Excitement, fear, anticipation – these are the emotions I expected to be experiencing leading into this trip. Instead I was met with a week of 2am – 4am nights trying to get ready and a whole bucket load of anxiety.
Anyway! (One of my favourite words I discovered self videoing) Gabe and I set off on the 18th of December 2021 on a flight to Invercargill, then a shuttle to Bluff, only to have to walk back to Invercargill that day as the first day of the TA. What was remarkable was that a 30 minute shuttle equals a whole day of walking.
We got the obligatory picture at the start line with thanks to our shuttle driver Steve who was a damn fine chap and even showed us a couple of the good spots to view Stewart Island on the way there. Little did we know at the time that we would be seeing that bloody island for days!
We started from Bluff just after 9am and headed around the bottom of Bluff Hill, a nicely groomed track that was easy walking. Excitement was in overload, jokes of ‘are we there yet?’ etc ensued, and we clicked over a nice pace despite gale force winds. We both we nearly blown off our feet a number of times on the rocks which was a novelty at first. What we didn’t know is that wind was going to stick around for days and become our headwind for most of the time.
As advised by signage we were to head over Bluff Hill instead of around it which made for a nice warm up of climbing, bringing on great views along the way. At the top the winds lashed us and hail pelted us, so we made a hasty exit down the road to the other side of Bluff. Just after descending Gabe asked me where was my walking pole? I’d left the bloody thing at the top and so I dropped my pack and ran back to get it facing the full blast of the storm again.
Once down we were out of the storm but now faced a 30km walk back to Invercargill mostly into strong headwinds which would’ve been more difficult if adrenaline wasn’t flowing. It was still a very long day of tedious roadside walking but we were lucky as this pathway had only been finished in the last few months and previously walkers were on the road itself. Other notable moments were Gabe’s pack cover was blown away without us noticing, and walking that distance in a day with a 15kg pack on is no laughing matter.
Gabe has great connections. One of these was the delightful Phil and Jill who took us in for the night and totally fussed over us, even providing delicious morsels of vegan nature for me – true legends. The accommodation was luxury for me on a good day, but after a day of being blown around I had no words – even though I babbled continously how thankful I was! Thank you both so much, you are such great humans, I aspire to be a 1/10th of who you are!
Day 2 had Phil dropping us off back in Invercargill where we finished the day before and we made our way towards the beach which took an hour of two with stops along the way. Met a guy in the Four Square store that had done the TA last year and gave sound advice to not listen to the stories of how difficult it is as its often out of proportion. This helped me through a climb a number of days later thank you very muchly kind sir!
Morning tea just before we headed over the dunes onto the beach towards Riverton and a last toilet break at what would be the first long drop of many. The beach was a really big day, besides the distance required, we were still blasted by ridiculous westerlies that pelted us with sand and made slow going. We were still walking well though and made good time along the beach until we hit a river exit at high tide. We knew about this and thought we’d be ok but no we weren’t and we were forced to wait (and rest!) for a few hours before we could get across.
This is where we met Canadian Steve for the first time. Also bunkered down for the same reason, his TA journey is most of the South Island. This 27 year old PE teacher plans to do the bits he wants to do and skip other bits – I wish my head would let me do the same. He joined us while we ate lunch and waited for the tide which was rather cathartic to be honest. He got over the river about 20 minutes before us and we ended up following his foot prints for the rest of the day.
After crossing said river, we continued on and noticed a weather front brewing. Are you f’ing kidding me I thought as we were blasted by another rain front, and the wind, and a 32km walk that day. For what was supposed to be a cruisey start really started to have a sting to its tail and just wouldn’t let up.
We finally made it in that evening late to the Riverton Holiday Park, I whipped up my tent, Gabe got a cabin and we cooked up our feed in the communal facilities and got to know Canadian Steve more. Off to bed fairly early however after dinner and I spent the night with little sleep bring blown around in my tent – winds just wouldn’t let up!
Day 3 had us venturing to Colac Bay, a surfing communuty and the last time we’d be at the bottom of the country. We started up a gravel road to the top of a hill which gave an early morning sweat on, and we were being passed by quite a few cars going up which was strange. Apparently at the top of the reserve one of the tracks is laid out with Christmas decorations for the kids which was a great idea and explained the cars on the isolated road. We didn’t get to see them however as our trail was not the one decorated. Pictures from the top were great – again windy, and then we went through gentle trails through the forest. We went slightly off track and ended up at balancing rock which was a rock balancing funnily enough, but worthwhile getting there despite a steep descent.
We followed the coastline on this shorter day through farmland mainly but only ever a stones throw away from the ocean. It was so rugged and beautiful, it felt like very few had been there before. Again another storm started to brew, and yes, we got nailed again for the 3rd day in a row. More concerning though was Gabe had started to drop back due to a sore foot and we were very wet so we took the track onto the road for easier walking and took refuge in a bus shelter at the end of a farmers drive.
A quick call to check accommodation at Colac Bay holiday park and a check on GPS had us 3.9km away from beer. That’s right, this place had a pub and a restaurant and after the last 3 days it was very welcomed. By the time we got there Gabe was limping badly and we decided day 4 was to be a rest day to reassess things, and maybe drink a few beverages, and then a few more. Also the weather report wasn’t kind for day 4 but in the end it blew through so we had a nice day to recover…..
In the next blog post I will report more on Gabes injury, Longwood forest which is noted for being very very muddy, and more on Canadian Steve.
If you enjoyed this but prefer a more visual or a more interactive medium check out the Facebook or YouTube channels. I’ll also apologize in advance if this blog looks terrible or has errors, I’m creating it on my phone as I go which isn’t easy and won’t be able to clean it up until I get home, hope its still enjoyable to read 🙂 Vaughan