Day 81 (Mon 8 Feb): Bluff to Invercargill
Started walking 8.50am, finished 5pm, 37k.
Pain in the head status: Perhaps appropriately, I’m starting the South Island trail with an entrenched migraine. This has been on and off for a few days and is now firmly fixated on the right side of my skull, gnawing at my ear and burrowing into my eye socket. It hangs on all day.
Word of the day: Soliloquy, the act of talking to oneself (without a listener).
Back on the trail, after ten days in Wellington exercising the dehydrator (but not much else). We flew to Invercargill on Sunday 7 Feb, which was a beautiful day and we got a sweat on walking from the airport into town, where we were staying at the Quest, previously the Post Office, boasting Invercargill’s first ever elevator. The main attraction for us was its proximity to the trail – only a kilometre or so off course.
We caught a shuttle to Bluff in the morning and were the only customers, perhaps because it was Waitangi Day holiday or maybe because Bluff is not a prime tourist destination. The shuttle driver disabused us of the notion that yesterday’s weather was at all typical for the region, stating that the sun was so rarely seen that he sometimes forgot what sunshine looked like.
True to form, the day started overcast and ended in showers. We took the obligatory photos at the Bluff ‘end of the earth’ / ‘this far to anywhere else more interesting’ sign and set off on a very nice walk along the coast and up to the top of Bluff Hill. We were slack packing, having left our backpacks at the Invercargill Quest, so charged along lightfootedly, Tony creating some extra exertion for himself by doing bicep presses with his water bottle as he walked.
At Bluff Hill we glimpsed Stewart Island above the rising sea fog and gazed down towards Tiwai Point where the doomed aluminium plant is grinding on, to the busy port and across the long flat miles to Invercargill. Once off the hill and back on the road, the slog began. Despite the public holiday, there were still a lot of heavy trucks but for some of the time at least, we could walk on a partially or completely formed cycle way alongside the highway. That left about 10-12k of walking the verge in the onslaught of the traffic.
The road walking tedium and the shock and pain of suddenly forcing my body to walk 37k after a period of relative indolence required many podcasts for distraction. There may also have been soliloquys, as Tony marched ahead and I lagged behind with only my aching legs and feet to talk to.
Finally we reached the Quest and used the elevator, climbing two flights of stairs being beyond my ability. It was all I could do to limp to the bathroom, but it was worth it for the best hot shower in the world. Tony did some extra kilometers fetching takeaways for dinner while I lay immobile and prostrate on the bed, only stirring to add stomach pain to my other pains by filling it to excess with vegetarian curries, rice, samosa and naan bread.
Song of the day: No, no more road walks; I want to walk in native bush; No, no more road walks; I want to walk the wild-er-ness! (Emphatically sung, rising to a crescendo, last word shouted)
Modified lyrics to Linkin Park’s No More Sorrow
Day 82 (Tues 9 Feb): Invercargill to Riverton
Started 8.10am, finished 5.20pm, 34k.
Pain in the head status: The migraine hung on grimly for most of the day but some time in the afternoon seemed to give up the ghost, perhaps overwhelmed by my other bodily aches (even my boobs hurt, perhaps proving that even gentle bouncing can be detrimental over time).
Word of the day: Trenchant, vigorous or incisive in expression or style.
Another long day, mixing the worst types of walking – starting with an hour and a half of road walk, then sandwiching in 23k of beach walk, to finish with a bit more road walk. The highlight of the first road walk was passing a Four Square where we could buy lunch. The low point of the first road walk was finding that the Four Square, like the rest of Southland it seems, has yet to discover vegetarian sandwich options. Even the slice we bought for morning tea had beef fat in it, which I noticed after I ate it, to my dismay. This was surprising, given that Southland’s signature dish is the cheese roll, a culinary delight I fail to understand the enthusiasm for, since all it consists of is grated cheese wrapped in white bread.
We reached Oreti Beach after walking down an access road with every imaginable type of sports club – not only the usual golf, rugby, surf lifesaving and clay shooting but also sled dogs. Once on the beach we faced the full force of the famed Southland weather – brutal southwesterlies topped off with rain showers. We couldn’t really see where we were going, or where we had come from, not that it mattered as it all looked the same. We almost reduced a SOBO TA walker to tears by telling him he had another hour of beach walking to go. I could sympathise- when Tony told me some hours later that we still had eight kilometres to go, this triggered trenchant exclamations of horror from me, but there was nothing for it. The ear buds were reinserted and on we went.
The highlight of the beach walk was crossing the Waimatuku Stream, not because this was a pleasant experience but merely because it was a change from the monotony. The crossing can be difficult at high tide, and we were there just after high tide. Hence, my underwear got wet. Fortunately, I’d heeded the description from the horrified SOBO walker, who’d crossed holding his pack over his head, and I’d removed my shorts, saving them from an undesirable washing. This isn’t the first time I’ve crossed a river in my underwear and I doubt it will be my last, but I hope it is the last TA stream crossing on a beach. The stream has eaten away the dunes and swallowed up a 4WD track – maybe one day it will wash away the burnt out upside down car further up on the beach, and the innumerable beer bottles.
The highlight of the final road walk was passing a gas station and finding that it sold ice creams. This was the only food it sold but that was entirely sufficient. We stayed at Riverton campground in the most enormous caravan I’ve ever been in – it was called the Mammoth. Within the Mammoth we prepared the first dehydrated dinner of the South Island. It was delicious.
Podcasts of the day: The podcasts really were the highlight of the journey. I listened to an interview with Sister Helen Preheat, author of the book Dead Man Walking (made into an excellent movie starring Susan Sarandon); a documentary about terrible and dangerous housing conditions in earthquake-prone Bucharest (which was concerning as i have a sister living in Romania); and a dive into the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and how one father of a boy murdered in this massacre fought back against the conspiracy theorists who claimed this was a hoax. What a blessing to have such compelling radio to listen to (and for free).
Firm statement of the day: When Tony started speculating on what he’d do differently next time he walked the Te Araroa, I assured him that in any future expedition along Oreti Beach, one thing would definitely be different – I would not be there.