and wild. I don’t think I could have imagined better conditions to get to Bluff. It’s wild and powerful. It’s perfect.
I still cannot believe the end is so close. My tiredness is completely gone, my initially sore feet and aching back and legs seem to have gained some sort of new power, I feel like I have wings.
We stop at Lookout Point for one last break. The wind is so strong there it is actually hard to keep balance on our feet. Stewart Island is lost behind a heavy curtain of rain.
From there the track wraps around the peninsula and we are more sheltered from the wind. We are actually now walking Northbound. A few information signs are placed along the track, explaining the birds living here, the islands we can see in the distance, the whaling that used to be practiced here in the past. We stop at each one, reading but not really reading. We just want to make this last few kilometers last a bit longer.
Suddenly, as we round a corner, Stirling Point can be seen in the distance.
We almost hesitate, grins on our faces, we stand there on the path. We are so close… OK, let’s do this …
We walk, or should I say fly, toward the sign, not caring about the cars and tourists there.
Latitude 46°36 min 54 sec
Longitude 168°21 min 26 sec”
says the sign, pointing with many arrows towards worldly destinations.
Our eyes are fixed on the one saying “Cape Reinga 1401 Km”, as the crow fly. We have walked over twice as much.
We touch the sign, hug it, kiss it… We Are Here …
We all give each others big hugs. Eef is in tears, P-J has shiny eyes, Patrick takes it in in silence, Johannes has a big smile on his face. I feel like I want to cry but can’t at first, overwhelmed by too many emotions. Then I walk away a little, and looking at the ocean, the tears come… joy, sadness, tiredness and excitement …
We then all sit on the bench facing the sign, half stunned by the intensity of the moment. We made it. There is no more Trail to walk. We sit in silence, watching the sign, the ocean. Some tourists ask us what we have just done, and we laugh as we realize they have absolutely no idea of how much this place means to us.
I stand up, hug the sign one last time, and yell as hard as I can “We are Here!!!” “We made It!” and turn to the others with a grin on my face.
I will always remember the look in their eyes at that moment, Eef, P-J and Patrick, these beautiful people I have shared this incredible moment with.
I have a very fond thought to all the other Te Araroa Hikers I have met along the way, who became good friends, and who have made it in the past few weeks, or will make it in the future.
We have walked the length of New Zealand.
We have walked TE ARAROA