Day 85: Queenstown (0km)
Uneventful day, I expected a huge storm, but all we got was a little bit of rain in town. Nevertheless it looked like heavy rain in the mountains, so staying in town was probably not too bad. I spent most of the day walking through Queenstown, meeting other hikers and watching "Midway" at the local cinema.
Day 86: Mossburn to Lower Wairako Hut (38km) The Country Park in Mossburn was some 3-4km away from town and so I left just past 6:30am to be in town for breakfast. It was once again a pretty rainy morning and my tent was still wet and heavy. Due to it's location on highway 94 - the main highway to Te Anau and Milford Sound - I expected an rather easy hitch to the trailhead, some 30km from Mossburn, but I got proven wrong.
I waited for quite a while close to the end of town, when the rain picked up. It was a miserable start of the day, as quite a few cars were passing me. After more than an hour of futile waiting an elderly lady - living on the other side of the street- crossed the road to bring me two apples. I happily accepted them and thanked her, while she was hurrying back into the dry house. Just before 10am it stopped raining and a van with a young French girl finally stopped and gave me a 20min ride back to the trail. The trail was rather flat and lead through a muddy forest and wetland with high grass. Oftentimes it was hard to spot trailmarkers and hiking wasn't as fast as I had hoped for.
After 6hrs of hiking I had only done 22km and continued on to the Lower Wairaki Hut. For the next 9-10km the trail went through a forest again and my shoes really took a beating here.
I got stuck in roots several times which sliced both of my shoes completely open. At 9pm I finally crossed the Wairaki river and arrived at the empty 4 bunk hut, filtered water, ate and went to bed.
Day 87: Lower Wairaki Hut to Birchwood Station Hut (36km)
In the early morning I tried to repair my shoes as good as possible, but I was already out of duct tape and tried to use Leukotape instead. Unfortunately this didn't last for long and after just a few kilometers the Leukotape was gone. At least it was a rather nice and sunny day and the 400m climb in the morning revealed some epic views.
I than quickly descended to Telford Camp and entered one of New Zealand's biggest farms, Linton Farm. For a total of 25km the trail crosses this farm, where - once again - no camping is allowed. Nevertheless it was still a pleasant and easy hike along the Wairaki river. The most annoying part was probably manoeuvering through all the cow shit.
My GPS was sometimes completely off and I had to rely on the trailmarkers to find my way. The trail has probably been rerouted here several times, a theory which was supported by several trail signs that showed completely different distances for the same trail.
Some 5km before leaving the farm I had to cross a pasture with hundreds of cows, but these cows were some of those who didn't just move away. I approached the first group of 30-40 cows with confidence and a steady pace and they slowly gave way, bit than grouped up just behind me and started following me. The faster I walked, the faster they walked and so I stopped a d turned around, having some cows just 2m behind me. The cows stopped, but as soon as I turned around and started moving again, they also started following me again. So I stopped and turned around again, shooed them away to gain a little bit of distance and hiked on. This game went on for some 15mins and was rather creepy. In the end I had probably 100 cows following me and I was really thinking about jumping the fence to the other "safer" side... At about 5pm I finally left the farm and wanted to hike on for an hour or two, but yet again I faced a 15km "no camping" area. Unwilling to make a steep climb and hike the entire distance, I decided to spend the night at Birchwood Station and slept in Sarah's and Dean's Hut.
Day 88: Birchwood Station Hut to 2901.5 (60km)
The day started with a beautiful sunrise and some farmland on which I got a bit lost.
I ended up walking through a field of cabbage before I reconnected with the trail again. At 8am I had already climbed the first of 3 smaller hills and followed a 4WD road for several kilometers past a radio tower.
The day than remained rather boring and I hiked fast towards Merriview Hut, which I reached around noon. I stopped for lunch and than continued along another gravel road towards the dreaded - and usually extremely muddy - Longwood forest. Just before the Bald Hill Summit the mud got really deep and intense. So far I had been able to jump or simply run over most of the mud, but it got more and more challenging.
Nevertheless I felt pretty good and made good progress. At 3:30pm I was on top of Bald Hill, had already hiked 40km and continued towards the Old Quarry. My goal was now to reach Martin's Hut, another 17km south. I managed another smaller climb of some 280m and followed the trail out of the muddy forest into some even muddier wetland.
Just before reaching the Longwood Trig I saw another two hikers in the far distance. At this time I was quite sure that I wouldn't be able to stay in Martin's Hut, as I knew of another group of 5 hikers, who had left Birchwood a day prior to me, but as I was running low on water, I had to get to the Hut anyways. At about 8:30pm I had finally caught up to the hikers and we arrived at Martin's Hut at the same time, just to find out that all water tanks were empty. That was quite a downer. The trail had been really annoying for the last few kilometers, especially because of knee-deep mud pools and slight rain. In addition to that, I also had hiked some 57km by now and was quite tired. Nevertheless, I was almost out of water and therefore had to move on. The next reliable water-source was some 3-4km further south and so, me and the other hikers continued on. At about 9:30pm I had finally found water and a decent campsite, exactly 60km from where I had started that morning. This achievement was really important to me, as concerns about my daily mileage grew bigger with every day closer to my next adventure. After pitching my tent in a very narrow corner next to the stream I quickly finished my chores and went to bed.
