Click here for photos of Section N
Click here for route data/details for Section N
Section Summary: Section N proceeds via minor roads south to Riverton, on the southern coast of South Island overlooking the Foveaux Strait. (A more ambitious tramper could cover the same territory to Riverton by proceeding south in parallel to the roads through the Takitimu and Longwood mountain ranges, with some tracks but substantial untracked sections as well.) From Riverton, one can walk the beach for 25-km along the southern coast to reach Invercargill, the largest city in "Southland." Then there is 25-km of road walking to reach Bluff and another 7-km along the Fouveaux Walkway around the rugged Bluff coastline to Stirling Point, the official end of the trek.
Section Journal: Bluff, New Zealand, April 8, 2004
Finished! At 5:00 pm on April 8 I walked up to and touched the sign post at Stirling Point in Bluff. The trek was over! "I think that's enough walking for awhile" I announced as I reached the post.
Stirling Point is known as "lands end" in New Zealand. It is at the very end of Highway 1, which begins 1400 air-kilometers north at Cape Reinga. Stirling Point overlooks a rugged rocky coastline at the Foveaux Strait at the bottom edge of the South Island, and the signpost there contains direction arrows and distances to major cities around the world. My tramping companions Geoff, Miriam, and Tomo had met me and walked with me these last two hours along the Foveaux Walkway to Stirling Point, and it was great to finish the trek in their company. The spectacular Foveaux Walkway traversed cattle flats and bush tracks overlooking the rocky shoreline of Bluff, and seemed in some way to parallel the feeling of the Cape Reinga Coastal Walkway on which I started the trek six months ago. The last half-hour of the walkway was smooth easy walking along a gravel track through bush, overlooking the rocky shoreline below. The rain held off until later, and we finished under partly cloudy skies. Then it was time to celebrate and have some of that world-renowned New Zealand wine. I didn't drink during the trek, so after a few glasses of wine, my body got the idea that something about my situation had changed!
So how does it feel? There will be some time before the end really sinks in. I felt much the same as I have after any other day on the trek: time now to rest, have some good food, dry out the clothes, and be ready to keep going. I felt like I could just get up the next day and keep walking--having achieved something of a steady-state balance of walking, resting, and writing. Only I had run out of land! Southward, there was only ocean! Where to walk next? Not so fast--time now for other things! I worry that the "rest of life" will come flooding back too quickly, even as I plan to spend the next few days finishing up the trek web site and a summary article about the entire trek. In the end, I don't feel that the accomplishment itself--tramping the length of the entire country--is the most important aspect of the trek. Rather, the process of doing so, step by step, the connections made with the land and people as I went, and the rebalancing of mind and body, are really what was most important. So the end itself wasn't that momentous an occasion as one might think. See the summary article for some more thoughts about the trek.
The only problem with ending the trek at Bluff is getting there. The highway from Invercargill to Bluff was the busiest highway of my entire South Island route, and the least-pleasant to walk, as a constant procession of cars and heavy double-trailer trucks passed. I hadn't realized that Bluff was an industrial port! I had expected a lightly-traveled road to a quaint seaside town. At one point, two massive double-trailer trucks passed me side-by-side from behind. One was passing the other just as they both passed me! I was on on the road shoulder, but was unprepared for the massive truck coming from behind less than a meter at my side. Perhaps in the future Te Araroa can figure out how to get to Bluff across the New River Estuary and farmland rather than along the highway!
Section N started a week earlier in Mossburn. After leaving Mossburn, I had three days of road walking to reach Riverton, located near the beach on the Foveaux Strait, which marks the bottom of South Island. The walking was along minor sealed (paved) roads through sheep, cattle, and deer farm lands, with overnight stops at the small settlements of Wrey's Bush and Otautau. One of the roads was so minor that in four hours of walking only about 6 cars passed me, and it seemed to be my personal road! This far south, with autumn in full swing, it was cold. This was the first time in my trek I wore both my polar fleece and rain parka at same time. One day, episodes of strong wind and rain battered me from the side, alternating every hour with sunny skies (and lots of rainbows) all afternoon.
