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We ain't Bluffin- We're in BLUFF!

Officially finished the trail on Jan 19th! We're a bit slow on the uploading...

1/19 The air felt humid around the tent and we experiences the usual moment of anticipation as we opened the rain fly and were met with another grey day. But our spirits were high as today, we would finish the trail. We walked briskly from our secluded beachside campsite and slowly into civilization. It was a long, mostly straight road walk into the industrial outskirts of Invercargill and our hopes of finding a coffee shop came up empty. We did stop at the grocery to grab what would be a celebratory bottle of wine at the end of our 42 km day. The trail simply touches the main city before diverting on an estuary walk through swampland for another 10 km's. The skies spit down mist, but held off rain- leaving us thankful at the mere state of being mostly dry. Unfortunately, we had a 16 km highway walk ahead and it proved to be one of the worst sections of trail. Skirting a small shoulder, we were passed by nearly a hundred 18 wheelers hauling logs and fertilizer. Caught in the wake of their speed, gusts of wind continually knocked us backward and shot dust into our eyes as we pushed on down the road. We left the highway briefly for lunch and chatted about how demoralizing it must be for North Bounders to encounter this walk during their first day on the trail. At least we had the glimmer of completion for keep us going. As Bluff grew closer, so did our excitement and finally we reached a rusty sign reading "BLUFF" in large metal letters, a perfect homage to the industrial and weathered feel of the city itself. Here, we alas left the highway and began our final 7 km's on a trail that circles the conic end of New Zealand. As we rounded the bluffs of Bluff and began our walk down the Fauevoux walkway, we found ourselves asking how many and how much? How many summits? How sweat? How many days of rain? How many sandfly bites? How many jars of Nutella, bags of marshmallows and cups of granola? How many bruises? How much sunscreen? How many scrapes and how many smiles? How many new acquaintances? How many rivers and streams crossed? While these numbers remain incalculable now, their summation is what has given this journey its value. When we rounded the final corner of Bluff and caught a glimpse of the lighthouse and sign post marking the end of our journey it seemed as if we were moving in slow motion. Neither wanted to push too hard to get there, nor stop short of such a monumental goal. We held hands and walked triumphantly toward the signpost, slinging our bodies around it in an embrace. Covered in mud and held together by duct tape, we sat and enjoyed a swig of wine we'd hiked out. For a moment everything stood still. Then another couple questioned our purpose and were overtaken by the accomplishment. They insisted we share a bottle of champagne they had in their RV and we gratefully acquiesced. We chatted trail and got easily tipsy in our exhaustion. After bidding these unexpected trail angels adieu, another couple rolled up in a model Chevy. They insisted they drive us down to find accommodations for the evening and the Fauevoux hotel fit the bill perfectly. We settled in and grabbed a healthy portion of fish and chips for dinner. The perfect end to the long pathway, Te Araroa.

1/18 Now that our days on the trail are winding down, each morning seems to linger longer, as if we are trying to hold on before the dawn breaks. We awoke to a spectacular sunrise over the ocean, with the distant hills south of Invercargill silhouetted against the horizon, beckoning us on. Our tramp started east along a pebble beach, leaving the sleepy village of Colac Bay behind and winding along the coast through pastureland and overgrown vegetation that hid numerous small coves. The skies grayed over, but in spite on this we had good views towards our ultimate destination as we climbed a small hill clad in native bush that overlooked the twin towns or Aparima and Riverton. They are separate by a small river, and once again we felt like we were in one of the Far North's seaside towns, bringing us full circle. We crossed in to do some light shopping and treated ourselves to coffee, being in good spirits as everyone was congratulating us for finishing the trail; obviously we still had some way to go, and hiker superstition kept us from getting too giddy. We reluctantly left town and once again hit the beach, both grateful and saddened by the dreary skies as we trekked along the long arm of curving sand towards the city to the southeast. Along the way we past a solo Kiwi northbounder who commented on the section's length, but given our experiences the 22K of coastline was no big challenge. We walked along in contemplative silence as the hills at the far end of the beach seemed to recede and disappear behind a curtain of sea spray and fog, obscuring our goal. After a small estuary crossing, we began to see more signs of life as several cars sped up and down the water line with dogs in pursuit, apparently out for an afternoon 'walk'. Finally, we reached the end of the route, and turned onto a road heading towards Invercargill, the last stop between us and Bluff. We hopped some sand dunes and found a secluded and comfortable spot amidst the pine trees lining the road, simultaneously apprehensive and excited, disheartened and joyous for what could be our last day on the Te Araroa tomorrow.

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