Day 89: 2901.5 to Riverton (37km)
The next morning I slept a little bit longer and even had some hot chocolate - something I usually don't have morning. My main goal for today was Colac Bay, or Riverton another 13km further south. Yet again I was in a dense forest, and even though the elevation profile was totally flat, hiking was slow and strenuous.
At times the trail was perfectly fine and well maintained, like a perfect race track, but than a lot of sections followed that involved climbing over and under trees, walking detours because of fallen trees or landslides, or just simple bushwhacking. It took much longer to make it out of the forest, but I was happy and relieved to leave the mud and the roots behind and to walk several kilometres on a road into Colac Bay, where I had lunch. After lunch I went down to the beach and straight into some really intense winds.
The track along the beach and the cliffs was really beautiful, but for me it was rather hard to appreciate that. The wind was pushing me left and right and I struggled to hike a straight line.
After a rather short day and a total of 37km I decided to stop at the Holiday Park and take shelter in a Caravan. That was probably one of the best decisions on trail, as even the Caravan was shaking from the storm and some 7-8 hours of heavy rain throughout the night.
Day 90: Riverton to Invercargill (33km)
I waited out the rain in the early morning before I hiked into town to buy some snacks.
The plan for today was reaching Invercargill in the afternoon, so yet another rather easy day due to the limited camping options along the way. The trail followed the beach for the first 22km and reminded me very much of 90 Mile Beach, some 3 months ago. I turned on my music, switched my brain off and started hiking along that never ending beach.
Before heading out I hadn't done any particular research on this section and for this day's first estuary it wouldn't have made any difference, but the second estuary of the day actually found me surprised. Upon getting closer I met a northbound hiker who had just crossed the estuary, that guy was quite a bit taller than me and he told me that the water was chest deep. Yay... I therefore dropped my pack, pulled my rain gear out and ensured that all my gear was waterproof before attempting the ford. The wind was still strong and created some higher waves, but fortunately there wasn't much of a current. Halfway into the estuary I had to walk on my tiptoe's as the water was more than chest deep for me and I almost felt I had to swim across, when the water finally got shallower. Upon reaching the other side I didn't stop, but continued reasonably fast to stay warm and dry out quickly.
At 2:30pm I reached the end of the beach and headed towards Otatara, when I realized that both of my shoes had slightly turned red.
I had felt a little bit of pain all day long due to the sand and my broken shoes, but was nevertheless surprised that it actually was blood from my feet, which had turned the shoes red. A quick rinse and some band-aids later I continued my hike and decided to buy new shoes in Invercargill, even though I really wanted to make it to Bluff in these shoes. I would later realize that it was Saturday and all the stores in Invercargill were already closed, when I arrived.
Day 91: Invercargill to Bluff (35km)
The final push! The last few days had been rather unsatisfactory and short, due to the suburban areas and limited camping options. I was therefore looking forward to finishing the trail today. I wanted to get it done and than focus on my next adventure. The last night I had stayed in a hostel in Invercargill which I left at about 7:45am. My plan was to finish those last 34km to Bluff in the early afternoon and than hitch back to Invercargill. I expected an easy and fast hike with no hills or mountains and fast paced roads, or bike trails.
Unfortunately the weather was yet again rather bad and I had to face some 50-70km/h headwinds almost all the way to Bluff. Hiking was really hard. At times I had to use all my weight and lean against the wind, it was hard to breathe and sudden gusts sometimes pushed me on the highway where cars were passing me with 80-100km/h.
It sucked, but I contributed to a grand finale and a few passing cars seemed to understand what I was going to achieve today, as they were honking and giving me thumbs-up. It seemed like the wind was testing my determination of reaching Bluff that day. Some 5km before Bluff the wind stopped and heavy rain set in, but that lasted only for several minutes. At 2pm I arrived at Stirling Point and dropped my pack, when some tourists gave my torn shoes a weird look. I explained what I had just completed and they started congratulating me.
After 20mins at Stirling Point I went to the nearby restaurant to sign the TA-Hiker-book and to check if I would recognise any other names. It turned out that most hikers don't seem to sign that book, as it had almost no entries and so I left and started hiking towards Bluff to catch a ride to Invercargill. Even before getting back to Bluff Stella and her husband stopped their huge Caravan next to me and asked me if I wanted a ride to Invercargill. I was rather puzzled and learned that they had seen me sign that TA-Hiker-book and were therefore interested in my story. It was a lovely 25min ride back to Invercargill with this lovely, elderly couple and they dropped me just in front of the hostel where I would stay yet another night.
This the end. The training is over and I'm now about to face what I've trained for. Am I ready? No idea. The Te Araroa was a nice trail and sometimes physically challenging, but overall rather easy. Especially the abundance of trail towns made it rather a glamping track instead of a real thru-hike. In about 2 weeks the real challenge will beginn. Until than I'll try to relax and prepare for an adventure of epic dimensions.