(One reader had wondered where my pictures of sheep were, given NZ's large sheep population. I did have one picture on North Island, and tried a few more here. Sheep are very difficult to photograph without a telephoto lens, as they don't let me get close enough. My camera has a fixed wide-angle lens that requires individual subjects to be quite close. Whenever I am passing a paddock along the road, all the sheep near the road quickly run away to the interior of the paddock, so I am left with a picture of small retreating white dots! They are very flighty, these sheep.)
The pub at Wrey's Bush used to have a hotel, but no longer. So instead of trying to find a nearby barn in which to lay my sleeping bag (not carrying a tent on this leg), four fellows in the pub offered to drive me to nearby Winton, on the main highway to Invercargill. The next morning, I hitchhiked back to the Wrey's Bush pub and continued walking south. Reaching Otautau, I was happy to stay at the Harbison Backpackers, a very nice hostel run by a couple who lived there and offered an extensive book and video library in their common room heated by a coal-fed stove.
The Central Southland Hotel in Winton (locally known as the "Middle Hotel" because there are two others on each side of town) was very comfortable and one of the best values of the entire trek--NZ$30 (US$20) for a private room and full steak dinner in the hotel's bistro. As with most hotels, the bottom floor is a pub and often gambling parlor (slots and betting) and liquor store. Add in the cigarette smoke and you have several vices rolled into one establishment, none of which appeal to me, but I find that I like these types of hotels anyway--cheap, historic, and very comfortable.
Upon reaching Riverton, I checked into the grand old Globe Hotel and Pub in the center of the small main street, which is also a backpackers and is currently being renovated. Riverton is one of the oldest settlement in New Zealand and the hotel has existed since the 1870s. The next day, the temperatures dropped further, to a mid-day high of 10C (50F), and there were high winds and rain and hail storms during the day. Snow fell at elevations down to 500 meters (1600 feet) over parts of the South Island. Summer is clearly over! Good thing the trek is about to end. A good day to stay inside and write. Happily, there was a good high-speed internet computer right in the pub. The next day wasn't any better, so I got two days to write.
"Southland," as this region is known, used to be economically depressed, according to one local I talked with, but has recently been rebounding due to the growth of dairy farming, which has brought jobs and income. It is true that the Southland towns I passed through seemed less well-off than other towns further north--some abandoned buildings, unused shops, services that used to exist but no longer do, etc. But there was also evidence of new development. The feeling of Southland really started south of Mossburn, as I finally left the tourist-dense lands behind (the road through Mossburn carries all the tourist buses through to Milford Sound, and thus seemed to be the southern "border" of the south-west tourist lands).
With clear but cold weather after two days holed up in Riverton to avoid the hail storms, I set off along the beach to Invercargill under sunny but cold (5C) skies. The 25-km of beach walking was enjoyable and reminded me of the very start of the trek on Ninety Mile beach. To increase the similarity, I played Keiko Matsui on the audio player, which were my favorite selections along Ninety Mile beach. Then the next day would be from Invercargill to Bluff. Actually, I thought, it would be nice to end the trek on this beach, near Riverton, as my southward roads could go south no longer. I wondered about the point of continuing to Bluff, but upon reaching Stirling Point in Bluff the next day, decided that Stirling Point is indeed the right place to end, even if there is yet no good way to get there on foot.
Time to head for home. Thanks to you for following me along!
(Note: there will be "Epilogue" posted to this web site within another two weeks, containing final thoughts, photos of one or two additional short pieces of the Te Araroa route that I plan to walk as I make my way back north to Auckland, and a further discussion and accounting of the "Te Araroa Points" idea introduced in the Section J-2 journal.)
Page updated April 9, 2004