In the Beginning: Bluff to Riverton | Te Araroa NoBo Part 1
The beginning of our first thru-hike started with a beautiful bang! We arrived at Bluff early in the morning by shuttle from Invercargill. Our first day was 20.7 miles / 33.3 km with a good portion of it being road walking. We reserved an Airbnb for two nights (night 0 and night 1) and essentially walked back to our Airbnb from Bluff. The major benefit of this is walking with a nearly empty pack since our tent and other belongings were at the house.
That being said, the first day was more challenging than we expected! We were swarmed by sand flies. The road walking and no shade for the majority of the time wore us out. The worst part is that there are virtually no water sources (stagnant brown water by pastures for instance). We asked a very kind stranger, Shane, if we could have water. Thank you Shane for letting two strange Americans into your home for clean water! If you’re a hydration addict like Sarah, plan to bring 3-4 liters of water. Otherwise, many people seem okay with 2 liters (especially SoBo hikers who are almost done and depending on the cloud cover that day).
Bluff to Invercargill – 20.7 miles
The beginning of the track however is shaded since you’re going through Bluff Hill Scenic Reserve. It was absolutely beautiful with the moss covered trees and ferns everywhere. We read that the area is significant in Māori history and culture – the original and Māori name for Bluff is Motupōhue. Listening to the unique bird calls is an amazing way to start the trek, they continue to amaze Sarah. TMI warning – Sarah already had to use the trowel within 15 minutes of the hike. Nearby restaurants and hotels were closed, and we didn’t see any public restrooms. Nervous poops cannot be scheduled y’all; Sarah is happy we had the trowel on us for the first day 🙂
After we left the forest, we were welcomed by expansive coastal views atop Bluff Hill. It was breathtaking – mentally and physically given the ascent. We could not stop taking pictures for the first 30 minutes. We’re sure this tendency will fade with more hiking ahead of us, but we were stoked!
Along the trail by the coast, Sarah spread the the last portion of her dad’s ashes. Her and her family lost him to esophageal cancer in January 2018. While it felt like I, Sarah, was holding onto the remnants of his ashes for too long, it felt like the right time and place to set them free. I believe that grief is a testament to how much we love someone, and grief transforms over time with healing. I would not trade the heartache and growth for the world if it meant that I would have a different father.
We were warned by a fellow NoBo hiker we met at the Airbnb about part of the trail with little to no markers. She had to turn around after some time and didn’t see the trail leading to the Bluff sign until after the fact. Welp, the same thing happened to us! There were nearly 5 parts of the trail where we asked ourselves, “Surely this is the spot she was talking about, right?” Spoiler alert, they were not the spots. We fell into the same trap and hiked through very tall plants and had the cuts and rashes to prove it. We carefully hopped over the fence and were happy to stand on concrete. After we walked to the Bluff sign for photos, we noticed the clearly marked and manicured trail for SoBo hikers.
Let the road walking begin
A footpath was added alongside the road a few years ago, so it is safer and a bit more forgiving to our feet. Aside from the road, the trail led us through farmland and wove in and out of the estuaries. We found a few shaded spots where we stopped for lunch and took breaks. Another plus for starting and ending at the Airbnb is that we packed freshly made sandwiches (rotisserie chicken, lettuce, veggies, the whole shabang) which we cannot do on week long stretches 🙂 Once we got to Invercargill, a pub was on the way to the house, so we stopped for dinner and beer. Literally two blocks before we arrived, Sarah needed to stop and give TLC to her feet – it could not wait two more blocks! It was nice to end the day with our fellow Airbnb guests who cheered us on after our first day. It felt like we made new friends here and the host is so kind (find the Airbnb here).
Invercargill to Beach Road Camp – 5.2 miles
Our Airbnb host dropped us off near the trail which saved us steps, we were very grateful for this! Since our feet were not in a good place from day 1, we hiked to Beach Road Campsite (instead of Riverton) which is about 6 miles/10 km from Invercargill. Easy enough right? Sarah’s pack was close to 40 pounds which is atrocious, so there were growing pains that day! At least three people pulled over or asked along the trail if Sarah was okay. Why so heavy one would reasonably ask? We found out that Riverton is a good resupply spot, so we gave our food away to new friends we met at the campsite – this cut tremendous weight.
We were also reunited with our NoBo friend who took a rest day at the campsite and bonded over the unexpected pain. Also, we all mailed gear back which is the first of many shakedowns to come. A short and relaxing day at the campsite plus a mini-shakedown was necessary and helped with the following day. We definitely recommend this campsite; the owner is friendly and helpful and we fell in love with his pup. The nearby restaurant is supposed to be delicious, but it was closed when we were there. Sarah didn’t mind cutting weight by eating pasta and lentils from her food bag.
Beach Road Campsite to Riverton – 16 miles
After a manageable day to the campsite, we were ready for the journey to Riverton! With lighter packs and boosted morale, we handled the beach walk along Oreti Coast fairly well. We listened to our bodies and took breaks when needed. Given the monomotmous (yet beautiful) beach walk, we listened to our respective podcasts, audiobooks, and music. In a future post, we’ll share what goodies we enjoy listening to while hiking.
Our first water crossing was a success; we took off our shoes since we crossed soft sand which felt glorious for our feet. We had low-tide majority of the time except for the last 5 miles / 8 km and that was ROUGH! The compact sand that we had been walking on all day disappeared under the surf, and we were left to walk along soft/shifting dunes. A good sumaritan on horseback (what a badass) asked if Sarah was okay (who visibly shows her emotions) and would have offered a ride if she had another horse. She suggested an alternative route that involved less beach walking, so we happily walked the last 2.5 miles / 4 km on the road.
Stumbling into the Riverton Lodge, we decided to take a rest day at the Riverton Campsite (where we stayed the following night, awesome spot) and both did a major shakedown. Sarah talked to her oldest sister on the phone who is hiking the AT in sections. After five comments of “Really, you packed that?” and an hour on the phone, Jeff and Sarah shedded some weight for the section ahead. We hitchhiked to town for the first time by a delightful couple named Mary and Edwin, and we enjoyed a cheesy, greasy dinner. Followed by chocolate of course, it was a perfect way to end the evening before we encountered the Longwood Range. More to come in a future post 🙂
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