The End

The Beginning of the End

It has been nearly a month since I finished Te Araroa, though I haven’t found the headspace (or the time) to compose this post. There was shift as I worked my way further down the South Island, and the experienc started to feel far more intimate and personal than that of the summer camp atmostphere of the North Island. I was faced with a lot of my own weaknesses, and had to pull myself out of more “I want to quit” moments than I’d like to admit.

Just 1,000 To Go

After leaving Hanmer Springs, I was reluctantly back on trail with fewer than 1,000 kilometers to go. The next section was an easy venture after a week in the Richmonds and five days traversing through Nelson Lakes. Mostly flat, it took us in and out of rivers and fields before finally rising up to Goat Pass, one of my favorite days on trail.

Another Break?

We were happy to get a hitch into Christchurch for a proper break in the city. Feeling quite under the weather, I stayed in bed for most of it, crawling out only when the time came to return to the trail in search of Stag Saddle, the highest point on the TA.

A Close Call

It took two days to make our way to this iconic point, and we were greeted with stunning views of Lake Tekapo and even Mount Cook in the distance if we looked hard enough. However, just moments after starting our descent, a snow storm rolled in with an intensity that had us nearly running seven kilometers to the shelter of the next hut. We arrived with hair caked in snow and fingers nearly frozen, but were happy to find the company of a young Kiwi girl and her three dogs. She offered to give us a ride into Tekapo once the storm had passed, so we all hiked out together the next day. Wallabies watched from a distance as we envied the dogs’ abilities to scamper up the hills with ease.

Bored on the Road

An afternoon in magical Tekapo set us up for a long roadwalk towards Twizel and beyond. I was relieved for some flat walking after days and days of 500+ meter climbs, but the monotony of it took a toll on us under the blazing sun. Stunning sunsets and a massive plate of nachos kept us going, and soon enough we found ourselves on the ascent once again on the way towards Wanaka.

Anything for the Views

Breast Hill is another iconic part of the TA, as it offers some of the best views one can find on the South Island. The trek to the summit proved to be one of the bigger challenges I faced on the trail, full of 30+ kilometer days over multiple peaks and saddles. On the hardest day, we started well before daylight and were rewarded with a sunrise I will never forget. We then spent four hours navigating a gorgeous river before climbing 400 meters up a ridiculously steep hill. It turned into an exhausting sixteen hour day, but such an effort came with a strong feeling of accomplishment as we set up camp on the summit of Breast Hill and watched the sun dip down behind Mount Aspiring.

All My Love to Wanaka

Wanaka is always a welcome sight, and one of my favorite rest days on the South Island. It is a charming town, not overly touristic but stunning from every angle. I was sad to leave as we started our trail down along the lake, stopping to take a photo with the famous Wanaka tree.

The next section was short but vigorous, taking us up four 500 meter climbs, one after the other. We started our day in the snow and ended the section in yet another river. It was getting colder, and wet feet every day grew harder and harder to bear in the 30 or so snowmelt river crossings required of us in one day.

Almost there 

We could feel the end of the trail getting closer, creeping up on us just as the winter was. A quick stop in Queenstown had us wishing we could slow down the time, but the trail called us back in for an Easter weekend trudging through swampland.

The rest is a blur. The sections passed by so quickly it started to feel like they didn’t even happen. We passed through territory than can only be described as jurassic, feeling wilder the more south we went. It was like stepping back in time, but soon enough we could spot Bluff in the far distance.

Taking Mud Masks to the Next Level

The last major challenge of the TA is the infamous Longwoods, a forest known for its haunting beauty, but also for its knee deep mud. The days grew shorter, and we dragged ourselves through mud that came up to my ankles, then knees, then hips until well after dark. Our last night in a backcountry hut passed with little ceremony, but we were greatful for trail magic waiting for us on our way out the next morning.

The Rest is History 

After that, it was only a beach walk and a bit of road that stood between us and the end. I felt ready, my body and my mind having reached their limits. But still, there was apprehension as we approached the terminus. What would happen after the end, when my purpose had concluded? What was waiting for me on the other side?

That is where I am now. The TA has ended, and I’m stuck in a limbo between trail life and “reality.” Sitting by the sea on Waiheke Island, I finally have time to process the experience along those 3,000 kilometers down the length of New Zealand. I seek clarity and understanding, confused by a deep longing to be back on a trail I was so eager to finish in those final days. I hold tight to the bonds I built with those I spent all that time with, and sit with the emptiness left behind by their absence.

So Now What?

I was in over my head when I started this journey, but somehow found myself standing at the end. Leaning on the one person I walked with from the very beginning, on the brutal sands of 90 Mile Beach, I waited for the tour buses to clear and the families to move aside before we could take our terminus photos. It wasn’t the emotional moment I expected it to be; there was no applause or parting of the clouds. Just a sign post at the bottom of the world. We had made it. What that truly means is yet to be determined, but for now, we rest.

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Comments 2

  • Michal : May 6th

    Good post, as always. Everyone who managed to finish a long walk can relate.

    Reply
  • John "Tercius" Rutkowski : May 6th

    Well written. I had bicycled the North and South Island, I know that weather and awesome terrain.

    Best wishes for what’s next.

    Reply

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