WHERE: Queenstown to Bluff – South Island, New Zealand
WHEN: April, 2017
WHO: Karma
OBJECTIVE: Te Araroa thru-hike
DISTANCE: 2676.2 – 2998 km

Woooot! I am done!!! I actually walked all of New Zealand, an entire country, by foot …and bike and canoe for a bit!

Te Araroa has been an incredible 3000km long journey of perseverance, determination, and bliss… through awe-inspiring mountains, magical forests, tranquil farmlands, amazing kiwi hospitality, new friends… lined with blood, mud, sweat and tears… and some more mud… culminating in a wonderful sense of awareness and personal growth. I know who I am now (pretty badass) and I can do anything!

Alright… time to summarize the final stage of the trail

Leaving Queenstown meant a two-hour bus ride around Lake Wakatipu hazard zone up to the Greenstone trailhead. Pretty mellow gradient for this first section and it was nice to just walk for a few days after all that climbing! This is also where the trail leaves Otago and enters Southland for the last few hundred kilometers before running out of land.

The trail meanders through a huge river valley with man-sized tussock grass in places making the trail stakes near impossible to spot and the “trail” very hard to follow. I fell into random sinkholes on more than one occasion because I could not see where I put my feet! Beautiful landscape, but I am really not very fond of tussock, and judging from the comments in the hut books I am not alone. The hut books are also full of comments about Bluff… I guess people are starting to feel the end and ready to get there. Hard to wrap my head around how close it is now!

I have had these last few huts on the trail all to myself. In fact, I really did not meet anyone the last week or so, no trampers, only a few hunters.

After the tussock mountains, the trail follows the beautiful Mavora Lakes. The crappy weather they had forecasted has not materialized yet and I am hoping to get through the mountains before the next cyclone (Cook) hits. Coooold mornings though. Frost on the ground pretty much every day now. I hitched into Te Anau, a small town about 30km off trail, for a resupply mid-stage. Nice not carrying so much food whenever possible. Pretty easy hitch despite the desolate country roads.

The next section, a muddy slog through Takitimu, Woodlaw- and Longwood Forests, started with a pretty arduous climb up to a staked “track” throughman-sizedd tussock bogs intermingled with insanely muddy Beech forest tracks and a few sketchy sidles thrown in for good measure. Lovely! Can’t say that I have missed the mud… North Island flashbacks big time!

Some of the track routes through here were just stupid. Obviously put in to avoid some private land someplace, but a bit anticlimactic after all the amazing vistas the South Island have dished out… oh well… I guess I should not be greedy, the south had been mind blowingly beautiful after all! I can take it! From Bald Hill I got my first views of Bluff in the far distance! Hit me like a brick… sat and just looked at it for a long time, making sure it was really real!!!

Cyclone Cook finally caught up to me and my last 24 hours in the forest were WET! It rained so much the forestry road I was camped next to turned into a river over night. The trail was in pretty sorry shape too… being really muddy before all this… Despite being soaked through and really cold I suppose it could have been a lot worse and I was in good spirits, singing like a mad person in the rain, jumping into puddles at every chance, haha. I finally made it out into civilization again and found a hostel with a nice warm fire to warm up to and dry gear.

Oreti Beach, a 23km walk along the water, plus a long road section into Invercargill awaited next… North Island and 90-mile beach flashbacks all over again! Then a really looong 30+km road walk out to the southern terminus of the trail in Bluff. Oh the catharsis of beach, road and mud the last few days… the trail coming to full circle at the very end.

I felt a bit melancholy this close to the end… I got to the sign post at Sterling Point and just stood there looking at it for a looong time. So there it was… so finite… and so… anticlimactic. I felt mostly empty and really, really lost. But at least the rain had stopped.

Then I snapped out of it and took a whole bunch of silly photos with the stupid sign. Half an hour later Matt, an Aussie tramper I had met on the trail yesterday, also walked up and finished. So we celebrated together – with sparkling apple juice. The irony of finishing the trail on easter weekend… apparently they cannot legally sell alcohol here on good Friday! WTF!? I wanted to get a bottle of bubbly to celebrate the end of 135 days of walking, but alas… So proper celebration had to wait until tomorrow. No big deal really, I would not mind crawling into bed and sleep for a week!

On the way back to the quirky little hostel in Bluff I realized that for the first time in 4.5 months these steps were off the clock… the km did not count… I was done!!! Then it started to sink in. I had really, really done it! What had seemed so far off and overwhelmingly huge an achievement when I had started back in December was now complete. I actually walked an entire country! It goes to prove that nothing is impossible if you set your mind to it. Just keep going – one step at a time!

I also met some amazing people along the way who made this into the unforgettable adventure that it has been. You know who you are, THANK YOU!!

Te Araroa has changed me to the core, and I am so grateful! I am stronger, happier and more alive than ever!

That’s a wrap.