Days on Trail: 1-5 | Date of Adventure: 6-10 Jan 2022
Even though it’s basically the same size as Colorado by land area, New Zealand has so many different climates and biomes! From coastal flax to manuka scrub to beech forests, this walk is going to give us an even deeper look all the natural wonder of this country!
But first, we need to get out of civilization! The trail first takes a meandering path around the moderate Bluff hill, a forested area that goes up (and back down) about 250m. While we were walking, I mused out loud ‘I wonder when we will see our first possum?’. At that moment, a quiet voice piped up from the woods next to us: “Do you want to see one?” A DOC employee was emptying the traps set for wild possums and ferrets, and she just so happened to be 15 feet away from us (having just emptied one of them) when I asked that!
At the bottom of the hill, the path takes you through the port of Bluff, NZ’s southernmost shipping hub. Though most of the houses and buildings felt old and run down, it was still a very active town, with any of the little stores seeing visitors as we walked by.
There are also large murals painted on the sides of dozens of buildings, and we learned that there is an annual competition for painters!
Soon though, it was time to head out of town and begin the road walk north to Invercargill. We had not been training for the TA, figuring we would get trail fit along the way, so the first day was certainly daunting. Generally you’re expected to make it all the way to Invercargill, 36km away, hiking alongside a major highway.
We couldn’t quite cut it (especially because we started a bit late), so we read on our trail app that there was a site by the side of the trail that we could camp at after 27km. Taking a quick look at the weather, it seemed like rain was unlikely–so to be a bit more incognito we just pitched the net tent!
The next day was another bout of road walking, through the southern city of Invercargill then out west to Oreti beach. Last time we passed through this city (with our van), we had stopped at a pie place in town, called “Fat Bastard Pies'”. With a name like that, you know they’re good! We decided to veer an extra 3km off the trail to get lunch pies there!
They were closed 😦
Even though it was well within their opening hours and a Friday, they were inexplicably closed, and our hopes were shattered. It was the Chippewah Inn 2.0! (Sorry, inside joke). So, we decided to go to a Mexican restaurant in town, and that was delicious!
We also stopped at a grocery store for our first resupply–just two days worth of food, but it was a good experience for planning!
As we were heading out of town, we were stopped by a family of cyclists who provided us our first ‘trail magic’, some caramels! It was fun talking with them about their upcoming trips this summer.
Since there’s very little wild camping allowed in towns and cities, we stayed at a holiday park that night, and it felt very strange to not have the van. Kadi and I both found ourselves saying “I’ll go grab it from the van” or “meet you in the van”, which was a little bittersweet.
Kadi and I were both a little apprehensive about the upcoming day, a 27km beach walk along Oreti beach. Our legs were both crazy sore from two long road walks and it was meant to be hot, but the following day was supposed to be driving rain, so we knew it had to be done.
We had timed it to start just before low tide, so the beach was a massive expanse of empty sand. Because of this (and because it was a Saturday), dirt bikes roared up and down the beach next to us all day, and cars drove alongside us to their various picnic locations.
A little ways we down we saw a smashed, upside down, rusted and maybe burnt car, curious! Fast forward a couple kilometers and there was another upside down rusted car, then two more! Very curious. In total I think we passed at least 6 of these.
We both put our headphones in early, and our podcasts of choice kept us going.
We had great service through the whole beach, so we both called our families back home to tell them about our progress and to distract ourselves from the pounding pain in our feet. Turns out compacted sand isn’t that soft!
After what seemed like a day and a half, we made it in to Riverton, where we had arranged for another holiday park campsite. We got in just at dusk and had to make dinner in the tent, since they closed the kitchen at night.
Along the beach somewhere, we had unanimously agreed that we would take a rest day. It was supposed to rain and our feet and legs were entirely dead, so we booked a caravan at the same holiday park for the next night!
It was a great place to stay warm and dry during the rain, and to plan the upcoming forest walks. We had a 4 day resupply to put in our bags then, and another 4 days to put into a box and send ahead to a cabin halfway along.
My feet were feeling alright after a night of rest, so I volunteered to head in to the small grocery store to do the shopping for these.
The next morning we got packed up, took showers and did laundry before heading into the misty hills above Riverton. It was our shortest day yet, only 11km, so we were perhaps a little overconfident.
I took us the wrong way for the first time so far (there will be many more), so we had to backtrack a kilometer. The trail got a little muddy, and there were some very overgrown sections, but this felt like the first real cross-country trekking like we had signed up to do on the TA. We hiked across pastures with sheep leading the way, listening to the ocean beating against the rocks at our side. We had to bushwack through thick flax and speargrass, and saw a family of geese by the ocean!
Soon, the path stopped meandering through farms above the ocean and settled onto another beach walk. The beach itself consisted of large, smooth pebbles which made walking inefficient. The roaring surf to our left was riding the tide ever closer, pushing us up to even larger rocks.
Eventually we found a path on the edge of the beach, right where grass had started to grow, and we could walk without sinking every step. This allowed us to walk the shorter beach much more quickly!
At the end of the beach was our stop for the day, Colac Bay (and it’s corresponding holiday park)! We set up our tent and headed over to the attached tavern, where we got a couple gigantic burgers for dinner. I got the classic kiwi burger, with the standard fried egg and boiled beetroot.
Back at the holiday park, we met Elena, another TA hiker who was doing it southbound (SOBO). We asked her all kinds of questions about the trail, and she asked us all kinds about our gear! We discovered that we had both hiked with our friend Lisa before, us on the Kepler and her on the TA. It’s a small country after all!
The next section, the Longwood Forest, is the first real wilderness area of the track, so this is probably a good place to stop this section of road and beach walking. Thanks for reading, and keep an eye out for the Longwoods section next! (Spoiler: it was muddy)