3,000 km on foot across New Zealand

Bluff

Sterling Point Bluff New Zealand

Tour buses stack nose to tail like toy blocks on the last road in New Zealand. Most likely they’ve come from Invercargill, an hour away. Tourists in their sunhats file forth from the buses to have a picture taken underneath the Bluff signpost. Dad and I patiently wait our turn by the trailhead; after all, it’s taken us five months to get here.

When we move up to it, a woman notices our packs.

“Have you gone for a bit of a walk?”

“Yes, ma’am. We have,” Dad responds.

When I first dreamt about this thru-hike nearly four years ago, I tried to imagine how it would feel to arrive in Bluff, having walked doggedly toward it for nearly half a year. Would I race to the signpost, jumping and shouting in mindless exhilaration? Would I sit down just shy of the finish line, refusing to let it all be over?

What I hadn’t expected was an overwhelming sense of emptiness. Maybe it was just my stomach. But I felt distinctly vacant. Not disappointed or unfulfilled, but distant, like in the aftermath of finishing a poem beyond my intellectual capacity. We took our pictures with the dawning realization that there was nothing left to do. This was Land’s End. I finally understood why so many thru-hikers keep going across the Foveaux Strait and down Stewart Island.

Bluff Lands End New Zealand

We climbed the hill to the pub overlooking Sterling Point and ordered a plate of Bluff oysters and beer. I looked out the big glass windows at the signpost below. I’ve crossed a lot of finish lines, but never one so geographically finite as this. Both State Highway 1 and Te Araroa come to a full stop where the land breaks off into the ocean.

Dad and I ate our oysters in relative silence. I hoped other thru-hikers might arrive at the signpost, if only so I could watch their reaction to finishing their long walk.

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In a very excellent article for The Morning News, Thomas Swick writes, “Wistfulness is not the most enjoyable emotion, but for a traveler it’s one of the most common.” A thru-hiker, however, is no mere traveler. Wistfulness was seldom a feeling I experienced on the trail; rather I felt things like hunger and confusion along with amazement and bliss. But don’t stop me in the grocery store and ask me ‘how was it?’ An undertaking like Te Araroa is far too complex to be distilled into a neat and easy answer. At least not one appropriate for the cereal aisle.

Like WWOOFing, volunteering, or teaching abroad, thru-hiking is its own unique travel experience that can never be fully appreciated unless you’ve done it. By arriving in Bluff, Dad and I were no longer thru-hikers. We were two tired travelers, suddenly and abruptly on our way home. Wistfulness was apropos to the moment.

Initially, I had planned to write a grand finale piece summarizing our Te Araroa journey. Unfortunately, this story is a rat’s nest of entangled ideas, memories, and emotions. You’ll just have to wait for the book.

In the meantime, I will say that I am incredibly privileged and eternally grateful to have been able to fulfill this long time goal which could not have been done without the help of a miraculous group of people: sponsors, strangers, family, friends, and friends of friends. I’m also extremely thankful for the surprising number of readers out there who have followed us across the length of New Zealand.

Thank you.

Be sure to check back every week for a new episode from the trail as there are several more episodes still to go!

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Thanks to the Invercargill City Council for the Cape Reinga to Bluff commemorative plaques!

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5 Responses to “Bluff”

  1. Pamela mccullough

    Oh my heavens, how I do understand. “Wistfullness” is the perfect word, for reaching the journey’s end. When thru-hiking the AT, I walked many many miles dreaming of my reaction when I reached the summit of Katahdin…..but, as you said, I felt…..empty. Elated too, but…an unexpected void.

    I admire you and your father so much. I am so happy (!!!!!) for your successful completion of your goal, and your journey. Amen to adventure and to really living life, as your dad said in one of your videos.

    Reply
  2. Larry Gill

    Well done! Well done indeed! I’ll look forward to your continuing blogs and your book.
    Be Well, Live Well, and savor every moment of your continuing journey, where ever your trails may lead.
    LG

    Reply
    • Hilton Ward

      We completely understand your melancholic feeling after completing the hiking part of Te Araroa. For you and all others who arrive at Bluff or Northbound to Te Rerengawairua there is no end to the trail. It will stay with you for ever. It is in you, ever so slowly fading but will pop up in your mind and conversations when the triggers occur. All experience this as we did with our long sailing passages. We have discussed this melancholic feeling with other Te Araroa hikers as they pass through The Riverbank. It makes no difference. You still get to cry, smile, shout and hug at the finish and walk around in a daze.
      We think of you both and wish you all the best in your next endeavors.
      Acquaintances and friends – Hilton and Melva.

      Reply
  3. Mary Lissaman

    Congratulations a wonderful achievement!!!
    Enjoyed meeting you and your Dad near Dun Mountain. We were the couple on mountain bikes. I was with my niece and we plan to start in October and do the TA in stages though as time does not permit a through hike!!
    You will have met soooo many people on your travels!!
    I shall look forward to the book!!
    Cheers
    Mary

    Reply
  4. Rob

    Congratulations!

    I know some AT & PCT through hikers and arriving at the end is almost always a mixed bag. I suppose there’s a reason so many go on to do more long hikes.

    Reply

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