Stars are shining when I poke my head out of the alicoop, though clouds crowd in as I stroll to the beach to wake up. Initially I intended to wait until the tide was going out, but once I got on the beach, I change my mind, risking getting pushed onto soft sand but figuring morning light makes hard walking worth it.
Traveling alone means I miss lots of fantastic photo spots with no way to take a selfie from a distance. I arrive at the beach as a van arrives and ask the gentleman driving if he could take my photo. When I tell him I’ll hop on the picnic table, he salutes me and says, “Yes, boss.”
I ask if he’d prefer not to take the picture and he responds that he hates pictures. I ask if someone in the van might and he says his dad is washing, then acquiesces to a shot. I really don’t have much patience for weird men giving women a hard time, but he did take a reasonably decent shot.
The trail begins on hard-packed sand, but gives way to stones, my feet digging in on every step. The tide doesn’t crowd me, but it’s slow and painful going. The upside are the seashells – thick clams, abalone galore and spiral shells even more beautiful when busted and revealing their insides.
While snapping pictures, I lose one of my sungloves. It’s camo, so impossible to locate. Note to self: buy bright red gloves next time. I avert a meltdown by laughing at walking in these stones that make me look like I’m sinking every other step. Losing a glove is hardly the end of the world though I’m still shaky and emotional.
This section reminds me of ending the Coast to Coast in England, with farm fields coming right to the edge. The difference is I go down to the beach and back up in Te Araroa fashion, even entering a flax tunnel hiding deep mud before I turn around and find an alternate route.
Smooth green argillite invites me to sit and enjoy this lovely secluded beach cove – and eat the last of my salami and bars. My appetite is insatiable at the moment. Oyster catchers peep as I pass and I peep back, so happy to see them again after many months.
The trail is easing, and today is short, but I still feel tested and think about the chance a long thru-hike offers me to renew myself. Last week might have been a sad one, but this week is altogether new. I’ll finish soon, but I’ll travel to New Zealand’s third island and hike a little bit more.
I turn in from the coast and see a forest at the top of a hill. Panic sets in as I’ve had enough of both. A hiker approaches and he looks familiar. It’s Cheeseman! We give each other a big hug and I wonder why he’s headed north. Bernd tells me he skipped the last section – too muddy and awful – so he hitched and ended up in Riverton, but really wanted to see this ocean walk, and on such a gloriously beautiful day.
Bernd has me thinking about flexibility and ‘hiking one’s own hike.’ He takes vacations mid-walk, picks and chooses, and creates a personal experience. He appears rested and happy where I’m nervous and frantic. I want some of his style to rub off, though I must say I have no regrets walking this whole trail end-to-end to see what it feels like. But Bernd has opened up possibility and allowed me to unclench my more rigid self.
The forest is absolutely lovely and the trail is lined with black plastic netting. It’s steep and I breathe hard, but it’s a magic carpet ride to a stunning view towards the Aparima River and Riverton and back towards Stewart Island.
It’s an easy walk to a holiday park where I set the alicoop, then walk into one of New Zealand’s oldest towns, beginning as a whalers’ stop in the early 19th century. Now Riverton is full of art galleries, cafes, a superb museum, funky shops and surfer culture. I play the tourist, grabbing lunch at the Postmaster. The lovely volunteer at the iSite helps me organize my bus to meet Richard.
Later, I walk out to Taramea Bay, houses clustered along the beach, the light turning a pastel pink over a calm sea.
My spirit is returning on these final days – it helps that just now, a fellow holiday park camper offered me some fresh pauax (abalone) cooked in garlic and butter, life is good! I am feeling renewed, so much so that I’m dreaming of more ambitious plans as I keep hiking. You haven’t heard the last tale of the Blissful Hiker tackling Kiwi tramping. But first she needs to walk another 60+ k.